A review of How Not to Read the Bible: An Authentic Catholic Approach to Scripture Today

“The Bible should come with a warning label on the cover. ‘Warning: Misreading this text can cause confusion, intolerance, ignorance, and even violence.’” This statement is found on the back cover of How Not to Read the Bible: An Authentic Catholic Approach to Scripture Today by scriptural scholar Scott Lewis, SJ.

What a great warning! If you are like me, you probably have had enough with people justifying wars, killing, sanctioning hatred of gays, suppressing women, positioning humans as masters of Earth, and starting endless inquisitions all in the name of the Bible!

In contrast, Lewis shows the reader how to avoid these dangers by learning how to properly read the bible.

How is it we have come to so misrepresent the Bible? A number of reasons present themselves. Here are two:

  1. One, far too many Catholics know next to nothing of Scripture, how it came to be or what is even in it, other than what they hear at Mass. Some are still coming to terms with the Bible not being the literal truth about how the world was made, and that the Bible has scientific and historical errors in it.
  2. Another reason we misread the Bible is because we take passages out of context, picking and choosing what we want to hear, while ignoring what we do not want to hear. Lewis offers a perfect example of this with when the Republican U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions who tried in 2018 to justify separating refugee children from their parents by quoting Romans 13 (where it says ‘obey government laws’). What he failed to also quote was Romans 13:9-10 where it says, “whatever other command there may be, is summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law,” or Mark 12:28-34, or Matthew 22:34-40 or Luke 10:25-28, and so on….

Simply put, the bible cannot be used as a weapon to judge others; it is a book about us. This is a point Lewis stresses much in the book: we all are the tax collectors, Pharisees and Herods as well as the many good characters also found in this very influential collection of stories.

Lewis sums up the need for this book well when he writes, “We can no longer afford the dubious luxury of reading our Scriptures in a way that is uncritical, uninformed, and unreflective” (p. 9). Amen.

So how might we learn to approach the Bible informed and reflective, ready to read it critically?  Buy Lewis’ book!  And while you’re at it, buy one for that uncle of yours who abuses Scripture to support his intolerance, fear and hatred 😉

Simon Appoloni, Associate Publishing Director

Scott Lewis, SJ is an associate professor of New Testament at Regis College, Toronto School of Theology. He is also a past president of the Canadian Catholic Biblical Association. His publications can be found and purchased here.

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