“Catholics, start reading the Bible!”: An interview with Fr. Timothy Peters

“Scripture must be the soul of our theology,” says Fr. Peters, an assistant professor of biblical studies at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California, “and the basis of our catechetical teaching.”

(Image: Rod Long | Unsplash.com)
Fr. Timothy Peters (St. John’s Seminary)

Fr. Timothy Peters, S.T.D., is an assistant professor of biblical studies at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California, which serves the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as well as other dioceses, including the Diocese of Orange, for which he was ordained a priest in 2003.  While providing assistance at the Orange Diocese’s St. Joachim Church in Costa Mesa this summer, Fr. Peters launched a free, online Gospel of John Bible study through Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry’s Facebook Live platform.  It is an early step in a plan to develop an online commentary for each book of the Bible for ordinary Catholics who want to incorporate Scripture reading and Scripture-inspired prayer into their daily lives.

Fr. Peters grew up in Fountain Valley as part of a devout Catholic family; for decades his family has operated Catholic Books & Gifts in Fountain Valley in an effort to encourage Catholics to study the faith more fully and to cultivate a devotional life of prayer in their homes.  His decision to enter seminary, he says, was part of “a personal conversion story in which I resolved to seek the love of Christ above all things in my life.” After learning about “the beauty and truth of our Catholic faith,” he believed God was calling him to become a diocesan priest.

After his ordination, Fr. Peters served as a parochial vicar at parishes in the Diocese of Orange before being sent to Rome to continue his studies.  He completed a License in Biblical Theology (S.T.L.) at the Gregorian University and earned a doctorate in biblical theology (S.T.D.) from the Angelicum University in Rome  He has taught at St. John’s Seminary since 2016, and assists in his home diocese as his schedule allows.

Fr. Peters recently spoke with CWR about the priesthood, his love of Scripture, and his online Bible studies.

CWR: First, how is to be a priest these days?

Fr. Timothy Peters: I love being a priest.  I believe it is my calling.  I love every part of it, whether it be praying with families, making hospital visits, teaching in the seminary or celebrating the liturgy.  I believe I have been blessed by God, and I’m doing exactly what He wants me to do.

CWR: Have the recent Church scandals, such as those involving the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, gotten you down?

Fr. Peters: It’s been discouraging, to say the least. It indicates to me that there is some sort of major spiritual battle going on in the Church. What was most upsetting about the McCarrick situation was that some appeared to be aware of inappropriate behavior on the part of the former prelate but for whatever reason nearly everyone chose to say nothing about it. There is a reason why Christ used the image of a millstones being cast into the sea and related this to scandal (Matt 18:6: Luke 17:2).  I am encouraged by the many changes that have recently taken place.

CWR: Do you miss serving in a parish full-time?

Fr. Peters: I’m still in the parishes, both at St. Joachim’s and Our Lady of La Vang in Santa Ana.  It is my vocation, first and foremost, to be in the parishes as a diocesan priest.  But I think we’ve come to learn that it is better to have diocesan priests working in the seminaries forming future diocesan priests.  We know our parishes, we know how to establish a good spirituality and we know our presbyterate, so we’re able to better prepare future candidates for the diocesan priesthood.

CWR: How are the seminarians you’re teaching?

Fr. Peters: We’re seeing some good candidates, both from Los Angeles and Orange, as well as San Bernardino and some of the other places we serve.  I am continually reminded that if we want to attract good men to the seminary, we diocesan priests have to promote vocations by living an authentic spirituality as diocesan priests.

When I meet men interested in the priesthood, the first thing I like to ask is, “Do you feel you have a call to share the Gospel with others?”  Because as priests, above all things, we have to be responding to a call to share the Gospel with others while living a life of celibacy.  In the modern Church, we have often not asked that question, so we may see men who go on to be priests but do not know how to share the Gospel with others.  You can tell when such a man is ordained; something is wrong with his preaching and his spirituality.  He may be responding to some individual call of his own, but not a call to share the Gospel with others.  That is key.

CWR: How has the Diocese of Orange done for vocations?

Fr. Peters: Orange has always had a lot of vocations.  We ordain three to six a year.  In 2019, we ordained six. In early June 2020, Bishop Vann ordained an additional four.  So, that’s 10 in the past two years.

Other places have seen shortages.  Los Angeles, by contrast, is five times the size of Orange, but has only ordained 18 during the past two years.  And, Los Angeles is doing much better for vocations than it was previously.

CWR: Why is it important that all Catholics, ordained or not, know Scripture?

Fr. Peters: St. Jerome famously said that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Many Catholics you meet don’t know Scripture and, to be honest, do not know Christ.  But Scripture must be the soul of our theology, and the basis of our catechetical teaching.

