The Holy Scriptures


The most important thing to grasp about the Holy Scriptures is that the Word of God is not ink on a page, but a person; the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the one who took human nature as Jesus Christ.

In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. John 1:1

The Word existed long before the invention of writing; the Word has existed as long as God has existed; indeed the Word is God Himself, and yet ‘with God’, something distinct.

By his Word the heavens were made; by the Spirit of his mouth all the stars. Psalm 33:6

God gave the Word, and, as we read in Genesis 1, the universe came into being. So the Word of God is something that comes forth (‘proceeds’) from God, that created the world and holds the world in being. From the very beginning, the Word was active in the world.

The Word of the Lord came to Jonah. Jonah 1:1

The Word is God’s means of communication, the way by which human beings can understand God, and hear what he means us to hear. The message may not always be comfortable, but then God Word is God’s Truth come to save us, not God’s Platitude to tell us not to bother.

If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:31

So God’s Word is a message that we need to accept and obey if we want to be Jesus’ disciples. If we throw away the message, or leave out uncomfortable bits of it, we are throwing away the Word; we are throwing away Jesus who is the Word. The Word is not ink on a page, but a person and a vital message.

Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me. Luke 10:16

The point is that our Lord at no point told his disciples to write everything down and add some more books to the Jewish scriptures and make a ‘New Testament’. He sent them to preach the Good News to all creation, and guaranteed that their preached message would be his message. His apostles and disciples are the living means of his message, which did not stop teaching the truth when Jesus ascended, but is still teaching to this day.

The Apostles still teach: they are the bishops.

The Church still teaches: we, Pope, Clergy, Religious, Layfolk, are the Church.

The Church is the Body of Christ, that which continues the presence of Christ in the world.

The Church is the means by which the message of Christ reaches out:

—the Pope to the bishops,

—the bishop to his priests,

—the priest to his parish,

—the parishioners to their neighbours, workmates and friends.

all just like Jesus Christ to his disciples (a ‘disciple’ is one who listens and learns).

The Word of God is alive and active. Hebrews 4:12

‘Tradition’ is not about stuffy old-fashionedness, but literally means ‘handing on’. The Word of God is handed on from generation to generation, the teaching guaranteed by God to abide in the truth when we remain within the Church. Tradition is not just something the Pope and Bishops do, but is something that parents do when they teach their children prayers, when teachers teach R.E., when the parish priest preaches, when the Sacraments are celebrated.

Some final important facts:

Apart from redeeming us, Jesus did not come to write a book: he came to found a Church to perpetuate his message.

The Church’s teaching is passed on in both Scripture and Tradition: you could call the Scriptures that part of the tradition that is written down.

Scripture is inerrant, but it has to be understood within the tradition and teaching of the Church, whose creation, under God, and tool it is. You can use a tool to do all sorts of things–a chisel can stab, cut cheese, prop a door open—but if you want to know how to use it properly, you need to consult the carpenter. Nobody can safely interpret the teachings of the Bible for him or herself without the entire Church whose creation and tool it is.


And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us  John 1:14

This is the image of Christos Pantocreator (Christ the creator of everything) from Monreale in Sicily. Note how the book of the Scriptures is, as it were, coming out of his Sacred Heart.

Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. St Jerome

What translation should I read?

You might have noticed that Catholic bibles are longer than Protestant bibles. This is because they have more books in the Old Testament. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but in later times, when Hebrew was no longer commonly spoken, some books were written in Aramaic or Greek, and most Jews used a Greek translation of the whole Old Testament called the Septuagint. In the seventh century, a group of Jewish Rabbis called the Masoretes decided to prune out anything that wasn’t in Hebrew. At this stage, the Church had not decided on the Canon (the official list of books) of the Old Testament, though it had fixed the Canon of the New Testament by 396. Everyone was agreed about the Hebrew books, and as time went on, people became surer and surer about the others, too.

When the Renaissance came, some churchmen learnt Hebrew, and some were distressed to find that some books of the Bible were not actually in the Hebrew Bible which the Rabbis had showed them. Who added these books in, they wondered? And so it is that the Protestant reformers decided to cut them out. Good stuff, some of them said, but not part of the Bible. They called these other books the ‘Apocrypha’.

The Catholic reformers were more cautious. Is the Hebrew language the point? they asked. Cannot God speak in other languages? They noticed that the Masoretes’ Hebrew text differed on a number of points from the Greek Septuagint, and, since the Septuagint, though a translation, was a full thousand years older than the Masoretic text, they thought that it was likely to be a safer bet as to accuracy. So when, finally the Catholic Church pronounced on the Canon of the Old Testament, at the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century, it included all the books that had been handed down as being part of the Bible in the Catholic Church, no matter what original language they had been written in. Because this Canon was the Churches second shot at defining a Canon, the books are called ‘Deuterocanonical’ (deuteros is the Greek for second).

So, when you come to look for a Bible to read, get one that has all the books. Some Protestant translations do include them, and they say on the label ‘with the apocrypha’. If you get one of these translations be a little careful, because in some cases the translations may not reflect the Church’s teachings—a word can often be translated in more than one way.

This aside, often the best thing to do is to go into a bookshop and sample your favourite passages in different translations.

Here are some guidelines:

Catholic Bibles:

All of these have the Deuterocanonical books.

The Bible that is read at Mass in Britain and Ireland is the Jerusalem Bible, with the Grail version of the Psalms. These are likely to be the most familiar to you.

Sadly, the ‘J.B.’ is not available online.

However, the Catholic Truth Society publish a bible that uses both these translations; we have them in the pews in St Peter’s and in Christ the King churches. You can buy your own (a larger one than the one in our pews) by clicking here.

The Douay-Rheims Bible is the version traditionally used among English-speaking Catholics: some call it the ‘Catholic King James Version’. It is a very literal translation, which makes it rather hard to read at times.

Buy the Douay-Rheims version.

Read the Douay-Rheims online.

Get the Douay-Rheims as an e-book

The New American Bible is the translation used at Mass in the United States.

Buy the New American Bible.

Read the New American Bible online.

Get the New American Bible e-book

The Catholic RSV Bible

The RSV is a very widely-praised translation for its dignity and accuracy. It is currently published as the Ignatius Bible, having certain small corrections and the Deuterocanonical books added.

Buy the Ignatius Bible.

The Ignatius Bible for Kindle.

Many non-Catholic translations may be sampled here at The Bible Gateway.

Online Catholic Bible Study

Agape Bibles

The Crossroads initiative

Some good introductory articles

Some really good links and commentary on sites

Some links to personal sites for biblical study in a more general sense

Scott Hahn

Scriptural Evidence for Catholic Doctrine

Dei Verbum; the document of the Second Vatican Council concerned with the Word of God.