Not long after my return to Catholicism, a Protestant friend approached me with a question. He and the other members of his church board were in the process of interviewing pastoral candidates, and there was an issue regarding the divorce and remarriage of one of the candidates. My friend, knowing I had some theological training, asked me if I could provide any insight into what Scripture teaches about such matters. There was apparently some confusion among the board members about how to decide the matter according to the Bible.
My friend’s dilemma is a perfect example of why the Bible alone is not sufficient in determining matters of faith and morals. Eventually, a person has to call the shot. Ultimately, it is not the Bible we go by, but someone’s interpretation of the Bible. I don’t know exactly what my friend’s church decided to do. I gently informed him that the Catholic Church had long ago decided such matters. Any interpretation I would provide needed to be in agreement with Catholic authority. In other words, who am I to interpret the Bible for him and his church? I am not a pope or a bishop with apostolic authority.
Another issue arises when people who oppose the Catholic Church insist that their interpretation of the Bible proves how wrong or bad Catholicism is. What they have done is listened to preachers and read books that taught them those interpretations. In some cases, they have listened to former Catholic priests and nuns that say how bad Catholicism is. Who are those preachers, authors, former nuns and priests? They are not popes or bishops with apostolic authority. Why should their interpretation of Scripture be taken seriously? Even anti-Catholics have their own “popes” and “magisterium” although they won’t admit it.
When the Apostle Philip encountered the Ethiopian sitting in his chariot reading Scripture, Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” “How can I,” answered the Ethiopian, “unless some man teach me?” Philip then used his apostolic authority to interpret the Scriptures and teach the man about Jesus. The Ethiopian was subsequently baptized as a Christian. (Acts 8:27-40) How can we understand the Bible unless we are taught what it means? How can we receive consistently correct interpretation unless the teacher is teaching according to the apostolic authority given by Christ through the Holy Spirit “who will lead us into all truth?” (Jn 16:13)
Anyone can open a Bible, find some truth and draw conclusions from it. That’s the danger. Peter wrote that no prophecy of the Scripture is of individual interpretation and that some things in Scripture are hard to understand. People can twist Scripture to their own destruction. (2Peter 1:20, 3:16) That’s why Jesus gave us the Church to call the shots. Once one abandons the Catholic interpretation, anything goes (and does go).
The real question for the Christian isn’t, “Do you follow the Bible?” The real question is, “Whose interpretation of the Bible do you follow and why?” Where did your teacher(s) get the authority to tell you what the Bible means? Surely, a God that can preserve the Scriptures can also preserve a living, teaching authority for the Scriptures. That’s what the Catholic Church is. That’s where the authority has resided for 2000 years.