At the National Council of Churches meeting in Cleveland, the Rev. Peter
J. Gomes said: "My reading of Western Christian history is that the single most powerful
movement was the abandonment of the authority of the papacy and Protestants
tended to fill that gap with the authority of Scripture. There is not much
talk of the authority of the Scriptures in the pre-Reformation days.
Scripture is just one of the gifts and graces of the church, but some have
made it the sole source of authority, superior to all else."
Rev. Gomas isn't about to bolt for Rome, but speaks of the many people
who are ignorant of what the Bible really says. Mixing up poetry with
history, symbolism with literacy.
"I think it is fair and sad to say the level of biblical illiteracy is
very high," he continued. What Rev. Gomas is saying is perfectly true.
However, just who is biblically illiterate is the big question.
Today, Bible study groups are cropping up all over the Catholic Church.
This is both praiseworthy and a problem. Praiseworthy that Catholics, which
the Church always encouraged, are rediscovering the beauty and strength of
the Bible. The problem? That many of them are making their own way through
"First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a
matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the
impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter
Throughout the Scriptures, we see men chosen by God, clearly, as though
who spoke (prophesied) in His name. They were the ones the people went to
interpret those words. If the Scriptures are the sole authority, whose
Scriptures do we rely? The Catholic? The King James Version? Maybe the
Jehovah Witness' version? Whose? In the Middle Ages, the Albigenese
'scriptures' sanctified immorality. Sexual intimacy outside of marriage was
sanctified, whereas marriage was held as an evil. Birth was seen as an evil
since it would 'trap' a soul in sinful flesh. This 'abuse' of the Scriptures
prompted the extreme action of the Council of Toulouse (not an ecumenical
council) which had to restrict the layman's use of the Bible until they could
be sure that they were receiving a correct interpretation instead of the
Albigensian's version. This led to the fallacy that "the Catholic Church
kept the Bible from the laity and burned it." The only Bible which was burnt
(if any) were the Albigenese ones.
Scripture reads: "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for
teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy
3: 16-17). But what if the Scriptures are misinterpreted, mistranslated, or
distorted to fit an idea or agenda? How profitable is it then?
We hear of radical feminists who say that God is a woman since, in the
Old Testament, wisdom is personified as Sophia (from the Greek word meaning
wisdom). This is the gnostic interpretation which has Sophia as a gnostic
'goddess', where Christ is, at best, a demiurge, a demi-god. Or that Lydia
was a priestess as was Phoebe. None of these can be justified by a true
interpretation of the Bible, only a misinterpretation or distortion. There
are even biblical scholars who are questioning whether the woman in Isiaih
7:14 was a virgin, or just a young woman. And whether her child was a boy or
a girl. Of course, if the woman is interpreted as not being a virgin then
the Virgin birth is a sham. And if the child is a girl, what of Christ?
We hear militant gays saying that homosexual practices aren't condemned as
a sin. Again, they say that it was male temple prostitutes that St. Paul was
condemning. That God punished Sodom for being inhospitable (imagine God
punishing an entire city for not offering visitors tea?) In short, name the
movement, the agenda, the notion. One can, or will, find a 'Bible' that
supports it or a Biblical study guide. Rev. David Stout even joked that
"they are going to come out with a pre-natal study Bible." One can only
imagine what it may say, depending on who publishes it. Planned Parenthood's
interpretation will be far different from that of Right To Life.
Rev. Gomas points out that this stems from Biblical illiteracy, from
'educated' men and women who are really not literate in the Scriptures. The
thing is that they all see themselves as biblically literate. Either through
secular or religious universities, or via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
We may, and should, accept the Scriptures as authoritative teachings.
That they are "inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be
complete, equipped for every good work." The problem comes, whose
interpretation of those Scriptures do we believe and follow? Rev. Gomas'
interpretation is no doubt different from those of Jerry Falwell, which is
different from Oral Roberts, which is different from Jimmy Swaggert's. Just
as Luther's interpretation was different from Calvin's, which was different
from Wesley's, which was different from Knox's (not to mention Joseph Smith's
[Mormon] and Charles Taze Russell [Jehovah Witness]).
Scripture tells us: "There are some things in them hard to understand,
which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do
the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand,
beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your
own stability" (2 Peter 3: 16-17).
Where then do we go for 'authoritative'
teaching if we must be wary of " the ignorant and unstable" and " lawless
men" who distort the Scriptures to their own, and our, destruction?
Scripture itself gives us the answer. The Church, the pillar and bulwark
of truth is the 'authority' of the Scriptures (ref. 1 Timothy 3:15). Not the
Church as in the people of God (if it were, we'd be back were we started) but
the Church as in the hierarchy of the Church, established by God to "make
disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have
commanded you;" (Matthew 28: 19-20) With Peter as the head of that hierarchy
(ref. Matthew 16: 16-19).
As St. Augustine wrote: "I would not believe in the Gospel if the
authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so."
Scott Hahn, an ex-Presbyterian minister and Theologian, asked whether
truth was to be found in the Church, the Bible, or Both. As Rev. Gomas
pointed out, "Scripture is just one of the gifts and graces of the church"
Just as in the Old Testament, God gives His people His words, His teachings,
His commands. And we go to His 'representatives' on the earth to help us
interpret those words, teachings and commands.
If we don't, then we are simply replacing one Magisterium for another. The
Magisterium of ourselves. Not the Church of the People of God, not even the
Church established by God, but a church made up of one. No doubt, many can
be found to agree with this singular church, but the truth would not be what
is found there.
So, this Biblical illiteracy can be seen as the cause of great
misfortune. Schisms, heresies, apostasies have all come about due to this
illiteracy. But rather than making ourselves biblical scholars according to
the thoughts of Moody, Harvard, etc. we can rely on God and His Church to
reveal the truth of Scriptures.
"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus Who is to judge
the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the
word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be
unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people
will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate
for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from
listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady,
endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2
Timothy 4: 1-5).
Pax Christi, Pat