The Bible – the inspired word of God
Pope Francis has designated the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time as the ‘Sunday of the Word of God’. This is the third year we are observing it.
One of the main reasons the Church exists is to teach us the doctrine of JESUS Christ Who founded the Catholic Church. He Himself taught for three years, and then just before His Ascension into Heaven His final words on earth were spoken to the Apostles: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Going therefore, teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20). He didn’t tell them to write a book. After all, being God, He knew printing wouldn’t be invented for another fifteen centuries and most people then couldn’t read anyway. So He told them to teach because everyone would be able to listen. Then, in time, two of these Apostles, Matthew and John, were inspired to write down this teaching, and so did the two disciples, Mark and Luke. But these four ‘Gospels’, as beautiful and inspiring as they are, are not exhaustive. There are many other things which JESUS said and did which were not recorded by them (John 21:25). So the Church grew primarily through teaching.
The Bible tells us how the Church began, and the Church to whom Christ gave authority tells us which books make up the Bible. The Church pre-existed the Bible and the Bible came out of the Church – not the other way round. There was a lot of controversy over which books make up the Bible. For example, there were 12 Gospels being argued over, and there were debates over the Old Testament too. So in 382, Pope St Damasus I summoned a Council to define once and for all which books were the inspired word of God. Once this was accomplished, Pope Damasus asked St Jerome (ca 347-420) to translate the countless manuscripts, which were in Hebrew and Greek, into Latin, which at the time was the universal language. Anyone able to read could read Latin. This was nearly a lifetime’s work for St Jerome and he lived in a room in Jerusalem as he did so. When it was completed, there was just this one copy of the Bible in the whole world, and so copies needed to be made. This work was carried out for centuries by the monks in the monasteries, so as churches, monasteries and families throughout the world could have their own copies. St Jerome’s translation is known as the ‘Latin Vulgate’.
So it is thanks to the Catholic Church that we have the Bible at all, and the Catholic Church alone is its authentic interpreter, because She speaks with the authority of JESUS Christ. So it is the Church and the Bible together. The Bible is the inspired word of God, but without the Church, we cannot be sure we are interpreting the Bible correctly because many passages can be difficult to understand. Martin Luther (1483-1546) thought he could interpret the Bible without the Church. It’s what he called ‘sola scriptura’ or ‘the Bible alone’. But the Bible itself doesn’t teach this. It actually says the opposite: “The Church is the pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). Luther eventually broke away and founded his own church, and then the same thing happened again thousands of times over giving rise to tens of thousands of different Christian denominations, each claiming their interpretation is the correct one. But we know that Christ promised infallibility in her teaching to the Catholic Church alone founded on Peter the rock. She is “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Fr Paul Gillham, IC