Valerie: Dear Mr. Salza,
I’m so surprised that you responded to my e-mail!!! Thanks, and I look forward to dialoguing with you as well. Sorry for being so, ummmm, direct. My interest in what Catholics believe has been greatly heightened recently for numerous reasons. One is that so many of my friends are Catholic, but they don’t know what they believe, or why they do certain things. Secondly, I kept driving past a certain bill board which read, “Pray the Rosary.” Finally, I went to mass with a friend, and that really piqued my curiosity the most. Subsequently, I’ve read the Rosary, investigated teachings put forth in the catechism, and lastly, found your web site, whereupon, I vituperated! Sorry, again.
J. Salza: Valerie, it’s just fine. I often receive emotionally-charged emails. I try not to be offended and look past the emotion because we are dealing with emotional topics and searching for the truth.
Valerie: Let me preface my answers to your 3 questions saying that, by having an upbringing in “Bible-only” teaching, much of what I’ve learned regarding Catholicism is quite opposed to scripture. I realize that I will not change your mind, and that you will not change mine. Perhaps this exercise can teach me a much needed lesson in diplomacy and civility for the future!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2) The Bible came from God, who spoke his words to prophets, judges and apostles. The Old Testament scrolls were preserved by Jewish scribes.
The inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is confirmed by:
a) Jesus and the apostles quoting from it
b) Jesus and the apostles alluding to it
c) the fulfillment of many prophecies contained in it
J. Salza: A couple things. The Scriptures came from God because He is their author. The “Bible” was compiled by the Catholic Church at the end of the fourth century, at the direction of God. I want to make this distinction between what is God-breathed Scripture vis-à-vis how we KNOW what is God-breathed Scripture. We only know what is inspired by the authority of the Catholic Church. This brings me to my second point.
The inspiration of the Old Testament is not necessarily confirmed by the reasons you provide. Why? Because the sacred writers also quote from and allude to non-inspired texts. If this were the test for inspiration, our Bible would be a lot bigger than it is. The inspiration of the Old Testament was held by authority and tradition, not self-authentication. The Jews believed in the inspiration of the OT because their tradition and authority told them the texts were inspired. This demonstrates the truth of the Catholic position as well. That is, we believe in the authority and inspiration of Scripture because the Church and Tradition tell us so, not because the books tell us. To my fallible mind, the Didache seems inspired to, but the Church has told us that it is not. We also note that, regarding the OT, there were still disagreements among the Jews as to certain books (e.g., the Sadducees versus the Pharisees). This fact begs for an authority outside of Scripture to make the final determination.
Valerie: Inspiration of the New Testament is evidenced by:
a) the agreement of the Gospels
b) the fact that it was written by men personally chosen by Jesus to be his disciples/apostles, and writers of scripture, such as Paul on the road to Damascus as recorded in Acts 9. Also, Jesus’ parting words to Peter indicating that his life was going to have higher meaning. (John 21:18-19)
c) knowledge of the authors of the New Testament that what they were writing was scripture, i.e. 2 Peter 3:20-21 also Colossians 4:16.
d) A major credential that validated the authors’ calling was that they performed miracles before many witnesses, miracles that couldn’t be denied even by their adversaries, due to massive corroborating evidence. We see an example of this in Acts 4:16, where even the enemies conceded the genuineness of the miracle. Also, when others tried to counterfeit miracles, they were rebuked, or even injured, as in the cases of Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-22) and the sons of Sceva (Act 19:13-16).
J. Salza: Again, these are not the reasons we believe in the inspiration of the New Testament Scriptures.
(a) There were other books that “agreed” with apostolic teaching (e.g. Didache, Clement’s letter to the Corinthians), so this cannot be the test for inspiration.
(b) That Jesus personally chose these men is important, to be sure, but this begs the question. None of the Gospels tell us who wrote them. So how do we know the men that Jesus chose are the ones who wrote the Gospels? The answer is Tradition.
(c) That the sacred writers knew they were writing under the dictation of the Holy Ghost is also important, but we cannot know their minds. Sure they knew it, but how do WE know they knew it? That just begs the question. Other people also claimed to be writing under divine inspiration (there were about 50 “gospels” floating around Judea during the first couple centuries), and someone had to tell us that they weren’t inspired.
(d) Miracles are also an important factor. But how do we know the authors of the New Testament performed the miracles? We also know that God allows evil people to perform miracles as well. Thus, this also cannot be the test for determining whether something is divinely inspired.
