THE BIBLE ALONE?
It’s all in the Bible, right? The answer to our every question; all we need to know. It’s all right there in that Book, right? We just have to read it, believe it, follow it, and we will be saved.
Not really. Sorry, but it’s not that simple. Life, including Jesus’ life and teachings, cannot be condensed into a book, not even the Bible. At the very end of the last Gospel to be written, St. John tells us that if all that Jesus did were to be written down, “the whole world could not hold the books that would be written” (21:25).
Yet the Bible is most sacred, unique, the best of all books. St. Paul gives inspired Scripture this glowing recommendation: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tm 3:16f). But not even the Bible claims that it alone is sufficient to provide all the guidance we need. For that we need the Church.
To begin with, no where does the Bible give us a list of which of the many, many pious gospels, acts, and letters that have come down to us from antiquity are “scripture...inspired by God.” No where does St. Paul, or any other Biblical writer, tell us that these particular 27 books are God’s inspired Word and should be included in the Christian Bible. Bible-only-Christians have no basis for including, or excluding, books from the Bible. Because the Bible does not tell us. For that we need the Church.
And the Bible itself warns that some Biblical passages are hard to understand correctly (2 Pt 3:16). That was true 2,000 years ago, even when Christians spoke the ancient languages of the Bible and lived in the same milieu in which it was written. Today understanding what the Bible is teaching is even more difficult. Today we must rely upon the accuracy of various translations. More than that, the passage of almost 20 centuries, and advances in science and technology, have removed us from many of the everyday experiences and perspectives of the first Christians. How much more difficult it is for us today to understand the Bible correctly. For that we need the Church.
It is helpful to remember that Jesus never wrote the Bible, or any other book, to guide us. He never told His followers to write a book. What Jesus did was to establish the Church, with the responsibility and the authority to guide His followers (Mt 16:18f). Jesus commissioned His Church to evangelize and baptize, to teach, to watch over and feed all peoples everywhere (28:19-20a; Jn 21:15-17). He promised to be with His Body, the Church, through all generations to come (1 Cor 12:12f, 27; Mt 28:20b).
Reading the Bible is one of the best ways to know about Jesus and His teachings. But the Bible alone cannot bring us to know Jesus as our Friend and our Savior, cannot unite us with Him, incorporate us into His Body. For that we need the Church.
The Bible is far more than a simple answer book to life’s often complicated questions. The Bible is a love story. It’s the greatest story ever told--the story of God’s abiding love for humanity, the story that continues today in Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church (Rev 19:5-9; 21:1-4).
The night before He died, Christ said that He still had much to tell His followers (Jn 16:12-14). He promised that the Spirit would stay with His Bride forever and teach her everything she would need to say (14:16,26; Rev 22:17). The Bible does not contain the latest chapters in the story of God’s love for us. For that we need the Church.
Ronald Stanley, OP
[For a fuller discussion of this topic, please see my earlier essays, particularly “The Roman Catholic Church” <http://www.catholic-center.rutgers.edu/FrRonStanley/cathccch.who.htm> and “Fundamentalism” <http://www.catholic-center.rutgers.edu/FrRonStanley/fundment.ism.htm>.]