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The Roman Catholic Church: Catholicism and the Bible

Roman Catholicism and the BibleCan the teaching and practices of the Roman Catholic Church be found in the Bible? What about the authority of the Pope, church councils, tradition, and church law? 

Do the Scriptures authorize the teachings of Catholicism about the Mass (Eucharist), transubstantiation, purgatory, indulgences, abstinence, celibacy, Lent, confession to priests, communion, immaculate conception, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and prayer to saints and Mary? Is the Catholic church really the one true church according to the Bible?


The Roman Catholic church teaches that it is the original church built by Jesus and that non-Catholic churches are departures from Catholicism. The New Testament often warns us of the danger of false teaching and apostasy (Acts 20:28-30; 2 Tim. 4:2-4; I Tim. 4:1-3). The question to be considered by all honest people, then, is whether the Catholic church is the original true church and others are apostate, or whether the Catholic church is itself an apostasy.

The way to answer this question is to compare the teachings of the Catholic church to the teachings of Jesus as revealed in the New Testament. The claim of the Catholic church to be the true and original church is a valid claim if and only if the teaching and practice of the Catholic church agrees with the New Testament (2 Tim. 3:16,17; I Cor. 14:37; Matt. 7:15-27; 2 John 9-11; Gal. 1:6-9; I John 2:3-6; John 8:31,32).

Let us consider the teaching of the Catholic church regarding several subjects of major interest (such as the Pope, church councils, tradition, church law, the Mass or eucharist, transubstantiation, purgatory, indulgences, abstinence, celibacy, Lent, confession to priests, communion, immaculate conception, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and prayer to saints and Mary). On each point we will simply let the Catholic church speak for itself by quoting from its authorized books. Then we will compare that to what is taught in the Catholic Bible itself. Please see the bibliography for specific information regarding the sources cited.


In addition to the Bible, Catholicism also follows tradition and the decrees of the Pope and church councils as religious authority.

"Did God intend that the Bible alone should be the guide to salvation? No, because certain things in the Bible can be misunderstood, and because the Bible does not have everything God taught" - Catechism, p. 51.

"Do we get from the Bible alone all our knowledge and certainty about what God has told us? No, there is also Sacred Tradition … What is tradition? The Word of God handed on to us by the Apostles in their preaching and by their successors in the church to the present day … Do you have to believe in tradition? Yes … we are obliged to accept all the truths contained in the Bible and Tradition…" - Catechism, pp. 9,10.

"Council … assemblies of the rulers of the Church legally convoked, for the discussion and decision of ecclesiastical affairs … The decrees of general councils have no binding authority till confirmed by the Pope … The infallibility of general councils so confirmed follows from that of the Church…" - Dictionary, pp. 227-230.

"Does Jesus require us to follow the Pope in matters of religion? Yes, because obedience and loyalty to the Pope are among the chief requirements of Our Lord's plan for unity … Can the Pope make an error when teaching religion? Not when he is speaking solemnly (ex cathedra) as head of the church. Then he has that special protection from error which God gives as a spiritual safeguard for all the members of the church" - Catechism, p. 56.

But the Bible teaches:

1. The original apostles received all the truth we need to guide us to eternal life, and they wrote this down in the Scriptures (John 16:13; 2 Pet. 1:3; Acts 20:20,27; Matt. 28:20; I Cor. 14:37; 2 Tim. 3:16,17).

2. The teachings of these inspired writers can be understood by the common people. We do not need official interpreters to understand the word, but we should use the word to check out the teachers! (Mark 7:14; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; John 20:30,31; Acts 17:11; Psa. 119:105)

3. We displease God when we follow tradition or church laws or any human standard as the source of authority for the church (Matt. 15:1-14; Col. 2:8; Gal. 1:6-9; Prov. 14:12; 2 John 9-11; Jer. 10:23).


Catholicism teaches that the Pope is the earthly head of the church.

"The Pope, who is the bishop of Rome and the Vicar of Christ on earth … is the visible head of the whole Catholic Church … Who was the first Pope? St. Peter, who was made Pope by Jesus Christ Himself … Did Peter's authority die with him? No, it was handed down to a man named Linus, and after he died, it was handed down to another, and so on, during the past 2000 years" - Catechism, pp. 55,56. Below the Pope in the church hierarchy are various levels of cardinals, bishops, priests, etc.

"The law of the [Roman] Church forbids persons living in the married state to be ordained, and persons in holy orders [priests, etc.], to marry" - Dictionary, p. 132.

