SB: Clearly I am focusing on the people of the Bible in this series, which can provide a refreshing alternative to studying the Bible book by book. I chose Peter and Paul not only because they are the two most prominent figures in the apostolic church, but also because they are the two essential pillars. As Luke shows us so well in Acts, the roles of Peter and Paul are complementary. Peter is the leader and chief spokesperson of the early church, holding together the diversity of first-century Christianity. I emphasize Peter not only as the fisherman and shepherd of the church, but also as the bridge builder and center of unity. Paul, on the other hand, is the great apostle to all the nations, evangelizing increasingly more diverse and distant peoples. Christianity today must embody both the Pauline ministry, which continually reaches out to greater diversity, and the Petrine ministry, which holds the church together in unity.
DL: In your section on Peter’s famous affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus’ affirmation that Peter is the Rock you clearly state the Catholic position about Peter’s authoritative role in the early church. Has this been controversial among your non-Catholic readership?
SB: My explanation of the text has not generated any controversy that I am aware of. I think it helps to present the text objectively and within the ancient tradition, without an apologetic or polemic bias. I think the text of Matthew clearly indicates that Jesus chose Peter himself, not some abstract quality that Peter represents, as the foundational rock on which he would build his church. It is to Peter himself to whom Jesus gives the keys. Most scholars today, both Protestant and Catholic, admit this position held by exegetes. I believe that working out this understanding of the Petrine ministry as the center of unity for the whole church is a key to ongoing ecumenical dialogue and understanding. As we look toward Catholic-Orthodox unity, we can also anticipate a deepening unity between the Catholic and Reformed traditions as we better understand the most authentic significance of both the Petrine and Pauline ministries within the apostolic church.
DL: How do you think a parish Bible study group would benefit most from your study guides?
SB: I hope Ancient-Future Bible Study can help parishes experience the fullness and the rich potential of studying Scripture. During the decades after the Second Vatican Council, Catholics emphasized understanding the Bible, because we had a lot of catching up to do. In the twenty-first century, we need to lead people into the richer experience of lectio divina, so strongly recommended by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. This definitely includes study of the text and deeper understanding, but it continues the process into the experience of personal reflection, prayer, and action in the world. Lectio divina emphasizes not just information about the Bible but transformation in Christ.
DL: What do you think is the most important benefit of regular Bible study for individuals–for parish communities?
SB: We’ve got to teach people how to experience Scripture as the word of God. This means learning to read and reflect on Scripture as a regular part of people’s lives as disciples of Jesus. They must read with expectation, believing that God speaks to them through Scripture, and that when they listen to Scripture with both their head and their heart, it can lead them to a more personal and genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. A very effective way of doing this is through the support and mutual encouragement provided by a Bible study group. But I think we need to be more creative in inviting everyone into this process, whether or not they can join a group. Encouraging personal Bible study, forming online groups with new media, and putting good study materials into the hands of people can be ways of encouraging more and more people in our parish communities to experience Scripture as God’s personal revelation.
DL: What do you think has been the most destructive aspect of modern Biblical scholarship? What has been the most constructive?:
SB: Historical-critical scholarship is important for discovering the original meaning or literal sense of Scripture, but an over-emphasis or exclusive emphasis on this method of biblical scholarship can be destructive when presented in the pastoral situation. It must always be balanced with a search for the canonical, Christological, and ecclesial senses of Scripture. I think that we are coming out of a stage that stressed historical studies of Scripture, but it was a stage we needed to go through to get to where we are today in biblical scholarship and pastoral teaching. The understanding expressed by Pope Benedict in his apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini, articulates the right balance and it conveys a solid understanding of Scripture in the life of the church that would be fruitful reading for Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformed Christians.