Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study
This classic book by Dr. Scott Hahn is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how the New Testament writers understood the Word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist. Within its pages, readers will come to see why, long before the New Testament was a document, early believers saw it as a sacrament. The author examines some of Christianity’s most basic terms to upack what they actually meant to the apostles and their first hearers, providing a powerful and welcome guide as Catholics are challenged to engage in the new evangelization—the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church today.
Chapter 1: The Sacrament of the Scroll
- St. Hippolytus of Rome talked about the connection between reading the outside of the Scriptures and understanding the inside, referring to the Old and New Covenants. St. Jerome talked about “eating the open book.” As we begin this study, what do you think these saints meant?
- St. Gregory the Great said, “What the Old Testament promised, the New Testament made visible…. Therefore the Old Testament is a prophecy of the New Testament; and the best commentary on the Old Testament is the New Testament.” In your own words, explain what St. Gregory meant by this.
- Why is a true understanding of the New Testament, the New Covenant, especially urgent today, as the Church embarks upon the New Evangelization?
- Scott Hahn says, “We cannot deliver what we do not possess.” What steps can you take to really know “the Word” in order to take that Word out to the world, in the same way the first Christians did?
Chapter 2: Before the Book
- We refer to the New Testament in literary terms, thinking of it as Christianity’s sacred and authoritative text. Scott Hahn says that the first-century believers didn’t think of it this way. What did the New Testament mean to them?
- Can you imagine what it would have been like to be alive in New Testament times? Unless you were very wealthy, you would not have had access to books of any kind. How would this have changed the way you would have experienced Scripture back then?
- Describe how the early Christians understood the term “canon.” How does this differ from the meaning we usually give it today?
- Scott Hahn says that if we truly seek to understand the way early Christians understood the faith, we should expect to be surprised. What do you think he means by that?
Chapter 3: The New Testament in the New Testament
- What did the first Christians mean by the term “New Testament”? What did Jesus mean when he used the term, translated as “new covenant” in Luke 22:20? In what way does it refer to more than just a “text”?
- If the Greek word diathēkē and the Hebrew word berith can both be more accurately translated in English as “covenant” rather than “testament,” how can we explain the preponderance of the English term “New Testament” instead of “New Covenant”?
- Christians throughout the ages agree that Jesus’s death was a once-for-all sacrifice (see Romans 6:10; 1 Peter 3:18). But why? What made Jesus’s crucifixion a sacrifice? And why would this concept have been unthinkable to a first-century Jew?
- If you could only hear the readings and prayers in the liturgy (and not be able to read them for yourself), how might this be different from the way you hear the words of the liturgy today?
Chapter 4: The New Testament After the New Testament
- Describe how the early Christians and Church Fathers thought of the New Testament as a “dynamic reality,” not just a collection of writings.
- How is the strong use of covenantal language—a description of the early Christians’ family bond with God—key to our understanding of the Eucharist today?
- Why is it important for Christians today to gain a familiarity with the practices and day-to-day life of first-century Jews in Palestine? Why do we need to understand Israel’s institutions and social structures?
- How is the way an early Christian understood the terms covenant, sacrifice, and sacrament different from your understanding today? How can you regain the primary sense of these biblical terms?
Chapter 5: The Original Setting of the New Testament
- In what way did Jesus declare the New Testament not a text but an action?
- Why were the books of the New Testament the only books approved to be read during the liturgy?
- What did Jesus do at the Last Supper that transformed his death forever from an execution to an offering? What did the Last Supper have to do with what happened on Calvary?
- Explain in your own words how Christ’s redemption only truly makes sense from the perspective of the Eucharist.
- What did the terms todah and eucharistia suggest to first- and second-century believers? What impact on your own life might a deeper understanding of these terms have?
Chapter 6: The Church of the New Testament
- In our media-saturated culture, it’s hard to imagine a world without books and publishing. What means did Jesus employ to share his message?
- Why was Jesus so intensely interested in the idea of “succession”—the handing on of the Good News and the New Testament? And if the process wasn’t about establishing texts and institutions, what was important to Jesus?
- How can we become, like John, “beloved disciples” of Jesus? How can we develop an increasingly intimate relationship with him, and what clues does John’s response to seeing a vision of Jesus in his power and glory leave for us?
- How do apostolic tradition and apostolic succession “define each other,” according to Pope Benedict XVI?
- St. Clement of Rome observed that tradition and succession produce natural benefits of peace and good in the Church’s earthly society. What examples of this can you identify in today’s Catholic Church?
Chapter 7: The Old Testament in the New Testament
- Describe how Christian worship in the ancient world can be compared to today’s mass media.
