LIVE WITH DISAGREEMENTS?
In the face of these questions a lot of people nowadays give up believing in the inspiration of the Bible. About the disagreements in the Church they say, “Well, you can’t really know the right interpretation—we have to live with these disagreements.”
But can that be true? Is it possible that Jesus called himself the Way, the Truth and the Life and commanded his apostles to go out into all the world to preach the gospel if, at the end of the day, we can’t really know what is true after all? Is it possible that we have a gospel to proclaim, but God hasn’t provided a certain way for us to know what that gospel consists of and how it is applied? We’ve ended up like Pontius Pilate—shrugging our shoulders and saying cynically—“Ahh—What is ‘truth’ anyway?”
In fact there are some excellent rock-solid answers for these questions. The Bible IS inspired, but the evidence for its inspiration rests on something more than 2 Timothy 3.16. There is also a sure-fire way to know the right interpretation of the Bible, but the evidence for that sure interpretation is profound and goes to the very roots of Scripture itself.
The Bible didn’t just drop down out of heaven. Although we believe it was inspired by God, this inspiration happened through real people in real situations in real place and time. The Scriptures were written by the people of God, for the people of God. They were read by the people of God, used to teach the people of God, and used for the worship of the people of God. Maybe the best way to describe the Bible is to say that it is the ‘story of the people of God’—the Church—both the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church.’ The Bible was never just a list of things about God which His people must believe. Neither was it a set of rules to be obeyed. Instead the Bible was first and foremost the story of God’s loving relationship with humanity.
Furthermore, the same people who wrote the Scriptures—used the Scriptures, prayed the Scriptures and learned from the Scriptures—chose which holy writings should be included as Scripture. By the end of the first century after Christ the Jews made the final decision about which of their writings were to make up the Old Testament. By the year 130 AD the early Christians were unanimous in accepting the four gospels and the thirteen letters of Paul. By 170 the church leaders had put these writings on the same level as the Old Testament, and within another two hundred years—by the year 369 we have the first list of the same New Testament books which we all agree on. Then in 382 at the Council of Rome the whole church agreed on a list of all the Old and New Testament books.
History shows that from the beginning there has been an extraordinary group of people who claimed to be God’s chosen people. The Christian church was founded by a clear and direct act of God’s inspiration at Pentecost. Just as the Old Testament people of God were guided by a pillar of fire—representing the Holy Spirit—so the New Testament Church is a holy people—guided by the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. This community of faith is a fact of history. That it is guided and protected by God is historically evident. Because it speaks with Spirit-filled authority the Church—the people of God who were inspired to write the Scriptures—can also validate the inspiration of the Bible.
So Catholics say the Bible is inspired NOT just because 2 Timothy 3.16 says so, but also because the Bible is the product of the people of God. The Bible is inspired because it is the product of the Spirit-filled Church. The inspired people of God wrote the Scriptures, used the Scriptures, prayed the Scriptures and chose which writings were to be considered Scripture, and that is why we believe the Bible to be inspired.
The Authority of the Church
The truth in the Bible comes to us through the experience of the Church and this matches up exactly with Paul’s view. In 1 Timothy 3.15 he says something very important “…God’s church is the household of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” and in Ephesians 3.10 he says that it is God’s ”…intent that through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.”
In other words it is through the Church that we learn the truth about Jesus—not just the Bible. It is by belonging to the living body of Christ—the Church—that we come to understand and know the mystery of Jesus Christ himself.
Paul says the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. So the Church is the basis for the truth, the support for the truth, it is on the Church that the whole edifice rests and is supported. Without the Church the whole thing is built on sand. Not only does the Church establish and validate the inspiration of the Bible, and not only was the Bible the product of the Church’s life, but the Church also determined which books went into the Bible. It’s no exaggeration to say that without the Church we wouldn’t have a Bible at all.
As a result Catholics conclude that you cannot have the Scriptures without the Church even today. The two pillars of Scripture and the Church’s teaching stand together. The Scriptures offer the inspired Word of God and the Church’s Teaching offers the God-given interpretation of the Word. Catholics believe the Bible is interpreted by a living, dynamic, spirit-filled Church, and from Pentecost onward this Church has always passed its teaching on from one generation to the next in both written form. Continue Reading