IS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AN INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER OF THE BIBLE?
By David J. Riggs
Is The Catholic Church an Infallible interpreter of the Bible? Catholics say Yes! Truth says No!
[For example, from Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871),
"Rome, in the person of CLEMENT OF ROME, originally received this Epistle [of Hebrews]. Then followed a period in which it ceased to be received by the Roman churches. Then, in the fourth century, Rome retracted her error. A plain proof she is not unchangeable or infallible. As far as Rome is concerned, the Epistle to the Hebrews was not only lost for three centuries, but never would have been recovered at all but for the Eastern churches; it is therefore a happy thing for Christendom that Rome is not the Catholic Church."]
A) CATHOLICS TRY TO PROVE THE INFALLIBILITY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH BY STATING THAT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS THE INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER OF THE BIBLE
Catholics try to prove the infallibility of the Catholic Church by stating that the Catholic Church is the infallible interpreter of the Bible. Their claim makes the church equal, if not superior, to the Bible and is another of their efforts to present the Catholic Church as an authority in religion instead of the Bible only. Please notice the following from Catholic sources:
"To make it in any sense an infallible revelation, or in other words a revelation at all to us, we need a power to interpret the testament that shall have equal authority with that testament itself." (The Question Box, p. 95)
"An infallible Bible is no use without an infallible interpreter..." (My Catholic Faith, p. 145).
"...The Scriptures can never serve as a complete Rule of Faith and a complete guide to heaven independently of an authorized, living interpreter." (The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 68).
"The Church is the only divinely constituted teacher of Revelation. Now, the Scripture is the great depository of the Word of God. Therefore, the Church is the divinely appointed Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible. For, her office of infallible Guide were superfluous if each individual could interpret the Bible for himself...God never intended the Bible to be the Christians' rule of faith independently of the living authority of the Church." (Ibid., p. 77).
B) THERE ARE NO PASSAGES IN THE BIBLE WHICH STATE THAT CHRIST MADE HIS CHURCH THE INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER OF HIS WORD
There are no passages in the Bible which state that Christ made His church the infallible interpreter of His Word. There are none that mention an infallible interpreter and none that hint or remotely imply that Christ wanted one.
C) CATHOLIC OFFICIALS FALSELY IMPLY THAT THE BIBLE CANNOT BE UNDERSTOOD WITHOUT THEIR INPUT
How, then, do the Catholic officials go about proving their tremendous claims? First they try to do so by implying that the Bible cannot be understood. Notice the following:
For the Scripture is not like other books, dictated by the Holy Ghost, it contains things of deepest importance, which in many instances are very difficult and obscure. To understand and explain such things there is always required the coming of the same Holy Ghost." (The Great encyclical Letters of Leo XII, p. 227).
"We must, therefore, conclude that the Scriptures alone cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith...because they are not of themselves clear and intelligible even in matters of the highest importance..." (The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 73).
"Is it possible to misunderstand the Bible? Yes, even the Bible itself says so. 'In these epistles there are certain things difficult to understand, which the unlearned and the unstable distort, just as they do the rest of the Scriptures also, to their own destruction' (2nd Peter 3:16)." (A Catechism for Adults, p. 10).
D) CATHOLIC OFFICIALS FALSELY STATE THAT ONE CAN GET THE TRUE MEANING ONLY FROM THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Catholic officials follow up this claim by stating that one can get the true meaning only from the Catholic Church. A Catechism for Adults on page 10 says, "How can you get the true meaning of the Bible? You can get it only from God's official interpreter, the Catholic Church." As we said before, the Catholics have no passages which mention an official interpreter and, thus, they try to support their claim through human logic and reasoning. Anytime men do such, it amounts to nothing more than human philosophy rather than Scriptural proof. The Bible says, "Let God be true, but every man a liar..." (Rom. 3:4). It also warns, "See to it that no one deceives you by philosophy and vain deceit, according to human traditions, according to the elements of the world and not according to Christ." (Col. 2:8). The inspired writers taught that we most certainly can understand the Scriptures. "For we write nothing to you that you do not read and understand." (2 Cor. 1:13). "...How that, according to revelation the mystery has been made known to me, as I have written above in few words, as you reading may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ." (Eph. 3:3-4; Douay-Rheims Version). "Therefore do not become foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." (Eph. 5:17).
2 Pet. 3:15-16, alluded to above, does say that Paul wrote some things hard to be understood and no one denies it; however, neither does that verse, nor any other, tell us that we must go to the infallible interpreter for the true meaning. Instead, we are commanded and exhorted: grow in knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18), study (2 Tim. 2:15), exercise senses (Heb. 5:14), search (Acts 17:11), receive (James 1:21), read (Eph. 3:3-4), desire it (2 Pet. 2:2), let it unfold (Psalm 119:130), meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2) hear it read (Rev. 1:3), have it preached (2 Tim. 4:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:11), test what is said (1 John 4:1; Matt. 7:15-16), prove all things (1 Thess. 5:21). This is God's way--the only one He gives--for understanding the holy Scriptures.
E) CATHOLIC OFFICIALS FALSELY STATE THAT SCRIPTURE TEACHES THAT ONE CANNOT MAKE A PRIVATE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE & THUS ONE MUST RELY ON THE CHURCH'S INTERPRETATION
The next step by which Catholics try to support their claim that the Catholic Church is the infallible interpreter of the Bible is the argument of "interpretation." They say that an individual cannot make a private interpretation of Scripture and is therefore dependent on the Catholic Church for the correct interpretation. One can easily see the similarity between this and their first argument.
