Guest Article: Answering Every “Where is that in the Bible” Question
[Editors Note: Today’s article is from guest author John Martignoni, Founder and President of the Bible Christian Society, and apologetics and evangelization apostolate in Birmingham, AL. He is also the Director of Evangelization for the Diocese of Birmingham. If you would like to obtain any of John’s free written or audio materials, or sign up for his free apologetics e-newsletter, go to www.biblechristiansociety.com.]
As a professional Catholic apologist…and I get to call myself a “professional” because people actually pay me to do this stuff…I quite often get challenges from non-Catholic Christians regarding Catholic beliefs that begin with: “Where in the Bible is…” and then fill in the blank – the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, confession to a priest, Purgatory, praying to saints, the Pope, and so on. Most of the time these questions deal with matters of doctrine and dogma, but many times they do not
For example, the Church’s practice in regard to a celibate priesthood is not a doctrinal teaching, but it is quite often brought up in conversations with non-Catholics in regard to Catholic teaching and the Bible. So, the question: “Where in the Bible does it say priests can’t be married? You know Peter was married, don’t you?” Other non-doctrinal teachings are treated in a similar manner. For example, “Where in the Bible does it say anything about praying the Rosary?” As if praying the words the Lord gave us in regard to Mary and meditating upon the mysteries of salvation is somehow a bad thing.
Another such example of a non-doctrinal teaching that I have received questions about, more than once, is the Stations of the Cross. I had a woman write to me to tell me that her non-Catholic friend had accepted an invitation to Mass and then Stations of the Cross one Friday in Lent, but when it was all over, the friend launched into a series of, “Where in the Bible is…?” questions. And it seems the one thing she was really stuck on was Veronica. “Where in the Bible does it say anything about Veronica wiping Jesus’ face on the road to Calvary?”
Now, one might think that this is just a low priority question. After all, it’s not dealing with any major doctrinal issues or anything. It’s dealing with a particular devotional that Catholics are not even required to do. So what’s the big deal if Veronica is or isn’t mentioned directly in the Bible? Well, it is a big deal because if you can’t get past this question with this particular person, then you will not find this person very receptive when you try to talk about the “high priority” doctrinal issues.
For this particular person, if you can’t answer her question about Veronica, then that is essentially proof, in her mind, that the entirety of Catholicism is a false, unbiblical faith.
So, what do you do? What can you say to someone who asks such a question? Well, what you can say, is that the tradition of Veronica and the stations of the cross dates back to the earliest centuries of Christianity. No, there is nothing specifically about her in the Bible – admit that right up front. But, what you can do next, is ask if everything that happened to Jesus during His Passion is recorded in the Scriptures? For example, the Bible doesn’t tell us which shoulder Jesus carried His cross on, so, what if a movie shows Jesus carrying His cross on His left shoulder, when He actually carried it on His right shoulder? Or vice versa? Is that necessarily a bad thing? Is that unbiblical?
To believe that the only things that happened to and around Jesus during His passion are the things recorded in the Bible, is to leave a whole lot of gaps in the story. The Bible simply doesn’t cover 100% of what happened. So, are we necessarily wrong to believe Veronica wiped Jesus’ face, just because the Bible says nothing about it?
Ask this person if she believes that everything that happened to and around Jesus during His Passion is recorded in the Bible? If she says, “Yes,” then go through one of the accounts of the Passion and ask her why it only takes a few minutes to read about every single thing that happened to Jesus in a period of time that is around 18-20 hours long.
If she says, “No,” not everything that happened to Jesus during His Passion is in the Bible, then I would just ask her if it is possible that Veronica did indeed wipe Jesus’ face on His way to Calvary, since the Bible does not record everything that happened to and around Jesus that day. She pretty much has to say yes, that it is a “possibility.” If she says, “No,” it’s not at least a possibility, then I would ask her why. If she says, “It’s not in the Bible, then go back to the 1st question above.
If she says, “Yes,” it could have happened, then simply tell her that it is not a doctrinal or dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Faith that it did indeed happen. But, based upon the best information we have, we believe that this 2000-yr. old tradition may indeed be true. And, therefore, we use this tradition as a point of meditation and prayer. It’s just that simple. One doesn’t have to believe that Veronica wiped the face of Christ in order to be Catholic. And, if she didn’t, that still doesn’t nullify the prayers we pray at that particular station of the cross. God knows our intent and our hearts and He uses our prayers regardless of whether Veronica wiped the face of Christ or not.
Now, let’s move this away from being able to answer the particular question about Veronica, to being able to respond to the general question of, “Where in the Bible is…?” One course you could take – and I realize some may consider this is a little bit crass, but it really drives home the point in a way people remember – would be to ask anyone who demands to know where in the Bible something is before they believe it, this question: Did Jesus ever have to go to the bathroom? I’m sure they will say that of course He did. After all, He was fully human, right? The problem is, though, the Bible never says that He did. So, using their own logic of – if something about Jesus is not in the Bible, it can’t be true – we must believe that Jesus never went to the bathroom, because nowhere does the Bible say that He did. The point being, of course, that just because it’s not in the Bible, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Now, this is not “the” answer to their questions and you just stop there, this is merely a way to get them to realize that not everything one believes about Jesus, has to be mentioned directly in the Bible for you to legitimately believe it and for it to be true. Now, that is not to say that Catholic doctrinal teaching can’t be found in the Bible – it can, either explicitly or implicitly – this is just a way to get them to expand their thought processes a bit.