In order to use the Bible as a guide for spiritual growth, one must first understand the nature of the Scriptures themselves.
That was the foundation on which the Rev. Jim Bacik built his talk Tuesday night that opened a six-week Fall Lecture Series on Biblical Spirituality at Toledo's Corpus Christi University Parish.
Speaking to a nearly full house of 600, he started with the caveat: "I am not a Scripture scholar," but would draw on the experts' work "to find some points of connection to help us grow spiritually."
While a jam-packed six-page outline was given to the audience, the Oxford-educated theologian and pastor didn't glance at any notes.
Scripture scholars "tell us how to understand different parts of the Bible," he said. Newspaper readers know that a front page article is straight news, that the editorial page expresses opinions, and that an advertisement for a golf ball that will go 300 yards "is an example of hyperbole," he said, sparking laughter.
Similarly, people should know that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are mythology, drawing from the Babylonian myths of Enuma Elish and Gilgamesh, he said. In Enuma Elish, Marduk kills Tiamat and makes the heavens and earth out of her body, followed by a time for rest and celebration "in a sequence similar to Genesis," Father Bacik said.
In Gilgamesh, the gods tell Utnapishtim to build an ark and take every type of animal on board because a flood will destroy the world.
"Myths are large stories meant to explain things in the human condition," Father Bacik said. They offer "deep religious truths about human life" that can be interpreted in various ways and at different levels.
He said Roman Catholics were barred from critical methods of Biblical studies until Pope Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu granted permission in 1943. He credited the Rev. Eugene Maly, who studied in Rome and began teaching at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary in Cincinnati in the late 1950s, for bringing this scholarly field to Ohio.
Father Bacik called Genesis 1-11 a "prologue" that explains why the world is afflicted with war, suffering, violence, dissension, economic strife, injustice, and other woes.
But the Bible also offers "the promises of God" that give humans hope.
Elderly Abraham and Sarah were promised a child, and Revelation promises a new heaven and a new Earth. He said Biblical stories are handed down to generations in a way that provides "a consistent and coherent world of meaning that is filled with hope."
In the New Testament, "Jesus probably said a parable that was something like" those cited in the Gospels. Luke, he said, was not an eyewitness and says so in his opening verses. Matthew "clearly borrowed" from Mark's Gospel.
While in seminary, Father Bacik said, he asked Father Maly about conclusions after critically studying the Bible. Father Maly's response, Father Bacik said, was unforgettable:
"Young man, you have nothing to fear from the truth."
The Corpus Christi Fall Lecture Series continues at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the church, 2955 Dorr St.. Next: the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a University of Notre Dame professor and pioneer in liberation theology. Admission is $10.