If there's a question about Scripture, asking for a Catholic answer, do answers which only cite scripture qualify as not-an-answer?

Case in point:

Why did Jesus only appear in short apparitions to his followers post-resurrection?

I tagged two perfectly good answers as "needs citation", because they have no Catholic sources.

I suppose this question would apply to any Christian sect that prohibits Private Interpretation scripture. But how true or important would this distinction be to the Reformed or Evangelical or other perspectives?

Like, if it was "what doe Evangelicals think about..." do Bible only answers qualify, but if the question is "what does the Catholic Church teach about ..." then answers require citations?

And how what level of authority do questions need? Is quoting a priest with a blog good 'nuff (which may represent a divergent view) or does it have to be magisterial teaching (which commonly doesn't exist)?

  • 3
    The primary issue I see with scripture-only answers to questions requesting a specific perspective is that there's no proof that said perspective claims that said scripture has that meaning. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 22:06
  • Just a little note. When citing Scriptures for Catholic answer, the translation used must be one that is acceptable by the Church. Catholic bibles include books that many other denominations do not recognize. I am simply saying this as a caveat for any Scripture only posts.
    – Ken Graham Mod
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 12:14

7 Answers 7


Answers claiming to represent group X should prove it

Everybody1 considers Scripture to be Truth2. But nobody agrees on what that Truth is.

With regards to that specific example, Catholics absolutely hold Scripture to be a source of truth that satisfactorily answers the given question. However, the current answers at the time of writing have made no effort to prove that the Catholic Church interprets those passages that way. Those passages and that interpretation may well be valid for many/most other branches of Christianity, but that's not relevant to a question specifically about Catholic belief.

With regards to the level of authority, the bare minimum is an external accessible source that others can look at and verify for themselves (e.g., a blog post, a book, official church teachings, etc). As long as your references show that group X does indeed interpret Y to mean Z, then that counts as support. We have other quality control mechanisms (downvotes, comments, etc) we can use if said references are low-quality or outright wrong.

1 To be more precise, every Christian denomination, group, and branch, with few exceptions.
2 Some of it, at least.

  • 4
    I don't think 100% of answers need to give references if something is common knowledge, but authors should always be prepared to give those references if challenged.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 22:33
  • That's a fair point. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 22:45
  1. Answers don't have to provide references or quotes to authoritative sources if they think it's common knowledge that denomination X teaches doctrine Y, but authors should be ready to provide them if ever challenged.
  2. There is a big difference between saying "Catholics/Presbyterians/Creationists believe..." even without providing proof, and saying "The Bible says... Therefore..."
  3. For the question linked to above, the OP has learnt to tag Catholicism onto their questions, but many of their questions are fundamentally problematic, and only superficially scoped to Catholicism. Maybe frame challenge answers are appropriate, but I'd prefer to see the bad questions (like this one) closed.
  • On other sites, especially the former programmers.se we had a test of who the question was applicable to (Everyone, Most People, Particular Groups) were OK but "Just You" was not OK. I kind of wish we had this close reason, although I always resented it when it was used against my questions. I think the close reason was "Too Narrow" as opposed to "Too Broad".
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 1:08
  • @PeterTurner While questions of history can be asked about individuals here, questions of doctrine or practice need to be about identifiable groups. I think that can fill the gap caused by Too Narrow being taken away. The issue is for questions like this where the question asker claims it's an issue for a denomination even though it probably isn't.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 6:10
  • 1) it should be common knowledge, it was in the early church as they placed scripture as their highest authority. 2) There is because scripture is not truly the highest authority. It's impossible to twist something that doesn't contradict itself if you read every passage in context. Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 17:53
  • @curiousdannii by "just you" I mean, what you're saying is the OP of the question at hand's supposition that Jesus only appeared in fits and starts after His resurrection. Its maybe too gray of an area to make a rule about. I disagree with you that tacking on "what does the Catholic Church say about..." is not a way to make any question on topic because I believe the Catholic Church has a say (or could have a say) about everything. Which is why it's important to exclude obvious non-Catholic answers from those posts, answers should at least seem Catholic (like Jong's posts)
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 21:19

A standard of question which inherently rejects this core fact about Catholic epistemology cannot be considered valid, therefore: we must allow for questions not to specify specifically a dogmatic or official statement of the Church, for her teachings are not all officially declared, and those that are, are but a subset thereof.

