Wisdom Overflowing

Scripture Study Resources for Catholics

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About Carol Kloss
BEGIN BIBLE STUDY
WITH A BOOK OF THE BIBLE

Early in my experience with the Bible, I thought I’d take a shortcut to learning the Bible’s “bottom line.” I began reading a book deep in the middle of the Old Testament promisingly titled Wisdom. I'd never heard of this book, knew nothing about it, and at the time had no idea there were Bible study resources that could have helped me. Instead of becoming wiser, I became confused and stopped reading!
Beginning Bible Study with a Book of the Bible
It’s a great idea to start your study of the Bible with one book. Reading a biblical book from start to finish is the best way to come to know it AS a book—with a beginning, middle, end, and with its own particular focus and themes. Every book of the Bible was carefully put together. When we just read selections from Scripture, we can miss the literary power as well as much of the content of a biblical book.
However, the Bible's books can be hard to understand without help (as I learned with the book of Wisdom!) They were produced in long-ago times and places, in languages no longer spoken, by people who lived in different cultures and had different understandings of the world from our time and place. We often need background to make sense of what we read.
These books have also had a long life in the teaching and worship of the Church. Key themes and teaching, connections to other books of the Bible, and ways the book came into Church tradition aren't always obvious from the text on the page.
For all these reasons, when you begin your study with a single book of the Bible, get some kind of beginner's guide to that book and that part of the Bible. And choose a book that's an easier entry into the Bible than the book of Wisdom.
Easy Places to Start in the New Testament
For New Testament study, a gospel is the easiest place to start. And, if you've never read a gospel from start to finish, it's also the best place to start.
  • The gospel of Mark is an excellent choice for a beginner. It's the shortest and most dramatic gospel. It's also the gospel most scholars think the authors of Matthew and Luke used when they wrote their gospels.
  • Another good choice is the gospel used in the current Church year for the Sunday readings in Ordinary time.
  • I recommend studying the gospel of John after you've studied Matthew, Mark, or Luke.

You might also begin with a New Testament letter. That way, you'll get a sense of these books as letters, or as complete writings, something that's not apparent from the excerpts proclaimed at Mass.

  • Philippians is a good first choice for a letter of Paul.
  • You could also start with Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians). It's shorter than Philippians. You'll also be reading the earliest book of the New Testament!
  • The letter of James is easy to understand and includes great advice for daily life.
  • Ephesians is a beautiful letter in which you'll learn a lot about how Christians came to understand the Church.

Bible study resources for the New Testament are listed below.


Easy Places to Start in the Old Testament
Many Catholics know nothing about the Old Testament books except the excerpts heard at Mass, or a few of its stories (Adam and Eve! Noah's ark!) At some point, you'll want to begin to learn this important section of our Bible.
The Old Testament contains almost twice as many books as the New Testament (46 in the Catholic Bible, compared to 27 books of the New Testament) and most of those books are much longer than those of the New Testament. Where do you start? Once again, make it easy on yourself. Choose something familiar and, for longer books, start with a section of the book rather than the entire book.
  • Start with Genesis 1-11, the stories of creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah,
    and the tower of Babel.
  • Read
    Exodus 1-20, the story of Moses growing up in Egypt and later being called by God to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, where they receive the Ten Commandments from the God who saved them.
  • Two short books of the Old Testament that are well known and easy to study as a beginner are Jonah and Ruth.
  • The book of Psalms is a great introduction to many of the Bible's images of God, to ancient Israel's sense of its relation to God, and situations in which people pray to God.

Wherever you choose to begin in the Old Testament, remember it's better to take a small step than take no step at all!

Bible study resources for the Old Testament are listed below.


RESOURCES: Study with a Book of the Bible

The beginner's guides listed below are good "next steps" beyond the briefer overviews you find in an introduction to the Bible.

Beginning New Testament

Who Is Jesus? Why Is He Important? An Invitation to the New Testament

By Daniel Harrington, S.J. Sheed & Ward (1999)

Everything a beginner needs to start reading the New Testament, presented in an easy-to-read way by a Catholic biblical scholar who has written many books for the average Catholic. This small book with its short chapters includes basic guidance for every book of the New Testament, as well as an excellent chapter that introduces the New Testament as a whole, its world, and how to read it.

