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PROTESTANT DOCTRINE OF PRIVATE BIBLE INTERPRETATION EXAMINED
 
Roman Catholicism teaches that scripture must be read in the light of Church teaching. Protestantism teaches you must decide for yourself what scripture is teaching. Protestantism takes this stance because it holds that the Bible alone has authority in religion. It denies the Catholic claim that the Church is infallible and has authority equal to the Bible.
 
Instead of the Bible being interpreted for you by the pope and his cronies, the Protestant faith believes that you have to read it and interpret it yourself in the light of divine guidance. If the Bible is the only authority in faith and morals like that faith asserts then it follows that every person has a duty to go straight to the book to learn about God and his will and to take nobody else’s word for anything. Protestantism uses scholars to understand the Bible but they say this is not a denial of private interpretation. God helps people understand his word and one can benefit from what God tells other people. If you agree with them, you are simply making their interpretation your own and it is still private interpretation.
 
It is more rational to do what Protestantism does and take the scholars into account instead of just letting the pope and the Roman curia tell you what to think about the Bible as if they were infallible psychics.
 
If the Bible is the only authority then each person is to read it for themselves for it says it can be understood by anyone with the help of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). To listen to another interpreter instead of studying it on your own would be making that person the supreme authority – which is also disobedient to God who warns that we must be careful for there are so many wolves in sheepskins about (Matthew 7:15).

The Bible itself says that certain portions of it are difficult to understand and have led some astray. 2 Peter 3:16 says this of Paul’s letters though Paul would have regarded this as unfair (2 Corinthians 1:13). (By the way, Ephesians 3:1-5 doesn’t say that all the apostles and the prophets wrote could be understood but only that the mystery of Christ they declare would be understood.) But if God’s revelation is hard to understand then it is hardly a revelation is it? A book that is not clear even in part is not the word of God. God says that he wants the Church to be one in agreement (1 Corinthians 1:10) so that means there is only one revelation but the Bible says several times that it is not difficult to understand. Matthew 15:8,9 says that our human opinions can make God reject us which tells us that the Bible must interpret itself and that is how we can understand it for to introduce foreign interpretation is adding to it.

Catholics argue that the obscurity of portions of the Bible and Peter’s declaration that no prophecy is a matter of one’s own interpretation (2 Peter 1:19-21) prove that the Protestant doctrine of private interpretation, that each person is to interpret the Bible on their own, is false. Catholics say, “The mysterious and vague nature of the Bible makes it require an infallible interpreter, the bishops and the pope, and such is needed when the Bible forbids private interpretation”. See Question 114, Radio Replies, Vol 1).

Protestants retort that they do not believe that one has the right to interpret scripture any way they wish. One must read everything in context and in the light of what the rest of scripture teaches and be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Private interpretation means learning from God what the Bible means. God has the power to tell you what an obscure passage means. If you misunderstand or have a different interpretation from somebody else that is your resistance to the Holy Spirit so it is humanity that causes divisions and not God. If the Catholics are honest, even if the Church is the authorised interpreter, the Church has changed many of the old interpretations because of new discoveries and new evidence which would indicate that the Church has no more power to understand the Bible than anybody else has. This would indicate that the Bible is not inspired at all when it can be obscure and confusing and when you need to be very clever to prove to yourself that it never contradicts itself and fits archaeology. You have to make sure that the book is the word of God before you have the right to believe in it for God said that he comes first and that he himself is the meaning of life.

The sects which disagree on the interpretation of the Bible can be said to be guilty of resisting the Holy Spirit. The schisms and arguments would not disprove private interpretation for people are reluctant to submit to God. The Catholic Church believes that God speaks to you and guides you directly when you read the Bible with a holy and open heart as much as Protestants do. The only difference is that the Catholic is to ignore the guidance if it conflicts with the pope and Protestants ignore it if it contradicts the Bible and commonsense (the latter to a small extent). There is much disagreement in the Catholic Church over Bible interpretation and it is so unfair that it condemns other religions for doing what it does itself and says it disproves private interpretation. If it disproves it and Protestantism then it disproves it in Roman Catholicism and Roman Catholicism too.

