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Intelligent Reading of Scriptures: Revisited

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Some ten years ago I wrote a series of articles for Suite101 on “Reading Scriptures Intelligently”. I wrote those articles for the general reader who wants to get more from his/her reading of the Scriptures. What I wrote in those articles are still applicable for the general reader, but not for “professional” readers of the Scriptures, that is, those people who help other people read and understand Scriptures. For this latter group, some more proficiency in the use of the help apparati of either the New American Bible or the Jerusalem Bible is needed. This is the purpose of the present article.

The following articles encapsulate what I wrote for the general reader on the topic “Intelligent Reading of the Scriptures” Reading Scriptures Intelligently. Reading the Scriptures intelligently means three things: (a) read the Scriptures with full intelligence; (b) make full use of the help apparatus that comes with the modern translation; (c) read Scriptures in faith.

Using Your Bible’s Notes is an article that introduces the reader to the help apparati one finds in the New American Bible and the Jerusalem Bible.

Mark 9:14-29 — A Possessed Boy illustrates how the explanatory notes in the NAB are used. Notice however the advise that even before the notes are used, the reader should already have tried to understand how the story is developed. My final note to the article is a summary of what I intend about how to read Scriptures intelligently using the notes in one’s bible:

Notice that in this illustration, the examination of the explanatory note comes as a last resort in the understanding of the story of the possessed boy in Mark 9:14-29. The actual reading of the gospel story itself already takes into account the “Introduction to the Gospel of Mark” as found in the NAB, some remembrance of what episodes went before the story being read, and the reader’s personal assessment of the story’s flow and the relationship among its component parts (the grammar and the syntax). Obviously, the amount of data that the reader can gain from his/her reading of the gospel story, at this level, will depend much on many factors: the relative familiarity he/she has with the the Gospels in particular and the whole Bible in general, his/her ability to think in the language used for the modern translation used, previous experience in reading and reflecting on the Scriptures, his/her mind’s “connaturality” with the Bible, (Let us not forget even the way the Spirit is working him or her at a given moment),etc… It is precisely when unassisted intelligent reading fails us where supplementary materials — such as your Bible’s explanatory notes — must be used in order to facilitate the mind’s grasp of the realities hidden in the rich soil of the Divine Scriptures.

In brief, to read Scriptures intelligently,

  1. Understand the text in its context, using all the reading skills one has developed through the years
  2. Make use of the explanatory notes and foot notes of your modern translation, taking notes for future reference
  3. Once you have understood the text, stop reading the explanatory notes and foot notes and use what you’ve learned for prayer.

The steps enumerated above are for the personal assimilation of the meaning of a text of Scriptures. From there, one can already use a text for meditation and prayer. The text thus assimilated begins to form part of one’s “stock knowledge”. In classical terms, it becomes part of one’s “remote preparation” for the understanding of Scriptures. Each session that we spend on the understanding of Scriptures is also a building block for future readings. The saying “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. (Mark 4:25)” is applicable even here. Even the notes one has gathered during a session with the Scriptures become a sort of extended memory that one can consult again and again. It is crucial then that one keep quality notes.

The more proficient reader of the Scriptures is distinguished from the beginner by his/her “stock knowledge”. Depending on the years spent on the intelligent (not haphazard or piece-meal) reading of Scriptures and the training received, the proficient reader’s “stock knowledge” may already allow him/her to prepare a lesson plan (for adult catechism perhaps) based on a passage after some minutes on the study desk with it. One’s stock knowledge may consist of familiarity with the context of a passage, the meaning of the text and how this is conveyed in the liturgy and in the teachings of the Church (especially the catechism), how a text is echoed in other parts of the Scriptures. The possibilities are boundless; and it all begins with the way one performs the basic steps enumerated above.

Together with the articles mentioned above, I also wrote something for those who would like to advance in their familiarity with Scriptures. The following articles were meant to help the reader integrate one’s reading with the mind of the Church.

Textual parallels are phrases or sentences similar to the one being read but found in another part of the same book or a different book. These exist because of interdependence existing among the books of Scriptures. From a historico-literary perspective, this is due to one inspired author making use of another inspired book or passage of scriptures while composing his own work. From a theological perspective, however, this is due to the fact that there is only One Word that is echoed through the many words of scriptures. Parallel texts are easily spotted because of verbal similarity. So, the phrase “whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” as found in Matthew 23:12 has parallels in Luke 14:11 and 18:14.

Textual resonances are “echoes” of the passage being read, in the same book or different book that is evoked because of the way in which such passage has been associated with other passages in the liturgy, in catechism or in preaching. Such “echoes” are often similar ideas or themes associated with a passage or a group of passages as these are used by the community of faith in the act of hearing and proclaiming the Word. The passages evoked for Guy the Carthusian by the words “Blessed are the pure of heart” is an example of textual resonances evoked in one familiar with the language of the psalms. In the same way, the “fugitives” that are sent out to proclaim God’s name to the nations in Isaiah 66:19 may as well “echo” the activity of the disciples who survived the “purge” of Good Friday and were sent out to proclaim the Gospel to the nations in Acts.

We have tried to illustrate both textual parallels and resonances in the Konek-konek series of articles posted here.

To see how the Jerusalem Bible and the New American Bible deploy the notes for textual parallels in their respective help apparati, click on the following thumbnails.

Jerusalem Bible

New American Bible

Textual parallels help one understand a passage of Scriptures within the whole of salvation history. While this can’t be done by just one or two instances of a parallel text, paying attention to these may help one get a better understanding of the text that is less subjective. An example in point is the phrase “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” in Luke 14:11. At first glance, it may be another form of the gospel of well-being. So that one can be “exalted” and given dignity, one should be humble. But when one looks at the same passage in Luke 18:14, that initial impression is changed precisely because in this latter, the one who humbles himself is the publican who confesses his nothingness before God and asks for His mercy. Again, when one looks at the same passage in Matthew 23:12, one finds that its immediate context is the admonition not to aspire to the honor and prestige of the teachers of the law and be called “Rabbi”, “Teacher” and even “Abba”. In addition it is paired with the phrase “The greatest among you must be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). In short, the saying “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” is about one’s interior disposition towards God and towards others, becoming a servant to these. The exaltation will not be the a status of greatness in the present time, but one that is more in keeping with the eschatological thrust of the kingdom. One becomes great and exalted when joined with the exalted and reigning Christ.


To really profit from the exercise of studying parallel texts, one should understand how each parallel text is used in its own context. It is not enough to know that such and such a passage has parallels in such and such a book. One should also understand how these occurences enriches one’s understanding of the text being considered.

Textual resonances are trickier than textual parallels. These derive from one’s memory of how a passage is used by the Church in her proclamation. The most basic resonances are those deriving from the liturgy. For those who are inclined, the Fathers of the Church can provide a lot of textual resonances. The Catechism of the Church and even the Compendium of Social Doctrines can supply one with a lot of textual “connections” not readily perceived. For example, the connection with the Sunday rest and the Eucharist is learned by Catholics from childhood. But the connection that goes from Sunday rest to the Eucharist and to “the city of God” sought after by the patriarchs, the “new Jerusalem” and the “the festal gathering and the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:22-23) as found in the Compendium, no. 285 is not readily grasped.

Update August 30, 2010

I have posted a page that illustrates how the NAB can be used to understand 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 at Your Daily Inspiration.

Originally posted 2010-08-27 21:50:21. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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