A great initial introduction to the New Testament that could be used by individuals or by groups. Also useful for parish situations when a simple New Testament introduction is needed.

The Four Gospels: Catholic Personal Study Edition
Editors: Catherine Upchurch and Ronald D. Witherup, S.S.
Little Rock Scripture Study (2009)

Using the New American Bible (NAB) translation of the four gospels, this edition offers introductions to each gospel, notes, historical and cultural background of the gospels, lectionary and Catholic faith connections, maps, pictures, and prayer helps in a well designed and inviting format. Well written and accurate sidebars in the text provide information and address common questions. (This Bible is an extract from the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible, not yet published.)

An excellent and up-to-date resource for any Bible study group or individual who wants to focus on the gospels. Informative yet not overwhelming. Also a good resource for catechists and any parish ministers who regularly work with the Sunday gospels.

Beginning Old Testament

People of the Covenant: An Invitation to

the Old Testament

By Dianne Bergant, C.S.A. Sheed & Ward (2001)

Everything a beginner needs to start reading the Old Testament, presented in a short, easy-to-read way by another Catholic biblical scholar who has written many books for the average Catholic. The author introduces the books and major ideas of the Old Testament through the different kinds of people we meet: ancestors, judges, kings, prophets, priests, wise ones, and mysterious figures, such as the Messiah. Along the way, she presents basic background and answers questions beginners typically have.

A great initial introduction to the Old Testament that could be used by individuals or by groups. Also useful for parish situations when a simple Old Testament introduction is needed.

Beginning Resources for the Entire Bible

The Collegeville Bible Handbook
The Liturgical Press (1997)

A colorful, illustrated book-by-book presentation of background, key themes, structure, and contents of every book of the Bible, condensed from the Collegeville Commentary series. Includes basic maps and photographs that give the reader a sense of the biblical world.

A great resource for quick overviews of the books and of the Bible's world. The photos and timelines alone will help your study. The kind of handbook you use to get yourself oriented.

JULY 2010 NOTE: Available from the publisher now at a 75% discount, perhaps because it will be going out of print soon.

Scripture from Scratch
St. Anthony Messenger Press

This four-page newsletter began in 1993 and continued monthly through 2005. All twelve years of publications are now available as single issues (some free online) or collected and indexed in a notebook. Over the years, many different Catholic biblical scholars and educators addressed Bible basics ("Reading the Good Book"); background ("Galilee Where Jesus Walked"); themes ("It's a Miracle! Signs & Wonders in the Bible"); and biblical connections to Catholicism ("Biblical Roots of Baptism"); as well as many of the individual books of the Bible. Each issue includes reflection questions and prayers and can actually be used as a short Bible study in itself. In the collected edition and on its web site, the publisher describes mini-courses composed of different Scripture from Scratch issues.

One of my favorite resources for beginners at any level. Each issue (inexpensive or free online) is a great way to get an overview of a topic as well as answers to basic questions. The excellent outlines of mini-courses help an individual or group work through several interesting Bible studies. A must-have resource for every parish, with many uses in adult faith formation and in catechist formation.

STUDY A

BIBLICAL BOOK


1. Every book of the Bible was put together with care and thought. Study a book from start to finish and you'll appreciate it much more.

2. In the New Testament, start with a gospel, either Mark or the gospel used in the current year of the Sunday readings.

3. Easy choices in the New Testament letters are Philippians, First Thessalonians, James, and Ephesians.

4. Easy places to begin Old Testament study include Genesis 1-11, Exodus 1-20, and the books of Jonah, Ruth, and Psalms.

5. Whatever your choice, use a beginner's guide to that book and part of the Bible to get the most out of your study.


ACTIVITY

Open your Bible and read part of each book suggested here.

Do you have other books of the Bible you've always wanted to read? If so, read part of them too.

Where do you want to begin? What resources do you need?