Bringing the Word to Life


Essays on Interpreting the Bible in Ordinary Time

By Scott Hahn

Emmaus Road Publishing, 2009

157 pages, $15.95

To order:

(800) 398-5470

As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “It is Christ himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to him.”

Scott Hahn, a professor of theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, seems to me to be one of those good teachers under whose guidance one can come closer to Christ through the study of Scripture. His style is plain but clear and solidly based on research, and I believe it passes Lewis’ test for religious writers: If they can’t put what they think into plain English, then either something is wrong with their thinking or they are trying to pull one over on the reader.

And you don’t have to worry about something else Lewis mentioned with regard to Bible scholars: “When you turn from the New Testament to modern scholars, remember that you go among them as a sheep among wolves. Naturalistic assumptions, beggings of the question … will meet you on every side — even from the pens of clergymen.”

Hahn is on the side not of the wolves but of the sheep and the Shepherd.

Hahn’s Spirit & Life: Essays on Interpreting the Bible in Ordinary Time is divided into two sections — “Spirit” and “Life” (although nowhere is it explained why this division was made or why each essay was placed in its respective section). The book consists of lectures, essays and, by my count, three previously unpublished essays. Despite the lack of thematic unity (unless you want to say Scripture is the theme), the essays and lectures are well worth reading.

Hahn reflects on God’s word as a symphony, the biblical Christology and hermeneutics of faith of Pope Benedict XVI, the liturgical sense of Scripture, the meaning of the cathedral, the Book of Matthew, the idea of Christ as both Lion and Lamb, and teaching.

The two lectures on Pope Benedict’s theology are essential reading for those interested in the Pope’s thought and are an excellent introduction to his book Jesus of Nazareth.

And, in general, Hahn is a master at revealing the connections between the Old and New Testaments and showing how both coinhere with each other and with the liturgies of believers both Jewish and Christian.

My favorite essay, though, is “Christ in Majesty, Scary Jesus,” in which, beginning with a description of the colossal mosaic “Christ in Majesty” that “dominates the great upper church at the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.,” Hahn goes on to explore the “disquieting paradox” of Christ as judge being the same Christ as lamb.

“The icon forces us to confront a seeming contradiction in Christianity,” Hahn writes. “Our Lord is a just judge, a powerful vindicator, whose wrath is capable of consigning mortal sinners to hell; yet Our Lord is merciful and as meek as a lowly barnyard animal in its infancy. ... The dogmatic truth is that we need not choose. The mystery of the Incarnation demands that we accept the perfect union of many seemingly incompatible things: The finite contains the infinite; the eternal enters time; the sacrificial lamb presides on the Day of Wrath.”

The only time I paused to question Hahn was in his essay on Pentecostal phenomena, in which he discusses the gift of tongues. He fails to mention that the gifts of tongues in Acts 2 were manifested as the speaking of foreign languages, not the glossolalia one would hear at a charismatic service.

But overall, Hahn inspires the believer to partake more knowledgeably at the table of God’s word and so come to know better Christ the Lord, the Word of God.

Franklin Freeman writes

from Saco, Maine.