What Every Roman Catholic Needs to Know
Authority, Part 2
The Word Of Truth
By Anthony Pezzotta
Three years before I became a priest, I picked up an Anglican catechism and read the commandments of God. I read the fifth commandment. It said, “Honor your father and your mother.” I thought, “No, that is the fourth.” In my ingenuity and pride, being a Catholic, I said, “Look at these blessed Anglicans. They don’t even know the ten commandments of God!” Then I saw that the second commandment was something new to me. I went to the Bible and found out that their catechism was right!
In all Catholic catechisms and theology books, this fifth commandment to honor your father and mother is the fourth. They took away the second commandment which says: 4 “You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God …” (Exodus 20:4, 5, Jerusalem Bible). In order to come up with ten, they divided the last commandment, which in the Bible is one, into two commands.
Who Has the Truth?
The world is full of religious messengers and messages. Some are teaching the truth. Some are teaching error. There are more than 5 billion people in the world, 1.5 billion of them claiming to be Christian. They are very sincere in their beliefs and practices. However, they cannot ALL be right. Most are sincere, but some are sincerely wrong (Romans 10:1, 2).
This fact should cause the honest person to ask WHY he believes what he believes. Every religious thought has its source. There is a person, an AUTHORITY or a teacher, behind every belief held by men. Whether consciously or unconsciously, men who believe have chosen to put their trust in a person. The real question is “Who?”
The Truth is in Jesus
There is ONE unique person in history who we all agree should be trusted. He calmed storms with a word, walked on water, made water wine, cast out demons, caused the lame to walk, caused the blind to see, and even raised the dead. He predicted His own death at the hands of the chief priests and promised to rise again. He rose from the dead, as He promised He would, and showed Himself to more than 500 witnesses. He gave authority to His disciples to do miracles, and in His name they healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. His teachings, right and true, changed the course of human history. Indeed He was, as He claimed to be, the Son of God. THIS ONE IS Jesus Christ.
We are called “Christian” because we are followers of Christ. He is THE TEACHER we choose to believe. His teachings are found in the Bible. The Bible is divided into two parts: The Old Testament and the New Testament.
Jesus Taught that the Truth is in the Scriptures
The Old Testament was written before Jesus lived. The New Testament was written after His resurrection. Jesus taught His followers that the Old Testament Scriptures are the Word of God. He upheld the Old Testament Scriptures as infallible, and regarded them to be the FINAL AUTHORITY for faith and practice (Matthew 5:17-20).
*** The teachings of Jesus are recorded in the Bible. ***
The New Testament is a written record of the teachings of Jesus Himself, and His appointed messengers. While Jesus was here on earth, He chose apostles (messengers) to deliver His message to the world. These men learned at the feet of Jesus and are eyewitnesses to the miracles He performed, to His death, and to His resurrection. The teachings of the Christian Church are based upon the message of these apostles or disciples. We read in Acts that the early Church devoted itself to the “apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42), and in Ephesians that the Church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). We have a written record of their teachings, which originated with Jesus, in the New Testament.
Until today, every Christian group recognizes the Bible as a sacred book. Here is what the Catholic Church teaches:
Holy Scripture comprises the sacred books of the Old and New Testaments. These, with all their parts, are INSPIRED by God and HAVE HIM for AUTHOR, and are therefore FREE FROM ERROR, not only in moral and religious statements (The Teaching of the Catholic Church, by Roos and Neuner, Jesuits; ed. Karl Rahner, Jesuit).
Three Contemporary Answers to the Question: “Who has the Truth?”
While every Christian group recognizes the Bible as sacred, not all view the Bible as the FINAL AUTHORITY in matters of faith and practice. All Christian churches fall into one of three categories:
1. Those who believe that church leaders (Bishops, Popes) have final authority
2. Those who believe that reason is the final authority
3. Those who believe that God’s written Word (The Bible) is the final authority
The conservative members of institutional churches (Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and others) belong to the first group. They honor the Bible, but hold onto traditions. Their final authority is their church leaders. For these, the truth is what their church teaches.
The liberal members of various churches belong to the second group. They have a certain respect for the Bible, for traditions, and for religious leaders; yet, they believe and do only what seems acceptable to their own way of thinking. They themselves are their own final authority. For this group of people, the truth is what their reason supports.
