[Editor’s note: Below is a series of questions and answers from a seeker who is considering converting to Catholicism but who has a lot of general questions about the reliability of the Bible.  This one will take some time to wade through]

Question #1:

How do we know that the Bible is the Bible if we don’t also believe that the Catholic Church is the true church God works through since they put it together at councils? How can we take one thing from them as truth but not the rest of what they say, especially since Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail?  How can the Catholic Church have gone wrong if Jesus wouldn’t have left us abandoned? Protestants don’t agree on everything in the Bible (hence the denominations) so wouldn’t that also denounce Jesus’ prayer for unity and denounce Protestantism?  The Bible also doesn’t state what books need to be in the Bible, so how do we know if other books found or used in small circles like Greek Orthodox are not also the canon/Word of God? Wouldn’t we need an authority figure or group to say what is and isn’t? Wouldn’t we therefore need a pope?  Who’s got the fullness of truth if they all claim to use the Bible?  Wouldn’t all Protestants be united if the Bible is so easy to understand?  Why are things not explicitly explained in the Bible and left for interpretation (which adds to denominational debates)? I’m searching for truth.  Even the Eunuch asked for explanation of scriptures, so clearly it’s not easy to understand for oneself.  Wouldn’t it be better to just agree on everything regarding church doctrine?  It’s to the point that some Christians don’t even baptize. If it was done for thousands of years, how can revelation be just coming out thousands after? Was everyone else led astray up until the Methodists started? Or the Baptists? Or Assembly of God? This is all so confusing for me.  Disunity makes it hard to believe what is truth, even if the Bible is truth, because all Protestants have the Bible and now in the 1900’s “Bible churches” are a thing now…like as if they weren’t before? I’m confused with Christianity sometimes.

Answer:

The New Testament (and therefore the entire Bible) was put in its final form by the second century AD.  This was two hundred years before anything remotely like the Roman Catholic Church existed.  Therefore, your premise is not correct.  The “Catholic Church” (by which I assume you mean the Roman Catholic Church) did not put it together.   In any case, it is a FACT that the New Testament canon was not decided at any council of the church.  The first Church council was the Council of Nicaea, which occurred in AD 325.  The entire New Testament was in its final form nearly two hundred years before this council met.  All that happened at this council is that the already-accepted canon of the New Testament was confirmed.

Jesus has never abandoned his Church, but it has always been true that there have been people who claimed to be Christians who held to false doctrine and who embraces unchristian practices.  The fact (and it is a fact) that the Roman Catholic Church eventually abandoned correct doctrine and accepted rather blatantly unbiblical practices is not evidence that Jesus abandoned the Church.  It is evidence that the Roman Catholic Church abandoned Jesus.  Let us not be confused about this.

Do not worry yourself about Catholicism or Protestantism.  Your job, as an individual, is to read the Bible, determine what it tells you about what the Christian faith should look like, and find a group which is teaching and practicing true New Testament Christianity.  There are plenty of groups out there doing exactly this.  I do not worry myself about what the Catholics or the Protestants are doing.  Whether they are doing the right thing or teaching the right thing is between them and God.  I have found a Christian group with which I am very confident that we are putting New Testament Christianity into effect.  There was a situation in which the apostles asked Jesus, “what about those guys?”  Jesus told them not to worry about them.  This is in Mark 9:38-41.  Do not worry about what the Methodists, or the Baptists or the Catholics or the Pentecostals are doing.  We have the Bible.  Let us put it into practice in our lives and leave the judging to Jesus.

As for the canon of the Bible, there is essentially zero doubt about what the very early church saw as being the canonical Bible.  The 27 NT books and the 39 OT books are not in doubt.  The fact that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church accepts a couple of extra books or that the Roman Catholic Church accepts the Apocrypha does little to affect you.  The Jews are all in agreement on the 39 books of the Old Testament, so just stick with them.  It is very simple.  The primitive church was eventually unanimous about the New Testament (long before any council was held).  You can be confident about those 27 books.  Are there nuances?  Are there interesting facts to consider?  Sure, but as to the basics, it is very clear.  Stick to the early Christian New Testament and to the Jewish Old Testament—66 books—and you will be just fine.  We DEFINITELY do not need or want a pope to determine the Bible.  God entrusted this to the apostles and to the primitive church.

