Bible Study: Playground or Minefield?

by Steve Ray

Imagine children running and tussling unsupervised in a playground. Now imagine the playground surrounded by deadly dangers: a sharp cliff dropping down a thousand feet to one side, a field of land mines, poisonous snakes in the sand, and a bog of quicksand on the other sides.

With anguish you watch the children decimated as they fall prey to the dangers around them. They plunge from the cliff to the rocks below, are screaming from the bite of vipers and are gasping for air as they sink in the quicksand.

playground-service-play-structures-2013Now imagine the same children playing in the same playground, but now they are carefully supervised and the area is surrounded by a chain-link fence. To be in danger now a child would have to disregard all the rules, disobey the supervisors and climb over the fence. You relax, a sigh of relief passes your lips, and you begin to chuckle at the children’s antics.

This is an analogy of Bible study. Two recent misconceptions have plagued Catholics. Ask around and find out for yourself. The average Catholic in the average parish frequently accepts two unhappy fallacies. First, that Catholics aren’t supposed to read the Bible since it is not important or they fear they will invariably misinterpret it and end up confused. Second, they may associate Bible study with Protestantism.

Well, isn’t the Bible hard to understand? Aren’t Catholics forbidden to read the Bible? Shouldn’t we leave Scripture study to priests and religious? If laymen study the Bible, don’t they interpret it incorrectly and go off the deep end?

I had just written the above paragraph and mentioned “Bible Study” when a parish priest visiting our home lamented, “Oh, if I could only get my parishioners over the deep-seated fear that if they study the Bible they will somehow become Fundamentalist Protestants!”

This sounds strange to us ex-Fundamentalists because it was the love and study of the Bible that brought us into the Catholic Church. Yet, this subtle fear prevents many Catholics from dusting off the family Bible and making a go at personal study.

Our imagined playground, fraught with dangers, illustrates the situation nicely. Are there real dangers associated with studying the Bible? Do pitfalls lie to the left and right? Yes, of course. The fear is not without foundation. Survey the landscape of Christian history and you will see well-meaning individuals and groups strewn in every direction. The carnage and division brought about by the “Bible-only” theology is apparent for everyone to see.

Yet we also see many who have loved the Bible deeply, studied it studiously, and have done so without casualties. They have reached the dizzying heights of biblical study and through it have grown to love Jesus and the Catholic Church with ever deepening ardor. What differentiates the two? Why do some stumble and fall by the wayside, while others “play” with a joyful, utter abandon—almost carefree in their study of Scriptures—and, seemingly, with no fear of falling?

The fence and the supervision make all the difference. They provide a barrier between the children and destruction. They allow the child to frolic with carefree abandon. What do the fence and the supervision represent in our illustration?

The fence is the Sacred Tradition preserved in the Church and the supervision is the magisterium of the Catholic Church. These two things—readily available to any who desire them—are what makes the difference. The dangers are real, but the protections and guidance provided by Jesus in his Church are just as real. Those who stay within the fence and yield to the supervision will study the Scriptures with great benefit, and I may add, with deep joy and pleasure.

The Catholic Church has provided the most wonderful resource to combine the fence and the supervision. It is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Read the Bible with an open Catechism which is a wealth of wisdom and a compilation of the Church’s tradition, the teaching of the Popes and Fathers and councils. It is also an excellent summary of the teaching of the Church’s magisterium—which simply means “office of teacher.”

It is high time that Catholics wake up and discover the riches that have been deposited in their account. The Bible is a gift from God. The treasure is ready for withdrawal! Dust off the Bibles, cast aside paralyzing fears, learn the basic rules of biblical interpretation, observe the protective parameters of Church teaching, and frolic to your heart’s content!

St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is an ignorance of Christ.”

Permission to reprint article granted by Steve Ray. Visit his website, www.catholicconvert.com.