In the latest edition of his Bible Christian Society newsletter, popular Catholic apologist John Martignoni is addressing comments that were made to him by a Protestant named Don Jackson. We don’t know Don Jackson and our purpose here is not to defend him or the things he said. We simply want to comment on just one specific aspect of what John Martignoni said. Martignoni’s newsletter article can be found here:
In this newsletter (#268), Martignoni encourages his readers, when debating with Protestants, to “get to the issue of authority as soon as possible.” He feels that this is a strong point for Catholics. He assures his readers that Protestants are unable to answer his questions concerning authority without somehow falling back on the authority of the Catholic Church.
At one point, he asks, “Who is it that can authoritatively interpret Scripture?”
But the question contains a false premise. Martignoni is assuming that one must have some special authority to interpret Scripture correctly. But that’s not true at all. This would be like asking, “What authority must I have to follow the Ten Commandments?” In either case, it’s not about authority; it’s just something that God wants and expects us to do.
And it’s not just church leaders who are expected to rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 3:15; Acts 17:11; Matthew 13:3-9). The people that followed Jesus were not mostly the rich, or scholars, church leaders, teachers or the elite. Most of them were just plain folk, the uneducated, the poor, the down and out, and the lost. It was these people who cried out to God, recognizing their need, and followed Jesus. It was those who were spiritually hungry and those who pressed in and wanted to do God’s will that understood His message (John 7:15-17). Jesus never said or implied that one needed “special authority” to understand His words. See these articles:
Toward the end of the newsletter, Martignoni tells Jackson, “I do not follow my own teachings based solely upon my own authority and my own private interpretations of Scripture as you do, so I have no need of being infallible. You, however, relying on your own authority and your own private interpretations, which you have admitted could be wrong, have need of being infallible – but you’re not.”
Here, Martignoni now goes a step farther and implies that not only does one need an “authoritative” interpretation, but he needs an infallible one! Again, this is a false premise. First of all, who says that one has to be infallible to interpret Scripture? He certainly doesn’t get this idea from the Bible (Mark 4:3-9). Second, let’s break down what he said. He implies that his teachings are not based on his own authority / interpretations, but those of the “infallible” Catholic Church, as opposed to the Protestant, who merely follows his own interpretation of the Bible.
But in order to understand and follow the (supposedly infallible) teachings of the Catholic Church, Martignoni must still use his own fallible understanding to do so, just as the Protestant does when interpreting his infallible source (the Bible). There is no escaping the fact that we are ALL fallible today, and must ALL use our fallible minds to understand an infallible source.
So, Martignoni is simply playing word games when he says he doesn’t follow his own authority or his own private interpretation. It is still his fallible interpretation of what the Catholic Church teaches.
Just before the previous quote that we gave from the newsletter, Martignoni had asked Jackson, “Will you admit that you could be wrong in your interpretations of Scripture and that you could mistakenly be following the father of all lies by relying on your own private, fallible, non-authoritative, man-made interpretations of Scripture?” Martignoni thinks that he has Jackson over a barrel here and that Jackson cannot escape his trap. But we would turn this question around on him and ask: “John Martignoni, will you admit that you could be wrong in your interpretations of the Church and that you could mistakenly be following the father of all lies by relying on your own private, fallible, non-authoritative, man-made interpretations of the Church?” Is Martignoni humble enough to answer yes to this? He needs to remember that this sword cuts both ways.
The bottom line… one does not need infallibility, or even “authority,” to interpret Scripture correctly.
We just might do some commentary on more of John Martignoni’s newsletters in the very near future. By the way, we’d also like to refer our readers to a very good website that deals in-depth with many of Martignoni’s teachings here: