The Washington Post “On Faith” blog recently had a post by a non-practicing Jew named who decided to actually read the Bible. Plotz’s inspiration to do so occurred after reading the story of Dinah’s rape as recounted in Genesis 34. He was so surprised by the inclusion of such a scandalous story in the Bible, especially in Genesis and not one of the “minor-league books” like Obadiah or Nehemiah, that he realized that he had no idea what the Bible really said. Plotz ended up writing a book about his excursion into the Bible.
I have no idea if the book Plotz wrote is any good, but I do commend him for at least realizing he is an “ignoramus” when it comes to the Bible. That is a step further than most. Since our country has predominantly Christian roots, most people believe that they are knowledgeable about the contents of the Bible but in fact don’t know even the basics. I remember Stephen Colbert telling John Cougar Mellencamp (both Biblical scholars par excellence) that Jesus said he came to bring not peace, but division to the world, and Mellencamp responded, “Really? That’s in the Bible? Is it in red letters?”And don’t even get me started on the misapplication of Scripture by politicians.
Of course the problem with Plotz’s approach is that he has divorced the Bible from the communities which produced it, originally Israel and now the Church. Contrary to Luther’s view, the Bible is not “perspicuous”, meaning it is so clear that anyone can simply pick it up and understand it. The centuries-long debates within the early Church regarding the divinity of Christ are proof of that. The Bible cannot be truly understood outside of the context in which it was written, but God in His love and wisdom has given us an institution that can authoritatively interpret the Bible.
Of course, this is not to say that individual Catholics shouldn’t be reading their bibles; quite the contrary, we should all be extremely biblically literate (at least more literate about the Bible than, say, “American Idol” or “24″). And over the past decade a virtual deluge of books have come out to help us with that task. Books by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins and others are available to help Catholics to know their bibles in the context of the life of the Church. Frankly, we have no excuse anymore. The more we know our Bibles the more we will know Jesus Christ. And the more you know someone, the more you can love him.