By TERRY CREGAR
SENECA — Catholics should read the Bible with a critical eye and not take literally everything one reads in it.
That was the central message Biblical scholar and Paulist Father Lawrence Boadt left for around 50 middle and high school students and their parents during a discussion of how Catholics should read and interpret the Bible.
Father Boadt was the guest speaker Feb. 24 at “Family Journey Night,” a monthly gathering of middle and high school students and their families from St. Andrew Church in Clemson, St. Paul the Apostle in Seneca and St. Francis in Walhalla.
“We want Catholics to read the Bible, but you don’t want to get into thinking that there are no mistakes in it,” Father Boadt said.
Comparing the Catholic approach to Bible study with that of fundamentalist Christians, Father Boadt said “a fundamentalist reading of the Bible starts with the idea that God gave this book to us so that we would learn about God and that when you open the Bible, all you need to know in your life about who God is, is contained in some way in these words that are inspired by God in the Scriptures.”
Father Boadt said fundamentalists believe the Holy Spirit guides them in their understanding of the Bible.
The Holy Spirit helps fundamentalists “see clearly what God is teaching in the Scriptures,” Father Boadt said.
But, according to Father Boadt, fundamentalists — and sometimes Catholics — fall into the trap of taking passages from the Bible too literally.
For example, in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, God created the heavens and the earth in six days.
“How long is a day in God’s eyes?” Father Boadt said. Citing a passage in Psalms which refers to a “day in your house, O God, is like a thousand elsewhere,” Boadt asks: “Do you think that might be what God means by a day?”
Father Boadt, a former professor emeritus of Scripture Studies at the Washington Theological Union, said readers of the Bible should consider the setting in which it was written.
“The Bible is written in a way that people thought 2,000 years ago,” he said. “They thought differently than we do … they didn’t know the science that we know.”
Instead, they used stories that were familiar to them and to their readers that would help get the message across.
“These people wrote this down as best they could, under the guidance of God,” Father Boadt said. “Some are great literature; some aren’t so great. Believers wrote the Bible under God’s guidance.
“Everything in the Bible is true when you’re talking about faith,” Boadt said. “But, when you’re talking about science, you’re talking about what they knew at the time. And it’s important that you know what little they knew.”
Father Boadt told the students that it’s also important to find out how God’s word “speaks to us.”
“Scripture is a very rich amalgam of persuasion about God’s ways, and what you have to do is read the Bible stories over and over again and try to find out how God’s word speaks in our time, to us,” he said.
That’s done, first and foremost, by praying and listening to the readings at Mass, Father Boadt said, and by seeking out other resources to help in interpret difficult passages.
“We have commentaries; we have teachers; we have priests. We have a lot of ways of investigating to try and learn more about understanding that text,” he said.
“The worst way to go about it is to assume that when you read the Bible it means exactly the way it was written, with God’s blessing.”
Father Boadt is president and publisher of the Paulist Press, a leading publisher of hardcover and paperback books, audio and video tapes, educational programs and materials for parish renewal.
His visit to the Upstate was a homecoming for the Los Angeles native, whose first pastoral assignment was at Clemson 33 years ago.