1) 2 PET. 1:20 IS FALSELY USED TO CLAIM THAT A PRIVATE INTERPRETATION IS NOT PERMITTED
They often use 2 Pet. 1:20 in effort to prove that one cannot have a private interpretation. Please notice the following:
"How can you get the true meaning of the Bible? You can get it only from God's official interpreter, the Catholic Church. 'This, then, you must understand first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is made by private interpretation' (2nd Peter 1:20)." (A Catechism for Adults, p. 10).
"No prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation. This shows plainly that the scriptures are not to be expounded by any one's private judgment or private spirit..." (From the footnote on 2 Pet. 1:20, Douay- Rheims Version, p. 582).
"...St. Peter...declared against private interpretation of the Scriptures (2 Pet. I, 20..." (Father Smith Instructs Jackson, p. 53).
a) BUT HOW CAN ONE BE EXPECTED TO PRIVATELY INTERPRET 2 PET 1:20 TO ARRIVE AT THE INTERPRETATION THAT ONE IS NOT PERMITTED TO PRIVATELY INTERPRET ANY VERSE
We call your attention to the fact that they want you to make a private interpretation of the above verse. What kind of rule is it that says we can make a private interpretation of a verse which says we can't make a private interpretation! Catholics are always inconsistent on this point. They quote Scripture to support their doctrine expecting us to understand and to make a private interpretation. However, when we quote a passage which refutes their doctrine, they tell us that it is wrong to make private interpretations!
In the following we quote 2 Pet. 1:20 and the verse which follows it from two Catholic Versions. Please examine them carefully.
"This, then you must understand first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is made by private interpretation. For not by will of man was prophecy brought at any time; but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (Confraternity Version).
"First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (Catholic Edition, Revised Standard Version).
b) PETER IS NOT SAYING ONE CANNOT HAVE A PRIVATE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE, IT IS TEACHING THAT NO PROPHECY OF SCRIPTURE EVER CAME BY PRIVATE INTERPRETATION
Catholic writers usually only quote the first verse (vs. 20). However, when viewing the two verses together, it is easy to see that Peter is not saying one cannot have a private interpretation of Scripture, but is teaching that no prophecy of Scripture ever came by private interpretation. W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says, "prophecy" signifies "the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God...in the N.T. it is used...either of the exercise of the gift or of that which is prophesied..." Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary says, "prophecy" means "1: the vocation of a prophet; specif: the inspired declaration of divine will and purpose 2: an inspired utterance of a prophet." Thus, Peter is saying that no prophecy of Scripture (divine utterance of a prophet in writing) is a matter of one's own interpretation (i.e., not a matter of the prophet's own interpretation) because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but it came as the prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit. The passage affirms the inspiration of the Scriptures. They did not originate from private interpretations or private wills of men, but from holy men of God who were moved by the Holy Spirit.
2) THE FALSE USE OF THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH TO SUPPORT 'NO PRIVATE INTERPRETATION' IGNORES THE ABSENCE OF WHAT SPECIFICALLY HAPPENED AT CALVARY IN THE OT WHICH APOSTLE PHILIP HAD TO EXPLAIN TO THE EUNUCH
Catholic officials sometimes refer to the case of the Ethiopian nobleman in which Philip asked if he understood what he was reading, and the reply, "Why, how can I, unless someone shows me?" and argue that every one must depend on an official interpreter. (See The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 70; The Faith of Millions, p. 153). However, the Eunuch only had the prophecy of Isaiah in his hands which words could not be understood without a knowledge of what had happened at Calvary. (See Acts 8:29-35). Of course, in this formative period when the gospel message had not been fully revealed and the story of the cross had not been told, one would have to be guided to the fulfillment of this dark prophecy to know who it was that "was led like a sheep to slaughter; and just as a lamb dumb before its shearer, so did he not open his mouth." However, now that we have the inspired record of the exact literal fulfillment of the prophecy, we do not need an interpreter to tell us what it means.
3) THE ARGUMENT THAT ONE WHO MAKES A PRIVATE INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE, I.E., HAS HIS OWN UNDERSTANDING, THEN MUST CLAIM INFALLIBILITY IS FALSE
a) TO SAY THAT ONE CANNOT HAVE A PRIVATE INTERPRETATION IS SAYING THAT ONE CANNOT HAVE ONE'S OWN UNDERSTANDING OF THE BIBLE
Actually, there is no difference between the "private interpretation" argument and the one on understanding. To say that one cannot have a private interpretation of the Scripture is the same as saying that one cannot have his own understanding of the Scriptures. The word "interpretation" means "1: to explain the meaning of 2: to conceive in the light of individual belief, judgment, or circumstance." (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary). The inspired writers taught that men can privately interpret or understand the Scriptures. "How that, according to revelation the mystery has been make known to me, as I have written above in few words, as you reading may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ." (Eph. 3:3-4 Douay-Rheims Version). "For we write nothing to you that you do not read and understand." (2 Cor. 1:13).
b) WHEN AN INDIVIDUAL READS AND INTERPRETS THE BIBLE IT NO MORE IMPLIES HE IS INFALLIBLE THAN DOES READING ABRAHAM LINCOLN MAKE HIM ABRAHAM LINCOLN
In spite of this, Catholic officials constantly ridicule the thought of private interpretations. Notice the following:
"Its roots must be traced back to the principle of subjectivism which Luther introduced into religion by making the private judgment of the individual autonomous and supreme. According to this principle, the subjective reaction of the individual, with its large core of feeling and emotion, constitutes the sole criterion of religious truth and error." (The Faith of Millions, pp. 35-36).
"Either my dear friend, you are infallibly certain that your particular interpretation of the Bible is the correct one or you are not. If you maintain that you are infallibly certain, then you claim for yourself--and you cannot very well deny the same for every other reader of the Bible--a personal infallibility which you deny only to the pope and which we claim only for him.
