Reading the Word
We are all counselled to read the Bible by the Church. It would be worth re-reading the papal encyclicals Divino afflante Spiritu by Pope Pius XII and Providentissimus Deus of Pope Leo XIII on the Study of Holy Scripture, at some point as we begin reading the Sacred Scriptures.
Sacred Scripture is important to our spiritual life. In fact, other than the Sacraments it is the most essential in our pilgrimage towards Heaven. But then which one should we read? There are so many versions of the Bible that that alone makes the beginning a daunting task. Is there a “best” version? Is there a “most accurate” version? Since you are reading this in English I will presume you will be looking to read a Bible in English, though it may not be the case. One Bible that is prized in my possession is the King James Version given by my parents to me after my baptism at age fourteen, who wanted to encourage my reading the Bible. I took them quite literally and within a few years had underlined and highlighted this copy, learning some portions by heart.
As a Catholic priest I prefer a version that is pleasing to read and has the entire Canon of Scripture as confirmed at the Council of Trent, meaning all 46 books of the Old Testament and 27 of the New Testament which have been accepted since first translated by St Jerome at the request of Pope Damasus I, which he completed by AD 405. His translation from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek became the (improved) Latin Vulgate the official translation of the Catholic Church.
In English there are so many versions one has to think a bit creatively because while there are evidently a plethora of editions, there has to be one that appeals to the reader and will keep him/her reading. A good study of this can be found at Catholic Answers http://www.catholic.com/tracts/bible-translations-guide and is well worth reading through to help in the choice
Where should we start? Well perhaps not at the beginning. Remember the Bible is a library of books of Hebrew history, Prophets, Songs, Wisdom Literature, Hebrew Law, Gospel Message, Early Church history, Letters etc.. So should you decided to begin at the beginning of the current arrangement of the scriptures it will not be long before you become entangled in Jewish purification rituals, customs and laws. I might suggest beginning with the Gospel of Mark. This book is quite short and encapsulates the life and teachings of Jesus. Perhaps then a letter from St Paul to one of the early Christian communities. The Psalms are wonderful for difficult times in our lives and Proverbs are always good to dip in to for advice.
For some people, there is plenty of time for reading throughout the day and so one or two sessions can be managed with perhaps an Old Testament reading in the morning and a New Testament reading in the afternoon. For busy people a half a chapter from the New Testament might be all that can be managed. Don’t let that be a discouragement to reading Scripture. It might be that in a busy day of a parent it could be just a single verse that is read for the day.
Remember, the purpose shouldn’t be simply to have read the whole Bible, though many will, and I believe I have done this on three occasions. Our purpose is to know, love and serve God in everything. So the purpose is to get to know God more intimately through reading HIS books. He inspired the writers to write what they did. The Holy Spirit helped the Gospel writers and St Paul with the New Testament. We might be reading these books for the Literary contents and style, or for the sacred work that they are. In each case there is something to gain from the study of the Word of God.
What might help are study aids like a Study Guide and the footnotes and side notes as well as “Reader” editions that have extra pages to document the contents which might need further explanations. The editions approved by the Catholic Bishops conferences will often have approved footnoting and explicative texts. There are many biblical scholars who have also prepared major works that can be of great help and provide insights where we cannot readily understand a first reading of a text. One version I particularly like is « La Bible de Jérusalem » in French which was prepared by the École biblique de Jérusalem and has an incredible number of footnotes and endnotes as well as scholarly introductions to books or sections. This was the principle version used at the Grand Séminaire de Montréal where I studied.
For my own personal daily reading I use either the Mgr Ronald Knox version commissioned in the 1940s by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, or the RSV(CE) mentioned above, and more recently a copy in German beside my Brevarium Romanum «Die Bibel: Altes und Neues Testament. Einheitsübersetzung». I keep my father’s New Testament (KJV) from the Second World War on my bedside table. I carry with me a copy of the New Testament taken from the Knox Verion. I prefer hard copies rather than digital Bibles, but that is just a personal preference.
Another way of reading through the scriptures is to follow the Sunday and Weekday readings for the Mass which contain Old and New Testament readings. There are lists of these readings on-line which can be used as a reading guide. With this method nearly all of the Bible will be covered in three years!
Which ever version you prefer already, or are looking to choose, make it one that you will come back to. One that is a pleasure to read and one that will help you grow in your faith. If we are to know, love and serve God in everything then we need to know what he says to us through the Church which gave us this wonderful library through careful translations over the centuries.
“Walk in Christ’s light daily through fidelity to personal and liturgical prayer,
nourished by meditation on the inspired word of God.” (Benedict XVI)