Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Catholics and the Bible or "It depends on what the meaning of Is is."

Early in my evangelical days, I was taught by my pastor and Bible study leaders (my magisterium at the time) that Catholics don't take the Bible literally. One of the examples brought up was the creation story in Genesis. They maintained that all real believers must accept that the world was made in 6 days and couldn't possibily be more than 6,000 years old. They said all Catholics believe in evolution and therefore don't take the Bible literally. This was rather simplistic thinking but I accepted it at the time. It was a little tougher for me to accept 6 day creation when I was studying comparative anatomy and genetics in undergrad and then embryology and human anatomy in medical school. But I stuck to my guns and ignored the science right there in front of me. (The presence of gill slits and a tail in the developing human is a tough one to ignore!)

Catholics believe that faith and science are not in oppostion, and good science should always support faith and vicea versa. Yesterday, the fossilized skeleton of a baby over 3 million years old was discovered in Ethiopia. That would make a 6000 year old earth unlikely. As a Catholic, I don't shut off my intellect and just ignore the findings and claim that "carbon dating is satanic and used to deceive people." Instead, I believe what God intended to convey to us in Genesis: that God created man and intended for us to walk with Him, but our rebellion separated us from Him, foreshadowing our need for a Savior. The Church doesn't mandate that you believe this occurred in 6 days or 6 million years. As an astute Carmelite friar said during the Galileo saga in the 16th Century, "the Scriptures aren't written to tell us how the heavens go, but how to tell us how to go to Heaven!"

Upon returning to the Catholic Church after a 30 year hiatus in protestantism, I have since learned that Catholics take the Bible literally in many areas that non-Catholics don't.
For instance, when the Scriptures say "Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins," the Church has always taken that literally and taught that baptism is a sacrament conveying Christ's redemption through the waters sprinkled/(immersed) on a new believer. As a protestant, I was taught that baptism is just symbolic and they don't take the Bible literally here.
Another example is that Christ told us to eat his body and drink His blood (John 6). The word he uses for "eat" means to literally chew or gnaw! At the Last Supper, He gave his disciples a piece of unleavened bread and said "take and eat, this is my body." Notice He didn't say "this is like my body" or "this is a symbol of my body." So the Church has always believed and taught that He literally asks us to continue to eat His body and drink His blood. To argue against Jesus' words here is to take the reasoning of a former president who in a court of law stated "It depends on what the meaning of is, is."

I could go on here with many other examples, but I still can't get over how wrong I was about Catholics and the Bible. I was told that protestants take the Bible literally yet in some of the most key scriptures that pertain to our salvation, they symbolized them! Before the Reformation, baptism and the Eucharist were never symbolic! Did God suddenly change His mind regarding important doctrines of Salvation? Did the reformers uncover truths that the Catholic Church was successful in keeping under wraps for 1500 years? I don't think so, for if you believe that, then you must therefore conclude that the gates of Hell did indeed prevail, making Jesus a liar.


Blogger St. Jimbob of the Apokalypse said...

It gets even better when getting into Patristics. For Protestants, patristics means Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli as the Early Church, scattering to Shelby Spong, Paul Tillich, and Jack T. Chick as successors.

September 22, 2006 7:58 PM  
Blogger Adoro Te Devote said...

I just read an article today discussing "literal" in context of Biblical interpretation.

I can't remember where I read it but it was an article, by, I believe, Mark Shea. He defined "literal" and "literalist" and explained it by using the example, "raining cats and dogs".

He explained that someone who interpretes this "literally" takes into consideration the context. That means that you and I, in our current culture, understand that "raining cats and dogs" literally means raining very hard.

Consider maybe a thousand years from now, maybe someone will read this phrase in a book and their interpretation, without considering the context of our age, to mean that dogs and cats are dropping out of the sky. That would be "literalist" interpretation of the quote.

His contention in the article is that Catholics DO interpret the Bible literally, meaning we take into consideration the meaning at the time the words were written, in full context, which we obtain via Sacred Tradition, other verified writings of the time, etc.

The literalist perspective, which is attributed to fundamentalist Christians, looks at the words in black and white and interprets their meaning according to our age...not the age of the Bible.

What is your take on this idea? Any thoughts?