- Define the process we know as “canonization,” and explain why it is important.
- Scott Hahn says that, for the Apostles, Jesus himself is the key to understanding the Old Testament. Why do you think this is true?
- Why does St. Peter insist that Scripture should not be a “matter of one’s own interpretation” (see 2 Peter 1:20)? What are some problems that can arise when people try to understand Scripture apart from the Church’s teaching? Can you cite some contemporary examples of this?
- Explain in your own words the proper relationship between Scripture and the Church.
- What do you think St. Augustine meant when he said, “The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New”?
- Why did the Christians in the West come to call their short creeds the “rule of faith”?
Chapter 8: The Canon of the New Testament
- In second century Rome, people could choose to study with “fashionable teachers who claimed to be Christian, but who were definitely out of step with the bishops of the Catholic Church.” What ramifications did this have back then? Can you think of some contemporary examples today? What are some of the results of thinking and acting this way?
- What were Marcion’s main religious beliefs? How did his heresy influence the world?
- What response did the Church make to Marcion and other heretics of this time? What providential purpose do heresies serve, according to St. Augustine?
- In your own words, explain how and why the Church had the authority to make the infallible decision about what Scriptures were included in the New Testament.
- Now that we have the New Testament, why is the Old Testament still essential? Why would Pope Pius XI say that, “spiritually, we are all Semites”?
Chapter 9: The New Testament and the Lectionary
- Catholics are generally thought to be less familiar with the Bible than their Protestant brothers and sisters. In essence, though, describe how a Protestant might only receive a limited “biblical worldview” compared to a Catholic who attends daily or even just Sunday Mass.
- Where did the lectionary come from?
- How is the Catholic approach to Scripture precisely the opposite of the approach Scott Hahn used when he was a Protestant pastor?
- Define in your own words the term “Christian dogma.”
- Explain what the phrase lex orandi, lex credenda (“the law of prayer is the law of belief”) means for us today. How does it relate to the lectionary?
Chapter 10: Trusting the Testaments
- Scott Hahn says there is a close relationship between the pages of Scripture and the person of Jesus, both of which we call the Word. How do these two mysteries illuminate each other?
- List some of the ways Jesus brought the sacred texts of the Old Testament into his preaching. How did he view the Old Testament?
- How should we view Scripture? How can we trust that it comes from God and is divinely inspired?
- The apostle Peter says that Scripture should never be a matter of one’s own interpretation, but that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). How is this Holy Spirit more than just a “helper”? Describe the Holy Spirit’s and the prophets’ part in the words of Scripture. How can we have full confidence in the Bible and its message?
- The author says that no matter when the books of the Bible were written, God speaks through the ages to address the present situation of the faithful. Is this how you view the words of Scripture? Give an example of how the Bible is relevant to something you are facing today.
- Have you ever questioned the divine authority or the credibility of either the Bible or of Jesus himself? What stumbling blocks in the Bible have challenged your own beliefs? How were you able to answer these questions for yourself? How can you help someone else to view the Bible and Jesus in light of faith?
- Scott Hahn says that the way the Bible communicates is perfectly harmonious with the mystery of Christ himself. In your own words, explain what he means by this.
- Why do you think God chose to convey his deepest truths through fallible human instruments? Why does he choose to show his power through human weakness?
- In your own life, can you see evidence of God’s power being manifested in your own weakness? Describe how.
- How can faith and reason work in tandem in how we interpret the Bible? How can we avoid intellectual arrogance and pure rationalism?
- What is the definition of “hermeneutic of suspicion,” and how can we avoid its trap?
- What does “intellectual humility” look like, and how can this help us to understand the Bible’s truth?
Chapter 11: The New Testament and Christian Doctrine
- How did the Church fathers deal with Arius and his heresy? What finally settled the Arian controversy?
- Do you see any heresies today in the Church, and if so, what are they? How do you see the Church dealing with them?
- What positive benefits for the Church can come out of heresies and the controversies they bring?
- What is Catholic dogma and why is it important? How does it relate to the Scriptures and to Jesus himself?
- As Catholics, how should we read and interpret Scripture? How can an understanding of dogma help us gain new insights into sacred texts—more so than if we were to understand the Bible purely on our own?
Chapter 12: The Mysterious Plan in the New Testament
- How are Old Testament and the New Testament united? What did St. Paul mean when he wrote about “the plan of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9; 1:10)?
- The Greek word for “plan” used by St. Paul is translated as “economy.” What did Paul and later the Church fathers mean by “economy”?
- Another word that the Bible uses differently than we think of it today is covenant. Describe the biblical definition of a covenant. How is it different than some sort of a contract?
