Category Archives: Bible

Where Is THAT In The Bible?

Non-Catholic Christians often confront Catholics with the question, “Where is THAT in the Bible?” This is usually a challenge to the Catholic to use the Bible to prove a Catholic doctrine. The premise is wrong, however.

Where in the Bible does it say that every Christian doctrine must be found in the Bible?

Nowhere.

Where in the Bible does it even say which books belong in the Bible?

Nowhere.

It is simply not biblical to look to the Bible alone for Christian doctrine.

There are verses, such as 2Tim 3:16-17 that emphasize the importance of Scripture. Let’s look at that verse:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…”

The Bible is certainly the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

“…and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction for instruction in righteousness…”

Notice that Scripture is called “profitable” but not “sufficient.” Water is profitable for keeping you alive, but it is not “sufficient.” You also require food, shelter, etc.

“…that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Again, if you only have water, but no food, you are not “thoroughly furnished.” You won’t be perfectly healthy. You are not thoroughly furnished if all you have is a Bible. The Bible is an essential part of your equipment, but not the only piece of equipment you require.

Look at it another way: If I leave the house to go to work wearing no pants, my wife will say, “Honey, you’re not fully dressed!” If I then put on pants but take my shirt off my wife will say, “You’re still not fully dressed!” I need the complete outfit to be fully dressed.

The point of 2Tim 3:16-17 is that you need the Bible to complete (i.e. fully furnish) your equipment, not that the Bible is your “only” piece of essential equipment.

So, what else besides the Bible do you need to complete your equipment?

You need the official teachings of the Church established by Christ.

1Tim 3:15 says, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou ought to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

In this verse, we see that the pillar and ground of the truth is the Church established by Christ, not just the Bible.

2Thessalonians 2:15 says, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”

Here we see that both the written word and the oral word have always been important for Christians to adhere to. Though the apostles wrote some things down, they did not write down everything. Christians had to obey what the apostles said, not just what they wrote. Nowhere do we see Jesus instructing them to write down all the “essentials.” Jesus told them to “go and teach,” not to “go write a book.” The successors of the apostles received the same admonition to “go and teach” (2Tim 2:2, for example), not to “go and write.”

The Bible itself was given to us by the Catholic Church. It took about 400 years before it was decided which writings to include in the Bible. The Bible does not say which books belong in it. The Catholic Church, directed by the Holy Spirit, decided which books belong in the Bible. The Bible is actually part of Catholic Sacred Tradition. The Church and the Bible work together in harmony. They do not contradict each other.

A preacher might be able to give “good explanations” about the meaning of Scripture. However, any interpretation that contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church is wrong, no matter how appealing or how logical it may sound. This is why there are so many opposing interpretations and so many different churches. With only a Bible, these churches and preachers are not fully equipped.

In order to understand your Bible correctly, you need to include the teachings of the Church established by Christ and directed by the Holy Spirit. To be fully equipped, you need the Bible AND the pillar and foundation of the truth, the Catholic Church. God made them to go together. If you ignore one or the other (or both), you’re missing something Jesus wants you to have.

Where Did The Authority Go?

There are two ideas that I encounter over and over again in my conversations with non-Catholic Christians.  The first idea is that, for whatever reason, the Catholic Church does not possess apostolic authority.  The second is that Christians should only believe what can be explicitly found in scripture, because the Bible is the final authority.  I would like to reflect on these two ideas that I myself once held.

If apostolic authority died with the last Apostle, then no one has apostolic authority.  No Catholic, no Protestant, no Evangelical or Fundamentalist has apostolic authority.  Hence, no one since the Apostles has had the authority to tell anyone what to believe or what not to believe about the Bible, including its contents.

The early Christians had to believe what the Apostles told them.  But, the Apostles died.  So, what happened to their authority?  How could they continue to “tell” Christians what to believe?  How would the Holy Spirit guide and unify the Church without the Apostles?  Here are a few options:  1) Apostolic authority was transferred to the successors of the Apostles.  2) Apostolic authority was transferred to the Bible.  3) A combination of the two.

