Bible Study

Catholic Scripture Study International

Since I was 17 years old, studying the Bible has been my passion. Now as a Catholic it has increased 100%. Back in my youth, I could never have anticipated the wealth of materials for study that I now have at my fingertips.

I recommend two great Catholic resources:

FIRST, Catholic Scripture Study International. I have written many of the studies for this program and I highly recommend it. Use it for a group study, family study or individual study. It has everything you need in the box — all you need to do is add water :-)  But really, it can be used by and veteran student of Scripture or by a complete novice.

Verbum Catholic Bible Study Software

SECOND, I recommend Verbum Catholic and Bible Study Software. This works on all computers and sync’s with tablets, smart phones or any other device. Take a whole Catholic library with you wherever you go. It is an incredible resource which I have used since 1990. Enter STEVERAY in the Promo Code for 15% discount.

Make new resolutions to study God’s word this next year, or give someone else the gift of Bible Study.



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The Bible out of Context: “Saved by Faith Alone”?

by Steve Ray on November 19, 2015

When reading the Bible devoid of its historical and textual context, there is no context except the context which any person might supply for it.

or put otherwise,

A text without a context is a pretext.

I always get frustrated when self-proclaimed Bible students or teachers start pontificating about the meaning of the Bible and theology without a clue what they are talking about or what the Bible is talking about. We had a classic example of this in our family this week. A Fundamentalist condemned us Catholics for emphasizing the need for good works (cp. James 2:24) using verses like Romans 3:28 that says, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.”

IMGP0964.JPGWith great ignorance the Fundamentalist said “This verse proves you Catholics wrong. We are saved by faith alone and not by good works.”

Such blithering nonsense has nothing to do with Romans 3:28 — which is not a Catholic-Protestant debate but a Jewish-Gentile debate. But in an argument like this the Fundamentalist ignores the historical and textual context. He uses the Bible verse as a club–as a proof-text to promote his Fundamentalist traditions of men. He creates his OWN context to the detriment of the historical and textual context. It is his argument to trip up Catholics who are not well catechized in their faith.

In Romans and Galatians (and Acts 15) this is the argument: Can an uncircumcized Gentile become Christian (follower of the Jesus the JEWISH Messiah) without first becooming a Jew by being circumcized and obeying all the Laws of Moses and regulations of the Pharisees?

circumcision.gif“Works of the Law” is a technical term. It refers to those actions that made Jews distinct from the Gentiles. Paul says we are not justified by “works of the Law” or Mosaic circumcision and prescribing to all the 613 laws of Moses, but rather by faith.

This is how the Catholic Church understands the New Testament and why the Fundamentalist who takes verses out of their context plays the fool and twists the Scriptures to their own confusion and the confusion of all those who are foolish enough to listen to them.

For more on this read my earlier blogs “Flint Knives and the Gospel” and “St. Paul Did Not Write to Us.”


Every day, Catholics are invited by coworkers, neighbors, and even family members to “ecumenical” Bible studies. Should they go? Certainly all of us would benefit from more study of Scripture, but as someone who has been a part of a number of Protestant Bible studies—I’ve even taught them—I discourage Catholics from attending them because of the foundational premises and principles in operation at these studies.

Protestants are delighted to have Catholics attend their Bible studies, but it is often not because they want to hear and discuss the Catholic perspective on Scritpure. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to bring them to the “true Gospel”—to evangelize them, to get them saved.

In many cases, though certainly not all, the non-denominational Bible study is the Trojan Horse that infiltrates the Catholic’s mind and succeeds in drawing him away from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church—to join a Protestant group. Most of us have a family member or friend who has been affected in this way.

An unwary Catholic who steps into the Protestant Bible study usually does so with no intention of leaving the Catholic Church. They just want to study the Bible. The Catholic usually has a hard time finding a good and welcoming Bible study in Catholic circles—but this is changing.

First, while the Bible study may call itself “non-denominational,” Catholics and Orthodox are not usually included under this umbrella. While they may be invited, you’ll rarely find them in leadership.