Evangelical Christians and all those who are “born again” constitute the third group. They respect and accept traditions and the teaching of religious leaders only when those traditions and teachings are in keeping with God’s written Word. The Bible is their supreme and final authority. For these, the truth is what is recorded in the Bible.
Jesus’ Answer to the Question: “Where is the truth?”
On the question of authority, Jesus spoke very clearly. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus upholds the written Scriptures as the supreme and final authority in matters of faith and practice. He instructs His disciples to reject any teaching that is contrary to the written Word of God.
1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ 6 he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when be prophesied about you: 8 ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men'” (Matthew 15:1-9).
The Setting, Matthew 15:1
Certain religious leaders approached Jesus, accusing His disciples of breaking one of their religious traditions. In this passage, Jesus Himself speaks concerning the role of tradition and the authority of the Scriptures.
The Religious Leaders, Matthew 15:l
The Pharisees were religious leaders and also a nationalistic political party. As a political party, they opposed colonization by Rome and resisted the colonizers themselves. As religious leaders, they studied and interpreted the Word of God for the people.
The Religious Traditions, Matthew 15:2
The religious traditions mentioned here are found in the Talmud. They are interpretations and additions that the Pharisees and the scribes made to the Word of God and to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament.
The Accusation, Matthew 15:2
The Pharisees taught that washing before eating made one acceptable to God. Those who did not wash their hands before eating were sinning – they became impure in their souls. Their tradition instructed the people always to wash their hands before eating.
Jesus and His disciples washed their hands when it was convenient. Their occasional failure to comply with this ritual aggravated the Pharisees. They asked Jesus: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
The Defense, Matthew 15:3-9
Jesus answered the Pharisees with an accusation of His own: “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” He substantiated His accusation with an example to show that He was talking the truth. He quoted the fifth commandment from the law of Moses in Exodus 20: “For God said, Honor your father and mother, and anyone who curses father or mother must be put to death.”
The word “honor,” in both Hebrew and Greek, carries with it the idea of financial support. To honor a parent is to support him or her financially. Children should see to it that their parents have the same standard of living that they have attained. The English word “honorarium” derives from this idea. Those who rise into the upper class while leaving their parents to live as squatters violate this command of love and respect. Jesus understands “honor” to include financial support.
*** Final authority rests with the written Scriptures, not the religious leaders or the traditions. ***
When it comes to the Word of God, what God forbids or commands in the Scriptures, Jesus has the highest respect. He presents Himself as one who came to fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus was not concerned that His disciples failed to comply with tradition, but He was very concerned that the Pharisees failed to comply with the commands of Scripture.
After quoting the fifth commandment, Jesus quoted from the Talmud in order to identify the error that was being practiced.
4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ … 5 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ 6 he is not to honor his father with it (Matthew 15:4-6).
*** The tradition of the Pharisees, as good as it sounded, went directly against the Word of God. Jesus rebuked them for it. ***
A Jewish rabbi in Denver, Colorado, once told me about this practice. Many young professionals of that time came from the provinces to the city of Jerusalem to study, leaving their parents in the province. They found work in the city and had good incomes. They neglected to send support to their parents, but knowing the commandment of God, felt guilty about it. So, they did what many religious people do, and went to their priest for advice. “What shall we do? Do we have to send help to our parents?” The priests told them that if they would do three things, they would not have to give support to their parents:
1. Go to the temple.
2. Pay the tithe (10% of the gross income) to the priest.
3. Ask God’s blessing on the 90% that remains.
Money that is blessed becomes corban, a Hebrew word meaning “devoted to God.” Once the money is corban, the individual may use it as he wishes (Mark 7:11).
The advice of the Pharisees, as good as it sounded, went directly against the Word of God. So Jesus said,
Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition (Matthew 15:4b).
The Pharisees had come between God and the people with an interpretation, a tradition, that clearly contradicted God’s Word. While they claimed to teach God’s Word, they led people astray from it. Jesus continued:
7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when be prophesied about you: 8 “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:7-9).
