Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Joys of the Bible seen Through Catholic Eyes

The Bible is so Catholic! 

As a Protestant, I thought I knew the Bible. After all, I had been reading it since I could read. When I was twelve years old I started collecting Bible translations and even spent my birthday money in 8th grade on a RSV pocket Bible I could carry around in my purse.You see, I love and have always loved Jesus and to me the Bible has always been the infallible, precious, God-breathed WORD! I never placed anything on top of it. I carried it everywhere I went. It was my physical connection to my dearest and best friend. I have worn out several Bibles from reading and underlining them. 

Yes, I did indeed know the words written on the page. I understood the historical context and knew the Protestant scholar's commentary as well as had my lexicon and study books all around me as I studied scripture. Since 1997, I arise at 5:30 am each morning to have my special time with Jesus. I even began wearing a veil over my head that year in obedience to Paul's command that women have their heads covered in prayer. I loved obedience to His Word.

Now that I am Catholic, I am humbled by what I read (and what I thought I knew!) --- I was seeing correctly, but I wasn't seeing it all. Like some kind of magic eye picture, I knew what was printed on the page, but it was only when I became Catholic and I was taught how to read scripture that the amazing picture blossomed in front of my eyes and I could see the picture that the words were trying to get at--the meaning and form. 

For example, this morning I read I Corinthians 4 in response to a Protestant's argument of sola scriptura and found things I had never seen before. What they don't see, and I wouldn't have seen as a Protestant is this chapter in actuality is imbibed with Catholic theology. This chapter is so Catholic. Lets look at it: 
1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.  (Here we see that not all things were written down. Some people were entrusted with the secret things of God. Not all of us are chosen to be the shepherds. God chose some men to be His authorities.)

2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (If you are entrusted to be His authority, you are not allowed to slide and live in a presumption. As God's authorities, a faith-alone belief is not enough. You must prove faithful!)
3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. (This is a very interesting passage. Paul, as God's chosen authority is not worrying if others see him as God's authority. He doesn't even judge his worthiness and faithfulness as God's authority himself. He is relying upon a different system than individual or civil judgments.)
4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. (What? Paul says that his conscience is clear but he cannot trust EVEN HIS OWN CONSCIENCE!!  Our consciences can deceive us into thinking we are innocent, but in fact we are not! So, if he cannot trust himself, or others who will be be trustworthy and how can any of us know?)

5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. 

(Again, this is confusing. Paul is saying that the Corinthians are not to judge the faithfulness of God's servants until the final judgement? So then how do we know just who is God's authority? If I can't trust my own conscience to judge, if I am not to judge as an individual then who gets to judge and know if a person is God's faithful servant? This is terribly confusing in a world where preachers claim to teach the Word of God authoritatively each week at the pulpit. We can't judge them and they can't judge themselves? But I thought we were supposed to judge them by their fruit? )

6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." 

Note: This is extraordinary in that Paul is not quoting scripture here. He is perhaps quoting from an oral tradition, not necessarily even a Jewish tradition! He may be quoting the pagans. Scholars are unsure as to whom Paul is quoting! So Paul is going outside scripture to say that we should not go beyond what is written. And we are not even sure about which "written" works to which Paul is referring as the quote is not explicitly referring to scripture. And this verse cannot be speaking of the Bible since the New Testament was a couple centuries from being codified. Paul wouldn't be saying don't go beyond the Old Testament or that would be saying that the letter he was writing to the Corinthians would be technically "beyond scripture."

Now this is either a deep irony and Paul is contradicting himself by doing just what he says not to, or he is saying something--not about sola scriptura but about pride! 

The entire letter to the Corinthians is urging unity and not pitting Christian leaders against each other. Paul is telling his audience that he and Apollos have applied the test of faithful Christian authority to themselves. Because they are the leaders they have remained faithful for the benefit of those to whom they preach. 

In the end, Paul is saying to take Paul's word for it. He and Apollos are faithful authorities, not because of what they themselves think or even what the regular church members think (his audience.) Paul considers himself the authority because God, through the Apostles ordained him--even though he doesn't explicitly say that here. (Although he had already taken the time to explain this in the first two chapters of his letter to the Galatians.)

They are NOT saying to the audience, "go to scripture yourself and interpret it--then don't do anything beyond what is written." That is far from what Paul is saying as he is actually saying quite the opposite. He is saying that when you listen to us--WE ARE TEACHING YOU the meaning of the saying "don't go beyond what is written."

The meaning of the quote is being learned not from scripture itself but from the life and teachings of Paul and Apollos. You as sheep are learning from the shepherds --they are the examples of it and you then follow the shepherd’s example! The shepherds are to be an example of not going beyond what is written. It is not taking away our shepherds, but our shepherds are supposed to show us what it means. 

This text is by not pitting sola scriptura against church structure and church authority, in fact, it supports it!

The context is pride--pridefully pitting one shepherd against the other--Paul against Apollos. To pit God's appointed shepherds against one another is what is beyond what scripture teaches! It is not saying that everything God's shepherds teach must be written in the Bible and it is not setting up the doctrine of sola scriptura or that the Bible is the final authority. 

Of course we know the Bible is an authority to God's leaders--for Paul says so himself to Timothy. (II Tim. 3: 16) But this passage cannot be used to prove sola scriptura. He will continue to back up his own authority as we continue the chapter.
Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. 

Don't have sects....

7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? 
The sheep received it from the shepherd! No one can brag that they received it themselves either from their own imagination or directly put there from the Holy Spirit or even from a book!
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings--and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. 14 I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 
Here Paul is taking on father role! He is the father of his Christian children. This is not pointing to the Bible as usurping or removing his position as leader.
15 Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 
Why we Catholics call our priests "father."

16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. 18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?

Does this sound as if Paul is authorizing sola scriptura? No, Paul is not sending a book to lead them but a man. Paul gives the church leaders the authority. How can he do that? Because God appointed Paul and anointed him through the apostles. Paul wasn't self-appointed, but God appointed through the established church. 


As I read scripture, I now see that at every turn it supports Catholic teaching. This example is a daily occurrence--seeing a deeper and broader, a more historical and logical approach to scripture. Not on my own, but through the teachings of the church. After all, they are 2000 years old and we have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of theological giants. The view is so much clearer from here!


Stephen Korsman said...

What does "DO not go beyond what is written" mean? We know who should tell us, but I don't see the answer anywhere ... or am I missing it?

Teresa Beem said...

Paul's letter to the Corinthians is all about unity--avoiding factions that follow a certain leader, in pride pitting one leader against another.

Paul responds by telling them that faithful Christian leaders do not compete. He admonishes them to look at Apollos and himself how they model the adage "don't go beyond what is written."

My guess is that it was a local oral tradition of the Jewish Corinthians--since this is the only place we can find Paul using it--or anyone for that matter.

All I can figure out is that was a colloquialism having to deal with pride.

If it were a reference about the Jewish scriptures, then it might be referring to all the added laws of the scribes and Pharisees--who Jesus had to reprimand for their pride.

It is a passage that has puzzled Christians for centuries--both Protestant and Catholic.

But we can know that the passage does NOT back up Sola Scriptura.