Protestants think of themselves as people of the Book, not hampered by human tradition. They think of Catholics as, at best, followers of traditions for whom the Bible is secondary.

That is a huge misconception: Protestants are also people of tradition. No one reads the Bible objectively. People who claim to “just read the Bible” really read it through the eyes of a tradition they’ve already accepted, whether that be Fundamentalist, Calvinist, Pentecostal, Baptist or one of many others. Everyone depends upon tradition, but not everyone recognizes it.

“Bible Christians,” based on their tradition, study the Bible with these premises:

  • There is no binding authority but the Bible alone.
  • There is no official binding interpretation or interpreter.
  • The Bible is perspicuous (i.e., easy to understand) and can be interpreted and understood by anyone.
  • An individual can and should read the Bible and interpret it for himself.

Catholics, based on their Tradition, study the Bible with different premises:

  • The authority of the apostles and the Church preceded the Bible, and the Tradition of the Church is an equally infallible authority (2 Thess. 2:15; CCC 80–83). The Bible is part of the apostolic Tradition.
  • The authoritative interpretation of the Bible is the prerogative of the Catholic Church (1 Tim. 3:15; Matt. 18:17; CCC 85-88).
  • The Bible is not always easy to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16) and needs to be understood within its historical and contextual framework and interpreted within the community to which it belongs.
  • Individuals can and should read the Bible and interpret it for themselves—but within the framework of the Church’s authoritative teaching and not based on their own private interpretation (2 Pet 1:20-21).

These basic differences place the Catholic and Protestant worlds apart even though they are opening the pages of the same book and accepting it as an authoritative revelation from God. The Catholic position is biblical and has been espoused from the first days of the Church. The Protestant position is unbiblical and is of recent origin. The Catholic is in full continuity with historical Christianity; Protestants are in discontinuity.

Catholics attending a non-denominational Bible study need to be aware of these differences and be ready not only to filter out false conclusions but also to guard themselves against the false underlying assumptions (e.g., that everything has to be found and proven explicitly in the Bible).

Catholics who are unaware often begin to adopt a Protestant mentality without knowing they are doing so, gradually learning to suspect the Catholic Church and trying to prove everything from the Bible.

Let’s Take Just One Example: Baptism

But what difference do these premises make? Let’s take the example of 1 Peter 3:18-21:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Notice the words in italics. What does it say? To Catholics it makes perfect sense because Christians have always taught (until the Reformation) that baptism is essential for salvation. As Catholics, we can draw from a wealth of other biblical and patristic passages that consistently and continuously teach a seamless garment of doctrine—the constant teaching of the Church, of all Christians.

A few examples:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

This has always been understood to mean water baptism, until descendants of the Reformation denied it and came up with new interpretations, such as that the water refers to the water in the womb, the word of God, or even a synonym for the Spirit (as in “water, even the Spirit”). There is no consensus among Protestants.

Other examples are Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. The first says, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

The second one says, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”

These verses agree with the words of Jesus, Titus 3:5, and the rest of the New Testament about the necessity and importance of baptism. But many Evangelicals will offer in reply a list of verses that say salvation is by faith (e.g., John 3:16) and argue that since he can find twenty-five verses that say salvation is by faith, it can’t be by baptism.

Can we cut two verses out of the Bible because we find ten others that seem to contradict? Heavens, no! We have to find a way to explain and accept both and harmonize them into a cogent theology. That is what Catholics have been doing well for two millenia.

One of the great reliefs for me as a Catholic was to read the Bible without having to set aside verses that didn’t agree with my preconceived assumptions. Catholics do not have this problem.

A Figure of a Figure? Go Figure.

