Monday, September 9, 2019

Revisiting Abraham's "faith reckoned as righteousness" - Part 2 (This is yuge.)

I am pleased to present a post that I am very proud of and think you will greatly enjoy. It's about 5 pages long but I think reads fast and is worth it. I don't know how it all came together, but perhaps it was inspiration from above, even the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I will never read Romans 4 the same way again, and hopefully you won't either.

It was almost a year ago when I began to start rethinking what exactly Paul was arguing in Romans 4 (and Galatians 3), and I wrote a post about it (HERE). The simplistic, surface-level "faith not works" is just not a convincing reading when you consider the actual words of Paul and other key details. One thing to realize is that when Paul first made his claim, it had to be a convincing claim to both Jews and Christians who heard it. Otherwise, Paul would have discredited himself if his argument wasn't based on good logic and good exegesis (e.g. see Paul's actual argument in Romans 9 HERE). 

Paul could not simply say "I'm an apostle, so I'm right," since the Jews would have just laughed at him. With that in mind, simply quoting Genesis 15:6 doesn't prove anything. The Jew would respond "so what?" Believing and having that faith reckoned as righteousness doesn't in itself tell us anything about conversion (especially since Abraham wasn't converting here), it tells us nothing about the Gospel, nothing about forgiveness, etc. So Paul's argument had to be something more substantial than just quoting Genesis 15:6. And I think I've figured out what makes Paul's argument so solid, and it appears a few verses after verse 6:
5 And God brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. 7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 
9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 
18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
Notice that right after Abraham believed, the narrative immediately begins speaking of a (mysterious) Sacrificial Liturgical Rite for the ratification of a Covenant. I really would love to study this passage in more depth, as it seems very important in Salvation History. Sadly, it seems that we routinely skip over everything past verse 6 just as we routinely skip over the verses past Romans 4:8. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Does receiving the Holy Spirit prior to Baptism prove that Baptism is optional and/or symbolic?

When it comes to the Biblical teaching on Baptism, we've all come across those Protestants who are eager to nullify God's Word for their Traditions of Men (see an older post HERE). In a prior post, I talked about their favorite example, the Good Thief (HERE). In this post, I want to talk about their second favorite argument, the account of Acts 10 when the Gentiles received the Gift of Tongues prior to being Baptized. Here's the Acts 10 passage with some context:
1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day [3pm] he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius, your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter.”

9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour [12pm] to pray. 10 And he saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times.

19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.

28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
The first thing to notice here is the Liturgical connotations. Cornelius was praying at 3pm, the same hour Jesus died, which was part of the Jewish Liturgy of the Hours as we see in Acts 3:1. (This means Jesus prayed Psalm 22 on the Cross as part of the Liturgy of the Hours.) So the time of day is no accident. Catholics call this the "Hour of Mercy" for a reason. Similarly, Peter went up on the roof to pray at Noon, another major Liturgical Hour. The Jews would have recognized these times. But that's not the point of this post.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The "non imputation of sin" in 2 Tim 4:16

I came across an interesting passage that I haven't spent much time with but I'd like to share and comment on:
2 Tim 4: 16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged [imputed] against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth.
To begin, Paul is speaking of a time late in his life when he was put on trial (Chrysostom thinks Paul stood before Nero), yet all of Paul's friends abandoned him rather than stick around and support him. So while his friends sinned, at least apparently, Paul didn't get upset, and rather had God by his side to help defend him (cf Mt 10:18-20). We often hear the term "apologetics" coming from 1 Peter 3:15, where Peter says "always be ready to give a defense," but the Greek term "apologia" is also used here by Paul. (It's often used in the Bible especially when referring to Christians being put on trial before a persecuting government). From this instance, we see apologetics is more than just a friendly debate, it's about openly confessing God before a hostile crowd (cf Rom 10:9-10, which I wrote about HERE).
That said, the real focus of this post is upon Paul's statement about his friends: "may it [the sin of forsaking Paul] not be charged [imputed] against them". There are two ways to interpret this phrase, neither of which supports the erroneous Protestant idea that to "not impute sin" to us must mean that our sin was imputed/transferred to an innocent substitute (e.g. to Jesus, in your place). Here's why.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Biblical examples of Intercession of the Saints

In this "quickie apologetics" post I want to share some verses that I recently came across that I think can go into the Catholic apologist tool bag for defending Intercession of the Saints.

One of common text Catholics use is Revelation 5:8, which says: "And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders [Christians in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints [Christians on earth]." The Elders in heaven are engaging in a liturgical offering incense, which is explained as the prayers of the Christians on earth. Thus, in some manner, the Saints in Heaven are 'receiving our prayers' and praying for us.