Valerie: We probably agree that the Bible is the inspired word of God. What we most likely do not agree on is when that inspiration ended. I believe that the inspiration ceased when the Lord and his apostles’ work on earth was complete, and here are some reasons I believe that.
J. Salza: All public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle. That belief is commonly held among Catholics and non-Catholics.
Valerie: 1. Galatians 1:8 “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Teaching things about Mary such as Immaculate Conception and calling Mary “Mediatrix and Co-redemptress”, and “Queen of Heaven,” and teaching that it’s good to pray to her and to other saints is indeed a different gospel.)
J. Salza: I don’t tackle such sweeping statements when they are advanced without any proof or analysis. I adequately address the Immaculate Conception, Co-redemptrix, Queen of Heaven, and intercessory prayer on my website.
Valerie: 2. God’s word states that scripture should not be added to or taken away from. Proverbs 30:5-6: “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” Also, Revelation 22: 18-19: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
J. Salza: Valerie, this is an elementary apologia. First, Proverbs doesn’t limit God’s “Word” to what is written. Paul tells us it includes the oral tradition as well. Second, Apoc. 22:18-19 is referring only to the prophecies “in that book,” and not the rest of the corpus of Scripture or tradition. In fact, God commanded the same thing In Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32, but that evidently isn’t preventing you from reading all the books that came after Deuteronomy (including the New Testament!), correct?
Valerie: The original manuscripts are all lost. What we do have today are copies of the original manuscripts, such as the Codex Sinaiticus, which is now in the British Museum. Another 4th century manuscript is the Codex Vaticanus. Aside from these, there are many fragments of scripture, all of which agree with one another. The jewel of ancient manuscripts, and perhaps the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time are the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 in the Qumran caves of Palestine, containing manuscripts or fragments of every OT book except for Esther. (Maybe these were the treasures in jars of clay that the Apostle Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 4!!) What’s remarkable to me overall, is that the Isaiah scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls agrees in almost every respect with our traditional Hebrew text!
J. Salza: The fact that the original manuscripts are lost proves that you are relying upon an authority outside of Scripture to give you God’s word. Who translated from the original autographs? How do we know which translations are correct and which ones are not? This raises a whole raft of issues about whether or not you are getting the real thing, and demands an outside agent to set the record straight. When you look at history, you discover that it was the Catholic Church who received, translated, preserved, protected, and handed down the Scriptures throughout the ages. There was simply no other Church around.
Valerie: As I alluded to in my first e-mail, there are grave warnings in scripture as to altering the word of the Lord, which has been handed down through the ages by righteous men, hand-picked by God. My encouragement to you is to please consider what it is that is taught on scripturecatholic.com, as God will hold every man accountable for what he claims that the Lord says. (Isaiah 29:12-14, Jeremiah 14 and 23, 1 Tim 4) Many of my Catholic friends say that they can’t be sure that the Bible is God’s word, and one of them goes as far as to say that he could write a book of the Bible on par with what we know to be scripture. How it must grieve God to reveal Himself to mankind in such an awesome way, only to have men discredit the very word preserved for us for thousands of years.
J. Salza: You are correct that God has hand-picked men to hand down through the ages His word. These men all claimed membership in the Catholic Church. Pope Damasus was the one who first determined the canon of Scripture, at regional councils in Rome, Hippo and Carthage, at the end of the fourth century. I would be shaking in my shoes if I had to figure all this out myself. I thank God for the incredible gift of His Church.
Let me elaborate on the major problems with sola Scriptura. I will sketch out a few and then we can continue the dialogue if you wish. I will number them just to keep the discussion organized.
1. One of the most significant problems with Sola Scriptura (the belief that the Bible is the sole infallible source for God’s word, and that nothing outside of Scripture is necessary for our salvation) is the canon of Scripture. The canon refers to the list of books that belong in the Bible. The problem with this is that the canon of Scripture is necessary for our salvation, but the Bible does not tell us what the canon is. This forces us to look outside the Bible to understand how its books were selected. But doing this destroys the doctrine of sola Scriptura (since something necessary for our salvation – knowing what books are inspired – came to us from outside the Bible).
The fact is that the Catholic Church determined the canon of Scripture at regional councils in A.D. 382, 393 and 397. Before the Catholic Church’s decision, the canon was not settled. In fact, for three centuries people debated whether Hebrews, John’s third epistle, and the Apocalypse were divinely inspired. In addition, there were many other writings that were supposedly inspired (the Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Clement, etc.) that the Catholic Church rejected. So the Catholic Church made an infallible decision regarding the canon of Scripture, and all Christians who believe in the Bible owe this debt to the Church. The question is, who gave the authority to the Catholic Church to make this infallible decision? And why do non-Catholic Christians follow the Catholic Church’s decision on the Bible canon, but not her other teachings?
