The Bible and Roman Catholicism
The Scrutiny of Catholic Dogma from a Biblical Perspective
"As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him." 1 John 2:27
I once interacted with a former Protestant-turned-Catholic on the subject of "How can we know the truth in spiritual / biblical / ecclesiastical matters?" More specifically, "Who has a greater claim to truth? Protestants or Catholics?"
I as a Bible-believing Christian believe that the Scriptures are the only authoritative, authentic determiner of truth. It is the Scriptures that are able to give us "the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15). It is "all Scripture" [that] "is inspired by God" ["God-breathed"] (2 Tim. 3:16). It is Scripture that is "...profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16) "so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17).
The Catholic with whom I was interacting assents to what Paul wrote in 2 Tim. 3:15-17. But he doesn't stop there. He immediately questioned who has the right to interpret what Paul and other writers of Scripture wrote. Here is an exact quote from him: "Everything for me comes down to criteria: Who decides what the Bible says, and on what principled and authoritative basis?" He continued, "...I am not interested in ... dogmatic claims of the 'The Bible says' variety (since whether or not it actually does so, and how we determine that, is precisely the point under discussion). Everything for me comes down to criteria: Who decides what the Bible says, and on what principled and authoritative basis." He queried further, "... Why is it that Protestants think we should trust interpreters who lived fifteen centuries removed from Christ and the apostles over those who rubbed shoulders directly with the apostles and whose interpretive legacy passed to their successors and is available to us today?" He proceeded to imply, though he did not use these words, that I was filled with hubris for thinking I had the audacity to understand and interpret Scriptures myself.
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I know exactly where my Catholic contact is coming from. Here is the official position of the Catholic Church. Scripture is authoritative of course, but so is Catholic Church tradition. In fact, the two of them meld together into a continuous, compatible, and authoritative stream of truth. And only certain church officers have legitimate authority to interpret Scripture. Let me document what Catholics believe:
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So how does this affect the conversation that introduced the beginning of this article?
First, Ezra was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:1). He had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel (Ezra 7:10). You qualify to interpret the Scripture if you set out to become skilled in it. If you have a heart to study the Scripture, to practice the Scriptures, and to teach the Scriptures, you have the authority to interpret Scripture. That doesn't mean your interpretations will always be correct. But everything else being equal, if you follow in the footsteps of Ezra, you should be a fairly reliable interpreter of Scripture.
Second, Timothy's mother and grandmother had a good enough grasp of Scripture to teach him and lead him to faith in Christ. Instead of Rome's insistence that only the top-most officers of the official hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church are qualified, the Scriptures teach something entirely different. Here, two Godly women, a grandmother and a mother, Lois and Eunice, each of whom had a sincere faith (2 Tim. 1:4-5) had a good understanding of Scripture themselves. And uneducated as they were by today's standards, they were skilled enough to interpret the Scriptures correctly and pass on their sincere faith to Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5). From childhood, through his mother and his grandmother, Timothy had known the sacred writings which are able to give the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15). Parents and grandparents can be skilled enough to interpret Scripture and pass it on profitably to their own children and grandchildren.
Third, every Christian possesses the "Anointing" of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20, 27). It is the Holy Spirit who immerses every believer into the Body of Christ the moment each believes in Jesus (1 Cor. 12:13). At the same time, each believer receives the Holy Spirit within Himself (1 Cor. 12:13). In fact, if one does not possess the Holy Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to the Messiah (Rom. 8:9).
In 1 John 2:18-28, John wrote to his readers about remaining in fellowship. John wrote about the implications of departure from the Apostolically-led Christian fellowship (1 John 2:18-19). John told his readers that they were in "the last hour" (1 John 2:18). Consequently, there were already many antichrists present (1 John 2:18). These antichrists had left the fellowship of the Apostles (1 John 2:19), but this merely demonstrated they were not legitimate Christians in the first place (1 John 2:19).
The basis for remaining in fellowship with Christ and His Apostles was possession of the "anointing" – the Holy Spirit. Though the antichrists did not possess the anointing, true believers do possess the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Consequently they could all discern between spiritual truth and spiritual error (1 John 2:20-21). The antichrists did not possess the Holy Spirit and thus they themselves were deceived and were deceiving others (1 John 2:22-23).
The method of remaining in fellowship was continued faith in Christ's promise. In order to remain in fellowship, John's readers were to let Jesus' promise of eternal life abide within them (1 John 2:24-25).
The equipment for remaining in fellowship was the possession of the anointing, the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:26-27). John did not want his readers to be deceived (1 John 2:26). He assured them that the anointing of the Holy Spirit was remaining within them (1 John 2:27). For that reason they did not even really need human teachers (1 John 2:27). The anointing, i.e. the Holy Spirit, teaches them all things. There is veracity and reliability there. The content of the teaching of the anointing was to keep on remaining in Jesus (1 John 2:27, 28). It was important for them to remain in Jesus so that when Jesus was revealed at His Second Coming, they would not shrink away from Him in shame (1 John 2:28).
I say all that to say this: On a certain basic level, it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us the reality of who Jesus Christ is. We don't need any human teachers to teach us that. The Holy Spirit is quite adequate.
Now rest assured, this is not all the New Testament has to say about teaching and interpreting the Scriptures. But it is important as well as very basic to know and appreciate the fact that any and every Christian has the ability to understand and to believe spiritual truth. The Holy Spirit is a far better teacher than many who claim to be experts.
Fourth, there is evidence that even Jewish people who are willing to receive the truth of the Good News about Jesus are able to search and understand Scripture, even before they become full-fledged believers in Jesus (Acts 17:10-12).
On Paul's Second Missionary Journey, he and Silas arrived at the Macedonian town of Berea (Acts 17:10). As soon as possible, the pair made their way to the local synagogue (Acts 17:10). Luke, the author of Luke-Acts, made an editorial comment about the receptiveness of the people of the Berean synagogue. His observation was based on a comparison between the synagogue at the previous city, Thessalonica, and this one here in Berea. He said that those in Berea were more noble than those at Thessalonica (Acts 17:11). This is because they received the word (I take it this means Paul and Silas' preaching) with great eagerness. Moreover, they examined the OT Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was preaching was true or not (Acts 17:11). On account of their eager receptiveness and their diligent search of the OT Scriptures, many of the Jewish synagogue members believed in Jesus (Acts 17:12). Along with Israelis, a number of notable Greek men and women attending the synagogue also believed (Acts 17:12).
This paragraph is most instructive on who is qualified to interpret.