Every Catholic educational program should incorporate Scripture; every Catholic should be comfortable with the Bible, which will help us better understand the liturgy.  But I have often discovered that Catholics well versed in Scripture have often had to learn it on their own, rather than from an established program in the Church.

We also see in the modern Church a tendency to avoid the Old Testament, but the Old Testament helps us better understand the New Testament.  The Old Testament brings up the theme of covenant, sacrifice, judgment, God’s mercy and justice, and prepares the Church for the final judgment.  The New Testament has the theme of God pouring out His mercy on the Church through Christ, the coming of the Holy Spirit, overcoming our sinfulness, following the Lord and proclaiming the gospel.

But the mistake we don’t want to make is to tell people that they’re “okay,” that there is no need to repent and amend one’s life.  That was the message of the false prophets of the Old Testament.  The true prophets warned people that they must repent, otherwise the enemy will come and obliterate them.  Such prophets were often attacked for their message, but they were vindicated when the enemy came.

The Gospel’s message for us is that it is imperative that we repent of our sins and believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  The message of John the Baptist is a culmination of the entire Old Testament teaching; that we must repent and prepare for the coming of the Lord.  The call to repentance becomes an imperative for us if we are to understand the Good News.

CWR: How can someone with little exposure to Scripture begin making it part of his life?

Fr. Peters: Step one: a used Bible is better than an unused one.  Start reading it.  Read Genesis.  Read Exodus.  Read the New Testament.  You won’t understand everything, and you’re going to have questions.  But it is good that we have questions and try to find out the answers.

St. Thomas Aquinas loved reading the Scriptures, and he loved asking questions about what he read.  But he noted that we can ask those questions with or without faith.  We want to ask those questions so that we can better understand what the Lord is telling us.

I would also advise you find a way to to get yourself to Mass, even with the limited number of seats currently available due to pandemic restrictions. The Roman missal readings will take you through all the major points of Scripture.  An easy way for the Catholic to learn Scripture is within the context of the liturgy.

What you may also find will help you in studying Scripture is to read the works of the early Church fathers.  I read through them when I was in college, and found amazing things: references to the Eucharist, confession, the appointment of bishops, apostolic succession and many other Catholic teachings.  It blends well with reading Scripture.

CWR: Some modern men enjoy mocking the Bible.  The comedian/commentator Bill Maher, for example, likes to ridicule the “talking snake” of Genesis.  Bill Nye the liberal Science Guy likes to talk about the logistical impossibility of bringing the world’s animals onboard an ark and keeping them alive and well over many months during a flood  What response do you have to those who like to mock the stories of the Bible?

Fr. Peters: In the past few hundred years, there has been an all-out effort among modernists and atheists to mock or otherwise deny the supernatural nature of the Scriptures.  I am reminded of the German Lutheran theologian Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), father of the so-called modern “demythologization” of Scripture.  He threw out miracles and doubted the Resurrection and led many Christians astray.  But, over time, it became clear that there were many errors in his theology and now very few follow him.  The same will happen with all these opponents of Christ, the novelty of their arguments may win a following for a while, but over time the logical inconsistencies and fallacies in their arguments become more evident and they are forgotten.

The more I read Scripture, the more I am impressed that it is inspired by God.  But we need to approach our study of Scripture with faith and humility.  St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, would kneel down in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament before beginning to study Scripture.  Such humility is important, so that pride does not dominate us.

CWR: Do you have a favorite translation?

Fr. Peters:I like the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE).  Others may prefer the New American Bible, which is used by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or the New Jerusalem Bible.  The important thing is to pick one and start reading.

CWR: What is your plan for your Gospel of John Bible study and subsequent studies?

Fr. Peters:It is my goal to go through the entire Bible offering commentaries that are simple, informal and easy to understand.  I want people to listen to it and get something out of it.  I hope to point out things they do not know or may otherwise find interesting.  We record the series at St. Joachim’s in Costa Mesa on Tuesdays at 9 a.m., and have them posted on Facebook later in the day.  Going through a chapter will take about 50 minutes, and for people who listen live, they can post questions.  We’re working on developing an option in Spanish as well.  I’m grateful to the Diocese of Orange’s Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry for hosting me free of charge; their leadership, Deacon Steve Greco and Katie Hughes, share the same love of Christ and Scripture as I do.  I’m hoping it will develop into something that will help listeners get to know Scripture better and grow in their spiritual lives.


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About Jim Graves 185 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.