Now, back to 1 Peter 3:18-21. Protestant commentaries on Scripture admit it is one of the most difficult passages of the Bible to interpret. Here is a quote from my book Crossing the Tiber:

In his recent anti-Catholic book The Gospel according to Rome, James McCarthy says that “when Peter says that ‘baptism now saves you,’ he is speaking of the typological, or symbolic, significance of baptism. . . . It [the word figure] tells us that what follows, ‘baptism now saves you,’ is a figurative illustration that complements the symbolism of a preceding figure” (331-332).

It seems he is saying that baptism is a figure of a figure instead of the fulfillment of a figure. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature offers a different and more straightforward interpretation: “Baptism, which is a fulfillment (of the type), now saves you, i.e., the saving of Noah from the flood is a . . . ‘foreshadowing’ and baptism corresponds to it [fulfills it]” (75).

McCarthy does go on to say: “This verse is part of one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret. Nevertheless, this much is clear: it does not support the Roman Catholic doctrine” (331-332). (Crossing the Tiber, p. 130, note 56)

The Catholic interpretation explains the passage quite comfortably without twisting the text from its clear meaning, accepting the literal meaning of the text, and complementing the rest of New Testament teaching. It is difficult for McCarthy to interpret because he comes to the passage with a handicap: his Fundamentalist preconceptions.

Catholics: Seen but Not Heard

Baptism is just one example, and we have only scratched the surface. Other examples of passages that are difficult for Evangelicals—and where unwary Catholics attending a non-denominational Bible study can be misled—are John 20:23, Colossians 1:24, James 2:24, Matthew 16:18-19, and John 5:28-29.

Catholics often find non-denominational Bible studies appealing because of the warm, serious, loving, and family-like environment. Being used to reverence and quiet devotion, Catholics find the welcoming and chatty nature of these gatherings refreshing and new.

But there is such a thing as an ecumenical Bible study that doesn’t allow knowledgeable Catholics to participate in leadership or where the Catholic perspective is not equally presented and discussed with respect. In a truly ecumenical Bible study, the Catholic interpretation and teaching is not treated as substandard or heretical.

Also, the Catholic Church is not a “denomination” (which means “to take a new name”); it is the Church. Those who are in schism, who break away or subsist apart from it are denominations or sects. The Church is not. It is the Church.

There’s still a long way to go to get Catholics to the point of scriptural study that Protestants have achieved. But it is happening, and you can help. For more information, see my article “Starting a Parish Bible Study” at


Before Chapter and Verse

Chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are quite recent. They have proven quite helpful in biblical study and finding our way around. But they can also be a great hindrance if people begin to see the Bible as an unrelated collection of wise maxims listed numerically. It becomes quite easy to pluck a numbered statement (a verse) out of its context and quote it as in independent entity. For the first 1,600 years of Christianity, biblical study was conducted without verse numbers, forcing the reader to see whole texts and not simply lists of unrelated sentences randomly compiled.

Bible Resources

Sites to help you find a Bible study, start a Bible study, or get Bible study materials:

A Catholic Answers booklet to help you get started reading the Bible:

Beginning Apologetics 7: How to Read the Bible by Jim Burnham and Fr. Frank Chacon (San Juan Catholic Seminars, 2003)

Books available at to help your understanding of Scripture:

A Guide to the Bible by Antonio Fuentes (Four Courts Press, 1987)

Inside the Bible by Kenneth Baker, S.J. (Ignatius Press, 1998)

You Can Understand the Bible by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius, 2005)

How to Read the Bible Every Day by Carmen Rojas (Servant Books, 1988)

Books that answer common Protestant questions:

Where Is That in the Bible? by Patrick Madrid (Our Sunday Visitor, 1999)

Where We Got the Bible by Bishop Henry G. Graham (Catholic Answers, 1997)


Catholic Bible Study: Difference between Catholics and Protestants

September 9, 2015

Protestant “Bible Christians” (a misnomer, since Catholics are the real and original Bible Christians), based on their recently devised “Reformation” principle of sola Scriptura, study the Bible with the following premises: 1. There is no binding authority but the Bible alone; 2. There is no official binding interpretation or interpreter; each person ultimately is their [...]

