Dear fellow Christians, and all others,
Today I would like to discuss the Catholic doctrine of the Deposit of Faith. We believe that the Deposit of Faith has three parts-Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. This was the basis of Christian Bible interpretation for 1500 years.
The question is, which came first, the Church or the Bible? Or better, which came first, the Church or the New Testament? Because we know that there were Old Testament writings before Jesus walked on earth. But there is one problem with that. There was no official canon of the OT sacred writings. There were recognized the Torah, or Pentateuch, the prophets, and the psalms. There were different books recognized by different groups. The Catholic Church chose what books were canonical to Christians. The Hebrew Canon wasn’t even chosen until the 1st century AD, and was based primarily on the language it was written in. The Catholic Church chose the version written in Greek, which was used in the entire known world. This is also the one Jesus quotes, for the most part.
So Jesus died on the cross, Resurrected on the third day, appeared to many over a period of 40 days, then ascended into heaven. On Pentecost, 10 days later the Church that Jesus spoke of (Matt 16:18) came alive. This is the birth of the Church. There were no Christian scriptures at this time, which is why we can say that the Church came before the scriptures.
How was Christianity spread, if there were no writings? And if sola scriptura is to be held, how could it be held in the twenty or so years after Jesus rose? The answer is that Christianity was spread by word of mouth. How can we know that there wasn’t erroneous ideas floating around? There were. But Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to protect the Church he proclaimed. He gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to his apostles, the 11 (after Judas committed suicide), then 12 (after Matthias was appointed). Paul was proclaimed an apostle after his conversion on the road to Damascus, but did not receive the Holy Spirit until hands were laid on him. (To this day, this is how the apostolic authority is conferred to new bishops, priests and deacons). James is believed to have been written around 45AD, the first written book. Paul wrote to the Galatians around 48AD. So between Jesus’ death in 30AD, and Paul’s letter to the Galatians and Thessalonians around the same time, there was no Christian writings.
At any rate, St. Paul mentions following tradition in many of his letters. By the way, the authority Jesus bestowed on the apostles when he laid hands on them is the same authority that the magisterium uses to guide them in their teaching office-the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
To recap briefly, Jesus taught his apostles, and gave them the power and authority to teach in his name. The apostles did this, and passed on their authority to others, and so on, and so on. To prove apostolic authority, look at St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, his appointed bishop. St. Paul instructs Timothy to find faithful men, test them, and if proven worthy, to pass on the faith to them. In just this short letter, we see three generations-Paul, who never met Jesus, but was conferred his office by laying on of hands of the other apostles, Timothy, and his successor.
So what, exactly is Sacred Tradition? What the apostles handed on to the Early Church Fathers. Much of which is written down.
So, how do faithful Catholics interpret the Bible? We listen to what our Holy Father and our Bishops have to say about it. They discern from those who came before, and teach us how to apply it.
But for those of you who are not convinced that this is the right way, let me ask you some pointed questions about this Bible Alone thing that popped up about 500 years ago…(Thank you Steve Ray for solidifying these questions)
1. Where did Jesus give instructions that the Christian faith should be based exclusively on a book?
2. Other than the specific command to John to pen the Revelation, where did Jesus tell His apostles to write anything down and compile it into an authoritative book?
3. Where in the New Testament do the apostles tell future generations that the Christian faith will be based solely on a book?
4. Some Protestants claim that Jesus condemned all oral tradition (e.g., Matt 15:3, 6; Mark 7:8‑13). If so, why does He bind His listeners to oral tradition by telling them to obey the scribes and Pharisees when they “sit on Moses’ seat” (Matt 23:2)?
5. Some Protestants claim that St. Paul condemned all oral tradition (Col 2:8). If so, why does he tell the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thes 2:15) and praises the Corinthians because they “hold firmly to the traditions” (1 Cor 11:2)?
6. If the authors of the New Testament believed in sola Scriptura, why did they sometimes draw on oral Tradition as authoritative and as God’s Word (Matt 2:23; 23:2; 1 Cor 10:4; 1 Pet 3:19; Jude 9, 14 15)?
7. How do we know who wrote the books that we call Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Hebrews, and 1, 2, and 3 John?
8. On what authority, or on what principle, would we accept as Scripture books that we know were not written by one of the twelve apostles?
9. How do we know, from the Bible alone, that the letters of St. Paul, who wrote to first-century congregations and individuals, are meant to be read by us as Scripture 2000 years later?
10. If the books of the New Testament are “self-authenticating” through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to each individual, then why was there confusion in the early Church over which books were inspired, with some books being rejected by the majority?
11. On what biblical basis do Protestants think that everything that the apostles taught is captured in the New Testament writings?
12. If the meaning of the Bible is so clear—so easily interpreted—and if the Holy Spirit leads every Christian to interpret it for themselves, then why are there over 33,000 Protestant denominations, and millions of individual Protestants, all interpreting the Bible differently?
13. Protestants usually claim that they all agree “on the important things.” Who is able to decide authoritatively what is important in the Christian faith and what is not?
14. How did the early Church evangelize and overthrow the Roman Empire, survive and prosper almost 350 years, without knowing for sure which books belong in the canon of Scripture?
15. Who in the Church had the authority to determine which books belonged in the New Testament canon and to make this decision binding on all Christians? If nobody has this authority, then can I remove or add books to the canon on my own authority?
Where does the Bible . . .
. . . say God created the world/universe out of nothing?
. . . say salvation is attainable through faith alone?
. . . tell us how we know that the revelation of Jesus Christ ended with the death of the last Apostle?
. . . provide a list of the canonical books of the Old Testament?
. . . provide a list of the canonical books of the New Testament?
. . . explain the doctrine of the Trinity, or even use the word “Trinity”?
. . . tell us the name of the “beloved disciple”?
. . . inform us of the names of the authors of the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?
. . . who wrote the Book of Acts?
. . . tell us the Holy Spirit is one of the three Persons of the Trinity?
. . . .tell us Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man from the moment of conception (e.g. how do we know His Divinity wasn’t infused later in His life?) and/or tells us Jesus Christ is One Person with two complete natures,
human and Divine and not some other combination of the two natures (i.e., one
or both being less than complete)?
. . . that the church should, or someday would be divided into competing and disagreeing denominations?
. . . that Protestants can have an invisible unity when Jesus expected a visible unity to be seen by the world (see John 17)?
. . . tell us Jesus Christ is of the same substance of Divinity as God the Father?
Many thanks to Steve Ray…
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