Friday, October 12, 2018

Revisiting Abraham's "faith reckoned as righteousness" (A 'new' insight on Romans 4 and Romans 2)

The other day I was thinking about Genesis 15:6 and felt I had gained a new insight. Even though I've held to elements of this before, I think this 'new' insight will help tie things together. I'm not saying I'm the first to do this, only that this was a sort of 'aha' moment for me.

The first time the term "righteousness" appears in the Bible is in Genesis 15:6. The big question is: what is righteousness? We all have a general intuitive idea, and I wrote a post on this (HERE), but I think in this case Paul was getting at something important that we end up overlooking. 

While many think of righteousness/unrighteousness in a generic sense, that's not how we should approach the Bible. It is crucial to realize that Paul's opponents saw righteousness as synonymous with living in conformity with the Mosaic Law, which was God's Law (the Torah). But Paul noticed something fascinating: Abraham was counted as righteous before God's law formal standard (the Mosaic Law) even existed. But how can Abraham be considered righteous without there being a law from which to measure his righteousness? Paul is apparently teasing out the fact that some law/covenant must have existed prior to the Mosaic Law, and that by God counting Abraham's faith/faithfulness as righteousness means God counted Abraham as living in conformity to this 'mysterious' pre-Mosaic law/covenant. 

If that's the case, then reducing our view of Romans 4 to the popular apologetics claims like "Genesis 15:6 wasn't the first time Abraham believed" (cf Gal 3:6-9; Heb 11:8; Gen 12:1-4; Rom 4:17-22) kind of miss the bigger point, even if they are true claims. What our emphasis should be on is that Paul is not  concerned about God crediting Abraham's faith as some generic righteous deed, but more specifically Abraham was righteous per some real covenant than preexisted Moses' Covenant. This means that Genesis 15:6 is saying God either was right there establishing a new unnamed covenant, or God was affirming Abraham was already living a righteous lifestyle under this unnamed covenant. 

This conclusion would fit perfectly with Paul calling Abraham "ungodly" (Rom 4:5), since this term would be referring to sinful/uncircumcised living per the Mosaic Standards. Similarly, Paul brings up David as a secondary example of "ungodly" because he gravely sinned under the Mosaic Standards, which puts one out of the Mosaic Covenant, 'nullifying' their circumcision (Rom 2:25). So in Romans 4:6-8, Paul is saying David prayed Psalm 32 (and Psalm 51) and received forgiveness under some other covenant, since the Mosaic Covenant did not forgive murder (Num 35:33).  Furthermore, David says nothing about 'faith' or 'works' in Psalm 32, meaning we shouldn't have some generic view of 'faith' or 'works' in mind. I wrote about this in an older post (HERE and HERE). 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Baptism according to Scripture. (Do Protestants Really care about the Bible?)

In the course of my apologetics, I've come to the astonishing conclusion that it doesn't seem Protestants really care about what the Bible has to say. They don't do this intentionally, but when it comes to many Biblical doctrines, I've found in my own interactions and with reading their major theologians, that they have a very bad habit of leaving out key details when formulating doctrines. And when you confront them, they just shrug it off and have no real interest in what the Bible says. In this post, I will list all the Biblical verses that refer to the Sacrament of Baptism and let readers see what the Bible plainly has to say on the matter. I have yet to find any Protestant who has actually sat down for half an hour and read through the 25 or so verses that mention Baptism to see for themself what the Bible says. Rather, they will only quote a few verses and just go with whatever their denomination or pastor says. When I ask them to just read these verses, they act like I've asked them to deny Christianity.

I think the best way to educate yourself is to actually read the Bible for yourself, and since there are only about 25 short verses to read (texts with a * indicate the term "baptism" isn't used), this should take you less than 30 minutes to get fully informed on the matter. I will then briefly analyze the data. In the Conclusion, I will speak about the general Protestant view of Baptism contradicts the Bible, while showing that the Catholic view is fully in line with Scripture.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Why "calling upon the name of the Lord" to be saved refutes Justification by Faith Alone (Romans 10:9-10).

