“The idea of the unity of God’s people…is profoundly based in Scripture.”
~ Pontifical Biblical Commission
Do you have a Protestant translation of the Bible? I’m not talking about the Gideon King James Version (KJV) you snagged in that Orlando motel five years ago. I’m talking about a good, solid, modern Protestant translation – like the English Standard Version (ESV) or the New International Version (NIV).
If you walk into most evangelical churches these days, it’ll probably be one of those two populating the pew racks. And if you’re ever approached on the street (or beach – summer’s coming) by someone who wants to share the Gospel, there’ll be a good chance he’ll be thumbing through an NIV or ESV as he quotes Scripture to you. (If not, he’ll have a KJV, and you already have one of those – c’mon, you know you do.)
“But I barely read my Catholic Bible as it is,” you protest. “To be honest, I can’t even remember where it is at the moment…. Well, anyway, why should I spend good money on another Bible, especially one that’s geared for Protestants?”
Fair enough. By way of an answer, let me tell you about my office.
It’s a mess. The walls are covered with layers (yes, layers) of drawings and paintings and art projects from my seven kids. I have books and pamphlets and papers stacked here and there willy-nilly, not to mention four bookcases stuffed with more pamphlets and papers, as well as photos and knickknacks and plenty more books – and some of them are double-shelved.
Now, I teach nursing for a living, so naturally a good number of those books are health care related: medical dictionaries, drug guides, med-surg and nursing fundamentals texts, stuff like that. Yet there’s plenty more mixed in that runs the gamut: Tolstoy and Tolkien, biography and history, saints, sinners and so much in between. Really, my office is simply an extension of the bibliochaos swirling away at home (much to my wife’s dismay).
Anyway, I also keep stacks of select books at the ready to give away – in imitation of my esteemed father-in-law, Tom, of happy memory. He was a voracious reader himself who inhabited a bibliochaos that puts mine to shame, and he was also an irrepressible book pusher. Only heaven knows how many copies of The Cloud of Unknowing he gave away.
In my case, I keep stacks of Humanae Vitae around to hand out to students, along with copies of Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness and Myles Connolly’s Mister Blue. Plus, there’re always extra paperback Catechisms at the ready, as well as cheap school editions of the Catholic New American Bible (NAB). Those latter are my favorite hand-outs, particularly when my Protestant students ask questions about the peculiarities of Catholic belief. While I studiously avoid anything that hints at proselytizing, I’m always glad to answer their questions. Besides, there’s no need to proselytize. The Faith speaks for itself.
Anyway, I know that my students already have Bibles of their own, but they seldom have a complete Bible with the Deuterocanon intact – those parts of the canonical Old Testament that were only preserved in the Greek Septuagint, but which are excluded from modern Protestant translations. The students might’ve heard those texts referred to as the Apocrypha – that is, “false writings” not worthy of serious study – but they’re often unaware that Christians have relied on those same texts for theological reflection and liturgical inspiration since the earliest days of the Church. In other words, until relatively recently, all Christians have considered the so-called Apocrypha to be as much a part of God’s Word as the rest of the Bible and our beliefs reflect that.
So, let’s say I’m chatting with a student and Purgatory comes up, praying for the dead – where’s that in the Bible? Whisk! I snag one of my giveaway NABs, point out the relevant passage in II Maccabees, and then steer the conversation in the direction of authority – that is, who got to decide that II Maccabees would be in my Bible but not your Bible? Why are our Bibles different in the first place? Who’s in charge? Regardless of how that exchange ends up, I happily send the students on their way with an NAB of their own and encourage them to get to know those parts of their biblical heritage they’ve been missing out on.
But there’s another kind of conversation that prompts me to grab one of my Protestant Bibles – or ask the student to retrieve her own from her backpack (or smartphone app). Usually it’s in reference to a New Testament issue. Let’s say, for example, there’s a question about confession – about the biblical justification for ordinary men forgiving the sins of other men. Surely there’s no Scriptural foundation for such an outrageous presumption, is there? In response, I pluck my NIV from the shelf and thumb my way to John 20. “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you,” Jesus tells the Apostles. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Bam! There it is, in black and white, in her own Bible – or in a translation she’s familiar with. Thus, there can’t be any question of Catholic bias in how the Greek was interpreted by the translators – no possibility of skewed scholarship undergirding a heretical papist innovation.
John’s Gospel is also my destination when the Eucharist surfaces in such discussions. What better testimony to the startling reality of what Catholics believe – what all Christians believed for 1,000 years – than zeroing in on the end of John 6, and doing so in a Bible version that my student is comfortable with? “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink,” Jesus tells an incredulous crowd according to the Protestant ESV. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
Those are shocking words in any translation – certainly they were shocking to the folks who heard them for the first time. “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him,” John tells us, and we do well to be sensitive to the scruples of those who similarly reject a Eucharistic Jesus today. There’s no doubt that the Real Presence is a challenging Catholic doctrine for moderns, to say the least, and we shouldn’t be surprised that our Protestant brothers and sisters find it so troubling.
Nonetheless, they’re entitled to know that it’s a doctrine that was embraced from the very beginnings of the Church – that the earliest Christians were convinced that what John writes about is indeed the Eucharist, and that when we receive the consecrated species, we’re literally receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood. It’s hard to read John 6 in any other way, regardless of translation.
In fact, the same holds true for John 6 in that Gideon Bible you have tucked away somewhere – check it out. And keep it handy the next time you have a chat with your Protestant friends. In the meantime, why not dust off that Catholic Bible as well and read some more in John – or one of the other Gospels, or Acts, or, really, anything in there. Remember, Catholics are the original Bible Christians, and that’s a heritage best preserved by regular – even daily – immersion in God’s word.
It makes you think the Gideons are on to something, doesn’t it?