You Can Understand the Bible by Peter Kreeft

(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 356

Kreeft gives an approachable introduction to the Bible (similar to his approachable introduction to philosophy in Socrates' Children). Apart from Kreeft's characteristic wit, relatability to our day, and clarity of thinking, this book benefits from his variable focus: Genesis gets three chapters to unpack its importance to setting the stage for salvation history, while other books are treated together so as to not get overly bogged down in details. Kreeft acknowledges that he doesn't have space to give adequate attention to the whole Bible, and this book is a good balance of giving enough detail to get started.

Of the introductions to the Bible I have read, I would proceed in this order:

  • Bible Basics for Catholics, which gives an overview of the story of salvation history through the great covenants
  • This book, which is useful both to get an overview, or as to serve as a brief introduction to a particular book before reading it
  • Understanding the Scriptures, which is a more lengthy, textbook treatment
  • The Great Story of Israel, which gives a more lengthy theological commentary
  • CCSS or similar commentary series for more detailed study



General Introduction to the Bible

  • Quotes are from the RSV because it is "both literal and literary, both accurate and beautiful." (ix)
  • Reading the Bible should be a form of prayer (xi), it is God's love letter to you (xii)

Reading the Bible is aligning your mind and will with God's; therefore it is a fulfillment of the prayer "Thy will be done", which is the most basic and essential key to achieving our whole purpose on earth: holiness and happiness. I challenge each reader to give a good excuse for not putting aside fifteen minutes a day to use this fundamental aid to fulfilling the meaning of your life. (xii)

  • The Bible is a story in three acts: Paradise, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regained (xiv)
    • Act III has three scenes, as God reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • The Bible claims to give us truth, power, life and joy (xv)
  • Ten tips to read the Bible profitably (xvii)
    1. Read the Bible itself
    2. Read repeatedly
    3. First read a book quickly to get the overall picture, then reread it more slowly
    4. Listen first before you talk back
    5. Once you have listened, do talk back
    6. First understand, then evaluate
    7. Ask four questions: What does the passage say? What does it mean? Is it true? So what?
    8. Look for the big picture
    9. Go back and analyze it
    10. Be honest: there is only one honest reason for believing the Bible: because it is true

The Old Testament

Introduction to the Old Testament

  • The God of Israel is different because he is one, created the universe out of nothing, gave the moral law, and searches for man (3-4)
  • "The Old Testament, like the New, is about Jesus. It is the beginning of the story of salvation, the same story he completes." (5)

Begin at the Beginning: Genesis 1-2

  • God creates out of nothing, having important consequences (8)
    • God is one, infinite (and of infinite generosity)
    • Nature is both real, good, and rational
  • "Next time you feel confused, try reading Genesis 1. Somehow, it seems to clear away a lot of fog." (11)

Our Free Fall into Sin: Genesis 3

  • "No greater or more far-reaching tragedy has ever happened than the fall." (12)
  • The fall need not have happened; we chose it (13)
  • Man is not ontologically bad, but morally bad because of our choices...we are to blame for what we do, which is conditioned by what Adam and Eve chose (14)
  • Faith and works go together from the beginning: the first step in the fall was a weakening of faith (15)
  • City of God interprets all of human history according to Gn-03: We are either God's children or Satan's (17)
  • Our temptation is to creep under the angel's flaming sword (Gn-03)

The Divine Rescue Operation: Genesis Continued

  • Cain and Abel are the fathers of the two spiritual races: the damned and the saved (20)
  • History's most public people is the survival and continued rejuvenation of the Jewish people (21)
  • Joseph (OT): God uses his own enemy, evil, against itself and for good (22)
  • The heroes of the Old Testament are different from those of pagan mythology, for they are great not for their strength but for their faith (22)

God's "Liberation Theology": Exodus

  • The Exodus forged the identity of the Jewish people (25)
  • Man can liberate man from slavery to man, but only God can liberate man from the deeper slavery to sin (26). Christ, the new Moses, liberates his people, the Church, the new Israel, from the spiritual slavery of sin and from the power of the world (symbolized by Egypt), which is under the dominion of Satan (symbolized by Pharaoh), through the sea (death) and the wilderness (Purgatory) to the promised land (Heaven) (27)
  • The law is the center of Judaism (28) and the heart of the law is love (29 cf. Dt-06)
  • The law expressed God's will and is thus the glue that binds us to God. It is God we love via the law (29)
  • Moses is the most complete symbol and prefigurement of Christ (list of similarities on 30)

God's Law, Israel's Wanderings, and Moses' Farewell: Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