Protestants are fond of quoting Romans 10:9-10 as 'clear Biblical proof' that we are saved by faith alone. Yet a careful look at the verse doesn't actually say this, and in fact suggests the opposite. I've posted about this in the past (HERE), but after some recent discoveries I'd like to build on what I originally said. The passage in question says:
Romans 10: 9 if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Notice that this text explicitly says you must do two things: believe and confess. This, taken plainly, refutes salvation by faith alone. If you bring this up, Protestants will squirm and make excuses, but it really does expose a flaw in their thinking. The more they try to explain, the less convincing faith alone sounds

Also worth noting is that the only place where "believe" and "confess" appear in the same passage (that I was able to find) are found in John 12:42, which is quite helpful here: "many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue". Based on this Scripture-interprets-Scripture situation, it is clear that believing alone is not enough. Many believed in Jesus but were too afraid to openly confess Him. So this confessing before men refers to affirming you're a Christian and be willing to 'suffer the consequences'. Obviously, this is very devastating to Protestant theology, because if someone denies Jesus, that is not confessing him before men, they wont be saved per Paul's argument (cf Matt 10:33; 2 Tim 2:12). But I've come across something more fascinating to add to the above. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Good Thief and Bad (Protestant) Apologetics

Here's my brief Catholic response to the Good Thief "trump-card" some Protestants use, and which I turned into a cut-n-paste response since I encounter it often enough:

The “Good Thief” (Lk 23:39-43) is often cited as the star example of getting saved by faith alone. But here’s why the mature Christian wouldn’t say that: (1) We don’t know his faith background, e.g., if he was ever baptized in the past or if this was his first time meeting Jesus. His prayer “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” shows he had some knowledge of the Gospel, since no such “kingdom” details are given in this passage. (2) Terms such as ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ are not used in this passage, so there’s no reason to think ‘faith alone’ is even the focus, just as the Parable of the Pharisee & Tax Collector (Lk 18:9-14) doesn’t use such terms, but rather highlights the virtue of “humility”. In fact, we see a range of virtues being expressed here, including ‘Fear of the Lord’ (23:40; cf Prov 1:7), Repentance (which Jesus distinguishes from belief, see Mark 1:5), Warning Sinners (2 Thess 3:14b), Public Professing (John 10:42; Rom 10:10b), as well as Hope of going to Heaven and certainly Love for Jesus. The thief was even willing to suffer and die for his own sins, not to be freed from them, which means he carried his own cross (Lk 9:23). So this was *far from* faith alone. (3) This was a unique situation, it isn’t the norm for how people typically accept the Gospel (see Acts for the norm), and as such it has its limits. For example, Jesus had not yet Resurrected, Ascended, or sent the Holy Spirit yet, so Dismas probably didn’t profess faith in these, whereas these aspects of Jesus’ mission are required for us to profess (Rom 10:9b). Even the command to “baptize all nations” wasn’t even given until *after* Jesus resurrected (Matt 28:19), so pointing to this as an example of ‘not needing baptism’ is kind of moot. Plus, can we take this one example as an excuse to ‘not really have to’ obey the many teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, including getting baptized, gathering to worship with others, being subject to your pastor, sharing our possessions, etc? (4) Lastly, Catholics highly honor the Good Thief, Saint Dismas, on March 25 every year, and many Catholic Saints have preached on his beautiful testimony for us. So it’s not like St Dismas (whom we have the decency to call by his actual name) is some surprise that theologians have missed all this time. For example, St Augustine preached on how this is the only death-bed repentance in the Bible, teaching us that while there’s always hope, we also shouldn’t be too presumptuous about waiting until the last minute to repent. And some saints have preached that the thief was partially converted by the prayers and testimony of Mary and the holy women and John, standing at the foot of the Cross praying for both criminals, showing us that we have a role in helping others come to Christ.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Protestantism's most embarrassing strawman (Catholic Justification)

I think the most embarrassing strawman of Protestantism is how it sees the Catholic view of Justification. In the Protestant's mind, the Catholic position entails a person starting off a little bit righteous, then has to work his way up to fully righteous. It's as if the Catholic had to fill up a gas tank, with the tank starting off at 1% full, and with each good work they increase the tank by 1%, until they get to the end of their life and the tank is 100% full. With this view in mind, the Protestant thinks the Catholic is never actually Justified in this life. As such, this "Catholic Gospel" hardly sounds like good news at all, and in fact is (understandably) seen as quite troubling. But this is a complete misunderstanding of the Catholic view, and if you can point this strawman out to Protestants it will completely pull the rug from under them. 

