According to Christian pastor Rick Warren, “The Bible also tells one story with consistency. It was written over a 1,500-year time span, on three continents, and by 40 authors people from every walk of life, like kings, shepherds, fishermen, and tax collectors. Yet the Bible tells one story from beginning to end: God’s love and salvation for man and how he came into this world through Jesus Christ” I used to teach high school Old and New Testament. Among the various difficulties students had with understanding the Bible this obstacle stood out—why it is so difficult to read!
As a cradle Catholic, I was used to hearing the Old and New Testament readings every week. I took for granted that gift that my parents gave me—the ability to attend Sunday liturgy frequently. Those students that struggled admitted they did not attend Sunday worship weekly.
In order to teach my students, I needed to educate how the Catholic Church did. How exactly does the Catholic Church illuminate the meaning of the Bible to the average believer? Simply, put there the usage of contextual reading. Every Sunday Catholic Mass contains a First Reading, Second Reading, and a Gospel reading. Most of the First readings come from the Old Testament (the big exception is the Easter Season). The second reading usually is a letter of St. Paul, and the Gospel reading rotates between the three Synoptic accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) with John scattered throughout.
Because I flipped to the New Testament as I taught the Old Testament course and vice versa, my students questioned that method. I whimiscally retorted, “I ensure you I do not have Bible ADD. I just want to show how the Old Testament prepares us for the New Testament and how the New Testament fulfills the Old Testaments!” Coining the phrase “Bible ADD” helped my students remember the importance of always looking to the Scriptures as a whole.
It has been almost two years since I last had an addition to the Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D series. My plan moving forward is have this be a weekly feature in my blog. Today’s topic will look at the connections between the Old Testament prophet Jonah and Jesus. First I want to briefly review the three main criteria Catholics interpret Scripture.
Criteria to Read the Bible
The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides the following criteria to read the Bible:
- Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.79 (CCC 112)
- The phrase “heart of Christ” can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.80
- 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”81) (CCC 113).
- 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.82 By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation (CCC 114).
According to the Catechism, “The Church, as early as apostolic times,104 and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.” Old Testament figures such as Jonah, read in the context of the New Testament, were seen as foreshadowing Jesus Christ.
Jonah as Type of Christ-like Figure
In Matthew 12:40 Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights,* so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Jonah’s time in the belly of the whale represented a type of burial. His emergence from the whale (Jonah 2:11) marked a turning point in the prophet’s ministry—a spiritual renewal.
Another way Jonah prefigured Jesus relates to the number forty. St. Augustine in The City of God chapter 44 links the forty days of Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites with Jesus’ forty days of preaching after his resurrection.
A third way the book of Jonah foreshadows God’s plan of salvation for all peoples. According to Stephen Beale in 9 Ways Jonah Prefigured Jesus, “Most of the prophets we encounter in the Old Testament are sent to convert Israel back to God. Jonah is one of the few sent to Gentiles (the Assyrians of Nineveh). In this, he foreshadows Christ’s own mission to Gentiles” (https://catholicexchange.com/9-ways-jonah-prefigured-jesus). Jesus urged his disciples to “Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (cf Matthew 28:19-20).
The Catechism teaches, “Typology indicates the dynamic movement toward the fulfillment of the divine plan when “God [will] be everything to everyone.”108 Nor do the calling of the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt, for example, lose their own value in God’s plan, from the mere fact that they were intermediate stages.” While the original interpretation of Jonah is still meant to be an Old Testament prophet, a spiritual reading shows him to be a preparatory Christ-like figure. Reading the Bible takes discipline, patience, and faith. I will continue this series next week by examining how Old Testament women foreshadowed Mary. For your convenience I have included links to all previous installments of Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D series in the related resources section. Thank you for following me on this journey through salvation history!