  • Leviticus is the book of laws God gave Israel through Moses. We can find lessons in the minutiae, including (34)
    1. God's care for us reaches down into the tiny details of our lives
    2. Law is good
    3. The key to the law is holiness (Lv-11)
    4. The laws in Leviticus were God's gracious provision for sinful man to approach a holy God
    5. Leviticus foreshadows Christ, and Hebrews interprets the laws messianically and symbolically (read these books together)
  • Numbers is a book of wandering: purgatorial education and purification. Here we find a number of symbols of Christ (36)
    1. The bronze serpent (Nm-21) symbolizes Christ on the cross (Jn-03)
    2. Paul interprets the water from the rock as Christ (1 Cor-10)
    3. The manna (Nm-11) symbolizes the Eucharist (Jn-06)
    4. The cities of refuge (Nm-35) symbolize the sacrament of reconciliation
  • Deuteronomy contains Moses' farewell sermons, which share the same essential point as Psalm 1: the only two ways open for us are the way of obedience to God or the way of disobedience (37)
    • The Shema (Dt-06): nothing is more important than love of God
    • We must choose (Dt-30)

From Conquest to Chaos: Joshua and Judges

  • The Bible is essentially history, and Israel's history is key to the world's history (40)
  • Joshua is an awful, grisly book, and meant to remind us that spiritual warfare is just as real as the physical warfare depicted, and won't end until the end of time (40)
    • Whenever Israel trusts and obeys God, she triumphs (41)
    • Joshua is a type of Jesus (42)
      • Their names are the same
      • They are both the new Moses
      • He is the commander of God's chosen people and conquerer of God's enemies
      • He is the one who leads his people through the waters of death
      • He does what Moses could not do in bringing his people into the promised land (symbolic of heaven)
      • The twelve tribes symbolize the twelve apostles
    • The most important passage is Jos-24 where Joshua calls Israel to make the great choice of who to serve
  • Judges is the book of Israel's repeated failures, with seven cycles of blessedness → luxury → pride → disaster → suffering → repentance → blessedness (45)
    • Israel compromises and worships the gods of Canaan, just like we worship the gods of consumerism, control, comfort, power, prestige, pleasure (44)

National Happiness from Personal Holiness: First and Second Samuel

  • The historical books guide our present lives and choices, and show the dependence of the nation's happiness on its leaders' personal holiness (47)
  • 1 Samuel gives the history from Samuel (the last of the judges) to David (Israel's greatest king)
    • The friendship between David and Jonathan is a classic, model friendship (49)
  • 2 Samuel is Israel's brief golden age
    • David is one of the primary types for Christ (50); he is the hinge between Abraham and Christ (51):
      • He is a king
      • He was born in Bethlehem
      • He was anointed ("Christ")
      • He is "a man after God's own heart" (1 Sm-13)
      • He experiences rejection and danger and composes some of the great messianic psalms, such as Ps-22 which Jesus quoted on the cross
      • Christ is the "son of David"
      • David forgives and spares his enemies (Saul twice)
    • "David did not attain the best thing, personal purity and perfection, but he attained the next best thing, repentance." (52) After reading 2 Sm-12 read Ps-51 ("It is a favorite of many of the saints, for all saints know themselves to be sinners, and this is the great sinner's Psalm.")
  • Lessons from 1-2 Samuel (53):
    • Most time are times of trouble
    • Personal sins produce national tragedies
    • Immutable spiritual law: obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings judgment
    • It's never too late to repent

From Israel's Golden Age to Decline and Fall: First and Second Kings

  • 1 Kings gives Solomon's reign and the summit of Israel's golden age
    • Tradition has it that Solomon wrote Song of Songs in his youth (exalting young love), Proverbs (practical wisdom of maturity) in his middle age, and Ecclesiastes in old age (after losing wisdom and turning away from its source) (55)
    • The first thing Solomon does with his wealth is to build God's house, the temple, which had to be great because it was a symbol of Christ (56)
    • Solomon makes three mistakes: too many women, too many gods, and allowing his women choose his gods rather than letting God choose his women (57)
  • 2 Kings shows a divided Israel losing its way
    • The northern kingdom was destroyed by Assyria in 722 BC (2 Kgs-17) and Judah by Babylon in 586 BC (2 Kgs-25)
  • Most of the great prophets taught between Solomon and the exile (58)
    • Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Hosea in Israel
    • Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk in Judah
  • Elijah is the type of John the Baptist (emphasizing law, repentance, and judgment); Elisha is a type of Christ (emphasizing faith, grace, and hope)
  • St. Thomas More: "The times are never so bad that a good man cannot live in them." (59)

A Different Perspective on History: First and Second Chronicles

  • 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles tell the same story as Samuel and Kings from a different perspective that is more divine, a priestly point of view, includes genealogies, and idealizes by emphasizing the good kings (60)
  • That these differences are less appealing to our modern minds raise important questions for us (61):
    • Are we suspicious of the Bible as Divine Revelation, not just human wisdom?
    • Do we favor the prophetic over the priestly?
    • Are we bored by genealogies because we are out of touch with history and tradition?
    • Does its idealism show we are more convinced by evil than good?
  • Chronicles reminds us that a nation's political health depends on its spiritual health, which in turn depends on the spiritual health of its leaders (64)

