Catholicism: Interpreting the Bible

Catholics do not believe that the Bible can be properly understood apart from the Magisterium, that is, the guidance of the Pope and the Bishops of the Catholic Church.  Catechism of the Catholic Church (second edition) states, “The task of interpreting the word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is to the Pope and to the Bishops in communion with him” (Paragraph 100; see also, Paragraph 85).

Let us ask…

1.  Can man understand the message of God without a Magisterium?

I find no evidence that under the Old Testament system one needed a Magisterium to interpret the Scriptures.  I do find the word of God being read both privately, and publically (Exodus 24:7; Deuteronomy 17:19; 31:19; Joshua 8:34-35; 2 Kings 22:8, 10, 11, 16; 23:2; 34:18-19, 24, 30; Nehemiah 8:1-3; 9:1-3; 13:1-3).  I do find Jesus saying things like: “have you not read” (Matthew 12:; 12:5; 19:4; 21:16; 21:42; 22:31; 24:15), and “it is written” (Matthew 4:4; 4:7; 4:10; 11:10; 21:13; 26:24; 26:31), and “you are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures” (Matthew 22:29).  If there were a Magisterium under the Old Testament system, who were they?  “Were they: Elders of Israel? No – Matthew 15:1-2; Scribes and Pharisees?  No – Matthew 15:13-14; Sadducees? No -Matthew 22:23-32;  Lawyers?  No – Luke 12:45-52; Chief Priests?  No – Matthew 27:20″  (Kerry Duke, Debate Charts on Roman Catholicism, page 119).

I find no evidence that Jesus pointed anyone to a Magisterium.  He taught that individuals could rightly discern (Luke 7:43).  He said, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God, or whether I speak from My own authority” (John 7:17).  The common people heard Him gladly (Mark 12:37).  They were not pointed to the Magisterium.

I find no evidence that under the New Testament system one needs a Magisterium to interpret the Scriptures.  The Bereans, we are told, “Searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  Paul, at a synagogue in Thessalonica, “reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2).  He told Christians, “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  He wrote, “When you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:4).  Three times Paul asked, “What does the Scriptures say” (Romans 4:3; 11:2; Galatians 4:30).  He expected the reader to know.  The writer of Hebrews said that was possible for one to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).  John warned, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  I do not read of a Magisterium of official interpretation, but I do read that the individual is to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing (handling accurately – ESV) the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

2.  Why should we believe their claim over the claims of others?

The Roman Catholics say that you need them to understand the Bible.  However, the Jehovah Witnesses say the same.  They have written, “Not only do we find that people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, but we see, also, that if anyone lays the ‘Scripture studies’ aside even after he has use them, after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for tens years – if he then lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, although he has understood his Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the ‘Scripture Studies’ with references and had not read a page of the Bible as such, he would be in the light at the end of two years…” (Charles Taze Russel, The Watchtower, September 15, 1910, page 298 – quoted in McDowell and Stewart’s Handbook of Today’s Religions, page 45). Again, they have written, “The Bible is an organizational book and belongs to the Christian congregation as an organization, not to individuals, regardless of how sincerely they may believe that they can interpret the Bible… The Bible cannot be properly understood without Jehovah’s visible organization in mind” (The Watchtower, October 1, 1967, page 587- quoted by Kerry Duke in Debate Charts on Roman Catholicism, page 28).  Furthermore, the Mormons have similar claims of special guidance.  They have said, “No one in this church will ever go astray who ties himself securely to the church authorities” (In Conference Report, April 1951, page 104 – quoted by Kerry Duke in Debate Chart on Roman Catholicism, page 32).  The common thread is do not interpret things, trust us.

3.  What about 2 Peter 1:20-21?

Catholics sometimes cite this passage in an effort to get us to understand that one cannot understand the Bible without the Magisterium. It is a self-contradictory argument. When they cite the passage they expect us to understand it to teach we cannot understand the Bible by ourselves. Well then, how do they expect us to understand the passage to which they appeal?

