<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1906385056278061&ev=PageView&noscript=1" />
Skip to main content Accessibility feedback

Is a Church Magisterium Unbiblical?

Audio only:

How can the Catholic Church teach that we need a Magisterium (a living teaching authority) when John says in 1 John 2:27 that we have no need for a man to teach us since the Holy Spirit will teach us? The author of Meeting the Protestant Challenge responds.


CK:
Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. Thank you so much for being with us today in studio with Karlo Broussard, the author of a couple of books, including Meeting The Protestant Challenge. And we take some challenges from that book today. Hello, Karlo.

KB:
Hey Cy.

CK:
So these are challenges, just to reset of for folks who may not be familiar with the book, these are challenges that Protestants make that we as Catholics are obliged to answer because they come from scripture, and we agree with Protestants that you can’t be teaching things that contradict scripture.

KB:
Amen. The challenge takes the form of how can the church teach X when the Bible says Y. So our Protestant friends were appealing to certain biblical passages that they think undermine or contradict what we teach, or to state it differently, appealing to certain teachings that we profess, that we teach as Catholics and beliefs that we hold to that seem to contradict some biblical passage. And that’s a challenge that we are required to meet as Catholics, because if we’re going to believe anything, it at least can’t contradict sacred scripture, because we do believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.

CK:
Which is not the same as saying the Bible is the sole rule of faith. We’re just saying that nothing can contradict the Bible because there are many things that we know that-

KB:
Because it is a rule of faith. It’s a means of transmitting God’s divine revelation.

CK:
All right. So let me give you the challenge. How can the Catholic church teach that we need a magisterium, a living teaching authority, when John says in the first letter of Saint John, 1 John 2:27, that we have no need for a man to teach us since the Holy spirit will teach us?

KB:
Yes, John says, but the anointing, and we know he refers to the Holy spirit as the anointing. And we know the anointing is the Holy spirit, according to first John 2:20. So he’s saying, but the anointing, which you have received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone 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. So it would seem.

CK:
That’s pretty solid. I like it.

KB:
If all we need is the Holy spirit to teach us everything, then what are we doing as Catholic saying, we need the Pope and the bishops United to the Pope, which are the successors to the apostles to teach us. Right. Which is in essence, the magisterium coming from magister meaning teacher. So it’s a living body of teaching officials. Right?

So the first way that we can meet the challenge, Cy, and this is what I point out in my book is to think about that interpretation or at least the conclusion, right? So our Protestant friends are saying, John says, we have the Holy spirit to teach us. Therefore, we don’t need anything else except the Holy spirit to guide and lead us into all truth. Yeah. We might appeal to this person or that person, this pastor, that commentary, but ultimately we make the judgement for ourselves moved by the Holy spirit.

If we take that conclusion that does not cohere with the beliefs and practices of John himself. Right. So if we take this interpretation, then we’re going to have to say that John is contradicting himself because elsewhere, when we consider the beliefs and practices of John himself, it leads us to the conclusion that he does believe in a living teaching authority, which goes against this alleged interpretation of how we should be reading this passage. Right? So we know this passage can’t be right there, excuse me, this interpretation can’t be right. Because it doesn’t cohere with the beliefs and practices of John.

CK:
Like what?

KB:
That’s right. So what are some examples? Well, for starters, we could look at the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20, right. Jesus told the apostles, go and teach everything that I have commanded you.

CK:
There is that, yes.

KB:
And John is a part of that apostolic call right there.

CK:
He’s standing right there.

KB:
He was sent by Christ to go and teach. So why would John be contradicting Jesus? That doesn’t make sense, right? If we’re only to be led by the Holy spirit, without some sort of living teaching authority. We could look to the council of Jerusalem. I’m sure John doesn’t want to contradict the proceedings and conclusions of the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, which he was a part of, which gave us the definitive revelation that we are saved by the grace of God, through faith and not by circumcision. Right. And that was taught to us by a magisterium.

CK:
Who actually wrote it down in a letter and sent it out.

KB:
Amen.

CK:
Okay, gotcha.

KB:
Who we would call a magisterium. And also to John himself. I mean, think about it. Why would John be saying all you need is the Holy spirit. You have no need for any man to teach you, but he himself is writing an epistle teaching the Christian audience.

CK:
Oh yeah. That’s a good point.

KB:
We’re reading the epistle, right?

CK:
He’s actually teaching, as he says this.

KB:
That’s right, which includes the instruction itself. You have no need that anyone should teach you. Well, wait a minute, John, I guess I don’t need to adhere to that teaching itself because you’re a man teaching me. Right? So it’s self refuting if-

CK:
If that’s what John meant.

KB:
If we follow the logic of the challenge concerning this passage in 1 John 2:27.

CK:
Gotcha.