God Brings His People Back to the Promised Land: Ezra and Nehemiah

  • Three waves of exile in 606, 597, 586 BC, then three waves of the "second exodus" return in 538 led by Zerubbabel, 457 led by Ezra, and 444 BC led by Nehemiah (67)
  • "We usually prefer comfort to freedom." (68)
  • "God's providential control over history and his care for his people are seen in his keeping his people safe even in exile." (69)
  • The Messiah was not to be born in Babylon, which is why the Jews had to return (70)
  • Tradition ascribes Ps-119 to Ezra, and the law is mentioned in every verse (70)
  • Nehemiah rebuilt the city wall. Ezra rebuilt his people's spirit. (70)
  • Separation from other peoples is important because Israel is called by God to be set apart, holy (71)

Biblical Heroines of Friendship and Courage: Ruth and Esther

  • Ruth is a story of of ordinary people (the stuff saints are made of) who are faithful to God (74)
    • "The times are never so bad that a good man cannot live in them." (St. Thomas More, 74)
    • God accepts Gentiles as well as Jews if they only believe in him (as is Jonah and the Good Samaritan, 74)
    • God's providential plans surprise and surpass Ruth's expectations (cf. Eph-03 and 1 Cor-02)
    • Boaz is a figure of Christ as goel or "kinsman-redeemer", who had to be a blood relative, free and in no need of redemption, and willing to pay the price (76)
  • Esther: God's supernatural intervention is rare, but his providential control of the natural causes in history is omnipresent (77)

Job Confronts Life's Darkest Problem and Encounters God Himself

  • Job is one of the greatest books every written, and bottomlessly mysterious. It is the book of the Problem of Evil, and we do not know the answer. God himself is Job's answer. (79)
  • Five levels of understanding Job:
    • The problem of evil
    • The problem of the conflict between faith and experience
    • The problem of the meaning and purpose of life
    • The problem of identity (suffering bring him his deepest identity)
    • The problem of God: revealing God's purposes, character, and reliability
  • God's goodness and justice, as well as our blessedness are far more mysterious than we think. Long-range blessedness is purchased with short-range suffering (the sages know this). Job adds that long-range happiness is the vision of God himself (82)
  • "Instead of answers, Job got the Answerer. Instead of words, Job got the Word." (82)
  • "God carved out a great hollow place for Himself in Job with all these sufferings. yet the hole made no sense until God came and filled it." (84)
  • "Job is a Christ-figure. He is a suffering servant, chosen by God to suffer not because he is so bad, but because he is so good. And he suffers for others. At the end, God accepts the three friends only because Job prays and sacrifices for them." (85)

Our Primary Prayer Book: The Psalms

Our Road Map to Practical Wisdom: Proverbs

  • What our civilization needs is to return to these dull platitudes because they are true (92)
  • Four assumptions behind Proverbs:
    • Practical wisdom is a real, true, objective thing
    • Most important things in life are knowable
    • Our lives on earth are meaningful
    • Ordinary life experience is a reliable teacher of this wisdom
  • Every age is an evil age, which is why the Proverbs are perennial (95)
  • The "greatest and deepest" passage of Proverbs is Prv-08-31 (97)

The Question the Rest of the Bible Answers: Ecclesiastes

  • Ecclesiastes is the Bible's only book of philosophy, and it is the question to which the rest of the Bible is the answer (98). It "lays bare the God-sized hole in the human heart that all God-substitutes fail to fill" (100)
  • The point is "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity": he has tried wisdom (Eccl-01), pleasure (Eccl-02), wealth (Eccl-02), honor (Eccl-02), external religion (Eccl-07), all of which fail (100)
  • Ecclesiastes is quintessentially modern (101)
    • It asks modern questions, like does life have meaning?
    • It assumes the modern context where religion is reduced to observed behavior
    • It uses the modern scientific method of sense observation
    • It comes to the modern conclusion of vanity
    • It concludes with the modern practical advice of hedonism
  • "It is absolutely essential that we answer Ecclesiastes' challenge. If we do not, we have no reason, ultimately, to do anything else." (102)
  • Love is the meaning of life because love is the very nature of God...Ecclesiastes highlights the problem; Christ is the answer (103)

The Great Love Story between God and the Soul: Song of Songs

  • Song of Songs has been the favorite of great saints (such as John of the Cross, Bernard, and Thomas Aquinas), and is interpreted at two levels (104):
    • Literally as a celebration of married love
    • Symbolically as a celebration of the joys of our spiritual marriage to God
  • All four loves are present: eros or desire (Sg-08), storge or affection (Sg-04), philia or friendship (Sg-05), and agape or charity (Sg-02) (105)

