Protestants love to tell us how their religion is based on the ‘clear and simple reading of the Bible.’ “Oh yes!” they exclaim, “We just opened up the Bible and read what it said and suddenly it became clear that the Catholic Church was wrong and Evangelical Christianity was right!” Hogwash. They listened to someone who interpreted the Bible and told them what they thought it meant. In fact, they listened to people who regularly mis quote the Bible, take verses out of context, ignore uncomfortable passages and come up with the most amazingly convoluted explanations for texts that do not agree with their theology.
Here are two examples. I could give many more. The first is from St John’s gospel chapter three, v.5– Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Within the whole chapter we see that Jesus is speaking of being born again, and to affirm that he is teaching the necessity of baptism, immediately after this conversation we see Jesus out baptizing with his disciples. From the beginning the church fathers understood ‘born of water and the Spirit’ to refer to baptism. There is no deviation from such an obvious and clear interpretation. Nevertheless, along come the Evangelical Christians some 1900 years later and say, “What this verse really refers to is the amniotic fluid–the ‘waters breaking’ when a child is born. Therefore the ‘water’ reference does not mean baptism. It just means physical birth. This from people who claim that they only wish to read the simple, clear and honest meaning of Scripture…not to mention the fact that these are folks who blame the Catholic Church for following late, man made and falsely imagined doctrines. So go figure.
The second example is from John chapter 6 in which Jesus says “Unless a man eat my flesh and drink my blood he does not have life within him.” From the earliest days in the church this was always understood in the simplest and most straightforward manner. It was linked with Jesus’ words at the Last Supper when he took bread blessed it, said, This is my Body” and gave it to them. The early church fathers all taught that the Eucharistic Bread really was the Body of Christ, and that it was his flesh which he said we must eat if we would have life. Well, along come the Evangelical Protestants, who always take the plain words of Scripture and (of course) never follow the interpretations of theologians and they read these words and say, “He didn’t really mean that we had to eat his flesh. He meant that spiritually we have to take him within ourselves and get saved.”
These are only two examples. The same thing could be multiplied for Anglicans, Methodists or any other type of Protestant. All of them read the Scripture through a lens. They all rely on a theological tradition and a theological bias which helps them filter, interpret and analyze Scripture. My point is that there is nothing wrong with this. What’s wrong is that they pretend that they don’t have this theological bias and a denominational filter in place.
Where Catholicism differs is that we admit that an interpretative authority is necessary, and we affirm and celebrate that interpretative authority. The authority is the Church which Christ founded. The same Church from which and into which the Scriptures were inspired in the first place, the same Church in which the Epistles of the Apostles were read to the first Christians, the same Church which struggled to define the New Testament canon. The same Church that loved and taught and preached the Scriptures from the beginning. Catholics see that the Bible is the record of the life of the Body of Christ, and that it cannot be interpreted and lived fully unless it is done within and through the fullness of the Church.
Somewhere G.K.Chesterton wrote about the absurdity of the Sola Scriptura position. Imagine, he said, that there was a great and marvelous procession with a king and judges and lords and ladies and soldiers triumphant home from war. Imagine that this great procession was decked with finery, great works of art were carried in procession. Heroes and heroines of all the ages were there, and this great and glorious procession was accompanied by music and marching and men on horseback and ladies in carriages and in the midst of this procession the great book of wisdom was carried in procession too. This book contained all the wisdom and thought and history of this great people and so it was venerated and indeed was inspired by their God and formed the foundation of their noble and fine religion.
Sola Scriptura is like taking the book and destroying everything else and saying everything is in the book and nothing else matters.