Roman Catholicism's approach at times through the centuries has been nothing but tragic. They start with the mindset that the unwashed masses are unable to read and understand Scripture for themselves. Or perhaps more accurately, the leaders are afraid that if the masses interpret Scripture for themselves, they will do their own thinking and not agree with what the Catholic leadership has predetermined they must believe. So the masses, the "hoi polloi," need the elite, the educated, the experts, the Roman Catholic Church Hierarchy to interpret the Scriptures for them to keep them on the reservation. See, for example, the off-site article, "The Bible Forbidden to the Laity."
Fifth, the Holy Spirit has gifted certain individuals in the Universal Church with the gift of teaching the Scriptures (Acts 13:1; Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28, 29; Eph. 4:11).
The standard of truth is the Scripture (not Church tradition, and not the "Magisterium" of the Roman Catholic Church, nowhere mentioned in Scripture).
Jesus prayed for unity for His Church. He prayed that God would sanctify the Church through the truth. He further identified what constituted the truth: "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). He did not cite Church tradition at all.
I maintain that there remains an essential unity of the True Church, the Universal Body of Christ. This Church is the mystical Body of Christ, which, by definition, cannot be externally organized. We humans on earth cannot possibly organize the Universal Church, the Body of Christ. We can organize local manifestations of the Universal Church in different cities and towns. If truth is sacrificed, external unity will suffer greatly. But the unity of the Universal Body of Christ, the Universal Church, is essential. It cannot be compromised or lost. However, the unity of the external manifestations of the Body of Christ can be greatly compromised by doctrinal error. That is what prompted the Reformation. Protestants did not start up another Universal Church. They reformed and refined, at least to an extent the Universal Body of Christ. And of course, externally, they divided from the unbiblical control of the church headquartered in the Vatican in Rome. Roman Catholicism paid the price for two millennia worth of accretions and, at times, outright corruption.
I believe that, regardless of which exterior manifestation of the Church we find ourselves in, we must work at unity. The Scripture has many suggestions in this regard.
Sixth, the Bulwark of the Defense of the Faith has been assigned to the Elders of Each Particular (or Local) Church.
In the narrative of Acts 20, Luke recorded that Paul, en route on his Third Missionary Journey to Jerusalem, stopped in at Miletus and requested the presence of the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:17). He said that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). They were to be on guard for themselves and for all the flock, to shepherd the church of God which God had purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Paul lamented that, after his departure, he knew that savage wolves would come in from the outside and not spare the flock (Acts 20:29). Even more sadly, from among themselves, the elders, "men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). The elders of Ephesus were to be on the alert, taking to heart Paul's teary admonitions over three years (Acts 20:31). Last, Paul reminded these elders of but two resources they had in fighting off the savage wolves from without and the power-hungry elders from within. These two resources were God Himself, and the word of His grace, i.e. the Scriptures, which are able to build them up and to give them the inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:32). Paul did not specify church tradition as a resource for these soon-to-be-embattled elders. Nor did he specify the "Magisterium" ("teaching authority") of the church of Rome.
God has given to the Church men who have the gift of teaching the Scriptures to enable local churches and the Church-at-Large to grow in the knowledge of the truth. The elders of a church, also called "overseers," are to be adept at teaching the Scriptures (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:5, 7, 9). Of course, while the Apostles were still alive they could be consulted for correct interpretation. But once the Apostles were gone, the elders of each local church were the last line of defense. They could only consult the Scriptures the Apostles and their associates had left behind.
There is a "Church Council" recorded in Acts 15:1-35. But by the time Paul warned the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:28-32), he left them in charge of combating the savage wolves from without and the power-hungry elders from within. He gave no indication that they should call an "Ecumenical Church Council." Moreover, there is no indication anywhere in Scripture that any of these leaders of local churches such as Ephesus, Colosse, Philippi, or Thessalonica, etc., are required to submit themselves to the Church headquartered in the Vatican in Rome, or to any of that church's leaders.
From a Biblical point of view the legitimate jurisdiction of the person called "Pope" is as one of the elders of the Church of the Basilica in Rome. Or at most, as one of the elders of the Church of Rome. Period. There is, in the Bible, no Universal Church-wide jurisdiction once the Apostles passed from the scene. At the beginning of the Book of Acts, the Apostles were prominent. But there was a gradual transition from the authority and jurisdiction of the Apostles to the much more limited authority of the elders of each local church. One can see that transition by examining the occurrences of the word "elder" (presbuteros, 4245) in the book of Acts alongside the word "apostle" (apostolos, 652) in the book of Acts.
The data show that, though the term "apostle" appears frequently in the Book of Acts, the last occurrence is in Acts 16:4, long before the end of the book. With regard to the term "elder," (1) Acts 2:17 refers to "older men," not officers; (2) Acts 4:5, 8, 23; 6:12 refer to the elders of Israel; (3) Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18 all refer to elders of various churches, oftentimes of the church of Jerusalem; (4) Acts 23:14; 24:1; 25:15 again refer to elders of the nation of Israel.
My point, again, is that there was a gradual transfer of jurisdiction in the book of Acts from Apostles; to Apostles and elders; and finally, just to elders. I hasten to add that the Apostles could not, and did not transfer any Apostolic authority to the elders. Apostles were one of a kind. See the article, "Do Apostles Exist Today?" The Biblical answer is a decided, "No."
The ascribing to the Pope, and to the Bishops in communion with him in the Catholic Church apostolic authority is a myth of the Catholic Church. Apostolic Succession is an invention of men who wish to hold unbiblical power over the church today. Those who insist on Apostolic Succession represent the power-hungry elders against whom Paul so tearfully warned the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17; 28-32).
So it is the Scriptures that trump Church Tradition. Church Tradition should never be permitted to trump the Scriptures. Sadly, many times, in the Roman Catholic Church, in the Greek Orthodox Church, and in the Protestant churches, church tradition has been allowed to trump the Scriptures.
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Given its history of allowing an atheistic, evolutionary theory to trump the Biblical account, it is no surprise to me that Roman Catholicism rejects Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. It allows Moses a limited role, but denies that he is the author of the book in any normal sense. The Catholic editors adopt the tired, disproven liberal mantra that the Pentateuch was written by anonymous redactors (editors) whom they dub the Yahwist; the Elohist; the Deuteronomic; and the Priestly. (See the Church's Introduction to "The Pentateuch" in the American Bible online.) It makes no difference that no scholar as ever found the theorized Yahwist document. Nor has any scholar ever found the theorized Elohist document. Nor has any scholar ever produced the Deuteronomic document. And not a single scholar has ever published the "Priestly" document. Do you wish to know why? Because the whole theory is an academically engineered and supported hoax. It is interesting that we do not know the name of the Yahwist writer, or the Elohist writer, or the Deuteronomic writer, or the Priestly writer. Why? Because not one of them ever existed.
