top of page

Properly Interpreting the Bible

Interpreting the Bible by Ken LItchfield

The Bible is the collection of books that the Catholic Church decided could be read at Mass. It is not a manual on how to run a religion or build a church. Those things already existed before the Bible was assembled. The Catholic Church and the Liturgy of the Mass already existed before the Bible was assembled. The Didache is the earliest manual on how to run a Church. Canon Law and the Catechism based on the Bible is what we use now.

The disciples that became Apostles handed on what Jesus taught them to the new Christians. Some of what they taught was written down. Because parchment was expensive and few people could read, the Faith was passed on orally more than by writing. The Oral Tradition was supported by the Written Tradition when there were disputes.

The Catholic Church recognizes that the Bible is inspired because its books support what Jesus taught, the authors were Apostles or their secretaries, they were read in Churches from the first century. The Bible contains divinely inspired writings. But John chapter 20 tells us that everything is not in the Bible so there has to be an outside interpreter to understand it. Jesus prayed that all of His followers would be one but they aren't. (John ch17) In Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians ch11 he says we have no other practice and nor do the churches of God. Yet the many varieties of churches have different forms of worship. The Catholic Church provides a limited playing field in which a variety of opinions on the Bible and practices are permitted. Scripture can be used to help interpret Scripture, especially when you look at the typology of the Old Testament. Scripture needs to be interpreted in the context of the Tradition of the Church that assembled the Bible and the context of the society in which the books were written. This requires much more study than just reading the Bible.

We can be drawn into a deeper relationship with Jesus through His word in the Bible. The Holy Spirit then guides us into a better understanding. The Catholic Church has the oldest and original understanding of these writings. The Pope is the successor of the minister that Jesus left behind to feed His sheep and tend His flock. This same Jesus promised to be with His Apostles until the end of time Matt28:20.

Some people say that when they read the Bible, they get an inspired understanding of the text, that they feel confident is correct. The thousands of different Protestant churches demonstrate that none of them go by the Bible alone. Everyone has an outside influence in their understanding of the Bible. The many varieties of Protestant churches have different forms of worship and different understandings of salvation.

It is understandable why Luther wanted to go by the Bible alone because it was difficult to determine which traditions went back to the Apostles. The early reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin expected everyone to understand the Bible the way they did. Instead, people came up with their own new interpretations forming new denominations. John and Charles Wesley developed a method of reading the Bible along with the Church Fathers in order to come up with the original understanding.

A short list of early Church writings to help understand the Bible is: The Didache, 1Clement to the Corinthians, the 7 letters of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr's First Apology, Polycarp to the Philippians, Irenaeus Against Heresies, and Hippolytus of Rome. There are many more but these are a good start to understanding how the Early Christians understood the Faith before the Catholic Church decided which early Christian writings were the inspired word of God.

The Catholic Church has the oldest and original understanding of the writings that became the Bible. No other faith tradition can rightfully claim that they assembled the writings that make up the Bible. The Catholic Church provided a variety of translations of the Bible from the very beginning of Christianity. Even the Vulgate is a Latin translation of old Hebrew and Greek texts.

The Pope is the successor of the minister that Jesus left behind to feed His sheep and tend His flock. (Matt16:18, Luke 22:31-32) This same Jesus promised to be with him to the end of time (Matt28:20). Jesus didn't leave us a book to put our trust in, He left us a Church to teach us what He taught the Apostles. We put our trust in the Church Jesus founded not a book or a man.

Jesus didn't leave us a book to put our trust in, He left us a Church to teach us what He taught the Apostles. We put our trust in the Church Jesus founded not a book or a man. You have to do a lot of research and read the Bible or trust the guidance of the Church that assembled the Bible. Either way you end up in the Catholic Church.

Some Protestants are taught that only the writings of the New Testament or of Paul are the ones that apply to Christians. They use a verse in the King James Version of the Bible 2 Timothy 2:15 that refers to “Rightly dividing the Bible”

2 Tim 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. KJV

2Tim 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. NRSVCE

The question is, does Scripture support this view of the phrase "rightly dividing the Word of truth"? Dispensationalists are correct that the answer to that question is indeed foundational. It is a key to how you interpret the entire Word of God. In evaluating the Dispensationalist view of 2 Timothy 2:15, we must, as always, begin by looking at the original language in context. We find that the word that is translated "rightly dividing" in the Old and New King James Bibles, and in several others, is a single word in the Greek. It is a form of the Greek verb orthotomeo. This is a very interesting word. In New Testament times, orthotomeo was primarily a civil engineering term. It was used, for example, as a road building term. The idea of the word was "to cut straight," or "to guide on a straight path." The idea was to cut a roadway in such a manner that people who would travel over that road would arrive at their destination directly, without deviation. Orthotomeo was also used as a mining term. It meant to drill a straight mine shaft so that the miners could get quickly and safely to the "mother lode." There is another word in Greek, katatomeo, which means "to cut into sections", but that is not the word that the Apostle Paul uses. Paul is not talking about "rightly dividing" in terms of dissecting the Word of God, or cutting it into sections based on Jew and Gentile, or Israel and Church, or any other criterion. It is interesting that the Apostle Paul does use that other word katatomeo, cutting up in Philippians 3:2, where he says, literally, "beware of those who would divide you up" —in other words, beware of those who would try to make a difference among believers between Jews and Gentiles.

The best way to understand and interpret the Bible is to study ancient history and culture as well as first century Jewish culture. Studying how the first Christians lived the Faith and understood Christianity before the Catholic Church established the Canon of Scripture, helps a person best understand the Bible. For many, that is too much to ask. That is why Jesus left His Authority with His Church, so that we would have an Authoritative Church to guide us in understanding the Bible. The Catholic Church has 2000 years of historical interpretation. We do well to follow the interpretation established by the Catholic Church.


bottom of page