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How to understand the Bible (First part)

potere-segreto-bibbiaFor centuries the Bible is at the center of debate not only about its content and doctrines, but also around the way by which understand it. The Jews interpret literally their Bible – which roughly corresponds to our Old Testament –  so striving to settle all difficulties and contradictions through comments that often are more difficult than the texts to be explained. Consider, for example, to so-called midrashim.

The Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome – The most famous center of Biblical Studies in the world

The literal interpretation of the Bible is still very popular and it is represented by two trends. The first trend, that of the most conservative Catholics, takes literally every content or doctrine of the Bible, especially in the New Testament: angels, demons, hell, heaven, etc.  “Taking literally” means the way in which the Bible’s authors describe these realities. But there are also people who interpret literally the Bible to demonstrate its absolute unreliability. Mainly they want to endorse more or less extravagant personal ideas: UFOs in the Bible, gender readings, etc.

From the first centuries, many authors have come up with different ways to remedy the literal interpretation of the Bible: the allegory and typology are the most important ones. So the Bible speaks in reference to the Church, or to the individual’s spiritual life, or even it announces things to come. Without denying the effectiveness of this kind of readings, yet they give the impression to be a little imaginative. Outside of a few exceptional cases – see for example St. Augustin – is now difficult to accept this kind of interpretation, albeit fascinating. So what is the correct way to interpret the Bible?

Julius Wellhausen – The most famous scholar of the Old Testament

In my opinion we must learn to interpret the Bible using all that the history of interpretation of the Bible offers to understand it. I refer not only to ancient Bible’s interpreters. Any reflection can help you to understand more deeply the Bible, widening the circle of authors well outside of the Catholic religion, and far beyond the limits of exegesis. But this is not enough.

It’s not enough to collect reflections and interpretations, we must be able to reach the Bible’s level where it can communicate a message for every man of every time.

The Bible, in fact, like any other book of antiquity doesn’t speak of history. At least this is not its main purpose. In my new book I offer a new way to read the Bible, reaching all people (To be continued)

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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