For a sample of what Roman Catholicism believes about the authorship of the Pentateuch, consider the following quotation of paragraph 4 from the prefatory article at the beginning of Genesis entitled, "The Pentateuch." The words below in bold font are my emphasis. The words are those of the editors of the New American Bible. But believe me, these words have the approval of the highest levels of the Vatican. If they did not, they would not appear here.
This is not to deny the role of Moses in the development of the Pentateuch. It is true we do not conceive of him as the author of the books in the modern sense. But there is no reason to doubt that, in the events described in these traditions, he had a uniquely important role, especially as lawgiver. Even the later laws which have been added in P and D are presented as a Mosaic heritage. Moses is the lawgiver par excellence, and all later legislation is conceived in his spirit, and therefore attributed to him. Hence, the reader is not held to undeviating literalness in interpreting the words, "the LORD said to Moses." One must keep in mind that the Pentateuch is the crystallization of Israel's age-old relationship with God.
The reader will immediately see that the editors of the (Catholic) New American Bible have clearly illustrated my point: Roman Catholicism resorts to a non-literal approach in its interpretation of the Bible in historical matters. Let me see if I can understand this. I don't have to believe as literally true what the Bible says when the text states that "the LORD said to Moses." Yet I am obligated to accept as literally true what the Catechism says when it states that the Pope and the bishops in communion with him are the sole interpreters of Scripture? What is wrong with this picture?
Sadly, the authors of this introduction to the Pentateuch give greater credence to the appalling "Documentary Hypothesis" (or JEDP Theory) of the liberal Protestant (!) "scholar" Julius Wellhausen than they do to the statements of Jesus about the authorship of the Pentateuch. See Matt. 8:4; 19:8; 23:2; Mark 1:44; 7:10; 10:3, 4; 12:26; Luke 5:14; Luke 16:29, 31; 20:37; 24:27, 44; John 5:45, 46; 7:22, 23. Should I trust what Catholicism says, or what Jesus said?
The authenticity of the genealogies of Genesis
Here is the nub of the issue: Are the genealogies in Genesis 5:1-32 and Genesis 11:10-32 closed genealogies, or do they have gaps in them? As the Hebrew text reads, they are closed genealogies. You can trace the genealogies from Abraham back to Adam and you can assign a "ball park" date to the Creation of the World. If that is true, and I believe it is, you must believe in a recent creation, a Young Earth.
It is interesting to watch those who consider themselves to be experts on the Bible go through all kinds of exegetical contortions to get out of believing in a Young Earth. What compels them to do so? Well, "science" (I call it "pseudo science" because of its refusal to examine historical evidence in the Bible and its dogged presumption of uniformitarianism) has decreed that our universe is 13.8 billion years old, based on current models. So because a great many theologians believe the voices of science trump the voice of God, they believe we must then interpret Genesis non-literally. So they have to say there are enormous gaps in the genealogies, or else manufacture enormous amounts of time somewhere in the Biblical account.
Take, for example, Pat Robertson. Pat Robertson is not a Catholic, but his view of the whole creation narrative illustrates the length to which interpreters have to go to circumvent the clear teaching of Scripture. If you believe science trumps the creation narrative, as Catholics do, then you have to perform some exegetical gymnastics to allow for enough time in the Biblical Creation record. Pat Robertson, host of The 700 Club, has said that "you have to be deaf, dumb, and blind to think that this earth we live in only has 6,000 years of existence." Robertson then proceeded to redefine what the term "day" in Genesis 1:1-31 meant. He asked, "What is a day?" He answered his question that a day is the amount of time it takes the earth to rotate on its axis. "What is a solar day?" According to Robertson, that is the amount of time it takes for our sun to circumnavigate the Milky Way Galaxy. "What is a galactic day?" That, according to Robertson, is the amount of time it takes for our galaxy to circumnavigate the universe. So he has given lip service to accepting the Genesis account, but has built enormous amounts of time into his definition of the word "day." Keep in mind that the ancient Hebrews had a very incomplete knowledge of our solar system. They had no idea of the concept of galaxy, much less of the extent of the universe. So Robertson's explanation to me is more absurd than is his characterization of those of us who accept the Biblical record at face value.
Remember that uniformitarians deliberately skirt two stupendous acts of God that affect how old our earth appears to be. Both of these acts of God make our earth look older than it really is. The first act of God is His creation of the earth. The second act of God is His judgmental flooding of the entire earth through the waters of the Great Flood of Noah (2 Pet. 3:3-6). The same individuals who ignore God's acts of creation and judgment in the past are also completely oblivious of a future act of judgment. One day God will end this universe in a series of fiery explosions just as suddenly as He created it (2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12). Then He will create new heavens and a new earth in which only righteous people and righteousness exist (2 Pet. 3:13). For that reason, we Christians ought to live spotless, blameless lives (2 Pet. 3:14), capitalizing on God's patience as tremendous opportunity to recruit more people to accept God's salvation in Jesus (2 Pet. 3:15).
If you don't take Genesis 1:1-2:4 literally, and if you don't interpret Gen. 5:1-32 and Gen. 11:10-32 literally, you put yourself at odds with the rest of the Bible. Moses certainly believed that everything was created in six literal days, and he tied the Fourth Commandment to the literalness of the time statements in creation (Exod. 20:8-11). Tamper with the time, and you start tampering with the credibility of the Ten Commandments and with the historicity of Scripture! Jesus was convinced of the historicity of Genesis and of Moses (Matt. 19:3-9). Sadly, many scholars, including Roman Catholic scholars are not.
The authenticity of the Global Flood in the days of Noah
A third area in which non-literalism manifests itself is in the interpretation of Biblical prophecy. Otherwise conservative Biblical scholars have followed in the footsteps of Augustine, the first theologian to expound amillennialism in a systematic way. These scholars have employed Augustine's non-literal hermeneutic, the foundation of Replacement Theology, which asserts that the Church has forever replaced Israel as the people of God. And so, faced with prophetic Scriptures that plain reading would interpret as a glorious future for the nation of Israel, these amillennial scholars simply assign to the texts a metaphorical interpretation. And so, for example, they do not read the chapters in Ezekiel (Ezek. 40-48), which predict a glorious temple never yet built, in a literal way. To them it is a metaphorical temple symbolizing the great eschatological fellowship of God with the saints of all ages. They read almost the whole of the book of Revelation and label it Apocalyptic literature, thus justifying their non-literal interpretation. Sadly, this metaphorical approach to prophecy leads to a denigration of God's glorious future for the nation of Israel. And the Christian is stripped of any certainty as to the nature of eternity because of these scholars' metaphorical interpretation of the last two chapters of the Bible (Rev. 21:1-22:5).