But the Bible teaches:

1. Jesus is the Head, foundation, and chief shepherd of the church (Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18; Matt. 28:18; I Cor. 3:11; Acts 4:10,11; I Pet. 2:3-8; John 10:11,14; I Pet. 5:4; Heb. 13:20). For the church to have two heads (Jesus and the Pope) would be spiritual adultery, like a woman having two husbands (cf. Eph. 5:22-24 to Rom. 7:2,3).

Note on Matt. 16:18 - The "rock" on which Jesus built His church is not Peter, but it is the truth that Jesus is the Son of God (v13-17). In this context, Jesus is not confessing and exalting Peter; rather, Peter is confessing and exalting Jesus! The "rock" on which the church is built (Greek PETRA) is a solid ledge of stone. It is not the same as Peter (Greek PETROS, a stone), but is contrasted to Him. This agrees with I Cor. 3:11 and other verses listed above, which show Jesus is the foundation of the church.

2. Peter had no greater authority than the other apostles (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11,12). All had power to bind and loose by preaching the gospel guided by the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 16:19 to 18:18; John 20:22f; and Mark 16:15,16; John 16:13; Gal. 1:11,12). Peter had the "keys" to be the first one to preach this gospel and open the door to both Jews and Gentiles to enter the church (Acts 2 and Acts 10), but others preached as much and as effectively as he did (I Cor. 15:10).

3. Peter did not fit the pattern of modern Popes. He was married (Matt. 8:14; I Cor. 9:5). He refused to allow men to bow to honor him religiously (Acts 10:25,26). He wore no exalted title such as "Father" (Matt. 23:9).

4. No one today can be a successor to Peter or to any other apostle. Apostles had to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:21,22; I Cor. 9:1; 15:8; Acts 2:32; 3:15; etc.). Apostles confirmed their apostleship by doing miracles (2 Cor. 12:12; Mark 16:20; Acts 3:1-10; 9:32-42; etc.). Those who received this miraculous power from the apostles, could not in turn pass it on to others (Acts 8:5-18).

5. Marriage is honorable for all, including apostles and bishops (Heb. 13:4; Matt. 8:14; I Cor. 9:5; I Tim. 3:2,4; Tit. 1:5-7). It is a clear sign of apostacy to forbid people to marry (I Tim. 4:1-3).


Catholicism teaches that the elements in communion become the literal flesh and blood of Jesus.

"The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament in which Jesus Christ is really and physically present under the appearances of bread and wine … [T]he appearances of the bread and wine (taste, smell, color, size, shape, weight) did not change, even though the bread and wine were actually changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. The substance of the bread and wine are changed into the substance of the body and blood of Jesus. This change is called transubstantiation.

"When does the priest change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus? At Mass, when he says, 'This is my Body. This is My Blood.' …

"What is the Mass? The sacrifice of the Cross, the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, offered in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine … Who offered the first Mass? Jesus offered the first Mass at the Last Supper when He changed the bread and wine into His Body and Blood … Is the sacrifice of the Mass the same as the sacrifice of the cross? Yes, they are the same…" - Catechism, pp. 69-76.

But the Bible teaches:

1. Even after Jesus said "This is my body … This is my blood," the elements were still described as "fruit of the vine," "bread," and "cup." Both statements cannot be taken physically. (Matt. 26:29; I Cor. 11:26-28)

2. Jesus' sacrifice was not repeated, so the mass cannot be the same sacrifice offered today (Heb. 7:26,27; 9:24-28; 10:9,10; I Pet. 3:18).

3. Jesus could not have offered a sacrifice (the "first mass") before He died because the Old Testament was still in effect then, and He could not serve as a priest under that testament (Heb. 7:12-14; 8:4; 9:15,16).

4. Changing bread and wine to flesh and blood would require a miracle. True miracles could always be verified by the physical evidence that the change had occurred (cf. John 2:1-11), yet Catholicism admits there is no evidence of change in the bread and cup. Furthermore, miracles have ceased and cannot occur since the "perfect" written word was completed (I Cor. 13:8-13; cf. Jude 3; James 1:25).

5. Drinking blood is forbidden (Acts 15:29).

6. "This is my body … This is my blood" refers, not to the physical substance of the elements, but to their spiritual significance. Other similar statements of Jesus are: "I am the door … I am the vine" (John 10:7,9; 15:1,5).