The actual Catholic view is that a Catholic is instantly 100% Justified the moment they convert. This then means that works have nothing to do with a Catholic getting Justified. So it is a complete strawman for the Protestant to say the Catholic view of Justification is a "process" while in 'contrast' the Protestant claims to stand firm on "the finished work of Christ". In the Catholic view, the moment one is baptized (usually as an infant, who obviously doesn't do any work at all), through the merits of Jesus, the individual is instantly 100% forgiven of their sins and instantly becomes an Adopted Child of God. Period. There's no "work" to be done. There isn't really such a thing as "initial justification," so such language should be avoided by all sides, since Baptism is not the start of some progressive life-long filling up of a 'righteousness gas tank'. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Romans 9 like you've never heard it before

When we read the Bible with the wrong glasses on we will often miss some otherwise obvious themes and lessons. I think this is especially true with texts like Romans 9, which have become collapsed (usually by Calvinists) into a bare show of God's (seemingly arbitrary) display of His Power. But I want to propose that Paul had something more fascinating in mind than what any Christian already knows, i.e., that God is Providentially in control of all human events. 

I'm coming to believe that Romans 9 isn't so much focused on salvation/heaven as it is about first-born (priestly) status being lost to the younger born. Not only is there no clear talk about heaven, hell, etc, in this chapter, but there is a pretty clear First-Born theme when you know what to look for. Consider Paul's object lessons: 
  • Paul's first example is Isaac being chosen over first-born Ishmael. When you read the actual story carefully, Ishmael was expelled as an illegitimate child, who mocked Isaac for being second-born (Gen 21:9-10). It is hard for us to grasp the significance of first-born status to the ancient mind, but it meant the world to them, especially when it comes to priesthood status.
  • Paul's second example is of first-born Esau and second-born Jacob. God says "the elder will serve the younger," which isn't a reference to being sent to heaven/hell, but rather to supplanting birth order. Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup, and later on his father’s “blessing,” which likely was also a form of ordination (Gen 27:26-30).
  • Paul's third example is when God tells Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy." This is not as obvious, but if you consider the context, the situation is quite striking. The context is of the Golden Calf incident, wherein the nation of Israel lost its collective priesthood status and was relegated to the Levites alone to offer sacrifices (Ex 32:25-29). The first-born son high-priest Aaron was said to be the Golden Calf ringleader (Ex 32:35), which meant it was up to second-born Moses to take upon the intercessory role of Atonement (Ex 32:30; Deut 9:18-20; Ps 106:19-23). It is within this context that God says because Moses' priestly intercession found favor in His sight, He would honor Moses' request to spare the Israelites. God was not ‘randomly’ showing mercy here as a demonstration of how He can show mercy on a whim whenever He feels like it.
  • Paul's fourth example is that of Pharaoh, which was the head of the strongest nation in the world, Egypt. In some sense, Egypt/Pharaoh was first-born among the world, likely because their pagan gods were considered the strongest. The stated goal of Moses was told in Exodus 4:22-23, "You shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son. Let my son go that he may serve me. If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son." We know Egypt had smothered God's first-born son, and God wasn't going to let this continue. The express instructions each time Moses confronts Pharaoh is to let the Israelites go "so that they may offer sacrifices" to God (Ex 5:1, etc). It was liturgical warfare, true religion versus false, pagan God against true God. By striking down Pharaoh's first-born son, this was effectively striking down Egypt's priesthood, and thus humiliating their gods, and vindicating Yahweh as the True God.
  • Paul's final example is that of the Jews versus the Gentiles. Obviously, the Jews were to be the "chosen race, royal priesthood," first-born among the nations. Yet in rejecting Jesus, they lost their status, which triggered the influx of the Gentiles into the Body, who would then become God's priests for the world, under the heading of Jesus (the Father's first-born). Hence Paul's quote from Hosea: "Those who were not my people [the Gentiles], I will call ‘my people’" (Rom 9:25).
I think there's an undeniable 'first-born son supplanted by sin' theme here that Paul is making, and it ties all the chapter together, unlike lifting a few verses here and there without any coherent thread, and missing the richness of it all. What lesson is there for God to show mercy on Moses (who was a righteous man)? If the theme was really about God showing mercy unconditionally, we should expect the major sinners like Pharaoh to be shown mercy. In each case, there is sin involved by one of the parties. It is not a 'both are sinners so let's show mercy to one of them' theme. Paul is telling the Jews of his time that all these other first-born sons lost their status, and rejecting Jesus can lead to the same for you Jews. The first-born status also being tied to priesthood also means the undercurrent is that of True Worship, which makes the real issue about glorifying God liturgically, and only secondarily about saving men. (Side note: this is why for Catholics, when Scripture is read at Mass, it is first of all a prayer to God, and only secondarily a lesson to us. This is why the Protestant “worship” being nothing more than a Glorified Bible Study is the ultimate attack on Christianity, because it removes worship of God from the main equation and shifts focus subtly onto man’s quest for knowledge.)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Who shall bring an accusation against God's elect? (Romans 8:33) - Not who you might think.

