In Christian life it is very important to know the basis for everything we believe in, the foundation of our beliefs, the authority behind what we do – Why do we do what we do? Who told us to do it? While Jesus ministered on the Earth the Pharisees asked Him, “By what authority do you do these things?” (Luke 20:2). Jesus knew that His authority was from God the Father Himself. He did only what His Father told Him. He spoke that which His Father asked Him to speak. He went to the Cross because that was His Father’s will. As we look closely at Jesus’ life we see that He in fact did everything in accordance with what the Scriptures had already foretold.
By what authority do you practice what you practice as a Christian? Do you take God and His Word as your final authority or is it just plain tradition?
The ProtestantChurchsays that the Bible is the final authority – ‘Sola Scriptura’, scripture alone, when it comes to the issues of our Christian faith whereas the Catholic Church says that it is the Bible, Church Tradition and the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Catholic Church). As a matter of fact, for the Catholic Church it is the Magisterium that makes the final decision on what is right and wrong, and unfortunately that decision is based, very often, more on Church tradition than on what the Bible really says. Many times the Catholic Church says that its practices are indeed scriptural and quote may be one or two scripture verses for those practices. But, the fact is that they take those scripture verses without even considering what the Bible teaches as a whole. They ignore all the other scripture verses that are connected to the same subject just to prove the validity of the particular practice.
The Catholic Church defends its position on many non-biblical practices stating:
- The Bible nowhere teaches ‘Sola Scriptura’ (Scripture Alone). The Bible does not explicitly mention that it (the Bible) alone should be the final authority; traditions are equally valid/ important.
- The Catholic Church is the final authority because it is the Catholic Church that gave the Bible to the world in the fourth century.
- The Early Church and Church Fathers (Leaders) believed in and practiced many of the traditional practices we have today.
- Jesus gave the authority to Peter and his successors in Mathew 16:18-19, so the Catholic Church now under the leadership of the Pope can decide what has to be practiced, even if it is not in line with the written Scriptures.
Let’s explore the above mentioned reasons carefully.
1. DOES THE BIBLE TEACH ‘SOLA SCRIPTURA’ ? WHERE DOES THE BIBLE SAY THAT IT (THE BIBLE) IS THE FINAL AUTHORITY?
This is the question the Catholic Church would ask anyone who says that the Bible should be our final authority. At first it seems to be a valid question because there seems to be no single verse that says explicitly that the Bible is the only authority. But as we study scripture it is more than clear tat the Bible, the Word of God, should be our yardstick, our final authority, and nothing else.
Jesus said it very clearly in Mk 7: 1-5, 8, 9 and 13:
1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
9 And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!
13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Jesus is stating very clearly here that no matter what the tradition, it should never nullify the Word of God. He is saying that we cannot let go the commands of God for the sake of traditions. He is saying that we cannot use ‘fine ways’ of setting aside the command of God in order to observe the traditions that have been handed down. Any tradition is fine as long as it does not go against the Word of God. And when Jesus here refers to the Command of God and the Word of God He is of course referring to the command of God contained in the Old Testament scriptures that had been handed down and not just some oral teaching.
Does not the teaching of Jesus Christ our Lord here very clearly mean that the written Word of God, the scriptures, is far above every other tradition and authority? Is He not very clearly implying that the Word of God is the final authority and not tradition?
(For a detailed explanation on the subject please read Scripture vs Tradition)
2. DID THE CATHOLIC CHURCH GIVE THE BIBLE TO THE WORLD ?
In recent times the Catholic leaders have said that every time a Protestant holds up his Bible, he affirms the authority of the Catholic Church because it is the Catholic Church which gave the Bible to the world ! They say that without the Catholic Church we would have never had the Bible!
Firstly, there was no Catholic orProtestantChurchback then. There was only one Christian Church, established by Christ Jesus and functioning in different parts of the world. The word ‘Catholic’ which means ‘Universal’ was used in connection to the Church by the leaders only to mean that the Church of God was universal but was never used as the name of a denomination.
Secondly, the Old Testament was already in existence and being used even in the times of Jesus. So, basically the present Catholic Church can stake claim, if at all, only over the New Testament and not over the entire Bible anyway.
Thirdly, the books of the New Testament were already in use for quite along while, but certain other letters and books were also around. The then leaders of the Church had to decide on which books were really inspired by the Holy Spirit and would be a part of the New Testament and which would not. So, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and by His wisdom the leaders were able to decide which books were indeed a part of the New Testament. The leaders were not making any books inspired but were purely affirming which books were indeed inspired by God.
Therefore, in essence the leaders of the Church from the first to the fourth century AD were not the ones who told God which books should be a part of the New Testament and which should not be but rather it was God who moved them to see and understand which books should be included and which book excluded.
Hence, every time a Protestant holds up his Bible, he is not affirming the authority of the Catholic Church but the sovereign authority of God!
In finalizing the canon of the Bible the Lord was showing us that all that we require for Salvation and spiritual growth (growing in our relationship with Jesus) is available in the Bible. Otherwise there is no point in God moving the early Church to close the canon of the Bible.
