Conversations about the differences and similarities between Fundamentalist and Catholic beliefs usually end up being more like heated debates than conversations. A major difference between the Catholic and the Fundamentalist is how they see the Bible. The source of the Fundamentalists’ faith is the Bible. But what do the Fundamentalists believe about the Bible? This is the question I am trying to answer for myself. I will present my understanding of the Fundamentalists’ view of the Bible along with my Catholic view of the Bible. My mission is not to offend, but to open a dialogue between the two views.
I know from experience that this is a very touchy topic. The best way to go about conversing with someone of different beliefs, I believe, is to see their belief in its best light. I believe it is important to develop a sense of respect for the variety of ways people experience the divine in the lives. Keeping that in mind, I give you my interpretation of the Fundamentalist and the Catholic view of the Bible. Both Catholics and Fundamentalists agree that the Bible is a divinely inspired, infallible, and authoritative means for people to know Christ.
There are some distinctions between the Catholics’ and the Fundamentalists’ view of the Bible. Both Catholics and Fundamentalists believe the Bible to be inspired by God; they believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Fundamentalists place most of their emphasis on God as the author of the bible. They do not pay much attention to the human side of the Bible’s authorship. Fundamentalists believe in total word-for-word inspiration of the Bible. The Catholic Church does not teach that God merely dictated words to the human authors of the Bible.
To the Catholic the Bible is the Word of God and the work of human beings. Catholics are encouraged to look for the meaning a human writer of a book of the Bible was trying to get across. To really understand what the writer is telling us, we must know something about the time in which he lived his mode of thinking, and the manners of expression people of his time used. It is difficult to accept the Fundamentalist view of word-for-word inspiration for several reasons. There are no books of the Bible that are the original, autographed works of the authors.
Christianity existed hundreds of years before the Bible itself was completed. Many translations of the Bible are not translations at all, but more like interpretations or paraphrases. Translators might imagine what the original author would have written if he had been writing in Modern English, rather than just translating the actual words the original author had written. Fundamentalists and Catholics believe the Bible to be infallible, or free from error. Catholics do not consider the Bible necessarily grammatically, mathematically, or scientifically infallible.
Only the message of the Bible is considered to be without error. Fundamentalists take the idea of the Bible’s infallibility a step farther with their confidence in Martin Luther’s theory of sola scriptura, Latin for “scripture alone”. The Bible is the Fundamentalists’ only standard of authority in religion. To the Fundamentalists the Bible is the single source for inspiration, and they will not look to any extrinsic source for authority. The Catholic belief about God and his teachings can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a statement of the Church’s faith.
The Fundamentalist believes he needs no Church to interpret the Bible’s meaning because the Bible is clear in its meaning; it interprets itself, and that the Holy Spirit directly interprets the Bible for him. Catholics believe that the Bible does have authority, but that this authority comes from the Church guaranteeing its infallibility. The strongest argument for this would be the fact that the Church wrote the Bible. The Church also defined the Bible by deciding which books made up the Bible as a whole.
The Fundamentalist ideas that the Bible is clear, interprets itself, and that the Holy Spirit interprets it directly to him can all be seen as inadequate substitutes for an authoritative, teaching Church. The Bible is not clear. 2 Peter 3:16 reads, ”… there are many things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do other scriptures. ”The Bible does not interpret itself, except for example, when a New Testament author quotes or makes a reference to an Old Testament passage.
This happens on numerous occasions. In the Gospel of Matthew (2:11), Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you. ”These words come from the Old Testament Book of Malachi (3:1). Anyone can claim guidance by the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by the rise of the “cult followers”of religious leaders such as David Koresh and Jim Jones. However, to rely on personal or private standards of interpretation can lead to misunderstandings or even tragic results.
The Bible denies itself as being the only source of authority. Again I refer to 2 Peter, verses 20-21, “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit under the influence of God. ”This idea of the Bible not being meant to be interpreted by man alone without the teaching authority of the Church is evident by the hundreds of different Protestant denominations all claiming to be the “truth”of the Bible.
The teaching authority of the Church is needed to guide people in their understanding of the Bible to avoid the unfortunate and often confusing consequences of arbitrary interpretations. The Fundamentalists view the Bible as the single source for inspiration. Catholics look to the Church as a guide in interpreting the Bible. By understanding the Bible as the Word of God as written by man to be interpreted in light of the time, manner and mode of thinking in its creation, the Catholic religion allows for a clearer understanding of its meaning.