If authority was transferred only to the Apostles’ successors, then there would be little point in writing things down (like the Gospels, for example).  So there must be at least some apostolic authority contained within the writings of the Apostles.  After all, if the Apostle has authority, his writings will, too.

If authority was transferred only to the writings of the Apostles, then it would make sense to include that information in the writings.  For example, the apostles should have written down something that says, “When we are all dead, our authority will reside only in these written documents” or, “Only believe what is explicitly written in this future collection of writings and nothing else,” or “The Bible is now your final authority.”  The problem is that the Bible makes no claim that it is the final authority for the Christian upon the death of the last apostle or at any other point in time.  Although the Bible claims to be “profitable” it does not claim to have “the final say” or to be entirely “sufficient.”  Plus, the Church went 400 years without an officially assembled Bible.

Non-Catholic Christians (with few exceptions) have largely rejected the idea that the authority of the Apostles was transferred to successors.  Therefore, unlike the early Christians, there are no men that these Christians are ultimately accountable to.  They are essentially free to discern the Bible on their own and believe what they wish.  If they disagree with one church, they can find a different one.  While many of them claim submission to their respective church leadership, there is really no reason for them to do so in matters of faith and morals.  Why submit to leadership when each Christian can decide what to believe?  “Leadership” therefore becomes limited to the logistical and administrative needs of each church.  In this scenario, apostolic authority on faith and morals (limited now to only the Bible) takes a back seat to the beliefs of individual Christians.  Christians now tend to submit to leadership that aligns with what they believe.  This is the opposite of the early Church where individual Christians were expected to line up with the unified teaching of the Apostles.

Catholics, believing that the Apostles transferred their Christ-given authority to successors, are expected to behave as the early Christians did.  They are expected to fall in line with God’s written Word as well as the teachings delivered by men with apostolic authority.  In this scenario, apostolic authority is still in the driver’s seat.  Individual Christians are expected to remain in the back seat and submit to the teachings of Church leadership, just like when the apostles were alive.  In other words, the apostles “live on” in their successors who are able to clarify their writings and apply them to the present day life of the Church.  This has continued for 2000 years.

The authentic Catholic Christian, like the early Christian does not search for a church that aligns with his or her individual conclusions about the Bible.  Rather, like the early Christians, the authentic Catholic is obedient to Christ through obedience to Christ’s Church (which includes the Bible).  The Bible is not the “container” which holds all things Christian.  The Church is the “container” which holds all things Christian, and the Bible is inside that container (aka the Deposit of Faith).  The Bible points the Christian back to the Church as the “pillar and ground of the truth.” (1Tim 3:15)  The Bible never places itself over and above the Church’s authority, or demands that the Christian reject the Church and submit only to the authority of Bible.  The Bible and the Church together are a coordinated, apostolic authority.  It is not either/or, it is both/and.

The Catholic Church must possess apostolic authority in order to have assembled and affirmed the contents of the Bible 400 years after the Apostles died.  The Catholic Church declared which writings were inspired and which were not.  It makes no sense to reject the apostolic authority of the Catholic Church and then claim that the Bible contains apostolic authority for the Christian.  It is inconsistent to say, “I only believe what is in the Bible, but I don’t believe that the Church that assembled that Bible has apostolic authority.”  That is akin to saying, “I believe the Gospel of John, but I don’t believe John had apostolic authority.”

Assembling the Bible was as important as writing the Bible.  Without the Church’s apostolic authority, we could all pick and choose whether or not we think the book of James or the Gospel of Thomas belongs in the New Testament.  Why not rely only on the words spoken by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel?  Why not accept Peter’s writings but reject Paul’s?  When you dump the Catholic Church’s apostolic authority, everything else is up for grabs, including the Table of Contents of your Bible.

