Did God Give Anyone the Authority to Infallibly Interpret the Bible?
All Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. The challenge is that with thousands of people reading the bible, many having a different interpretation of what it says. Doesn’t it seem that if God were going to give us an infallible book he would also give us an infallible interpreter to help us understand it through the ages as cultures and languages change? If God protected His word from error, then wouldn’t He also protect the understanding of His word.
Consider this example that comes from national radio personality, Patrick Madrid. Ask yourself what the following sentence means:
It seems easy enough to interpret, right?
Now consider the fact that interpretation has a lot to do with the spoken word and that it’s easy to misunderstand the written word. The above sentence can be interpreted 5 different ways depending on which word is emphasized in speech.
1) I never said you stole money. (Tom said you stole the money, I didn’t.)
2) I never said you stole money. (I implied it, but I didn’t say it.)
3) I never said you stole money. (I said someone stole the money, I didn’t say it was you.)
4) I never said you stole money. (I said the money was gone, it could be lost or destroyed. I never said it was stolen.)
5) I never said you stole money. (I didn’t say you stole the money, I said you stole something else)
Which would be easier to misinterpret? The simple six-word sentence above or the entire canon of scripture? How in the world can we expect to accurately interpret all of the books of the Bible without the Holy Spirit’s help? And if the Holy Spirit was helping each of us, then why do we have 40,000+ denominations fighting over the interpretation of scripture? There has to be something more. It’s a colossal task to be saddled with as an individual.
Many Christians reject the Catholic Church’s doctrine which is based on both scripture and a 2000 year Tradition (evidenced in the writings of the early Church Fathers). Instead, they hold to the more recent Protestant tradition of “sola scripture”… looking solely to the Bible for their doctrine and discounting the interpretation of the early apostolic church. Ironically, in order to adopt the “Bible alone” doctrine, they have to first have accepted the Catholic Tradition of which books go into the New Testament canon of scripture because nowhere in the Bible does it tell us which books belong in the Bible. Patrick Madrid explains:
What if the claims of the Catholic Church are true?
The Catholic Church makes some wild claims including the unbroken succession from the Apostles to the present-day bishops and the Pope (Apostolic Succession); the Church’s Authority to interpret the Bible, and the Church’s ability to teach infallibly with the protection of the Holy Spirit. If not true, then these claims are arrogant at best and dangerous at worst. If they are true, it takes a huge burden off of our individual shoulders to decipher and interpret the scripture on our own.
What if God didn’t stop with the Bible? There are thousands of Christian denominations, all at odds with each other on how to interpret scripture. God inspired fallible people to convey infallible truths when they wrote the Bible. What if He didn’t stop protecting his scripture even after the Bible was written? And, what if He did that in a Church that He founded with His own authority? What if the teachings of that Church had not substantively changed in 2000 years and could be traced back to the Apostles and their apostles? What if God was being literal in Matthew 16:18 when He said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” If there was even a remote possibility that claims of the Catholic Church were true, wouldn’t you want to know more about it? The following is an excerpt from a talk given by former atheist, Jennifer Fulwiler. You can also click here for her full talk.
Matthew 18:15-18 tells us that the church has the authority to settle disputes about sin, as well as bind or forgive sin… but which church is scripture talking about?
Martin Luther’s doctrine of Sola Scriptura has resulted in more than 40,000 Protestant denominations in the last 500 years. That’s more than one new denomination a week since the Reformation… each breaking off and claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit in interpreting scripture. But why would the Holy Spirit allow for confusion and contradiction amongst Christians? What happens when these denominations disagree with each other?
What if God didn’t saddle you with the colossal task of having to interpret every bible passage and Christian doctrine on your own? What if there was a Church whose teachings have not substantively changed in 2000 years and can be traced back to the Apostles and their apostles? What if you could stop wondering which (if any) of the 40,000+ denominations is right?
1st Timothy 3:14-15 tells us that the church is the pillar and support of the truth. With thousands of denominations at odds with each other, which church is he referring to? What if Jesus really has protected this church at its core against the gates of hell, heresy, and error? What if God uses imperfect and fallible people to uphold his infallible teachings? What if there is more grace out there than you ever imagined? Wouldn’t you want to know more about that?
Even if you ultimately disagree with the arguments, it’s at least worth fully investigating them.
