In today's Second Reading, St. Paul reminds Timothy about the nature and purpose of Sacred Scripture. Let's listen again to his words.
All Scripture is inspired by God
All Scripture is inspired by God
and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction,
and for training in righteousness,
so that one who belongs to God may be competent,
equipped for every good work.
Catholics have long been accused of failing to know and appreciate Sacred Scripture. This is simply not true. Catholics who attend Sunday Mass regularly hear large sections of the Gospels and epistles and a good part of the Old Testament. Those who attend daily Mass hear even more. We Catholics may not be able to quote chapter and verse, but we know the story of salvation history that is told in Sacred Scripture.
That being said, however, Catholics could always use a little boost in their knowledge of the nature and purpose of Scripture. Sacred Scripture is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. Let's break that statement down. First, Sacred Scripture is inspired. Even though human beings had a hand in writing the Scriptures, God is the primary Author of the Bible, for the Holy Spirit inspired the human authors. Vatican II's document on Scripture, Dei Verbum, puts it like this: “In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted” (#11).
Because God is the primary Author of the Scriptures, they are true. Dei Verbum plainly says, “...the books of Scripture must be acknowledge as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings...” (#11). God does not lie, and He does not make mistakes. Therefore, what God writes, is always true and is never in error. Does this mean that we will always understand the Bible? Of course not! There are many difficult sections and things that don't make sense to our human minds. There are even things that seem as though they can't possibly be true. But they are.
To understand the Scriptures, we must read them in the same Holy Spirit in which they were written. We must invite Him into our hearts and minds and ask Him to open the Scriptures for us and teach us His meaning.
Further, we must recognize that Divine Revelation is not limited to Sacred Scripture. This is a major point of contention between Catholics and Protestants. Protestants claim to believe in sola Scriptura, that is, Scripture alone (although they are perfectly fine with accepting terms like “Trinity” that are not found in the Bible). Catholics acknowledge the supreme importance of Sacred Scripture, but we realize that God also communicates with us through the Sacred Tradition that has been handed down in the Church since the days of the apostles. Here's what Dei Verbum has to say about Sacred Tradition: “Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the people of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes” (#8).
The early Church lived and grew on Sacred Tradition, for the New Testament didn't even exist until years after Christ rose from the dead (scholars debate a lot about dates). The Church was already a Church, and she already prayed, worshiped, preached, taught, and administered the sacraments before the apostles wrote even one word about Jesus. Part of that lived Sacred Tradition was written down in the New Testament but not all of it. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostles wrote the story of Jesus, instructions for the Church, and prophecies for the future, but other aspects of the faith remained oral. They were practiced and lived rather than written down.
The Scriptures, however, should still be a major part of a Catholic's life and faith. We need to read the Bible every single day, even if all we read is a few verses. Why? Once again, we turn to Dei Verbum for our answer. “For in the sacred books, the Father Who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life” (#21). The Bible is a love letter from God to each and every one of us. It is personal. Through it, God reveals Himself, even gives Himself to us, and provides us with a boost in faith and spiritual energy.
Indeed, as St. Paul says in today's Second Reading, the Bible is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. So pick up a copy of the Sacred Scriptures and dig in!