Like Peter said, the Bible has only one interpretation (2 Peter 1:19-21).  The fact that humans have different interpretations is unfortunate, of course, but we have the Bible and we can interpret it for ourselves.  Besides, it is helpful to study Church History in order to understand how the false doctrines arose over time.   Here is the hard fact, believers (whether Catholic or Protestant or Independent Christian) do have differences of doctrine.  OK, that is true, but it is your job to read the Bible for yourself, use critical judgment, and reach the conclusion about which is the correct teaching.

Things ARE explicitly explained in the Bible.  The problem is that humans, in their sinful nature, distort the truth.  However, the truth is plain, it is well explained in the Bible, and it is our job to believe the truth in the Bible.  The Bible is not confusing.

The doctrine of baptism is a good example.  The teaching is 100% crystal clear.  Salvation occurs at baptism in water for forgiveness of sins. Acts 2:38 is not hard to interpret.  ALL early church leaders agreed fully with this.  There are no exceptions to this rule for many centuries after Christ.  Yet, people choose not to accept this rather obvious teaching.  Please do not be discouraged about this.  Just teach the truth and let God judge those wo do not.   I disagree that the Eunuch was confused.  He had never even heard the gospel.  He had no New Testament (unlike us who do!).  He asked what to do, and was told to be baptized, so he accepted baptism and was saved.  The Eunuch did not understand that Isaiah 53 applied to Jesus simply because he did not know who Jesus was.  Once he heard, it was not hard for him to understand at all.

Would it be better if everyone agreed?  Obviously, it would, but this is not the case.  We should not be so surprised.  Jesus told us that only a few would be saved (Matthew 7:13-14).  Our job is to hear, believe, accept and obey the truth.  It is also to teach the truth.  But worrying about what others believe is not a good use of your mental energy.  Believe, accept, practice and teach the truth and you will be just fine.

The fact that some do not believe the truth should not, logically, make it hard for you to believe the truth.  If most people thought that 2 + 2 = 5, this would not worry you because you know that 2 + 2 = 4.    Read, believe, accept, obey and teach the scriptures and find a church which does so—or as close as possible as far as you can tell, and you will be fine.

John Oakes

Question #2

I still have many questions even after your response, you left many blanks that don’t have explicit back-up.  The Jews did not have a solid Old Testament scripture until the 2nd century. By then, the apostles had already spread the Gospel to nearly every surrounding country. You are forgetting that the Septuagint had many of the “Apocrypha” books you are claiming to be apocrypha, which therefore must have been used to explain to gentiles who had no idea who or why a Messiah had to come. I place “apocrypha” in quotes because I am trying to read history, not personal opinion by people. I am searching for truth and don’t want a someone to denounce the Catholic Church since I am still keeping open to it because they were around for 1500 years before the Protestant reformation happened (as well as before scripture was widely available to every person) and let alone someone in 2017 telling how truth is actually interpreted. There are numerous books in which men (that we had to have trusted) would tell us to accept the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Judas. There is even MORE “apocrypha” than you are even countering like 3 Maccabees that Greek Orthodoxy has in their Bible. You just don’t really give a good explanation by simply saying “it just was” decided. Who would have taught these things, if not the bishops that were all in communion with each other–aka “catholic” (which really just means universal).