Since sinners can’t do real good for Jesus said bad fruit comes from bad trees. The good work of a sinner means, “I do this good not because it is good but because it just suits me for I am not giving up my sins. I want my cake and to eat it though I can’t do that”. The Bible says the saved always do some good works which only they are capable of. It follows that every saved person will have the power to do the best good work, give God’s light to others. So, if anybody who is saved does not agree with the real meaning of the word of God then that person is insincere and a fraud. The saved who believe themselves to be sincere cannot associate with those who differ from them on a religious level for that is making truth equal to error. You would have to know the Bible teaching on salvation before you could be saved for the Bible has to speak of salvation to you. To listen to a minister or whatever is not listening to God. Thus, the popular Protestant notion that a Roman Catholic can be a saved person in spite of being in a satanic Church is seriously mistaken.

Protestants hold that the obscure parts are just badly expressed by the author and when that happens God makes sure what he is putting into their heads is expressed clearly somewhere else in the Bible. How can an infallible interpreter be needed when the Catholic Church has only interpreted seven texts? Moreover, the Church says that this infallible interpretation does not involve psychic powers but she has to research the ordinary way and the conclusion is preserved against error. So when that is the way it goes about it why should the Church be granted a monopoly on Bible teaching?

The Catholic Church says that if private interpretation is God’s law then why can’t you judge books not to belong to your canon and drop them out? The Christian reply to this is that if you are really open to the Holy Spirit you will not do that for he will tell you he wrote the books through human authors. The Catholic Church will then respond to this by saying that every sect disagrees with the next and asking how do we know which one is being guided by the Spirit? But the Catholic Church itself says that faith in the Catholic Church has to be communicated privately to each individual by the Spirit in order for faith to appear. So what difference does it make? It isn’t teaching anything different in that from the sects. We see that the Church is surreptitiously claiming that the Holy Spirit should only be believed to be communicating grace to you if you are inclined to become or stay a Catholic. If the Holy Spirit is thought to guide those who are truly open to him, to the religion that is the truth, it is unfair to point to the disagreements among those who claim to follow him as evidence that private interpretation is bad news.
 
Catholics say you have to see the Bible as reliable and that its doctrine makes sense and then see that it speaks of an infallible Church and that leads you to the Catholic Church and to believe it when it says 72 books belong in the Bible and are without error (Catholicism and Fundamentalism, page 126, 127). This all involves private interpretation for you have to see these things for yourself. You have to invoke the Holy Spirit to help you. The Protestant doctrine of private interpretation is rejected though it is the foundation of the Catholic religion too! The Church has to hide its belief in it for the principle automatically gives you the right to form your own Church if you reach different conclusions from the Catholic Church and are convinced that you are open to the Spirit who wants you to take this action. That it is hid at all shows that Catholicism is too fond of power.

The answer to people who say that Private Interpretation is wrong for there were few Bibles before printing came in is that God meant the word to be read to the people.

The Bible is its own infallible interpreter. The Bible says that it can be understood without another infallible interpreter (Nehemiah 8:7, 12; 2 Corinthians 1:13). God would not write anything that could never be understood.

The Bible commands the Church to be united (1 Corinthians 1:10) which it would not do unless scripture has only one true interpretation which anyone who loves what is true can find. (It is people who create false interpretations not God.) If Rome is right to say that the Bible is too obscure at times to be much good then it is not the word of God for it says the Bible can be understood. The hard to understand bits can be understood when the rest of the Bible is studied. It seems unclear to the beginner like every book does but when one is careful and studious one can know what it teaches. God may guide the beginner to learn from those who have read and the beginner finds what they say in the Bible. Catholics sometimes say that nobody can work out what is in the Athanasian Creed about the Trinity from the Bible. This can be true without it meaning the Bible is not the sole word of God (despite page 24, Church and Infallibility). The Creed can be a help to see what the Bible means. The Trinity is a doctrine that cannot be expressed without confusing people.

It is not just the Christian who can interpret the Bible by the guidance of God. The unsaved can do this too for they cannot turn to Jesus for salvation unless God speaks to their hearts in his telepathic way. God might speak even to people he has predestined to damnation but the Bible says that the unsaved cannot understand the things of God.

