I’m pretty sure I’ve touched on these topics before, but I’ve been doing more reading and thinking, so I’m going to address them again.
I was listening to an archive of Catholic Answers Live this morning, and a caller asked about the Genesis 6 reference to the Nephilim. Jimmy Akin came right out and said that this was one of the most mysterious passages in the Bible — and THAT is exactly what I appreciate about the Catholic Church’s understanding of Scripture, tradition, doctrine, and authority.
As a Protestant, when (according to sola scriptura) the only sources of truth you have is 1) the Bible 2) according to how you, personally, understand it, it’s very hard to admit that you’re stumped by anything in the Bible.
Basically, if your first premise is 1) God has revealed Himself only through the Bible, and your second is 2) everything that God has revealed can be easily understood by anyone (which it would have to be, otherwise God wouldn’t be revealing Himself equally to everyone), then admitting that you don’t understand something is basically saying that you’re not a real Christian, because a real Christian would have the Holy Spirit enlightening him about the meaning of obscure Scripture passage “x”. (I’m not even going to touch on how many different interpretations the Holy Spirit gives to different Christians right now.) And since you are your own authority, you can’t just take someone else’s argument and say, “Well, wise theologian Christian McGoodGuy said it means this, and I’m going to take his word for it,” because he could be totally wrong. You have to figger it out yourself (if you even can; for a comprehensive critique of this idea see Jimmy’s article “Practical Problems of Sola Scriptura“).
But the Catholic Church! The Catholic Church says, simultaneously,
- We believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, without error in the original manuscripts.
- We believe that Christ gave His Church the role of final judge in interpreting what the Bible means.
- We believe that doctrine develops; that we don’t know 100% of everything right at the beginning; some of the stuff we have to work out, sometimes over millennia.
- And, we believe that the Bible can have multiple meanings! The same passage can treat a literal event, which is also a prophetic reference, which has application in the universal moral realm… There’s so much room for investigation and conjecture, which the Church is completely fine with — as long as you don’t go past the limits of what it has defined!
As many other Protestant converts have said, this method of approaching Scripture is much more freeing than, as someone said, “Having the truth, but being unable to grasp it.” When you’re relying only on yourself (which, if you have any common sense, you’ll realize is ridiculous), you can never be sure that you’re interpreting Scripture correctly, and every new opinion you hear will throw you off balance. But the security of knowing where the fence is (the teaching of the Church) means that you can explore and hypothesize as much as you want, without having to worry that you’re going to end up going to hell because you misunderstood something in the Bible.
Now, as soon as I can figure out how to read the Bible again without triggering panic attacks about total depravity and God’s judgment, I’ll be good to go.