The Bible is the book that should direct the Churchof Godon earth and the Church cannot keep altering it by adding traditions that oppose it. What’s the point when the Church, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has agreed upon the books of the Bible, and declared it to be the WORD OF GOD, and then introduces practices that go against it? Does the Holy Spirit say something once and then later inspire something else exactly opposite?
Therefore, the Church should now submit itself to God and His Word – the Bible. The Church cannot now say, ‘We finalized the Bible so we are above it’. That’s what the Catholic Church is doing when it approves and practices traditions that are not in line with the Word of God. Once God the Holy Spirit has moved the Church to finalize the Word of God, then the Church ought to submit itself to His Word, just as a nations’ government is under the constitution of the country and not above it. Traditions, practices, experiences, emotions, opinions and all else will change but not the written Word of God. Therefore, the Bible alone is our final authority. Otherwise, the Church will move about and be tossed about with every wind of tradition, practice and belief – in fact that is what has transpired in the last 15 centuries with regard to the Catholic Church. If the Bible is not our final authority then there is no foundation, nothing to refer back to when something new stems up. But with the Bible we have boundaries, we have clarity and we can be certain of what we believe.
Every country has its own constitution. There is a time in every country’s history when there is no constitution for the country but at a particular time and place the leaders of the nation come together to decide on the constitution – the rules, regulations and the system by which the country would be run. Once the constitution is in place neither the leaders who formulated it nor the government are above it. The very leaders who formed the constitution are to be governed by it; they cannot change it at will.
Similarly, there was a time when there was uncertainty as to what books composed the Bible; but since God inspired the Church to choose the books of the New Testament and finalize the Bible, the Church and its leaders ought to submit itself to the written Word of God. The Church and its leaders are not above the Word of God. The Lord has given us in the Bible the system by which we should live. More than just being a book of rules and regulations the Bible is life itself, As Jesus said in John 6:63, ‘ My words are Spirit and Life’.
3. THE CHURCH FATHERS (LEADERS) AND THE EARLY CHURCH
The prominent Church leaders from the first to the fourth or fifth century are often referred to as the early Church Fathers. The Catholic Church justifies many of its practices saying that many of these early Church Fathers and the early Church also believed in those practices. They justify their belief in praying to Mary and the saints, the perpetual virginity of Mary, immaculate conception of Mary, confessions, child baptism, papacy, the belief that the bread and wine turns into the body and blood of Jesus during the Eucharistic celebration etc. by quoting some statements from the early Church Fathers and practices of the Church at that time.
The important question to be asked is, ‘Does the belief of an early Church Father or early Church justify a particular practice?’
A very good example is in Mathew 19:7 where the Pharisees ask Jesus regarding divorce, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” And Jesus replied by saying, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so”.
Moses had permitted divorce, but only because of the hardness of the people’s hearts and it was a practice for centuries. But just because it was a practice (tradition) since the time of Moses, Jesus did not allow his hearers to continue with it. He corrected them. He took them back to the beginning… when God had spoken. He brought them back to the plan and purpose of God, without any compromise!
We see throughout the Old Testament, especially the book of Judges, that the Israelites would follow God sincerely as long as there was a Godly leader leading them. But as soon the leaders’ time was over they would fall back into sin. Many times the leaders themselves who were called and anointed to lead fell into sin in their later years; King Solomon, King Uzziah and King Asa are some examples. As long as the leader followed God and served Him wholeheartedly, according to His word, the nation stayed away from sin and idolatry. But, if the leader did not obey God’s word, the people would soon stray away from God’s commandments.
Something very similar seems to have transpired in the history of the EarlyChurch. Once the time of the direct disciples and apostles of Jesus was over, certain leaders and people seemed to have developed their own beliefs and thinking. We find none of the controversial teachings within the time of John, who was the last of the apostles to be alive. All the teachings deviating from the Word of God rose much later in the second century A.D (Mostly afte 150 A.D). Many of the early leaders of the Church (Church Fathers) instead of going back to what the apostles had taught in the first century developed their own contrary teachings, such as the ones mentioned above. And, of course, the laity believed them and followed them.
The fact that the early Church Fathers were wrong in many of their personal beliefs and teachings is proved by the fact that none of their letters, writings or teachings found a place in the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired the very same Church Fathers to go back to the earliest teachings of the apostles, including those of apostle Paul, and not to any of those between the second century to the fourth. That shows us and proves to us that God knows and affirmed that only the Old Testament and the 27 books found now in the New Testament were pure and without error in doctrine and practice. This also shows and lets us know that none of the later practices or teachings are essential for our life with God but only what was taught by the earliest Church leaders.
If the Holy Spirit thought that the teachings and beliefs that came up later were needed then He would have inspired the leaders to put it into the Bible; but He did not. He just pointed the entire Church back to the teachings and doctrines of the First Church in the first century because that is when the Church was pure and uncorrupted by the thinking of men.