If one would take time to read verse 21, and compare it with verse 20, the context should become clear. The passage is not discussing how to understand revelation; but, instead, the passage is discussing how revelation was received. McCord’s translation renders it “know this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of anyone’s own release, for no prophecy was ever borne by the will of man; but men, being borne by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God.” The point is this: men of old did not examine the world around them, and from that draw predictions about the future. No, prophecy is of a different nature. These men of old saw things that they could never have known by the current events of their day. They received their information by the inspiration of God.

4.  What about division?

The major objection served up is division. How can man be left to himself to interpret the Scriptures? One man reads a passage, and understands it one way; another reads the same passage and understands it another way. One man reads the Bible and sees from it the necessity of baptism for salvation; another reads the Bible and does not conclude such.

Please understand that I am not claiming that all who read the Bible will understand the Bible alike, but I am saying it’s possible to read and properly understand. In Jesus’ day the Sadducees and Pharisees differed over the after-life, and other matters (Acts 23:8; Matthew 22:23-24). They were divided, and no Magisterium settled the matter. Another example: think of what Peter wrote of Paul’s writings. He said, “…as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which they that are untaught (unlearned KJV, ignorant ASV) and unstable people twist (wrest KJV) to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Please note the following: a) Paul’s writings are called Scripture [Note: The term appears 52 times in the New Covenant and is invariably used of the inspired scriptures cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17].  b) Peter claims that he and Paul wrote of the same point. c) Peter acknowledges that some of Paul’s writings were very challenging. He did not say that all that Paul wrote was hard to understand, but some of the things he wrote were hard to understand. Notice also, Peter did not say impossible, but he said hard. God has given to us a challenging book. It requires mental exercise and effort to understand (cf. Proverbs 2:1-5). I personally believe this is part of the spiritual test He has placed before us. d) The reason that men do not understand: 1) some are unlearned (ignorant ASV). They simply do not spend enough time in study of the word of God. 2) Others are unstable (2 Peter 3:16 cf. 2:14). They are not well grounded enough to withstand false teaching. One of the methods of a false teacher is to appeal through what the people want to hear – that is, appeal through the hearers lustful appetites, and egos (Isaiah 30:10; Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11; John 3:19; Romans 16:18; 2 Timothy 3:6; 4:3; Jude 4, 16). Many want to be religious, they want to think they are serving God, but in reality they more want to serve their own selves. e) They twist (wrest KJV) the Bible from its intended meaning. Notice, this is done not only with the difficult, hard to understand portions; but, also, it is done even with the simple passages.

Each of us are left to interpret the scriptures for ourselves. We should do so with great care (2 Timothy 2:15; Philippians 2:12), for one day we will stand before the Great Judge and give account.

The attitude we should have in our studies is a “will to do His will” (John 7:17). We truly need a good and honest heart to succeed spiritually (Luke 8:15).

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Sincerity or Hypocrisy?

The two words in the title above have very interesting origins. We will explore these origins, and especially how they relate to love.

Our English word “sincerity” comes to us from the Latin language. In Latin “sin” means “without,” “cera” means “wax.” Thus, the meaning is “without wax.” In times of old, it was common for the statue makers to fill in the flaws of the statues with wax. It looked good, but what you were seeing really wasn’t how it was. It only appeared to be that way. Under bright light and careful examination the cover-up could be seen. The best of sculptures used no wax.

Even the Greek word “eilikrineia” translated “sincerity” carries the similar idea. The original word has to do with clearness, after being judged by sunlight to be found clear.

Our love is not to be one way in actuality, but another way on the surface. Our love is to be sincere (Phil. 1:9-10). 1 John 3:18, “…let us not love in word, or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

The word “hypocrisy” comes into English directly from the Greek language. The word was used for being an actor,  playing a part on  stage.

We, as God’s children, should not just be acting or pretending as if we care about one another. Romans 12:9a  reads, “Let love be without hypocrisy.”