The Bible and Christian history that the heart is deceitful above all else so you can think you are saved and not be. So, it would be arrogant and proud to claim to be able to interpret the Bible by divine power if only true Christians could do it.
 
TRADITION – THE INTERPRETER?

The Roman Catholic Church believes that tradition and the Bible are both the word of God and tradition must be used to find out what the Bible is about. The pope and the bishops have to interpret the Bible for you using this other source of revelation. The injustice of this is plain in the fact that the earliest traditions of the Church all taught that the Old Testament Law was full of symbolism and was not literally true - a form of interpretation that the Church vehemently rejects. For example, the commandment God gave Abraham to get physically circumcised was taken as saying get spiritually not physically circumcised. It was really twisting the whole book. The Epistle of Barnabas, which was considered part of the Bible by many early Christians, and the Epistle of Diognetus were the two most anti literal would-be scriptures. Tradition to a Catholic just means whatever is in the early days of the Church that agrees with the pope and the Church.

Vatican 2 declared that scripture and Tradition are the sources of divinely inspired doctrine and that both are to be revered with the same devotion and respect (On Revelation, Chapter 2:9). The Church has not made up its mind if Tradition adds to scripture or not (Lion Concise Book of Christian Thought, page 217). It is claimed that the Council of Trent taught that it did but that is disputed. The Traditions that Trent said were entitled to as much veneration as scripture seem to have been ones for practice like Sunday worship and the baptism of infants which were allegedly practiced since the apostles governed the Church (ibid 160). Therefore, it seems the decree cannot apply to traditions that cannot be traced back to the apostles or to unwritten doctrines. This means that the Church need not make the other traditions equal to the Bible and indeed should not and also that when the Catholic Church has gone on so long without tradition that is made equal to scripture it should use the Bible alone. But if Trent meant what the disputers say it meant then why didn’t it make this clear? The way it talks about tradition implies that it meant all the tradition and the fact remains that most Catholic doctrine that is regarded as infallible does not come from the Bible in any shape or fashion. The decree says that the Church is infallibly right when it “receives and venerates with an equal feeling of piety and reverence all the books of the Old and New Testament and also the traditions relating as well to faith as to morals” (page 63, Roman Catholic Claims). By implication this condemns birth-control as well and makes all the tradition that Trent had in mind infallible dogma. You see that the decree is a lot clearer than the critics would have you believe.

How could a Church that does not even know if its doctrines like the Immaculate Conception – to pick one out of many – are Tradition or not be infallible when it says the Immaculate Conception is true? A doctrine has to be Tradition or equal to Scripture if not better than it to be infallible. And it can’t be better for the Church never said that though it treated it as better.

Roman doctrine says, “All our doctrines are true including those that are not taught in scripture for they have come down to us from the apostles in the form of tradition. They have come from those who knew what the Bible was all about and what agreed with it.”

Protestant critics of Catholicism are more anxious than they should be to show that Catholic doctrines originated long after apostolic times. But it doesn’t really matter when they started. Why?

A doctrine could easily have been made up by some old fraud a week after or even before the last of the apostles died and then attributed to an apostle so no matter how early a tradition is it is no good for there is no guarantee that it originated with an apostle and the Bible predicts great opposition to the truth even from inside the Church. It shows that it is risky to depend on tradition and that God would not want you to.

The Roman Church cannot teach that tradition is a good enough authority on its own but only accept it in so far as it concurs and sheds more light on Bible revelation. But this would mean that tradition would have to be implied by scripture before it could be accepted. In that case, why have tradition when common-sense would do? Rome can’t admit it would for its tradition is more than just things that are implicit in the Bible.

The Church admits that much tradition is nonsense and it takes the rest to be God’s word. But when it is up to a man and other men to decide which of its traditions are genuine the Roman Catholic ends up in a pit of dishonesty. It is not honest to argue that the pope and Church identify divine tradition and that this tradition shows that they are of divine institution - it is the lie of circular reasoning. There is just no reason why anyone who holds that the pope and the Church are the authority should start to doubt this.