God's Big Mouths: The Prophets

  • A prophet is God's mouthpiece, and tells too much to be socially approved (110)
  • Two ways to discern if a prophet is true or false: "by their fruits you shall know them" (Mt-07), and by waiting for the word of the true prophet will always come true (112)
  • Of the three steps to know God's mind, do God's will, and share God's life, the prophets tell us God's mind especially when we are off track (113)
  • Only one who is open to God's heart will understand God's prophets (114, cf. Jn-07)

The Shakespeare of Prophecy Thunders with the Message of Salvation: Isaiah

The Only Alternative to Disaster: Jeremiah and Lamentations

  • Jeremiah is the "weeping prophet": the only alternative to disaster is to trust and obey, to surrender our will to God (124)
    • Kreeft is great at diagnosing our modern problems and pointing to the correct medicine in the Bible: If God were to send us a prophet today it might be Jeremiah because we have lost our consciousness of sin (126)
    • One of the most helpful verses in Scripture, Jer-29: "You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart" (127, cf. Mt-07)
    • Don't forget, Jer-31: "I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
  • Lamentations is the poem lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem, acrostic with each verse beginning with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
    • Hope arises out of the tears. The solution to the problem of evil is to wait and allow God to bring good even out of evil if we turn to him (129)

Two Supernatural Visionaries: Ezekiel and Daniel

  • Ezekiel says both the good news and the bad news, sin and salvation. "Whenever you hear either half of this message without the other, you know the messenger is not a true prophet." (131)
    • Ezekiel is "primitive" in the sense that it clearly preached the principle that each individual is responsible for and is justly punished for his own sins (Ez-18, 132)
  • There is a philosophy of history implied in Daniel's visions: God is the Lord of history, planning and directing it as he plans and directs each life (134)

More Mouths of God: The Rest of the Prophets

  • Hosea is tenderness and tragedy in love rejected: marries Gomer who is unfaithful to show Israel their own unfaithfulness to God (136)
    • God both forgives and punishes, as both are expressions of love (137)
    • Hos-02: Sufferings are a part of God's allurements, his courtship. Only in the wilderness of suffering and silence can we hear the voice of God as it really is (138-139)
  • Joel reminds us that it is our choice, Jl-02: "Yet even now," says the LORD, "return to me with all your heart"
    • Joel's prophecy of Pentacost in Jl-02-32, quoted by Peter in Acts-02-21
  • Amos shows how underneath the appearances of prosperity, Israel's soul is sick. This has contemporary applications to Western civilization
    • Amos dismisses liturgical abuses vigorously in Am-05-27
    • "The appropriate and inevitable punishment for refusing to heed God's Word is to become incapable of hearing it", Am-08: "I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." (146)
  • Obadiah prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem, for we will reap what we sow and the wages of sin is death
  • Jonah is the reluctant prophet to discovers God's mercy
    • He teaches us that: 1) you can't run away from God, 2) even wicket people can repent, and 3) God's mercy is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews (149)
    • "Which miracle is more startling and unbelievable—that a man finds physical life in the humble, dark place of a whale's belly, or that a whole nation finds spiritual life in the humble, dark place of repentance?" → Despite spiritual decadence today, repentance can come (151)
  • Micah

## History, Wisdom, and Apocalyptic Visions: The Deuterocanonical Books and the Apocrypha

Part Two: The New Testament

## The Good News of Jesus Christ: Introduction to the Gospels

## The Gospel of the Kingdom: Matthew's Gospel

## Just the Facts: Mark's Gospel

## The Great Physician: Luke's Gospel

## The I AM Reveals Himself: John's Gospel

## The Gospel of the Holy Spirit: Acts

## The Church in Acts and the Church Today

## The Church's Treasure Trove of Wisdom: Introduction to the Epistles

## The First Systematic Christian Theology: Romans

## How a Christian Is Different: First Corinthians

## A Different Christ Means No Christ: Second Corinthians

## Back to Basics: Galatians

## We Are Christ's Mystical Body: Ephesians

## Christ-Mindedness: Philippians

## Christ, the Fullness of God: Colossians

## How to Misunderstand the Second Coming: First and Second Thessalonians

## Letters to Paul's Helpers: First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus

## A Personal and Tender Letter to a Friend: Philemon

## Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King: Hebrews

## Doers of the Word: James

## Standing Fast in Christ: Letters of Peter

## A Spiritual Father Writes to His Children: Letters of John

## Warning against False Teaching: Jude

## The Most Difficult Book in the Bible: Revelation

Bible Translations Kreeft Cites

  • NKJV (34)
  • TEV (48, 97)

Topic: The Bible



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Created: 2023-01-01-Sun
Updated: 2024-01-15-Mon