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Test Drive It! A Catholic Library Synced on my Laptop, iPad and iPhone

August 11, 2015

I’ve waited 20 years for this. I have the fantastic Verbum Catholic and Bible Software. They are doing it right! It is thoroughly Catholic — to my great joy. It continues to grow in resources and power. It is on my computer 24 hours a day! But now the icing is on the cake! They [...]

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Differences Between Catholic and Protestant Approaches to the Bible

July 23, 2015

“Bible Christians” (a misnomer, since Catholics are the real and original Bible Christians), based on their recently devised “Reformation” principle of sola Scriptura, study the Bible with the following premises: 1. There is no binding authority but the Bible alone; 2. There is no official binding interpretation or interpreter; each person ultimately is their own [...]

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Steve and Liz in Roman Forum Discussing Ancient Rome and the First Christians – and Biblical Literacy

May 31, 2015

I have provided two short 6 minute video clips of me (Steve Ray) and Liz Lev as we talked to my group in the Ancient Rome Forum today.  First, Liz spoke about the clash of empires: the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of God. The key line is this: Rome had just claimed that the [...]

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Reading the Bible

May 28, 2015

A Little Poem about Bible Context I supposed I knew my Bible, Reading piecemeal, hit or miss, Now a bit of John or Matthew, Now a snatch of Genesis, Certain chapters of Isaiah, Certain Psalms (the twenty-third), Twelfth of Romans, first of Proverbs — Yes, I thought I knew the Word! But I found that [...]

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Cartoon on Protestantism and the Bible

May 21, 2015

When I look back on my experience I find this cartoon has a ring of truth. There were many verses of the Bible that I either didn’t realize existed (though that may seem strange) or that we just ignored. We virtually cut them out of the Bible in the sense that we ignored or reasoned [...]

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“Ecumenical” Bible Studies

April 14, 2015

Without a teaching authority or the tradition of the historic Church, this cartoon shows what many Bible studies are really like. I remember Bible Studies that started out with “What does this passage mean to you?”  To keep from arguing or fighting, many just avoid difficult passages. There are many studies that exclude Catholic ideas [...]

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Meet St. Paul as he Writes to the Romans; A Brief Study to Make it Easy

April 12, 2015

I love St. Paul and love to write about him and his epistles. I also enjoyed traveling through six countries filming his life story and theology. St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is often seen as impossible to understand except by theologians — and most skip right over this masterpiece. With hopes that you will [...]

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Great New Didache Bible from Ignatius Press

January 24, 2015

The Didache Bible Is Here, By Dr. Jeff Mirus This Bible uses the Second Edition of the Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version, widely regarded as the best translation available today. This means it was last revised according to the principles promulgated in Liturgiam Authenticam in 2001. The printing is well done—clean, clear and easy to [...]

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Biblical Measurements and Units

January 5, 2015

Cubits, a spam, and ephah and a bath. What do all of these mean in the Bible? Here is a helpful chart taken from Verbum.

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The Cross & the Crucifix: Letter to a Fundamentalist

December 21, 2014

The Cross & the Crucifix (From a letter Steve wrote to a Evangelical Protestant who asked about the Catholic Crucifix) Dear Evangelical Friend: You display a bare cross in your home; we display the cross and the crucifix. What is the difference and why? The cross is an upright post with a crossbeam in the [...]

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Catholic Church: “Don’t Read the Bible!”

November 8, 2014

We often hear that the Catholic Church has forbidden the reading of the Bible! Have you heard this? Yeah, me too! But, this is another one of those big myths which has worked its way into the popular dialog but one that has not been proved from Church teaching and documents. There are two good [...]

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Questions for “Bible Christians” that they can’t answer

October 1, 2014  (David Palm is the original compiler of the insightful list.) Check out this list of Questions for “Bible Christians” that they cannot answer. I got a response in the Comments below, but thought I would post it here with my response. DAVID COMMENTED: It is refreshing to hear a Romanist admit they are not [...]

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