The Church censures all traditions that conflict with scripture (Radio Replies, First Volume, page 125) so ones that do not are okay. But anyone can create doctrines that can be said to be complimentary to and not contrary to scripture. For example, you can teach that the Virgin is the fourth person of the Godhead for the Bible mentions three but does not say there are only three. If the Bible was meant to be interpreted by external material such as the teaching of a pope or an alleged prophet or whatever then we can make it mean what we like to a tremendous extent. For example, when Jesus said that there was a rock he would build the Church on and you agree with Catholic tradition that he thereby meant the pope your vision of the text is coloured. You can’t let it speak for itself. The Bible does not contain rules for every moral question, rightly or wrongly, it says that armed with its general guidance we can work out God’s will so it turns out that we don’t need them.

Tradition is superior to the Bible in the Catholic Church no matter what it would have you believe. The Bible is interpreted by Tradition and since the interpreter is more important than the interpreted Tradition is superior. If Tradition is man-made the result will be a Bible with perverted teachings.

When you interpret a book in accordance with something else you are concealing its true meaning. For example, if tradition said the Bible meant that Jesus was only symbolically God then that would destroy the Bible doctrine of his deity (assuming it teaches his deity like Christendom says it does). In Catholicism, tradition is above the Bible for it determines its meaning and the Vatican is above tradition for it picks the traditions its prefers and enforces acceptance of those on the multitudes. Look how it dropped the universal and constant tradition that opposed ecumenism! Rome now declares that dead unbaptised babies will not suffer the agony of Hell forever though the constant tradition says they do (Vicars of Christ, page 461).

When Rome drops traditions and makes changes she is not only declaring that God is her inferior but she is also saying that the Catholic faith itself is putty in her hands! You cannot have the Vatican and have a real Catholic faith. Your Church is being untruthful to you when she says that divine tradition is that tradition that she has always taught.

Vatican II claimed that tradition was not superior to the Bible for it and scripture are to be accepted as being entitled to the same devotion (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Chapter 2, Part 9) but that is a fib.

When religion is full of doctrines that cannot be understood Roman Catholicism is able to say what she likes to a great extent and call her contradictory doctrines coherent truths that we cannot understand. She says that her understanding of truth always needs improvement so this is her excuse. She is able to reconcile any absurd traditions with the Bible as long as she teaches the importance of mystery.

The authority of Tradition presupposes the Church having the power to be infallible not some of the time but all the time. That is the only way Tradition can be safe so the pope and the infallible councils are superior to both. The pope is now superior to the councils for he must summon them and decide who attends them. It makes one wonder about the councils that were never convened by popes at all.
 
THE PRINTING PROBLEM

Catholics scoff at Private Interpretation or the idea that the Bible is the only authority in religion, because the Bible could not be read by the public until the invention of printing which made Bibles more available. Until then Bibles were hand-written and expensive and too valuable to be handled by just anybody. But the inaccessibility is not the Bible’s fault. If the Bible alone rules then you can’t follow what anybody says about it but must go to the book itself. If the Church really believed that, she would make theologians of everybody so that they could go to the magisterium or dogma-maker of the Church instead of listening to people who do it for them to avoid people following interpretations of the word of God rather than the word of God.

Obviously, if this print argument against the Bible as the only rule of faith is right, then these apostles who invented the principle of Bible alone did not expect Christians to outnumber copies of the Bible. They believed the Church would never end on earth so they must have expected the end of the world to be just some years, or less, away. The Protestant revival of the Bible-only doctrine would prove the dishonesty of the so-called reformers for they only had to open their eyes to see that it was wrong. But the argument is wrong for Private Interpretation applies to those who know the Bible and not just to those who read it. Hearing the Bible read would not stop you from interpreting it for yourself. The Church always read the Bible to the people and quoted it in her books. The argument that the people could not have had no Bibles and so private interpretation had to be wrong is dishonest.

If the Church kept the Bible from the people it is no disproof of private interpretation for that was not what God intended and not his fault. Without printing the essential portions of the Bible could have been written on stone in every diocese so that everybody could read or have them read out.

 “If God intended the Bible to be the sole rule of Faith - as Faith is necessary for salvation and as God “wishes all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of truth” - His divine providence should have secured:
1st. That every man should have become possessed of a Bible.
2nd. That every man should know that his was a copy of the Bible.
3rd. That each one should be certain that he rightly interpreted his Bible.
4th. That the adoption of the Bible, as the sole Rule of Faith, should conduce to unity of Faith, purity of morals, and the promotion of Divine Worship.

