“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt 4:1) In the wilderness the devil used Scripture to tempt Jesus several times. Jesus refuted the devil each time, also by using Scripture. The authoritative nature of Scripture is evident in this account. But there is more going on here than the mere “verse slinging” which we often see in theological or doctrinal debates. Those debates end with people still divided, although some may switch sides. There is seldom any resolution or consensus. In Matthew’s account there is a clear winner. The authority of Jesus wins the day. While the devil mishandles the Scriptures, Jesus preserves the authoritative nature of the Scriptures.
The devil clearly knows Scripture. He also knows that Scripture has authority as God’s Word. He knows it is “God-breathed.” Yet, the devil does not use Scripture according to its proper use or interpretation. Jesus uses Scripture with reverence and sensitivity according to its true meaning and purpose.
Since the devil tried to use Scripture against God himself, what is to prevent him from using Scripture against God’s people? God is not the author of confusion, but the devil is. The devil is the father of lies. Naturally, the devil desires to turn Christians against one another by using Scripture. What is to prevent him from doing so? The answer is, “Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ is God. He wrote the Scriptures. Jesus knows what the Scriptures mean. He knows how to properly interpret the Scriptures. Jesus also knows how the devil operates. He knew that when he left Earth the devil would attack his followers. He knew that people would become confused and divided about Scripture and doctrine. So, Jesus established his Church, appointed leaders and gave those leaders his very own authority. Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom. Jesus told Peter he would build his Church upon him. Jesus told his apostles, “He who hears you hears me,” and “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Now the Church “stands in” for Jesus. Jesus told his followers to take their disputes to the Church (Matt 18:17), not to the Scriptures.
The Apostles were called, appointed and sent by Christ. They did not grab authority and send themselves. Subsequently, those that succeed the Apostles are called, appointed and sent. They do not grab authority and send themselves. It is not their own goodness, education, intelligence, experience, charisma, holiness, personal drive, etc. that gives them authority. They have the authority of Christ because it is given to them by apostolic succession. One cannot “take” apostolic authority. It must be given by the proper authority. Knowing Scripture well and being a sincere Christian does not make one a successor of the Apostles.
Anyone can pick up a Bible and glean some truth from it. They can also become confused by it and misinterpret it. They can even use Scripture to oppose the very Church that Jesus established (as many do). Therefore, having the Bible alone is not enough. It was not enough in Matthew 4. Jesus needed more than Scripture to refute the devil. He also needed the authority given to him by the Father. It was that same authority that Jesus gave to the hierarchy of the Church.
While the written Word of God is an authority for the Christian, it is not the only authority for the Christian. It is not a question of the Bible or the Church. The fullness of the Christian faith requires both. Catholicism is the great both/and modeled by Jesus. Christians need the God-given authority of the Church and the Scriptures. The two do not stand apart from each other. They are both necessary in confronting the confusion, the divisiveness and the attacks of the devil. It is not enough to be able to say, “It is written.”