Questions about Scripture should reflect the traditional Catholic usage of Scripure: all interpretations allowed which agree and comport with the faith. The early Church would not be able to provide official statements for most of what they said about the meaning of Scripture, but could cite only the pedigree of the belief in the bishops, and the consensus of the Church, like Athanasius and the Trinity before Nicaea: Athanasisus wasn't so presumptious and proud as to set himself up the official interpreter of the objective meaning of Scripture, but that's not what citing purely Scripture is meant to imply: all interpretation which agrees with the faith is allowed, and the rest disallowed, and this is the essence of valid interpretation and true Catholic teaching on Scripture; and its opposite is the very definition of heresy and misinterpretation of Scripture.

Even supposing we had official teachings from the Church on every Catholic belief, it would still be fallacious to require the standard suggested in the question, and thus inadmissable, because this would not always have been the case; whereas the faith and Catholicism and the Church obviously still existed, and questions about its beliefs did not require an official statement.

TL;DR Questions should specify whether they want official statements from the Church, or the teaching of the Church related using Scripture (as used exclusively in agreement with the faith; by which is meant that answerers must always be able to defend the compatibility of their use of Scripture with official teaching upon request). The latter was simply the modus operandi or mode of operation of the Church for centuries, and remained largely so even after Councils and other official pronouncements came along.

Inasmuch as one can answer 'what the Church teaches' without citing the words of a bishop or pope, one should be able to answer which such information validly. It's taken for granted that they will be able to demonstrate using official teaching, if necessary, the compatibility of their use of Scripture, or the veracity of the assertions they're making. If, however, someone wants the assurance of the words of a bishop or pope or Council, let them specify that in the question. But the two should not be tied together or conflated.

  • I'm not in favor of forcing people to split up Catholicism questions into two categories (Can this be answered by Pope Benedict or Scott Hahn?), although it would be easier to moderate. On certain questions, I think it would definitely help to ask those kinds of questions in the comments and if it's too confusing to answer, close the question instead.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 17:10
  • 1
    'Forcing them to split things up' is an unrequired step and an extremely uncharitable way of saying, 'make sure if you want official sources, to ask for such in the question.' I think it's rather simple. As I noted, the suggested regulation ignores the modus operandi of Catholicism for centuries, before any such thing as a 'the official teaching of the Church' even existed in the sense we have today; and even if we had 'official church teaching' for all the doctrines and details of the faith, the regulation would still therefore be fallacious as a limit on questions about the Catholic faith. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 22:16

The famous "private" interpretation appeal derived from 2 Peter 1:20, used my many groups, especially the Roman Catholic Church is based on two assumptions:

  • That no private interpretation immediately means that only "my organisation/church" can officially interpret the passage (which the Bible does not say)
  • That it also ignores the next verse (v21) which says: "for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." That is, the Bible must be interpreted not by an organisation but by the work of the Holy Spirit.

However, I presume that none of this will ever stop official dogma multiplying upon itself.

Despite this, the OP specifically requires a reference to Catholic dogma and so that is what any valid answer must provide.

  • Just a few points that a Catholic might argue with you on in case you need to take your argument a step further 1. Catholic dogma isn't added to, it's just formalized. 2. The Catholic Church doesn't teach that everyone else is wrong; she does teach that only she is right, just that she's certain to be right (on account of the guidance of the Holy Spirit) and others are possibly wrong. Personally, I don't think that Catholic dogma is required as an answer. Catholic Dogma is just a handful of teachings Catholics must adhere to which the Church defined. Catholic scholarship is all I'd ask.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 1:19