But as the Providence of God has not secured any of these results, we legitimately conclude that the Bible is not the Sole Rule of Faith, for all men could not become possessed of a Bible” (page 15, 16, Lectures and Replies). But the same author would hypocritically reject the argument, “If God meant all to be Christians he would have made sure that all men at least heard of Christ.” His Catholicism would tell him that God wants the whole world won for Christ.

This argument contradicts itself. He quotes the Bible as saying that God wants all to know the truth. In that case, even if it is not enough on its own everybody should and would have a copy if his first deduction is correct. His objection does not work and denies that the Bible has ANY authority at all. Though books were cheap in the Roman Empire (page xx, Roman Catholic Claims) they would still have been too expensive and hard to provide for nearly every family.

The Catholic Church holds that the Bible cannot be enough for you because you need another authority to tell you that it is God’s word. Bible Christians claim that reason and investigation does that but Catholics want you to think it is the allegedly infallible Catholic Church though then they would say that the Church reasoned its way to the belief it declared infallible. The second deduction is a lie for both sides use reason. Or is the Archbishop saying that since the Church has done the thinking for us we know the Bible is true? That is wrong and dangerous. And the Bible forbids it for the Bible itself is saying that we must come to it and see that it is the word of the Lord.

The Catholic Church has infallibly interpreted only seven brief texts of the Bible (page 8-9, How to Interpret the Bible). The Catholic is as free as a Protestant with regard to the rest. The Church raises a storm about private interpretation for nothing. What is the point of it when there are only seven paltry texts that have been infallibly interpreted? It is wrong to say that if the Bible alone were the authority we would have an infallible interpretation of it. You can make mistakes in interpreting the interpretation so mistakes cannot be completely avoided. Therefore, the Bible could be the only authority if mistakes about it are made. And more so if it is up to God to help you interpret.

There is one true and logical interpretation (naturally the simplest one) of the Bible and if we do not find it we have not tried hard enough so it is laziness that is to blame for error and church splits and not the Bible.

If the Bible can’t be supreme authority because it led to disunity then it can’t be an authority at all when the Catholic Church is full of schisms with each group saying it is the true Church and that Catholicism is schismatic.
 
THE BIBLE ON TRADITION

Unlike Protestantism, Roman Catholicism does not derive its doctrines from the Bible alone but from Tradition as well. Tradition with a capital T is the word of God.

The Catholic argument that since the Bible sometimes speaks well of tradition and treats it as authoritive, tradition must be an additional authority to the Bible is untenable because the Bible never says tradition is the other authority. Those traditions might have been divinely inspired and might have been incorporated into and enshrined in scripture alone is they were. The Bible started off as inspired traditions which were written down.

And it may be true that there are inspired traditions outside the Bible but that does not mean that we have to rely on them or are meant to. The Bible never tells us to listen to tradition outside its teaching. It was different to take tradition as the word of God during the apostles’ day for they infallibly discerned the infallible ones but it is too risky to do so now. The Bible is complete so there is no need to.

If a lot of important answers are left out of the Bible does that prove that tradition is needed and complements the Bible? It does not when the Bible does not tell us who has the accurate tradition.

Jesus’ condemnation of tradition only forbids non-inspired tradition (Matthew 15) so it is not proof that the Bible alone must be heeded. It does not prove that Catholic tradition is bad or fraudulent either. But the Bible warns that most people will tend towards apostasy and Jesus and the apostles warned about heretics implying that even if tradition was accepted as a parallel authority to the Bible it could not be depended on once the overseers, the apostles, were gone. So the context of Jesus’ condemnation strongly suggests that only tradition that ends up as scripture should be followed.

Catholics suppose that Isaiah 59:21 in which God says his word will be in the mouths of his people forever is a prediction about the Catholic Church which teaches by word of mouth and not only by a book. Tradition is what is handed down by word of mouth and this verse is supposed to teach the Catholic doctrine. But if the word were to be in a book alone Isaiah would still have written these words.