In Matthew 27:52-53, at the Crucifixion, the Apostle adds an interesting detail: "The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many." After Jesus died and "descended into Hell" (see HERE), when He resurrected He brought up along with Him the souls of the deceased OT saints to accompany Him when He ascended to Heaven. God had some of these glorified OT saints appear to people in Jerusalem. This is a great example of the Catholic teaching known as an "apparition".

Another example I recently noticed is Revelation 7:13-14, when an Elder in Heaven speaks with the Apostle John: "Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, 'Who are these, clothed in white robes?” I said to him, 'Sir, you know.' And he said to me, 'These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation'." So not only does John talk with angels throughout the book of Revelation, in this case John is clearly having an interaction with a Glorified Saint. Some might object that this and other situations are extraordinary and cannot be used to make any rules. I think that's a weak objection, since the most important thing here is that this interaction actually happened. Someone alive on earth actually was able to talk to someone in Heaven. That it is extraordinary doesn't change the fact the Saints in Heaven are well awake and praying and aware of what's happening on earth. As John also says: "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the witness [Greek: martyr] they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, how long before you will avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Rev 6:9-11). This verse is one reason Catholics have Relics of Saints under our Eucharistic Altars.

Furthermore, we know that the angels often interact with people throughout the Bible, and a guardian angel is especially assigned to assist us (see HERE for older post), so this further testifies to the idea those creatures in Heaven, not just God, can hear us, interact with us, etc. Some might say these texts don't give enough details for prayer to the saints, but I think the evidence is sufficient enough that it is quite reasonably confirms Catholic Tradition (see HERE), and nowhere near heresy as Protestants often charge. In fact, with that kind of logic, as some Catholics have pointed out, we shouldn't be praying directly to the Holy Spirit since the Bible doesn't really give much indication we are to do so. Yet we know from orthodox Trinitarian theology that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person and thus as God certainly can be prayed to. Another detail worth pursuing is that Lutherans officially teach (see HERE) the angels and saints pray for us in heaven, they just don't believe we can pray to them, but they don't make too big of an issue about it. This Lutheran view can be used to show other Protestants that there isn't that big of an attack to be made at Catholicism, since it's really not a yuge deal. That said, as Catholics we definitely need to be praying to our Guardian Angels and the Saints, especially our favorite saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Lutherans and the Canon of Scripture

Lutheranism and Anglicanism have always baffled me because their approach to major Protestant doctrines like Faith Alone and Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) do not seem to be honest with the basic meaning of these slogans. For example, Lutherans (and Anglicans) hold that Baptism doesn't interfere with Faith Alone in the slightest, whereas most other Protestants see Baptism as a "work" that undermines Faith Alone. When it comes to Sola Scriptura, both Lutherans and Anglicans will freely embrace all kinds of "Catholic traditions" that aren't directly derived from the Bible, and yet claim these do not contradict Sola Scriptura. For example, the Lutheran and Anglican Liturgies are clearly stripped down versions of the Catholic Mass. The same sorts of Catholic prayers, sign of the cross, vestments, Calendar of Saints and Holidays, etc, are not found directly in the Bible and yet are a central aspect of their worship. This is both a good and a challenging thing for Catholic apologetics. 

Ultimately, I think it is good that Lutherans and Anglicans are 'inconsistent' on Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura, because it helps prove the Catholic case that these slogans are effectively meaningless and impossible to defend or define once we scratch the surface. With that long introduction, I think I've set the stage for this post. 

Just when I've thought I've seen it all, I come across something astonishing that I'd never imagined could happen. As I was reading the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Lutheranism the other day, I came across an astonishing passage:
Lutheranism acknowledges six specific confessions which distinguish it from other churches: the unaltered Augsburg Confession (1530), the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), Luther's Large Catechism (1529), Luther's Catechism for Children (1529), the Articles of Smalkald (1537), and the Form of Concord (1577). These nine symbolical books (including the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed) constitute what is known as the "Book of Concord", which was first published at Dresden in 1580. In these confessions the Scriptures are declared to be the only rule of faith. The extent of the Canon is not defined, but the bibles in common use among Lutherans have been generally the same as those of other Protestant denominations.
So called "Confessional" Lutherans are those who hold that the "Book of Concord," a collection of their most authoritative documents, is the supreme Confession for what it means to be a true Lutheran. Quite often, the writings of the Book of Concord do not follow what Luther himself taught, and thus Lutheranism actually rejects many of Luther's teachings (e.g. his extreme views on Predestination and rejection of Free Will, his view of polygamy, his view that souls sleep after death rather than going to heaven). What really stood out to me though was the claim that Lutherans have not defined the Canon of Scripture anywhere within the Book of Concord, which is a few hundred pages long! Could it really be that Lutherans do not have a defined/closed Canon of Scripture? That seems outrageous, so I had to look into it more. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

The 'forgotten' Trinity verses.