Let me document what Roman Catholicism believes. At one point in the Church's Catechism, there is a discussion of "The Hierarchical Constitution of the Church." The question is asked, "Why the ecclesial ministry?" In paragraph 877, we read the following statement: "Likewise, it belongs to the sacramental nature of ecclesial ministry that it have a collegial character. In fact, from the beginning of his ministry, the Lord Jesus instituted the Twelve as "the seeds of the new Israel and the beginning of the sacred hierarchy." 395" Footnote 395 indicates the final sentence in the quote in the catechism is based upon Paragraph 5 of the "Decree AD GENTES, On the Mission Activity of the Church." What does this mean? Very simply it means that the Catholic Church believes that the Church Jesus founded, which it interprets to mean exclusively, the Church headquartered in the Vatican in Rome, is the "New Israel." More simply, Catholics officially believe that the Church replaces Israel.That is the anti-Israel, unbiblical dogma of "Replacement Theology."
How sad! That means we can't believe what God said to Israel and Judah through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-37. There, God revealed that He will make "a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Jer. 31:31). It would be unlike the Old Covenant He had made with them mediated by Moses at Sinai, a covenant which they repeatedly broke (Jer. 31:32). Instead, under the terms of this New Covenant, God would write His laws on their heart (Jer. 31:33). All Israel will know the Lord, from the least to the greatest. He would forgive their sin and remember their iniquity no more (Jer. 31:34). If the universe ever ceases to be, declares Yahweh, then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever!" (Jer. 31:35-36). If heavens can be measured, then, declares Yahweh, He will also "cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done"! (Jer. 31:37).
So I as an interpreter of Scripture need to ask this question. Will I believe the interpretation of the Roman Catholic Church, or will I believe what God has said through the prophet Jeremiah? I choose God and Jeremiah every time.
Frankly, it amazes me how some Gentiles under the New Covenant do not believe God will keep His promises to Israel in the way that He made them, yet have the gall to believe God will keep His promises to us Gentile Christians in the Church Age in the way that He made them! Paul warned us Gentile Christians against that sort of arrogance (Rom. 11:18, 19), conceit (Rom. 11:20, 21), and misinformation (Rom. 11:25). The truth is that God is NOT through with the nation of Israel. One day all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26), just as God promised (Rom. 11:26-27) through the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 59:20, 21). The "gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29)! That is just as true for the nation of Israel as it is for the Church!
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Or Utopian Vision of the New Israel (The Church)?
As we examine this narrative, we have to ask this question: How would Ezekiel himself have understood it? Furthermore, how would any believing Israeli understand it? I believe both would understand these chapters in the following manner: Ezekiel 40:1-48:35 details a grandiose vision of the future for the revived, restored nation of Israel in fellowship with God and living in the land God promised her eternally. Let us state a brief outline of the passage. I would encourage the reader not merely to read through my outline. Rather, I would encourage the reader to read the actual text of the Scripture incorporated in this outline.
Ezekiel 40-46 describes in great detail a temple that has no parallel whatever in Israeli history.
The measurements of the temple are given (Ezek. 40-42)
These include measurements for the Gates (Ezek. 40:1-37)
and the Facilities (Ezek. 40:38-42:20).
Ezekiel describes the Functions of the Temple (Ezek. 43:1-44:8).
These include Yahweh's relationship to the Temple (Ezek. 43:1-12);
the altar of the Temple (Ezek. 43:13-27);
and the usage of the Temple (Ezek. 44:1-8).
Next Ezekiel describes the Workers in the Temple (Ezek. 44:9-31)
Past idolatry prohibits Levites from serving as priests, but not from ministering in Yahweh's House (Ezek. 44:9-14)
The final passage in this section includes the requirements and responsibilities of faithful Levitical priests, sons of Zadok, in ministering to Yahweh (Ezek. 44:15-31)
The Offerings at the Temple are detailed (Ezekiel 45:1-46:24)
The prince's responsibility for offerings (Ezek. 45:1-17)
Regulations for offerings are outlined (Ezek. 45:18-46:24)
Ezekiel 47-48 describes the land in that future glorious regime.
A life-giving river is described (Ezek. 47:1-12)
Water flowing from underneath the temple (Ezek. 47:1-2)
The ever-deepening river at intervals of 1000 cubits (Ezek. 47:3-6)
The beneficial effects of the river (Ezek. 47:7-12)
Providing fruit trees bearing fruit every month, invigorated by the life-giving water of the river (Ezek. 47:7, 12).
Supporting fish in the Dead Sea rejuvenated by the river from the Temple (Ezek. 47:8-11).
The boundaries of the Land are provided (Ezek. 47:13-23)
God's instructions to divide the land equally among 12 tribes, giving Joseph two portions (Ephraim and Manasseh) (Ezek. 47:13-14)
The four boundaries of the land (Ezek. 47:15-20)
The command to divide the land by lot among the tribes of Israel and resident Israeli-domiciled aliens (Ezek 47:21-23)
The division of the Land is described (Ezek. 48:1-35)
The Priests' portion, including the Temple (Ezek. 48:8-12)
The Levites' portion (Ezek. 48:13-14)
The common use for the city (Ezek. 48:15-20)
The Prince's portion (East and West sides of the holy allotment (Ezek. 48:21-22)
The division for the remaining tribes of Benjamin to Gad (Ezek. 48:23-29)
The gates and name of the city (Ezek. 48:30-35)
One more thing. Back when my Catholic contact was still a Protestant, he used to have an organization or ministry that taught the Scriptures and other subjects of a scholarly nature for anyone in the public who wished to pay to attend. His ministry also published a quarterly newsletter. One of his issues dealt with Ezekiel. In his newsletter, he proclaimed that Ezekiel 40-48 was not about architecture, and it was not about cartography. Now that he is Catholic, I am certain he has not changed his views. He believes what he does because he does not take the text of Ezekiel 40-48 literally. He insists that he does, but I disagree. He has merely assigned a metaphorical definition to the word "literal." He insists that Jerusalem in this passage is "idealized." That is theological jargon-speak for "non-literal." He and I remain 180 degrees out of phase on the issue. I think a non-literal interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48 is utterly indefensible. I believe Ezekiel 40-48 is about architecture, and it is about cartography.
