PS: Our Pope Benedict has answered a question regarding reading the Bible. The following excerpt is taken from the question-and-answer sessions our Pope Benedict XVI had with young people of the Latium region on April 6th in St. Peter's Square, in preparation for the diocesan-level World Youth Day. All emphases mine.
Q: I often wonder what Jesus would have done in my place in a specific situation, but I don't always manage to understand what the Bible tells me. Moreover, I know that the books of the Bible were written by different people in different ages, in any case, very distant from me. How can I understand that what I read is nevertheless the word of God which calls my life into question? Thank you.
Benedict XVI: To begin, I shall answer by stressing a first point: It must first of all be said that one must not read sacred Scripture as one reads any kind of historical book, such as, for example, Homer, Ovid or Horace; it is necessary truly to read it as the word of God, that is, entering into a conversation with God.
One must start by praying and talking to the Lord: "Open the door to me." And what St. Augustine often says in his homilies: "I knocked at the door of the word to find out at last what the Lord wants to say to me," seems to me to be a very important point. One should not read Scripture in an academic way, but with prayer, saying to the Lord: "Help me to understand your word, what it is that you want to tell me in this passage."
A second point is: Sacred Scripture introduces one into communion with the family of God. Thus, one should not read sacred Scripture on one's own. Of course, it is always important to read the Bible in a very personal way, in a personal conversation with God; but at the same time, it is important to read it in the company of people with whom one can advance, letting oneself be helped by the great masters of "lectio divina."
For example, we have many beautiful books by Cardinal Martini, a true master of "lectio divina," who helps us to enter into the life of sacred Scripture. Nevertheless, one who is thoroughly familiar with all the historical circumstances, all the characteristic elements of the past, always seeks to open the door to show that the words which appear to belong to the past are also words of the present.
These teachers help us to understand better and also to learn how to interpret sacred Scripture properly. Moreover, it is also appropriate in general to read it in the company of friends who are journeying with me, who are seeking, together with me, how to live with Christ, to find what life the word of God brings us.
A third point: If it is important to read sacred Scripture with the help of teachers and in the company of friends, traveling companions, it is particularly important to read it in the great company of the pilgrim people of God, that is, in the Church.
Sacred Scripture has two subjects. First and foremost, the divine subject: It is God who is speaking. However, God wanted to involve man in his word. Whereas Muslims are convinced that the Koran was verbally inspired by God, we believe that for sacred Scripture it is "synergy" -- as the theologians say -- that is characteristic, the collaboration of God with man.
God involves his people with his word, hence, the second subject -- the first subject, as I said, is God -- is human. There are individual writers, but there is the continuity of a permanent subject -- the people of God that journeys on with the word of God and is in conversation with God. By listening to God, one learns to listen to the word of God and then also to interpret it.
Thus, the word of God becomes present, because individual persons die but the vital subject, the people of God, is always alive and is identical in the course of the millenniums: It is always the same living subject in which the word lives.
This also explains many structures of sacred Scripture, especially the so-called rereading. An ancient text is reread in another book, let us say 100 years later, and what had been impossible to perceive in that earlier moment, although it was already contained in the previous text, is understood in-depth.
And it is read again, ages later, and once again other aspects, other dimensions of the word are grasped. So it was that sacred Scripture developed, in this permanent rereading and rewriting in the context of profound continuity, in a continuous succession of the times of waiting.
At last, with the coming of Christ and the experience of the apostles, the word became definitive. Thus, there can be no further rewriting, but a further deepening of our understanding continues to be necessary. The Lord said: "The Holy Spirit will guide you into depths that you cannot fathom now."
Consequently, the communion of the Church is the living subject of Scripture. However, here too the principal subject is the Lord himself, who continues to speak through the Scriptures that we have in our hands.
I think that we should learn to do three things: To read it in a personal colloquium with the Lord; to read it with the guidance of teachers who have the experience of faith, who have penetrated sacred Scripture, and to read it in the great company of the Church, in whose liturgy these events never cease to become present anew and in which the Lord speaks with us today.
Thus, we may gradually penetrate ever more deeply into sacred Scripture, in which God truly speaks to us today.