Scholar says difficult Bible passages must be read in context

 Difficult passages in the Bible should be read as part of the whole story of salvation and not misused, a leading Catholic biblical scholar told an ecumenical audience in London.

Father Henry Wansbrough, general editor of the New Jerusalem Bible, and a Benedictine from Ampleforth Abbey, North Yorkshire was speaking at the launch of The Gift of Scripture, the new teaching document by the English & Welsh bishops and Scottish bishops, at the British Library.

The event marked the 40th anniversary of the publication of Dei Verbum, Vatican II's document on revelation. Sponsored by Bible Society, the audience included representatives from a number of Christian communities, including Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Salvation Army and the Armenian Apostolic Church.

"There has been sufficient confidence to admit that the Bible contains difficult, even shocking and scandalous passages," said Fr Wansbrough.

"The narratives of the entry into Canaan raise serious theological questions. God is presented as commanding the Israelites to annihilate their enemies by inflicting the ban or curse of destruction.

"Of the psalms, too, some contain the language of hatred and violence. In the New Testament also some passages in the Pauline writings suggest a
subordinate role for women," he said.

Fr Wansborough added that in recent times the Bible had been used to justify violence, the persecution the Jews and the subjection of women.

"Such misuse of the Bible is, from the beginning, related to fundamentalism, a refusal to see scripture in its development and an intransigent disregard of the diversity of the views expressed, thus making absolute what is a partial and incomplete understanding within scripture.

These difficulties need to be placed within the context of the Bible as a whole, and revelation understood as a gradual process, stressed Fr Wansbrough.

A biblical text comes from a particular social and religious setting.

Introducing the event, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said The Gift of Scripture should be seen in conjunction with One Bread, One Body. the 1998 document on the Eucharist published by the bishops of Britain and Ireland. He also spoke of the the Bible as the common heritage of all Christians.

Bible Society chief executive James Catford told the audience that if the Bible was going to make an impact in society, then it needed to be made relevant to the four "key change drivers" in culture: politics, arts, media and education.

Scot McKendrick, curator of earlier and medieval manuscripts, gave an illustrated talk about some of the biblical treasures at the Library. He also spoke about the Codex Sinaiticus, said to be the world's oldest Bible, part of which is on display in the Library.

The Library is currently working with St Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, the Library of Russia, and the University of Leipzig to make this third century document ccessible to the general public through modern technology.

The Gift of Scripture is published by the Catholic Truth Society, priced £3.95

first posted LONDON - 21 November 2005 - 500 words

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