Are Catholics free to interpret Bible verses without the Church’s approval?
So far as the interpretations of individual scriptural passages go, keep in mind that the Church does not, as a rule, define how specific verses are to be taken. Instead, it defines doctrine, and that definition may eliminate some interpretations of particular verses. Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma should answer most of your questions in these areas about the Church’s teaching office.
Only seven passages of Scripture have had their senses partially—but not fully—defined by the extraordinary magisterium. These definitions were made by the Council of Trent (see “The Limits of Scriptural Interpretation” in the January 2001 issue of This Rock):
- The reference to being “born of water and the Spirit” in John 3:5 includes the idea of baptism.
- In telling the apostles, “Do this [the Eucharist] in memory of me” in Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:24, Jesus appointed the apostles priests.
- In Matthew 18:18 and John 20:22–23, Jesus conferred on the apostles the power to forgive sins; everyone does not share this power.
- Romans 5:12 refers to the reality of original sin.
- The presbyters referred to in James 5:14 are ordained, not merely elder members of the Christian community.