Continuing on with my look at the Biblical term "elect," the first 'controversial' text I want to look at is Romans 8:33 where Paul famously asks: Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? Before diving into that, it's important to recall what the Biblical term "election" (and "calling") refers to, particularly that the Bible doesn't use it to refer to someone who is unconditionally elected to make it to heaven. With that, we can quote the context and I'll present my case for "who" Paul has in mind here. 
32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This passage is often read by Protestants (typically Calvinist/Reformed types) to mean that the Christian is Eternally Secure. That no sin can separate us from God. Catholic apologists are right to point out that this list of dangers which Paul lists are not sins but rather persecutions. This is important because it means Paul is not at all saying that "no sin can separate us," because the fact is sin can separate us from God. That's the whole point of Adam & Eve falling into sin. They were in communion and the fell from communion with God. (I've not really heard a coherent explanation from Protestants as to how Adam & Eve could fall from communion with God if salvation is eternally secure.) What I want to do here is go one step further. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

What does "election" and "calling" mean in the New Testament?

Following up on my last post dealing with the OT definition of “election,” I’ve compiled my own finding of how the New Testament speaks of “election” and “calling” (both terms seem to be used similarly). In this study, the main themes to consider are whether the NT speaks of election/chosen/called as something that is (1) unconditional, (2) able to be lost, (3) unto salvation, and (4) corporate or individual. Going through all the verses where these terms have been used, to the best of my ability, here is how I’ve organized the ways the terms are used:

Speaking of Jesus choosing the Apostles:
Luke says that Jesus called many disciples, but only “chose” twelve of them by name to be Apostles (Lk 6:13; John 15:16; 15:19; Acts 1:2). From Judas being one of those “chosen” Apostles (Lk 6:13; Jn 6:70; 13:18), we can conclude this election was not unto (final) salvation, and could be lost (Lk 6:13; cf. Jn 17:12; Acts 1:25). The choice for these specific men was seemingly conditional, as it doesn’t seem anyone famous, rich, or powerful was chosen. Instead, from what we do know, Jesus picked four fishermen and a tax collector. And when it came to replacing Judas, candidates were selected based upon having personally walked with Jesus and saw Him Resurrected (Acts 1:21-26), with God being said to do the “choosing” among the final two candidates (Acts 1:24). Similarly, Jesus “called” apostles and Lazarus, but none of this was unto final salvation in and of itself (Mat 4:21-22; John 12:17). 