In a memorial, one thing is used to remind us of another thing. The memorial is never physically and literally the thing it reminds us of (cf. I Cor. 11:24,25 to Ex. 12:11-14). If I show you a picture and say, "This is my wife," you do not conclude that my wife is a piece of photographic paper. The picture is a memorial which reminds me of my wife. So the bread and fruit of the vine are elements which remind us of Jesus' body and blood.


Catholicism exalts Mary to a super-human position, and prays to her and to saints.

"…the Blessed Virgin can do whatever she pleases both in heaven and on earth … At the command of Mary, all obey, even God … God grants the prayers of Mary as if they were commands … Yes, Mary is omnipotent … for the queen by every law enjoys the same privileges as the king … Since the mother, then, should have the same power as the Son, rightly has Jesus, who is omnipotent, made Mary also omnipotent … whatever the Mother asks for, the Son never denies her" - Glories, pp. 154-156.

"Catholics believe that the Blessed Virgin was free from all actual sin because of divine tradition confirmed by the Council of Trent" - Question Box, p. 360.

"The Church teaches us that [Mary] was always a Virgin - a Virgin before her espousals, during her married life and after her spouse's death" - Faith of Our Fathers, p. 138.

"…the Eternal Father … besides giving us Jesus Christ, our principal Advocate with Him, was pleased also to give us Mary, as our Advocate with Jesus Christ … He has placed the whole price of redemption in the hands of Mary, that she may dispense it at will .. [T]he way of salvation is open to none otherwise than through Mary .. No one is saved but through thee … Whoever asks and expects to obtain graces without the intercession of Mary, endeavors to fly without wings … [A]ll graces are dispensed by Mary, and … all who are saved are saved only by the means of this Divine Mother…" - Glories, pp. 169,85,143f,8.

"O most pure Virgin Mary, I worship thy most holy heart … It is … well to say the rosary kneeling, before an image of Mary" -Glories, pp. 104,508.

Catholic prayer books contain examples of prayers that members should pray to Mary or to other saints (see "The Confiteor" in Catechism, p. 135, and "Prayer to St. Joseph" in St. Pius X Daily Missal, p. 1031).

But the Bible teaches:

1. Jesus was born from Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). He possessed His divine characteristics in common with God and His human characteristics in common with Mary. Hence, He possesses omnipotence because of His Deity (John 1:1-3,14; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 2:9; Eph. 1:19-23). But Mary would not share in Jesus' Divine characteristics. To say she is omnipotent would exalt her to the position of Deity.

2. Deity is sinless (Deut. 32:4). Though Jesus has always been God, He came to earth as a man and lived sinlessly (2 Cor. 5:21; I John 3:5; I Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15). All other humans sin (Rom. 3:10,12,23). That includes Mary. To say Mary is sinless would exalt her to Deity and make God a liar (I John 1:8,10).

3. Virginity before marriage is a virtue, but after marriage it is not a virtue (Heb. 13:4). In fact, to refuse the sexual union with one's marriage spouse is a sin because it tempts one's spouse to commit fornication (I Cor. 7:2-5). Jesus had "brothers and sisters" in the very same sense that Mary was His "mother" (Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 6:3). (Note that "sister" never refers in the gospel to a cousin or more distant relative. There was a different Greek word for a female cousin or kinswoman - Luke 1:36.)

4. Jesus is our only mediator and advocate with God in prayer and in salvation (I Tim. 2:5; I John 2:1,2). Only God can dispense forgiveness (Mk. 2:7- 12). Salvation is only through Jesus (Acts 4:12; Heb. 5:9).

5. We worship only Deity, not created beings (Matt. 4:10; Rom. 1:23,25). We must not bow or kneel to any created being or statue in religious honor (Acts 10:25,26; Rev. 22:8,9; 19:10). To honor Mary as Catholics do is idolatry (I John 5:21).


Catholicism observes special holy days when eating meat is forbidden.

Lent: "A fast of forty days preceding Easter … There is no mention in Scripture of the observance of Lent, or, indeed, or any determined time for fasting among Christians" - Dictionary, p. 512.

"What is abstinence? The Church's law of abstinence says that on certain days you may not eat meat … What are the days of obligatory abstinence? Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent" - Catechism, p. 132.

But the Bible teaches:

1. The Lord's supper is the only New Testament memorial with any regular, fixed time frequency. It is a memorial of Jesus' death observed each first day of the week (I Cor. 11:23-26; Acts 20:7).

