Who owns the Bible?

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 2 Peter 1:20 – King James Version (KJV)

Any reader of christiannews.net knows that the debates in the comments are almost always loaded with scriptural references that “prove” the writers’ points. As you can see, I just did it myself.

If we believe that the Bible itself is the final word on sound doctrine, we are still left with a dilemma: no text, including scripture, can speak authoritatively about it’s own veracity. In other words, if I say “Everything I say is true,” I have not proven in any way that “everything I say is true.” If I truly never utter a falsehood, then that statement is true. If, on the other hand, I say untrue things at times then that statement is false, and the text offers no clue as to which case is correct. This argument in no way implies that the reliability of a text can’t be determined by other means, only that the text itself can’t be a deciding factor.

We take it on faith that the scripture is the inspired Word of God manifested through the writings of men filled with the Spirit of God. And we justify this faith because “we know in our hearts” that the Word of God is true. We believe, for instance, that God’s word was given to the prophets by inspiration:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hebrews 1:1 – King James Version (KJV)

That, of course, raises another very thorny issue. If every Protestant Evangelical (and from now I will use the term “evangelical” to mean that, even though there are evangelical Catholics) “rightly divides the word of truth,” then we would expect there to be only one true bible-believing church set apart from that great Whore of Babylon. Of course there are a fairly large number of evangelical denominations which disagree on some issues but not on the major ones. Here is a link to an article that addresses that very well from an evangelical standpoint.  

There are really only two major issues dividing Catholic from Protestants: “sola scriptura” (the Bible alone as the true source of all Christian doctrine) and sola fide (justification through faith alone). And actually sola fide is itself a consequence of sola scriptura. Every other doctrinal disagreement stems from that as well. So we really can’t have a dialog until we come to some understanding of who, in fact, “owns” the Bible.

Again, here’s a quote from the website I referenced earlier (and it’s a pretty good one):

The truth is that both Roman Catholics and Protestants must, in the end, rely upon their reasoning abilities (to choose their authority) and their interpretive skills (to understand what that authority teaches) in order to determine what they will believe. Protestants are simply more willing to admit that this is the case.

I disagree that Protestants are inherently more willing to do that. I see “blind obedience” on both sides of the divide and I also see many Catholics and as well as evangelicals who confront the issue of the Magisterium (traditions of men) head on. But the point is well made. In the end it is Reason informed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that matters. We do “see in part” and “know in part.” And although we may be justified by faith, we still retain the taint of original sin that obscures our understanding.
Any discussion of scripture must inevitably confront the issue of just how the Bible came into being. And while I believe that its writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit, I suspect that not all of them would have made the claim of innerancy at the time they were writing. Books were included in the Bible (or what is called the canon of scripture) because they conformed to the teaching of the Church at that time. And “that time” was many decades (if not centuries) after the last Apostles died.

 So the composition of the Bible is, in a very real sense, a reflection of what the Church taught at the time the canon was fixed. (This is a very complex history and beyond the scope of this blog.) Or to put it another way, and in a way that is bound to be troubling to fans of sola scriptura, it was the teaching tradition of the Church combined with the inspired writings that formed the “deposit of faith” which Catholics refer to as the Magisterium.

I believe it is actually that way today. No scripture is of any private interpretation. Catholics and evangelicals both understand the necessity of studying scripture in the context of a larger faith community. Evangelicals have their own “magisterium” but it is so woven into the fabric of their religious culture that it’s taken for granted. There is a tradition of teaching stretching back to the Reformation that defines evangelical theology but which no evangelical would dare call “the traditions of men.” (That phrase alone will be the subject of another probably lengthy blog.)

So, who owns the Bible? Who gets to interpret what it really says? No one, if by “really” you mean defining absolutely unassailable truth. Yet, at the same time, it belongs to everyone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord. And as unpalatable as it may seem to some, that includes Roman Catholics. Thus the title of my blog. Catholics believe the Bible, they have always believed the Bible and they always will. And the sooner we begin to understand that the world is drawing strength from our divisions, the sooner we will stop this petty name-calling and get down to spreading the Gospel.

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