Similarly, the Apostles are said to have “chosen” certain qualified men to be deacons (Acts 6:5), to serve the poor, so neither unconditional nor about (final) salvation (cf Acts 6:2-3). And the same general conclusion can be said when the Church “chose” Barnabas and Silas (Acts 15:22; 15:25; cf Acts 13:1-3; Heb 11:8), because they were “leading men among the brothers” (cf Acts 15:32, 15:40).

Monday, May 14, 2018

Quickie Apologetics: Sola Fide & Losing Salvation

My "election/calling in the NT" article as a follow-up to my last post is taking longer than expected, so here's a brief post (on a different subject) for now.

One line of argument I use against Protestants is to ask them early on in the discussion if they believe salvation can be lost through (grave) sin. About 'half' of Protestant denominations do believe salvation can be lost if we turn to sin, fall away, lose faith, etc. But this raises an interesting dilemma: how can you say we are saved by faith alone if salvation can be lost? If faith is what saves you, then your works obviously cannot play a role. If your works do play a role in saving you (including keeping you saved), then obviously it's not faith alone saving you. You would be surprised how many Protestants get stumped by this question - and indeed they should, since it's a blatant contradiction. 

I've found this argument is especially useful against Lutherans, since they believe salvation can be lost through grave sin. In fact, Luther himself taught that salvation could be lost:
When holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them. (Smalcald Articles #43).
Luther wrote the Smalcald Articles and Lutherans formally accepted them in their Confessional Book of Concord, so this is official Lutheran teaching. It is interesting that Paul himself quotes this example of David having lost his salvation and having to repent to become re-justified in Romans 4:6-8 (quoting Psalm 32). 

Recognizing this contradiction, we get the other 'half' of Protestants who logically hold that salvation cannot be lost. These require a different line of approach, but can still easily be exposed as well. Those who do believe salvation can be lost typically (rightly) appeal to the clear passages of Scripture indicating salvation can be lost (see HERE and HERE for some examples), and in this case they sacrifice logical consistency for Scriptural testimony. On the flip side, those who believe salvation cannot be lost are forced to explain away those many texts of Scripture, and in doing so they sacrifice God's Word for logical consistency. In reality, you shouldn't have to sacrifice either one, and that's why the Catholic Church is obviously correct in rejecting salvation by faith alone.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The meaning of the "elect" in the OT & 1st Clement

Jimmy Akin has a fascinating series on the 'original' meaning of the theological term known as the "elect". Over the centuries since the time of the Apostles, the term has come to mean something along the lines of "those predestined for Heaven," those who cannot lose their salvation, those chosen unconditionally, etc. But since this isn't the 'original' Biblical meaning, I think this is an unfortunate case of misusing key Biblical terminology and thus should be corrected. Catholicism has no problem with theology developing in a manner in which no Dogma or Divine Revelation is undermined, but really we should try to stick with the original understandings of key Biblical terms. I think this is especially crucial when it comes to reading the Bible, so we know what is being said rather than projecting our own assumptions immediately onto the text. And with that, I will dive right into Jimmy's three 11/17 articles (and will update this post when he makes a fourth), summarizing what he said, and I encourage you to read them yourself. 

Jimmy begins with looking into the Epistle of 1 Clement, which is a good place to start, because it shows what the earliest Christians thought about certain key terms. This Epistle is traditionally attributed to St Clement, one of the earliest Popes, and personal friend of Peter and Paul (Philippians 4:3), and there is no good reason to doubt this. The Epistle is staid to have been written around AD96, but Jimmy says it could be even as early as AD70. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Does "no condemnation for those in Christ" refer to eternal security? (Rom 8:1 & 5:1)

I often see Protestants cite texts like Romans 8:1 and Rom 5:1 as proof-texts for their doctrine of Eternal Security (i.e. the belief that salvation cannot be lost). Upon first glance, it can seem that these texts could suggest this, but as will be shown this is reading too much into the text, as well as going against the very lesson Paul is trying to convey.

