Generally speaking, the Roman Catholics have taught throughout most of their history that church tradition shares authority with the Scriptures. However, the latest teaching document in Britain virtually denies that the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God.
"Roman Catholics throughout Britain are being encouraged to reaffirm the Bible as foundational for their faith, and to make its critical appreciation a key part of their discipleship and church identity. This week a major new teaching document from the Catholic Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland is being presented in Rome" ("Catholics Encouraged to Give Emphasis to the Bible," www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/news_syndication/article_050914bible.shtml , emphasis added throughout article).
While the above statement may be "true" from the bishops' point of view, the actual booklet itself falls far short of the way Jesus Christ and the apostles looked at the Bible. Perhaps the key phrase in understanding the Catholic position is "its critical appreciation." Two senior Catholic cardinals, residing in Scotland and England respectively, wrote the preface. So the document has the official imprimatur of regional church authority.
Although clearly sympathetic to the Catholic point of view, Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent of The Times (London) summed up the overall effect: "The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church [in Britain] has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true" (Oct. 5, 2005).
One telling quotation from the document itself, titled The Gift of Scripture, is very revealing. "We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision." Although clearly claiming that Scripture is true when it comes to passages referring to salvation, the document continues: "We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in...secular matters" (The Catholic Truth Society, 2005).
Genesis, Exodus, Proverbs and Revelation
The book of Genesis in particular comes under heavy attack in this new teaching document issued in partial celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. For instance, the first and second chapters of Genesis are deemed contradictory rather than complementary.
Another disturbing statement is found on page 25 of The Gift of Scripture: "It became clear that the material found in these [first 11] chapters of Genesis could not simply be described as historical writing. Though they may contain some historical traces, the primary purpose was to provide religious teaching ( The Jewish People 27-28)." ( The Jewish People is an official Catholic document produced by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 2001 and is quoted several times as an authoritative source in The Gift of Scripture .)
Some events in the book of Exodus are also questioned. "The entry into the promised land is seen as a fulfillment of the divine promise, but the narratives raise serious theological questions" (p. 27). The book of Proverbs is also denigrated in this way: "Some proverbs are profound and weighty, while others are somewhat trivial" (p. 30).
Parts of the book of Revelation are viewed quite differently than a Bible student would understand them from a normal reading of this final book of Scripture—even taking the clearly identified symbolic portions into account. The booklet says: "Such symbolic language must be respected for what it is, and not be interpreted literally. We should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world" (p. 48).
We disagree; we have long emphasized the principle that the Bible interprets the Bible.
It is here that Catholic hierarchy embarks on some very dangerous ground. The closing passages of Revelation itself should be very instructive to everyone who reads and seeks to truly understand this biblical book. "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book... If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation:22:18-19). Sobering words indeed!
The Catholic bishops are responsible for teaching 5,000,000 lay members in England, Scotland and Wales. They would do well to reexamine the words of Jesus Himself in regard to these crucial matters. Our Savior personally authenticated the creation of the world and that of Adam and Eve, our first parents (see Mark:13:19; Matthew:19:4-5). Christ also clearly said, "The Scripture cannot be broken" (John:10:35).
The apostolic teaching of Paul and Peter
The apostles Paul and Peter add to the force of these sayings of Christ. Paul said that he believed all things that were written in the law and the prophets (Acts:24:14). He also told Timothy, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy:3:16).
The writers of The Gift of Scripture put a great deal of emphasis on what they term "the human dimension of Scripture." The apostle Peter directly contradicts this human reason. He was inspired to write: "Knowing this first [emphasizing its importance], that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter:1:20-21).
He wrote these words not long before his martyrdom. They emerge not only from his personal experience of being taught directly by Christ Himself, but also from several decades of his Christian life afterwards. These words were tested by long years of living experience. Under God's inspiration, this is the true testimony of an authentic apostle of Jesus Christ.
Christians do not have any biblical right to "cherry-pick" which portions of the Bible they deem to be true as opposed to other areas they view as questionable. All 66 books of the Bible (which constitute the Old and New Testaments) are the authentic and authoritative Word of God.
Do not draw unwarranted conclusions
The views of the British Catholic Church establishment may not fully represent those of the Vatican in Rome, other national Catholic hierarchies or even lay members in Britain. So we must be cautious not to draw unwarranted conclusions about the biblical beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church as a whole. Britain and Europe are becoming more and more secular and these national trends inevitably end up affecting church groups within those nations.
Also, many theologians have long promulgated the liberal beliefs described in The Gift of Scripture as noted in this article. They are not new. It is surprising, however, that any part of a church with such a long historical pedigree would embrace them.
If you would like to know and understand more about the compelling evidence that establishes the credibility of Scripture, please request our free booklet Is the Bible True? And to see how truly relevant the book of Revelation is, ask for The Book of Revelation Unveiled .
We also publish a free 12-lesson Bible Study Course , which gives students an overview of God's plan for mankind, as well as valuable instruction on how it applies in everyday life.
Lesson 2 in particular explains and emphasizes why the Bible is the Word of God. You can study the course online at gnmagazine.org, or you can receive printed copies by mail. WNP