God does not want His children being on the surface one thing but underneath something else. He does not want us just playing a role and repeating lines without meaning it. He wants us to genuinely care for one another. May we truely love one another. ” Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

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The Get Out of Jail Free Card

Do you remember playing the board game Monopoly?  There is a “Get Out of Jail Free” card that can be drawn from the Chance or Community Chest cards.  This card can be saved and played when needed.

This is how some religious groups and religious teachers use the appeal to the Holy Spirit.  If an action or teaching cannot be supported from the Scriptures, then they appeal to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

A case in point: The Presbyterian Church (USA) and same-sex marriage.  Michael L. Brown wrote an article entitled, “It’s Time to Leave the Presbyterian Church (USA).”  This article appeared in an online magazine called OneNewsNow.com and also in gopusa.com on June 23, 2014.  He wrote, “The PCUSA had made its rejection of the Word of God official. According to the denomination’s statement, on Thursday, June 19, ‘the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved the recommendation from its Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee allowing for pastoral discretion to perform ‘any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform,’ where legal by state law.’  In other words, regardless of what scriptures plainly say, as a PCUSA minister, if you feel called to violate God’s word and perform a same-sex ‘marriage,’ follow your conscience, not the Bible.  This is… nothing less than rebellion against the authority of the Word.  The statement continues: ‘They also approved a recommendation to change language in the Book of Order to indicate that marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.’  Not only is this completely unbiblical, since marriage in the Bible and throughout history requires a man and woman rather than ‘two people,’ it is also completely illogical, opening a Pandora’s Box of new possibilities.  After all, if marriage is not the union of a man and a woman, why does it require two people?  Why not one or three or five?  What is so special about ‘two’?” (gopusa.com).

Brethren, it is essential that we not only teach others what the Bible teaches, but that we demonstrate the completeness of revelation.  The system of faith was delivered in the first century (Jude 3).  The apostles were guided into all truth (John 14:26; 16:12-13).  The Scriptures are not only inspired of God, they also make us “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:6-17). If we win the battle with others on what the Bible teaches on this subject or that subject, but do not help people grasp the completeness of the revelation of Scripture we will lose the war in convincing them.

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How Does God Give Souls to Jesus?

“My Father, who has given them to Me…” (John 10:29) – several passages speak of the fact that the Father has given souls to His Son (see John 6:37-39; 10:28-29; 17:11-12; 18:9). The question is: “How does God give to His Son these souls?” The Calvinist assumes the method of giving is a direct, unconditional giving. Let us study.

John 6:37 reads, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me…” Yet, later in this same chapter we read, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…”(John 6:44). This passage teaches that God draws men to Jesus. How does He do this? Look at the next verse, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall be all taught of God.’ Therefore, everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me” (John 6:45). This verse gives us the “how.”

He calls us through the Scriptures (cf. John 5:36-37,39). He calls us  by the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14; Romans 10:14-17). The Gospel is for all people (Mark 16:15). God provides the words and the evidence which attracts men to Jesus.

Now we ask, “Who has the Father given unto Jesus?” The answer is found in John 6:39-40. The Father has given unto His Son everyone who sees the Son (this doesn’t omit us for we can behold Him through the Scriptures – Galatians 3:1; Hebrews 2:9; John 20:30-31), and believes in Him (literally those that “keep on believing on him”).

In summation, the kind of person God gives is one that considers the evidence and puts his trust in Jesus. The method of giving is this: the Father provides the words and the evidence to draw men unto Jesus. Nothing in context suggests a direct, unconditional giving.

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A Positive Influence on Children

I read of a study which showed that religion has a positive influence on children (Foxnews.com: Religion is Good for Kids by Melinda Wenner, Tuesday, April 24, 2007). The study was conducted by John Bartkowski, a Mississippi State University sociologist, and colleagues.

In the study, parents and teachers of more than 16,000 children (most of them first graders) were asked to rate how much self-control they believed the kids had, how often they exhibited poor or unhappy behavior, and how well those children worked with their peers. The data was gathered.