KB:
Now, I think even more so we can look in the context and understand that this interpretation is not what John has in mind. And the reason is because in verse 24, just three verses before the passage where the challenge is coming from, John writes, let what you heard from the beginning abide in you, and if what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the son and in the father. Notice what John emphasizes there, what you have heard, the apostolic preaching.

Well, if we’re to follow the logic of the challenge and say only the Holy spirit and not the magisterium, the living body of teaching officials, then John’s readers would have to reject what they heard from the apostolic preaching, because that’s coming from men. So apparently something’s going wrong here with this interpretation that the challenge offers.

And then of course, in two chapters later in the same letter of John, 1 John 4:6, we have further evidence that this interpretation of 1 John 2:27, that the challenge offers does not cohere with John’s beliefs, because he says in 1 John 4:6, we are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us. Well, wait a minute, John. I thought we don’t have any need for any man to teach us. Right? 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. So John is very clear that the way in which we discern truth from error is by discerning who’s listening to the us, the body of teaching officials right. Now, some people might interpret the us as referring to the universal church, the church community.

CK:
But even that would mean the church is teaching.

KB:
That’s right, because the body of believers only believes what the constituted teaching officials teach. So whether you pass the us out as restrictive referring to the apostles and their teaching or the community of believers, any way you go, you still got the teaching of the magisterium that serves as a standard by which we can judge what is true and what is error.

So in light of all of these examples, we can see we get a picture of John’s belief and practices. He’s teaching, right? That’s the practice and what he believes about adhering to the apostolic preaching, and adhering to the apostolic preaching in order to know the truth versus error. So in light of those beliefs and practices, we can conclude that John cannot mean here in 1 John 2:27 that we have no need of any man to teach us in an absolute sense. That’s a flawed interpretation. Something else must be going on here.

CK:
All right. So what is the proper way to interpret this then?

KB:
Right, right. Yeah. I think as I point out in my book, Cy, I think we can say that he’s using hyperbole here. Right? So a hyperbole is an exaggeration in order to convey some message, right? So what’s the message being conveyed. Well, I think the bottom line is, he’s trying to get his readers to be on guard against false teachers who are going out and teaching without apostolic authority. And I think it’s within that context and that’s the message that he’s attempting to convey by using hyperbole.

And so here’s the context. And I think the context bears this out. John’s concern, according to verse 19, 1 John 2:19, John’s concerned with those who “went out from us, but they were not of us.” And so when you continue to read, they’re going out teaching things without being commissioned. So that in and of itself indicates that John understands hierarchy, and that in order to teach you got to belong to the appropriate body of teaching officials, right? So they’re going out teaching, but they’re not from us. Right?

CK:
Just can’t just go out and start your own church.

KB:
That’s right.

CK:
It’s not even a matter of what you’re teaching. It’s that you don’t have the authority unless somebody with authority send-

KB:
Commissions you to do it, to teach in an official capacity. Now, those who go out from John and the apostolic college, who aren’t from them, John goes on to say that they were false teachers. Why? Because in verse 26, they were deceiving Christians. So how were they deceiving Christians? In verse 22 John says, they were denying that Jesus is the Christ. So that’s the context in which John says, you have no need that anyone should teach you as his anointing teaches you about everything.

In other words, guys, you’ve been anointed by the Holy spirit. You are a little Christ literally. You are a Christian. So you should know better that these teachers who were saying Jesus is not the Christ is false, because you have been anointed in Christ by the spirit. You are little Christ, you should know. And so these Christians have the indwelling of the Holy spirit to move them, to enlighten them to know that Jesus is the Christ.

This is not intended to say that the Holy spirit is all you need to arrive at certainty about God’s divine revelation as a whole in an absolute sense. John is focusing specifically on this denial of Jesus as the Christ, and saying that you have the Holy spirit who’s anointed you and made you little Christ. And so you should know better that Jesus is the Christ. And therefore these teachers are false teachers and deceiving Christians. And so I think that’s the message that he’s trying to convey and saying, you have no need that any man should teach you.

Remember Jesus in Matthew 23:8-9. He says, call no man rabbi for you have one teacher within the context of scolding the religious of his day for taking undue pleasure in their role as teacher. So in order to speak out against those teachers who were taking undue pleasure in their role as teacher, he says, call no man teacher, because they were taking undue pleasure in the honorific title of rabbi. And then he says in Matthew 23:9, call no man father. Why? Because they were spiritual fathers and they were taking undue pleasure, right, inordinate pleasure in their role as a spiritual father and even being called father in a spiritual way and being called rabbi.

And so just as Jesus speaks out against their deceived ideas, right? They were deceived in their inordinate pleasure in their role as teacher and spiritual father. So to John here, he is using hyperbole for his readers to say, pay no attention to those false teachers. You have no need that any man teach you. You have the Holy spirit. But that’s not to say that they don’t need any man in a literalistic absolute way in light of everything else that we have.

