In part one of this interview, Dr. Jeffrey L. Morrow explained the Church’s principles of biblical interpretation and took us through some of the best books on them. In this second part, he recommends some further readings.
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Before we cover your further recommended readings, on a more personal note, could you tell us a little bit about how your own reading of Scripture has developed. As a convert from Judaism, your reading of the Bible has developed in much the same way as St. Paul’s. First, you learnt to read the law and the prophets under the guidance of the great rabbinical tradition. Then, you encountered Christ and realised that everything in the law and the prophets regards him. I expect that your Jewish religious education helps you understand many aspects of Scripture better than cradle Catholics. That is a huge question. First, I wish my education had been more like St Paul's. I was more secular, so my reading was not as faithful or erudite as his. He was much more a scholar of the Law than I could ever claim to have been. I had never read the whole Bible but only parts of it. I did have a bar mitzvah and, after school, I went to Hebrew school. However, I never read Scripture the way he did nor as thoroughly.
In Hebrew school, I read Pirke Avot, the ethical debates of the rabbis or fathers: Akiva, Hillel, Gamaliel, other early figures, Maimonides and some of the mediaeval sages. To me, the Bible was just mythology because I had a secular mindset and was an agnostic. I found the rabbis and their debates were interesting, but to me it was just an important tradition. I celebrated the holidays, and Scripture was read on those occasions, and Passover especially, which for me was an important and beautiful family tradition.
"Whenever you read the Bible, ask the simple questions. Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?"
When I became an undergraduate at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I started to attack the Scripture, as a sceptic, because I was challenged by Evangelicals. My first real reading of the whole Bible was through the lens of Evangelical Protestantism. In studying the history of the Bible, I became convinced that it was historically reliable, and that Jesus had risen again from the dead. So, I became an Evangelical Protestant. I read every book of the Bible twice during the second semester of my freshman year at college, including the seven deuterocanonical books—1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Baruch, Tobit, Judith, Sirach, and Wisdom—that Catholics use but Protestants do not. I began reading the Bible in the way that learning as an Evangelical: at the literal level. Indeed, I still stick with this method, believe it is the foundation, and teach it to my seminarians. Whenever you read the Bible, ask the simple questions. Who? What? Where? When? How? Why? If you interrogate the text and try to find answers to those questions, you are going to get a lot out of Scripture.
" I became mystified by how much of the methods that I was learning in Graduate School, as a Catholic theologian in training, were the same sceptical ones that I had recognised as bankrupt during my conversion."
For me, the most important thing was to understand the Bible, what God was telling me, and how to live. Then, I became Catholic. By studying the Church Fathers, reading the Bible in its historical context, the encyclicals of St. John Paul II, who was pope at the time, and other texts, I began to understand the richness of the Catholic faith and the spiritual sense of Scripture.
Later on, I studied the Bible in graduate school. I became mystified by how much of the methods that I was learning in Graduate School, as a Catholic theologian in training, were the same sceptical ones that I had recognised as bankrupt during my conversion. They were not based on the strongest historical arguments. They were assumed to be correct with a fairly blind faith. They deconstructed the texts that I had come to learn and love in my life and in the liturgy. I was mystified. That is when began to investigate the history of the historical-critical method. This led me to do my doctoral dissertation on how to read he Bible as a Catholic. Most of my work since then has aimed to undermine the sceptics and show that we need to have a healthy scepticism about the sceptics, so that we can read the Bible again as the book of God's love for us and our path to heaven.
My Jewish background helped me to privilege the Old, in a way that I do not see a lot. It helped me see how the sacraments, the Church’s tradition and doctrine are a full flowering of the Judaism of the Old Testament rather than, as one finds in some Protestant traditions, its abolishment.
"I have become a convert to the English Standard Version Catholic Edition."
First on your extended list of recommended readings is the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. Are you recommending this single volume of the New Testament or the individual volumes of the Old Testament and New Testament books? Both. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible is the first place I go if I have a question about Scripture. My understanding is that soon all of it will be available in a single volume. Currently, the Old Testament books are only available in separate volumes; the New Testament books in a single volume.
Its footnotes are great. It references the Catechism, Vatican II, and Church documents. It gives typological, anagogical, and moral readings. It does not show all the scholarship that went into it, but a tremendous amount of scholarship did go into it. It is very accessible, and I highly recommend it.
Are you recommending it because of its critical apparatus, introductory notes, or because it is this the best available English translation of Scripture? All of the above. The footnotes are the most important thing about it. That is where the actual running commentary is. It is not where you would go for a critical apparatus. There are also very good charts and helpful essays on different words, such as “Sadducees”, “Pharisees”, “zealots”. The translation is great. It is the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE).
I have become a convert to the English Standard Version Catholic Edition (ESVCE). It has everything that I love about the RSVCE, but where I have issues with the RSVCE, the ESVCE does what I like. I might have quibbles with ESVCE’s translation of a couple of words. But what are you going to do? Every scholar is going to come up with his own English translation. So, for my regular daily reading in English, I use the ESVCE. The Augustine Institute has published a wonderful version for Americans, and India has its version. Still, the RSVCE is fine. I use and like it a lot.