I have been tempted to offer my Catholic contact a friendly bet. We will each bet 1000 Israeli shekels on the question of whether or not Ezekiel 40-48 is about architecture and cartography. I will bet that it is. He will bet that it is not. But we each get to use the other person's hermeneutic. We will each bet 1000 Israeli shekels on which of us was right. If I am right, and he is wrong, he will owe me 1000 literal Israeli shekels. The value will be whatever the Israeli shekel is worth during Christ's Millennial Kingdom. If, on the other hand, I am wrong, and he is right, I will owe him 1000 Israeli shekels.
If I am right and he is wrong, some day I plan to stand at the North Gate of the Millennial Temple in Jerusalem, Israel after Jesus has begun His reign as King of Israel and King of the world. I will invite my Catholic contact to join me there. He will have to pay me 1000 literal Israeli shekels.
But if I am wrong in my interpretation and he is right, we will have to make contact somewhere. But since I will be using his hermeneutic, I will be able to pay him in "idealized" Israeli shekels. That way I can make them out to be anything I choose to make them!
or a "Figure of God's Elect" - meaning the Roman Catholic Church?
According to Footnote 1 at Zechariah 14:1 in the (Catholic) New American Bible, this is how we are to view Zechariah 14:1-21: "[1-21] An apocalyptic description of the day of the Lord, in which Jerusalem, the figure of God's elect, after much suffering (siege: Zechariah 14:1-3; riot: Zechariah 14:13; plague: Zechariah 14:12, 15), is rescued by the Lord (Zechariah 14:4-5) and given great blessings (Zechariah 14:6-11, 14, 16-21)."
By "God's Elect" I assume that the editors are referring to the Church headquartered in the Vatican in Rome. Even a casual reading of the complete text of Zechariah 14 indicates that cannot possibly be the correct interpretation.
1. At the end of the Tribulation period, the nations of the world unite in devastating Jerusalem and Israel. Women will be raped, and half the city will be exiled (Zech. 14:1-2).
2. The LORD Himself will fight against those nations as He used to fight on behalf of ancient Israel (Zech. 14:3).
3. Yahweh Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ will return to earth, landing on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4).
4. The Mount of Olives will split and open up into a valley through which Israelis will escape (Zech. 14:4-6).
5. Christ will come, and all His angelic heavenly armies with Him (Zech. 14:6).
6. There will be celestial disturbances that affect light output (Zech. 14:6-7).
7. Fresh water will flow from Jerusalem into the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean (Zech. 14:8).
8. Jesus Christ will rule over all the earth (Zech. 14:9).
9. The land of Israel, and especially the land around Jerusalem will be dramatically altered (Zech. 14:10).
10. People will live securely in Jerusalem, no longer oppressed with rockets or other opposition from Palestinians or the Syrians in Lebanon (Zech. 14:11).
11. The LORD will strike the enemy nations who battled against Jerusalem with a deadly plague (Zech. 14:12-15).
12. Judah and Jerusalem will plunder the enemy nations that were seeking to destroy them (Zech. 14:14).
13. Surviving nations will go up yearly to worship King Jesus, the LORD of armies, and will celebrate the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles (Zech. 14:16).
14. If a nation refuses to come worship the LORD, that nation will be deprived of rain (Zech. 14:17-19).
15. In that day, there will be no false distinction between the sacred and the secular. All will be holy to the LORD (Zech. 14:20-21).
16. No Canaanite will be permitted in the Temple at Jerusalem in that day (Zech. 14:21).
17. This Temple is to be identified with the Temple predicted in Ezek. 40:1-47:2.
Conclusion: My whole point in going through this exercise is to demonstrate that Roman Catholicism interprets prophetic Scripture in a non-literal fashion. Can we trust the interpretive tactics of a Church that makes plain language mean something entirely different than a plain reading would understand? Where is the control? The Roman Catholic Church can make this and other passages say anything they want it to say. Because the Magisterium of the Church has dictatorial interpretive power, who will protest? Who will say, "Your interpretation does not make sense!"? I maintain that this prophecy makes sense only if it is taken literally, applied to Israel and Jerusalem, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Millennial Reign of Christ. Roman Catholicism's view that this represents the triumph of the Roman Catholic Church completely lacks credibility. One more passage and we will wrap up this discussion.
Or are they Literal Realities in which all the Redeemed Shall Live Eternally?
Footnote 1 at Rev. 21:1, describing Rev. 21:1-22:5, reads as follows: "[21:1-22:5] A description of God's eternal kingdom in heaven under the symbols of a new heaven and a new earth; cf Isaiah 65:17-25; 66:22; Matthew 19:28." Observe that Catholicism believes that new heaven and new earth are not literal entities. They are merely symbolic of God's eternal kingdom in heaven. If that is true, we have no way whatever of knowing what new heaven and new earth will be like. The only place that describes our future, eternal existence cannot be explained because this passage does not depict it.
Footnote 3 at Rev. 21:2 describes the holy city of New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. The footnote reads as follows: " New Jerusalem . . . bride: symbol of the church (Gal 4:26); see the note on Rev 19:7." So according to Rome, the city of New Jerusalem is not a city at all. It is merely a symbol of the church, by which Rome means, "The Church headquartered in the Vatican in Rome, Italy."
Footnote 9 at Rev. 21:9. Describing the passage of Rev. 21:9-22:5, the footnote reads, "[21:9-22:5] Symbolic descriptions of the new Jerusalem, the church. Most of the images are borrowed from Ezekial (sic) 40-48." So if we are to believe Rome, the descriptions of an enormous, splendid, magnificent city adorned with precious stones, replete with twelve gates and twelve foundations and made of "pure gold, like clear glass" (Rev. 21:18) is not a real city at all. To Catholics, it is merely a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not surprising the interpreters believe most of the images are borrowed from Ezekiel 40-48. That is not really true. But it is not surprising, either. Rome doesn't take Ezekiel 40-48 literally, so why should Rome take Rev. 21:1-22:5 literally? By the way there is a fatal flaw in comparing Rev. 21:1-22:5 to Ezekiel 40-48. That fatal flaw is this: A literal temple is the subject of most of Ezekiel 40-48. To the contrary, it is specifically stated that in New Jerusalem, no temple exists (Rev. 21:22), for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple!"
