The Bible is the Word of God in human words. Because it comes to us from Almighty God, it has the power to be life transforming; God knows each of us, and he knows what we need when we open the book.

Sometimes we find his Word thundering from above, sometimes whispering in a still, small voice -- but always, it is the Word sent by the all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God.

The Bible is a whole library of books written over the course of more than a thousand years, in many different styles, with many different points of view, by dozens of different writers.

But it is also one book, with one Author, telling one story -- the heart-pounding, thrill-a-minute story of our salvation

How to read the Bible as a faithful Catholic

Scholars have written mighty tomes, and saints have spent long lives, teaching people what it means to read the Bible faithfully. Here we'll offer just a brief word on interpretation -- three short principles, actually, that the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) decreed in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. These "criteria" were summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the following form:

"Be attentive 'to the content and unity of the whole Scripture'" (No. 112.)

The Church's first criterion protects us from wrenching verses out of context, making them out to mean something other than their divine and human authors intended. The true context of every verse in the Bible is the words and paragraphs that surround it -- the book in which it appears. The true context is the book of the Bible, but also the book that is the Bible.

"Read the Scripture within 'the living Tradition of the whole Church'" (No. 113.)

The second criterion places the Bible firmly within the context of a community that treasures a "living tradition." That community is the Communion of Saints. We test our own interpretations, measuring them against the tradition of interpreters who have gone before us. The Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton called this principle the "democracy of the dead." We believe that our ancestors have much to teach us. They should have a vote. It protects us from the ever-present arrogance that believes we have just now reached the pinnacle of human knowledge and insight.

"Be attentive to the analogy of faith" (No. 114).

The third criterion leads us to examine scriptural texts within the framework of the fullness of Catholic faith. If we believe that the Scriptures are divinely inspired, we must also believe them to be internally coherent and consistent with all Catholic doctrine. The Church's dogmas are not something added to Scripture. In the words of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI): "Dogma is by definition nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture."

Reverence for the Word

Word and sacrament are inseparably united. Both command profound reverence. The custom of kissing the Book of Gospels, which remains with the Church today, arose in the early centuries of Christianity, as did the custom of "enthroning" the biblical books in the Church.

The Word is the Lord's, but it is revealed to mankind. It must be written, but primarily so that it can be proclaimed "in the midst of the assembly"(Sir 15:5) in every generation.