Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the Jan. 15, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
Q. Can you believe there was a special sale on Bibles at the store? We both bought three as Christmas presents. It’s good that they had an exchange policy because we found out they were cast-off editions. Except two were Catholic acceptable. Why didn’t we know? Or how could we have known?
A. The first few pages, the index, the endorsements by printers, will show whether any Bible is an approved Catholic copy. There are many fine choices, but there are also some goshawful editions you should avoid. This Q. B. scrivener keeps touting the wise words of a Catholic convert who made the discovery, “Hey, that’s our stuff.” Be sure you get the right stuff.
The New American Bible with its revised New Testament (1986) is the one we use at Mass. It’s a good edition. Scholars are pecking away at it because that’s what scholars do.
The New Revised Standard Version (1989) is a superb edition that flows “trippingly on the tongue,” as Shakespeare said. A very good read.
The Jerusalem Bible, originally in French, is very good, with copious footnotes and references for readers with scholarly tendencies.
The Good News Bible is a version for under-achievers who can say they read the whole book.
Be wary. There are some atrocious editions on sale dressed in fancy top-grain leather and gold edges.
Q. Our grandma seems to be an expert. She has read a Bible chapter a day for many years and can quote what she likes that keeps us informed. She likes to say that anyone who lives beyond “three score and ten” is on borrowed time, according to her Bible. Is she right?
A. Grandmas know a lot of things, so they’re entitled to say a lot of things without fear of contradiction, but in this case, Scripture study is not her strongest point.
The Bible makes no comment about the proper number of years in any person’s life span. For instance, Genesis lists 17 old-timers who are old by any standard. Methuselah leads the parade at 969 years. Of course, they had different calendars then.
The New Testament doesn’t touch the subject.
Grandmothers are famous for their fine old family recipes, their specially-baked bread, and remembering family names at reunions, especially when they surpass three score and seven. Spend some time in her kitchen and give her lots of TLC.
Q. This is still not clear to me. When and how did the Catholic Church take the authority to make the decisions about which books belong in the Bible? It seems to me that’s the major trouble today trying to decide which Bible is the right one, because so much depends on that choice.
A. If not the Catholic Church, then who? Both sections, the Hebrew (Old) Testament and the Greek (New) Testament, developed over a period of more than 1,500 years. Who else could have selected and deleted specific writings for the official canon? When you hear people debate the merits of various editions, you know the issue isn’t settled yet.
Let’s dispel the notion that the Bible was hand-delivered by an angel with the divine injunction that this book is totally inerrant and it contains everything we will ever need to believe to be saved.
The people closest to the source, those who wrote and read the first scrolls as “the Law, the Prophets and the Writings,” recognized the authentic scripts with the simple admonition, “If it’s useful, use it.” What could be more sensible?
The Hebrew authorities didn’t bother drawing up an approved list, or canon, until their First Century Council of Jamnia agreed they needed one. The Greek (New) Christian writings, finished in just about 50 years, were easier to determine authenticity, although there was some debate.
But I digress.
(Father Mikulski welcomes your comments and questions. Write to him at 7718 Westwood Dr., Oscoda, Mich. 48750.)