Footnote 13 at Rev. 21:16 reads as follows: " Fifteen hundred miles: literally, twelve thousand stades, about 12,000 furlongs (see the note on Rev 14:20); the number is symbolic: twelve (the apostles as leaders of the new Israel) multiplied by 1,000 (the immensity of Christians); cf Introduction. In length and width and height: literally, "its length and width and height are the same." Once again, according to Rome, the number 12,000 stadia (1500 miles) is merely symbolic. It is not an actual size, since this is not a literal city. In Rome's world of interpretation, the nation of Israel does not appear in this, the capital city of Israel. What audacity! According to Roman Catholicism, The Roman Catholic Church is the "new Israel." 1,000 is the immensity of Christians. On what Scriptures do we base either of those interpretations?
Footnote 18 at Rev. 21:24, and covering Rev. 21:24-27, says this: "[24-27] All men and women of good will are welcome in the church; cf Isaiah 60:1, 3, 5, 11. The . . . book of life: see the note on Rev 3:5." So has Rome become the Church of Universalism? Faith in Christ is unnecessary? All one has to do is be a person of good will? Actually, there are paragraphs in the Catechism that hint at that belief. Take, for example, Paragraph 841, which reads concerning Muslims: "The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day." Will Muslims be saved apart from believing in Jesus (Acts 4:12)?
Actually, what Rev. 21:24-27 asserts is this, that the redeemed from among the nations (Gentiles) on New Earth will walk (or live) by the tremendous light from this real, great city, and the redeemed kings of the earth will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it (Rev. 21:24). In the daytime, for there will be no night in this literal city, its literal gates will always be unlocked and open (Rev. 21:25). They will bring the glory and honor of redeemed Gentiles (who are neither part of the Church or the redeemed nation of Israel) into it (Rev. 21:26). And you can't merely be a person of good will to enter this city. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life will be permitted to enter (Rev. 21:27).
How do we evaluate Rome's metaphorical, symbolic take on the great city, New Jerusalem? Let me make several evaluative comments:
(1) All agree that there are symbols in the book of Revelation. In many instances, the writer, John, defines his symbols. The symbols have an actual referent. It is the interpreter's job to distinguish between what is a symbol and what is reality. That is not always easily done. It is also the interpreter's task to determine the literal meaning of the symbols.
(2) I disagree with Rome that the numbers in Revelation are not to be taken at face value. To be sure, a number may have symbolic significance, but that does not mean it is not a real number. Who is going to argue, for example, that there were not literally seven churches to whom John was asked to write (Rev. 1:11)? Or were there really eight? Or ten? Or a hundred? Who is going to maintain that there were not literally seven seals that were opened (Rev. 5:1; 6:1, etc.)? or seven trumpets that were blown (Rev. 8:1)? or seven bowls of wrath that were not poured upon the earth (Rev. 16:1)?
(3) I submit that there is strong evidence that New Jerusalem is an actual city with physical dimensions and great beauty, and is not just a metaphor.
(a) It is the physical place to which God and Christ will descend from heaven to "tent" with redeemed man forever (Rev. 21:2-4). John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (Rev. 21:2). God and Christ will forsake their abode in heaven and come to live with man in New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:3; 22:1-4). So Rome is saying that God and Christ and mankind are going to live in a metaphor? That makes no sense whatever.
(b) The city was so large that John had to be taken in his vision in the Spirit to a high mountain to be able to view the city with any perception (Rev. 21:10). That was entirely unnecessary if it were not an actual city. By the way, John saw this city coming down out of heaven from God. The words "coming down" are in the present tense. My belief is that was the best way John could describe movement, but no termination of movement. It makes sense to me to see this city as a 1400 mile square cube or pyramid that orbits New Earth. That is how it could shed light on the people of New Earth down below. This city would be not as large as our present moon, which has a diameter of 2200 miles, so an orbiting city of 1400 miles is certainly within the realm of feasibility.
(c) This city had all the attributes of a normal city of John's era.
 It had an enormous wall (Rev. 21:12). Why discuss a wall if this city is merely a metaphor for the Church?
 It had gates (Rev. 21:12-13). Why bother describing gates if it is not a real city? Moreover, names were written on the twelve gates, none other than the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. This is proof positive that Roman Catholicism's insisting that this city represents the "new Israel" is pure Catholic mythology. This city is called New Jerusalem, not New York or New Delhi. It is the eternal capital city of the Sons of Israel. You can't get more Jewish than "Sons of Israel" and "New Jerusalem!"
 It had foundations (Rev. 21:14). What is the point of discussing foundations, no matter how stunningly beautiful they may be, if this is not a real city? The twelve foundations bore the names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb. This indicates that, not only is New Jerusalem the eternal Capital City of the Sons of Israel, it is also the eternal Capital City of the Universal Church, the Bride of Christ. There is no evidence in Scripture, by the way, that the Universal Church is coterminous with the Church headquartered in the Vatican in Rome, Italy. That is Catholic mythology.
 It had physical dimensions that could be measured (Rev. 21:15-17). The angel who spoke with John had a measuring rod of specified length that could measure 12,000 stadia. John actually saw him measuring the walls, and just to demonstrate that these measurements were to be taken seriously, John recorded that angelic measurements were identical to human measurements (Rev.21:17). What is the point of that if the whole edifice is merely an allegory? You don't measure allegories! A city that could adequately house believers whose numbers have accumulated over thousands of years would necessarily be large. I imagine this city will have gigantic parks and lakes and nature preserves. Again, why bother recording dimensions if this city is merely a metaphor?
 The city had symmetry. Since it was a planned city, it could be perfectly square, unlike most cities that spring up without prior planning (Rev. 21:16). What is the point of discussing the city's symmetry if it is merely a figure of speech?
 The city was built of a tangible material, albeit in a form unknown here upon this present earth. The material was pure gold, like transparent glass (Rev. 21:21). Why discuss the material composition of the city if the city is not even a material reality? That is pointless.
 All human cities have a temple for worship of someone or something. The writer needed to explain the absence of a temple in this city -- God and Christ are the temple. We believers will be able to see them in person in this great city (Rev. 21:22)! Why discuss the absence of a temple if this is not a real city? And by the way, I repeat that this city cannot possibly be identical to the city revealed in Ezekiel 40-48. That passage was mostly about a temple. This passage (Rev. 21:1-22:5) has no physical temple whatever! They cannot possibly be the same cities!
 John found it necessary to report the reason that this city's gates, unlike normal city gates, would not be closed at night time. There was no night and no crime (Rev. 21:23-27). Why discuss open gates if this is not a real city? These gates are open for a purpose. The redeemed among the Gentile nations that are neither part of Israel, nor part of the Church, will bring their honor and glory through the open gates into the city. The open gates mean 24-hour a day access to the city, for there is no night.