Once the Holy Spirit pointed the Church back to the uncorrupted Word of God, the Bible, the Church in the fourth century should no longer have been doing things the way they wanted to but should have aligned everything they did to the Bible. The responsibility of the Church leaders then was (and now is !) to correct the erroneous teachings and to take them back to the truth that was taught in the beginning as Jesus told the Pharisees; but unfortunately they did not, and for 1500 years almost all Christians were misled by the erroneous teachings and practices, and many of those practices continue in the Catholic Church even to this day!
4. WHAT DID JESUS REALLY SAY IN MATHEW 16:18-19 ?
Jesus said in Mt16:18-19,
18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
a. ON ‘THIS ROCK’
Taking Mt 16:18 in isolation, the Catholic Church has for long claimed that Jesus in this passage meant that Peter is ‘the Rock’ on which the Church is built because He said ‘on this rock I will build my Church’. But this is far from the truth, as Jesus is referring to Himself when He said ‘this rock’.
The most important and clear parallel we find in order to understand this in John 2:18-22,
18 So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”
19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them;and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.
What did Jesus mean when He said destroy ‘this temple’? We know that when Jesus said ‘this temple’ He clearly meant ‘Himself’. But, what did the Pharisees understand? Since Jesus was standing in the temple and looking at the literal temple and speaking, the Pharisees thought that Jesus was referring to the literal structure and even asked how He would build in three days what had originally taken 46 years! The Pharisees were misled because they did not understand the scriptures about the Messiah’s death and resurrection.
Similarly, in Mt 16:18, though Jesus was looking at Peter and speaking, He meant that the Church would be built on ‘this Rock’- Jesus Himself ! The Catholic Church leaders (just as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day) are choosing to be misled by ignoring what the rest of the scripture says.
The rest of the scripture substantiate the fact that Jesus is in fact ‘this rock’ .
In Ephesians 2:20 we read, ‘… having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…’
In 1 Corinthians 10:4 we read, ‘…For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:11 says, ‘For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’
Speaking of Jesus Isaiah 28:16 says, Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “ Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily.
In 1Peter 2:4-8, Peter himself says that Jesus Christ alone is the chief Cornerstone and the Rock on which we are built as a house (Church),
4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,
“ Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”
7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient,
“ The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” 8 and “ A stone of stumbling, And a rock of offense.”
Is 8:14,15, Psalm 118:22, Mt 21:42 also refer to Jesus as the ‘chief cornerstone’. Therefore, the entire Bible refers to Jesus as the Rock, Foundation and Cornerstone on which the Church, His House is built. In Eph 2:20, the Bible says the Church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus being the Chief Cornerstone. So, all apostles and prophets are referred to as the foundation but Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone. So, nowhere in the New Testament or Old Testament do we find that Peter alone is the Rock on which His Church is built. We do not find any of the New Testament authors – Paul, John, James, Jude or even Peter himself – referring to Peter as the Rock. In the Acts of the Apostles we find that in theJerusalemChurch it was not Peter who was in charge but James.
Therefore, with all the above scriptures, especially John 2:18-22, we clearly understand that Jesus in Mt 16:18 was not referring to Peter as the ‘rock’ but Himself. Only a person who chooses to be blind can ignore the weight of scripture for a single scripture in isolation!
b. KEYS OF THE KINGDOM
Peter being given the Keys of the Kingdom here does not mean that he is the one who allows or disallows people into heaven! The keys being given imply the special privilege that Peter was given with respect to the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom (Mt 4:23,24). The special privilege he had was that after the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter was the one who first opened the message of the New Covenant to the Jews and to the Gentile world. In Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, preaching to a multitude of Jews, he converted 3000 of them in a single day and all of them were baptized. Again, in Acts 10 being led by God, he preached to the large household of Cornelius and they were immediately baptized in the Holy Spirit and baptized in water. Peter is the one who opened the door of the Kingdom with the Key of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Jews and Gentiles.
And, when Jesus said whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven… , it was not something that was spoken exclusively to Peter because in Mathew 18:18 we find Jesus giving the same authority to the entire Church.
The Catholic Church says that only they have been given the authority to interpret the Word of God using Mathew 16:18 –19. But, as we study the scriptures carefully we find that there was no special authority, power or position Jesus gave to Peter or any of his successors. Actually, no one has a problem if the Catholic Church interprets the Word of God, but the problem is that they interpret the Word of God by tradition!
We should note that Jesus spoke the words in Mk 7:1-13, to the religious leaders of that time, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law! Jesus rebuked them and corrected them regarding their way of giving primacy to the traditions of men rather than the Word of God.
(An article, ‘Was Peter the first Pope’, with further explanations on the above subject will be soon uploaded)
The final authority rests upon the Word of God, which God in His wisdom has given by the inspiration of His Spirit to the Church. We see in Acts 15:15-18 and Galatians 2:5,14 that when there were doctrinal problems in the early Church, the leaders gave their final decisions based on truth in line with scriptures and not otherwise. The leaders of the Church even today ought to base all decisions relevant to the Church and its functioning, on the Bible and what it teaches, taking it in its entirety and not by taking individual scriptures in isolation.
- Other related Articles: Tradition vs Scripture, Statues, Idols And Images – The Second Commandment
- Listen To Audio Sermons On The Word Of God: