One should read God's letters
Milena Kindziuk talks to Bishop Kazimierz Romaniuk, a well-known biblical scholar and translator of the Warszawsko-Praska Bible.
MILENA KINDZIUK: - 'Cain killed Nobel' and 'After Moses had announced the Ten Commandments he regarded them as too difficult and threw them into the abyss'. These have been some of the answers of the high school graduates this year. Is it shocking to you?
BISHOP KAZIMIERZ ROMANIUK: - It is not shocking to me but it makes me sad and reminds me of the answers I heard from altar boys. During one of my canonical visitations I asked, 'What is the name of the high tower in the Bible?' Someone answered, 'Abel.' And 'Who killed Cain?' I heard, 'Babel.'
- People do not know the Bible. Do they not like reading it? Instead they prefer reading detective stories or harlequins. Why? What in the Bible puts them off?
- People do not know the Bible because they do not read it themselves and because they hear about it too little. But I would not say that the Bible puts anyone off unless you mean those who actively oppose anything that is connected with God.
However, it is true that the Bible does not draw many people. There can be many reasons for that: lack of basic preparation, i.e. no knowledge in the field of introduction to the Holy Scripture and that's why people do not understand many biblical texts. Another reason is that people have not been properly encouraged to love the particularly beautiful texts of the Bible. For instance, in his writings Roman Brandstaetter encouraged people to read and love the Bible. In general, people know something about the Bible and are convinced that they are not going to get to know anything new by reading it. They choose easy books, which do not require much intellectual effort. Therefore, they are willing to read detective stories or harlequins, which apparently make them relax.
- How should we promote the Bible today?
- For example as 'Niedziela' does it by inserting copies of the biblical books to its issues every month.
- Recently 'Fakt' and other titles, published by Axel Springer, have inserted copies of the Bible, too. Is it a good idea? Does it guarantee that someone will read the biblical text?
- I think that these are not bad ideas although you cannot say that they will 'guarantee' closer, contact of readers with the biblical text, i.e. reading the Bible. But they create such a possibility. Some will look at the cover and many will open the text and look it through. This is certainly one form of the biblical apostleship.
- But is it good that the holy book is inserted in e.g. a tabloid in which one can find obscene pictures next to the sacred text?
- I would be careful as far as tabloids are concerned. Although it depends what kind of tabloid it is, what it presents and what is in its closest context and, which is especially important, who is the author of this advertisement since spreading the Bible in this way is inevitable associated with pure advertising.
- How should we read the Bible to understand it? How should we apply it to our lives?
- I have asked this question many times. I published the answer, and here I apologise for referring to my own answer, in my book entitled 'Ascetyczna lektura Nowego Testamentu' [Ascetic Reading of the New Testament]. I referred to the patristic title of the Bible 'God's letter to people' and I divided people into several categories in which everyone can find himself. Every person can find some letter of Lord God directed to him. So one of the ways of reading the Bible is to treat it as God's letter to people. One should read his letters and one should at least try to answer them.
- Why is it worth reading the Bible? Is it not enough to be simply a good person?
- Not only is it worth reading the Bible but also the Bible must be read. For example we may remember our first catechetical instruction that man was created to know Lord God, love him and serve him forever. It is meaningful that getting to know the Bible is listed first. It is also worth remembering that if you do not fulfil this requirement you commit one of the seven deadly sins. It is called the sin of laziness in the service of God. Our duty is to make sure our knowledge about God increases with time. And this knowledge about God was revealed in the books of Sacred Scripture. This is the main reason why a believer should read the Bible. It is the knowledge of the Bible that enables people, or at least, makes it easier, 'to be a good person' since a truly good person cares to get to know God better because by doing that he fulfils his holy will.
- Is reading the Bible necessary to salvation?
- I think that knowing the Bible helps us be saved since the knowledge included in the Bible enables us to fulfil at least some commandments of God.
- You have spent 35 years translating the Bible. Can you say you know the Bible very well?
- I cannot say that I know the Bible very well. I still discover some new sense of many biblical texts; see some features of biblical characters I have not seen so far. And I discover details of the events depicted in the Bible, which I have seen before, etc. I must confess that I get to know the Bible better and better thanks to my preparation of homilies for every Sunday and thanks to my various teachings. Earlier I got to know the Bible when I had taught Sacred Scripture, especially biblical theology, for over 40 years.
- Your favourite biblical book is the Letters of St Paul. Why? What can St Paul teach contemporary man?
- Indeed, I know the Letters of St Paul best mainly because I dealt with them during my biblical studies. My doctoral dissertation, which was a time-consuming work, concerned St Paul. I held the chair of New Testament theology at the university in Lublin and we know that the biblical theology is mainly found in the Letters of St Paul. The message of St Paul to contemporary chaplain is 'I should be punished if I did not preach it!' (1 Corinthians 9:16). It is as valid as in the times of St Paul. And every believer, who is responsible for preaching the Gospel, can find a treasure of various human situations in the life of St Paul and first of all he can discover how to overcome even the most difficult oppression thanks to 'the hope promised by the Good News' (Colossians 1:23).
- What is your favourite Bible verse? The one that is very moving and helps to live.
- When I was ordained 56 years ago I wrote on my first Mass pictures, 'I know who it is that I have put my trust in' (2 Timothy 1:12), and my bishop's motto is, 'Jesus, I trust in you.' All this concludes in the following verse from the Psalms, 'But I for my part rely on your love, Yahweh' (Psalm 13: 5). I remember my mother telling me to repeat these words. They have helped me very much.
- After Fr Jakub Wujek you are the first Pole who translated the whole Bible into Polish yourself. What are the advantages of such a translation, I mean translation done by one person?
- I must admit that I do not like being listed with Fr Wujek very much. I cannot get compared to him! For my part I started working on proof-reading and copy-editing for the Scientific Committee of the Millennium Bible. Correcting the texts I got the idea to do something on my own. Then I kept the rule to translate at least one line a day. With time I translated more and more lines and when I saw how much I did I thought it would be good to complete the work although I did it gradually. I must also admit that it is better to work alone than in a team consisting of several people.
- In what way does your translation differ from the other ones?
- It is not me that should evaluate my rendering. My concern is that the Bible should explain itself. Perhaps this conviction is based on the fact that I began my work as a member of the ecumenical team, consisting mostly of Protestants. And they did focus on such translations.
- Would you embark on such a big job of translating the Bible today?
- First of all I would have to be convinced of still having several dozens years to live. It is hard to say what I would do. I could do the same? I do not know.