Session 6: The Bible

Resources for participants

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

6A:

  • What are your favourite books or films?
  • What’s your favourite TV series?
  • What music do you like to listen to?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

 

6B:

  • Where do you look for guidance or inspiration when you need it?
  • Have you ever read the bible?
  • Have you read or learnt about any sacred books from other religious traditions?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

 

6C:

  • Do you know any bible stories or stories from other religious traditions?
  • Have any of these stories helped or inspired you? Which is your favourite and why?
  • If the bible could give you the answer to any question, which question would you ask?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

 

READINGS FROM THE YOUCAT FOR THIS SESSION

If you are using the YouCat with your Sycamore group, please click here for general advice about the YouCat and how to use the readings. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

  • #11 to #19 – the Bible [7 pages]

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the YouCat and not to page numbers. The number in [square brackets] at the end tells you roughly how long this passage is in terms of the pages you need to read (excluding picture pages).

 

LONGER READINGS FROM THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

If you have more time, and if you want to go deeper into the topic of this session, you can follow up by exploring the longer Catechism of the Catholic Church. See the standard online version here, and a digital “flip-book” edition here. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the Catechism and not to page numbers. Click on the links themselves to read the paragraphs in the online version.

 

KEY IDEAS FROM THE FILM

6A – What is the bible?

The bible is not just a single book, it’s an astonishing collection of different writings from the Jewish and Christian traditions. It’s written by different people, in different places, over many centuries. In effect it’s a whole library, rather than an individual book.

It tells the story of God’s plan for humankind, as it unfolds from the creation of the world to the end of time. It speaks about God’s love for all people; his special love for the Jewish people; the coming of the Saviour, Jesus Christ; his death and resurrection; the gift of the Holy Spirit; and the beginnings of the Christian Church. It finishes with an extraordinary vision of heaven.

The most important books in the bible are the four Gospels. Written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, they tell the story of Jesus from different perspectives. They are trustworthy, historical documents that connect us with his life and his teaching.

Christians believe that the bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. God was guiding the biblical authors and guiding the history of salvation they were part of, and giving us the truth we needed for our salvation.

The bible is absolutely central to the Christian life and to the Church. Christians believe that God speaks to us through the words and events of the bible. These are not just dead words sitting on a page. They come alive and we are drawn into the reality of these events.

This is why it’s said that Christianity is a religion of the Word, rather than a religion of the Book. We read this book, but we hear the voice of Christ.

6B – Can we trust the bible?

Christians make a big thing about the bible. And they claim not just that it’s inspiring and helpful, but that it is true; and above all that it presents the truth about Jesus Christ – his life, his teaching, his death and resurrection.

Christians are not interested in myths or fairy tales. Everything hangs on the belief that God entered our history, and if we can’t know the truth about that history then honestly it’s all a waste of time.

Now you might be sceptical. Why should you trust the bible? What if it’s just Christian propaganda? What if it’s “fake news”? These are good questions. So let me give you four reasons why I think we can trust the bible, and especially why we can trust the accounts of Jesus’s life that are presented in the four Gospels.

First: timing. The four Gospels were written just decades after the death of Jesus, not centuries. They are incredibly close to the events. It’s not ancient history but living memory.

The second reason I trust the Gospels is this: consistency. The Gospels are consistent not just with each other (maybe you’d expect that), but with everything else we know from that period: with the Christian letters that circulated; with the evidence we have from non-Christian writings; with the local geography and coinage and art and inscriptions.

The third reason I trust the Gospels is because I trust the people who wrote them and the communities that passed them on and the Church that treasured them. They were simply not interested in making up stories. St Luke says: I need to tell you the truth about what has happened. St John says: I am testifying to what I know to be true. We are seeing things through the eyes of Christian believers; but their passion to share the truth – a truth that has changed their lives – makes us believe it even more and not less.

The final reason I trust the Gospels is their credibility. If you read the Gospels they just feel genuine, credible. There is an authenticity. A sense that they are trustworthy, that they are speaking to your heart, that this message is meant to be taken seriously. It feels as if there is a bigger truth behind the individual words on each page.

So I do think there are good reasons to trust the bible and to trust the core historical truth of the Gospels. But in the end it is only the experience of reading them and actually hearing that truth that will convince you.

6C – How the bible can change your life

Every Christian will have a different story about how God has spoken to them through the words of the bible. Sometimes it’s something completely unexpected, opening a door we didn’t know was there. Sometimes it’s a simple note of reassurance or encouragement. Sometimes it’s a very concrete message or a command: “Do this!” or “Don’t do that!” And sometimes it’s just the day-to-day reading and praying, without any big experiences.

Jesus said: if you listen to my words and put them into practice it’s like building a house on rock; the foundation is so secure that your faith will never be undermined. We just have to spend some time with the bible, and to follow his teaching and example. It might be reading the bible alone, or joining a prayer group or a study group, or hearing the bible readings at church on Sunday.

If you are not sure how to start, here’s a simple suggestion. Find a bible, and just enjoy reading through one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) which tell the story of Jesus. Go at whatever pace suits you. There is no pressure.

See what you find interesting. If there is a passage that strikes you, then you can stay with that and mull it over, like when you pull off a motorway in order to admire a view. You are not just reading the words on the page, you are listening to what God is saying to you in your heart.

This kind of personal reading is often the first place we start. But we soon realise that if we want to understand the true message of the bible, and to unlock its deepest mysteries, we need the help of others, and we need the help of the Church. The Holy Spirit is speaking to the whole Church, and not just to me. I need the wisdom of the Church to help me appreciate the deepest wisdom of the bible.