1 Peter 1:25 is supposed to prove that the Church will preach infallible tradition, that is not in scripture, forever. It is reasoned that it says that the word of God endures forever and must be the preaching meaning the oral tradition of the Church for the New Testament was far from finished. But if the Church follows the Bible and this book is the only inspired authority used the Church can still preach the word of God that endures forever. This verse gives no grounds for the notion of tradition as endorsed in the Catholic Church. And if some of the New Testament had been written and since there was an Old Testament there is no need for imagining it means the Church teaching at all.

John 21:23 gives an example of a tradition that thrived in the early Church that was wrong. The tradition promised that an apostle would live forever on earth and be the oracle of God to the Church and so late in the first century John had to attack it. This was a very serious blunder – at least it proves that the early Church did not have a pope to correct error especially when Peter had died long before – and shows that tradition is dangerous and the Church is not safe from nonsensical traditions.

The apostle Paul declared that what would become the great apostasy had started (2 Thessalonians 2) so how could we trust tradition? Tradition was the only excuse the apostates would have had for altering the faith. The apostles claimed to have given the final revelation.

The Bible predicts that most of the people calling themselves Christians would abandon the faith one day and speaks of the awesome power of Satan to delude (2 Thessalonians 2:3 – it speaks of a “great falling away” or apostasy). It says that false teachings and fabricated apostolic traditions were already being concocted while the apostles were alive under the guidance of Satan (2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2). Obviously, even if a tradition could be traced back to the lifetime of the apostles it does not mean that it is a revelation of God. Catholicism illogically assumes the reverse. The Devil might have created the traditions Catholics speak of and the papacy.
 
In Matthew 12 Jesus said that when demons are cast out and can find no home for there is nobody left to possess they will go back to the man they have left and if he is open to their influence they will take worse demons than themselves with them to possess him and that will happen to Jesus’ evil generation. Generation is a general word that certainly indicates that most or nearly all if not all will be taken over by evil. This implies firstly that oral tradition or what isn’t in writing is dangerous and the demons have the knowledge and power to pull off a seemingly foolproof deception and it implies that the New Testament could well be a demonic fabrication and that only books you are 100% sure of can be considered to be God’s word. But no such books exist and Jesus really shot himself in the foot.

When the Bible warns of a great apostasy and makes it clear that the world will be generally involved – meaning the vast majority so it is practically the whole world so even most Christians will be traitors though they might continue to infest the Church. Church traditions are most likely to be diabolical or fraudulent in origin and we have to avoid them.
 
Conclusion
 
We shouldn’t believe the claim of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to be equal in authority to scripture when it wants to be.
 
WORKS CONSULTED

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS CATHOLICS ARE ASKING, Tony Coffey, Harvest House Publishers, Oregon ,2006 
Catholicism and Christianity, Cecil John Cadoux, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1928
Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Karl Keating, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1988
Encyclopaedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason W Archer, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982
Evangelical Catholics, A New Phenomenon, Stanley Mawhinney, Christian Ministries Incorporated, Dundrum, Dublin, 1992
How to Interpret the Bible, Fr Francis Cleary, SJ, Ligouri, Missouri, 1981
Lectures and Replies, Thomas Carr, Archbishop of Melbourne, Australian Catholic Truth Society, Melbourne, 1907
Lions Concise Book of Christian Thought, Tony Lane, Lyon, Herts, 1984
PAPAL SIN, STRUCTURES OF DECEIT, Garry Wills, Darton Longman and Todd, London, 2000
Reason and Belief, Bland Blanschard, London, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1974
Roman Catholic Claims, Charles Gore, Longmans, London, 1894
Secrets of Romanism, Joseph Zachello, Loizeaux Brothers, New Jersey, 1984
The Bible Does Not Say So, Rev Roberto Nisbet, Church Book Room Press, London, 1966
The Church and Infallibility, BC Butler, The Catholic Book Club, London, undated
Traditional Doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church Examined, Rev CCJ Butlin, Protestant Truth Society, London
Vicars of Christ, Peter de Rosa, Corgi, London, 1993
Whatever Happened to Heaven? Dave Hunt, Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon, 1988

BIBLE QUOTATIONS FROM:
The Amplified Bible