Private Interpretation is contrary to the Catholic faith

Again, it is illogical to base faith upon the private interpretation of a book. For faith consists in submitting; private interpretation consists in judging. In faith by hearing, the last word rests with the teacher; in private judgment it rests with the reader, who submits the dead text of Scripture to a kind of post-mortem examination and delivers a verdict without appeal: he believes in himself rather than in any higher authority. But such trust in one's own light is not faith. Private judgment is fatal to the theological virtue of faith. John Henry Newman says "I think I may assume that this virtue, which was exercised by the first Christians, is not known at all amongst Protestants now; or at least if there are instances of it, it is exercised toward those, I mean their teachers and divines, who expressly disclaim that they are objects of it, and exhort their people to judge for themselves" ("Discourses to Mixed Congregations", Faith and Private Judgment). And in proof he advances the instability of Protestant so-called faith: "They are as children tossed to and fro and carried along by every gale of doctrine. If they had faith they would not change. They look upon the simple faith of Catholics as if unworthy the dignity of human nature, as slavish and foolish". Yet upon that simple, unquestioning faith the Church was built up and is held together to this day.


But that's not really the problem here. The real problem is, if someone tries to prove or disprove any article of faith using only text from the Bible or the Church Fathers (or even the Summa Theologica or any dense work that requires a licentiate to give one faculties to exegete), it constitutes original research and that is not allowed on this website. Private interpretation may be right or wrong, it may not even be private interpretation - it may be the exact right answer, just lacking sources. And this really applies to any denomination. We can't treat Catholics special because they believe a certain thing about the Bible. This website should hold all potential answers accountable to the same standards and not just allow some answers because they smell good.

So, I'm in favor of marking as NAA and deleting any answer that doesn't deliberately say that other smart people in that faith tradition also believe that thing.


I disagreed with your flagging the question you mentioned above because it had "no Catholic resources as answers". Christians. irregardless of their denomination view the Bible as the ultimate source. Everything else is secondary to that source.

Yes, there are multiple interpretations of just about any scripture possible (hence the many denominations). I would say, if the individual just posts a scripture with no other commentary, by all means, flag it. If they post a scripture with an explanation as to why this is an answer, fine. If others disagree, hey, that's what the comment sections are for!

  • 1
    Posting in that way puts undue responsibility on the person asking the question to judge for themselves whether the answer is in accord with Catholic teaching. And it's not true that Christians view the Bible as their ultimate source. Catholic laypeople read the Bible, but we don't interpret it for ourselves, that's what we have priests, bishops and popes for. But I wouldn't even want the Pope to post an answer here without citing sources here because it constitutes original research.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 14:03
  • @PeterTurner the early Church viewed scripture in high authority. Polycarp quoted Paul's writings as scripture. Ignatius did, Justin Martyr did. You don't need someone else to interpret it, it's written to be clearly and plainly understood. Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 16:19

1) the "scripture" referenced in the New Testament (and used by the early church, call the 'patristic fathers' by the Catholic Church) was the Septuagint. They revered this Canon and we can see that in what was Canonized as the New Testament.

Acts 17:11 NKJV - These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily [to find out] whether these things were so.

The Bereans are lauded for searching their scriptures daily. They tested what was being taught by Paul, against God's word - not against the patristic sayings of the Jerusalem council (the leaders of the early church, of which James was the head, and Peter sought His approval.

The same is repeated later in Acts

Acts 28:23 NKJV - So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at [his] lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.

The Law of Moses and the Prophets, is a reference to the Torah (Penteteuch) and the rest of the "Old Testament" - this would have been read from what we today call the Septuagint, as Koine Greek was the lingua franca.

It's clear from these two scriptures alone, that Paul, Peter and the rest of the apostles didn't view scripture as being of private interpretation. In fact, in the major problem of that day, of Gentiles being grafted in to the Church what did James reference?

Acts 15:14-17 NKJV - "Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. "And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: 'After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.'

James (the leader of the early Church) referenced the book of Amos, from the Septuagint. The Scriptures was His authority.

That's also what Paul meant here:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV - All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The scripture he meant, wasn't his own writings but the Septuagint - the law and the prophets. However Peter tells us even after He wrote His second epistle, they were considered equal with scripture.