"If you do not claim to be infallibly certain that your interpretation of the whole Bible is correct, then of what value is it to have an infallible Bible without an infallible interpreter? In either case your statement crumbles. The plain fact is that an infallible Bible without and infallible living interpreter is futile. Infallibility never gets from the printed pages to the one place it is needed: the mind of the reader." (Ibid., p. 138).
The reasoning of the above Catholic writer is worse than ridiculous. He argues that when one makes a private interpretation of the Scriptures, he claims for himself a personal infallibility. When an individual reads and interprets the Bible, it no more makes him infallible than does reading of Abraham Lincoln makes him Abraham Lincoln!
c) THE WORD OF GOD ITSELF IS THE INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY NOT THE ORGANIZATION OR INDIVIDUAL INTERPRETING IT
The individual with his feelings and emotions does not constitute an infallible authority; the Word itself is the infallible authority. Infallibility gets from the printed page to the mind of the reader simply by the reader comprehending what he reads.
4) THE BIBLE AND HISTORY TEACH THAT EACH INDIVIDUAL IS REQUIRED TO HAVE THEIR OWN UNDERSTANDING, I.E., PRIVATE INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE
a) A STUDY OF THE BIBLE REVEALS THAT GOD REQUIRES/EXPECTS MAN TO MAKE PRIVATE INTERPRETATIONS OF HIS WORD
Catholics raise tremendous opposition to private interpretation of the Bible; however, a study of the holy Scriptures plainly reveals that God requires and expects man to make private interpretations of His Word. The powers and blessings of the Word of God comes only to those who privately interpret the Word. For example: "refreshing the soul" (Psalm 19:8), "giving understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:130), "which is able to build you up" (Acts 20:32 Catholic Edition RSV), "a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12), "I write to you in order that you may not sin" (1 John 2:1), "that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). These things are not received and are not accomplished unless one makes a private interpretation of the Word, thus, showing that a private interpretation is required. Man must exercise his senses upon the Word of God that he might be able to discern between good and evil (Heb. 5:14).
b) JESUS EXPECTED THE PEOPLE OF HIS DAY TO PRIVATELY INTERPRET THE SCRIPTURES
Jesus expected the people of His day to privately interpret the Scriptures. He used such terms as "search the Scriptures" (John 5:39), "have you not read?" (Matt. 12:3; 12:5; 19:4; 21:16,42; 22:31), "is it not written in your law?" (John 10:34; Luke 10:26) which show that the people were obligated to read and interpret the Scriptures. Furthermore, He quoted the Scriptures as the final source of authority (Matt. 22:29-32; Mark 7:9-13) and He always showed the consequences of failing to do so, e.g., "You err, not knowing the Scriptures..." (Matt. 22:29 Douay-Rheims Version), "...Thus making void the word of God through your tradition" (Mark 7:13 Catholic Edition RSV). These things show that Jesus wanted and required a private interpretation of Scriptures.
c) THE COMMON PEOPLE READILY HEARD AND UNDERSTOOD CHRIST'S TEACHINGS WITHOUT AN INFALLBLE INTERPRETER
The common people readily heard and understood Christ's teaching without an infallible interpreter. Mark 12:37 says, "And the mass of the common people like to hear him." Jesus said, "I praise thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and prudent, and didst reveal them to little ones." (Matt. 11:25). In Matt. 13:51, Jesus said to His disciples, "Have ye understood all these things? They said to him, 'Yes'." If the common people could interpret Jesus's Word, and much of the New Testament is simply the Word which Jesus spoke to the people, so can we. Isaiah, prophesying of the New Testament Way, said, "A path and a way shall be there...and this shall be unto you a straight way, so that fools shall not err therein." (Isa. 35:8). God has endowed us with reason and the power to choose between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error. These are all set before us and the responsibility rests upon us to function as intelligent free agents. God will judge every man in accord with his response to His holy Word. Jesus said, "He that despiseth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him; the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." (John 12:48 Douay-Rheims Version). All these things show that a private interpretation is possible and necessary.
d) AFTER THE CHURCH WAS ESTABLISHED, THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS LIKEWISE REQUIRED THAT PEOPLE MAKE PRIVATE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE
After the church was established, the apostles and prophets likewise required that people make a private interpretation of Scripture (Acts 9:22; 18:28) and the people did that very thing (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 3:15). When churches began to be established as result of the preaching of God's Word and when the New Testament Scriptures began to be written, never in one instance did the apostles and prophets declare that private interpretation must now cease because the church was [now] not the official interpreter of the Scriptures. They did not direct the people to an infallible interpreter of the Word, but to the Word itself. Please note carefully the following:
e) WHAT THE BIBLE DOES SAY VS WHAT IT DOES NOT SAY RE: THE CONCEPT OF APRIVATE INTERPRETATION
"These things I am writing to you that you may know that you have eternal life..." (1 John 5:13).
"These things I am writing to you that when you obtain the infallible interpretations thereof you may know that you have eternal life..."
"...The things I am writing to you are the Lord's commandments." (1 Cor. 14:37).
"...The things I am writing to you when officially interpreted are the Lord's commandments."
"As you are reading, may you understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ..." (Eph. 3:4 Douay-Rheims Version)
"...As you are reading, and have officially interpreted, may you understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ."
"...The Sacred Writings, which are able to instruct thee unto salvation by the faith which is in Christ Jesus." (2 Tim. 3:15)
"...The Sacred Writings, which when infallibly interpreted are able to instruct thee unto salvation by the faith which is in Christ Jesus."
