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Ann Naffziger :
103 article(s)

Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.
March 1st, 2013

The gospels don’t publish the specific menus offered at any of Jesus’ meals, except for giving multiple references to him eating bread, very commonly imbibing wine, and a couple of times eating fish. Many people think it is improbable that Jesus was a vegetarian given the fact that he was an observant Jew of his time. Jewish dietary laws (a.k.a. kosher food laws) did not require, nor even encourage, vegetarianism. On the contrary, the Hebrew Scriptures command very particular ways of preparing and eating both sheep and goat meat, as well as other types of animal flesh. Going on this assumption then, we would guess that when Jesus’ family celebrated the Passover, for example, he would have eaten his share…

February 27th, 2013

Question: Why is Paul always in prison? Did people write letters responding to the ones he sent to them from prison?

The New Testament tells us that Paul spent some time in prison, although we can’t be certain of how many times Paul was imprisoned, where, or for how long each sentence lasted. According to The Acts of the Apostles, Paul remained under house arrest in Rome for two entire years. Possibly Paul wrote his letters to the Philippians and Philemon during this tenure, but it is impossible to know.
Acts tells us he was accused by the people of Philippi of “disturbing our city … and advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe” (Acts 16:20-21). Later, Jewish leaders sent him

February 22nd, 2013

Question: In Mark 10:17-30, Jesus tells a man to give away all of his possessions in order to inherit eternal life. Do I need to give away all of my possessions if I want to spend eternity with Jesus?
Some read this passage (and it’s cross-references, Mt 19:16-22 and Lk 18:18-25) literally and have given over all they have to follow their call to discipleship. Some dismiss it as impossible, and give it no further thought. Others have considered this passage with great seriousness, even while noticing that Jesus didn’t ask the same of every person who followed him. It is in this tension of taking Jesus’ words seriously while discerning God’s unique will for each of us that perhaps offers the best hope for enlightenment.…

January 15th, 2013

Fortunately for human beings, God is able to make God’s self known to people even without use of the Bible. We probably all know stories of people today who have religious experiences without prior knowledge of the Bible. You may think here of a young child raised in a secular family who relates a profound experience of transcendence, or of a self-proclaimed atheist who has an astounding near-death experience of God. Similarly, researchers have described encounters with cultures and peoples who have never been introduced to the Bible, but who still have well-formed beliefs about a divine power because they have experienced a power or force beyond humanity’s.
Such examples suggest that humans who lived…

January 11th, 2013

The Christian churches have what we call a “closed canon,” meaning that the books contained in the Old and New Testaments — all written by the turn of the first century C.E. — are definitively known as the sum of sacred scripture. So the answer is no; no further books will be added to the Bible.
The Second Vatican Council taught that God chose certain authors to write “whatever he wanted written, and no more.” The purpose of the inspired books is to “teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided in the sacred scriptures.” (Dei Verbum 11) Of course this does not mean that we can’t look to other writings, ancient or modern, to help us understand our faith or our…

January 4th, 2013

The Gospel of Barnabas is an account of the life of Jesus purported to have been written by Jesus’ disciple Barnabas.The only two known manuscripts of the Gospel of Barbabus are dated to the late 16th century and were written in Spanish and Italian. Note that the four gospels included in the Christian Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were all written in Greek in the first century after Jesus’ life, so there is a 15 century gap between them.
The Gospel of Barnabus narrates Jesus’ ministry, much of which it echoes from the four gospels. At other times, however, it contradicts the New Testament accounts and instead leans toward an Islamic interpretation of Jesus’ identity, for instance by describing…

December 28th, 2012

Like all of the human authors of the Bible, Paul writes from his particular cultural context of life in the first century Roman Empire. He lived in a hierarchical, patriarchal society that presumed the rightness of a woman’s subordination to a man, a child’s subordination to a parent, and a slave’s subordination to a master. In fact, there are several places in the New Testament (Col 3:18-4:1, Eph 5:21-33, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Titus 2:1-10, 1 Peter 2:18-3:7) where such “household codes” mirror secular lists of the ancient world. We can say that Paul “never tries to change the existing social conditions in the name of Christian teaching” (Joseph Fitzmeyer).
Still, it’s not hard to be puzzled or even…

December 17th, 2012

For centuries, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Exodus) were thought to have been written by Moses. However, in the mid-1800s, a scholar named Julius Wellhausen noticed that there were four distinct writing styles among these books and that some stories were told more than once with different language, emphases, and details. For example, there are two distinct creation stories, two versions of the flood, two accounts of God’s covenant with Abraham, etc. This led Wellhausen to hypothesize that there are four primary writers or schools of writers who authored these books. These authors are referred to by the first letter of the names Wellhausen gave them. “J” is shorthand for the writer…

December 3rd, 2012

The first verse in the Letter attributes the writing to “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” but otherwise the letter gives us no further biographical information on the author. There are a few references in the New Testament to a “James, the brother of Jesus” (a Greek word that can be translated to “cousin”). Perhaps the author of this letter was writing under the authority of this James or “borrowing” the name to give its teaching more weight, a common practice in the ancient world.
James was writing to an organized Christian community. This indicates that it was written later than the letters of Paul because Paul wrote to fairly new, loosely formed, and often mixed communities…

