Studying the Bible without anxiety


So I’ve recently taken up the daunting task of reading the entire Bible. I bought The Catholic Study Bible: New American Bible Revised Edition (Second Edition) a while back, and I thought it was a good choice, mainly because it’s a specifically Catholic Bible, complete with essays on biblical interpretation, maps, footnotes, and an extensive reading guide that I hoped would prove invaluable in further understanding Scripture. It also had a Nihal Obstat and an Imprimatur, so I didn’t have any worries about selecting it after seeing that confirmation.

But reading these forums and the 1906 Pontifical Biblical Commission’s statements on Mosaic authorship, and comparing it to my Bible’s essays in the reading guide that seem to endorse the JEDP hypothesis, I’m now thoroughly disappointed and at a stand-still in my studies. Do I seriously need to become an expert on biblical scholarship before feeling comfortable with reading Scripture? Am I not allowed to study it on my own? I desperately desire background information on the books in the Bible so I can much better understand them and be able to explain things to critics I may come across (and, of course, appreciate the books more). But now there doesn’t seem to be any reliable place to go, because no matter what books I read or what people I talk to, someone on this forum is probably going to call me out for either heresy or fundamentalism should I post my experiences and acquired knowledge here. It seems to be a no-win situation.

All I want is to read and study the Bible from a Catholic perspective without being neurotic about it. Unless it’s best to “err on the side of caution” and not study it at all should I risk my eternal salvation by subscribing to heretical beliefs. So, how do you read through the Bible on your own without any worries? Just read the text itself without any background information, or what?

Oh, and also, did the Nihal Obstat and Imprimatur only apply to Scripture and not to the essays? It seems possible, since it specifically addressed the NAB, revised NT, and Revised Psalms, but made no mention of the essays or reading guide.


But reading these forums and the 1906 Pontifical Biblical Commission’s statements on Mosaic authorship, and comparing it to my Bible’s essays in the reading guide that seem to endorse the JEDP hypothesis, I’m now thoroughly disappointed and at a stand-still in my studies.

Don’t you think you may be seeing the forest for the trees here? The Bible is God’s inspired word. Delving into who exactly wrote what is sorta a rabbit hole that detracts from the message that God wants you to hear. Rather than getting hung up on the minutia of biblical scholarship, why not try Lectio Divina – meditating with the scriptures, and hearing what God’s voice wants to say to you today. :thumbsup:

Do I seriously need to become an expert on biblical scholarship before feeling comfortable with reading Scripture?


Am I not allowed to study it on my own?

Of course you can study The Bible on your own. So long as you’re secure in what the Magisterium of the Church teaches (and for that all you need is a catechism or a good sound spiritual director or priest), why shouldn’t you study the Bible on your own? :slight_smile:


Some Popes have given Indulgences for reading Scripture for some time (half hour?) for all the Catholic faithful.

You are encouraged to read it by the Church and Popes, but some theologians in my opinion seem to assert that you need a degree in theology in order to read the Bible.

In Scripture, God says we should meditate on the Scriptures day and night. You can’t do that if you don’t read it.


You are overanalyzing this.

The Faith is like a deep, yet narrow river. A small water bug can skim across the surface and get across, while a large elephant can drown in the depths trying to cross it. IOW, you can go as deep as you like and still never find complete, ultimate, perfect knowledge of God, but you can seek a simple union with God and find fulfillment. God is a mystery, and there are many things that we are incapable of knowing completely about Him. Does that mean that we should not seek to know what we can about God? No. God will bless us in however much we seek after him.

The same holds for the Bible. You may read it simply for personal devotion. God will bless this. You may want to delve into serious, guided study. God will bless this, too. But don’t think that you will read the Bible and never come to a wrong conclusion. God never promised individual Christians an infallible understanding of scripture. Even Protestants don’t believe that. Should that stop you from reading it? No. We know that if we find a passage of the Bible leading us to a confusing conclusion, we can go tot he Magisterial teaching of the Church to see if that conclusion is consistent or inconsistent with the Faith. So, we don’t have to worry about being led astray as long as we realize that we are not personally infallible.

