Who has the authority to interpret Scripture in Roman Catholicism?

by Matt Slick

Dear Roman Catholic, how do you know the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church in that it has the authority to forgive sins, give the sacraments, and interpret Scripture?  Is it because you believe the Roman Catholic Church is true because it says it is the true church?  If so, then is that a good enough reason?  If it is, then what do you do when another church claims to be the one true church?  Is a simple claim sufficient?  Of course not.  Besides, if you trust whatever the Roman Catholic Church says about itself, then there's no way to verify if it is true or false because you would always believe whatever it says.  So, if by some chance that were false, you would never know.

The most common answer I've heard from Roman Catholics as to why their church is true is that Jesus gave the apostles the authority to teach the truth, to forgive sins, to administer the sacraments, and to interpret Scripture.  Okay, if that is your position, then why is that your position?  Where do you get the idea that Jesus gave the apostles the apostolic authority?  Is it because the Roman Catholic Church just claims it has the authority, or is there something more?  Is it because you go to the Bible and cite verses such as the following . . .

  • Matthew 16:18-19, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
  • John 20:22-23, "And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.'"
  • 1 Corinthians 11:2, "Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you."
  • 2 Tim. 1:13-14, "Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us."

Is it because of Scriptures like these that you believe the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church?  If so, then I have some questions for you.

  1. By what authority do you interpret the word of God?
  2. How do you know your interpretations of the Scriptures are correct?
  3. Are you giving a private interpretation of the word of God?
  4. Are you interpreting these verses for yourself without the authority of the Roman Catholic Church?
  5. Are you subjecting the entire Roman Catholic Church to your interpretation of Scripture and thereby concluding it is true?

If you reply that you were just reading what the Scriptures say, then when I do the same thing and conclude that the Roman Catholic Church is not the true church, then you can't argue with me since I also am interpreting the Scriptures the same as you.  But, if you say that I am wrong and you are right, then how do you know without asserting your own authority?

But, if you believe the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church and it has the authority to interpret Scripture, then you don't have the authority to interpret it in a manner different from what they tell you it means--which is the same as not being able to interpret at all without it being your own "private interpretation."  And, if you believe what the Scriptures say and your conclusion is that the Roman Catholic Church is true, then you are subjecting the entire Roman Catholic Church to the validity of your own interpretations.

Do you see the problem from your perspective?  You are required to subject yourself to whatever the Roman Catholic Church tells you is true, yet you do the opposite when you look at Scripture to judge the Roman Catholic Church to be true.



About The Author

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