10 Comments

  1. I have found the Ignatius Press Catholic Study Bible Second Edition RSV to be a great way to read and understand the New Testament. I was one of those who did not read the bible until I hit the senior citizen marker. So sorry I waited so long to read the New Testament. Anyways the referenced Study Bible is a great way to learn and understand the Bible. The extensive footnotes and the introduction to each book of the New Tesatment are excellent. Without this supplemental information it would be very hard to grasp many parts of the Bible. It’s an obvious point but will make it anyways, reading the Bible is not a one off event. I have taken the approach to read, reread and reread and reflect on what I read. It’s a continuous process. Also other books, such as John Bersgma’s New Testement Basics for Catholics, have helped me grow in understanding of the bible and Christ, which as the article points out is the purpose. My next step is to read the Old Testament, so far only read Genesis and Exodus; I got a lot more reading to do.

  2. Hi,Fr.Tim is exactly what every priest should strive to be.We were lucky enough to have Fr. for a priest when he served at the Basilica in Capistrano,we missed him greatly when he went to Rome.Fr. Tim is genuine,sincere,devout and speaks Spanish fluently.He is an absolute gem in the Catholic church.

    • IIt is in my life, my greatest regret, that in my Catholic faith, we were not taught how to read the Bible. It took a Protestant Congregation that brought me to seriously study the Bible. I have returned to Mass, and am now teaching and sharing Christ as a volunteer chaplain in hospitals and prisons. The Alpha Program has been instrumental in bringing people to a personal relationship with God and a desire, and share the Good News.

  3. This is good, but it’s pretty sad that Catholics still have to be told to read the Bible. It’s as if everyone understands that they won’t, unless they are told to. Speaking generally, I mean.

  4. Peter Kreeft’s “You Can Understand the Bible”… Get it. The best intro out there. And add on the unlikely success of Yancey and Stafford’s Student Bible (CEV) and Tom Oden’s Ancient Christian Commentary.

  5. Catholics should really know what the Bible is and says—especially since writing and compiling of the Bible is part of the Tradition of the Church—but should also know what the Bible is not. It is not a science book.

    Fr. Peter could have added a few more lines in his response to sideline taunters Maher and Nye. What of great weight is revealed by the divinely-inspired Bible regarding the “talking snake” in Genesis, or the unaddressed cafeteria arrangements in the ark? To such inquiries, one need not appeal directly to miracles.

    Take, for example, the more notorious Galileo incident. He was a devout Catholic to the end, and his view on Scripture-versus-science actually coincides with that of the Church: “Scripture is inerrant, but its commentators might not be.” Long before Galileo, Aquinas himself (!) had already remained open to possibly new physical cosmologies. He commented:

    “Reasoning is employed not as furnishing sufficient proof of a principle but as showing how the remaining effects are in harmony with an already posited principle; as in astronomy the theory of eccentrics and epicycles [the Ptolemaic universe with the sun and planets rotating around a stationary earth] is considered as established because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not however as if this proof were sufficient, since some other theory [Galileo’s telescope disclosing the sun at the center!] might explain them [!!!]” (Summa Theologica).

    I recall when the relic of St. Therese in 2000 was on tour in the United States. A young lad in line asked how this could be, since relics were at the same time still housed in Lisieux, France? “Have faith,” said the mother. Instead, she too might have made an informed distinction, that it was only the arm that was on tour while the rest still remained in France.

    No need to risk the lad walking away from the Faith when he got to high school.

  6. Catholics are indeed hungry for a deeper knowledge of the Word of God. As noted in the interview, most Catholics who have made many significant progress in their knowledge of the Bible have done so by studying on their own initiative and not in a Church program of bible study. Because of this inadequacy, many Catholics get their hunger for the Bible satisfied in many Evangelical bible studies. Normally branded as generally harmless to Catholics because they are non-denominational, they are in fact oftentimes detrimental to Catholic faith as these groups are non-Catholic, they are lead or facilitated by non-Catholics and present non-Catholic or at worst anti-Catholic interpretations of the Bible. In fairness, many parishes have now regular bible study programs, but they come in different shades according to different parishes, ranging from lay or deacon lead, to priest facilitated, to simply watching a video program of a celebrity Catholic evangelist or bible commentator where students then interact with them through a workbook. There is a lack of system good for all parishes that can sustain a Catholic make this journey to biblical literacy. As hinted at by Fr. Tim, it is vital that seminarians gain this deep love for the Bible while still in formation so that they can pass on this zeal to their parishioners. Sadly, their is this danger in seminary bible studies tending to be rather scientific in orientation, i.e. historical criticism, and detached from spiritual application. This happens many times, when a priest preach a homily and declare that the gospel episode just proclaimed, “did not actually happen historically.” Fortunately, the tide is now turning the other way. Priests are now more and more taught and oriented to the full sense of scripture and to preach and teach this. Many Catholics just hope their hunger for scripture get fulfilled in their parish under the leadership of their priests who are deeply trained in the Bible, preferably more than, though ideally equally in, theology, canon law, or spirituality.

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