WHAT THE BIBLE IS
He was the great Prophet, the Lawmaker, and the Leader of the people of Israel, the author of five books that make up the Pentateuch.
He was born in 1530 B.C., that is, after the Pharaoh had already promulgated the edict that ordered the killing of every male child. His mother, Iacobet, seeing him handsome and elegant, trusting fully in God, placed him in a reed basket and had him carried by his sister Mary to the bank of the river Nile. The Pharaoh's daughter, upon finding him, felt compassion for him and, taking him up, ordered that he be brought to a Hebrew woman and raised at her expense. The charming little one, by divine disposition, was consigned to his own mother.
Becoming an adult, he was adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter who called him to the court where he remained until he was 40. Then, moved to pity by the slavery of his Hebrew brothers, he tried to free them: he flees from the court and enters the land of Midian. Here he sees a burning bush and hears God's command to free the Hebrews. So, he faces the Pharaoh, informing him of God's order, but the impious Pharoah obstinately refuses. Finally, after ten very painful plagues, he allows the Hebrews to leave Egypt.
Awesome were the miracles done by Moses during this long journey; we remember only that he parted the waters of the Red Sea, made clear water flow from a rock, sweetened bitter waters, defeated the Amalekites, etc.
When the Hebrews reached the foot of Mt. Sinai,
Moses was ordered to go up the mount and there, amidst thunder and lightnings, receives directly from God the divine Law.THE PENTATEUCH
He died before reaching the Promised Land, at the good age of 120 years, that is, in the year 1450 before Christ.
This outstanding Sacred Writer of the first five books of the Sacred Scriptures, is undoubtedly the greatest and most glorious figure in the entire history of Israel. The Church honors him as a Saint on September 4.
The first five books of Sacred Scripture are, together, called the Pentateuch.
The first book is called Genesis because it tells the origin or genesis of the world and of the Hebrew people. The second is called Exodus because it describes the exit of the Hebrews from Egypt. The third is called Leviticus because it deals principally with the ceremonial Laws that refer to the worship of which those of the tribe of Levi are ministers. The fourth is called Numbers because it begins with the census of the people and of the Levites. The fifth is called Deuteronomy or second law because it contains a summary and a second promulgation of the Law already given to the people.
Let us observe more closely each of the books.
Genesis serves as introduction to the four following books of the Pentateuch and to the entire history of the people of Israel. It gives us a summary of humanity's history, from its origin until the call of Abraham; then it speaks to us of the story of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, until the death of this last in the land of Egypt, where his descendants become a people.
Exodus covers the time from Joseph's death to the second year after Israel's departure from Egypt. It shows us the people oppressed by the Pharaohs and freed by Moses by means of very great prodigies. It also informs us about the promulgation of the law on Mount Sinai, and the building of the Tabernacle.
Leviticus, apart from the two historical events of the consecration of Aaron and his sons, can be said to be made up entirely of laws and norms for the priests and for the individual and social sanctification of Israel.
Numbers narrate some principal events in the travels of Israel in the desert, starting from Mt. Sinai until the moment when she is about to enter the Promised Land.
is principally made up of three discourses pronounced in the plains of Moab fronting Jericho.
In them Moses, in order to persuade the people to observe the Law, calls to mind the benefits received from God or promised by him, and promulgates once more the principal divine precepts and adding to them a few others.
As we can see, the work of Moses constitutes a harmonious whole and all the parts are intimately connected among them.REFLECTION I
What the Bible is
Credita sunt illis eloquia Dei.
According to the etymology of the word, Bible
means the Book,
par excellence. It is composed of 72 books2
divinely inspired containing the substance of the divine revelation.
St. Gregory thus asks: What is Holy Scripture if not a long letter of the Omnipotent God to his creature?
Man fell into the deepest abyss of evil, and had lost his way to heaven; but the good Heavenly Father, moved by compassion, comes to his help and decides to write to him this letter and thus point out to him anew the path of salvation.
Apparently this mysterious book seems to be mistaken with all other human books, and even more, its external form is often more modest and poorer than the aforementioned; but under this simple vest is hidden a world full of mysteries and sublime truths; contained therein are the destiny of humanity and the Wisdom of God:3
just as, under
the species of the Eucharistic Bread is sacramentally contained Jesus Christ.