2. A principle of logic is that an effect can never be greater than its cause. This means that, if the Bible canon is infallible (and it is), then the Church who determined the canon must also be infallible. If you argue that the canon is fallible, then you have no assurance that the books contained in the canon are infallible (which means that some or all of the books could be replaced; or there are other books out there that should be included).
3. You are correct that we don’t have the original manuscripts. But how do you know whether or not you are getting the proper translation? You see, we need an authority outside of Scripture to ensure Scripture’s reliability. The Catholic Church is the source who copied the original manuscripts, and preserved them through the ages. Pope Damasus commissioned St. Jerome at the end of the fourth century to translate the Scriptures into the Latin Vulgate, and the Douay-Rheims translation that came out (NT in 1582; OT in 1609) which is based on the Latin Vulgate is the best and most reliable translation of Scripture that we have. Any translation that deviates from the original languages (and many do, such as the KJV) simply have no authority.
There are about 7,940 verses in the Bible. Over 6,100 of them have some form of corruption. Again, how do you know that you are getting the proper translation? If you really know, then tell me. I only know by listening to the Church who gave me the Scriptures. You need an authority outside of Scripture to tell you.
4. If you study the early Church fathers’ writings for the first seven centuries, you will not find one single father who taught sola Scriptura. To the contrary, the fathers taught that Christ established one church, with a visible and unifying head who is the pope, the successor of Peter on which Christ built the Church. In fact, Ignatius of Antioch called the church “Catholic” in A.D. 107, in his letter to the Smyreans, as he was being led to his martyrdom. You see constant references to “Catholic church” in the writings of the early fathers (see my website for this material).
5. The final problem is that Scripture does not teach sola Scriptura. No where in the Bible will you find any writer say that the Scriptures are the sole, exclusive and infallible authority for God’s word. To the contrary, the sacred writers repeatedly emphasize oral Tradition, the Church, and the authority of the Church’s ecclesial hierarchy (that is why you see repeated references to bishops, priests, deacons and the “laying on of hands.”) Only the Catholic Church exhibits these characteristics of the New Testament Church with its hierarchical structure, and only the bishops of the Catholic Church, united with the pope, can trace their lineage back to the apostles. If you are in a “Bible-church,” you should ask who your “bishops” are. If you don’t have any, then your not in the church of the Bible.
Catholics revere the Scriptures (or should!) more than any other Christian because we want the Bible to say what it intends to say, nothing more, nothing less. The Bible is a Catholic book, written by the early Church, protected and preserved by the Church down through the years, who determined its canonicity and apostolicity. It is a mis-nomer to say “we are Bible-based.” Instead, we must say that the Bible is “Church-based.” Sola Scriptura is like tearing off someone’s arm, and then beating them with it. The Bible is an indispensable part of God’s revealed Word, but He gave the fullness of His Revelation to His Church, both orally and in writing (2 Thess. 2:15).
This is why St. Paul says it is the Church, not the Scriptures, that is the pinnacle and foundation of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15). This is why the Ethiopian eunuch, when he was reading Isaiah, said he needed someone to help him interpret the Scriptures. Christ gave us the Church, his Bride, to lead us into all truth. God gave us a Church; He didn’t just give us a book and tell us to figure it out on our own. God is bound by His love and justice to ensure that we would be receiving the truth, and this is the role of His Church.
The Bible was never intended to be the entire deposit of faith that Christ gave to His apostles. Most of the letters of the New Testament are addressing various problems in the early churches, and shoring up the oral apostolic tradition that the faithful already received. Christ never even commanded His apostles to write anything down, and only five of them did. Where the others less faithful? Of course not. Neither Christ nor any apostle ever said “hey guys, follow oral apostolic tradition until the bible is canonized in 350 years; and then just obey the Bible alone.” Paul says quite the contrary in 2 Thess. 2:15. God intended us to be guided into all truth by the Church, from which the Scriptures came.
I believe that you have a love for Scripture, and probably have not met many Catholics who know Scripture like you do. But in order to be a fully-informed Bible-Chrisian, you must understand where the Bible came from, and what the early Christians wrote about the Bible and the Church. When you study this history with an open mind, you can only come to one conclusion – it is the Bible and the Church, the Bible in the Church, the Church before the Bible.