If I find the article I'll come back and post the link so you can read it for yourself.

September 22, 2006 10:11 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Thanks for the post!

I have read the literal vs literalist idea and you are correct. i used the "literal" broadly to simplify the post a bit. John Martignoni does have a great talk on this on his Bible Christian Society website and I have blogged on the cats and dogs analogy because it is so illuminating when we realize how incongruent that method of interpreting scripture is, and how terribly dangerous as I mention in this post:
Thanks so much and God bless

September 22, 2006 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do any of you believe in the Holy Spirit guiding you through Scripture?

September 23, 2006 2:38 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Hey Anonymous.Thanks for the question!
I believe that only the Holy Spirit can bring us to the correct interpretation of scripture. Jesus said he would send us a Paraclete to lead us in all Truth. Catholics believe this gift of God to interpret Holy scripture resides in His Church given when Peter and his successors were given the keys to the kingdom to bind and loose, forgive sins etc. We believe as does the Scripture that "there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation but human beings moved by the Holy spirit spoke under the influence of God".
This verse from Peter explains the teaching authority or magisterium of the Church very succinctly.
Your question leads me to assume that you believe that you will always get the correct interpretation when you read the Bible. The history of the reformation and the growing list of more than 30,000 protestant sects is proof alone that the notion of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you through scripture is problematic and doesn't work.
Even St. Peter said some of Paul's writings were "hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction as they do other Scriptures."
So yes I allow the Holy Spirit to be my guide but if I come up with a novel interpretation of scripture, it must be in harmony with the teaching authority of the Church because the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth as 1 Tim says, not my or your interpretation of the Bible!
Please check out my post here:
It may help you see why Catholics don't believe in "private interpretation."

September 23, 2006 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Theo said...

Adoro said...

"...someone who interpretes this "literally" takes into consideration the context. That means that you and I, in our current culture, understand that "raining cats and dogs" literally means raining very hard."

I'm afraid this is not quite correct. What you describe as a "contextually literal" interpretation is neither contextual nor literal, but idiomatic.

It is not contextual in that the idiom is so common that it can stand on its own without ambiguity.

As for "It is raining very hard" being literal...
"Raining cats and dogs" means "raining cats and dogs." Yet, because it is *currently* a common idiom, one must go out of one's way to signal that the phrase is not used in its common, *non-literal* sense, if one wished to be literal.

To *literally* convey the idea of cats and dogs raining from the sky, one must qualify it by saying "It is *literally* raining cats and dogs."

Still, the problem of literal interpretation (and translation) of contemporary idiomatic phrases is relatively simple compared with interpretation of ancient texts.

First, not all idiomatic speech is *common* idiomatic speech; rather it is idiosyncratic speech (a.k.a. Jargon, specialized within closely-defined communities.

Second: Meanings of not only idioms, but also of literal words and phrases can be lost or change over time and across cultures.

Third: Idiom is not the only non-literal use of language within scripture;

--slimily ("We are like grass that groweth up and withereth," does not mean that we are "literally" like the grass. We don't have roots, grow in place and then turn brown),

--hyperbole (If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off). There is no idiom here at all--Hyperbole is intentional overstatement that provides insight into subject at hand (which brings us to the next item...).

--irony (Those who require circumcision should be "cut off "themselves.)

--metaphor (The father of lies)

--allegory (The Whore of Babylon--a perennial favorite)

--typology (Song of Solomon)

--parable (Prodigal son--Job.)

--oriental contemplative (or "wisdom") literature, (much of Proverbs, Siriach)

--anthropomorphism (God's court in the book of Job)

--intentional didactic ambiguity: a.k.a. apocalyptic (Daniel, The Revelation of St. John).

and more.

If I understand Tiber's point correctly, he seems to be asserting that his own Catholic experience of scripture interpretation seems to be more literal than that of his previous Protestant congregations--this in spite of the fact that Catholics do not assert that *all* scripture is literal, whereas his own former "anti-Catholic" association insisted that it is.

I have no difficulty believing his observation is correct.


September 25, 2006 10:39 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Wow Theo!
Thanks for the post. You understood perfectly what I was trying to say.
God bless you.

September 25, 2006 2:59 PM  

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