While what I wrote might seem like it isn’t what the Catholic Church teaches, I can assure you that it is.
I had a friend who was also an ex-JW join the Church recently, and at first it was hard for him to accept the view that the Catholic Church really views Biblical interpretation this way. Having spent years and years of reading what the Watchtower had to say about Catholic, of pulling just the right “blurb” from a Catholic source to make the JW argument sound convincing, my friend still had a hard time believing what he was hearing directly from the Catholic Church. “It took a few years even after I came in to believe that what the Church was telling me about itself was true,” he told me not too long ago, “but eventually I stopped seeing my new religion with the skepticism that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had endowed me with.”
The Catholic Church does indeed provide help, of course, to aid Bible readers. Along with access to the Church Fathers and the doctrinal teaching from the Catechism, the Church advocates access to the latest in critical scholarship. The NABRE translation, the official Catholic version used in the United States, has a very in-depth critical footnote apparatus for this very reason.
In answer to the common view often advanced by Jehovah’s Witnesses and others about Biblical interpretation among Catholics, the website Catholic Answers had this to say:
“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….
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…
- 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.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has this to on their website about interpreting the Bible for oneself. Mary Elizabeth Sperry, Associate Director for Utilization of the New American Bible, writes:
“The Bible is not addressed only to long-dead people in a faraway land. It is addressed to each of us in our own unique situations. When we read, we need to understand what the text says and how the faithful have understood its meaning in the past. In light of this understanding, we then ask: What is God saying to me?”
You are correct that reading the Bible in such a way as to ignore the great help you can get from others is a mistake, but in the end Catholics believe God speaks to you, personally, in the pages of the Bible. You have not only the authority and the ability to hear what God is saying to you in the pages of Scripture, you have the responsibility to listen to what that message being said directly to you is.
This may seem very alien to people who have for most of their lives heard only the Watchtower story about how Catholics read the Bible. Remember, whether it is about Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and definitely when it comes to talking about its own ex-members and agnostics and atheists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses outright lie and spread falsehoods far worse than what they claim the world does.