Now, I would say if we didn’t have evidence of the beliefs and practices of John and other evidence from the early church in light of what Jesus revealed, we could read this and on the surface come to the conclude, well, yeah all we got is the Holy spirit and that’s just it. That’s all we have to work with. But in light of everything else that we have, it sheds light upon 1 John 2:27 to lead us to say, well, he must be using hyperbole here like Jesus used it here. And thus, we’re able to discern the true meaning of the text.

CK:
Yeah. Of all of that, the fact that John is here teaching as an apostle and that his word is called the word of God then there’s really no possible way to say that this man teaches with the authority of God, that you don’t need to listen to anyone who teaches under authority.

KB:
Right. Because like I pointed out earlier that would be self refuting because he himself is giving an instruction.

CK:
Right, right. Okay.

KB:
And I mean, Paul and Paul’s writings, Paul is very clear that there are teachers in the body of Christ. Right. 1 Corinthians 12:28, God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets and listen, third teachers. Right. So is Paul contradicting John here? Of course not. And of course in Ephesians 4:11, where Paul talks about all the different gifts within the church, he says there are some apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Right. And so that’s evidence that John cannot mean all we need is the Holy spirit to know God’s revelation without any authoritative magisterium.

CK:
Okay. So I think that, that answers in very satisfactory way the question, how can you teach this? How can you teach the magisterium when John says this?

KB:
Because John is not saying that as you interpret it, right?

CK:
Right. Okay. A proper interpretation of John says no, that doesn’t contradict the teaching on the magisterium.

KB:
It diffuses the challenge.

CK:
Okay. So now taking it one step further. Is there a problem with the person who says, I just need the Holy spirit? Are they going to be okay or are they going to run into trouble?

KB:
Well, I would argue they’re going to run into trouble, right. Now, their culpability is a different issue.

CK:
Oh, sure. Sure. Yeah.

KB:
But with regard to coming to erroneous judgments about God’s revelation, the answer is yes, because man left to himself without the infallible guidance of the Holy spirit is going to get it wrong sometimes. Could he come up to arrive at the truth on his own, through his own meditation and research? Yes. But there’s going to be no guarantee that he’s going to be preserved from error. For that you need a special promise, the promise of the Holy spirit to guide and lead the church. And that’s what we call the gift of infallibility.

But I think we can go further and support that claim, because number one, Saint Peter says in 2 Peter 1:19, you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy spirit spoke from God, there in verse 20. So Peter himself says that the prophecy of scripture is not a matter of one’s own interpretation.

And what he means is that it’s not a matter of us by ourselves with the promptings of the spirit, but that we must look to the magisterium, that living teaching authority through which the spirit teaches us. So it’s not that we’re rejecting the role of the spirit, right, in our journey to come to know the truth. But what we’re saying within the proper context of what the new Testament teaches, what the Bible teaches is that the spirit guides us in and through the living teaching authority.

And that’s what we see at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 specifically in verse 28, the council fathers say, it has seemed good to us and to the Holy spirit, right, that we should send this letter to you. So even they recognize that they’re being moved by the Holy spirit in this collaborative effort to exercise and function as a governing body over the new Testament church. And that’s the Bible blueprint for the church. We see that there is indeed a magisterium.

And then St. Peter would even say a couple of chapters in that same letter in 2 Peter, I think it’s 3:15-16, Peter explicitly says that there are some things hard to understand in Paul’s writings, which some twist to their own destruction. So Peter recognizes there are some in the first century who were reading Paul’s letters and because of the difficulty of Paul’s letters, they are coming to erroneous conclusion and leading themselves to their own destruction. Why? Because they’re reading it apart from the apostolic preaching of what the apostles … the teaching that the apostles were communicating.

And so whenever we separate ourselves from Peter and the apostles and their successors, the magisterium, right, this living teaching authority, we make ourselves vulnerable to twisting the scriptures to our own destruction. As Saint Peter says in 2 Peter 3:15-16. So it’s important that we always read the word of God within the heart of the church. Reading sacred scripture along with sacred tradition as interpreted for us by the magisterium over the past 2000 years. And that’s how we read scripture as a Catholic.

CK:
Karlo, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

KB:
Hey, you’re welcome Cy. Thanks for having me brother.

CK:
And thanks to everybody who has tuned in or tunes in here to Catholic Answers Focus. We appreciate it. We would ask your financial support if you can give it because it does cost money to do what we do here. And we think it’s worthwhile. And if you do, you can go to givecatholic.com. Just go to givecatholic.com. If you want to leave a little note there about that, you’re leaving it for Catholic Answers Focus, that’s fine. Also, if the financial thing is not in the cards today, we would appreciate it. If you’d give a prayer for us, offer a prayer for us, and also give us that five star review, because that helps us grow as well. We’ll see you next time right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission! Donate