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Private Interpretation – Second of Series of Six Articles on Fundamental Roman Catholicism
I am going to try to make the case that the church that Jesus established was given the authority to make decisions concerning doctrine to such a degree that the decisions thus made became “law” in heaven as well as on earth.
The Private Interpretation that the title of this article refers to is the Reformation concept that every Christian has the opportunity and thus responsibility to decide for himself/herself just what Scripture means. This may also be called “private judgement”.
We will discuss this in the light of Scripture. We will also bring out what the early church believed and how that relates to us here and now. We will also discuss the authority of Church including:
- Infallibility of Pope
- Line of Popes
- Preeminence of Peter/Rome
- Public/Private Revelation
- Body of Knowledge
- Private Interpretation
St. Paul said:
“Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” [Rom. 14:5b]
Paul preached in Berea where the people “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” [Acts 17:10]
St. Peter said:
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.” [2 Peter 1:20]
There appears to be more than one meaning to the term “private interpretation”. Peter seems to be talking about using Scripture in a way not intended by God. I am not going to try to explain this verse away but just let it sit there to “keep us honest”.
My reading of that verse is that there is one interpretation for each Scripture. Verses are not subject to our private needs nor the needs of any one special interest group. While there may be multiple applications, there is only one interpretation.
A good friend of mine was a Roman Catholic all his life up to just a few years ago. While he cannot possibly speak for the Catholic Church, he certainly is typical of the product of the teaching of the Catholic Church. He was kind enough to respond to the first Article in writing explaining his conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism. In part, he says:
“…not really knowing what His bible even said because I never opened it like most good Catholics. I always had the impression from church the Holy Scriptures were for the Priests to read and interpret for us.” [Comments on first Article]
He is very intelligent and a successful businessman. He obviously honestly believed what he wrote because, while he attended his church quite regularly, I am confident that he never heard any teaching that he was suppose to read the Bible on his own.
He was never taught that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is very clear on its teaching concerning the individual lay person’s responsibility concerning Scripture:
“133 The Church ‘forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.'” (The 133 refers to the number of the item in the CCC while the  refers to footnotes for that section. If you want to know the footnotes, you need to refer to your copy of the CCC.)
The Roman Catholic Church promotes the layman’s reading of the Bible in its official documents but apparently has had difficulties getting that message out to the laymen as evidenced with my friend’s comments.
Pastor B– asks:
“Was the right to READ the Scriptures revoked in 1229 by The Council of Valencia? It was placed on the list of forbidden books on that occasion. Sounds to me like they were forbidden to read the Bible as well as not interpret it.” [Comments made on draft articles]
Both Pastor B–, who has only been a Protestant, and my friend, who has only been a Catholic (until his conversion), seem to be in agreement that the Roman Catholic Church does not promote the reading of the Bible by laymen.
The only two documents that I am referencing in these Articles are the Holy Bible for absolute authority and the Catechism of the Catholic Church for what the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches.
I suggest that the problem concerning Catholics and Scripture comes from the meaning of the concept of Scripture interpretation. The Roman Catholic Church has maintained its right and obligation to interpret Scripture from well before the 1500’s. Unfortunately, this has yielded the misconception that only officials of the church have the authority to even read the Scripture. Not only have Protestants held this view but also the average Catholic layman.
The Scripture is quite clear on most issues and that clear understanding is and has always been the Roman Catholic Church’s official position on those issues. In fact, the example of Acts 15 gives us the procedure of deciding on issues. The first part of that procedure is that the individual Christian has full right and obligation to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” [Mark 16:15] Notice that the results of the Acts 15 affair did not include any prohibition on the proclaiming by anybody. Acts 15 dealt only with the actual dispute and the ruling only settled an issue that was not clearly understood.
In a communication with Pastor B–, he states in part:
“It seems private interpretation is kept honest, in God’s view, when we are in concert with the Holy Spirit, the author, who knows the intent with which He wrote it in the first place. That means any genuine believer MAY (has permission to) interpret the Scriptures truthfully and honestly before God. Such interpretation will not conflict at all with the whole counsel of God. The Holy Spirit will safeguard His interests. Danger comes when unregenerates interpret Scriptures to suit their own views. This, of course, has been repeatedly done by many and from the broad spectrum of Christendom.” [Comments made by Pastor B–]
I am in complete agreement with what Pastor B– stated in that quotation from his comments. When we apply Pastor Brohm’s comment to Acts 15, we understand that those who were ruled against did in fact have a perfect right to interpret the Scriptures the way they did. Those who disputed against them (you cannot have a dispute unless someone takes the other side) also had a perfect right to interpret Scripture the way they did. Neither side of the dispute was a “heresy”.