November 29th, 2012

A Pope is a human being like any of us, so the fact of being the leader of the Church does not mean he is always right, i.e. the Pope says eating Cheerios is better than eating Raisin Bran for breakfast. The Pope is not “infallible” in this sense.
If you are asking if a Pope is always said to interpret scripture “infallibly,” the answer is no, because the definition of papal infallibility is very narrowly defined by the Church. In fact, no Pope has ever invoked papal infallibility when interpreting scripture. On the other hand, we are always called to seriously and prayerfully consider what the Pope teaches or preaches, as he does have extensive knowledge of scripture. Also, he has at his disposal the expertise…

November 22nd, 2012

Throughout human history, the act of sharing food together has suggested a level of bondedness between the people sharing the meal. Some of the significance has been lost in this day and age of American drive-throughs and eating on the run, but certainly in the Jewish culture of the Middle East at the time of Jesus, a shared meal connoted a level of intimacy between eaters. (For this reason Jesus was consistently criticized for sharing food and drink with tax collectors and sinners.) The Passover ritual that Jesus celebrated as his Last Supper included the practice of sharing food from common bowls, not unlike in various cultures and ethnic restaurants still today. In this sense, Judas can be accused of betraying…

November 20th, 2012

It is not that modern books aren’t “good enough” to be in scripture, but that they aren’t “old enough.” Church leaders decided in the first several hundred years after Jesus’ lifetime which books should be included in the “canon” of the Bible and then they closed that canon. One of the criteria used to decide which books would make the cut was if the books were “ancient,” meaning written and handed down from our early Jewish heritage or in the first century after Christ’s life.
The teaching continues that since Jesus Christ was the invisible God made visible and the one who perfectly showed us who God is, we do not expect any new public revelation before his second coming. Since no one writing…

November 16th, 2012

The short answer is no. There are many people in the world who do not know Greek, but have a strong understanding of the Bible academically as well as spiritually. It is unlikely that any Christian you know, including your parish priest, is able to read the New Testament in its original Greek…

November 8th, 2012

There are some extraordinary biblical scholars teaching, researching, and writing in the field of scripture studies. A few of the best known are Raymond Brown, S.S., Jospeh Fitzmeyer, and Roland Murphy, co-editors of the tome The New Jerome Biblical Commentary and past presidents of the Catholic Biblical Association and the Society of Biblical Literature. Raymond Brown also wrote a well-respected Introduction to the New Testament. Both are go-to references for homilists and students of the Bible.
A look at the editors and contributors of the two most commonly used Bibles in Catholic and mainline Protestant churches, the New American and the New Revised Standard Version, call to mind some other well-esteemed…

October 30th, 2012

The Latin Vulgate, or simply “Vulgate” as it is more commonly known, is a Latin translation of the Bible done in the late fourth century A.D. St. Jerome is credited with being the primary translator. By the Middle Ages, his translation had become the most commonly used translation, and it was declared the official Latin translation of the Catholic Church for centuries to come.
The Vulgate was notable because it was perhaps the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Latin from the original Hebrew (others were translated from Hebrew to Greek and then to Latin). Similarly, the New Testament was translated directly from the Greek into Latin. Later, many translators used the Vulgate as their source for…

October 7th, 2012

In the world of biblical studies, there is no degree or certificate conferring “official” status as a biblical translator. Rather, scholars with higher degrees — generally PhDs — in scriptural studies or biblical languages work individually and in groups translating the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek. Generally, scholars are better versed in one language or the other, one Testament of the other. (The Old Testament was written almost entirely in Hebrew, the New in Greek.) On the rare occasions when a biblical committee calls for a new translation of the Bible or a revision of a translation, the committee invites well-respected academics to collaborate in the translation. To give…

September 28th, 2012

There aren’t any stories in scripture of Jesus fighting with his disciples, per se, but there are certainly examples of Jesus being exasperated, indignant, and disappointed with his friends/followers, for example Mark 10:14. There are times when Jesus told parables or tried to make a point but the disciples didn’t understand and he expressed impatience with them. Once he overheard the disciples arguing about who was the greatest among them, which he found maddening (Matthew 18:1-7). Another time, Peter tried to insist that Jesus shouldn’t have to suffer and die, and Jesus retorted, “Get behind me, Satan. For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mark 8:33).
Maybe you…

September 14th, 2012

Five books are generally categorized as wisdom literature: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Although the literary style between these books varies, much of wisdom literature is characterized by short, pithy sayings like “Pride goes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The general focus of wisdom literature is a reflection on the realities of life, for example: how to cope with suffering (Job), finding order amidst what appears to be random, and dealing with the ambiguities of life. Wisdom literature attempts to pass on advice, warnings, insights, or moral exhortations that have proven to be helpful to others in the past, for example: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but…

September 7th, 2012

What’s the Apocrypha and why is it part of some Bibles and not others?…
The Apocrypha is the set of 15 books generally placed between the Old and New Testaments that is included in Catholic but not Protestant bibles. The set includes the books of Tobit, Judith, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, and portions or additions of other books in the Old Testament. None of these apocryphal books were a part of the original Hebrew scriptures (what we generally call the Old Testament). However, they were written in Greek and were included in early Greek versions of the Jewish scriptures.
Hundreds of years ago Protestants decided that since they weren’t a part of the Hebrew scriptures

August 31st, 2012

What translation of the Bible should I be reading? There are a lot to choose from — which one is the best?

If you want to sit down specifically to pray and meditate on scripture, I recommend you use whatever translation you have on hand that is familiar, comforting, and appealing to you. If you love…

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