All too often, defending the Trinity from the Bible comes down to merely looking to a few verses that show the divinity of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. This is the approach many apologetics sources today take. But this approach leaves out an equally important and traditional approach, which is to look to the texts which speak of all three Persons within the same breath. What is important to keep in mind when reading these texts is to see them as the early Christians, especially Jewish Christians saw them, namely by recognizing the simple fact that no created thing can or should be mentioned alongside God, since this implied the blasphemy of making created things equal to Him. Another thing to keep in mind is that when the term "God" is used in the Bible, it quite often refers to the Father specifically, and as a way to distinguish between the Son and Holy Spirit. There are other passages that mention the Trinity which are good to know about, but here are some of the more prominent ones:
  • Matthew 3:16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God [the Father] descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

  • Matthew 12:28 But if I [Jesus] cast out demons by the Spirit of God [the Father], then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

  • Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit . . .

  • Luke 3:22 And the Holy Spirit descended upon Him [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My [the Father’s] beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

  • John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My [Jesus’] name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

  • John 15:26 When the Helper comes, whom I [Jesus] will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me . . .

  • Acts 1:4 Gathering them together, He [Jesus] commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

  • Acts 2:33 Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God [the Father], and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He [Jesus] has poured forth this which you both see and hear.

  • Acts 10:38 You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God [the Father] anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

  • Romans 1:4 Who was declared the Son of God [the Father] with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord . . .

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Overview of the Old Testament Priesthood

The following quotes are taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on "Priesthood," which I think are worth sharing. I will quote the article freely, with slight edits for readability and keeping things brief.
The word priest is derived from the Greek presbyteros (the elder). By the term is meant a (male) person called to the immediate service of the Deity and authorized to hold public worship, especially to offer sacrifice.
In the age of the Patriarchs the offering of sacrifices was the function of the father or head of the family (cf. Genesis 8:20; 12:7, etc.; Job 1:5). Hummelauer's hypothesis that this pre-Mosaic priesthood was abolished in punishment of the worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32) can hardly be scientifically established.
In the Mosaic priesthood we must distinguish: priests, Levites, and high-priest.
Priests. It was only after the Sinaitical legislation that the Israelitic priesthood became a special class in the community. From the tribe of Levi, Jahweh chose the house of Aaron to discharge permanently and exclusively all the religious functions; Aaron himself and later the first-born of his family was to stand at the head of this priesthood as high-priest, while the other Levites were to act, not as priests, but as assistants and servants. The solemn consecration of the Aaronites to the priesthood took place at the same time as the anointing of Aaron as high-priest (Exodus 29:1-37; 40:12 sqq.; Leviticus 8:1-36). 
The official duties of the priests related partly to their main occupations, and partly to subsidiary services. To the former category belonged all functions connected with the public worship, e.g. the offering of incense twice daily (Exodus 30:7), the weekly renewal of the loaves of proposition on the golden table (Leviticus 24:9), the daily offering of the morning and evening sacrifices, especially of the lambs (Exodus 29:38 sqq.). As subsidiary services the priests had to sound the trumpets announcing the holy-days (Numbers 10:1 sqq.), declare the lepers clean or unclean (Leviticus 13-14; Deuteronomy 24:8; cf. Matthew 8:4).

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Was Adam's sin merely eating an apple?

I was recently listening to a talk on YouTube by a Protestant who was trying to discredit the Early Church Fathers. One example he gave of how the Church Fathers are unreliable was the claim by certain Church Fathers who said that Adam & Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden was a sexual sin. I understand how this Protestant could be shocked by this claim, because I also recall how outrageous it sounded when I heard it a few years ago. But over time I've began to think about it more, and it seems there is some merit to it. After all, it seems too basic to read the story as merely a sin of eating an apple. While I don't have the time to do much research into this, here are some reflections and details that I've come across over the past few years.