"...With meekness receive the ingrafted word which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21)
"...With meekness receive the infallible interpretations of the ingrafted word which is able to save your soul."
"And the dead were judged by what was written in the books..." (Rev. 20:12 Catholic Edition RSV)
"And the dead were judged by what was written in the books in accord with the infallible interpretations thereof."
f) PASSAGES WHICH ARE ADDRESSED TO THE PRIVATE INDIVIDUAL REQUIRE THE BELIEVER TO UNDERGO JUDGMENT, STUDY THE WORD, TEST TEACHERS AS TO THEIR PROPER TEACHING OF THE BIBLE, WITHDRAW FROM TEACHERS IN ERROR - ALL REQUIRING A PRIVATE INTERPRETATION
The passages which require us to test teachers (1 John 4:1; Matt. 7:15-16; Acts 17:11) and to withdraw from those in error (2 John 9-11; Rom. 16:17; 2 Thess. 3:6) require a private interpretation. How can we obey these commands without making a private judgment in regard to what is and is not in accord with Scripture? The passages which require study show that we must make a private interpretation (2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 3:18; Heb. 5:11-14). How can one study the Scriptures without making a private interpretation of Scripture? Actually, every passages in the Bible that is addressed to the individual shows that God wants and expects a private interpretation. God, through His Word, addresses each individual as an intelligent being. Each person is responsible for himself; another cannot decide or act for him. "...Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil. 2:12 Catholic Edition RSV). "Therefore every one of us will render an account of himself to God." (Rom. 14:12).
The blessings of God are for those who obey His Word (James 1:25; Rev. 1:3). The curses are on those who do not obey (1 Pet. 4:17-18; 2 Thess. 1:6-9). At the judgment each individual will be judged by the things written in the Bible. "...And the dead were judged by the things which were written in the books..." (Rev. 20:12 Douay-Rheims Version; also see John 12:48; Rom. 2:16; James 2:12). The fact that God will judge each individual by the written Word shows that each individual is required to interpret the Word. Also, it shows that man is responsible to no other authority in religion.
II) THE FALSE DOCTRINE OF THE INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER
The doctrine of an "infallible interpreter" is completely false and wholly unworthy of acceptance for the following reasons.
A) IT IMPLIES THAT THE COMMON PEOPLE ARE TOO IGNORANT TO UNDERSTAND GOD'S WORD
First, it implies that the common people are too ignorant to understand. The religious leaders of Jesus's day thought the same when they said, "Has any one of the rulers believed in him, or any of the Pharisees? But this crowd, which does not know the Law, is accursed." (John 7:48-49). They thought the people were too ignorant of the Law to be able to decide if Jesus was the Christ. Nevertheless, the common people accepted Jesus but the rulers rejected Him.
B) THE DOCTRINE OF AN "INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER" IMPLIES THAT RELIGIOUIS LEADERS SHOULD MAKE DECISIONS FOR THE PEOPLE
1) THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE OF AN "INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER" DEMANDS A DEPENDENCE ON THE UNNAMIMOUS CONSENT OF CATHOLIC OFFICIALS FOR INTERPRETATION
Secondly, the doctrine of an "infallible interpreter" implies that religious leaders should make decisions for the people. It does not allow one to make his own interpretation of Scripture, but demands a dependence on Catholic officials for interpretation.
Please notice the following:
"What Catholics do believe is that the church, not the individual, must interpret and explain Christ's teaching, including those set forth in the Bible. Christians outside the Catholic fold do not of course accept this authority, but for Catholics it eliminates the doubts, confusion and misunderstanding which inevitably results from individual interpretations."
"The intolerance of the Church toward error, the natural position of one who is the custodian of truth, her only reasonable attitude makes her forbid her children to read or to listen to heretical controversy, or to endeavor to discover religious truths by examining both sides of the question." (Explanation of Catholic Morals, p. 35)
"In matters of faith and morals pertaining to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be held as the true sense of the Sacred Scriptures which the Holy Mother Church as held and does hold, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of Holy Scriptures, and therefore that it is permitted to no one to interpret the said Scriptures against this sense or, likewise, against the unanimous consent of the Fathers."
(The Vatican Council, confirming the decree of the Council of Trent--Fourth Session, April, 1546).
2) THE "UNANIMOUS CONSENT OF THE FATHERS" IS A NON-ENTITY AND NOT TRUSTWORTHY IN ANY CASE
The "unanimous consent of the Fathers" is as much a non-entity as Paul Bunyan and Babe, the immense Blue Ox! Even if one could find something on which the early church fathers unanimously agreed, it still remains that they were purely uninspired writers with no authority whatsoever. We will not be judged by their writings in the last day. If there was any consent at all among them, it was in declaring the necessity and importance of the Scriptures as the only authority in faith and morals.
The above Catholic writers reveal that no Catholic can enjoy the right of private or individual interpretation because only the church can give the true and authentic interpretation of Scripture. Thus, like the wicked priests and false prophets of the Old Testament era, the Catholic Church has taken the Word of God from the people. It does not want its people to have the Word of God for it claims sole interpretation for itself and puts footnotes in its Versions to explain away the meaning of passages which contradict its doctrine. Consequently, the Catholic people being forbidden to be guided directly by the Word of God, are left with a human and fallible guide, the church. They must follow men rather than God; they must bow their heads to the commandments of men rather than God's holy precepts.
3) THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT EACH INDIVIDUAL IS RESPONSIBLE FOR HIMSELF AND IS NOT TO BLINDLY FOLLOW RELIGIOUS LEADERS
The Bible teaches that each individual is responsible for himself and is not to blindly follow religious leaders. Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matt. 7:15). Paul said, "And no wonder, for Satan himself disguises himself as an angel of light. It is no great thing, then, if his ministers disguise themselves as ministers of justice. But their end will be according to their works." (2 Cor. 11:14-15). The Bible nowhere implies that one is dependent on religious leaders for interpretation; instead, it commands the individual Christian to test every teacher by the written Word (1 John 4:1; Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:21).
In the following, a Catholic authority affirms that we should do as the Jews of the Old Testament and follow the priests.:
"But in those times the faithful did not attempt to interpret scripture for themselves. For the Jewish people in the pre-Christian era, the synagogue was their voice of scriptural authority; and the Old Testament was preached to them by the Rabbis and fathers of their faith. In like manner, the Catholic Church was the custodian of the inspired writings of the New Testament Gospel nearly four centuries before these writings were collected into a single book and formally declared to be inspired.
"Today Catholics listen to one authoritative voice--the Church--in the interpretation of God's word." (Knights of Columbus, Ad., "The Bible Is A Confusing Book").
a) THE JEWS OF OLD WERE TO LISTEN TO GOD'S WORD, NOT TO MAN'S INTERPRETATIONS
The Jews of old were to listen to God's Word, not to man's interpretations. When they became dependent on their leaders for interpretations, it proved disastrous to them. Notice the following from the Word of God.
i) [Isa 28:7]:
"But these also have been ignorant through wine, and through drunkenness have erred: the priest and the prophet have been ignorant through drunkenness, they are swallowed up with wine, they have gone astray in drunkenness, they have not known him that seeth, they have been ignorant of judgment." (Isa. 28:7).
ii) [Jer 5:31]:
"The prophets prophesied falsehood, and the priest clapped their hands: and my people loved such things: what then shall be done in the end thereof?" (Jer. 5:31).
iii) [Jer 8:10]:
"Therefore will I give their women to strangers, their fields to others for an inheritance: because from the least even to the greatest all follow covetousness: from the prophet even to the priest all deal deceitfully." (Jer. 8:10).
iv) [Jer 23:11]:
"For the prophet and the priest are defiled: and in my house I have found their wickedness, saith the Lord." (Jer. 23:11).
v) [Ezek 22:26]:
"Her priests have despised my law, and have defiled my sanctuaries: they have put no difference between holy and profane: nor have distinguished between the polluted and the clean: and they have turned away their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I was profaned in the midst of them." (Ezek. 22:26).
vi) [Osee 6:9]:
"And like the jaws of highway robbers, they conspire with the priests who murder in the way those that pass out of Sichem: for they have wrought wickedness." (Osee 6:9).
vii) [Soph 3:4]:
"Her prophets are senseless men without faith: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have acted unjustly against law." (Soph. 3:4).
The above passages (there are numerous others) reveal the fatal result of depending on priest and religious leaders for interpretation. Isaiah said, "For these who lead this people lead them astray, and those who are led by them are swallowed up." (Isa. 9:16; Catholic Edition RSV). It was the priests and religious leaders who led in the crucifying of the Son of God. In spite of this abundant evidence of the wickedness of the priests and prophets of the Old Testament, Catholic officials today argue that people must depend on them for interpretation as did the Jews on their leaders. Peter warned, "But there were false prophets also among the people, just as among you will be lying teachers who will bring in destructive sects." (2 Pet. 2:1).
C) THE DOCTRINE OF THE "INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER" IMPLIES THAT GOD DID NOT MAKE HIMSELF CLEAR
Thirdly, the doctrine of the "infallible interpreter" implies that God did not make Himself clear.
1) IT IMPLIES THAT GOD GAVE US A REVELATION THAT STILL NEEDS REVEALING
It implies that God gave us a revelation that still needs revealing. Did God fail in His attempt to give man a revelation? Do the Catholic officials want us to believe they can express God's will more clearly than God Himself? We believe that God made the mind of man and is fully capable of addressing man in words which man can understand.
2) THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS FAR MORE CONFUSING THAN THE BIBLE BECAUSE IT IS A VERY COMPLICATED AND EVER CHANGING ORGANIZATION
The Catholic Church is far more confusing than the Bible because it is a very complicated and ever changing organization. Think of how many human laws nearly 300 so-called popes could make through the centuries. The following quotation states that only two of them issued nearly nine thousand. "Alexander III is said to have issued thirty-nine hundred and thirty-nine decrees and Innocent II over five thousand." (General Legislation in the New Code of Canon Law, p. 42). Another example of how burdensome and perplexing this maze of human doctrine has become, just the "Bulls" of the popes from 540 to 1857 fills forty-one volumes. This does not include the countless laws formulated by synods and councils. It is no wonder that a cry of despair went up from the Catholic bishops for relief from this babel of confusion.
"Moreover, not a few ordinances, whether included in the Corpus Juris or of more recent date, appear to be contradictory; some have been repealed, others had become obsolete by long disuse; others, again, had ceased to be useful or applicable in the present condition of society. Great confusion was thus engendered and correct knowledge of the law was rendered very difficult even for those who had to enforce it." (General Legislation in the New Code of Canon Law, p. 70). It is very evident and has long been recognized by all and proclaimed everywhere that some revision and reformation of Canon Law is necessary and very urgent. For, owing to the changes that have taken place in society, many laws have become useless and others very difficult if not impossible to observe; of others it is doubtful whether they are still in vigor or not. Finally in the course of centuries, their number is so multiplied and they have been heaped up in voluminous collections that, in a sense, we may say, we are buried beneath the laws. Hence it is that the study of Canon Law is beset with almost inextricable difficulties, the door is open to disputes and litigations, consciences are troubled with a thousand anxieties, and people are driven to despise the law." (Ibid, p. 71; see also Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. I, p. 645 and Vol. IX, p. 64).