2. Gal. 4:10,11 expressly warns of the danger of giving religious significance to days not authorized by God.

3. Binding that people must not eat meats at certain times is a clear evidence of apostasy (I Tim. 4:1-3).


Catholicism teaches there is, after death, a place of temporary punishment which can be escaped by the merits of other people.

"What is purgatory? A place and state of temporary punishment after death … Who goes to purgatory? Those … 1) who die while guilty of unrepented venial sins 2) who die without having done sufficient penance to pay the debt of the temporal punishment still due their past sins … Where do you go when you leave purgatory? To heaven to be with God … Can you help the souls in purgatory? You can shorten their stay by having Masses said for them, praying for them and doing good works for them" - Catechism, pp. 37-39.

Regarding indulgences, we are told: "The Church has recourse to the infinite merits of Christ … and to the merits of saints who have done penance more than sufficient to pay the temporal punishment due to their own sins … their actions had a penitential character which availed for others if not needed for themselves" - Dictionary, p. 441.

In other words, people in the past did more good works than they themselves needed to get out of purgatory. By meeting the conditions set down by the priest, you can claim the benefit of these good works, so you or a loved one get out of purgatory sooner. That is an indulgence.

But the Bible teaches:

1. After death, there will be no crossing over from the place of punishment to the place of reward (Luke 16:26). Hence, our eternal destinies are fixed at the time of death and cannot be changed by anything we or anyone else does.

2. Each person will be rewarded according to what he personally did in the body (Ezek. 18:20; 2 Cor. 5:10). No one's reward or punishment after death can be determined by what other people do.

3. No human has any excess good deeds beyond what he himself needs (Rom. 3:9-18,23; I John 1:8,10; James 2:10; Luke 17:10).

4. God is no respecter of persons. Wealthy people have no advantage over poor people regarding their destiny after death (Acts 10:34,35; James 2:1-9; 2 Cor. 8:12; Mark 12:41-44). But since the priest gets paid to say masses for the dead, the doctrine of purgatory lets people who are rich (or who have rich relatives) escape punishment sooner than poor people.


Catholicism teaches that sins must be confessed to a priest to be forgiven.

"Who has the power to forgive sin today? All bishops and priests of the Catholic Church can forgive sin … What do you have to do to have your sins forgiven? You have to be truly sorry for them and confess them to a Catholic priest … Does the priest merely pray that your sins will be forgiven? No, acting as God's instrument and ordained minister, he truly forgives the sins" - Catechism, pp. 78.

But the Bible teaches:

1. Only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7-12).

2. "The words 'priest,' 'priesthood' … are never applied in the New Testament to the office of the Christian ministry. All Christians are priests (I Pet. 2:5,9; Apoc. 5:10)" - Dictionary, p. 692. (Note that this is the admission of an official Catholic reference work.)

3. All Christians can pray to God through Christ for forgiveness of their own sins (Acts 8:22; Matt. 6:12).

4. Any Christian can pray for the forgiveness of another Christian; but they only pray - they cannot actually forgive the sin. And all righteous men (not some special priestly class) do this for one another (James 5:16).

5. The only mediator between us and God is Jesus (I Tim. 2:5).


We must conclude that, despite its claims, the Catholic church is not the true, original church since it does not follow the teaching and practice of the original church.

Note: If you would like to study further about related Bible topics, we have a number of other study materials on our web site that should interest you. Please see the links listed below.


A Catechism for Adults, William Cogan, 1975 Edition; ACTA Foundation, Chicago, 1975.

The Catholic Dictionary or the Universal Christian Educator and Popular Encyclopedia of Religious Information, William E. Addis and Thomas Arnold; Christian Press Association Pub. Co., New York, (no date).

The Faith of Our Fathers, James Cardinal Gibbons, 110th Edition; P. J. Kenedy and Sons, New York, 1917.

The Glories of Mary, Alphonsus Maria De Ligouri, 2nd Edition; P. O'Shea, 45 Warren Street (only address given), 1890.

The Question Box, Bertrand L. Conway, 2nd Edition; The Paulist Press, New York, 1929.

(C) Copyright 1998,David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

The Church and Worship
The Papacy: Was Peter the First Pope?
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority
Tradition as Religious Authority
Mary's Glory, Power, and Honor
Preservation of the Bible
Should Babies Be Baptized?
Transubstantiation: The Elements in Communion
Original Sin and Inherited Depravity
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Can We Understand the Bible?
Observance of Religious Holy Day
How Can You Find & Identify Jesus' Church? - Return to the Gospel Way home page.

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