Next, the data was compared to some questions asked of the parents. Things like: how frequently the parents said that they attended church services, and how much they said that they talked about religion with their children.

The results? Melinda Wenner reports, “The kids whose parents regularly attended religious services – especially when both parents did so frequently – and talked with their kids about religion were rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents” (ibid).

Bartowski lists three things that he thinks religion does to help the child. First, religious networks provide social support to parents. Children who are brought into such networks and hear parental messages reinforced by other adults may also “take more to heart the messages that they get in the home.” Secondly, the types of values and norms that circulate in religious congregations tend to be self-sacrificing and pro-family. This ‘could be very, very important in shaping how parents relate to their kids, and then how children develop in response.’ Thirdly, religious organizations imbue parenting with sacred meaning and significance (ibid).

The Bible says, “These words, which I command you today, shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:6-7). “…A child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15). “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

What if they don’t want to attend? Should I make them? We make our children attend public school. We make them eat their vegetables. Dave Miller asked, “Do you remember your mother insisting that you eat your vegetables? Her rationale was (1) They’re good for you and (2) you must learn to like them. Our culture is losing all of these sage bits of wisdom and insightful truths about life, and human existence, and moral value. Like virtually everything of value in life, one must grow, cultivate and develop one’s involvement in life’s activities” (Piloting the Strait, p. 187). Is this any less important? It is true that at first they may resist attending, but who knows if they show up, they may well receive encouragement from others and learn a great lesson and application from God’s Word.

 Remember that you are the parent. You are responsible.  God said of Abraham, “I know him,… he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19). But of Eli we’re told, “I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them” (1 Sam. 3:13).

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Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?

“Why did the Savior heaven leave, and come to earth below where men His grace would not receive? Because He loves me so/Why did the Savior mark the way, and why temptation know? Why tech and toil and plead the way? Because He loves me so/Why feel the gardens dreadful dross? Why thro’ His trials go? Why suffer death upon the cross? Because He loves me so! (song: He loves Me)

“Why did my Savior come to earth, and to the humble go? Why did He choose a lowly birth? Because He loved me so/Why did He drink the bitter cup of sorrow, pain and woe? Why on the cross be lifted up? Because He loved me so! (song: Why Did My Savior Come To Earth? By J.G. Dailey)

 1.  He came to do the Father’s will (John 6:38; 17:4; 19:30).  *Not that such was against His own will (Hebrews 9:14; 10:17-18; Matthew 26:51-53; John 10:11, 17-18).

2.  He came to be man’s perfect example.

  • In love (John 13:15; 13:34; Philippians 2:4-8; 1 John 3:16-18)
  • In endurance (Hebrews 12:3-4; 1 Peter 2:21-23)
  • In forgiveness (Colossians 3:13)
  • In service (John 13:14-15; Matthew 20:25-28; Philippians 2:4-7)

3.  He came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17; John 5:39; Luke 24:25-27; Acts 8:30-35; 17:11; 18:28; 26:22, 27-28; 28:23).

4.  He came to give us a new covenant (Hebrews 9:16-20; Luke 16:16).

5.  He came to defeat Satan for us (Hebrews 2:14-15) and save us from our sins (Luke 19:10; John 3:17; 1 Peter 2:24-25; Matthew 26:28 cf. Acts 2:38).

6.  He came to give us a better quality of life (John 10:10).

7.  He came to give us peace and joy (John 14:27; 16:33; Philippians 4:4, 7).

8.  He came to become our perfect High Priest (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 2:17-18).

9.  He came to give us the hope of Heaven (John 14:1-3; Philippians 1:21; 1 John 5:11).

10.  He came because He loves us (John 15:13; Matthew 20:28; Hebrews 2:9; Philippians 2:4-7).  *And so does the Father (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).

11.  He came to reveal the unseen God (John 1:18; 12:45; 14:8-9; Colossians 1:15; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:3).