Apostolic authority was promised by Christ to the Church.  It is not transient, it is permanent.  It is not something that can be “lost” and then “picked up” by another church, for Jesus established only one Church and promised to remain with that Church.  Bad people in the Church cannot cause apostolic authority to “go away.”  It is the authority of Christ, given by Christ.  Jesus never said that the authority given to the Apostles would someday go away or be confined to a book.  The Apostles never taught that, either.  They appointed new men to fill vacant offices (Acts 1:20-26).

If the Catholic Church does not have apostolic authority, then no one has apostolic authority.  That authority died with the Apostles, and the Bible doesn’t have it, either.  It’s just a collection of old writings that may or may not have been inspired by God, put together by a false religion that calls itself Christian.  If that’s the case, it really doesn’t make sense to believe what is in the Bible.  On the other hand, if the Catholic Church does have apostolic authority, then it is reasonable to believe the things that are explicitly stated in the Bible as well as all of the other official teachings of the Catholic Church.  It’s all apostolic teaching.

Ultimately, for the Catholic, it comes down to trusting Christ to hold it all together in spite of our imperfections.  “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2Cor 4:7)  Jesus, I trust in thee.

The Thoroughly Furnished Christian (2Tim 3:16-17)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Does this verse indicate that the Bible is all I need in order to be a good Christian?  Does having only my Bible make me “thoroughly furnished” and “perfect” in my doctrine?  “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12).  But is a sword the only equipment a soldier requires to be “thoroughly furnished?”  Is Paul telling Timothy, “All you need is your Bible?”

Soldiers require lots of things in order to be effective.  Imagine the U.S.A. sending troops overseas with nothing but their rifles.  The soldiers would have no training, no clothes, no helmets, no armor, no food, and no water.  They might not even have proper officers.  Sound silly?  Well, it takes more than a sword to be fully equipped.  However, soldiers with all the gear and provisions, but no rifles are also not fully equipped.  Paul is not telling Timothy, “All you need is your Bible to be fully equipped.”  He is telling Timothy, “In order to be “perfect” and “fully equipped,” you need to add the Bible to the rest of your essential gear.”  The sword is profitable but not sufficient by itself.

Ephesians 6:13-17 sheds some light on this principle:

“Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:”

The word of God, the sword of the Spirit, is not the only necessary item on the list.  It is part of an ensemble.  The Christian needs more than just a Bible.  The Christian also needs “truth,” and “righteousness,” and “the gospel of peace,” and “faith,” and “salvation.”  The Bible is not the “whole armor of God.”  The Bible is one piece of essential equipment. 

For example, if one has a Bible, but misinterprets it, then one’s loins are not girt with truth.  Instead, one is wearing heresies and falsehoods.  Heresies and falsehoods do not promote faith, righteousness, peace or salvation.  They also help the wicked rather than quench the fiery darts of the wicked.  How then, does one obtain truth from the scriptures?

The Apostle, Philip, saw a man sitting in his chariot reading scripture.  Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?  The man said, “How can I except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:31)  He had the same scriptures as Timothy, but he was obviously not “thoroughly furnished” with “the whole armor of God.”  He did not yet have truth, or faith, or righteousness, or peace, or salvation.  He needed a man with apostolic tradition and authority to teach him.

Paul says in 2Thess 2:15, “Stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”  Having the “sword” is not enough.  A soldier must be properly trained to wield it.  Otherwise, there is a good chance you will cut yourself or others.  The Apostle Peter tells us that there are things in scripture that are hard to understand, and that untrained people use the scriptures to their own destruction (2Peter 3:16).  We need the scriptures.  However, to be thoroughly furnished, we also need proper training lest we fall upon our swords and slay ourselves.

Catholicism has it all.  If you want to be “thoroughly furnished,” we have the scriptures and the truth, and the righteousness, and the gospel of peace, and the faith, and the salvation.  We also have the authority to provide proper training free from heresies and falsehoods.  It is the same authority used by Paul, Peter and Philip.  It is the apostolic authority given by Christ himself.  No other church has it all.  Be “thoroughly furnished.”  Be Catholic.