Truly, the Bible gives a much simpler and easier explanation of God's will than the works written and published by the authority of the Catholic Church. I have read many Catholic books and it is much easier to understand the simple words of the Bible than to understand the complicated words of the Catholic vocabulary. For example, in 1 Cor. 11:20, the Bible speaks of "the Lord's supper." This simple term is taken away from the people by the clergy and for it they are given the word, "Eucharist," and if that is not confusing enough, try the word, "transubstantiation." The reason the Bible is easier to understand is because it is from God. It is indeed understandable and is the only safe guide which can instruct us to heaven (2 Tim. 3:15-17). It is concise, complete, and will remain the same until the end of time (1 Pet. 1:23-25).
D) THE DOCTRINE OF AN "INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER" IS IMPRACTICAL AND UNFEASIBLE
Fourthly, the doctrine of an "infallible interpreter" is impractical and unfeasible. A few pertinent questions reveal the absurd and ridiculous nature of the doctrine. For example, if a sincere, honest person found a passage which he could not understand, to whom must he go for an infallible interpretation? Could a priest give the infallible interpretation of the passage? The priest could not because he is not infallible. Could a bishop, archbishop, or cardinal give it? They likewise cannot give infallible interpretations.
1) THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN GIVE AN INFALLIBLE INTERPRETATION IS THE POPE AND HE CAN DO IT ONLY WHEN HE IS SPEAKING EX-CATHEDRA
The only person who can give an infallible interpretation is the pope and he can do it only when he is speaking ex-cathedra.
Notice the following quotation from Catholic sources:
"The Church teaches infallibly when it states, through the Pope alone, that he speaks officially (ex-cathedra) as the Supreme head, for the entire universal church. "In order to speak infallibly, the Pope must speak ex-cathedra, or officially, under the following conditions:
"1. He must pronounce himself on a subject of faith or morals.
"2. He must speak as the Vicar of Christ, in his office as Pope, and to the whole Church, to all the faithful throughout the world. In his capacity as private teacher, he is as any other teacher of the Church.
"3. He must make clear by certain words his intention to speak ex-cathedra, that is, to make use of his supreme authority." (My Catholic Faith, p. 147).
Therefore, in spite of all the tremendous claims about the Catholic Church being infallible, we learn from Catholic doctrine that the church is infallible only in the person of the pope and he is infallible only when he speaks ex-cathedra! In other words, all their boastful arguments of the Catholic Church being infallible only mean that the pope is infallible because according to them the church is infallible only in and through him. This makes all their exaggerated claims very narrow and limited to say the least.
2) THE CATHOLIC OFFICIALS THEMSELVES HAVE MADE UP ALL OF THE ABOVE "EX-CATHEDRA" CONDITIONS. THERE ARE NO SUCH CONDITIONS IN THE BIBLE
The Catholic officials themselves have made up all of the above "ex-cathedra" conditions. There are no such conditions in the Bible; none like them were placed on the apostles and prophets. They did not follow the ex-cathedra procedure. The conditions which Catholic leaders have devised are a convenient means to evade the mistakes of the popes. For instance, a man named Galileo, an astronomer of the 17th century, taught that the earth was round and moves around the sun and rotates making night and day. He was tried by the Inquisition with pope Paul V as chairman and was condemned as a heretic for teaching, as they said, "Contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures." The pope and the others with him condemned Galileo because they believed the opposite at that time--that the earth was flat and stands still and the sun moves around it making night and day. The following Catholic sources freely admit this mistake.
"...There is no doubt that he fully approved the decision, having presided at the session of the Inquisition wherein the matter was discussed and decided. In thus acting, it is undeniable that the ecclesiastical authorities committed a grave and deplorable error, and sanctioned an altogether false principle as to the proper use of the Scripture." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VI, p. 544).
"So Tanquary in his 'Synopsis Theologica,' published in New York, writes, 'We readily grant that these congregations (Index and Inquisition) were wrong in condemning Galileo...and that the two popes (Paul and Urban VII) erred, not only as private persons, but as the heads of these congregations, whose decree are valueless unless approved by the pope'." (The Question Box, p. 318, 1913 Edition).
3) CATHOLIC OFFICIALS DODGE SUCH MISTAKES OF THE POPES BY SAYING THAT THEY WEREN'T SPEAKING EX-CATHEDRA. THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS MADE NO SUCH MISTAKES
The above is a clear example of the worth of their so-called "infallible interpretations." Catholic officials conveniently dodge such mistakes of the popes by saying that they weren't speaking ex-cathedra. Nevertheless, when the apostles and prophets stated that something was or was not in accord with Scripture (e.g., concerning application of the Old Testament Scripture), they made no mistakes.
4) IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ONE TO RECEIVE AN INFALLIBLE INTERPRETATION FROM THE CHURCH WHEN THEY NEED IT
Referring again to our main thought, it is impossible for a sincere, honest person to receive an infallible interpretation. We ask, "Has it been practical for men in every age and country to travel to Rome for infallible interpretations?" Moreover, "If one went to Rome, could he expect to meet with the pope and have the pope give an ex-cathedra interpretation just for him?" Such has never occurred in the past.
5) THERE HAVE BEEN VERY FEW 'INFALLIBLE' INTERPRETATIONS IN NEARLY 2,000 YEARS AND THE AVERAGE CATHOLIC DOES NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE
The average Catholic would be surprised to know that in spite of all the emphasis their officials put on "official interpretations," there has been very few infallible interpretations given in the nearly two thousand years since Christ, and besides, the average Catholic does not know what those interpretations are. If one should ask the average Catholic, "What are the infallible interpretations which have been given by the Catholic Church," he would probably answer, "What do you mean by infallible interpretations?" We say, therefore, that the doctrine of an infallible interpreter is impractical and is nothing more than a man-made argument to boast the church as an authority in opposition to the Bible only.