12.  He came to establish His church (Matthew 16:18).   *Even Hades itself wouldn’t prevent it (cf. Acts 2:27, 31).

The next time that we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves, may we meditate on what He endured for us (Hebrews 12:3-4 cf. 4:15). Consider the following story….

God Leads A Pretty Sheltered Life

   (author unknown)

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the front talked heatedly, not with cringing shame, but with belligerence. “How can God judge us?” “How can He know about suffering?” snapped a joking brunette. She jerked back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp, “We endured terror, beatings, torture, death!” In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn, “Lynched for no crime but being black! We have suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones, toiled till only death gave release.”

Far out across the plains were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in His world. How lucky God was to live in Heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping, no fear, no hunger, no hatred. Indeed, what did God know about what man had been forced to endure in this world? After all, God leads a pretty sheltered life,” they said. So, each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India, an illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima, and one from a Siberian slave camp. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather simple: Before God would be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God “should be sentenced to live on earth – as a man!” But, because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be sure He could not use His divine powers to help Himself. Let Him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted, so that none will know who really is His Father. Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, that it brings down upon Him the hate, condemnation, and eliminating efforts of every major traditional and established religious authority. Let Him try to describe what no man has ever seen, tasted, heard or smelled – let Him try to communicate God to man. Let Him be betrayed by His dearest friends. Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced jury, and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let Him see what is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned by every living thing. Let Him be tortured and let Him die. Let Him die the most humiliating death – with common thieves! As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the great throng of people. When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly all knew… God had already served His sentence.

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The Influence of One

The Sewell name is familiar to students of restoration history.   But, how did it all start?  How did the Sewell name become so well-known?

The Sewell’s were from eastern Tennessee.   There were thirteen children.  The family, Stephen and Annie Sewell and their children lived in a log cabin.  And understand the Sewell’s were Baptists!  All of them!

In 1840, the eldest son, William B. Sewell married.  He married a member of the church of Christ.  She urged him to attend with her. He did and was  converted.

William B. Sewell was soon brought before the Wolf River Baptist church.  A trial was to be held.  William D. Sewell, William B.’s own uncle, presided.  It is reported that, “William B. raised his New Testament in one hand and the article of faith of the Baptist church in the other, and asked to know by which he would be tried.”   Things heated and William B. was voted out of the Baptist church.  His own family was against him in this matter.

One brother, Jesse L., decided to convert William B. from the error of his ways.  William B. agreed to turn if it could be showed from the scriptures where he was in error.  Jesse searched the scriptures and in the end was himself converted.  One by one each family member was won.  Earl West writes, “Thus, William B. Sewell, although never himself a gospel preacher, influenced his family, and through them preached the ‘unsearchable riches.'”

Four of the brothers became gospel preachers: Isaac, Caleb, Jesse L., Elisha G. (E.G.).  E.G. became well-known for his work with the Gospel Advocate and David Lipscomb.  Jesse L. Sewell preached the gospel for many years in Tennessee.  He baptized about 8,000.  Under his influence twenty-six young men became preachers, four of whom were his own sons: Joseph, William A., L.R., and Caleb W.

There is a Texas connection.  Caleb W., and L.R. did work in Corpus Christi.  William A. did work in Corsicana.  Jesse P. (William A.’s son) labored in Corpus Christi, with the Pearl and Bryan church in Dallas, the church in Sherman, the church in Bonham, and the Grove Ave. church in San Antonio.  He also served as president of Abilene Christian College.

All of this started with the influence of one woman, the wife of William B. Sewell (whose name I have been unable to determine. Heaven certainly knows! ).  Then, William B., in turn,  influenced his family.

Let us labor to bring our friends and family to the Lord and into the right way (John 1:40-42; John 1:43-f).  Who knows how much influence we may be having  on future generations!

Notes

Most of he facts for this writing were gleaned from Earl West’s The Search For The Ancient Order Vol. 2 Chp. 8

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