Faith

Why do Catholics focus so much on the church rather than just on the Bible?

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Earlier this month, I wrote an article about classes at Saint Bernard for people interested in becoming Catholic. As a follow up, I would like to write a series of articles on common questions people ask about Catholicism. These articles are not meant to proselytize, but simply to give an explanation to any interested inquirers.

The first question is why Catholics focus so much on the Church and not just on the Bible:

I will admit that when I was a kid growing up Catholic, I was sometimes jealous of my friends who attended other churches. I used to love learning bible stories and sometimes I wished that at my church I was able to learn about the Bible. Unfortunately, Catholics tend to have a reputation for not knowing the Bible as well as our Protestant brothers and sisters. This truly is unfortunate and I think Catholics can learn a lot from how Protestants do such a good job of studying the Bible.

However, this lack of knowledge on the part of Catholics is not because the Catholic Church doesn’t appreciate the Bible. As a matter of fact, nearly all Catholic traditions and teachings are rooted in the Bible, including everything that happens at Mass on Sunday. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church disagrees with Protestant churches who believe in Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura means that you believe the Bible is the supreme authority on the teachings of God. As Catholics, we do see the Bible as authoritative, but not as the only and supreme authority. We believe this because of the simple fact that as the Bible itself teaches, Jesus didn’t come to found a book; he came to found a church. As a matter of fact, for the first few centuries of Christianity, the New Testament had not been put together yet, but only existed as individual writings. It was the Catholic Church who ultimately made the decision on which books were included in the Bible and which ones weren’t.

This doesn’t mean that the Catholic Church disagrees with anything in the Bible. It doesn’t — if it did, then those books wouldn’t have been included in the first place. The Church just recognizes that before there was a Bible there was the church, and it is the church who put it together. Therefore, it is actually the church which is the supreme authority, but it is not as if the two are in conflict at all.

By the way, if you have ever wondered why Catholic Bibles have more books than Protestant Bibles, here is why: When the Protestant Reformation took place in the 1500’s and people started breaking off from the Catholic Church, there was a debate about seven books of the Old Testament. Some reformers, including Martin Luther, noticed that the Rabbinic Jews of his day did not include those seven books in their version of the Old Testament. So, he removed them from his Bible. He presumed the Catholic Church had added them in after the days of Jesus. However, he was incorrect. Modern scholars acknowledge that there was no consensus among the Jews of Jesus’ day on which books should be considered inspired and which ones not. Nevertheless, from the earliest days of the Church, those seven books were considered inspired by the Catholic Church and that is why they have always been included in the Bible. It was not until the Protestant Reformation that Christians stopped including those books in their Bibles. That’s why Catholic Bibles have more books: it is just those seven books of the Old Testament. With regard to the New Testament, the list of books is the same in Catholic and Protestant Bibles.

 

Father Michael Bower can be reached at m.bower@stbernardcville.org or by calling the parish office at 765-362-6121.

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