I have to start this post with an admission. I didn’t understand during my childhood or even teen years one of the major dividing points between Catholics and Protestants; the Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura,” or “Bible only.”
The short explanation of the doctrine, at least how I understand it, is that everything we can know about the Christian faith is contained in Holy Scripture. We need nothing beyond that. By and large, Protestants believe that anything else is extra, and a distraction, perhaps, from the Holy Word of God.
I also want to say that I truly do admire the Protestant verve over Scripture. After all, there are few things more invigorating as words of our Lord himself, not to mention the stories of those who lived in Jesus’ time, and in the case of the Old Testament, the base of Christian history, and how pre-Jesus and post-Jesus all flow together into one cohesive guide. The emphasis many Protestants put on Scripture should be a light to us all.
But having said all that, from early on in my “entering the real world” years, I was stumped over the idea that some Christians were “Bible-believing” and some were not. Churches touted their offerings by those very words. “We are a Bible-believing Christian church!” The problem to me was, aren’t we all? I scratched my head, wondering what I’d missed along the way.
I’m still looking for the answer to that one, actually, but in the meantime, I’ve come to a partial understanding of what the term “Bible believing” means. The idea, I think, is that if your church places a strong and whole emphasis on the Bible alone as the authority on which the Church stands, then you are a Bible-believing church. Anyone else — namely the Catholics, and I’m sure there are other variations of the Christian faith that might qualify too — would be the non-Bible-believing churches…I guess?
I’m still stuck on that, because our Mass and the Eucharist at its center — the source and summit of our faith — is completely Biblical. But I want to move past this temporarily to get to my main point, which is this. Yes to holding the Bible high. I’m there. And for the sake of discussion, I’ll even grant this idea of sola scriptura, even though I have a different understanding of what the whole of Christendom comprises. But there’s something else that bothers me, especially since having invested in my current read, “Where We Got the Bible,” by Henry G. Graham.
Now full disclosure here, Graham was a convert from Presbyterianism to Catholicism, in the early 1900s and at a time when converts to Catholicism were very rare, especially in his native Scotland. The son of a minister destined to become the same, he somehow landed in Rome. I’m reading about his conversion now.
In the main part of the book, he goes into great detail on the origins of the Bible, and it’s all been more than enlightening to me, especially given this idea that the Catholic faith is labeled, by some Christians, as not being Biblical. Graham makes the case, and very expertly, that this isn’t even close to being true. And having read it now, and realizing just how many translations and editions and variations of Holy Scripture have come into being, both in the years since the canon was finalized and prior to it, I’m now asking new questions. Including, if it’s really sola scriptura, which version?
After reading Graham’s very well laid out case for the origins of the Bible, I can’t help but wonder that if, indeed, the Bible is our only authority for our Christian faith, should we be in more conformity over what version of the Bible is the right one? Consensus has been hard won through these many years since Christ’s death, and that concerns me, and should concern anyone who wants to get it right.
It seems to be a matter of importance, especially if one is basing his whole life on Scripture, that the version of Scripture serving at that base should be solidly agreed upon. There should be no question whatsoever that it is the complete word of God, right?
More and more, Christians are being challenged on Scripture, stories that have an increasingly secular world confused and, therefore, are refuting its validity and relevance. It’s becoming harder for Christians to argue their points based on Scripture given this environment.
Now I certainly wouldn’t propose getting rid of Scripture, but I am wondering more and more how we’re going to settle the variances among ourselves so that we will have a unified version to offer that we can all agree to stand by.
I haven’t even dared yet open the can of worms of differing versions between Christian and Protestant traditions — the reality that the Catholic Bible has more books, and that those extra books also can change our understanding of our Christian story.
All of this might seem benign, but in the end, if we are going to rise and fall by Scripture, we should care, I would think.
So, what’s the answer? How do we solve the variances? I feel confident in the Catholic Church’s view of Scripture. We uphold and honor and live by Scripture too, but it’s not all we uphold and honor and live by. We have Sacred Tradition to complement Scripture, and together, these two make the whole. In fact, Sacred Tradition came first, and Scripture from Sacred Tradition. Or, as Graham says toward the end of his book, “The Bible is the Church’s offspring.”
I didn’t write this to unnecessarily challenge my Protestant friends on sola scriptura, however. That’s an age-old difference between our traditions that likely will stay firm. But that doctrine and the variances of said scriptura raise questions in my mind; questions that, in an increasingly secular world, we’re going to need to answer.
This is an inquiry post more than anything; a chance for me to try to wrap my brain around something that has confounded me for a while now. I’m open to the ideas of others regarding the above thoughts that have me perplexed, or any related subject matter.
Q4U: What questions about Scripture tug at you?