Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Do You Have to Read the Bible to Get to Heaven?

Photo by David Ball
A good friend that I am blessed to share conversations with on many a morning raised an interesting question in connection with yesterday's post, where I challenged readers to put themselves into deeper contact with Jesus by, among other suggestions, reading the four gospels.  My friend had recently heard someone pose the question on talk radio whether it would be better to a) live a virtuous life but never read the gospels, or b) to have read the gospels but go through life acting like a jerk.  

The priest to whom this question was put responded that for Catholics reading Scripture and being virtuous  are not meant to be mutually exclusive.  He continued by saying that Christians were not simply called to be good, but to be godly; and that to be godly you needed to know the God you were called to imitate ... and He speaks to us and we read of how he lived as a man in the pages of Scripture.  Now, let me flesh that out a bit more, because he makes a point that is important but too little understood among Catholics - that we are not called to be good, but supernaturally good.  After that I'd like to bullet some thoughts as to why it is so important for Catholics to read and study Scripture.

The general cultural impression - and due to poor instruction over the past 40 years,  too many Catholics and other Christians share it - is that the way a person enters heaven is for God to simply place the good and bad he or she has done on the scale; and if the good outweighs the bad, then they stroll through the pearly gates.  Common idea, but absolutely not the belief of Christianity.

Heaven means sharing God's own divine life.  That is something completely above human nature, something to which we creatures have no right.  On the natural level, it is impossible to earn, no matter how virtuous our actions might be.  God's life is simply on a completely different plane of being.  He can only stoop down to offer it to us and, if accepted, draw us up into it.  That is what the priest was trying to point on when he said that we were not just called to be good, but godly.

This comes to the heart of the Gospel message. Our first parents were given the gift of divine life in their souls at their creation.  At some point however, they rejected it.  Instead of wanting to live as God's children, learning right and wrong from a heavenly Father, they wanted to determine right and wrong for themselves.  They reverted to the life of creatures - and broken creatures at that.  God the Son entered the human race for the purpose of regenerating it from within.  He lived as a human child of God, filled with the divine life, from cradle to grave.  He is the breakthrough.  And if we will accept His invitation (of Baptism) He fuses us to Himself and raises us up into His own life and relationship with the Father.

The good actions that we perform after that point have a supernatural value because they are the actions of children of God - performed through the power of the only Son.  But we have to cooperate with Jesus' desire to reproduce His life and actions in us. 
Heaven is the name we give to the family life that God and His children will share for eternity.   Again, apart from Him we are merely God's creatures; but united to Jesus we become children.    

I know, now you're asking yourself, "But what about all of the people in the world who are not Christians?  Is there no hope for them?"  Yes, there is.  (But if you want the details you're going to need to click here and check out paragraphs 839-848.  I want people falling in love with not just Scripture, but the Catechism!)

Now, if we Christians are supposed to be living the life of Jesus, a divine life, it stands to reason that we want to be as closely united to Him (present and acting in the Sacraments) and to His mind (manifested to us in the pages of Scripture and the Tradition and teachings of the Church) as absolutely possible.  God became a human being to speak to us and show us what are lives are meant to be.  It is a Divine Revelation!  You wish God would speak to you?  Open the Bible!  Why expect Him to manifest Himself with a booming voice if you won't pay any attention to the 73 whole books He's already written to you?!

Why start reading the Bible?
  • It is "inspired." In Greek, the term literally means "God-breathed."   God Himself produced this work, through the human authors.
  • You are able to study the words and actions of Jesus, Whose life you are supposed to be living.
  • You might discover that the image of God you hold in your mind is just that, your image of God - it does not match the Reality.
  • We discover God's vision of what is right and wrong.  And that's important, because serious sin can drain His divine life from our souls.  "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Prov.14:12).  Translation - "Be in the know."
  • The Church never grows tired of quoting St. Jerome (from back in the 400's), "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ," or as I like to paraphrase him, "To whatever degree we do not know Scripture, it is to that same degree that we do not know Christ."
  • We - literate people, with Bibles in our homes - are the envy of almost every century of Christians to have come before us.

Can a person enter Heaven without having ever physically read one of the gospels?  Yes.  But do you have any excuse for not reading the Bible?  An excuse that will hold up with God? "Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required" (Lk.12:48).


  1. Some very good thoughts, Shane! Christ is my Savior because I believe that He sacrificed Himself for my sins. And so I do as much good as I can as a thank-you response to Him. I do not do good to earn favor or merit, in fact, I think it is impossible to do so. My works are simply a response to what Jesus has done for me and in me. So..... I think I am in agreement with the priest who said that we must be godly.

    1. Thank you for the comment. At one time I would have explained the process of salvation and the place of works in the Christian life EXACTLY as you have above. The closer I read the N.T. though, I was forced to make adjustments. If you are interested I'll point you toward a September post titled, "Salvation, Catholic Style." I was coming to the view long before committing myself to Catholicism, but the Scriptural insights of the Church's saints and teachers have really helped me formulate it much more clearly. That post is an excerpt from Chp. 6 of my "The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center." It explains what is meant by terms such as "merit," and "grace," and looks at a ton of Scripture. Thank you again for stopping by.

  2. JOHN 14:23-24 'If anyone loves me he will cherish my word...He that does not love me neglects my words.

    I personally believe that I cannot profess to love God and spend more time being entertained by worldly things than seeking Him. To be able to love God with all my heart, I think it is important that I know Him well. I mean, how can we truly love someone we don't know? And one of the best ways to know about God is through His Holy Scriptures.

    Of course, God will not love you less if you do not read the Bible or love you more if you do. Bible-reading is not a requirement, it is a gift that we can choose to take or neglect. Take it and you will grow spiritually. Ignore it and you will be easily deceived by the devil.