One thing that sets the Catholic Church apart from other Christian denominations is her guidance in regard to interpreting the Bible. While the Church doesn’t go “line by line” and give us an exact interpretation, she does give us a framework as a guide. And, believe me, 2,000 years of Church doctrine really comes in handy when dealing with some of the more complex Bible passages!
In the First Reading from today’s Mass (Acts 8:26-40), we read of the Ethiopian eunuch’s struggle as he read the Scriptures. Philip, prompted by the Holy Spirit, questioned the eunuch about his understanding of the book of the prophet Isaiah. The question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” caused the Ethiopian to reply, “How can I unless somebody instructs me?” Philip proceeded to explain that a particularly challenging passage (Isaiah 53:7-8) was actually referring to Jesus. After this, the man requested to be baptized and was filled with joy.
There are a couple of key points to the story. First, we have Biblical evidence that “help” is needed to understand the Bible. Rather than a line by line interpretation, our “help” consists of 2,000 years of Church teaching as stated by the Church fathers, the Saints, and the Magisterium. Interpreting the Bible in a vacuum has been the cause of division among Christians and even the justification of immoral behavior. If we try to interpret the Bible without any outside influence, we will probably get ourselves in BIG trouble!
The other point is that the message of Jesus is contained not only in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament. While that message is often hidden and requires some digging, Philip’s interpretation of Isaiah’s writing brings that fact to light. Without the proper instruction and education, this fact could easily be missed and the writings of the prophet written off as being obsolete.
As I always tell you, stick with the Church and her teachings and you’ll be in good shape spiritually. There is a benefit to being around for 2,000 years and being guided by the Holy Spirit !