Hence, we can say that the difference of the Bible as to other books is almost infinite: the latter are human, the Bible is divine.
1. - It is divine because it has God for its author. In fact, the true and primary author of the Sacred Scriptures are not the sacred writers like Moses, David, St. Matthew, St. Luke, etc., but the Holy Spirit. It is He who inspired4 the writer to write all and only what was according to His holy will: the Sacred Writer is just an instrument in the hands of God, an instrument, however, that is intelligent, free, and most docile to the motions of the Holy Spirit.
2. - Considered in general, the Bible is divine because it speaks to us about things divine: in it we learn to know who God is, what are his attributes, how He is our beginning and our end. We know the why of our existence on earth, the absolute need to save ourselves, etc.
These are all problems of the greatest importance that always troubled and will trouble all humanity. In fact, who does not want to know where he came from and where he is going? All long to know the motive of their existence here on earth.
The Holy Bible has precisely this purpose: it sets before the readers' eyes, as in a wonderful movie, all humanity with its grandeurs and defects, its failures and ignorance, in order to teach it how to govern its life, conquer its passions, and acquire virtues in order to be crowned one day a winner in heaven.
3. - Considered in particular, it is divine because it bears in itself the mark of divinity and because
it comes to us in a divine way: in fact, the Bible, coming from Paradise which is the kingdom of truth, was inspired by God Who is Truth by nature and was made to be written without errors, and hence we are certain with the certainty of faith that everything that is narrated in the Bible is truth.
It comes to us in a divine way, that is, through the Church, a divine and infallible society like her Founder, Jesus Christ.
Sacred Scripture was not left to whatever Publishing House, but was entrusted by God to only one Publishing House: the Church, which infallibly interprets it, jealously watches over it, and with full rights determines the manner of printing it, annotating it, and interpreting it: and no one can, without precise ecclesiastical revision and the written permission of Bishops, can print and diffuse it. Thus Canon 1385 of the Code of Canon Law.
Not only that, but many times the Sacred Councils and the Supreme Pontiffs expressly intervened to give dispositions concerning the Holy Book.5 Let us just remember the most beautiful Encyclical of Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus6 and that of Pius X, Pascendi Dominici gregis.
The Sacrosanct Council of Trent gives us the complete canon of the inspired books and threatens with excommunication anyone who dares to deny any of them. Here are its textual words:
The Sacrosanct and ecumenical Council of Trent, legitimately gathered in the Holy Spirit, under the presidency of the three legates of the Holy See, following the examples of the Most Holy Fathers, with equal sentiments of piety and reverence, receives and venerates all the books of the Old and New Testament, since both have God for their only author. Then it decided to annex to this Decree the list of the sacred books, so that no one may ever
doubt what are those that one receives from the Council. They are the following:
From the Old Testament: the five books of Moses: that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy;
The book of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings,7 the two books of Paralipomenon:8 the first by Ezra9 and the second by what is said to be of Nehemiah;
The book of Tobit, Judith, Esther, Job, and David's psalter of 150 Psalms;
The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes,10 the Song of Songs, the book of Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus;11
Isaiah, Jeremiah with Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, the twelve minor prophets, namely: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi;
The two books of the Maccabees: the first and the second.
Of the New Testament: the four Gospels: according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Acts of the Apostles written by St. Luke;
The fourteen12 Letters of St. Paul: to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, to Titus, to Philemon, and to the Hebrews;
The two Letters of St. Peter; that of St. Jude; the three letters of St. John; one by St. James the Apostle, and the Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle. If anyone shall not receive these books in their entirety together with all their parts as in the Catholic Church they are wont to be read and contained in the old Latin Vulgate13 edition, as sacred and canonical, let him be excommunicated.
4. - It is divine because it has a divine object: Jesus Christ. Human books generally are written by just one person and often they contain inaccuracies and contradictions; the Bible instead was written by about forty authors who, although so different from each other in talent
and distant from one another by centuries (e.g. between Moses, the sacred writer of the first book of the Bible and St. John, the writer of the Apocalypse, the last book of the Scriptures in order of time, about fifteen centuries intervene), in spite of all these, all the books comprising the Sacred Scriptures relate with marvelous accord; one confirms what the other says and no real contradictions are found in them in spite of all the efforts and researches of the adversaries to find them, and they form together just one book that has for end and principal object Jesus Christ.