Wait…Jesus Said To OBEY The Scribes And Pharisees? What..?

In Mathew 23:1-3 Jesus says (paraphrase), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: therefore, do all that they tell you to do; but don’t behave the way they do, for they don’t follow their own teachings.”  There are several points here to reflect on.

1)      Jesus was not anti-religion, he was anti-hypocrisy.  Jesus followed his Jewish religion perfectly (unlike the hypocrites).  Jesus never said he came to abolish religion.  Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish religion, not to get rid of it.  When people say, “Religion is bad but Jesus is good,” they are mistaken.  Jesus is good and so is his religion.

2)      Jesus recognized and validated the office held by the scribes and the Pharisees.  God established the seat of Moses.  It was an office of authority.  An earthly person (Moses) held an office of God-given authority.  Furthermore, that office had successors.  The scribes and the Pharisees had God-given authority because they were the successors of Moses, not because they were good men.  What we see here is the biblical principle that it is God, not men that establishes and preserves the earthly office of authority.  Men behaving badly can still validly occupy an office of God-given authority and use that authority to establish and teach doctrines and traditions (binding and loosing).  Jesus teaches obedience to men who sit on a seat authorized directly by God.

3)      The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were not made invalid by their hypocrisy.  Notice that Jesus did not say, “Rebel against and disobey the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites who won’t even follow their own teachings.”  Quite the opposite was true.  Jesus taught obedience to their God-given authority.

4)      The scribes and Pharisees “made the word of God of no effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13).  Having the tradition wasn’t the problem.  Their attitude was the problem.  They “rejected the commandment of God” (verse 9).  Tradition is good if one is not rejecting the commandment of God.  After all, Jesus and his family followed Jewish tradition.  They were religious!  One can take most any religious tradition and either glorify God or reject God through that tradition.  It’s about one’s attitude.

5)      As stated above, Jesus validated the seat of Moses as an earthly authority from God.  In fact, he liked the idea so much that he fulfilled and perfected it for the New Covenant by creating the chair of Peter.  Again, God protects this office and provides successors for it.  Even a scoundrel of a pope cannot negate the authority of this office.  God protects the official teachings of the Church from error through the Holy Spirit, not through the impeccable behavior of men.  That is what the infallibility of the papacy means.  The same Holy Spirit that keeps error out of the Bible also protects the papacy.  God the Father directly authorized the seat of Moses.  God the Son directly authorized the Chair of Peter.

6)      Protestantism has the Bible, but it has no seat of earthly authority like the seat of Moses or the Chair of Peter.  This is, ironically, unbiblical.  The rejection of God-given Church authority has resulted in division and a multitude of opposing doctrines.  It is popular today to claim Jesus while rejecting religious authority.  Jesus taught the opposite.  To obey the God-given seat of authority is to obey God.  Obey Jesus by obeying his Church.

7)      Catholicism does not create traditions of men that “make the word of God of no effect.”  Read the Catholic Catechism honestly and you will discover that Church teachings flow from and compliment the Scriptures.  The Bible and Sacred Tradition are both apostolic.  They go together.

8)      Catholicism does not “heap heavy burdens upon men that even the religious leaders can’t bear.”  Read the Catholic Catechism and you will discover that Church teachings are about holiness and a relationship with Jesus, not legalistic rules and regulations.  There is nothing about being Catholic that “can’t be done” by the clergy or by the laity.  There may be things people don’t want to do, but that’s all about attitude and obedience.  If you live a Catholic life with the proper attitude you will grow ever closer to Christ.  Catholicism is all about receiving the grace of Jesus and sharing him with the world and with each other.

