Why do Catholics let the pope and his bishops tell them how to interpret the Bible? I don’t understand why the average Catholic would accept the pope’s interpretation over their own.
The answer is simple: It’s better than the alternative.
Let’s be clear on one thing; the Magisterium doesn’t tell Catholics to interpret Scripture a particular way. The Magisterium lays out guidelines or framework that the average Catholic is free to interpret within. For example, is the woman in Revelation 12 Mary or is she Israel, or is she both at once or what? The Church doesn’t say you have to take any one stance on that; a Catholic isn’t bound to interpret that passage a particular way. Now if a Catholic looked at that passage and said “it’s not Mary so therefore the Assumption of Mary is invalid” then they’ve just crossed the guideline. If your personal interpretation leads you into contradiction of the Church’s Traditions then your interpretation can’t be correct.
“Oh sure,” you say, “so as long as I conform to the Church’s Traditions then I can interpret how I want? That’s not freedom, that’s just being given boundaries like a kid in a playground.”
Again, it’s better than the alternative. What would you prefer a fence on the playground or your child hit by a car, lost, or worse? Boundaries are there for a reason.
Anyway, let’s say I want to do something I know I shouldn’t. Let’s take something we can all agree is bad; like killing innocent people. The Magisterium is clear that this shouldn’t be done and therefore a Catholic cannot validly interpret Scripture in such a way as to allow it. A non-Catholic, however, doesn’t have those guidelines but yet if they did interpret the Bible in such a way that killing innocent people was justified nearly all Christians would say his interpretation can’t be correct.
How can a non-Catholic say another person’s murderous interpretation is incorrect unless they’re also working under some framework? If there are no boundaries for non-Catholics, how can this be off-limits?
You can’t say the Bible is the framework because it can be taken severely out of context very easily. Without guidelines it’s impossible to say that any interpretation is incorrect. So, what framework do non-Catholics operate within?
I honestly don’t know. My best guess is modern social norms. Let’s look at contraception. Before 1930 all Christians were opposed to it. “Look here” said the good Protestant, “the Bible is so clear, contraception is against God’s plan!”
Today we hear “look here, the Bible is so clear, contraception is just fine!”
What changed? Not even one hundred years ago we all agreed contraception was an intrinsic evil, those who interpreted that it was allowable were condemned by their Protestant brethren. But not anymore. Why? What changed?
The alternative to the Magisterium is the will of the people around us. If I don’t work within the pope’s guidelines then I work within the guidelines of everyone else. I’d rather follow one wise man than all the fools in the world.