Discussion with a Catholic on interpreting the Bible

by Matt Slick

The following dialogue is a good representation of the importance of presuppositions.  In other words, you will interpret things according to your presuppositions.  Dan:  raised an excellent question regarding how do we know who has the right interpretation for something.  I really didn't focus on the standard answer to that question dealing with interpretive methods.  Instead, I tried to demonstrate that we are right in so far as we agree with the Bible.


Dan: Hi. I am a Catholic and I know that I am in the true church because it was started by Jesus, expanded by the Apostles who gave the power of leadership to the bishops. My question is how do you know that your beliefs are right when other Protestants claim to do everything that you do but still come with different believes?
Matt: I base it on the Bible.
Dan:  But Luther said the same thing and he believed in the real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine. Other Protestants do not.
Matt: That's nice.
Dan:  That is my question. All Protestants say they base it on the Bible, but each church comes with something different.
Matt: Purgatory? Praying to Mary? Penance? Indulgences? Are these in the Bible? No.
Dan: Is it in the Bible is not the right question. Because each church claims that different things are in the Bible. Luther and Catholics claim Eucharist is in the Bible other churches do not. My question is how do you know who is right?
Matt: Is it in the Bible or not? That is the issue...
Dan:  Yes, but different people interpret the Bible differently. Who is right?
Matt: The Bible is right. Stick to it.
Dan:  Yes. But who has the right interpretation of it?
Matt: God. Read the Bible and stick to it.
Dan:  To whom does God reveal his interpretation?
Matt: To Christians
Dan: That is my problem. You read it and you say that this fragment means this. I say that it does not mean this. Someone one else reads the same thing and he says that both of us are wrong because it means this.
Matt: Stick to the Bible. Listen.....  Jesus said that His sheep hear HIS voice and follow HIM, right?
Dan:  Yes
Matt: The Bible is God's (Jesus') word, right?
Dan:  Yes
Matt: Christians will follow Jesus, right?
Dan:  I cannot answer this one
Matt: Christians DON'T follow Jesus?
Dan: Yes they do
Matt: Jesus said Christians hear his voice and follow HIM, right?  Where is Jesus' voice found? Is it in sacred tradition? Is it in my words? Where is Jesus' voice found?
Dan: In the Bible and in those who are filled with Holy Spirit.
Matt: The Holy Spirit bears witness of Jesus.
Dan: Yes
Matt: Jesus said His sheep follow HIM and listen to HIS voice... none other.
Dan: Yes
Matt: Whose voice have you been listening too?
Dan: God's.
Matt: Jesus points to Himself, right?
Dan: Yes.
Matt: Then you must study the Bible to find His voice, right? It IS His word, right?
Dan: Yes, I read it almost everyday for 4 years.
Matt: Good... now, which dominates your interpretation? The Catholic Church over it or IT over the Catholic Church? Who's voice do you listen to?
Dan: None, I do not find any disagreement between the Bible and the church. And that is my problem. You find it. I do not. You read the Bible I read the Bible. Who is right?
Matt: None? Then you are not listening to Jesus are you?
Dan: According to you, but not to me and other people. How can we decide?
Matt: First, get on your knees. Pray to Jesus. Ask him to reveal the truth to you... Read HIS word. Subject yourself to IT. Because it is His voice.  Look.... I am pointing you to HIM, not a church.... A church doesn't save. Jesus does.
Dan: Most days I pray over an hour. I read the Bible then I think about it. Many times I did not understand something. I kept on reading. Within few days or months I read something that cleared up the thing I did not understand.
Matt: That's good.  Do you pray to Mary?
Dan: No I pray through her, but I do not want to get into any of these beliefs because we will not get anywhere.
Matt: The Bible says there is ONE mediator, not two. Praying THRU her is just a way of saying you pray TO her...but without the obvious difficulties involved.
Dan: Do you ask other people to pray for you?
Matt: They are here with me. They are not dead. Jesus is risen, the one mediator. Others are not my mediator. Neither is Mary. Your praying through Mary is praying TO her. Where is this found in the Bible?
Dan: Do you ask others to pray for you.
Matt: Yes. I do.  Are they my mediator between God and me? No.  Where does it say we can pray to or through Mary?
Dan: I ask my spiritual mother to pray for me. That is all: I say Mary pray for me. Not Mary grant me this or that.
Matt: Okay, we're done.....
Dan: You see I told you I do not want to go into that because this will happen.  But you showed one thing. That you are not open minded. When you hear something you do not want to hear you just cover your ears.
Matt: What happened is that you deny God's word.... We cannot go further... we're done. You don't get it.  I am trying to get you to trust God's word in totality and sufficiently.   You do not want to do that.  You want to hold on to what you have been taught by the RC church.  I do not doubt my salvation or my assurance that Mary is not my mediator. Why? Because the Bible does not teach it. Simple.  If you deviate from the Bible, you WILL end up in error. I tried to get you to see it. You do not want to.... You want to excuse the unbiblical practice you have. Therefore, how can I get you to see? I cannot. It is your choice. Therefore, we are done.
Dan: So ok. You are not close-minded but you believe that you are right and every one else is wrong. And that is my question. How come you are so sure that you are right?
Matt: I am not sure I am right about everything.  I am only right in so far as I agree with the Bible.
Dan: That is what I meant. I and other Protestants who have different beliefs then you are also sure that they agree with the Bible. How do you know that we are wrong?
Matt: Read Rom. 14:1-12. I'll wait.
Dan: Ok  [nothing for a couple minutes]  and
Matt: Did you read it?
Dan: Yes
Matt: What is the point in it?
Dan: Not to judge others.
Matt: How about allow differencing opinions...? on non essentials? right?
Dan: Yes. 
Matt: Good
Dan: And?
Matt: So, according to God, there is room for variation in non-essential beliefs, right?   Therefore, it is not essential that we Protestants agree on every detail, correct?   But, we ARE to agree on the essentials of the faith.  Do you know what those essentials are? www.carm.org/christianity/christian-doctrine/essential-doctrines-christianity.
Dan: Yes, but for example Eucharist is not something small. If it is false I am worshiping bread.
Matt: True. But you start with the basics, and then work up.
Dan: Also salvation
Matt: Yes... But, the Bible is the standard of truth isn't it?
Dan: Yes and we should disregard all teachings that do not agree with it.
Matt: If the Bible is the standard of truth, then you should make sure you agree with it as much as possible, right?  Correct.... as much as is possible.
Dan: But you see I do not see disagreement between it and the teachings of the Catholic church. How we can decide that I am wrong and you are right? How can we prove it?
Matt: Easy. Where in the Bible does it state we are to use Mary as a mediator, someone to pray to, or even through?
Dan: Nowhere. But we Catholics see things pointing to it like we and you see things pointing to the Trinity.
Matt: If the teaching of prayer thru/to Mary is nowhere in the Bible, then is it safe to do it?
Dan: That is why I cannot prove to you that we can pray thru Mary because you see the same thing differently.
Matt: But... I see that the Bible teaches me to pray to God, that there is ONE mediator, etc. Therefore, I only have Jesus as my mediator.
Dan: So that is why I am trying to find out how we can find out who sees it as it is.
Matt: Then go to the Bible. Read it. Don't go beyond it.  We have a tendency to make it into what it isn't. I'm guilty of that too sometimes, but... if I try and stick to it alone, I have far less chance of error.
Dan: But it is not that simple, I do not think I go beyond it. You think I do. That depends on how we view it.
Matt: Perhaps, but the Bible does not teach prayer to or through Mary, does it?
Dan: But to me the Bible teaches that there is something like tradition and that I should listen to it. The Bible points and tradition says that I can ask Mary for prayer. But you will disagree because you do not see the Bible saying that we should listen to apostolic tradition
Matt: Then your tradition supercedes the Bible?   Where does it say in the voice of Jesus, that you are to pray to or through Mary?
Dan: No, as I said the Bible points to it like the Bible points to Trinity. But lets get off this because we will get nowhere.
Matt: You see, the Bible does teach the Trinity. http://www.carm.org/christianity/christian-doctrine/what-trinity.  It does not teach that you can pray to or through Mary.  This is simply an example of how you know if you are being biblical or not. Does the Bible teach the Trinity? Yes.  Does the Bible teach prayer to or through Mary? No.
Dan: To you, because you see it differently. Who sees it like it is?
Matt: You admitted the Bible didn't teach it. So, you know that God has not approved it.  Why do you want to hold on to this?
Dan: To me, Jesus says my body is real food and my blood is real drink. I do not see other way to take it, but you take it other way.
Matt: I'd be glad to talk to you another time on this... but I am trying to get you to see a principle dealing with what the Bible does and doesn't say. Why don't you think about it and let's talk again another time?
Dan: So we will never convince each other because I see a 4 and you see a 3.
Matt: Sorry, I want to listen to the voice of Jesus, not man's tradition.
Dan: Okay, but can you think about a way to find out is it a 3 or a 4.  Thanks for the talk
Matt: You're welcome and thank you as well.


I thought this conversation went well.  The place where I said "We are done" was an attempt by me to get this person to see that we were at an roadblock, that he did not want to see beyond his own preset ideas even if the Bible contradicted it.

I firmly believe that the Bible is where we should be looking for spiritual truth and not the traditions of men.



About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.