Frustrating Parish Bible Study Program

I didn’t think it would happen at all, much less so quickly, that I had to bail out of one of the local parish Bible study programs.

I’ve been trying to stay with it for about two years,* in spite of * the instructor’s lack of knowledge about the Bible.

The people who attend his class (and they come and go over time) are people who haven’t read the Bible - they don’t know what it says. Well, it’s good that they’re there, right?

Well, it’s good if they get the real teaching of the Bible.

The instructor is a retired school teacher. It’s a pattern that occurs in two nearby parishes that there are teachers in charge of the Bible study and that they both don’t really know what’s in the Bible.

the instructor in my class stated his qualifications last night this way: Before he became a Catholic, he was a Methodist and later attended the Church of God. He asserts his teaching authority that Protestants know the Bible better than Catholics.

My stomach starts to churn when he talks like that, because he’s treading on the popular misconception that all Catholics know little about the Bible. (Actually Protestants and Jews complain that Protestants and Jews, respectively, don’t know enough about scripture, too.) No one laughed, but it was laughable that being a Protestant makes him qualified to teach the Bible to Catholics. But, I let that remark go by.

We were studying the introduction to Jeremiah in the NAB study bible last evening. He popped up with the remark that Jeremiah was the greatest prophet in the Old Testament. He then kept going, but I had to interrupt when he slowed down enough to breathe, and I asked him, instead, if Moses wasn’t considered the greatest prophet in the OT.

He looked into the distance, squinted his eyes, and then said, “no [not Moses], I think Isaiah was the greatest prophet in the OT.”

After class, last evening, I sent him an email to try to enlighten him on this subject – that Moses is mentioned in the NT 77 times, but never Jeremiah or Isaiah, that Deut 34 says that Moses was the greatest prophet in the OT, etc.

He replied that his class is not a debate, that he is not going to debate anybody. So, I said that this was the parting of our ways.

A couple other people have left, privately complaining that this and an alternate instructor drift into the subject of politics, rather than sticking with scripture.

As happens in parishes, some people get themselves positioned into jobs like “teaching” the Bible and it is hard to unseat them, even though they are not competent. There is really no oversight (hint: “bishop” “overseer”).

I believe that there are Protestants who really do know what the Bible says, and would laugh at the pretentiousness of this “Catholic” Bible expert.

Anyway, I’m on my own again, necessarily forced into isolation. Ironically, it was at a session where we were studying a real prophet Jeremiah who was opposing a false prophet Hananiah. And, there I was trying to get a word in edgewise against a “teacher” who does not know as much as he purports to know.

In the Church, we’re getting slapped up about our responsibilities to evangelize, but we’re still in the dark ages when it comes to quality Bible study.

I suggest you talk to the pastor.

I participated in bible study for 10 years at my prior parish. The model we used was one of facilitation. The leader did not act as the “sage on the stage”. Their role was to facilitate the GROUP in sharing and talking. Everyone did the assigned lesson-- we used a structured bible study with readings, questions, etc, assigned ahead of time-- and then we’d come together once a week to discuss and share answers, insights, etc. We used the Collegeville Commentary, or other church approved scholarly resources. This worked beautifully for 10 years.

Of course, now the Ascension Press bible studies are available that have video teaching by experts and workbooks with lessons that can be completed and then discussed. Again, the leader as facilitator and not “know it all” and certainly not teaching his/her opinion.

“sage on the stage”

Great term.

I too suggest you speak with Pastor. In my Parish the Bible Study Program is given by a Parish Priest who uses the NAB RE as well as the Concordance.

Get permission to start your own Bible study. Research materials first and then make a proposal. There are three to five Bible studies going on each week at our parish. One is very in-depth. One is a women’s study and another is a young adult Bible study.

I am going to chime in on the talk to the pastor advice since you have already tried to speak with him which would be what I would always do first. I have to admit that on the basis of what you have stated here it seems like you should take a crack at teaching the class as you seem to have a good basic knowledge to back yourself up. Sometimes when you teach something you get to understand it better. And, finally, unless the teaching material stated that Jeremiah was greatest prophet in the OT then he was stating his opinion which means it is up for debate.

I agree, talk to your pastor.

At my parish, the Pastor does the Bible Studies. The “students” use the NAB, the Pastor uses the RSV-CE and many text books/Concordances, etc.

We meet every other week on Sunday nights. There are lots of questions and we discuss how passages relate to today, the history of the time, language, culture, relationship to Catholic dogma/doctrine and the Mass, etc.

We move very slow, but it’s very good.

I like the bible study offered at my college. The leader facilitates discussion and opens up the floor to participation, but he is very knowledgeable and has insights that would not be known to the lay reader. Such as the background of what was going on, what certain phrases meant at the time, etc. It was incredibly informative and really helped connect the OT to the NT in wonderful ways.

You know that Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest ever born. :stuck_out_tongue:

If you are thinking of setting up a bible study, you might like to check this out…

I’ve been doing Bible studies for ten years now. It drives me nuts when folks think they can do scripture study because; A. they were once a teacher-just because you were a teacher doesn’t mean anything. you may no science or math but scripture is a whole other story.
B. they are a good Catholic and go to mass everyday.That’s great but it doesn’t automatically mean you have been given knowledge of scripture.C. the deacon’s wife-don’t get me started! D.Priest- does not always equate to expert in scripture.
E. has read all of the bible not just the NT.-good start but you need a systematic knowledge that includes history and other disciplines.

