Just for Catholics

The Canon and Infallibility

Question: How do you know that the books of Scripture are inspired? Only by the authority of the Catholic Church can we know with certainty which books belong to the Bible. All Christians must therefore submit to the authority of the Catholic Church.

Answer: There are several reasons why I believe that the Bible is inspired. First of all, I was influenced by the testimony and teaching of the church (the Roman Catholic Church in my childhood, and by the writings of godly Protestant authors later on) to a high esteem of the Bible. For this testimony I thank God. As I read the Bible for myself, I was greatly impressed by its doctrines. I was guided by its wisdom, smitten in my conscience and humbled before God. Believing its message I received eternal life, found peace with God, and joy unspeakable. I have experiential knowledge that the Bible is the Word of God; I drank the Water of Life, and it satisfied my thirsty soul.

Ultimately, I came to the full assurance that the Bible is the Word of God by the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart; for I, blinded by sin, could not perceive the light of the glory of Christ revealed in Scripture. He opened my eyes that I might see the beauty of His Word. Being one of His sheep, I hear the voice of my Shepherd. Or, if you like, being a child of the Father, I recognize my Father's voice.

And why, may I ask, do you believe that the books of the Bible are inspired?

Question I am greatly touched by your story yet it does not seem to satisfy. You wrote that 'as I read the Bible... I was greatly impressed by its doctrines. I was guided by its wisdom, smitten in my conscience and humbled before God. Believing its message I received eternal life, found peace with God, and joy unspeakable.' To this I will only add that a convert to the Islamic faith or the Mormon faith could say exactly the same thing about their 'inspired books', the Koran and the Book of Mormon. So, your subjective 'evidence' simply does not hold up as a firm assurance of the Bible's inspiration.

To your question, 'Why do I believe that the books of the Bible are inspired', I say that it is not only because of all the reasons you mentioned, but also through the constant witness of the Church over 2000 years. I believe that Jesus established a Church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. I believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church into all truth and this is why I believe in the inspiration of the Bible. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, infallibly recognized the canon. It is the same Church that, guided by the same Spirit, infallibly interprets it. That is why all should submit to the authority of the Catholic Church.

Answer Your purpose is to convince me about the infallibility of the Catholic Church, and that consequently I should submit to Romeís authority.

To do so, you ask me how I know that the books of the Bible are inspired. You are not satisfied with my reasons, not least because the evidence is subjective. In other words, youíre saying that thereís no other way to be sure about the canon unless I accept the authority of an infallible church.

It is curious that I gave personal reasons for my convictions, just as you have requested, but you immediately turned back to me protesting: 'That's all subjective!' Well, of course it is. Thatís exactly what you have asked me for!

I am not attempting to prove the Bibleís inspiration on the grounds of my subjective beliefs. The Bible is what it is apart from my convictions. Objective truth is independent of our beliefs. If the world denies that the Bible is true, so be it. The Bible is still the Word of God. Let God be true, and every man a liar. The sun still shines even if all the people of the world were blind.

It is true, of course, that Muslims and Mormons can say similar things about their books. That does not necessarily prove what is claimed; it just shows that people can be mistaken and deceived. This fearful reality greatly humbles my intellectual pride because I realize that it was not by my searching and understanding that I came to know God and His Word. The lost sheep did not find the Shepherd; it was the Good Shepherd who sought after and found the lost sinner. I can never thank God enough for opening my eyes to see and believe His Word.

Furthermore, you argue that the only sure foundation for our knowledge is the witness of an infallible Church. In other words, you reason this way:

  1. The Church is infallible.

  2. The Church states that the Bible is inspired.

  3. Hence, we can be sure that the Bible is inspired.

You probably don't realize that your argument about subjectivity can be applied with equal force to your position. When I ask you why you believe that the books of the Bible are inspired, you appeal to the constant witness of the church over 2000 years. Well and good. You can add that piece of valid evidence to the reasons in my list, for I too regard the witness of the church to be generally reliable and trustworthy (though not infallible). As a matter of fact, I also mentioned this reason in my answer. I wrote: 'First of all, I was influenced by the testimony and teaching of the church (the Roman Catholic Church in my childhood, and by the writing of godly Protestant authors later on) to a high and reverent esteem of the Bible.'

Your conviction that the Bible is inspired rests on your presupposition that the church is infallible. Can't you see that this is also subjective? How do you know for sure that the church is infallible? From a purely logical point of view, we cannot avoid an element of subjectivity.

You got yourself entangled in your own thesis. Remember your original aim, namely to convince me that the church is infallible? Now look where you place that proposition. You place it in as the first premise rather than at the conclusion of the argument. You did not prove that the church is infallible; youíre simply assuming that it is.

To complicate matters, you use the Bible to justify your presupposition on the infallibility of the church. Take a second look at your argument:

'I believe that Jesus established a Church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. I believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church into all truth and this is why I believe in the inspiration of the Bible.'

You start with a truth taken from the Bible, namely that Jesus established the church and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. And again, you take another truth from the Bible, namely that the Holy Spirit guides the church into all truth. But in all this youíre assuming that the Bible is inspired (otherwise you cannot be sure that what it teaches about the church is certainly true); and finally you come to the conclusion that the Bible is inspired. Thatís a classic example of circular argumentation. You are begging the question by tacitly assuming the truth of the conclusion ('the Bible is inspired') in the first premise ('the church is infallible because the inspired Bible so teaches').

Why don't you argue as follows instead, since your real intention is to prove the infallibility of the church?

  1. The Bible is the inspired Word of God.

  2. The Bible teaches that the church is infallible. [1]

  3. Therefore the church is infallible.

You don't have the courage to present your argument in this way. If you do, you must first of all assert your belief in the inspiration of the Bible apart from the infallibility of the Catholic Church! Of course, as a Roman Catholic, you cannot do that.

The convoluted argument for the infallibility and authority of the Roman Catholic Church, popularized by modern Catholic apologists, is both invalid and insincere.


Notes

[1] Contrary to the Catholic assertion that the church is infallible, the Bible teaches that the church is subject to many moral and theological errors. It is enough to recall the experience of the Galatian and Corinthian churches. The apostle Paul writes to correct their various doctrinal and practical mistakes. [back]

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