Given that Genesis is full of Hebrew idiom, nuance, and euphemism, a surface-level "plain English" reading can only take our understanding of the text so far. We need to have a mind for what the ancient Hebrews heard and thought when they read Genesis. For example, consider what is said on the fourth day of creation, when God creates the sun, moon, and stars, saying: "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years." (Gen 1:14). A surface level reading here would have us see the sun, moon, and stars as mere clocks to tell the time of day, month, and year. But the term here for "seasons" is not what we think of when we hear the term "seasons," since this is not the Hebrew word for winter, spring, summer, and fall. Rather, the term "seasons" here is the Hebrew term uniquely used for Liturgical Festivals. With this in mind, we can see God's plan was to build a Liturgical Calendar right into Creation, with Adam & Eve participating fully in the Liturgical Life. This also means that Liturgy is something deeply important to God, and as I've noted in a few prior posts, True Worship is man's highest duty.

One of the great discussions that theologians throughout history have had is whether the Son of God would have taken on human nature if Adam had never sinned. There is no "official" answer, and there decent arguments both ways, but St Thomas and many others lean towards the conclusion that the Son would have become Incarnate even if Adam didn't sin. This is largely based upon the idea that the Incarnation is not a Plan B or afterthought of God's plan, since God does not change His plans, and thus the Incarnation was meant to happen all along. Though I've not come across anyone who has brought this up, I think that Ephesians 5 lends strong credibility to the idea the Son was intended to become Incarnate all along. St Paul is talking about the union of husband and wife in this passage, but includes the following detail:
Eph 5: 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
In this passage, Paul brings up the famous passage of Genesis 2:24, about a man leaving his father and mother to be joined to his wife. But rather than this being a surface level reading of Genesis 2:24, St Paul tells us this is a "profound mystery," which is certainly 'theologically heavy' language, saying this passage refers to Jesus and the Church. The location of this verse in Genesis 2 is noteworthy because it comes prior to Adam and Even falling into sin in Genesis 3. Thus, to me, it seems like the Incarnation was part of prophecy in Genesis 2, prior to Adam sinning, and thus was intended all along.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Conservative Calvinist scholar Dr Daniel Wallace's cringeworthy comments on Penal Substitution

As readers of this blog know, I try to keep an eye out for major Protestant preachers commenting on what they think happened at the Cross. While it seems that quite a few Protestant outlets have been toning down their Penal Substitution rhetoric, I was shocked to recently hear such comments coming from an otherwise well respected conservative Protestant scholar like Dr Daniel Wallace. In a public talk (HERE) he gave at Dallas Theological Seminary a few months ago, February 2019, Dr Wallace gives a reflection about what happened at the Cross. The following are some quotes that stood out, along with the time stamp: 
  • "It's true that God's Wrath against sin was poured out on His Son; he turned His back on His own Son." (22:00)
  • “God the Father, poured out on Jesus the fury of His Wrath. Jesus became the object of the intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin, which God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world. At the Cross the fury of all that stored up wrath was unleashed against God’s own son. Should it shock us that Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (23:00)
  • “As awful, as horrendous, as excruciating as death by crucifixion is, the physical pain did not compare to the internal anguish that Our Lord suffered. He took on our sins, all our sins. The torments of an eternal hell for millions and millions of people were borne by one man in a few hours. But His crucifixion is a window on the Lord’s soul, we get a glimpse of His spiritual suffering which we will never experience from the physical torture that is crucifixion. Yet as Paul tersely put it, ‘Christ died’ “ (24:39) 
I'm frankly astonished at this commentary, as it has no Biblical basis. Wallace, of all people is supposed to be deeply concerned about exegesis. And yet we get these kinds of comments, given by a professor at a major seminary before a large public audience. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Is the "Angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament referring to Jesus?

Here's an interesting claim that I've been wanting to write about but has been sitting in my drafts box for quite some time. In the Old Testament there are some famous, fascinating references to the "Angel of the Lord" which many Church Fathers understood to refer to the Pre-Incarnate Son of God. This identification was once widely held but has been largely ignored and forgotten about, at least in the West, likely because of the 'fear' people have of reducing Jesus into a created being, an angel, rather than the Eternal Son of God (cf Heb 1:4-6). But this 'fear' is unfounded when proper education is in place, because it in no way threatens the truth about Jesus. (Note that the Son of God was not technically to be called "Jesus" until after taking on flesh, but I won't strictly follow this naming 'rule' in this post.)

I and other people, including Catholics, hope to revive this identification, not only to better connect with the Church Fathers, but also to better savor the Holy Scriptures, since if the Angel of the Lord is Jesus, then that brings out the Trinity within the earliest parts of the Old Testament!

