Just for Catholics

The Authority of the Bible

Question: The Church gives authority to the Bible. Several councils, the Councils of Hippo and Carthage to name two, gave testimony to the veracity of Scripture.

Answer: I don’t see how the church ‘gives authority’ to the Bible by witnessing to its veracity. The Bible is authoritative because it is the inspired Word of God, whatever anyone says about it. I do not impart beauty to the Mona Lisa by my admiration and praise. Nor do I add value to the crown jewels by recognizing their worth. In the same way, we do not give authority to the books of the Bible by recognizing them as the Word of God.

It is true that during the first centuries, Christians endeavoured to identify the canon of the New Testament (i.e. the books that make up the Holy Bible). Previously, God enabled the Jews to recognize the canonical books of the Old Testament. God, who inspired the Scriptures, made sure that His people would possess and acknowledge His Book. Though Christians and their leaders are fallible and liable to make mistakes, yet God's providence guaranteed that their decisions were correct. Christ's people recognize the Word of their Master. 'The sheep hear his voice…a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers…and they shall hear my voice…My sheep hear my voice' (John 10).

I wonder what’s the point of your bold assertion that the church gives authority to the Bible. Is it perhaps to show that the Roman Catholic Church has authority over the Bible or that the Bible was given by the Catholic Church? Roman Catholic apologists often make the above claims, but it could be shown that both are false.

1. The Roman Catholic Church does not have authority over the Bible.

Since the Bible is the Word of God (whether we believe it or not), how can mere men give authority to the Word of their Creator and Lord? Even the Roman Catholic Church does not assume this proud position in its official writings. 'Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 86). Can a servant give authority to his master? Of course not! Neither can the church give authority to the Word of her Lord.

2. The Bible was not given by the Catholic Church.

The Bible is inspired by God: is not given by the church, but to the church. Catholic apologists are so eager to elevate the authority of their church, that they even flatly contradict the teaching of their own church. The First Vatican Council declared:

The books the church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the church.

The Scriptures are the rule of faith because they are the Word of God and not because they were approved by the authority of the church. So much for the idea that the church gives authority to the Bible, or that the church gave the Bible!

Having said that, I must add a very important remark. Though it is technically incorrect to say that the Church gives authority to the Bible, yet your statement certainly captures the spirit of Catholicism. With a false sense of humility, the Vatican professes that 'the magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is it's servant,' when in practice the Roman magisterium exalts itself to the highest. None can challenge their teaching by appealing to the Bible, since they claim that only the magisterium can interpret the Scriptures correctly. Moreover, the magisterium can always fall back on 'Sacred Tradition' as the divine source of their teaching. Since no one knows the contents of this Tradition apart from the teaching of the magisterium, they have a free hand to teach whatever they fancy.

How else can Rome justify her theological novelties, such as auricular confession, universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome, and the Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption? How can Rome legislate regulations such as celibacy and feasts of obligation without Biblical warrant unless it suppresses the ultimate authority of the Word of God?

Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A