The 45 books of the O.T. preannounce the Divine Redeemmer and they describe his birth, life, work of redemption, death, glorious resurrection, etc.; and the 27 of the N.T. do nothing but confirm and extend what has been said by them; the Gospel of St. Matthew, in fact, is all demonstration of the fulfillment of the prophecies narrated by the O.T.
Face to face with such a spectacle of beauty and marvelous harmony, we cannot but exclaim: this book is not human, but divine!
5. - It is a divine book because it is addressed to all men. The Bible in fact is not for a class of persons only, as generally are all human books, but it is for everyone, since all men, having their souls to save, need to know the way to Heaven. The Divine Master himself commanded the Apostles to go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to all creatures: Euntes in mundum universum praedicate Evangelium omni creaturae. (Mk 16:15)14
God sends this letter of his to all; and what a deformed heart one would show, who,
having received a letter from his faraway father, does not care to open it and read it!* * *
If the Bible therefore is a divine book, let us have it as it is; let us not put it on a shelf as any other book, but let us put it in the most honored place in the house, beside the Crucifix, in such a way that everyone can see, read, and kiss it.
How beautifully does the book of the Gospels lie on the altar! If in the Most Blessed Sacrament, under the species of the immaculate Host, there is Jesus Christ really present in Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in Sacred Scripture there is Jesus Truth, under the guise of white paper.
This is why St. Augustine questions the Christians saying: What seems to be greater for you, God's Word or Christ's Body? If you want to reply, you should say that the Word of God is not less than the Body of Christ. And so it is that just as we have so much care in administering the Body of Jesus Christ, so that not a single fragment falls from our hands to the ground, so we must take care that the Word of God does not depart from our hearts. Because it is not less a sin to neglect listening to the Word of God than to drop neglectfully the Body of Christ into the earth.
And now, with the very words of the Scriptures, let us pray and thank God for having written us so precious a letter, while formulating a sincere desire to greatly respect the Bible, not only, but to turn to it every time we feel lost in the path of good.
EXAMPLE. - St. Augustine converted while reading the Holy Bible. - Nature and spirit battled in the young Augustine with
gigantic efforts. His ardent and impassioned heart was satisfied with nothing; his mind, which for many years had searched for truth in vain, was very much worried for not having found it. Finally, the moment of light came, the triumph of divine grace, effected by the fervent prayers and bitter tears of his mother St. Monica.CANTICLE OF MOSES [#]
The restless Augustine was in Cassiciacum. In the silence of his garden, he repeatedly hears the mysterious words: Take, and read! Almost like a new Saul,15 Augustine does not hesitate a moment; he stoops, takes the book that lay at the foot of a plant, and reads: Let us live honestly as in daylight, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Rom 13:13-14)
These words from the letter to the Romans were enough for him. The young man, having awakened as from a deep sleep, accepts these words as an advice from heaven. He comes to himself and resolves to change his life for good.
When his friend Alypius, a moment later, entered the garden, he found him with his face between his hands and all in tears: he did not know that by then Augustine was no longer his friend in Manichæism, but a Christian.
We know the good that Augustine accomplished in the Church by means of his sermons but especially through his writings, of which we want to call to mind only the following: The Confessions, The City of God, The Way to teach the ignorant, the treatise on Music, those on the Most Holy Trinity, on Grace, etc., all of which are of immense value and are inexhaustible sources of doctrine because they are founded on the Holy Bible to which Augustine owed not only his conversion but also all his knowledge as he himself confessed.
A GOOD DEED - Recite to Jesus Master three Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory be so that the Holy Bible may enter all families and let the way of truth be found for so many souls.
I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.
My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior.
He is my God, I praise him; the God of my father, I extol him.
The LORD is a warrior, LORD is his name!
Pharaoh's chariots and army he hurled into the sea;
the elite of his officers were submerged in the Red Sea.
The flood waters covered them, they sank into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O LORD, magnificent in power,
your right hand, O LORD, has shattered the enemy.
In your great majesty you overthrew your adversaries;
you loosed your wrath to consume them like stubble.
At a breath of your anger the waters piled up,
the flowing waters stood like a mound,
the flood waters congealed in the midst of the sea.
The enemy boasted, I will pursue and overtake them;
I will divide the spoils and have my fill of them;
I will draw my sword; my hand shall despoil them!
