1) look to for direction in living the Christian life, and
2) appeal to as an authority in explaining why we interpret Jesus' teachings the way we do.
It might be the founder of your denomination, a favorite author, pastor, or ... simply yourself.
Some may object, "I just go by what the Bible tells me. I don't need someone to interpret what Jesus said to me." But my friends, unless you are reading the Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, you are depending on someone else's interpretation of what Jesus said! And even if you are reading the Bible in its original languages, you still have interpret the meaning - the intent - of its words. Let me give a few examples:
- When you read the gospel accounts of Jesus' Last Supper, if you understand His words "This is My Body" and "This is My Blood," to mean anything other than that the bread and wine have literally become His Body and Blood, then you are engaged in interpretation. The same can be said of Jesus' words in John's Gospel, "My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats [trogein in Greek, meaning "chews, gnaws on"] my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (Jn.6:55-56).
- Jesus told the Apostles, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn.20:23). If you do not believe that Jesus gave the shepherds of His Church the power, in His Name, to forgive sins, then you are engaged in some type of interpretation.
- If you believe that we are saved through faith alone, and that works play absolute no part in obtaining final salvation, then you are interpreting the Epistle of James (the only place in the Bible where you find the phrase "faith alone") in some sense other than the text's face-value, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (Jas.2:24).
a) haven't truly wrestled with them, or
b) believe there is another way to interpret them
We Catholics are very comfortable with their face-value meaning. If you understand them in a way other than at face-value however, what is your authority for that? What is the weight of your argument? Whose insight are you relying on, and what are their (or your) credentials?
I glossed over or tried interpreting them other ways - for a couple of years - but the more I learned, the more I found myself humbled. Time after time, when I really dug into Scripture and how it was understood by its earliest readers - in 70 A.D., 90 A.D., 107 A.D., 150 A.D. - those in a far better position to understand its original meaning, their interpretation always matched what was being said by the Pope today!
I realized how I had went for years denying the Pope's gift of infallibility, but acting as if I was infallible! (And seriously, what credentials did I have?) I denied that the Pope was the Successor of Peter, holding the "the keys of the Kingdom," with the power to "bind and loose" (Mt.16:19) but lived my life as if I did - as if I was the final arbiter of what Christ taught! The thing is, when I finally buckled down and did the research, every piece of historical evidence spoke in the Popes' favor instead of mine (or anyone else's)! Here's but one example.
A little unsettling to think about? Tell me about it. What it finally came down to for me was this: "Jesus, I know that you didn't appoint me as an infallible authority. I need help, I need guidance, to understand Your teaching and how to live it out. If You appointed the Pope as a shepherd for me - and I am now convinced that You did - then I accept him."
Each of us has a pope, it's just a matter of, "Who?"