Do Catholics follow the Bible?
Catholics have used the Scriptures for their faith for as long as they have existed. The Bible has not always existed in its current form. In fact, it was not put together as a compiled work until well into the 4th century!
However, some people, particularly non-Catholics, feel that the Bible is the only thing that should guide their Christian faith even though the Christian faith existed before the Scriptures and was originally transmitted orally and through tradition.
Catholics believe that the Bible was written by God and by human authors. Here’s a quote from the NAB footnotes on 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
“In this classic reference to inspiration, God is its principal author, with the writer as the human collaborator. Thus the scriptures are the word of God in human language. See also 2 Peter 1:20-21.”
Sola Scriptura simply means “Scripture (or Bible) alone.” It was one of the battlecries of the Reformation. It’s not something evil, it’s just something not completely correct. Today, “Bible alone” is usually meant that the Bible, all 66 books (in the non-Catholic Bibles), is the be-all, end-all, rule of faith for all Christian doctrine and practice.
It is a composite of holy Scripture that all doctrines of Christianity should be compared against. If a matter of faith or morals is anti-Biblical then that is a bad sign.
Unfortunately, Sola Scriptura or Bible alone is nowhere to be found in the Bible! If this were to be true, according to Sola Scriptura, then this statement would have to appear somewhere in the Bible in one form or another implicit or explicit. In fact it is anti-Biblical!
A common claim in support of Sola Scriptura is the reference of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says:
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Let’s break that down.
- All scripture is inspired by God
- We know that God’s truth stands the test of time and all subsequent Scripture must be inspired by God as well. But, the important thing to keep in mind is that this verse does not say that Scripture is the only thing inspired by God.
- All scripture…is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction…(and the list goes on).
- I emphasized the word “useful” for a reason. Notice how it says “useful” and not something like “the only thing” or “the only means”. In other words, scripture is helpful, it is a resource, an aid (add your own synonym here). This verse, nor the word “useful”, nor its synonyms imply that it is the only rule of faith. It says that it is something useful for one’s faith.
- …so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
- Meaning that Scripture is a good tool for learning to live out the Gospel.
By carefully studying this verse it is clear to see that it does not say that the Bible alone is our sole rule of faith. If one is able to produce other Biblical evidence that the Bible implicitly or explicitly says that it is the sole rule of faith please leave a comment below.
Then what is our guiding principle?
So, what does the Bible say is the rule of faith or the foundation of truth?
Not one single thing is our guiding principle or rule of faith; it is a combination of what we have done in the past and what was handed on to us (called Tradition) and the Bible. In order to find out what the foundation of truth is we only need to go back a few pages to 1 Timothy 3:15:
“But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.”
1 Timothy 3:15 explains that the church is the pillar and foundation of truth. “The pillar and foundation of truth” refers only to “the church” in that sentence. Some will contest that it depends on one’s definition of “church.” That is a valid argument, but is why it works under any of the accepted definitions of church.
One argument against is that “the church is not a building, it is just the believers.” Well, it is correct, but only in a particular sense. No, the church is not just a building and the Catholic Church clearly recognizes that. In fact there is no one, single Catholic church building, it is an amalgam churches worldwide that recognize appointed authorities just like in the time of the apostles!
Jesus appointed specific people, 12 to be exact, to carry out his mission. Even though Jesus has many, many followers, he called out 12 specific indivuduals to guide his flock. Even in Jesus’ time there was a structured church. In fact the church could not exist if Jesus had not been around to start it himself and he did, but he left it in the hands of Peter (Mt 16:13-19).
So, we see that there was a church, with a specific structure of leaders that were called by God to lead the church. This is the Catholic definition of church.
Now, if the church is founded upon the leaders then it is safe to say that “the church” can also mean “the leaders” or “the one’s with teaching authority” called the Magisterium.
Another way of looking at it is that the pillar and foundation of truth is the Magisterium, since they are the ones with the teaching authority (Mt 16:19, 18:18) commisioned by Jesus Christ himself. Jesus handed us the church, not the Bible or Scripture.
The Bible is not the sole rule of faith, but it is the people called and commissioned by God and the holy Scriptures along with our Tradition (capital “T”). Neither is separate or greater from the other since both were given to us from God.
Using the Bible to authenticate the Bible
One might ask, “why does this guy quote the Bible when trying to prove the authenticity of the Bible?” Good question! Circular logic will not work. If I say that I am Miss America does that mean I am because I said so? No! I would need another recoginized authority or governing body to declare that I am such before it can be recognized by others.
In other words, something outside the Bible has to verify the sacredness of the Scriptures. What was that sanctioned body? The Catholic Church, the one started by Jesus Christ, the one whose leaders can trace their office back to one of the 12 Apostles. The only reason that any Christian today has reverance for the Bible is because the Catholic Church has said that the books contained therein are sacred Scripture.
Just the simple fact that we revere Scripture and follow what is contained within is a Tradition of the Catholic Church. Some people follow Catholic teachings and don’t even know it!
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” said St. Jerome.