The first and most important thing to keep in mind when approaching the "Angel of the Lord" issue is that both the Hebrew and the Greek term for "angel" is actually a generic word for "messenger". Nothing about either term actually specifically refers to the spirit creature with wings that we normally think about when the term "angel" is used. In fact, when the original languages were used, the texts simply read the "Messenger of the Lord". A Messenger could be anything from an angel to a prophet to a teacher to an ambassador. Even names like of the prophet "Malachi" are simply the Hebrew word for "Messenger".

The second thing to keep in mind is that not all references to "Angel of the Lord" necessarily refer to the Pre-Incarnate Jesus. Some, if not most, references make better sense when referring to something else, including simply an angel sent by God (e.g. Mat 2:13; 28:2; Lk 2:9). The point of this post is that there are some references, not all, that actually make more sense read as the Pre-Incarnate Jesus. For example, in Matthew 11:10, Jesus is explaining that the prophecy of Malachi 3:1 of God's sending a "Messenger" is talking of John the Baptist (sent to prepare the way for the arrival of Jesus). 

The third thing to keep in mind is that there is a general consensus of Church Fathers that say the "Messenger of the Lord" was the Pre-Incarnate Jesus, so we cannot simply discount this identification. Some have said that Augustine was the first to deny this identification, but from what I see in the Catholic Encyclopedia and such is that Augustine was merely cautious about the identification since people could misunderstand it to be Arian (i.e. that the Son was a created being). Augustine did not say the identification was false or could not be made, and cited Isaiah 9:6 as proof. 

Now to cite some Church Fathers who made the identification, I will borrow quotes heavily from others who have written on this matter, particularly Taylor Marshall's excellent 2015 blog post on this very subject: 
  • Justin Martyr: "And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what has been said." (Dialogue with Trypho, ch128)
  • Irenaeus: "And again, when the Son speaks to Moses, He says, I have come down to deliver this people. Exodus 3:8 For it is He who descended and ascended for the salvation of men." (AH 3.6.2)
  • Tertullian: "Thus was He ever learning even as God to converse with men upon earth, being no other than the Word which was to be made flesh. But He was thus learning (or rehearsing), in order to level for us the way of faith, that we might the more readily believe that the Son of God had come down into the world, if we knew that in times past also something similar had been done." (Against Praxeas, ch16)
  • Clement of Alexandria: "Now that the Word was at once Jacob's trainer and the Instructor of humanity [appears from this]--"He asked," it is said, "His name, and said to him, Tell me what is Try name." And he said, "Why is it that thou askest My name?" For He reserved the new name for the new people--the babe; and was as yet unnamed, the Lord God not having yet become man. Yet Jacob called the name of the place, "Face of God." "For I have seen," he says, "God face to face; and my life is preserved." The face of God is the Word by whom God is manifested and made known. Then also was he named Israel, because he saw God the Lord. It was God, the Word, the Instructor, who said to him again afterwards, "Fear not to go down into Egypt."" (The Instructor, 1:7)
  • Eusebius: "Remember how Moses calls the Being, Who appeared to the patriarchs, and often delivered to them the oracles afterwards written down in Scripture, sometimes God and Lord, and sometimes the Angel of the Lord. He clearly implies that this was not the Omnipotent God, but a secondary Being . . . the Being Who was seen must have been the Word of God, Whom we call Lord as we do the Father. But it is needless for me to labour the point, since it is possible to find instances in Holy Scripture. These I will collect at leisure in connection with my present work to prove that He Who was seen by the patriarchal saints was none other than the Word of God." (Proof of the Gospel, 1.5)
  • Ambrose: "It was not the Father Who spoke to Moses in the bush or in the desert, but the Son. It was of this Moses that Stephen said, This is He Who was in the church, in the wilderness, with the Angel. Acts 7:38 " (Exposition of the Faith, 1:13:83)
  • Hilary: "For God appeared from the bush as the Angel of God, and the prayer for Joseph is that he may receive such blessings as He shall please. He is none the less God because He is the Angel of God; and none the less the Angel of God because He is God. A clear indication is given of the Divine Persons; the line is definitely drawn between the Unbegotten and the Begotten." (On the Trinity, 4:33)
  • Theodoret: "The whole passage (Exodus 3) shows that it was God who appeared to Moses. But Moses called Him an “angel” in order to let us know that it was not God the Father whom he saw but the Only-begotten Son, the Angel of Great Counsel." (quoted in Catholic Encyclopedia "Angels")
The goal of the Church Fathers, at least early on, especially when doing apologetics with the Jews, was to show that Jesus as Son of God was already foretold in the Old Testament, and that indeed was a taste of the Incarnation to happen later on. Tertullian says these manifestations of Jesus in the Old Testament were to make it easier for us to accept the Incarnation, like practice rehearsals.