What will the redeemed Gentiles be doing on New Earth? They will be engaging in agriculture, manufacturing, business, and worship. They will bring the firstfruits and the best of what they have grown and manufactured into the heavenly city for the benefit of the citizens there, and for the honor and glory of the Great Co-Regents, God and Christ! These redeemed Gentile nations on earth will have access to New Jerusalem to the extent of being able to harvest leaves from the Tree of Life and either ingest or brew them for an invigorating elixir of therapeutic value (Rev. 22:2).
 Lighting is always important in a city. The Glory of God and of Christ is all the illumination needed in this city. No artificial lighting will ever be needed, not even in the interior of buildings within her (Rev. 21:11, 23). Why discuss lighting at all if it is not a real city?
 This city had a river (Rev. 22:1-2). Why even discuss a river in a metaphorical city?
 This city had a throne within it (Rev. 22:1, 3). Kings sit on thrones. This was a two-seated throne, the throne of God and of the Lamb (admittedly a symbolic reference to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world -- John 1:29). Why speak of a throne if this city is just an idea?
 This city had a street (platus, 4116). The word actually means "broad." It could just as easily refer to a broad area, the city center, where pedestrians could easily walk. This "broad area" had a river running down its center, the river of the water of life (Rev. 22:1-2). You would expect a beautiful city to have a beautiful river in its center with a river walk on either side, wouldn't you? I know there is one in San Antonio. There is an artificial one in Omaha, Nebraska. Why discuss a river and a broad area, or perhaps street, in a metaphorical communion of the saints, the Church? It makes no sense whatever.
 There was a magnificent tree, the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:2). This was a fruit bearing tree. Fruits are for eating. Isn't it utterly superfluous to discuss edible fruit if this is an imaginary city? I can't wait to partake of this literal tree. I am sure the fruit will be spectacularly flavorful. And a different kind each month! By the way, it seems as though there will be measurable time in that literal, beautiful city! Or do you prefer to side with Catholics and dismiss it as an imaginative metaphor of the Church, the "New Israel"?
 This tree has leaves. These leaves have therapeutic value (Rev. 22:2). The leaves have an invigorating and healthful effect upon the Gentiles (nations) who live down below on New Earth and are able to teleport themselves up to orbiting New Jerusalem through its always-open gates. I am guessing these leaves will make a tasty and invigorating tea if one takes the time to brew them. Why discuss leaves if this is an unreal tree with unreal fruit in an unreal city with an unreal throne of God and the Lamb? That seems almost laughable to me. How about to you?
 We are told there will no longer be a curse (Rev. 22:3). God cursed the ground of the original earth (Gen. 3:17-19). The statement that there will no longer be a curse only makes sense if New Jerusalem is a real city, and New Earth is a physical planet that won't decay because there is no longer a curse. This statement about the non-existence of a curse is nonsensical if New Jerusalem and New Earth are not literal places, not just ideological constructs.
 John reports, again, that the throne of God and of the Lamb will be found in the center of this city (Rev. 21:3); that God's slaves will serve Him, that they will see God's face, and His name will be on their foreheads (Rev. 21:3, 4). How far should we take this metaphorical interpretation? Are God and Christ metaphorical? Is God's face a metaphor? Is His name a metaphor? Are our foreheads a metaphor?
 We are told once more that there is no need for a natural light such as the sun, or an artificial light such as a lamp in this glorious city. That is because the light of the glory of God will illumine us. Is that actually true? Or is John merely speaking symbolically?
 Finally, we are told that God's slaves will reign forever (Rev. 22:5). Or maybe we won't actually reign. Perhaps that, too, is just a metaphor. And perhaps our resurrection is merely a metaphor? And perhaps Christ's resurrection was a metaphor? And perhaps Jesus won't actually return, for His promised return is merely a metaphor? Once you start going down the road of metaphorical interpretation, logically, where do you stop? If you are consistent, there is no place to stop. Either it is all metaphorical or none of it is.
My conclusion on Revelation 21:1-22:5 is that treating this city as a metaphor of "the New Israel," the Church, can only be done if the interpreter deliberately ignores the details. "The devil is in the details," as the old saying goes. The details of Rev. 21:1-22:5 make a metaphorical interpretation untenable, completely lacking in credibility, in my view. Consequently, I repudiate Roman Catholicism's metaphorical, symbolic interpretation of this city. It is a real city. I dearly hope and pray that the reader's name has been written in the Lamb's Book of Life so you may also enter this city one day (Rev. 21:27). I plan on being there, by the grace of God, and through faith in Christ (1 John 5:11, 12, 13, 20). I pray I will see you, also! (By the way, if you want to make certain your name is written in the Book of Life, click on the link, and read clear to the end of the article.
Back to the beginning: Let me remind you again of a question that my Catholic contact asked: "... Why is it that Protestants think we should trust interpreters who lived fifteen centuries removed from Christ and the apostles over those who rubbed shoulders directly with the apostles and whose interpretive legacy passed to their successors and is available to us today?"
I have several problems with this question:
(1) It presumes that none of us can go to the Scriptures and assess good interpretations and poor interpretations of Scripture on our own. It presumes that we must use some human authority somewhere to interpret the Scriptures. We are incapable of interpreting them on our own. I fundamentally disagree with that. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, was the first person in church history that we know of to elevate the office of "Bishop" (overseer, episkopos) over the office of elder (presbuteros). Since that distinction never appeared in Scripture, why should I be forced to conclude that he knew more what the New Testament meant than I do? I will say it right now, Ignatius was wrong. Why am I forced to follow his interpretation simply because he lived in the 2nd Century A.D. and Catholic interpreters say I must? I believe that Scripture trumps church tradition. My Catholic friends believe Church tradition trumps Scripture (though they will not admit that). So why should I be forced to believe Catholic tradition that clearly contradicts Scripture? I do not need any human authority to tell me what to believe, be he Protestant or Catholic. As an elder of a church, my fellow elders have the obligation, Biblically, to keep me in line. The Berean synagogue attenders were more noble than the Thessalonian synagogue attenders because they received Paul's apostolic teaching gladly, but also because they searched their Old Testament Scriptures daily to see if what he said was Biblical (Acts 17:11). I have that same right and obligation no matter what Catholics say.
(2) I know why my Catholic contact insists I must follow the interpretations of those closer to the Apostles than those farther away. It is because he has become a Catholic, and he is duty bound to follow the Catholic dogma that decrees that the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him are the sole interpreters of Scripture (see for example, Catechism, Paragraph 100). Catholic interpreters use case law (selectively, I might add), and once a view of some scholar or Pope gets added into the approved cumulative dogma, it is there to stay. No one is allowed to challenge two millennia worth of accretions. So my Catholic contact is using circular reasoning. "I believe that church tradition is authoritative because my church tradition says it is authoritative." I resist that circular reasoning. The Bible trumps church tradition every time, because it is inspired, and church tradition is not.
