Little Rock Scripture Study

LD writes: “My parish has been using the Little Rock Scripture Study for its weekly bible study for about a year now.  I don’t care for the series but can’t quite put my finger on why.  I certainly don’t think it’s New Age but it doesn’t feel quite Catholic either.  Can you tell me anything about where this series comes from and is it a truly Catholic study?”

The Little Rock Scripture Study (LRSS) is definitely a Catholic bible study program but what might be bothering you is the Study’s reliance on the Collegeville Bible Commentary, which is known to be based on liberal Scripture scholarship with many modernist interpretations that are not always faithful to Church teaching.

Catholic Answers explains the problem with the Collegeville Commentary in a June, 1994 edition of This Rock:

“A good example of this is the commentary on Romans 1:18-32. In that passage of the Bible Paul states that because pagans worshiped creatures rather than the Creator, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Rom. 1:26-27).

“The Collegeville Bible Commentary states “`natural’ and `unnatural’ should be more accurately translated `culturally approved’ and `culturally disapproved.'” This is linguistic nonsense. The Greek word here for “natural” is the adjectival form of phusis, from which we get “physics.” The term means “according to [a thing’s] nature.” It has nothing to do with society’s approval or disapproval. In fact the phrase for “unnatural” (para phusin) was found in the Stoic philosophers before Paul’s time and clearly indicated something that was out of accord with nature. Sickness, for instance, was said to be para phusin (cf. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 9, p. 265).

“The fact that the Collegeville Bible Commentary would go so far as to say that the terms “should be more accurately translated” as “culturally approved” and “culturally disapproved” shows the lengths to which the authors of the commentary are willing to go to push their social agenda. (In the case cited the commentary gives what may be termed a pro-homosexualist interpretation.) This is not scholarship, but the antithesis of it, where a scholar’s personal social or political views are allowed to dominate the data.

“We have given only one example of this commentary’s deficiencies, but we have found enough similar problems that we cannot recommend this as a trustworthy work.”

According to the website, the LRSS was created in the early 1970s by a Catholic couple named Fred and Tammy Woell. The Woell’s were attending a Protestant scripture study and felt Catholics should have something similar. They discussed the idea with various priests and were eventually introduced to Jerome Kodell, OSB, an Arkansas native and Benedictine monk of Subiaco Abbey, who had studied scripture in Rome. He was enthusiastic about the project and began to work with the Woells in developing a study. It was at this point that the group decided to use the Collegeville Bible Commentary as “a companion to the Bible.” In 1977, Bishop Andrew J. McDonald named the Little Rock Scripture Study as the official vehicle for promoting adult education in the Diocese of Little Rock.

It’s a shame that one of the few Catholic scripture studies out there has to be tainted in this way. I have read comments from some LRSS instructors who acknowledge the problem and say they use other commentaries as “back up” when leading a group. You may also consider buying your own Commentary and using it to supplement your studies. But be careful, there are a lot of similar problems in the world of biblical scholarship. The most highly recommended and authentically Catholic commentary is by Bernard Orchard and was published in the 1950s. I found a reprint of this book here. (This one is recommended by Jimmy Akin at Catholic Answers.)

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