With the above quotes in mind, consider some of the primary "Angel of the Lord" texts which the Fathers saw as referring to the Pre-Incarnate Christ:
  • Genesis 16:7-14. The Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar, but the Angel speaks as if He is God Himself, saying things such as "I will multiply your offspring." At the end of the message Hagar replies, "Truly I have seen [God] who looks after me."
  • Genesis 21:7-19. Again the Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar and speaks like God Himself: "I will make [Ishmael] into a great nation."
  • Genesis 22:11-18. The Angel of the Lord appears to Abraham and says: "I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your only son from me" and "By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this I will surely bless you, because you have obeyed my voice". 
  • Genesis 31:11-13. The "Angel of God" says to Jacob: "I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me.
  • Exodus 3:2-6. The Angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a burning bush, where "God called to him out of the bush" and said to Moses: "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." The passage even says: "And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
  • Judges 2:1-5. The Angel of the Lord appears and says: "I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I will never break my covenant with you". 
In all these instances, it is certainly understandable that there is confusion as to just who the "Angel of the Lord" is, for on one hand we know God (Yahweh/Jehovah) is distinct from this Angel, while on the other hand this Angel speaks as if he indeed is God.

Also worth considering are: Genesis 18:1-22 where 'angel messengers' appear as men to Abraham; similarly Gen 19:1; in Gen 32:24-30 there's the famous encounter with Jacob who "wrestles" with a "man" (Hosea 12:3-4 says it was an "angel") and Jacob was named Israel (meaning "wrestles with God") and said he saw the face of God; in Gen 48:15-16 mention is made of 'angel' alongside God's work of salvation; in Exodus 14:19-22 both the 'Angel of God' and the Lord are mentioned saving the Israelites from the Egyptians; in Joshua 5:13-15 a "man" appears to Joshua and claims to be captain of God's army, and tells Joshua that this is holy ground; in Judges 6:11-24 the Angel of the Lord and has a talk with Gideon, which ends with Gideon afraid of seeing God and builds an altar there in commemoration of God visiting him; in Judges 13:2-23 the Angel of the Lord appears and has a long discussion with a barren couple, the dialog distinguishes between God and the Angel but the Angel speaks like God Himself; in Zech 3:6-10 it recalls when the Angel of the Lord appeared and talked to Joshua, but the dialog is as if God Himself is speaking. 

We also know that often times God simply speaks directly to people (e.g. Gen 4:6; 6:13; 12:1; 17:1; 20:3), without the need for an angel to act as an ambassador between God and men. Also, we know that sometimes angels (plural or singular) show up without any message. So God making use of the "Angel of the Lord" to speak in God's Person is highly mysterious, and it seems the best answer for the mature Christian is to accept that it is the Son of God. 

As far as the New Testament goes, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of commentary on Jesus appearing in the OT as the "Angel of the Lord," but Jesus does speak as if He is aware of the OT Saints and even that He was around when the OT events happened. In places like Revelation 10:1; 18:1; 18:21; 20:1; some have suggested the reference to "mighty angel" is actually Jesus. And in Rev 22:8-9, John falls down to worship the "angel" but is told not to. It's more likely that John mistook the angel for Jesus rather than John thinking he should worship a creature.

It is worth noting that Stephen mentions the "angel" in the burning bush in Acts 7:30-38, but he doesn't make it clear that this was Jesus. This would seem to go against the identification, unless Stephen was being subtle and actually trying to convey the identification.

I'm not sure what else to say, other than this has been a fascinating research for me. On one hand I am eager to make this identification, because the Church Fathers do and the mysterious language of the OT references; yet on the other hand, I'm not overwhelmingly convinced given that the New Testament doesn't explicitly make the identification, which you'd think would be so obvious for apologetic and preaching purposes.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Did Paul have biology in mind when he spoke of "works"?

I have been looking into the connection between Paul's talk of "works" and the 'biological' references that he often uses (e.g. flesh, seed, children). Until I stopped to look into it for myself, I didn't realize how heavily emphasized the biological aspect is, such that Paul spends as much time talking about "works" as he does talking about biology. In fact, for Paul there is less emphasis on "what we do" and more about "who we are". Realizing this should influence how we read Paul's teaching on Justification.

