The more I learn about my faith, the more I realize how key it is to understand the Bible and how very little I actually did understand it. Until I became a Catholic, I did not realize the parallels between the Old and the New Testament (something smart people call “typology” :-)) and how the New is the fulfillment of the Old and how the New is largely prefigured in the old.
For example, one of my biggest stumbling blocks of the Bible is the story Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac. I just could not understand how a loving God would ask someone to do that. But this story really only makes sense in light of Jesus. Isaac is the pre-figurement of Jesus. God will sacrifice his only son on wood (the cross) just as Isaac was to be sacrificed on wood. You pretty much have to put on “Jesus” glasses, if you will :), in order to fully view the Old Testament.
The Bible has simply opened up for me in ways I could never have imagined, including validating the teachings of the Catholic Church today, since coming to this realization. One of the most amazing books on the faith I have found to date (second only to Matthew Kelly’s “Rediscover Catholicism”) is John Bergsma’s New Testament Basics for Catholics (Ave Maria Press, 2016). I wish this book had a more compelling title because it is SO much more than that. It is an explanation of the New Testament (in light of the Old) that is absolutely jaw-dropping — a must read for anyone who really wants to understand their faith in light of the Bible.
I have found that flat out the New Testament can be entirely misunderstood when not properly read with an understanding of the Old Testament and of the Jewish customs, words and ways of life in those times. You cannot accurately or fully comprehend what Jesus is trying to teach us without this reference point. So much gets lost — and misinterpreted! With this knowledge, not only does the Bible make sense, it’s life-altering.
Bergsma systematically goes through the Gospel of Matthew, Luke and John, Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans and the Book of Revelation, but he does so in conversational language that anyone can follow.
If you’ve been Catholic for a while, you’ve heard the typology of certain things like the Abraham/Isaac story above, but Bergsma provides you with so many more, many I never realized that totally blew me away. Some examples:
- The parallel of David dancing in front of the Ark of the Covenant and John the Baptist “dancing” in his mother’s womb in front of Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant
- How the items, according to Hebrews, that were contained in the Ark of the Covenant (manna, Aaron’s rod and the Ten Commandments) all look forward to Jesus: the Eucharist, priest, law-giver
- The manna in the dessert, put on display for the people to see; how we adore (sit in the presence of) Jesus, body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist
- The sacrament of Confirmation, which originates in Acts of the Apostles when Peter and John must come down and lay hands on the people to fully receive the Holy Spirit, even after they were baptized.
- How the Wedding Feast at Cana identifies Jesus and Mary as the New Adam and the New Eve
- I could go on and on and on… 🙂
Throughout the book, Bergsma, who is a convert from Protestantism, goes through his former beliefs as a Protestant Minister and explains why he was wrong. It’s incredibly helpful for someone coming to the church from a Protestant background.
As far as I’m concerned, this book should be purchased and handed out to every Catholic at every church in the world and be required reading for all RCIA candidates. I’m convinced this would end much confusion over so many elements of the faith and bring people to a much greater understand of the Bible and their mission to become saints on earth.
Bergsma also has a book that goes more in-depth into the Old Testament, giving you the big picture of salvation history, in Bible Basics for Catholics. It’s also fun because he uses stick figure drawings to take you through the Old Testament and each covenant.