‘Do you understand what you are reading?’

Pieter Lastman 004
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Speaking of humor … I do find amusing the image of Philip trotting along beside the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch, who was reading aloud from Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30-31)

But there’s an important point here: Luke insists Scriptures need explanation. Private interpretation often is not sufficient. There are other examples from Luke’s gospel, at Emmaus and at Jerusalem after the resurrection. Jesus unpacked the meaning of the Scriptures first for Cleopas and his companion and later for the apostles.

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44-47)

So Luke provides a gospel basis for the Catholic tradition that guidance is needed in the study of Scriptures. Vatican II did not change that basic premise, but did encourage the average Catholic in the pew to engage with the Word of God. Here’s the official explanation of Church authority:

“… the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit …” (Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, 1965. You can find the entire document here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.htm0)

What we’re doing through Catholic Biblical School–engaging in the Scriptures under the guidance of the Church–follows the lead of Dei Verbum, but also of St. Jerome, who said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!”

Despite what many of us believed growing up, the Church encourages us and all Christian faithful to engage with the Bible, through guided study, liturgy, devotional reading, and other aids.

And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.” (Dei Verbum)


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