Peter, the Rock, the Keys, and the Chair by Steve Ray: In the following video, Steve Ray considers scripture in the context of the day it was written and how a person of Jesus’s time would understand it based on the culture and tradition of the time.
Where Does Someone Get the Authority to Interpret the Bible? Tim Staples recommends a book called “Upon this Rock” by Steve Ray (link below) and makes an argument that the doctrine of Sola Scripture is unbiblical, unhistorical, unreasonable, and unworkable claiming that Christ prophesied “one Church and one Shepherd” in John 10:16.
Biblical Evidence for the Papacy: Tim Staples makes the claim that many scholars believe that in Matthew 18:15-18 Jesus is referring back to the old testament passages in Deut 17:8-12. He makes an argument that both passages support the idea that Jesus left an authority on earth to judge sin and settle differences. Both passages show a clear hierarchical structure with authority being placed with priests and bishops. Exodus 28 shows a high priest with a singular authority… not just Aaron, but also his sons and their successors. Christ himself acknowledges this authority Matthew in 23:1-2 where Jesus tells his followers to listen to those who sit in the seat of Moses. In Matthew 15-18 Jesus establishes a college of bishops but just chooses one among them with a singular authority. In Luke 20:29-32, Jesus says to the 12 when they are arguing who is the greatest among them, “behold Satan has desired to have you.” He goes on to appoint Peter to have the authority to keep together the college of bishops.
Scott Hahn explains Papal Infallibility: Dr. Scott Hahn discusses how he struggled with Papal Infallibility prior to converting to Catholicism. He discusses how at every stage in salvation history you see a father figure… some are good and some are not… but God is able to write straight with crooked lines. He how God continuously uses a father figure (even bad father figures) and overrides their fallibility. As Christians, we believe that the Holy Spirit was able to override the fallibility of men (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) and render them infallible in writing scripture. Why can’t the Holy Spirit override the infallibility of everyone from Peter to the current Pope so that the family of God gets the word of God with the spirit of God and in clarity and authority? Scott recommends 2 books (links below) “A Father Who Keeps His Promises” and “Rome Sweet Home.”
How Does Apostolic Succession Work? Tim Staples show through scripture how Jesus gave his authority to the Church and appointed his apostles as the leaders of the church. Jesus says that if we hear the church we hear Christ and if we reject the Church then you reject Christ. When did this stop? In Ephesians 3:10, St. Paul tells us that before the foundation of the world it was God’s predestined will the wisdom of God would be made known through the church. He goes on in Ephesians 3:21 to say that Church would exist in every generation world without end. Continue to Ephesians 4:5… one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Skip forward to verses 11-15, the Holy Spirit has placed in the church apostles, profits, pastors and teachers to help every come to the unity of the faith so that we be on children tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. The successors of the Apostles in the new testament are called Bishops (Acts 1:20). He goes on to discuss old testament support as well as early Christian writings that support succession and authority being passed down the ages. Shows strong foundation of apostolic succession.
Is Papal Infallibility Rooted in Scripture? Jimmy Akin offers another perspective on Papal Infallibility, authority and church tradition. He points to various passages that establish St. Peter as the early leader of the Church. it’s clear from the new testament that Jesus appointed St. Peter as the leader of the early church. that’s easy to document. from there it’s clear that Jesus intended his church to have a hierarchy with leaders and that he wanted his church to continue through the end of the world (it will always exist). If it needed a leader in the first century when he founded it, then that would continue down through the ages. we would expect Peter to have successors who would continue to lead the church until Jesus returned. then looking at the role of the papacy. Jimmy goes on to reference scripture that shows Christ gave his church teaching authority and promised that the holy spirit would lead her in all truth and protect it from error.
The Church & Papal Infallibility: Discusses and explains that infallibility does not mean impeccability (sinlessness of individuals). God didn’t promise that the leaders of his church would be perfect or impeccable. He promised that he would protect it from the gates of Hell meaning that he would not allow it to teach heresy that might lead souls to perdition.
Infallibility of the Pope: Tim Staples discusses what infallibility is and what is it not. For example, it is not impeccability.
Papal Infallibility: What is it and what is it not?
The Papacy by Scott Hahn
The Protestant Achilles Heel – In this online article Tim Staples makes an argument that “Sola Scriptura” is unbiblical, unhistorical, unreasonable and unworkable.
Peter the Rock: Interesting article that discusses the Greek behind the English and the Aramaic behind the Greek.