Roman Catholic Church's authority to interpret scripture violates scripture

by Matt Slick

" . . . no one, relying on his own skill, shall,--in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine,--wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,--whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,--hath held and doth hold," (Trent, Session 4, "Decree Concerning the Edition, and the Use, of the Sacred Books")

The Roman Catholic Church is telling us that when it comes to faith, morals, and doctrine, Christians are not allowed to interpret Scripture in contradiction to how the Roman Catholic Church interprets it. This means there is no way for Catholics to know if the Roman Catholic Church is false because they are obligated to never contradict the RCC when examining Scripture. They must submit to whatever it says is proper biblical interpretation. This means the Catholic must yield to any and all official teachings that his church would proclaim in the areas of faith, morals, and doctrine. But, if such faithful submission to its teaching authority is the case, why does Paul speak to the contrary?

"Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God." (Romans 14:1-6).

Paul is speaking of dietary laws (eating, fasting, etc.) and days of worship. Consider what verse five says, "One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike . . . " Paul must be including days of worship since he mentions "one day above another." In addition, isn't the Sabbath also included in "every day"?  Of course, so this is a matter of doctrine. Yet Paul does not tell us to submit to a magisterium and what it says about doctrine. To the contrary, he says that a person is to be "fully convinced in his own mind." How can that be the case if we are supposed to submit to whatever the Roman Catholic Church teaches regarding such doctrines?

What does it mean to be fully convinced in your own mind? If the Roman Catholic individual interprets the phrase to mean that a person can make a decision on his own about doctrine, then that contradicts what the Council of Trent said. But, if he submits to what the Council of Trent says, then he is not allowed to look at the scriptures and "be fully convinced in his own mind"--unless he always agrees with the Roman Catholic Church! In actuality, he's obligated to just submit and believe what he is told. This is, of course, dangerous because it removes from the person the right of "examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11). This effectively invalidates any way for the Roman Catholic to discern, using God's word, whether or not the Catholic Church is teaching the truth.

Questions for Catholics

  1. Does the phrase "let each man be convinced in his own mind" mean that a person is able to look at the Scriptures and be fully convinced according to what he sees it says? If not, why not? 
  2. If the phrase "let each man be convinced in his own mind" means that he is able to interpret Scripture on his own, what does he do if he believes that what he sees in Scripture contradicts the Roman Catholic Church's teaching?
  3. If the phrase "let each man be convinced in his own mind" means that he is able to interpret Scripture on his own, then doesn't that contradict the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church which denies you the right to interpret God's word regarding faith, morals, and doctrine in a manner inconsistent with what it proclaims?



About The Author

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