Another thing you did not mention was early Christians writing. I have read Against Heresies by Irenaeus in which he explicitly denounces anyone who denies the real presence of the Eucharist. Every single church today besides the Catholic Churches, says it is merely a symbol. And when I read John 6, it clearly states Jesus lost followers over him saying to “eat his body”.  By the way, I have to label even the Bible churches you spoke about as protestant because, lets be real, Protestant just means “protest” against the Catholic Church, and basically, people who just read the Bible are also protesting the Catholic Church because again, they were started by a man who believed he interpreted scripture better than the next guy. Basically all Protestants seem to be is a bunch of churches of men who think they know more than the next guy. The Catholic Church has councils, meetings, discussions, long ago, and still today, and are involved highly in literally everything a person does. Whether a Protestant thinks that’s “controlling” or not, when you read scripture, it tells you to DO things, not JUST believe. What would you respond to someone who thinks about IVF or abortion or birth control or gay marriage? MOST ALL Protestant churches don’t even take issue on birth control. Why? Wouldn’t Jesus have left us a teacher to guide us in all we DO? Or are you saying that it will be found in the Bible? Because I haven’t found a scripture where Jesus says “do not take birth control” or “do take birth control”. And don’t get me started on divorces. Jesus literally says don’t divorce, yet 99% of people, and churches (minus the Catholic Church) allow for this to happen. They don’t even have a say in it! Yes, Yes, I know you said just read the Bible, but this doesn’t exactly make sense considering again, no one had the Bible for CENTURIES. Are you saying all of them didn’t know the REAL truth?

Answer:

I am a bit busy, so I will pick the first two or three of your questions and invite you to write again some time soon.

I am not sure what you mean by “the Jews did not have a solid Old Testament scripture until the second century.”  The Jewish canon was set by the third century BC.  This is when the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was made.  We have manuscripts of every Old Testament book except Esther in the Dead Sea Scrolls from the third to first century BC.  So, I do not know what you mean when you say that the Jews did not have a solid Old Testament until the second century.  In fact, Jesus quoted from nearly every book in the Old Testament.

The Septuagint never included the Apocrypha.  This is simply not true.  The Jews NEVER accepted any of the Apocrypha in their Bible.  It was the early church that accepted these books.  They were included in the Vulgate translation of the Bible.  This Latin translation was made in the late fourth century AD by Jerome.  We have on record that Jerome did not want to include the OT Apocrypha in his translation, but, unfortunately, many of the early church leaders were using these books, so Jerome agreed to include it in his translation.  However, the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament never included these books, most of which were never in Hebrew at all.  One of the reasons Jerome did not want to include these books was that the Jews did not include them, but also because they were not in Hebrew original.

It is true that the early church used the Apocrypha, and this is unfortunate, but as far as I know, they did not use it to prove that Jesus is the Messiah.  I know of nothing on Wisdom or Ecclesiasticus or Judith or Tobit or 1,2 Maccabees which is used to prove that Jesus is the Messiah.

I try my best not to denounce the Catholic Church.  I have often pointed out that much of the theology of the Roman Catholic Church is biblical–often closer to biblical theology than the Protestants.  But, let us face it, there are major problems, biblically, with Catholicism as practiced.  I can discuss this more later if you like.

The supposed “gospels” of Peter, Thomas and Judas are so obviously not canonical and so obviously in complete contradiction with the four canonical gospels than no serious person can believe that they are inspired scripture.  In Thomas, Jesus says   Simon Peter says to them: “Let Mary go out from our midst, for women are not worthy of life!” Jesus says: “See, I will draw her so as to make her male so that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who has become male will enter the Kingdom of heaven.”   Judas has even more outrageous and obviously not inspired passages.  There is no legitimate confusion about which gospels are inspired by God.  They are the four canonical gospels.

I, too, have read Irenaeus.  He did believe in the real presence of Jesus, but not in the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.  By the way, both Calvin and Luther also believed in the real presence (although Zwingli did not).   In their great colloquium, Luther said to Zwingli that Jesus said, “This is my body.” and that this was good enough for him.  Personally, I do not believe that the bread and wine are “just” a symbol.  I am open to the idea of the real presence, but I do not accept transubstantiation.  In my opinion this is not an essential doctrine, and Christians can legitimately disagree about the doctrine of the real presence and still be saved.  You should be careful to label all non-Roman Catholics as disagreeing with the real presence.  This is not accurate.