Consider the following passages which clearly connect 'flesh' (in the lineage sense) and 'works':
  • Romans 4:1-2 What shall we say by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works... [cf Rom 3:28-30, just prior to this passage]
  • Rom 4:11 The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised
  • Rom 9:3-10 I wish that I myself were accursed for the sake of my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel [see my post HERE], and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac [not Ishmael] shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children [Jacob & Esau] by our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad - in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

What does Paul mean by "the Law"?

Some time around or after the Protestant Reformation the Biblical term "Law" had popularly come to mean something along the lines of 'any good work God commands of humans'. This erroneous definition led millions into misunderstand Paul's teaching on Salvation, thinking that Paul was against all works done under any circumstances. But if we really care about the Bible (which I'm starting to think Protestants do not), we cannot go around making up our own definitions of key Biblical terms. The simple truth is, the Bible clearly and consistently defines "the Law" to be the Mosaic Law, and this post will encourage readers to see the plain evidence for themselves.

The Greek term "Law" (Nomos) occurs almost 200 times in the New Testament, so we should be able to get a pretty good idea of its range of meaning, especially in key chapters where Paul is contrasting the Law to the Gospel. Here's my breakdown:

Friday, December 14, 2018

"Not all who are of Israel are Israel!" - A further look at Romans 9

This post builds on a recent post I did, Romans 9 like you've never heard it before

Thinking about Romans 9 some more, it seems there's one further detail that ties things together even more: Within the famous Patriarchal trifecta of "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," it seems in this passage that Paul only gave examples of the sons of Abraham (9:7-9) and Isaac (9:10-13), but Paul did not seem to mention the sons of Jacob. Or did he? Actually, it seems Paul does mention Jacob, but we probably missed it. 

In the famous (and slightly mysterious) thesis verse of Romans 9:6, Paul says: "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel." The standard interpretation of this second sentence is that not all who are biologically Jews belong to "Spiritual Israel". And that makes sense. Calvinists go one step further, and in an erroneous way, and interpret this as basically saying there is a "visible church" and an "invisible church," such that you can be a member of the "visible church" but not actually saved. In this post, I want to consider what I think is a more satisfying interpretation of 9:6.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

What is the "certificate of debt" that Jesus canceled for us?

I recently heard a popular Protestant apologist argue that Colossians 2:14 is a strong proof text for Protestant doctrines such as Penal Substitution and Faith Alone. In this article, I want to look at this verse and show why this Protestant apologist is engaging in poor exegesis. The passage (briefly) is as follows:
11 You were circumcised with a circumcision not made with human hands, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the certificate of debt with its legal demands that stood against us . This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
The Protestant made the claim that the phrase "certificate of debt" here was synonymous with "sin debt," and that by "canceling" it Jesus thus received the punishment our sins deserved. While his explanation is understandable, it is not genuine exegesis, and misses out on the richness of Paul's theology. Here's why.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A powerful verse against Faith Alone (Matt 7:14)

Catholics love the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew ch5-7) but Protestants generally avoid it, since it doesn't fit with their ideas of how salvation is supposed to take place. This Sermon is full of passages that contradict the Protestant doctrine of 'Salvation by Faith Alone', and in this edition of Quickie Apologetics I want to call attention to a section of the Sermon on the Mount that we all know but don't often think of: 
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt 7:13-14)
How often do we hear Protestants ridicule Catholics for 'complicating' Salvation. Protestants insist that 'getting saved' is so easy that all we have to do is believe, that faith alone in Christ's finished work on the Cross is all that it takes. But given the above teaching of Jesus, what is so "difficult" about the Faith Alone approach? What is so "narrow" path about it? Why are "few" saved if all they need to do is believe? The answer to all these is: nothing.

Protestants typically 'interpret' the teachings of Jesus as being either (1) meant for Old Testament folks alone, or (2) simply to show us how sinful we are, not to actually impose any commands or expectations upon us. Such is quite absurd, and effectively renders the Gospels hollow. This is why Protestants hardly ever quote/read the Gospels. The honest truth is, this is not an easy teaching of Jesus, but Catholicism has always understood that Jesus really meant it, and thus we strive to conform our life to everything Jesus taught, whether comfortable or uncomfortable.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

How to punish a Calvinist (1 Cor 11:32) - Part II

I love to spring 1 Cor 11:32 upon Protestants, especially Calvinists, because of the reaction it gets from them: But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. The plain teaching of this passage is that Christians are not "eternally secure" but rather must be disciplined to be kept from turning to sin, falling away, and being damned. I wrote about this in an older post (HERE). 

