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Objection: Catholics Don't Believe The Bible!

By David Bennett

Catholics do believe the Bible. In fact, in Catholic and Orthodox services (and Lutheran and Anglican churches), in the span of 3 years, over 95% of the Bible will be read aloud in church. Plus, the entire Catholic Mass, including psalm, Lord's Prayer, Eucharistic prayers, etc, is virtually lifted straight out of the Bible. While the Triune God is the foundation of Catholic church, the Bible is the God-breathed witness to the reality and activity of the Triune God. The Catholic Catechism describes the importance of the Bible for the Catholic Church:

In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, "but as what it really is, the word of God". "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them" (CCC 104).

New American Bible, photographed by David Bennett

To start with, we wish to gently remind our readers that it was the Church, consisting of apostles, bishops, presbyters, martyrs, and others, that actually wrote and compiled the Bible. The Bible as we have it, was not simply an arbitrary collection of books. Rather, it contains those books that represent Apostolic Teaching. In the earliest centuries AD there were hundreds of gospels floating around, which painted vastly different portraits of Jesus. It took the Church over 600 years to fully agree on the current canon of Scripture, that is those books which were defined as divinely inspired. In the first and early second centuries AD, there was no universally defined canon of Scripture, although by the 2nd and 3rd centuries, most of the books in our current Bible were generally universally accepted throughout the Christian world, although 2 John, 3 John, 2 Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation were still disputed. Obviously, the Bible did not fall from the sky "as is"; the Church Fathers (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) decided which books were to be included, and which were spurious.

Typically, when most people ask if one "believes the Bible," that person means "do you believe the Bible as I interpret it?" Obviously, if both the more progressive United Church of Christ and the conservative Southern Baptist church both claim to "believe the Bible," interpretation matters immensely. If you look at Catholic and Orthodox worship services, the writings of the Church Fathers, the Medieval theologians, and the other sources of Catholic Christianity, you will find that we take Scripture very seriously. In fact, if we did not have any copies of the Bible today, we could piece together over 95% of the Bible simply by using quotations from the Church Fathers. So while Catholics do not interpret the Bible in a 19th century Protestant fashion, or a 20th century progressive fashion (although we have things in common with both of these outlooks), we do "believe the Bible" when interpreted by the historical and present believing community of Christians, i.e. the Church. Thus we read the Bible with Tradition. As the great G.K. Chesterton once observed, "Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes: our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around."

With over 35,000 denominations, most claiming to use the Bible as the sole authority, obviously the Bible says quite a lot of different and conflicting things to different groups. The Bible was not written as a "how-to" guide. It is a collection of books from different cultures, time-periods, and authors (although God is the ultimate author). It is not "self-interpreting," as evidenced by the large number of disagreeing denominations claiming to simply "believe the Bible." This means that the phrase "believing the Bible" presents many problems, because so many groups claim to "believe the Bible," yet they usually don't agree on what the Bible actually says!

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Ultimately, we believe in the authority of the universal and historical Christian community to guide our interpretation of the Bible. We do not believe in reading the Bible "alone," but with the consensus of the Church of Christ, the same Church founded by the apostles, and the same Church that chose which books make up the modern Bible. Thus Catholics certainly do believe the Bible, and Catholics are encouraged to read it often and follow the teachings of Jesus contained within.

Last Updated 11-14-2009

Ancient and Future Catholics