Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times. This practice also makes it easier for Christians to cherry-pick the verses that they like (often out of context) and that support their denominational beliefs and to avoid verses that they don’t like and that contradict their denominational beliefs.
We Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book, carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book and author. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation.
Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be…. Plus I’m tired of Protestants telling me that I’ve never read the Bible (when I have) and that they are the “champions” of Scripture (when they aren’t).
St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians
Paul wrote this letter because he had heard disturbing reports about what was happening in the Church at Corinth and because the church had written a letter to him. These are the specific, chance circumstances that drove him to write this letter. He in no way intended this letter alone or together with his other letters and the writings of others to be the comprehensive and sole source of correct doctrine.
He addresses several specific issues:
- divisions and factions within the Church at Corinth
- the questions of the Corinthians regarding marriage, virginity, and food offered to idols
- liturgical problems and disgraces regarding women’s headcoverings, the Eucharist, and various spiritual gifts like tongues
- the theology of the Resurrection
Paul’s letter does the following things with regard to the Protestant-Catholic divide:
- Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and tradition (1:5-7, 17, 19-21; 2:1, 4-5; 3:1-4; 5:1, 9-11; 7:1; 10:4; 11:2, 34; 15:3, 11; 16:5-7)
- Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1; 3:1-4; 4:14-15, 17-21; 5:2-5; 9:1-18; 11:16; 12:28-31; 16:1, 15-16)
- Contradicts the fallibilism of Protestantism (2:4-5, 10-13)
- Affirms the necessity of the institutional and doctrinal unity of the Church (1:1, 10-13; 4:17; 7:17; 10:17; 11:17-19; 12:12-14, 20, 24-25)
- Contradicts sola fide (3:5-9, 12-15; 6:8-11; 7:19; 9:23-27; 10:5-14; 15:1-2, 58)
- Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (4:1-5; 9:23-27; 10:5-14; 15:1-2; 16:13)
- Affirms the necessity of perseverance for salvation/to obtain heaven (1:8-9, 18; 9:23-27; 10:12-13; 15:2, 58; 16:13)
- Affirms Catholics doctrines about the Eucharist (10:1-3, 16-21; 11:20-30)
- Affirms the Catholic practice of excommunication by apostolic authority (5:2-5)
- Affirms the Catholic belief that God uses human beings for salvific purposes (7:12-16)
- Affirms the Catholic discipline of priestly celibacy (7:5, 25-40)
- Affirms Catholic teaching on husband’s headship of the family (11:3; 14:33-37)
- Affirms the absolute Catholic prohibition of divorce (7:10-11, 39)
- Supports the primacy of Peter (9:5; 15:5)
- Supports the authority of apostolic succession (3:10-11; 4:17-21)
- Supports the doctrine of Purgatory and perhaps praying for the dead (3:12-15; 15:28-29)
- Supports the Catholic belief that the saints in heaven are not mere spectators (6:1-3)
- Supports the practice of infant baptism (1:16; 7:14)
- Supports Catholic doctrine on the purpose of baptism (12:13)
- Supports the Catholic practice of indulgences (5:2-5)
I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Very often, I will supplement my commentary with that of St. John Chrysostom (347-407). His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.