Let’s put it another way. If I were to ask you to define the Trinity, you’d probably give me an explanation that is, in some way, heretical. You may honestly believe what you are saying at the time you are saying it, but that doesn’t make you a formal heretic. It makes you a material heretic, and there is a big difference. Formal heretics know they are believing something that the Church condemns, and they believe it anyway. Material heretics who are corrected by a person who knows the truth and then they assent to the proper teaching incur no guilt at all. They are ignorant of the truth and simply reform their belief when shown the Church’s true teaching. That’s just part of learning as fallible beings. One person rejects truth knowingly, the other rejoices when shown truth, even if it requires him to change his mind.

Here’s a historical note to make you feel better. Pope John XXII had a personal belief that faithfully departed souls were denied the Beatific Vision until the Final Judgement at the end of time. This is an erroneous belief, and it made him a material heretic. He wasn’t aware of any defined teaching against it, so he persisted in his belief. However, after serious argumentation by theologians, and before his death, the Pope was convinced of the error of his beliefs and relented. He never imposed this teaching on the Church, so the charism of infallibility was never tarnished. However, he was a material heretic. That, however, did not put him outside the Church. Once he was shown the error of his ways, he changed his mind.

So, in reading the Bible, don’t worry about coming to erroneous conclusions. I doubt that it will be enough to send you down the wrong path. You have a wonderful Catholic heritage 2000 years and running that will gently guide you to a proper understanding of much of Holy scripture. For those things that confuse you, seek the wisdom of the Church and the corrections of more learned Catholics. For all other things that may confuse you, leave that to God and don’t stress about it. Concentrate on what you do understand and you will please God.


A good Catholic Bible study will require having the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reference. Here is a very good online Catholic Bible study…

It does not have all the books yet but enough to keep you busy.

And about that anxiety…Philippians 4:6-8:thumbsup:


Thank you for your responses. I do believe that it is of prime importance to have a personal devotion of Scripture, to use it for prayer and listening. That is certainly more important than theorizing about the precise origins of the biblical texts (which, of course, is a good endeavor as well, so long as you’re not jumping to conclusions or deliberately trying to do away with Church tradition and authority).

To clarify, the particular method of study to which I was referring is about understanding the background of the texts and then reading the texts themselves, so I could have a literary, historical, and theological understanding of them. I was hoping this sort of approach would allow me to address specific issues people have with the Bible (for instance, the claim that it condones slavery, which is a topic for another day and thread).


Try not to mistake some of our harsh critiques of the NAB footnotes and intros with condemnation of anyone who uses it, because God forbid any of us to hint that anyone would be a heretic for that! You did right by making sure that it had the Church’s stamp of approval. What those who share their disaproval about the NAB is its break from traditional Catholic school of thought on non-binding interpretations and things like authorship. None of those things can put anybody in danger of heresy. The footnotes and intros of the NAB are safe when it comes to binding doctrine.

That being said, on the otherhand, I have seen those footnotes and intros put many doubts and shake the faith of many because the school of thought that it follows gives the impression that many of the books of the Bible were forgeries of people who wrote pretending to be someone they are not in order to trick people to thinking that they are reading something written by someone great. Also concerning the holy prophets when writing prophesies of future events that became fulfilled, the NAB footnotes will often give the impression that the prophetic writing was written after it was fulfilled instead of before, that way readers would be fooled into thinking that it was foretold instead of told afterwords. Those kinds of things in my opinion are not the kinds of things that strengthen the faith of people who chose to devote their lives to a faith that draws a great deal from Scripture. In my opinion that way of thinking weakens the reliability in Scripture.


Start here…

Bible Timeline: The Story of Salvation by Great Adventure/Jeff Cavins

The Bible Timeline by Great Adventure/Jeff Cavins is an excellent foundational study which walks through the entire Bible in 24 weeks. It is authentically and organically Catholic, faithful to the Magesterium and does exactly what you ask - gives the literal, historical and theological background of the texts, getting into individual words when needed, discussing how the Jews lived, politics, history, geography, etc. I have sat through this particular study twice an have held four of the Great Adventure studies in my home.

We have several groups at our parish who do these studies. We buy the books and the Church sponsors the DVD sets.

I could not recommend the Jeff Cavins studies more.