New Reality Show Idea! “Fact Or Faked: Bible Files”

There are a lot of “reality” shows on TV about people investigating strange or paranormal occurrences.  There are shows about ghosts, monsters, Bigfoot, aliens, UFOs, etc.  One in particular is called “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files.”  The investigators attempt to recreate and debunk alleged paranormal events.  Sometimes they uncover a hoax and other times they label the event “unexplained.”  The viewer can form his or her own opinion based on the “expert” analysis of the investigators.

Sometimes it seems like people take a similar approach with the Bible.  For example, Jesus said a lot of strange and disturbing things like, “If your hand offends you, cut it off,” and “If your eye offends you, pluck it out.”  He called himself a door and a vine.  He said we must be born again of water and of spirit.  He said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.  He talked about Hell and eternal damnation.  He told his followers that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life.  He held up bread and called it his body.  He held up wine and called it his blood.  He said lots of wild stuff, some of which caused his followers to walk away from him.  He also raised the dead, healed the sick, walked on water and controlled nature.  And, of course, he was killed and came back to life.

So, fact or faked?  Which of Jesus’ statements and actions are real and which are hyperbole?  Are any of them real?  Are all of them metaphor?  For example, did Jesus “fake out” his followers and then let them walk away from eternal life in John 6?  What would a panel of “experts” say?  What would your Bible study group conclude and why?  Would your opinion match the others in your study group?  What would your Sunday school teacher conclude?  How does he or she know the answer?  Would your preacher agree with the preacher down the street?

People get together and draw their own conclusions about Scripture.  “Oh, Jesus didn’t really mean that, he was just ‘faking us out’ to test our faith or to prove a point.”  That may be true some of the time.  Parables are designed to have an impact and make a point.  However, some people have actually maimed themselves because Jesus said to cut off their offending body parts.  Were they wrong in doing so, or were they being extremely holy?  When is Jesus being serious and when is he just being metaphorical to make a point?  He wasn’t always metaphorical, was he?  Is it just bread or is it really him?  Fact or faked?

All the confusion demonstrates the need for the Spirit-led, teaching authority of the Church.  When Christ’s Church authority is rejected, we are left with the opinions and conclusions of whoever wants to be an “expert.”  Without the authority that Christ gave to the offices of the pope and the magisterium we are left to our own devices.  Conflicting opinions rule the day.  Not a good situation when eternal life is on the line.  We might as well rely on a television reality show called, “Fact or Faked: Bible Files” to guide us in matters of faith and morals.

Do You “Really” Want To Spend Eternity With Me? That’s A Mighty Long Time!

I think it was Mark Twain who said that Christians are trying to get to a place where they will spend eternity with people they can’t stand to be around.  He also said he would choose Heaven for the climate and Hell for the companionship.  Well, take a good look around Christendom or even your own congregation and ask yourself, “Do I really want to spend eternity with these people?”  Now, certainly there are a lot of nice folks around, and some of them are a joy to be with (most of the time).  But seriously, eternity is a mighty long time.

Of course, such thoughts reveal a hard truth about most of us.  We have not yet been perfected in love.  On Sunday we can sing, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God” and on Monday we can gossip and complain about some other Christians.  Not exactly the pinnacle of holiness.  More like a dysfunctional family.  So, why exactly do we want to go to Heaven?  If Heaven is just an eternity of “more of this,” I really don’t see why anyone would desire to go there.  I seriously doubt that anyone wants to spend eternity with me and my messy self, either!

One might respond, “Well, God will be there.  Being with God is what it’s all about.”  Ok, but everyone else will be there, too.  “Well, we’ll all be so focused on God that we’ll ignore each other.”  Then there’s no point in having a family of God if we spend eternity ignoring each other.  “Well, God will take care of all those issues.  We will be different in Heaven.  We won’t be petty and sinful and we’ll love each other.  We’ll be like Jesus.”

So, when “exactly” do we become like Jesus?  We can’t get into Heaven until we are perfect like Jesus.  If I died today I can’t say I have reached such perfection.  I don’t know any Christians that would claim to be as perfect as Jesus in thought and behavior “right now.”  Yet, that is how we must be in order to enter Heaven and enjoy Heaven.

