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Brushing Up on the Bible

VATICAN CITY — ( It’s the Year of St. Paul and just months before a Vatican Synod on Scripture. What better time to start learning the Bible?
by Anthony Flott | Source:



Their help is badly needed, says the Vatican. The working document for the Oct. 5-26 Synod of Bishops on the Bible calls for a creative pastoral response to a growing hunger among Catholics for the word of God.

The document, released at the Vatican June 12, says the synod should help find ways for Catholics to better understand Scripture — which they especially hear at Mass — and relate it to their everyday lives, including works of justice and charity.

Pope Benedict XVI June 24 appointed American Cardinal William Levada to help lead the synod. He also recently addressed the Catholic Biblical Federation, which was gathering in Tanzania, saying Christianity is the religion of the word of God, “not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living.”

Recent polls also indicate the need for Bible study help.

Catholics in the United States are less likely than the population as a whole to read Scripture outside religious services, according to the latest report from the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Less than a quarter — 21% of Catholics — said they read Scripture weekly, and another 21% said they do so monthly or at least yearly.

And earlier this year, an international study on Bible-reading practices initiated by the Catholic Biblical Federation based in Stuttgart, Germany, also indicated a need. It was conducted for use by bishops at this October’s Synod. It involved 20-question phone surveys (and subsets) with 13,000 people in nine predominantly Christian countries — the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Poland and Russia.

The Bible “is not the text of a minority but an important point of reference present — in different degrees and ways — in the life and culture of broad majorities of the population,” said Luca Diotallevi, a sociology professor at the University of Roma Tre who directed the project.

The Catechism teaches that the Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful … to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.” Quoting St. Jerome, it continues, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (No. 133).

But, said Mark Hart, executive vice president of Life Teen International and affectionately known as the “Bible Geek,” most Catholics today weren’t raised reading Scripture.

“It is not as much a forgetting of Scripture’s importance and primacy as it is an ignorance of it,” he said. “Oftentimes, we learn the faith but not the faith’s foundation, which is rooted in Tradition — oral and written.”

Correcting that means carving space in our days.

“How can we make time to read the daily papers or our e-mails and not God’s love letter to us on a daily basis?” Hart said.

Calling for Help

Tim Gray, executive director of the Catholic Biblical and Catechetical School in Denver, reports that Bible study groups are “exploding” today. That 70% of all respondents to the Catholic Biblical Federation survey expressed a need for help interpreting the Bible makes sense to Gray.

“Because the Bible is so intimidating, without having a guide or a roadmap people just don’t even want to try,” he said.

Gray noted that Denver’s Augustine Institute ( recently began a master’s program in Scripture and that “I get more requests for people who graduate with a Scripture degree than we have students. That’s a hopeful sign to me.”

Beginning this fall, religious, laypeople, catechists and educators can enroll in the institute’s master’s program via distance programming that will include online video.

For those not interested in school-led education, aids like the popular “Bible Timeline” can help, said Gray, giving people “a simple reading plan and big picture.”

Available at, “The Great Adventure Bible Timeline” and other aids feature popular apologist Jeff Cavins. Offerings include a DVD presentation, mnemonic devices, color-coded resources, workbooks and other aids to help provide a “big picture of salvation history.” The website also sells study kits, indexing tabs and book-specific studies.

Gray calls “Timeline” the “first most effective thing I’ve seen” to get Christians reading the Bible.

Another readily available source of help are Bible study groups. The study found that reading in groups made one more likely to read Scripture — more so than shared religious beliefs or political stance.

Gray said that in his frequent travels around the United States he has noticed a rise in Bible study groups in parishes and even on college campuses.

“Twenty years ago that would be a rare occurrence and now it’s becoming much more common,” he said.

Gray works with more than 700 adults studying Scripture at the Catholic Biblical & Catechetical School, a division of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, and notes that “the small group is the key part of it. [It’s] a great thing for their own spirituality and community building.”

Added Alexander Schweitzer, Catholic Biblical Federation general secretary: “The Bible often reflects religious experiences, problems, questions, beliefs of groups, and is marked by a strong social aspect. Interacting with sacred Scripture is a question of dialogue between real life, which is never isolated, and the Word of God. Doing this in community can add to the dialogue and reality aspect.”

Hart’s Life Teen website ( offers regular Bible Study links exploring various topics (chastity, depression, Eucharist, etc.) designed for solo, pair or group study. Bible verses related to the topic are presented for reading with statements and questions eliciting further discussion. Though marketed for teens, many adults would find the resource of help, too. Hart also offers interesting Bible facts, a search for verses by theme, Biblical pronunciations and more.

(Catholic News Service contributed to this report.)

Anthony Flott is based in Papillion, Nebraska.

On the Net:

Looking for more information on Bible Study programs? Check out some of these Internet sites to get started — or continue — in study of Scripture.

Defenders of the Catholic 

Like Indiana Jones? Steve Ray is the Catholic Indy. The noted convert’s site offers various Bible Study information, including Ray’s articles on the topics and a link to purchase his first study guide, on St. John’s Gospel.

The Crossroads Initiative —

Good starting point with Marcellino D’Ambrosio providing a nice list of Catholic Bible-study tools, including ordering information.

The Augustine Institute — 

Based in Denver, the Augustine Institute strives to “provide graduate students a coherent and unified instruction in Scripture, Catholic doctrine and history, as well as the pedagogical and leadership skills to impart the same to others.” Online courses to be available this fall.

The Great Adventure —

Hard to get much better than Jeff Cavins’ well known Great Adventure, “a Catholic Bible learning system that makes the complex simple by teaching the story of the Bible.” The site includes links to foundational and other studies, seminars, a Bible study locator map and more.

Bible Christian Society -

Podcast of Biblical apologetics.

Scripture Catholic - 

Providing Biblical evidence for Catholic Teaching.

Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology —

Scott Hahn fans will dig this site, which includes a Biblical Instruction section with links to online instruction, courses of study, a parish-based Bible Study program and blogs from … Church Fathers.

Catholic Scripture Study International —

Offers a program “ideal for any parish or group looking for an inspiring Bible study that is completely faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church” by drawing on a wealth of Church resources. Resources include an “Ask the Author” forum, maps, pictures and articles. Full-length program available on DVD.

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