*** God’s truth is revealed in His written Word, the Bible. ***
These words were spoken to religious leaders among those who claimed to worship the true God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus referred to their traditions as “rules taught by men,” and to the Scriptures as “the Word of God.” He strongly condemned the scribes and Pharisees for violating the Word of God in order to keep their traditions. Jesus believed the truth was in the Scriptures, not in the traditions of the church.
The Teaching of the Apostles Concerning Final Authority
Jesus’ apostles after Him also taught that the Scriptures are God’s very Word, and, therefore, they are true.
*** The Bible has God for its author and nobody can contradict it. The Bible must be the FINAL AUTHORITY in matters of faith and practice.***
Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3 16).
Rules Taught by Men or Commands of God?
The Catholic Church teaches that it is a sin to eat meat on Fridays of Lent. Those who do lose sanctifying grace. This rule is binding in conscience. They teach, in effect, that the road to salvation and eternal life requires compliance with this human tradition.
The following Scripture passages speak to this kind of regulation:
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ … 9 For in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form, … 2O Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? … 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence (Colossians 2:8, 9, 20, 22, 23).
1 The Spirit clearly says that in the later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is through Christ alone, and that those who are in Christ are no longer guided by human traditions, commands, and teachings. Every false teaching that comes from man originates with the evil one and evil spirits. Such teachings may include forbidding people to marry or to eat certain foods at certain times.
Based on the Scriptures quoted above, what do you think about a rule that says it is a sin to eat meat on Fridays of Lent? Mark those statements below which you believe to be true according to the Scriptures.
___ The rule is clearly a command from God.
___ The rule is being taught by men, but not by the Word of God.
___ The rule has an appearance of wisdom because it is healthy not to eat meat all the time, but it has no eternal consequence.
___ Apart from health reasons, those who forbid people to eat certain foods are teaching a doctrine of demons.
Nullifying the Word of God for the Sake of Tradition?
Compare the biblical version of the Ten Commandments with that in the Catholic catechisms. Notice, as pointed out in the testimony at the beginning of this chapter, that the catechisms omit the second commandment.
The Ten Commandments The Ten Commandments
From Catholic Catechisms from the Jerusalem Bible
1. You shall worship the 1. You shall have no
Lord your God and gods except me.
Him only shall you serve.
2. You shall not take *** 2. You shall not make
The name of the Lord yourself a carved
Your God in vain. image. ***
3. Remember the 3. You shall not utter
Sabbath day, to keep the name of Yahweh
It holy. your God to misuse it.
4. Honor your father 4. Remember the
And your mother. Sabbath day and
keep it holy.
5. You shall not kill. 5. Honor your father
and your mother.
6. You shall not 6. You shall not kill.
7. You shall not steal. 7. You shall not
8. You shall not bear 8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not covet 9. You shall not bear
Your neighbor’s wife. false witness.
10. You shall not covet 10. You shall not covet.
Your neighbor’s goods.
Consider the following statement from former Catholic priest, Robert A. Champagne:
“Often people have asked me if I had studied and read the Bible either as a seminarian or a priest, and if so why hadn’t I seen the truth? First of all, the unregenerated man cannot see the light (1 Corinthians 2:14). And secondly, in the Roman Catholic system, tradition is on an equal par with the Bible itself. This was affirmed at both the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council, which stated that “The church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truth from the Holy Scriptures alone” (Vatican II, Constitution on Divine Revelation – paragraph 9).
“In spite of the fact that the Word of God clearly contradicts such practices and institutions as the Mass, the papacy, the priesthood, prayer to the saints, confession to a man, prayers for the dead, crucifixes and images, etc., Roman Catholic tradition upholds them even at the expense of twisting the Scriptures, changing them, or omitting a part of then. Consider the Roman Catholic Institution’s omission of the Second Commandment in order to freely promote idolatry ….”
By experience I know that many Roman Catholics are sincere in their beliefs and are looking for the truth. This booklet is intended to assist them in finding the truth of God’s Word. It is also meant to help evangelical Christians have a more objective understanding of Catholicism and enable them to share more effectively, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
* Traditions are rules taught by men, but the Scriptures are the Word of God.
* We ought to choose to obey the Scriptures if the tradition of the Church contradicts the clear teaching of Scriptures.
* Those who believe that traditions have equal authority with the Word of God nullify the Word for the sake of their tradition.