What Catholics Believe About The Bible

By Mike Willis

A recent issue of the Indianapolis Star contained an article entitled “Catholics’ faith and the Bible” by John F. Fink (July 26, 1998, D3). Fink wrote,

Catholics believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but the Catholic faith is not based on the Bible. That’s because the Catholic Church existed before the Bible. In fact, it was the Catholic Church that determined what books would be in the New Testament — even what books would be in the Catholic version of the Old Testament.

This short paragraph pinpoints several differences between Roman Catholicism and the New Testament revelation. Consider these:

1. “Catholic faith is not based on the Bible.” We are agreed that is so. As a matter of fact, Fink’s article was the follow-up of another article in the May 24 issue of the Star which defended Catholics’ prayer through and worship of Mary. Fink candidly admitted, “Some Catholic beliefs are not based on the Bible.” That being so, what the Bible says about beliefs not based on God’s revealed word is pertinent. John, the Apostle of love, wrote, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11). In Revelation, he said, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (22:18-19). Despite these grave warnings, Mr. Fink candidly admits that the Catholic faith is not based on the Bible.

Fink’s admission that the Catholic faith is not based on the Bible is an admission that the Catholic faith is an apostate faith. Catholic faith is based on four things: (1) The teachings of the Fathers as conveyed through the ecumenical councils; (2) The word of the pope as he speaks ex cathedra; (3) The teachings of the apocrypha; (4) The teachings of the Bible as it is translated from the Vulgate version. Much could be said about each of these, such as the contradictory teachings of the Fathers; an examination of the ex-cathedra statements of the papacy in comparison with the Bible; the errors and unique teachings of the apocryphal books; errors in the Latin Vulgate translation; etc.

2. “The Catholic Church existed before the Bible.” There is some truth in this statement, but it is mixed with enough error that it needs to be sorted out. The New Testament church began on the day of Pentecost following the crucifixion of Jesus. It existed after the Old Testament was completed and before any part of the New Testament was written. The church of the New Testament had no papacy, no cardinals, no archbishops, no bishops (in the Catholic sense), no separate priesthood, no clergy-laity distinction, or inter-congregational organization of any sort. It did not believe in purgatory, the worship of Mary, or any other uniquely Catholic doctrines. So, the Catholic Church is not the church in the Bible.

However, the New Testament did foretell an apostasy in the church (2 Thess. 2:1-12; 1 Tim. 4:1-3). This apostasy began before the New Testament was completely revealed and it culminated in about the sixth century with a universal pope and what is now recognized as the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, in its incipient form of apostasy, did exist before the New Testament was completed, but it was not the church which Christ promised to build (Matt.

16:18). The Roman Catholic Church is the culmination of the apostasy that began to develop in the latter part of the first century, the incipient forms of which are condemned in the New Testament.

3. “The Catholic Church determined what books would be in the New Testament.” That simply is not so. From the time that the New Testament books were revealed, they were considered the revealed word of God. Paul wrote, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). They were received as the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13) and passed from one congregation to another (Col. 4:16). The books were received as “inspired” of God because they were written by an apostle or prophet. Those books whose origin was uncertain went through a period of uncertainty before they were universally recognized as inspired. However, even this was done long before the Council of Carthage met in A.D. 397, as Mr. Fink asserts. One can see the books of the New Testament quoted as Scripture, not only in the New Testament itself (Luke 10:7 is quoted as Scripture in 1 Tim. 5:17), but also in the apostolic fathers. For ex- ample, Clement quotes Acts 20:35 (2:1), Titus 3:1 (2:9), and 2 Corinthians 3:3 (2:10) in just one chapter. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians is dated A.D. 95-96 (Lightfoot, The Apostolic Epistles). This demonstrates that the New Testament was already recognized as the word of God two centuries before the Council of Carthage.

Mr. Fink alludes to the Catholic Church including the seven apocryphal books and minor additions to other books of the Old Testament in their Bibles. That the Jews rejected these books is clear from contemporary Jewish writings. The first century historian Flavius Josephus said, “We have not a multitude of books among us, disagreeing and contradicting one another, as the Greeks have, but are confined to twenty-two, that we are bound to believe, and these twenty-two books comprise the history of the world from the beginning to this day” (In Answer To Apion, Book I, 455). The 22 books of Josephus’ numbering correspond to our 39 books today because they combined some books which we separate today (for example, the 12 Minor Prophets were treated as one book; 1-2 Samuel was treated as one book, as were 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles). Furthermore, the New Testament alludes to the completed Old Testament canon in Matthew 23:35, where Jesus mentioned those who had died unjustly in the Old Testament from the blood of Abel (the first man in the Bible to die) to Zacharias (the last man to die as recorded in the Old Testament), based on the Jewish arrangement of the Scripture which places Genesis as the first book of the Old Testament and 2 Chronicles as the last. Hence, the canon of Old Testament Scripture existed in Jesus’ day and was mentioned with approval by him. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament never quoted from any apocryphal book as an authoritative word of God. Even the Roman Catholic Church did not officially recognize the apocryphal books as part of  the Old Testament until the Council of Trent in A.D. 1546.

Mr. Fink’s statements about the Catholic Church and the Bible are revealing, helping us to understand why the Catholics and Protestants form separate religious groups.