"What God is doing in the Sacred Scripture is an example of divine condescension: he stoops down to our level, to raise us up to his, so that we might participate in his life."
Biblical scholar Scott Hahn is the author of the next two entries on your supplementary list. One is a theological commentary on 1-2 Chronicles; the other, traces one of the underlying themes that runs through the various books of the Bible, God’s covenants. Do you recommend these books because they show us how to apply the principles of biblical interpretation in our reading of Sacred Scripture? Yes and no. They do not imply all these areas. They are written for scholars.
I recommend them because, first, they are excellent at focusing on the human level of Scripture. Dei verbum 12 emphasises that we must attend to the genre, history, and language of a biblical book or passage. These books do this in excellent way.
Kinship by Covenant looks at the key sections of the Old Testament and the New where God makes covenants with the people. It considers how each successive covenant builds on the others. Hahn uses not just the best modern scholarly methods, but also historical research on covenants in the Ancient Near East. What God is doing in the Sacred Scripture is an example of divine condescension: he stoops down to our level, to raise us up to his, so that we might participate in his life. The best example of this is the Incarnation. God becomes one of us. He lives a human life in Jesus Christ. There are other examples of this in Scripture. In the Ancient Near East, covenants were a means of entering into relationships. God uses them to enter into relationship with us. Hahn shows how this builds up to the coming of Jesus Christ. If you understand this book, you can make sense of the Bible, from a scholarly perspective.
Hahn makes 1-2 Chronicles come alive.
The second book—The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire—is also helpful. If you read the whole Bible, the most difficult books to get into are Leviticus and 1 Chronicles. Leviticus is all about sacrifices and rules. It is about much more than that and I would love to write a popular commentary on it. Nevertheless, it is hard to get through if you are an ordinary layperson. So is 1 Chronicles. It begins with all these genealogies. We want to skip them. I have learned to love such genealogies and I spend an entire class on the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. You could do the same with each genealogy in the Bible.
Hahn makes 1-2 Chronicles come alive. He shows that not only are they a rereading of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, but that they also focus on the temple and liturgy, the heart of the divided Kingdom. In the light of David and his Kingdom, they look forward to the coming of the Messiah. Not only do they show that the Kingdom of God, the Church, is patterned on the Kingdom of God of the Old Testament, David's Kingdom (which is only called the Kingdom of Yahweh in 1-2 Chronicles). However, they also summarise all the preceding Old Testament history. At some level, they are like the New Testament of the Old. Isaiah can be seen in that way too because it foreshadows Christ. So can Genesis. Through the genealogies and the early stories, 1-2 Chronicles takes up all of salvation history from Adam to David. Then it takes up the histories that we see in 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings: Saul, Samuel, Solomon, the split of the kingdom into North and South, the Assyrian exile, the Babylonian exile, and the hope of a Messiah. The prophetic books of the Old Testament take place mainly during the events of 1-2 Kings. So 2 Chronicles covers them too. Hahn shows how these books summarise the Old Testament and point forward to the New. If you understand these two books of the Bible—supposedly two of of the most boring books of the Old Testament—you will understand the Old Testament and how it relates to the New.
Your last recommended reading is Benedict XVI’s three-volume Jesus of Nazareth.Is this another book that you recommend as a lesson on how to apply for oneself, the principles of biblical interpretation? Yes! In the introductions to volumes one and two, he briefly discusses how we should read the Bible, in light of Vatican II. Then he reads it in that way. We can quibble with his interpretation here and there. This is not a magisterial text. In volume one, he states that this is the work of a private theologian and that everybody is free to contradict him. Nevertheless, I think that this is the best modern life of Jesus out there.
Benedict XVI takes history, the liturgy, and the moral implications of Scripture seriously. Though not at the same level, this work is akin to what we find in Thomas Aquinas's commentaries on the Gospel. We have not seen papal writings that seek the face of God and interpret scripture at this level since St. Gregory the Great’s Moral Reflections on Job (Moralia in Iob). In that work, St. Gregory, as pastor of the universal Church, gives a spiritual interpretation of Job to show the faithful how they can become better Christians. Benedict does likewise in his life of Jesus. As a private theologian, he looks at the life of Jesus, seeks the face of God, and invites us to do likewise with him.
Since the eighties, Cardinal Ratzinger had been calling for a theological and historical interpretation of Scripture from the heart of the Church. In his 1988 Erasmus Lecture, “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis” and the subsequent discussion in New York, he argued that if traditional Christian exegesis is A and modern scholarly historical exegesis is B, we do not want to go back and ignore B. Nor can we just do B alone. There are too many problems with it. Rather, we need to develop exegesis C, which takes seriously the best of both A and B. This is what Benedict XVI does in Jesus of Nazareth. That is why it is such an important text. You learn about the life of Jesus. You can understand the Gospels better. The book helps you pray with the Gospels better. You understand how to integrate historical findings, understand Scripture in the light of the liturgy, and how to read Scripture aright. Jesus of Nazareth is a model of how to do all this.
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