(3) Neither the Pope nor the bishops in communion with him have Biblical offices. I find no monarchical bishops in the New Testament. And I find no Pope in the New Testament. Why would I trust the interpretations of officers in the church who do not have valid offices? Virtually every interpretation of the Bible they make would have to be filtered through the grid of 2,000 years' worth of accretions that have insufficient Biblical support. If you wish to know what I am talking about, read this article, "Elements of Roman Catholicism that Cannot Be Proven from Scripture." I read in the Bible that Scripture is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Nowhere do I read in the Bible that Church Tradition is inspired. Therefore I refuse to let Church Tradition of whatever denomination or sect of Christianity dictate to me what I must believe.
(4) My Catholic contact portrays himself in the right because he does not exhibit the temerity to interpret for himself what he believes. He thinks my policy is inexcusable because I dare to think on my own. He does not, for he submits himself (in theory, any way) to the interpretation of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. But really, that whole approach is a bit disingenuous. Years ago this contact and I believed about the same things. He was a Protestant and in general, we both believed what Protestants believe. So at the beginning he unilaterally had made the decision, without coercion, and perhaps by default, to believe what Protestants believe. But over the decades that began to change. There came a time when he alone, all by himself, made the decision to reject what Protestants believe and accept as true what Catholics believe. So he is no different than I. He, all by himself, without any coercion from anyone else, decided to reject these Protestant theologians and scholars and accept Catholic theologians and scholars. I, on the other hand, all by myself, have made the decision to trust, for the most part, what certain Protestant scholars believe and disbelieve what Catholics believe because it does not square with the Scriptures. So, no matter what my Catholic contact says, we have both done the same thing, all on our own. We each made the decision to trust one set of theologians and reject another. He is no different than I.
(5) Another thing that my Catholic contact is ignoring is the progress of Church History. In the beginning, for example, the struggles and debates in theology were over the person and nature of Christ. It took centuries for that debate to be settled. The nature and reliability of Scripture came under attack from German rationalists in the 18th and 19th Centuries. So there was a new battle front. Different battles were fought in different eras.
(6) For all my contact's push for going back to the second and third centuries for authoritative truth, his church has done the opposite when it was convenient. It was in 1854 that Pope Pius IX officially proclaimed, through a Papal Encyclical, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that she was "ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect." If that were really true, why did she die? If she had no sin, she would still be alive today, and we could talk with her. She would appear to be about 25 years old. Moreover, it was as recently as 1950 that Pope Pius XII issued an Apostolic Constitution defining the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, that Mary did not suffer corruption, that she was assumed bodily into heaven, and now has a resurrected body. These dogmas were invented hundreds of years after even the Protestant Reformation, so why should the 1500's be off base for Protestants to sharpen Biblical truth?
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Let me summarize why I do not trust Roman Catholic interpretation of Scripture.
(1) The official interpreters of Scripture, according to Roman Catholicism, occupy unbiblical offices, those of Monarchical Bishop and Pope. Neither of these offices appear in Scripture, so why should I trust what these unbiblical officers define as authoritative truth? I do not trust them.
(2) Roman Catholicism believes that its Church Tradition is just as authoritative as Scripture. I find nowhere in Scripture that Church tradition is just as authoritative as Scripture, so why should I believe that?
(3) From the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of the Book of Revelation, the Roman Catholic Church employs a faulty hermeneutic. It repeatedly uses a non-literal hermeneutic (method of interpretation).
a. It uses a non-literal hermeneutic to accommodate and avoid contradicting unproven "scientific theories." It allows the Big Bang and some form of evolution to trump what the Scriptures say in Genesis 1:1-2:4. Why should I believe Roman Catholic interpretation?
b. It uses a non-literal hermeneutic in matters of history to avoid contradicting supposed experts. For example it denies the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, substituting, of all things, the hopelessly flawed theory of liberal German Protestant scholars, the JEDP theory. It attacks the authenticity and accuracy of the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, interpreting them non-literally. It holds that the account of a global flood in Genesis should be interpreted non-literally, assigning the narrative to have been borrowed from the Gilgamesh Epic. Why should I believe Roman Catholic interpretation?
c. It employs a non-literal hermeneutic in prophetic matters. It ignores the detail of Biblical prophecies and arbitrarily reinterprets them to apply to the "New Israel," i.e., the Church Headquartered in the Vatican in Rome. In so doing the Catholic church denies any future program or legitimacy for a repentant, restored Nation of Israel. That is sheer Gentile arrogance against Israel, which Paul abhors. So do I. Why should I believe Roman Catholic interpretation?
In conclusion, I call to mind that noble and bold Christian, William Tyndale (1494-1536). A scholar fluent in eight languages, Tyndale is best known for his translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. Most people could not read Latin in that day. His Bible was promptly banned in England, and many copies were destroyed. For his work on the Bible, Tyndale drew the ire of the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and other powerful entities, such as the King of England. Tyndale is reported to have said,
I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!
Tyndale paid for his devotion to the Word of God with his life.
In 1535 Tyndale was betrayed by Henry Phillips, who had feigned a friendship with him. Tyndale was imprisoned near Brussels, Belgium, for nearly a year and a half for the crime of producing a Bible in the vernacular. Then, on October 6, 1536, Tyndale was led outside to a stake where he was strangled and burned. His last words were reported to be “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”
Tyndale’s dying prayer was answered. By 1539 every parish in England was required to have a copy of the Bible in English and to make it available to every parishioner.
So who can interpret the Scriptures? To a certain degree, anyone can. Anyone can read the Scriptures and understand enough of them to place his trust in Christ, the Savior and coming King. He can understand enough to raise red flags when false doctrine is being taught. And he can seek help from someone who has the gift of teaching.
For my part I am willing to trust a teacher of the Scriptures and the person in the pew who has received the Apostolic message with great eagerness, and who studies the Bible daily to see if what he is being taught can be verified from Scripture or not. I would rather trust in them than in any Pope or the Bishops in communion with him who filter all they know through the grid of two millennia worth of accretions in Roman Catholic Church tradition. I trust the Scriptures. I trust church teaching and practice that can be documented from Scripture. I do not trust Church tradition of any sect of Christianity that cannot be substantiated from Scripture because time and again church tradition defies Scripture. Scripture stands in judgment on Church Tradition. Church Tradition does not stand in judgment on Scripture.
I vote with William Tyndale.