2 Peter 3:15-16 NKJV - and consider [that] the longsuffering of our Lord [is] salvation--as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable [people] twist to their own destruction, as [they do] also the rest of the Scriptures.

He compares Paul's writings to the rest of scriptures - holding them in high reverence. He is also not saying they are of private interpretation - but they are hard to understand for the unlearned for those who haven't read the law and prophets, they can be misconstrued.

2) The next question, and this is also important before answering your primary point, "asking for a Catholic answer, do answers which only cite scripture qualify as not-an-answer?" What did the early church view as authority? the words of the overseers (that you call Bishops) or was scripture the highest authority?

When Ptolemy king of Egypt formed a library, and endeavored to collect the writings of all men, he heard also of these prophets, and sent to Herod, who was at that time king of the Jews, requesting that the books of the prophets be sent to him. And Herod the king did indeed send them, written, as they were, in the foresaid Hebrew language. And when their contents were found to be unintelligible to the Egyptians, he again sent and requested that men be commissioned to translate them into the Greek language. And when this was done, the books remained with the Egyptians, where they are until now. They are also in the possession of all Jews throughout the world. Justin Martyr (A.D. 160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg.173

Justin here is telling us the Septuagint was in broad use by the Jews, and by the Gentiles. (Which is exactly what we also see in the Bible)

God, then, was made man, and the Lord did Himself save us, giving us the token of the Virgin. But not as some allege, among those now presuming to expound the Scripture, [thus:] "Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bring forth a son," as Theodotion the Ephesian has interpreted, and Aquila of Pontus, both Jewish proselytes… For before the Romans possessed their kingdom, while as yet the Macedonians held Asia, Ptolemy the son of Lagus, being anxious to adorn the library which he had founded in Alexandria, with a collection of the writings of all men, which were [works] of merit, made request to the people of Jerusalem, that they should have their Scriptures translated into the Greek language. And they - for at that time they were still subject to the Macedonians - sent to Ptolemy seventy of their elders, who were thoroughly skilled in the Scriptures and in both the languages, to carry out what he had desired. But he, wishing to test them individually, and fearing lest they might perchance, by taking counsel together, conceal the truth in the Scriptures, by their interpretation, separated them from each other, and commanded them all to write the same translation. He did this with respect to all the books. But when they came together in the same place before Ptolemy, and each of them compared his own interpretation with that of every other, God was indeed glorified, and the Scriptures were acknowledged as truly divine. For all of them read out the common translation [which they had prepared] in the very same words and the very same names, from beginning to end, so that even the Gentiles present perceived that the Scriptures had been interpreted by the inspiration of God. Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 451-452

Irenaeus in the second century makes his plea for the resurrection based on scripture not His opinion or a divine grace granted to Him. He is also telling us here, that the way the Septuagint was translated, prevented private interpretation. The translators were separated and they came up with the same end results.

Note that last highlighted line from a second century Christian. "The scriptures were acknowledged as truly divine."

Irenaeus plea is for the authority of scripture, through the Septuagint.

3) Now that we've built up the argument from scripture and the early Church, let's answer your question.

"asking for a Catholic answer, do answers which only cite scripture qualify as not-an-answer?"

If they (Catholics) are holding to new traditions not found in scripture or the early Church then an answer solely from the authority of Scripture is not an answer to a religious question. They appeal to the higher authority they place in the Papacy, which we do not see in scripture or the early church.

  • Your last point is certainly wrong from my point of view, but the authority part is right. You need to appeal to an authority higher than yourself (and less than God) to answer questions on this site.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 12:01
  • You contradict yourself, as you don't appeal to God - but to men. The only word of God we have is the divinely inspired word. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 20:47
  • Have you read this post? you may have the wrong idea about the purpose of this secular website. But you certainly have the wrong idea about Catholicism, that's OK you probably could ask a few questions here if you're interested. For instance, you could ask "Why does the Catholic Church say it is the only trustworthy interpreter of Holy Scripture?"
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 21:14
  • We both know the answer to that, a better question you should ask yourself @PeterTurner is why didn't the early church view it that way? Why did they revere scripture above man's opinion? Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 16:20

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