Category Archives: Scripture

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.

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.

The Bible And The Promises Of Christ

Most of my Christian friends would agree with me when I say that the Bible is God’s Word.  They would also agree when I say that Jesus is Lord and Savior, and that his promises are true.  I would like to consider the connection between some of the promises of Jesus and the origin of the Bible.

There is a misconception among many Christians that the Church springs forth from the Bible.  However, if we use the Bible as a guide for starting a new church, we are doing things backwards.  The historical reality is that the Bible came from the Church, not vice versa.  The Church was started by Christ and thrived for 400 years before the Bible was even assembled.

Consider the promise of Christ, “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”  Jesus promised us one Church that would never fail.  It makes no sense, then, to conclude that the Church started by Jesus somehow “failed” and needed to be “rebooted” or started over at some point.  Jesus also promised to be with his Church “until the end of the age.”  In other words, Jesus doesn’t “leave” his Church, cast it aside and start a “new church.”  The Holy Spirit sticks with the original Church until the very end of the world.

Most Christians would agree that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture.  There were a lot of writings from the time of the early Church, but not all of them were inspired.  Not all of them belonged in the Bible.  Not all of them made it into the New Testament.  Who decided which writings made the cut?  Whoever it was, they must have been guided by the Holy Spirit, right?  It was the Catholic Church that decided which writings were inspired and which writings did not belong in the New Testament.  This is not a matter of opinion, it is simply history.  The Bible was assembled by the Catholic Church nearly 400 years after Christ.

Would Jesus start his Church, have members of his Church write inspired Scripture, guide his Church in assembling the Bible, and then “leave” his Church to start a “new” Church?  No, because Jesus does not break his promises.  The Catholic Church today is the same Church started by Jesus 2000 years ago.

Catholics are Christians.  The word “catholic” simply means “universal.”  The Catholic Church is the universal Christian Church.  In other words, it’s for everyone everywhere, including you and me.  It is wrong to assume that a Catholic is something different than a Christian, or that Catholics are not “saved” according to the Bible.  The Catholic Church wrote the New Testament Scriptures and assembled the Scriptures.  The Church has studied, preached and taught the Scriptures for 2000 years.  Make no mistake, the Catholic Church knows all about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ!  Read the Catholic Catechism!

Incidentally, those who claim that the Catholic Church is “The whore of Babylon” from the book of Revelation, or that the pope is the antichrist, are using the same New Testament produced and authorized by the Catholic Church!  And for those who claim that the Emperor Constantine “started” the Catholic Church, notice that the New Testament was assembled and approved by the Church (A.D. 382 at the synod of Rome) after Constantine converted to and legalized Christianity in the early 300s.  Those who say, “Constantine started the Catholic Church!” are using the same New Testament produced and approved by what they consider to be a “false religion!”

I submit that most Christians are simply not aware of the historical and spiritual origin of their Bibles.  It took me nearly 40 years to learn it and I was raised Catholic!  The fact is, if you accept the God-given authority of the Bible, you are also accepting the God-given authority of the Catholic Church, whether you realize it or not.  Jesus did not give authority to his Church only to strip it away at some later date.  The Catholic Church is the original Christian Church.  It is only the protection of the Holy Spirit that has prevented the Catholic Church from self-destructing for 2000 years.  No mere human institution holds up under such pressures.  All other churches have been started by someone other than Jesus Christ.

If we love Jesus and the Bible, it only makes sense to love the Church from which the Bible flows.  It is inconsistent to accept Christ, accept the Bible but knowingly reject the Catholic Church.  All three of them go together.  They are intimately linked and cannot be separated from each other.  Jesus is God’s Living Word made flesh among us.  The Bible is God’s written Word.  The Catholic Church is God’s authoritative Body of Christ that preaches and teaches God’s Word.

It is important to prayerfully consider the following questions:  If the Holy Spirit guided the Catholic Church to be right about the New Testament, what else is the Catholic Church right about?  What is your authority?

So, What’s Your Opinion?

Jesus called his Disciples to follow Him and they dropped everything and followed Him.  Then He spent three years teaching them.  I don’t recall Jesus ever asking His Disciples for their opinions.

I don’t see any indication that Jesus’ time with the Disciples was like many modern day Bible studies where people sit around sharing their own impressions of what this verse or that verse means to them.  I can’t imagine Jesus asking the Disciples for opinions on how to interpret Scripture.  If He did ask them, I certainly can’t imagine that Jesus would be satisfied with two or more opposing interpretations.  It is hard to imagine Jesus responding, “Well, that’s fine if you guys can’t agree on what it means, as long as it’s not essential to your salvation.”  It seems that Jesus taught them and they listened.  They may not have understood everything completely, but they had to accept what Jesus taught them.  Nothing was subject to personal opinion.  Even when Peter had the correct answer to a question (“You are the Christ”), Jesus didn’t say, “I like your opinion about me, Peter!”  Jesus didn’t give Peter any credit.  Jesus made it clear that God provided that correct answer, not Peter.

We need to have Jesus teach us while we listen.  That’s why Jesus gave us the Church.  He didn’t give us lots of different churches with opposing views and opinions.  Jesus gave us the Church with a successive hierarchy led by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus spent three years teaching His Disciples what He wanted them to know.  After Jesus ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to make sure that they (the leaders of Church) would be able to “connect the dots” and continue the process of teaching until the end of the age.  To listen to the Church is to listen to Jesus.  God still provides the correct answers.

There is nothing in the Bible that says, “And Jesus told them to go and write a book to guide people’s opinions after the Apostles die off.”  The Bible itself does not claim to be our ultimate guide and authority.  Obviously, having access to the Bible has not resulted in Christian unity or concensus.  There are too many opposing opinions in play.  I can’t recall Jesus ever being interested in everyone having a right to their own opinions.  He seemed very interested in obedience, though.

There’s an old hymn I recall from my Protestant days.  “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”  The key is deciding who, and/or what, to obey.  There are so many opinions.  There are so many churches teaching so many different things about Jesus and Scripture.  Jesus knew this would happen.  It’s human nature to muddy the water.  That’s why Jesus gave us His Church with a Spirit-led, successive hierarchy.  To obey His Church is to obey Jesus.  If we wait until we understand every teaching clearly, we will never step forward in faith.  Like the Disciples, we must accept things we do not fully understand.

Sound scary?  I have yet to know of someone whose life or soul was brought to ruin by faithfully following what is taught in the Catholic Catechism.  Challenged, perhaps, but not ruined.  It’s all about Jesus, after all.  And that’s more than simply my opinion.

The Bible? Yep, There’s An App For That. But…

We have reached a point in history where the Bible is available to practically everyone.  We can even carry it around on our smart phones if we want to.  We have access to all sorts of information about the Bible with a few clicks of a mouse or the slide of a finger.  Things have changed drastically since the days when there were only a few Bibles copied by hand.  And yet, some things have not changed at all.  The meaning of Scripture has not changed.  The truth contained in Scripture has not changed.  The ability to properly discern the meaning of the text still resides with the Holy Spirit, not human technology.  Our technology cannot match God.

Consider the account of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:31.  The Apostle Phillip saw him reading from the prophet Esaias.  So, Phillip, guided by the Spirit, approached the man and asked him if he understood what he was reading.  The man replied, “How can I unless some man guides me?”  So, Phillip explained (preached) to the man how the Scriptures pointed to Jesus Christ.  The eunuch then asked to be baptized.  He became a Christian, not because he read and understood the copy of the Scriptures he possessed, but because a Spirit-led, authoritative interpreter of that Scripture preached to him.  That Ethiopian eunuch might as well have been sitting there Googling the Scripture on his iPhone.  He still would have needed the apostolic authority guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Bible contains, among other things, Paul’s letters to various churches regarding many different topics such as salvation, end times, proper behavior of Christians, the Lord’s Supper, etc.  Peter (the first pope and head of the apostles) also wrote some letters.  In 2Peter 3:16, Peter mentions the letters of Paul.  Peter writes that Paul’s letters contain information that is “hard to understand.”  Not only are the letters hard to understand, but there are a lot of people twisting the truth of those letters “to their own destruction.”  In other words, interpreting the Bible is difficult and dangerous.  Peter then warns the Christians not to be led astray by people that are improperly interpreting Paul’s letters.

Having a laptop with fancy Bible software or a smart phone has not made it safer to interpret Scripture.  In fact, it has probably increased the danger.  We now live in a world of relativism, the antithesis of truth.  People generally no longer believe in absolute truth.  “You have your truth and I have my truth.”  “You have your Bible interpretation and I have my Bible interpretation.”  “You follow your Jesus and I’ll follow my Jesus.”  This is partly the result of many Bibles with little or no guidance from apostolic authority.  Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Pontius Pilot says, “What is truth?” and then washes his hands of it and crucifies Truth.  Such is our world of mass information and relativistic mindset.

Can’t people become Christian in any church?  Isn’t it even possible for people to pick up a Bible, read it, learn about Jesus and become Christian?  Of course.  But becoming Christian is only the beginning.  Disciples must learn how to remain Christians, grow as Christians and conduct themselves as Christians.  Just as we do not leave newborn babies to fend for themselves, The Master did not set us adrift on the winds of conflicting doctrines.  Jesus did not leave us alone with only our Bibles.  He left us a Church for guidance.  When we ignore or abandon the apostolic guidance of that Church, we place ourselves in peril.  When we act as if we know better than the Church that Jesus established and gave His own authority to, we place ourselves in peril.  When we have devotion to the Bible but not to Christ’s Church, we place ourselves in peril.  It is not the Bible that divides Christians; it is the issue of authority.

The question of authority extends even beyond the interpretation of Scripture.  The Bible does not explicitly address certain issues facing modern Christians.  While technology has given us smart phones, it has also enhanced our ability to “play God,” particularly in the beginning and ending stages of life.  Science promises great power and ingenuity, but it does not promise morality or spiritual truth.  If Christians are divided over moral issues that are addressed in the Bible, how much more will they be divided on issues where the Bible is silent?  There has to be an authority to interpret Scripture and to address contemporary moral issues.

Keep your Bible on your phone, your Kindle, your laptop, your desktop or in a drawer by your bed if you wish.  It matters not.  What matters is the authority by which we discern the Bible.  There are now literally thousands of conflicting interpretations and various lifestyles all claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit and all using the name “Christian.”  It’s confusing.  God is not the author of confusion (1Cor 14:33).  We still need the apostolic, Spirit-led authority that unlocked the Scriptures for the Ethiopian eunuch.  We don’t need more technology or Bibles, and we don’t need just any church or just any preacher; we need the Church preaching apostolic truth.