In this post, I want to call up one of my favorite Catholic apologists, John Calvin, for his thoughts on this verse:
But when we are judged Here we have a consolation that is exceedingly necessary; for if any one in affliction thinks that God is angry with him, he will rather be discouraged than excited to repentance. It is an inestimable consolation that the punishments by which our sins are chastened are evidences, not of God’s anger for our destruction, but rather of his paternal love, and are at the same time of assistance towards our salvation, for God is angry with us as his sons, whom he will not leave to perish.

When he says that we may not be condemned with the world, he intimates two things. The first is, that the children of this world, while they sleep on quietly and securely in their delights, are fattened up, like hogs, for the day of slaughter (Jeremiah 12:3.) For though the Lord sometimes invites the wicked, also, to repentance by his chastisements, yet he often passes them over as strangers, and allows them to rush on with impunity, until they have filled up the measure of their final condemnation. (Genesis 15:16.) This privilege, therefore, belongs to believers exclusively - that by punishments they are called back from destruction. The second thing is this - that chastisements are necessary remedies for believers, for otherwise they, too, would rush on to everlasting destruction, were they not restrained by temporal punishment.
The reason why John Calvin is one of my favorite Catholic apologists is because he often proves the Catholic case for us, so that his beloved followers (Protestants/Calvinists) cannot object without looking silly. For example, many Protestants would try to dodge this verse by saying Paul isn't talking about real Christians (but rather fake Christians) and/or that Paul isn't talking about damnation. Both of these (weak) objections are denied by Calvin.

Here we see that not only does being chastised not mean that God is angry with you, it is for your own good, since God only disciplines His sons. This means that His Son, Jesus, could not have been punished in some manner equivalent to eternal damnation, such as how Protestants think Jesus endured in our place while on the Cross. Next, we see that we cannot be "covered by the Imputed Righteousness of Christ," as Protestants think, nor are we eternally secure, since by acting sinfully God sees this and inflicts temporal punishments so that the Christian will reform their life and not be damned. Thus, God is not looking at the Imputed Righteousness of Christ instead of us, but rather God looks at us (Paul says we are "judged" by God) and rewards/punishes us accordingly, to keep us on the right track, since it is by our behavior as Christians that determines if we are saved. This verse is a dagger against Faith Alone.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Did the OT Animal Sacrifices "pay the price" for your sin? - More Problems with Penal Substitution

People who frequently read this blog know that I have many posts clearly explaining why the animal sacrifices in the Bible were not 'taking the punishment the sinner deserved' (Penal Substitution). In this brief post I want to share a most significant aspect that is typically overlooked entirely. 

Many folks think the animal's getting slaughtered for sacrifice were 'paying the price' for the individual's sins, so that the individual would not have to 'pay the price'. But the simple fact is, animals were not free (cf 2 Sam 24:24). Whether you raised animals or whether you had to buy them, there was a noteworthy cost. I estimate that a lamb would cost around $300 dollars. Because finances were a factor in whether someone could meet their obligation, the Law makes room for those who could not afford a lamb, e.g., those who could only afford two pigeons (Lev 5:7), or even those who could only afford a sack of flour (Lev 5:11). The point remains though, even if scaled down, the person who sinned (unintentionally) was going to take a financial hit of $300 dollars (or equivalent) each time. That's not chump change, and it can add up. 

Imagine getting a $300 speeding ticket every month of the year (which is like a monthly car payment). That would be around $3,600 in fines per year. Thus, if you're an Israelite paying a few thousand dollars for animals each year, that's definitely a significant punishment. Financial punishments are no joke. And in the context of Penal Substitution, we can see that an Israelite taking the financial punishment, not to mention the time investment, means they were the one 'paying the price' for their sins. It makes little sense to think the animal being killed was being punishment in your place when just prior to the slaughter you had to pay $300 which you worked hard to earn. If someone was making minimum wage and working 40hrs per week, then to sin within the Levitical system meant you lost wages for basically a whole week of work! You definitely didn't escape personal punishment as an Israelite. And Leviticus 6:5 (Lev 5:16) explains that if you defrauded a neighbor, you had to pay back that amount, plus an additional 20%, plus offer a sacrifice! Ouch!

In closing, I should add that such a system seems unjust for God to put people under. The fact is, this 'burden' was not originally part of what God expected of them, but rather many of these rules and regulations were placed upon the Israelites only after they kept turning to sin. St Thomas Aquinas and other theologians explain that by putting all these expectations upon them, God was trying to not leave them with any time or resources to turn back to idolatry. But, this was only a temporary fix, as the real problem was an interior one, of the soul, which requires the Sacrifice of Jesus to heal.