You can call anyone you want whatever you want, but scholars of religion will disagree that the only two choices are Protestant and Catholic.  Protestant churches are ones who follow the traditions of Luther, Zwingli or Calvin, and I DEFINITELY do not follow those traditions.  I have already said that I find myself closer to Catholic than to Protestant theology on many points, so I suggest, humbly, to you that you not label someone like me as Protestant, as I protest against Calvinism at least as much as against Catholicism.  Calvin, Luther and Zwingli returned Christianity to Augustinian belief, but not to biblical belief, in my opinion.  I believe in following the Bible only.  I am a Christian, not a Protestant.  But, if you want to call me Protestant, that is your priviledge 😊

All for now.  Sorry I did not address all your questions.

John Oakes

Question #3

Thank you for taking your time to answer, I enjoy reading them. Most Protestants or Bible Christians I talk to will not explain things as much as Catholics, who are more willing to go into depth. So I appreciate your responses. I do want to point out that the doctrines of the trinity, which Jehovas disagree with, and even Mormons, became doctrine because people back in the beginning centuries were also denouncing it. Without a collaborative hierarchichal church to say what is and isn’t, anyone can interpret scripture to go to their idea. Because even I find myself reading saying “now why would he cry out that if he’s God…” etc…and again, without taking he position of trinity as “he just is! God the father God the son God the Holy Spirit” as the Catholic Church pushed, then many people today would not know it explicitly from scripture. This also goes with transubstantiation.  Many Christians said it’s just bread how can it literally be his body. So the church coined this word to explain, “it just is”. But if there was no church, and no TRADITION….we would not hold this still today. And you are mistaken, Jesus says in John 6:51-71. Read it with the Catholic doctrine in your mind, and you may see yourself running to their communion.

Answer:

It is my opinion (and I want to emphasize the word opinion), that it is VERY clear what Jesus and the apostles taught about him.  It is my opinion, based on scripture that there is no reasonable doubt what Jesus said about himself.  He was God in the flesh!  Now, you may not be clear in your own mind about that at this point in your life, and I respect that, but, again, this is my conclusion, based on the evidence as I see it.

Then there is the fact, as you express it, that human beings have had different opinions about this.  I, obviously, acknowledge this.  No one can deny this.  However, the fact that people have had different opinions does not mean the scripture is not clear on this subject.  I believe that there is no reasonable doubt that Jesus declared himself God and that all of the apostles believed he was God.  The fact that JWs and others dispute this is irrelevant to the facts of the case.  Either he was or he was not and either the Bible is clear or it is not.  But in any case, if there is false teaching out there, this alone does not mean that a self-appointed church or a particular individual has all authority to determine Christian truth.  This would be quite a leap of logic.

But again, I respect the fact that you are struggling with this question and my “job” is to give you useful information in order to continue your search for the truth.  So, let me do that very briefly.

John 1:1   In the beginning was the Word.  The Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.

John 1:14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.            I believe that this is clear, but will let you decide.

John 8:58   “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born I AM.”  At this, they picked up stones to stone him…                            Again, I believe that this is very clear, but you can decide.

Colossians 1:15-16   Coll 2:9    Again, I believe that the deity of Christ is well established by these passages, but you can decide.

John 10:30-33     The people tell Jesus that he is claiming to be God, and he does not deny this.   Again, it is clear to me, but you decide.

Getting back to your point, yes it was true that there was debate over the nature of Christ in the third and fourth century, and even some debate in the second century, but my conviction is that the apostles were totally in agreement on this and that the Bible is clear on this, which is sufficient for me.  I am not personally bothered that the JWs do not accept the biblical teaching.  (Actually, I am bothered by this, but what I mean is that it does impact my faith).

On transubstantiation, this is not an essential teaching.  One person believes in this.  Another does not.  This does not affect my salvation and I can deal with the fact that people disagree.   This is a very different case than the nature of Christ.  The nature of Christ is 100% crystal clear from a biblical point of view in my opinion.  The exact nature of the elements in the Lord’s Supper is not 100% crystal clear, I will concede, but this is not a salvation issue and Christians should never divide over this issue.  I already said that I disagree with transubstantiation, but that I am open to the “real presence” doctrine, but am not fully convinced.  Either way, I can fellowship with people with a variety of views on this simply because this is not an essential teaching of Christianity.  The acrimonious debate on this amongst Protestants and between Protestants and Catholics on this is not justified in my opinion.  Jesus said, “This is my body.”  I am prepared to leave the exact meaning of this a somewhat of a mystery and go from there.