6) IF ONE CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE INSPIRED WRITINGS OF PETER, THE SUPPOSED FIRST POPE, HOW DOES ONE KNOW ONE CAN UNDERSTAND THE 'INFALLIBLE' INTERPRETATIONS OF THE PRESENT POPE?
We raise other vital questions, "If we cannot understand the inspired writings of Peter, the supposed first pope, how do we know we can understand the infallible interpretations of the present pope? Catholic officials argue, "In order that he (the pope, DJR) should be infallible...it is necessary that his teaching should not be given by word of mouth, but in writing, in a regular document; for if he merely spoke, some uncertainly would exist as to what he actually said." (Plain Facts for Fair Minds, pp. 38-39). They should be able to see that in order to prevent uncertainty concerning His will, God has already given infallible writings.
7) WHO GIVES THE INFALLIBLE INTERPRETATIONS OF THE INFALLLIBLE INTERPRETER?
Furthermore, we ask, "Who gives the infallible interpretations of the infallible interpreter?" In other words, "Will they place another to give infallible interpretations of the pope's interpretations if some do not understand? The point is, man needs a starting point somewhere. He needs an infallible standard which stands as the one supreme authority. God has given that standard--His sacred writings--and He has made it readily available for all who want it. Nowhere did God tell us to go to an infallible interpreter to get the true meaning of His holy Word.
8) GOD DID NOT GIVE US AN INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER OF THE WORD, BUT GAVE US THE WORD ITSELF AND HE WANTS AND EXPECTS ALL TO PROPERLY INTERPRET IT
God did not give us an infallible interpreter of the Word, but gave us the Word itself, and He wants and expects all to properly interpret it. This does not mean that man will always correctly interpret it. Man often fails and does not measure up to what God requires of him. When man fails in his effort to interpret the Word, it does not mean that the Word is useless without an infallible interpreter. When he fails, the fault lies with him and not with the Word itself. Man often allows certain hindrances which causes him to mis-interpret the Bible, e.g., ignorance (Matt. 22:29), lack of study (2 Tim. 2:15), no desire for knowledge (2 Pet. 3:17-18), following leaders without investigation (2 Pet. 2:1-3; Rom. 16:17-18), being prejudiced and closed minded (Matt. 13;15), twisting and corrupting the Word (2 Pet. 3:16; 2 Cor. 2:17), having no love for truth (2 Thess. 2:10-11). If a man carefully and faithfully follows the commands of God, he will properly interpret God's written Word, e.g., study (2 Tim. 2:15), exercise senses (Heb. 5:14), search (Acts 17:11), receive (James 1:21), read (Eph. 3:3-4), desire it (1 Pet. 2:2), grow in knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18), strive to understand (Eph. 5:17), let it unfold (Psalm (Psalm 119:130), meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2), hear it read (Rev. 1:3), have it preached (2 Tim. 4:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:11), test what is said (1 John 4:1; Matt. 7:15-16), prove all things (1 Thess. 5:21). If an individual continually obeyed all these commands, would he understand God's Word? Compliance to these commands is the only way the sincere, honest person can obtain the correct interpretation of a passage. This is the correct way because it is God's way.
DETAILED EXAMINATION OF THE SELF-EVIDENT RULES OF INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE:
III) THE FALSE DOCTRINE THAT PRIVATE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE CAUSES UNGODLY DIVISION
The following Catholic officials argue that private interpretation of the Scriptures causes division.
"Must it not be evident to the thoughtful reader of these lines, whether he be Protestant or Catholic, that the estrangement of such a vast number of our countrymen is traceable in large measure to the division, dissension and anarchy which the principle of making each individual supreme and a Court of Last Appeal in the interpretation of Scripture has brought into the world? (The Faith of Millions, p. 156).
"Others believe in placing the Bible in every home and permit all readers to interpret it in their own way. This unreasonable theory is still advocated even though it has split up Christianity into a thousand divisions. (Father Smith Instructs Jackson, p. 52).
"The reformation produced indeed an exaggerated individualism, which by declaring every man equally competent to find out the doctrine of the Saviour from his own private reading of the Scriptures, has led millions to the utter denial of Christ." (The Question Box, p. 131; there is a similar statement from Archbishop Spalding in his book entitled, "Miscellanea," p. 393).
A) IT IS NOT THE PRIVATE INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPTURES, BUT CATHOLICISM'S CONTINUOUS FLOOD OF FALSE ARGUMENTS TO DISPLACE THE BIBLE AS THE SOLE AUTHORITY THAT CAUSES DIVISION
It is not the private interpretation of the Scriptures, but Catholicism's continuous flood of false arguments to displace the Bible as the sole authority that causes division, e.g., the Catholic Church has the right to make laws (Explanation of Catholic Morals, p. 26), Jesus promised to protect His church from error (A Catechism for Adults, p. 56), if she had not carefully selected and gathered the books, there would be no New Testament (The Faith of Millions, p. 145), it is wrong to make a private interpretation of Scripture (Father Smith Instruct Jackson, p. 53), an infallible Bible without an infallible interpreter is futile (The Faith of Millions, p. 138), the church is the sole interpreter of the Bible (Council of Trent, Fourth Session), we should follow the priests as did the Jews of the Old Testament (Knights of Columbus, Ad.). The general public (especially Protestantism) has been bombarded with a constant array of these Catholic arguments all of which are designed to exalt the Catholic Church and to raise questions and doubts about the Bible as the only authority. Such arguments have weakened men's faith in the Bible as the only authority so much so that very few so-called Protestants accept the Bible as the only rule of faith today. Very few Catholics have any love and respect for the Bible for they have been taught that it cannot be the final and absolute authority.