When your wind blew, the sea covered them;
like lead they sank in the mighty waters.
Who is like to you among the gods, O LORD?
Who is like to you, magnificent in holiness?
O terrible in renown, worker of wonders,
when you stretched out your right hand,
the earth swallowed them!
In your mercy you led the people you redeemed;
in your strength you guided them to your holy dwelling.
The nations heard and quaked;
anguish gripped the dwellers in Philistia.
Then were the princes of Edom dismayed;
trembling seized the chieftains of Moab;
All the dwellers in Canaan melted away;
terror and dread fell upon them.
By the might of your arm they were frozen like stone,
while your people, O LORD, passed over,
while the people you had made your own passed over.
And you brought them in and planted them
on the mountain of your inheritance,
the place where you made your seat, O LORD,
the sanctuary, O LORD, which your hands established.
The LORD shall reign forever and ever.
The creation of the world
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.
Then God said, Let there be light, and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness he called night. Thus evening came, and morning followed - the first day.
Then God said, Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters, to separate one body of water from the other. And so it happened: God made the dome, and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it. God called the dome the sky. Evening came, and morning followed - the second day.
Then God said, Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear. And so it happened: the water under the sky was gathered into its basin, and the dry land appeared. God called the dry land the earth, and the basin of the water he called the sea. God saw how good it was. Then God said, Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. And so it happened: the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. God saw how good it was. Evening came, and morning followed - the third day.
Then God said: Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth. And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw how good it was. Evening came, and morning followed - the fourth day.
Then God said, Let the water teem with an abundance of living creatures, and on the earth let birds fly beneath the dome of the sky. And so it happened: God created the great sea monsters and all kinds of swimming creatures with which the water teems, and all kinds of
winged birds. God saw how good it was, and God blessed them, saying, Be fertile, multiply, and fill the water of the seas; and let the birds multiply on the earth. Evening came, and morning followed - the fifth day.
Then God said, Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds. And so it happened: God made all kinds of wild animals, all kinds of cattle, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. God saw how good it was. Then God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground. God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth. God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food. And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed - the sixth day.
(Gn 1:1-31)THE PRAYER OF MOSES
The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but punishing children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for their fathers' wickedness! If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.
(Cf. Ex 34:6-9)
1 “To them (the Israelites) have been entrusted the revelations of God.”
2 Normally in LS we refer to the 72 books of the Bible (e.g., pp. 6, 29, 97, 145, 281): 45 of the OT (in which the Letter of Jeremiah is not singled out) and 27 of the NT (see on p. 18 the list defined by the Council of Trent). A more exact subdivision includes 39 proto-canonical books and 7 deutero-canonicals, therefore 46 of the OT plus the 27 of the NT. In all it's 73 biblical books according to the Catholic canon and even according to the Clementine Vulgate (cf. Biblia Vulgata, Edizioni San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo 1995). The deutero-canonicals (Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, Baruch with attached Letter of Jeremiah) have been purged from the Hebrew canon starting from the year 70 AD. The Protestants consider such books as apocryphal, like also various (deutero-canonical) passages added to Esther and Daniel.
3 The theme of wisdom as God's gift in order to understand and observe his will is frequent in LS (cf. pp. 54-55, 92, 105-106. On the matter, the constitution Dei Verbum of Vatican II affirms: “In Sa-cred Scripture, therefore, while the truth and holiness of God always remain intact, the marvelous condescension of eternal Wisdom is clearly shown, 'that we may learn the ineffable kindness of God and to what extent, in his concern and providence with regard to our nature, he has adapted his talk.' The words of God, expressed in human language, have made themselves similar to the speech of man, as already the Word of the eternal Father, upon assuming the weaknesses of human nature, made himself similar to man.” (DV n. 13)
4 LS refers continuously to the inspiration of Scripture (cf. pp. 30, 32, 88, 89, 201). Inspiration is the charism that makes the Bible a book different from others. On the matter, the constitution Dei Verbum on n. 11 affirms: “The divinely revealed truths that are contained and expressed in the books of holy Scripture were written through inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Holy Mother Church according to her apostolic faith considers as sacred and canonical all the complete books of both the Old and NT, with all their parts, because written through inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 20:31; 2Tm 3:16; 2Pt 1:19-21; 3:15-16) they have God as their author and as such they have been consigned to the Church... Therefore “all Scripture divinely inspired is also useful for teaching, convincing, correcting, educating in justice, so that the man of God may become perfect and equipped for every good work.” (2Tm 3:16-17)