None of us intend to live in eternity in the same condition we are today.  We all expect that we will be “better” in Heaven than we are on the day we die.  So, how and when does this “change” take place?  For most of us, it has to take place between our death and our entrance into Heaven.

Most Protestants expect this “change” to happen, but they don’t have a name for it.  They simply say, “God takes care of it.”  Catholics also expect the change to happen, but they have a name for it.  Catholics call it “Purgatory.”  It is a state of being.  It is what happens between death and entrance into Heaven.  It is a “purging” of all the leftover “stuff” that would cause you or me to mess up Heaven by being there.

Sure, there were Catholics that exploited and abused Purgatory in order to manipulate people and get their money.  The abuse of a truth by bad Catholics does not make the truth untrue.  The fact still remains that I don’t want to spend eternity with you as you are today, and you don’t want to spend it with me as I am today.  God has to get us ready for Heaven and strip us of all the attachments that would hinder us from entering and enjoying Heaven.  There may be a few people who are able to achieve perfect holiness in this life, but most of us are not there yet.

Purgatory is not “a third choice” or a “second chance” at salvation.  Everyone in a state of purgation after death is undergoing the process because they are already on their way to Heaven.  Purgatory is for people who are already saved.  It is not a way to save the lost.  It is that state of being between death and entrance into Heaven.  It’s like when your mom says, “Come inside for dinner, but take your muddy shoes off  and wash your hands first.”

Saying, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” does not negate Purgatory.  You still have to acknowledge that “somehow” “some way” at “some time” God completely cleans us up for Heaven and makes us “different” than we are in this life.  Whatever you want to call it, however you want to “spin” it, it’s still a state of purging.  Hence, “Purg”-atory.

We’re in big trouble if there is no Purgatory.  Without it, all we have to look forward to is “more of this” for eternity.  “More of this” is not what Christ died for.  Presently, we need to strive for holiness and perfection of love.  It’s not an easy process.  It requires sacrifice and dying to self.  The process doesn’t end until we enter Heaven.  That’s why those in Purgatory are called “The Church Suffering.”  They are undergoing the necessary yet painful detachment of all that might remain as a barrier to perfect love.  Purgatory is God’s merciful continuation of the process of conversion to holiness.  It’s just more of God’s grace.

A Personal Encounter With Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone)

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.

It Is Written, It Is Written, It Is Written

“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.”

There Are No Bible-Alone Churches

Some Christians criticize Catholic doctrine for being a combination of Scripture and tradition.  The thinking is that the Bible alone should be where doctrine comes from.  Tradition is thought to be “bad” since Jesus criticized the traditions of the Pharisees.  However, the fact that the Pharisees had bad traditions does not automatically mean that all tradition is bad.  The Apostles taught traditions.

There really is no such thing as a “Bible alone” church.  Every church has doctrines that are a result of someone interpreting the Bible.  It’s not as if the Bible stands behind the pulpit and preaches all alone.  What is taught is either the interpretation of the individual preacher or the interpretation that someone else has taught the preacher.  Such teachings become the traditions of that particular church.

If one bypasses the preacher and goes straight to the Bible, the doctrines that one formulates are either individual interpretations or some variations of doctrines already learned from others.  So, even then, it is not the Bible alone but the-Bible-plus-someone.

The key, then, is not to find a good “Bible alone” church, for no such church exists.  Every church has traditions handed down by people.  The key is finding the Church with the proper interpretation of Scripture as well as proper Sacred Tradition.  The Apostles had Traditions that they passed on to Christian believers.  We are told in 2Thessalonians 2:15 to “…hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”  Therefore, one must find the Church that has preserved the fullness of both the oral and the written Traditions of the Apostles.  In other words, one must find the Church that has the Bible plus the proper interpretation of the Bible and the proper, apostolic, oral teaching of doctrine.