EDIT: Note that throughout below, you are not a heretic for reading heretical material, nor are you a fundamentalist for reading fundamentalist material. You only become a material heretic when you believe heresy; you only become a formal heretic when you believe heresy and the Church has told you that you’re a heretic and you refuse to recant. What you read may predispose you to hold orthodox or heterodox beliefs, but the act of reading orthodox or heterodox material is not in itself an act of heresy nor orthodoxy.

That Bible preaches heresy of the highest order in the footnotes. Ignore them, no matter how many imprimaturs or papal blessings it has received. The text in the NAB/RE is not bad (except for the 1991 Psalms banned by the Vatican), but the footnotes are full of rank heresy (not JEDP, per se, which is a discredited theory even amongst secular scholars, but in denial of the Virgin Birth, denial of the actual inspiration of much of the NT text, especially in the gospels, through a circuitous process of redaction and source criticism; denial of the historicity of vast parts of the Bible, etc.).

The translation itself is poor, but what makes it really offensive are the notes. (As an above poster says, I disagree: I believe the notes themselves preach formal heresy, but, at the very least, they can be a proximate cause of at least material heresy in the readers of them, as they, insofar as I can tell, are written with the goal of engendering non-orthodox beliefs in the reader, and replacing them with opinions that are instead “orthodox” according to the canons of mid-20th century liberal higher criticism. I can not believe they were intentionally written to shake the faith of readers, but that is the effect: it may be that the translators believe so little, or are immersed so thoroughly in unbelieving academia, that they are desensitized to the scandal of the notes amongst the “simple faithful”*.)

I honestly have no idea how such a book was able to gain imprimatur. Then again, today, imprimatur is a rubber stamp, and means virtually nothing in regards to the actual content of the book, as the Index is no more, and an heretical author can almost certainly find a censor to approve his book, especially in sight of the endemic unfaithfulness of some religious orders which can publish under the imprimatur of a superior. (For example, the New Jerome Biblical Commentary has imprimatur, even though it denies virtually every truth of the Catholic faith.) It’s a broken system, and your experience is a demonstration of its brokenness - you assume, as you should, that imprimatur means “orthodox Catholic in accordance with the mind of the Church”, but it doesn’t. Buying books with imprimatur today is just (or even more) hit-or-miss than buying books without imprimatur.

Pre-Vatican II (although it was fading after the retraction of the Anti-Modernist Oath), the imprimatur’s meaning was much closer to what you assumed it to have meant today.

Get a Douay-Rheims Challoner Bible (if you want a study Bible, the Haydock is excellent), an Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (only the NT is currently available), the Navarre Bible, the Orthodox Study Bible, or even a Protestant Lutheran Study Bible, NASB Study Bible, or Life Application Study Bible, all of which are far more orthodox than the NAB/RE, and contain notes, if you want them. If you are looking for something specific in a Bible, ask me, and I can probably point you in the right direction (as a reader of Catholic Bibles Blog and Bible Design Blog).

*Even when it comes to the “academic faithful”, the NAB/RE is a poor Bible, as the notes aren’t good at teaching modern secular Biblical scholarship. (This is one reason it’s not used in university, nor really used at all outside of where it is mandated for use by the Church, i.e. the USA, unlike other Bibles which are used in multiple settings by multiple groups.) For that purpose, one is more likely to use a New Oxford Annotated Bible in the NRSV translation. Now, the NOAB is no more orthodox in its notes than the NAB/RE: but it doesn’t have an imprimatur, and isn’t attempted to be pawned off on the faithful as in accordance with the mind of the Church and Christian doctrine.


I recommend them as well, if you prefer that sort of engagement over reading a commentary, etc.

The Navarre Bible is ten volumes and has a very large amount of commentary - it may be what you are looking for. It’s in the RSV-CE translation. The Haydock has better commentary, I think, but it’s in one massive, unwieldy volume and in the DRC translation (which I prefer, but which uses archaic English which some people don’t).

The ICSB-NT is excellent, but it is only the NT in the RSV-2CE translation. In any case, the Navarre is about $400, the Haydock $100, but the ICSB-NT is only $15 in paperback, $25 in hardcover (from Amazon).

All three are orthodox commentaries and contain a great deal of information.


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