Do Catholics Believe in the Bible?

Do Catholics believe in the Bible? Of course we do! Here is a quote directly from the official teachings of the Church (The Catechism of the Catholic Church):

"... The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful ... to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequently reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. ... Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. ..."

It is very obvious from this teaching that Catholics believe that the Bible is the word of God and we are called to be knowledgeable of it. Fr. Peter Stravinskas reminds us, "If a Catholic were to read no Scripture beyond the texts used for Sunday Mass over the three-year period that person would have been exposed to more than seven thousand verses of the Bible."

However, Catholics do not believe that the Bible alone is designed to be the only true guide for Christian belief (Martin Luther's doctrine of sola scriptura). The Bible tells us that it is "inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17). Notice that this passage does not say anywhere that God's complete revelation for Christian belief and living is to be found only in the Bible. In fact, the Bible tells us numerous times that not every important theological and spiritual truth is contained in it. Here are a few examples:

  • "There are also many other things Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25).
  • "Although I have much to write to you, I do not intend to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and to speak face to face so that our joy may be complete" (2 John 1:12).
  • "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book" (John 20:30).
  • "I have much to write to you, but I do not wish to write with pen and ink. Instead, I hope to see you soon, when we can talk face to face" (3 John 1:13).

Here we clearly see that the Bible says that not all of Jesus' teachings were reduced to writing. Thus, the Catholic Church also relies on Sacred Apostolic Tradition (things that the Apostles did).

A common objection raised by Protestants is that Jesus speaks out strongly against following tradition "You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition. ... How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition" (Mark 7:8-9). With such a strong scriptural command as this, how can we possibly teach that Scripture and tradition must be equally accepted?

In "Unabridged Christianity," Mario Romero responds to this by saying:

"When the Catholic Church speaks about the importance of Tradition (capital "T"), we don't mean "man-made customs." (In Mark 7:8-9 cited above, Jesus warned the often-hypocritical Pharisees and Scribes about blindly following their Jewish man-made customs and traditions to the "T" and ignoring what was most important - their relationship with God and their compassion for other people.) When the Church says that Scripture and Tradition are both sources of God's revelation, we are speaking about the living Sacred Faith Tradition of the Apostles that existed long before any New Testament book was written and centuries before the New Testament canon was decided upon"

Here is more Biblical evidence for the truthfulness of Tradition:

  • "I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you" (1 Cor 11:2).
  • "Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours" (2 Thes 2:15).
  • Other examples: 1 Tim 2:2, 1 Cor 15:1-2

Please note that the declaration of which books belong in the Bible and which do not was not decided upon until 4th and 5th centuries! The Bible does not have an "inspired table of contents." The Catholic Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, decided which writings were inspired by God, and which were not.

St. Peter tells us "...speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16). Peter shows that individuals (by themselves) can easily distort the true meaning of the Scriptures. The Catholic Church is called "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15) because it is the author of the New Testament Bible. It is only fitting that Peter would write " one can explain by himself a prophecy in the Scriptures" (2 Pet 1:20). The Bible says that the Church is the possessor of the correct interpretation of Scripture.

Please be very certain that the Bible is not self-interpreting (if it was there would not be thousands of Christian denominations all claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit teaching very different doctrines). Consider these apparently contradictory passages:

  • Jesus says, "Call no one on earth your father..." (Matt 23:9), while St. Paul says, "...I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me..." (1 Cor 4:15-16)
  • St. Paul says, "For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Rom 3:28), while St. James says, "See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24).
  • St. Peter tells us: "...baptism,...saves [us] now" (1 Pet 3:21), while St. Paul says, "...for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom 10:9)

Each person who believes in sola scriptura (the Bible alone is designed to be the only true guide for Christian belief) has his/her own way of explaining these seemingly contradictory passages. These explanations are usually contradictory, and because two contradictory explanations cannot both be true, someone is wrong. Former Protestant minister (now Catholic convert) Marcus Grodi writes:

"Every Sunday I would stand in my pulpit and interpret Scripture for my flock, knowing that within a fifteen mile radius of my church there were dozens of other Protestant pastors - all of whom believed that the Bible alone is the sole authority for doctrine and practice - but each was teaching something different from what I was teaching. 'Is my interpretation of Scripture the right one or not?' I'd wonder. 'Maybe one of those other pastors is right, and I'm misleading these people who trust me."

Al Kresta says:

"Christians are never depicted in Scripture as being 'lone rangers,' left to decide for themselves what they think Scripture means (2 Pet 1:20-21). Without the teaching guidance of the Church, all sorts of fanciful and erroneous interpretations of Scripture can spring up (2 Pet 3:15). That's why Paul admonished the early Christians to always hold fast to the unity of doctrine (1 Cor 1:10).

Reformation Protestantism claimed the Bible alone is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. But, ironically, it was the emphasis on the Bible alone that caused all the confusion and division within Protestantism."

Proponents of sola scriptura often site Acts 17:11 and say that the "noble Bereans" (who searched the Scriptures before they accepted things being preached to them) were following the practice of sola scriptura. Instead of trying to explain this myself, I will point you to a great explanation of this passage at the Beggar King Homepage.

What did the early Christians believe? (keep in mind these were all written many years before the New Testament was even compiled)

  • "What if the Apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the Churches?" St. Irenaeus in his Against Heresies (circa 180 A.D.)
  • "Let us believe, then, dear brethren, according to the tradition of the Apostles." St. Hippolytus of Rome in his Against the Heresy of a Certain Noetus (circa 200 A.D.)
  • "The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition." Origen in his The Fundamental Doctrines (circa 220 A.D.)

For a more in-depth study of this topic, read "Tradition, Bible, or Both?" from the Catholic Answers website.