Both sides came to the table as equals. Neither was the “outsider”. Both positions were presented fairly. The Church exercised its authority and now that issue is decided both on earth and in heaven.
I personally am thankful it went the way it did even though I probably would have been on the other side of that issue based on my present knowledge of Scripture. Were I now to teach the other side of that issue I would be in heresy on that issue. The right to interpret Scripture on an issue ends when either Scripture clearly teaches the opposite or the Church has already decided the issue.
The Roman Catholic Church reads three separate Bible passages at each service and yet many still perceive that they do not promote Bible reading by the layman. I therefore pose this question to you the reader of this Article: “What more can the local Roman Catholic Church do to promote Bible reading amongst its laymen?”
Infallibility of Pope
The Roman Catholic Church defined the “infallibility” of the pope in about 1870. The church had been considering the pope infallible from quite early on but the matter of the earth being the center of the Universe caused confusion on the issue.
Protestants have a hard time about infallibility because of the “all have sinned” Scripture is taken to mean that even “born again” “spirit filled” Christian cannot help but sin all the time.
The person the Roman Catholics hold as the first Pope was “I never knew the man” Peter. How can a man that Paul needed to “reprimand” in Scripture be infallible? Well, we hold the Bible to be the infallible written Word of God, don’t we? Didn’t Peter write the two epistles bearing his name? Was he not infallible while he was writing those books?
What the Catholic Church did was to define that, when the individual holding the bishopric originally held by Peter is carrying out the duties of that office in a very specific way, then his decisions and or actions are protected both by the Holy Spirit and by the authority first given to the Apostles and then passed on to their successors.
Line of Popes
Whether or not you think apostolic succession is important or not, the fact remains, the present pope can document his apostolic succession back to Peter in Rome where Peter was undeniably the Bishop of Rome when he was martyred there.
The bishopric of Judas was passed on in Acts 1 after Judas died at his own hand. Do you think Peter’s bishopric should not have been passed on after he died by the hands of Satan’s agent? If not, then the church died after the last Apostle died. Then the councils that decided on the canon of Scripture and the issue of the Trinity were invalid and both of those two topics are up for “private judgement”. No, no, no. The bishopric was passed on, again, and again, more than 100 times.
Luther and Calvin, who broke off from the Roman Catholic church separately and with their respective followers, did not agree amongst themselves even enough to fight against the Catholics when open warfare erupted in the 1500’s. Both of those groups experienced splits and break offs, and again, and again. These two original 1500’s break offs have resulted in well over 100 break offs. The results for Protestants is a change of theology, namely “apostolic succession is unimportant”.
Preeminence of Peter/Rome
There were a number of local churches that made up that early church described in Scripture. The Apostle John discusses 7 churches in Revelation but does not include the churches at Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, nor Rome. John was actually writing “to the seven churches which are in Asia”. [Revelation 1:4a] Perhaps John was responsible for those 7 churches and other Apostles were responsible for other churches. If we go be “Scripture alone”, we do not have enough information.
We do have that information, if we take other contemporary writings, not for their “infallibility”, but for the knowledge they contain. In fact, this additional knowledge of the early church has to be more reliable than speculation made 1500 years later.
Jesus renamed Simon to his more common name Peter which actually means “rock” or “stone”.
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:13-19] (Emphasis added.)
There is some special place given to Peter. This may have been challenged 1500 years later but it was acknowledged by the early church when we look at the writing of the first few hundred years.
Yes the Eastern Catholic Church broke of in about 1,000 but they have maintained very similar except for the acknowledgment of the pope. They, in fact, had no strong leadership during the following 1,000 years. The Roman Catholic Church brought Christianity to the Americas along with all of Europe. They actively heeded Jesus’ command to “go”.
The leaders of the Reformation came out of the Roman Catholic Church. They did not come out of “heathenism” nor out of “paganism”. They did not get “saved” after they left the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps the Roman Catholic Church was somewhat “corrupt” at the time of the Reformation but it was “right” enough to produce the Christians who did leave.
I now understand that there were “reformers” who never left the Roman Catholic Church both before the Reformation and after. I cannot tell you much about them because my 40 years plus of Christian learning was totally void of any positive aspects of the Roman Catholic Church. Apparently even some popes were reformers who fixed “mistakes” and or “corruptions” of previous popes.
I would submit to you the two types of revelation defined by the CCC. The first is “private revelation” which is illustrated by these three examples:
“And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goes down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” [Acts 8:26-28]
“And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prays, And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” [Acts 9:10-16]
The first two examples are with Philip, one of those selected for that first “holy order” of “serving tables”. The first is a revelation made by an angel directing to take a specific journey. Few of us ever get that type of revelation but Joseph got a number of them concerning the birth of Jesus.
The second example is the Holy Spirit prompting Philip to take some specific action right then and there. This type happens even now quite often in the form of an “inner witness”. Sometimes it is quite clear while other times it is just an impression.
The third example is with a lay person. He gets a vision of the Lord who has an extensive conversation with him. This is also rare.
All three of these examples are “private revelations” as they direct or discuss something of local events. This is contrasted with “public revelation” which would establish doctrine for the entire church body. It is the contention of the Roman Catholic Church that “public revelations” ceased with the death of the last Apostle. The last “public revelation” is the Book of Revelation written by the Apostle John.
Body of Knowledge
What is now in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the sum total of the teaching of both the Old and New Testaments along with the findings of all of the Church Councils through today. Granted that there may be other information than that in the CCC. But my reading of that document finds nothing that contradicts Scripture.
Protestants have no such document. Yes, there are various Catechisms which are mainly used for the teaching of children but none come close to the thoroughness of the Roman Catholic document. As an example, I have seen no Protestant document even addressing the issues of abortion, homosexuality, and birth control.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is organized as follows:
First it affirms the authority of Scripture and explains the relationship to tradition.
Next it goes through the historic creeds of the church, namely the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.
Then it explains the sacraments. I, who have listened to over 40 years of Protestant preaching, never even heard anything about the word “sacrament” and had no idea what it meant.
It goes next into depth on how an individual should live as a Christian. It deals with living a moral life. It relates the ten commandments to practical life experience.
It finally finishes up with a detailed description of prayer including a word by word analysis of the Lord’s Prayer.
It is more than interesting that I prayed the Lord’s prayer every day when I was in Public School and less than a total of ten times in all the various Evangelical Protestant churches I have attended over a 40 year period. Public schools now do not allow children to say the Lord’s prayer by law. The Christian school I am teaching at does not say the Lords prayer even though it is not prohibited by law.
“And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” [Luke 11:1-4]
I have decided to do what Jesus said when he said “say” and proceeded to give the exact words to say. As a Protestant, my “catechism” was “Scripture alone” but it took me more than 40 years to figure out that when Jesus said to say that particular prayer he actually meant for me to say it.
I would like to make a suggestion to Protestants to do what I did, get a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church just to find out what you don’t agree with. You can then use what you do agree with as your personal catechism, your personal summary of your own Christian “Body of Knowledge”.
I would like to think that my presentation is un-refutable but I know that if you are anything at all like me, then you don’t accept something just because the logic is compelling. For me it takes thought, much thought. Thought about Scripture necessarily means much prayer and further study. We all call on the Holy Spirit to reveal to us even those things which might appear obvious from Scripture.
My goal is not to change your mind but just to get you to study the Scripture for yourself to see if what was presented does or does not line up with Scripture.
Again I ask for your feedback. Tell me what you find in your search for truth on these issues.
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” [Eph. 4:13]
I believe that whatever problems existed with the Roman Catholic Church at about 1500 have been rectified enough that any further break in fellowship is not justified whether or not there actually existed reasonable justification for the actual break of the 1500’s. Pastor B– comments:
“The Reformers meant to reform the RC Church and ended up as separatists precisely because their views were inconsonant with the Hierarchical System in the RC Church and they were excommunicated. HOWEVER, it is not for a minute we believe they came away with absolute truth. The Half-way Covenant is evidence of their error. This led to the common belief that: 1. All children of the elect were saved because their parents were elect. Carried further, they felt that all residents of Geneva were saved . All this flies in the face of John 1:12,13 ‘But as many as received Him, to them he gave the power (exousia = authority) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’.” [Comments made by Pastor B–]
I am not contending that the Roman Catholic Church was always correct in everything it did. “The Reformers meant to reform the RC Church”. Perhaps they did bring some of that reform to the RC Church. What I am contending is that now they are “reformed” enough or perhaps they need more “reform”. Perhaps further that continued separation is no longer justifiable.
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