It was the apostolic authority and Tradition of the Catholic Church that gave us the Bible.  In other words, the Bible, and its formation, is actually part of the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church.  So, if you say that Catholic Tradition is bad, you are condemning the Bible.  Other churches were formed by men taking the Bible and the apostolic authority for themselves and creating new traditions.  What we now have is a plethora of Bible-plus-new-tradition combos rather than one, Bible-plus-apostolic-tradition Church.

So, again, there is no such thing as a “Bible only” church.  It really comes down to which tradition you want to rely on.  Do you want the apostolic tradition that gave you the Bible to begin with, or a tradition started centuries later by someone other than Jesus Christ and his Apostles?  If you choose the later, you must determine from where the authority of that tradition comes if not from Jesus Christ and his Apostles.  If you say, “My authority comes from the Bible,” then you are appealing to Catholic Church authority and Tradition, and you might as well be a Catholic.

Catholics And Bibles

I’m currently reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It’s a great way to learn what the Church actually teaches rather than what it supposedly teaches (or doesn’t teach).  Too often we hear inaccurate things about Catholicism from people that either misunderstand Church teachings or deliberately distort those teachings.  It is always best to go directly to the source rather than rely on hearsay.  It is particularly dangerous to rely on sources that obviously oppose the Church, since such information is likely to be tainted in favor of the opposition.

As I read through the Catechism, I intend to post thoughts and reflections on certain topics that impress me the most.  Here is my first Catechism reflection about Scripture:

Why am reading the Catechism instead of the Bible?  Actually, I am reading the Bible.  That is one of the things about the Catechism that I find impressive.  It is very rooted in Scripture and refers to it often in support of the Church teachings.  It is, in effect, a Bible study.

One of the things Catholics often get accused of is not studying Scripture.  There are even folks who believe that Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible.  Most Catholics may not be able to quote memorized Scripture chapter and verse.  However, if they are faithfully attending church they will hear nearly the entire Bible read to them over a three year period.  The Mass itself is loaded with Scriptural references.  All it takes is listening.  If you go to Mass and actually pay attention, you will be studying the Bible.  The problem isn’t the Mass.  The problem is people not paying attention.

So, does that mean that the Catholic Church doesn’t want Catholics to read the Bible at home?  No.  The opposite is true.  Paragraph 133 in the Catechism says, “The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.  Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”  That is the teaching of the Catholic Church.  Read and study your Bibles, Catholics!

Now, the fact that many Catholics would rather watch television or play video games than read their Bibles says nothing about Church teaching.  The fact that many Catholics leave Catholicism for other churches out of a desire to study the Bible also says nothing about Church teaching.  What it says is that Catholics need to wake up and learn what their Church actually teaches and then follow the teaching.

Catholics also need to stop letting non-Catholics teach them about their own faith.  Think about it.  How many non-Catholic Christians are going to tell a Catholic to study the Bible because the Catholic Church says they should?  Not likely.  Non-Catholic Christians are typically going to say, “Hey, you Catholics don’t know the Bible and you don’t study the Bible, so come to my church where we study the Bible all the time.”  Imagine what would happen if every Catholic could respond with, “What do you mean?  We hear the Bible at every Mass.  The Church also exhorts us to study the Bible!  I don’t need to leave Catholicism to study the Bible!  I already go to a Bible study!”

Catholics, if your parish doesn’t have a decent Bible study, then either start one or find a parish that has one.  No more excuses.  Just because many non-Catholic churches have thriving Bible studies does not mean that they are teaching what is right and accurate.  Catholics may need to work on developing better Bible studies, but that does not mean the Catholic Church does not have the truth to teach.  It simply means that this is an area where Catholics need some improvement.  So, let’s do it.  It’s time we started inviting non-Catholics to our Bible studies so that they can learn all about the fullness of the Christian Faith found in the Catholic Church.  Of course, it certainly helps if we ourselves know about that fullness and what it means.