B) EVERY MAJOR DIVISION IN CHRISTIANITY ORGINATED FROM THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Catholic Church is the major cause of division in Christianity, not private interpretation of Scripture. The Catholic Church is truly the mother of division because every major division in Christianity originated and came out of the Catholic Church. Most of the human traditions in Protestantism today originated in Catholicism, e.g,, infant baptism, instrumental music in worship, observance of Christmas and Easter, etc. Nearly all denominations have been influenced by the Catholic Church which is the great apostasy, the mother of division. The only way to obtain true unity is by complete abandonment of the traditions and doctrines of men and going back to the Bible. Men must begin studying the Scriptures for themselves and begin demanding a "thus saith the Lord" in all matters of faith and practice. Paul said, "Carefully study to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Tim. 2:15 Douay-Rheims Version). Unity based on God's holy Word is the only kind of unity that is pleasing to God.
A) THE DOCTRINE THAT THE CHURCH IS THE INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER OF THE BIBLE IS COMPLETELY FALSE
The doctrine that the Catholic Church is the infallible interpreter of the Bible is completely false because
IMPLIES THAT THE COMMON PEOPLE ARE TOO IGNORANT TO UNDERSTAND
2) IT DEMANDS THAT RELIGOUS LEADERS MAKE DECISIONS FOR THE PEOPLE
3) IT INDICATES THAT GOD CANNOT MAKE HIMSELF CLEAR
4) IT IS IMPRACTICAL AND UNFEASIBLE
5) THE SCRIPTURES NOWHERE INDICATE THAT GOD GAVE US AN INFALLIBLE INTERPRETER OF HIS WORD, BUT PLAINLY REVEAL THAT HE SIMPLY GAVE US HIS INFALLIBLE WORD
6) THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT PRIVATE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE IS POSSIBLE AND NECESSARY
B) JESUS CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES PLACED NO AUTHORITY WHATSOEVER IN THE CHURCH, BUT INSTEAD EXALTED THE HOLY SCRIPTURES AS MAN'S INFALLIBLE GUIDE
We conclude this study by emphasizing that Jesus and His apostles placed no authority whatsoever in the church, but instead exalted the holy Scriptures as man's infallible guide.
1) [Jn 5:39]:
"Jesus said, "Search the scriptures, for you think in them to have life everlasting; and the same are they that give testimony of me." (John 5:39 Douay-Rheims Version).
He often said, "Is it not written in your law," expecting the people to have read and understood.
2) [Luke 16:29-31]:
In His story of the rich man and Lazarus the sufficiency of the Scriptures is again stressed in the words, "They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hearken to them." The rich man insisted that Abraham should send someone from the dead in order to convince his brothers on earth, but Abraham answered, "If they do not harken to Moses and the Prophets, they will not believe even if someone rises from the dead." (Luke 16:29-31).
We beseech our Catholic friends and relatives, who insist on the living voice of the church as their rule of faith, to carefully examine these and others passages for they place the authority not in the priesthood or church, but in the written Word of God.
3) [2 Tim 3:16-17]:
The Scriptures were given by the inspiration of God and furnish the man of God completely to every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
4) [Jn 20:31]:
They are complete, sufficient, and provide all things necessary to produce the faith which brings life in the name of Jesus. (John 20:31).
5) [Jn 17:14, 17]:
Jesus said, "I have given them thy word...Sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth." (John 17:14, 17).
Therefore, only in the holy Bible can we find truth and eternal life. There is no other authority; none can be substituted or added to it. Again, we beseech and invite our Catholic friends to receive the Word of God and it alone as their infallible standard and guide in religion. May God be with you in your endeavors to serve Him.
A Catechism For Adults, William J. Conan, ACTA Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 1959.
Catholic Encyclopedia, Knights of Columbus, (Fifteen Volumes), The Encyclopedia Press, Inc., New York, 1913.
Canons and Decrees of he Council of Trent, H.J. Schroeder, B. Herder Book company, St. Louis, London, 1950.
Father Smith Instructs Jackson, John Francis Noll & Lester J. Fallon, Knights of Columbus Religious Information Bureau, 1960.
General Legislation in the New Code of Cannon Law, H.A. Ayrinhac, Longmans, Green & Co., New York, 1969
Miscellanea, M.J. Spalding, Webb, Gill and Levering, Louisville, Ky., 1855.
My Catholic Faith, Louis Lapavoire Morrow, My Mission House, Kenosha, Wisconsin, 1949
Plain Facts for Fair Minds, George M. Searle, Paulist Press, New York, 1915.
Question Box, Bertrand L. Conway, The Columbus Press, New York, N.Y., 1913.
Question Box, New Revised Edition, Bertrand L. Conway, The Paulist Press, New York, N.Y., 1929.
The Bible Is A Confusing Book, Knights of Columbus Religious Information Bureau, St. Louis, 1948.
The Faith of Millions, John A. O'Brien, Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Ind., 1938.
The Faith of Our Fathers, James Cardinal Gibbons, John Murphy Co., Baltimore, Md., 1917.
The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, John J. Waynne, S.J. Benaiger Bros., New York, 1903.
Confraternity-Douay Version, Timothy Press, Chicago, 1959
Douay-Rheims Version, Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York, 1945.
Catholic Edition-Revised Standard Version, Published by Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd for the Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, London, 1966.