You need education in scripture and a good knowledge of your faith (I have four years of Catholic Scripture study and have a certificate from my archdiocese. It was only through one of my teachers, who advocated for me, that the Bible study in my parish came to be.

. when it comes to some thorny theology I always refer them to the pastor
No question is silly and deserves an answer. IF I don’t know an answer, I don’t put the person off, I either find the answer or talk to my pastor.

like some one stated before it goes slow because we discuss questions all the time.
As a teacher I have also been taught. Students have mine have come up with spiritual insights that just floored me. No teacher should dismiss a students question - and they should be open to spiritual insights that students have.


You realize, of course, that priests do have education in Scripture and a good knowledge of the faith – in fact, they have four years of theological study and a graduate degree from an accredited university, right?

I hear what you’re saying – but it seems that you’re downplaying the education of a priest (at least, what seminaries currently offer, educationally)… :shrug:

Most parish priests have a degree in Pastoral Theology.

That does not automatically equate to intimate knowledge of the history of ancient Israel for example, or other topics which would normally be associated with a scholar of Scripture.


Don’t be too hasty and go running to the pastor without trying to make it better yourself!

Another cause for ineffective Bible Study programs is the lack of preparation by the class, and not just possible weaknesses of the teacher.

As kids, many of us probably took music lessons. And, many of us (or maybe I was the only one? :shrug:) went to the class an hour each week, didn’t pick up the instrument until the day before the next lesson, and essentially wasted our time (as well as our parents money) until we finally quit.

The same is true with Bible Study. If we sit an hour a week in the class, and do not pick up the Bible to study (not just read) and look for what Church Fathers and theologians throughout the ages have said (no excuses with the internet), the only thing we learn is what the Bible Study teacher has left us with.

Just as, hopefully, you don’t just occupy a pew at Mass, you are not just occupying a chair at Bible Study…be prepared, offer the additional insight you have uncovered…it’s not just the teacher’s Bible Study, its yours and your parish brothers and sisters’!

Peace and all Good!

While I agree with prior posters who say “speak with the pastor”, I would suggest that before you speak with the pastor, you consider several things.

  1. negative comments generally result in little change. That is not to say that negative comments have no place, but realize that in any given parish, there are a certain number of “negative Nancys”, “grumpy Gregs” and etc. - the point being that the priest may find himself wondering if he has a vineyard instead of a parish, because the results are so much whine. He might just want his out of a bottle instead of out of the next conversation.

  2. come prepared with a positive program. If you are going to say something is wrong, you need a strong way of “correcting” the wrong.

  3. either be prepared to lead (notice, I did not say “teach”) the new bible study, or come prepared with one or more volunteers who will lead it - meaning organize time, place, refreshments, seating, materials for the course, hand-outs, and anything else that goes into a study.

  4. there are a multitude of resources out there in approaching a study of the Bible, and they come from a multitude of sources. One can find that there are CD’s prepared by people like Jeff Cavins (our parish is starting with his timeline of the Bible). Last year we had CD’s which showed a tour of areas of the New Testament. There are biblical scholars who have produced excellent programs, some technical, some not.

  5. be aware that what you personally want in a bible study may not fit the needs of others - which is a way of saying that one might want to make a review of possible materials and approaches, and then do a survey of what might fit best. This might result in more than one study, because there is way more than one approach.

There is so much material out there it is almost overwhelming. Realize, the parish may or may not want to front the money for a given course, or for several. In that case, you need a solution to that issue.

The bottom line - I am not suggesting your comments are in any way wrong - is that a strong positive approach to the matter will fly much farther than simply complaining to the pastor with no solution to offer.

Please read number four here.

Thank you all for comments.

I did not argue with the Bible study “teacher” in class. I did approach him by email with the case for Moses being the greatest prophet in the Old Testament (on its own terms i.e. Dt 34:10) and I actually copied this to the parish priest who is a Bible expert who trained in Rome and Jerusalem.

I have also dropped a letter to the Bishop to let him know about this problem and to suggest that there be some central coordination and standardization of Bible studies – some sort of oversight of the fellow I had trouble with.

Ironically, he had us read Jer 28, which is a confrontation of Jeremiah the true prophet of God with Hananiah who was a false prophet. My Bible teacher did not realize the irony that he was teaching us about confrontation with a false teacher yet dodging a confrontation about his own erroneous teaching.

I expect the Bishop to do nothing.

I would say Isaiah is the greatest prophet. He, more than any prophrt fortold the coming of the Messiah. I see Moses more as the one who delivered the Law. I don’t think writing to the bishop about something this trivial will bring any action on his part. Even if the teacher spoke heresy it would be referred to the pastor first.

No I’m not. But I’ve directly dealt with priests and deacons.And it’s like anyone else. You tend to gravitate toward the discipline they like the most. We’ve had parochial vicars who are excellent n theology,tradition and history.Not so much scripture. I am lucky that I have a pastor who is well versed in scripture. I ask him when I don’t answer and he asks me when he is unsure.

Education is important but being educated isn’t the only thing that makes a bible study-it is the passion for and the love of God’s Word. It’s a fire in the bones.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit