INTERPRETING SCRIPTURE: WHOSE AUTHORITY IS VALID?
Two people could argue all day over the proper interpretation of a verse in the Bible. In the end, it all comes down to whose authority the person is using for his or her interpretation.
As a Catholic, if I come to a verse that seems confusing, I would look to see what the constant teaching of the Catholic Church has been as to its correct interpretation. We believe that just as God protected the New Testament writers from erring in writing Scripture, God divinely protected the successors of Peter and the apostles from erring in preserving the truthful interpretation of Scripture, with the Holy Spirit guiding them “into all truth” (John 16:13)
Now, a Protestant who encounters a verse he or she is unsure of - I have found from personal experience - usually ask their Bible study leader or minister how to interpret it, thus using them as their authority for interpretation. The Bible study leader or minister, in turn, will usually consult the authority of their church’s elders, or the writings of Reformers or more recent scholars, for a final say in Bible interpretation.
Sometimes a Protestant, when asked how a verse should be interpreted, will open up his big brown “Bible Knowledge Commentary” book, which instructs people, line by line, how to interpret each verse.
In the end, everyone uses some authority to interpret the parts of the Bible which seem ambiguous or difficult. (which is not to say I haven’t stumbled across those rare individuals who just try to “wing it” when presented with a new verse, often generating quite innovative interpretations. )
Protestants will argue that it’s really the Holy Spirit telling them individually how to interpret the Bible. If this method worked 100 percent of the time infallibly, then why would they consult books and friends in the first place?
And more importantly, why is the Holy Spirit giving out conflicting interpretations?
For example, Luther and Calvin, who said the Holy Spirit provided their interpretations, came up with interpretations of the Bible that clashed with one another’s. Some of their interpretations also clash with ones held dearly by my evangelical friends (For eg., Luther taught that Baptism was regenerative whereas evangelicals deny this teaching which many Christians says is straight from the Bible).
St. Augustine, one of the greatest Christians ever, interpreted the Bible MUCH differently than any evangelical I know (for example, he understood the Bible to be teaching the Real Presence in the Eucharist, Baptism necessary for salvation, mortal sins, venial sins, praying for the dead in purgatory, etc., etc., etc.)
The Holy Spirit, which is the essence of truth, could not be teaching people conflicting doctrines regarding the same Bible verses.
Catholics would say that the Holy Spirit certainly does make many spiritual truths clear to us individually, but that the gift of never interpreting Scripture incorrectly is only handed down through the Church led by Peter’s successors (the popes).
The articles below get to the heart of the issue of authority.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TRADITION and SACRED SCRIPTURE (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
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