Scripture shapes world view
Scholar says how we understand the Bible spills over into all of life
By Tony Staley
DE PERE - Bible study is important because the Scriptures give us
directions for making difficult decisions we face daily, Sr.
Diane Bergant, CSA, told the Allouez Forum Oct. 20.
Beyond that, our interpretations of Scripture affect how we think
and organize ourselves as a society, the professor of Biblical
Studies at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, said in her talk
at St. Norbert College.
Catholics have paid increasing attention to the Bible since
Vatican II, said Sr. Bergant, who also serves as vice president
of the Catholic Biblical Association of America.
But how we interpret the Bible varies around the world because of
our own cultural insights, and that is good, she said.
"Every Catholic hears the same reading every Sunday, but we
shouldn't hear the same sermon because our experiences are very
different," Sr. Bergant said.
For example, the beatitude, "Blessed are the poor for they shall
inherit the earth," should be preached differently to the poor
than to the wealthy, she said.
The poor should hear it as a message of hope, she said, while the
rich should hear it as a challenge to either share their wealth
with the poor or risk having it taken from them.
Thus, preachers need to know their audience and meet their needs
in the homily.
While Bible studies are interesting and it's good to know what a
particular passage meant to the original audience, that's not
enough, Sr. Bergant said.
"The challenge is how we interpret the reading. How do we read
and understand it?" she said. That, in turn, affects how we
think, live and even speak.
For example, she said, some people mistakenly understand the
story of Adam and Eve as saying that women were derived from man.
Our language and life reflect that, she said. Thus, we have an
"actor" and its feminine derivative, "actress," and in health
care, the traditionally male "doctor" and the female derivative,
Some people think that because the Bible says woman was made from
the rib of man that makes her inferior. But the Bible says "man
was made from dirt and that doesn't make him inferior to dirt,"
The belief of some people that God gave us the earth to do with
as we please is also a wrong reading of Scripture, Sr. Bergant
said. What the second creation story in Genesis (Gn 2:4-15) tells
us is "where you are, God rules supreme. That means we are to act
as God would and there is no way that God would destroy the
We can not look to the Bible for all the answers to our problems
today because we face problems the Bible doesn't address, such as
cloning, she said. Rather, we need to look to the Bible for
directions on how to live.
Sr. Bergant also spoke of the increased sensitivity toward the
language used in Scripture and the liturgy as we've become more
aware of the power of our words to build up or destroy. And, she
said, the issue of inclusive language goes beyond gender to
include race, color and physical disabilities.
She spoke of the need to go back to the original Hebrew when
translating the Bible. Doing so puts us in touch with the
earthiness, the humanness of our relationship with God, in
contrast to the intellectual head-trip approach of the Greeks
introduced in their translations of the Bible, she said.
Concerning last month's Vatican document on salvation, "Dominus
Iesus," Sr. Bergant said it uses scripture in the same way all
Vatican documents do. It starts with a conclusion and quotes
select passages in Scripture to support that conclusion, rather
than developing a position based on Scripture the way recent
documents from the American bishops do.
Beyond that, she said, it accurately quotes documents of Vatican
II. But, she said, the disappointment many people have with it is
that it continues an attitude of "Join us to be saved."
While that attitude can be found among the Jews in the Old
Testament and Christians in the New Testament, many people who
are disappointed in "Dominus Iesus" thought that its "my way is
the only way" attitude had been supplanted by a pluralistic
Sr. Bergant also advised against arguing with persons who
interpret the Bible literally because first, "it can be very
dangerous to be certain that my way is right." Second, such
discussions are fruitless because there are too many basic points
the two sides can't agree on, as if one party is speaking German
and the other is speaking French.
What: Claude Allouez Forum, sponsored by the Green Bay Diocese and the St. Norbert College Theological Institute; it is open to
When: 7:15 a.m. Nov. 17.
Where: Bemis International Center, St. Norbert College.
Who: Sharon Schmeling, former staff member of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
Topic: Glancing Ahead: Glimmers of Hope as a Public Policy Analyst.
Cost: $8, includes breakfast.
Reservations: (920)437-7531 or (toll-free) 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8173.