In my last post I covered the perspective of many Protestants Christ did not establish a teaching authority, but rather individual believers are to rely on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to guide them. One primary verse used to support this is 1 John 2:26-27 where the apostle says “I write this to you about those who would deceive you; but the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.” From a Catholic perspective, St. John is not proposing in his letter the apostles have not been entrusted by Christ with his authority to teach, but is rather warning his children (1 John 2:1) against false teachers. And the way to guard against false teachers is to listen to the apostles. He tells them “They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them. We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1 John 4:5-6)
To further support the Catholic view are countless verses within Sacred Scripture that show there are indeed men who have been given Christ’s authority to teach. We see in the Gospels the apostles were sent out to preach after he appointed them (Mark 3:14). And after the resurrection, he gives to the eleven the great commission – ”Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.’” (Matthew 28:16-20) Christ associates this commissioning of the eleven to preach and to teach with his authority.
The apostle James writes “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1) But the majority of what we see written about the apostles being entrusted with the Gospel comes from the writings of St. Paul. As mentioned before, in reading St. Paul you have to turn to the beginning of his letter to know the accurate understanding of the reference of “we” or “us.” In general “we” or “us” is not the congregation who receives the letter – they are referred to as “you.” For example, in 1 Thessalonians, the “us” is Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. And he writes to the Thessanlonians “For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4)
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is penned from Paul and Timothy, and he writes them “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us; he has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) He also tells them “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word; but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17) Here St. Paul is clearly speaking about a select group from among those who are being saved who have been commissioned by God to spread the knowledge of Christ.
St. Paul too recognizes there are false teachers among them when he writes to the Romans “I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.” (Romans 16:17-18)
In speaking about the law being laid down for the disobedient, St. Paul writes to Timothy “and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Timothy 1:10-11). Other things he writes to Timothy include “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching,” (1 Timothy 5:17) and “For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher.” (2 Timothy 1:11) And in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 when he speaks to Timothy about inspired Scripture, he tells him it will be “profitable” (or “useful”) to him for teaching.
St. Paul writes to Titus about himself — “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised ages ago and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by command of God our Savior.” (Titus 1:1-3) When instructing Titus on the qualification for bishops, one of the things he tells him is a bishop “must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9)
There is certainly an active Magisterium in the New Testament church, composed of the apostles and those they commissioned to work alongside them. They have been entrusted by Christ to preach and teach the Gospel, and all who opposed them were false teachers to be avoided. Quite similarly today, the Catholic Church professes “Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task ‘to preach the Gospel of God to all men,’ in keeping with the Lord’s command. They are ‘heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers’ of the apostolic faith ‘endowed with the authority of Christ.’” (CCC888) The idea of a Magisterium is not a Catholic invention, but rather a New Testament reality.
My next two posts will look at what Sacred Scripture teaches about the Church, and following those I’ll move on to how Scripture teaches this authority given to the apostles continues to this day through apostolic succession.