I would agree with you that if it were not for Catholic tradition, probably no one would believe in transubstantiation.  This is because 1. It is not supported in the Bible and 2. Because it really does not make sense.   However, like I said, I do not believe this is an essential teaching.  Having said this, in this particular situation the existence of a Catholic tradition is not helpful in my opinion, but that is just my opinion.   I choose NOT to read the Bible through Catholic tradition because Jesus told us not to do such a thing in Mark 7:1-13.

I have some significant problems with Catholic practices, to be honest, but this teaching is not a major issue to me, personally.   And remember that I am neither Protestant nor Catholic and I am on the fence as to which group more accurately teach and practice Christianity.  I prefer to leave both behind and simply be a Christian based on the Biblie.

John Oakes

Question #4

What about this:   Regarding tradition and not scripture ALONE:    1 Corinthians 11:2    2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6    Paul says to hold fast to tradition. And this is Paul mind you…not an original 12 apostle. I’m not denouncing his tradition as practice because I am being open to tradition in general. I want to emphasize too that THIS is why the Catholic Church is beginning to make more and more sense. They have a basis.  They never did not have the Eucharist when gathering together. The Bible clearly states to not to defile yourselves before the body and blood of our lord. (1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:27). That says a lot about churches today. And all signs (or scripture) points to Catholicism. It is becoming harder and harder not to give them all the credit.

You have never once mentioned Sirach. There is MUCH to be said about that book. Lots of words that line up perfectly with New Testament teaching.

I’m sorry that you are so negative about the Catholic Church. I am finding the more I talk non Catholics the more I’m drawn to Catholicism. I have also listened to many converts from non Catholics into Catholicism and they say they have never left behind anything, but rather added more joy to their faith. Never angry, like this who leave Catholicism (priests who are gay or lay people who weren’t fully into the fullness of faith).

Thank you so much for all your words. It helps me to sort out if I am thinking truth or not.

Answer:

If you are talking about the “tradition” of the apostles themselves, that I can see that, but the traditions of uninspired people has no authority to me.  The apostles were inspired.  And Peter himself told us that Paul was an apostle and that his words were scripture, so there is no doubt that Paul’s writings are inspired (2 Peter 3:14-16) Taking this passage out of context and applying it to Joe or Mary Christian who claims to have authoritative tradition, this I cannot accept.  This passage does NOT teach that one particular Christian group has inspired tradition, and it should not be used for this.

All bishops in the primitive church after the first century had full access to the entire Old and New Testaments.  I certainly hope they did not interpret according to their tradition, because Jesus told us not to do that.  But if they did, to that extent they should not have done so.  They should have let scripture speak for itself.  That is my view.

I am NOT down on or negative toward Catholics or Catholicism.  I have tried to emphasize this.  I find anti-Catholic bias to be unhelpful.  I have emphasized this repeatedly in my series on Church History (available at www.ipibooks.com)

I have read Sirach.  Much can be said for this book.  Much can be said for the book Mere Christianity by CS Lewis.  Much can be said for many spiritual books.  The book Daniel, Prophet to the Nations that I wrote is pretty good as well.  You might want to pick up a copy at www.ipibooks.com  The question is not whether they are good books with much wisdom.  The question is whether they are inspired.  I cannot PROVE that Sirach is not inspired (but there are a couple of very questionable verses in there, by the way!  I do not believe that Sirach 19:7 is good advice.  I definitely do not believe that Sirach 19:19 or Sirach 3:14-15 are inspired.  Look at Sirach 3:29.  These passage directly contradict New Testament teachings).  However, it is not in the accepted Hebrew canon, and therefore I do not treat it as scripture.  Sirach is in a different category that Proverbs.  That is my conclusion.

John Oakes

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