- What is the goal of “the divine economy,” and how is it revealed by the many covenants God makes with his people throughout salvation history?
- What is the “divine pedagogy” as used by Paul and the Church fathers? Have you seen evidence of this in your own life in the way God has dealt with you?
- If you view the Bible as one long story of God’s loving care and instruction for his children, does this change your experience of reading it? How does this change your understanding of who God is?
- Scott Hahn says the God revealed in Scripture is a Father who “stoops down to his children and lifts them up to share in his blessings.” Is this the way you perceive God? In your own life, how has God been this kind of a Father to you?
- What should be the goal of all Bible study and Scripture interpretation? How can you better actualize the truth of Scripture, rather than just gaining information? How can the Word go from your head to your heart?
- In what ways can each of us be a part of salvation history? How do you see Christ active in your own personal history?
- How can we regain a sense of the saving power of the Word of God and the response God desires from us in the liturgy? How is the liturgy more than a symbolic ritual?
- Why are the sacraments important? What effect do they have in our lives?
- The Scriptures have a dual authorship, both human and divine. How is the liturgy similar to this? In your own words, describe the sacramental vision of the Church.
Chapter 13: The Sacramentality of Scripture
- Why has the Catholic approach to biblical interpretation always been literal and historical?
- Explain in your own words the interplay between divine inspiration and human authorship in the Bible—how is it the product of both God and man?
- Describe how we can apply classic literary tools—grammar, logic, rhetoric—in our study of the Scriptures. What is “literalism,” and why do we want to avoid it?
- Scott Hahn says the “letter is a sign”—what does he mean by this?
- Why is it important to always view the literary sense of the Bible within a historical context?
- Why is it important to understand the historical context to understand the spiritual and ethical truths the Bible conveys?
- The author says that it’s important to also consider the religious meaning when studying the Bible—the understanding that in Bible times, life essentially was “religious.” Why does Hahn say that without this understanding, you can’t really uncover the integral meaning of events?
- The Church teaches that grace builds on nature. What does this mean? What place does grace have in our lives?
- In the same way, Scott Hahn says that faith builds on reason. In your own words, describe what he means by this.
- The Church tells us we are mean to read the Scriptures “in the Spirit in which they were written.” What does this mean, and what is the result of studying the Bible this way?
- How does a spiritual sense of the Bible transform the literary and historical meaning of the text?
- Do you feel intimidated at the thought of serious Scripture study? How might you deepen your desire to really understand and become familiar with the Bible? How can you really absorb its message?
- How can you approach both the Bible and the Eucharist in a way that authentically feeds your spirit? What should be the goal of your Bible study? How can the Word of life (the Bible) lead you to the Bread of Life (Christ in the Eucharist)?
Chapter 14: The Testament at the Heart of the Church
- What does the phrase “the heart of the Church” mean? How can we read the Bible from the heart of the Church? What dispositions should we bring when we approach the Scriptures?
- Have you ever thought that you are part of a heavenly “Bible study group” consisting of the saints and voices of Catholic Tradition and led by the Holy Spirit? How might this change the way you engage with the Bible?
- Why is it important to read the Bible in light of the liturgy, not merely in private?
- Scott Hahn mentions three principles for studying the Bible faithfully. List them here.
- Explain what it means to study passages of Scripture in their true context.
- How does studying the Bible in light of Catholic Tradition help us to test our own interpretations and protect us from arrogance?
- Explain the role of Catholic dogma and doctrine as they relate to the Scripture.
- Have you been a part of a Bible study group? How did this experience help you to grow spiritually? Why did Benedict XVI emphasize the importance of always coming back to a participation in the liturgy as part of faith-filled Bible study?
- Why did Benedict XVI say that unless we acknowledge Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, we will have an imperfect understanding of Scripture?
- What do you think Benedict meant when he said that the Bible is not merely informative, but “performative”?
Chapter 15: Coming Full Circle
- How is the experience of Augustine as a teenager and young adult similar to today’s culture and schools of thought?
- Augustine came to believe that it was possible to “unravel the tangle woven by those…with their cunning lies” and deceptions. When you look around today, do you have this same confidence? How might you help to inspire this belief in those around you?
- Describe how Ambrose was able to explain the Old Testament to Augustine in a way that helped him understand the New Testament.
- Augustine came to see that truth was not to be found in endless discussions and arguments, but in the Church’s liturgy. Pope Benedict XVI also said, “The primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church.” How does this change the way you think of the Bible—and of the Liturgy?
- As a final question, sum up what it means to truly “consume the Word.”