5 Cf. this paragraph with p. 109.
6 John Paul II, on 23 April 1993, will express himself in a similar way when publishing the document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PCB), The interpretation of the Bible in the Church, dated 15.4.1993: “Your work... offers me the occasion to celebrate with you two anniversaries rich with meaning: the centenary of Providentissimus Deus and the fiftieth of Divino afflante spiritu, both consecrated to biblical questions. On 18 November 1893, Pope Leo XIII, very attentive to intellectual problems, published his encyclical on studies of Holy Scripture, for the purpose, he wrote, “of stimulating and recommending them” and even of “directing them in a manner that better corresponds to the needs of the times.” Fifty years after, Pope Pius XII offered to Catholic exegetes, in his encyclical Divino afflante spiritu, new encouragements and directives. Meanwhile, the papal Magisterium had manifested its constant attention to scriptural problems by means of numerous interventions. In 1902 Leo XIII created the Biblical Commission; in 1909 Pius X founded the Biblical Institute. In 1920 Benedict XV celebrated the 1500
th anniversary of St. Jerome's death with an encyclical on the interpretation of the Bible. The vivid impulse thus given to biblical studies has found full confirmation in Vatican II, so that the whole Church has benefited from it. The constitution Dei Verbum illumines the work of Catholic exegetes and invites Pastors and faithful to nourish themselves more assiduously with the Word of God contained in the Scriptures.”
7 Now: 1 and 2Samuel and 1 and 2Kings.
8 Now: 1 and 2Chronicles.
9 The book that we know today as Ezra formed a single text with the one known as the book of Nehemiah, and in the Greek tradition of the Seventy (LXX) had the title second book of Ezra. In the Greek OT (the LXX) there appeared as first book of Ezra a Greek apocryphal that includes parts taken from a Hebrew text and others taken from the last chapters of Chronicles; in the Vulgate it is presented as the third book of Ezra. Only the text that the LXX presents as the second book of Ezra is recognized as canonical in the Hebrew Bible and in the Christian one, where it is subdivided in two parts chat the Vulgate titles as the first and second book of Ezra; the modern editions call as the book of Nehemiah what has been long considered as the second book of Ezra.
10 Ecclesiastes, or Qohelet.
11 Ecclesiasticus, or Sirach.
12 Actually, they are thirteen, since the Letter to the Hebrews is no longer considered as part of the Corpus Paulinum.
13 Vulgate or Vulgata: The Latin version of the Bible adopted by the Catholic Church, done by St. Jerome (IV century) who drew inspiration from the criterion of fidelity to the sense of the text. Of the Vulgate (thus called by Roger Bacon and Erasmus of Rotterdam) remain about 8,000 manuscripts. Criticized by various humanist scholars among whom is Erasmus, its validity was solemnly affirmed by the Council of Trent which in its fourth session (8.4.1546) declared it authentic. The same Council, however, started its own stylistic revision, by means of which there came about two new editions, the Sistine (by Sixtus V, 1590) and the Clementine (by Clement VIII, 1598). These showed among themselves about 3,000 variants. At the start of the XX century, Pius X entrusted to the Benedictines of the Roman Abbey of St. Jerome the collection and comparison between 8,000 manuscripts and many patristic citations of the biblical texts, to elaborate a critical text of the ancient Vulgata. Of this work there is now an accurate revision, the Nova Vulgata Bibliorum Sacrorum (editio Sacr. Oecum. Concilii II ratione habita, iussu Pauli pp.VI recognita, auctoritate Joannis Pauli pp. II promulgata, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Roma 1979).
14 “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
15 Saul is Paul the Apostle, while the name Saul in LS indicates normally the king of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin to which also Paul says he belongs, in that way claiming a regal title (cf. Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5).
] As already pointed out in the Notices, all the biblical passages of the “Canticles” contained in the Latin version of the Vulgate, have been substituted by the corresponding passages in the Italian version, taken from the Nuovissima Versione della Bibbia, ed. San Paolo. In the English translation, the New American Bible published in the Vatican website has been used.
16 In LS also verse 19 is included, but the Canticle of Moses ends here.