How can I understand unless someone instructs me? Acts 8:31
Everyone knows that Catholics are intimidated when it comes to the Bible. We have a reputation for not reading it, but worse, we have little understanding, along with our non-Catholic friends, of how the Bible came to be and just how recent it has been available to the masses of people.
Today, I am going to try to set the record straight on a couple of things to help a few Catholics hold their heads up.
The first thing we need to know is the church was teaching people about Jesus before most of the books of the New Testament were written, agreed on and assembled into that book we now call “the Bible.” The fact is, hundreds of millions of people came to know Christ without ever owning or studying a Bible.
Before the 16th century invention of the printing press, very few hand-copied Bibles were available, and even so, the masses would not have been able to read them. They learned about Jesus from word of mouth and from viewing the sacred art that filled churches and cathedrals.
The second thing we need to know is that our non-Catholic friends owe the Catholic Church an enormous debt when it comes to the Bible. The Catholic Church, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, is responsible for the formulation, preservation and integrity of the sacred Scriptures.
For 1,500 years, when there were no Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Methodists, Anglicans or Evangelicals, the Catholic Church preserved the Scriptures from error, saved them from destruction and extinction, multiplied them in every language under the sun and conveyed the truth they contain to people everywhere. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say the Catholic Church is most responsible for protecting the records of Jesus’ teachings.
The third thing we need to know is that the church, in insisting on its own authority to interpret the meaning of the Scriptures correctly, has done much to protect the Bible from the slippery slope of individual interpretation that has led to 500 years of confusion, splintering and disunity among Christians.
Ultimately, interpreting the Scriptures correctly comes down to a question of authority — individual authority or the authority of the church. Having been wrong about so many things, I choose to trust the church more than my own private interpretation of the Bible.
It is true that the church, in an overzealous attempt to protect the Scriptures from private interpretation, tended to read it for us and give us its teachings in books like the Catechism. Today Catholics are encouraged to read the Scriptures for themselves.
Several easy-to-read translations and commentaries are readily available. Since Vatican Council II, more Scripture readings have been added to the celebration of all the sacraments. For Catholics who pay attention, most of the significant passages of the Bible are read and explained in a three-year cycle at Sunday Mass.
Father J. Ronald Knott