The texts in question say: 
  • Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh. {these italicized words are not found in some manuscripts} 
  • Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we {let us} have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Many Protestants read these verses and think that the "no condemnation" and the "peace" we have refer to our standing we will have standing before the judgment seat of Christ at the end of our life. They hold that we are fully and eternally entitled to enter heaven the moment we become justified by faith. 

While a Catholic would happily affirm that a person who is currently in a State of Grace is certainly to be at peace and is certainly in a position of no condemnation, the first thing to notice is that nothing here indicates this "no condemnation" and "peace" are permanent features in a Christian's life. In fact, based on the contexts and other passages, we should start off assuming these texts refer only to your present status, which can change later on if you turn to a life of sin. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Spending less time online during Lent

I plan to minimize my time online during Lent, so I won't be posting for at least a few months. Take care!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Which sins of the Israelites was the Passover Lamb being punished for? - More Problems with Penal Substitution

I was having a talk recently with a Protestant and it occurred to me that the Passover had nothing to do with the Israelites being sinners. If this is the case, then it makes no sense at all to think that there was Israelite sin being imputed to the Passover Lamb, and thus the Passover Sacrifice had nothing to do with Penal Substitution. And if Jesus is our Passover Sacrifice, as Paul says in 1 Cor 5:7, this is yet another clear blow to this man-made doctrine of Protestantism. 

Recall that the Passover was about the Angel of Death "passing over" the Israelite homes, while striking down the first born sons of Egypt. This was the "tenth plague" and it was specifically a punishment for Pharaoh not letting the Israelites go free. The whole story is about Egypt's sinfulness, not Israel's sinfulness. To think of the situation as if Israel was guilty of sin is ridiculous. It would undermine the whole story of their liberation, a story that the Israelites were to pass on to their children in every generation and celebrate as a perpetual Feast. What is the point if the Israelites were just as sinful as the Egyptians, but God somehow was willing to let the Israelites get off the hook while not giving the Egyptians an equal chance to have a Passover Lamb? Clearly, Penal Substitution makes no sense when projected upon the Passover situation.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Did Jesus die as a martyr? - More problems with Penal Substitution

Martyrdom refers to being persecuted unto death for the sake of serving and witnessing to God. It is one of the highest honors precisely because it involves sacrificing your very life for a higher cause. This concept is important when thinking about the Atonement of Jesus, because it establishes the principle that God is pleased by faithful obedience, not by death itself. Nor does martyrdom in any way suggest God is upset with you or punishing you. Here are some verses to consider:
Brothers, became imitators of the churches that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets. (1 Thess 2:14-15)
Paul is saying that Jesus was persecuted unto death, as were the prophets. And Christians are not to be shocked if they experience the same. This makes little sense within the Protestant view of the cross (Penal Substitution), since in that view Jesus was judicially punished, not persecuted unto death Penal Substitution is contrary to the character of persecuted/martyr, and it also makes no sense if Christians are expected to face a similar form of death. 
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)
From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 72:14) 
Why is the death of saints a "precious" thing to God? This makes no sense within a Penal Substitution framework, since nobody aside from Jesus would be capable of this. But within the Catholic-Biblical understanding of atonement and sacrifice, the lesson here is plain: precious in God's sight is the act of offering up their life for his sake, particularly due to martyrdom.
and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb 12:24) 
Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (Matthew 23:34-35)
Why does the blood of Abel "speak" so eloquently to God? Because Abel gave up his life in service to God. Abel was not acting as a Penal Substitute, but rather as a witness (which is precisely what the term "martyr" means in Greek, and used in that way in places like Acts 22:20; Rev 2:13; 17:6). And since Jesus is being compared to Abel here, the comparison only works if their death/offerings were of the same kind. The term "righteous blood" can only refer to their deaths being unjust, and thus their merit before God comes from their martyrdom. One other interesting note is that in the Matthew 23:34 reference above, Jesus says that the Jews will end up killing and "crucifying" some of the prophets and apostles. This is strange if the whole point of Penal Substitution was that Jesus was crucified in our place, taking the punishment we deserved. You'd think this is the last thing Jesus would say, or that the Father would allow. 

For another great example, consider my recent post on how this martyr theme factors into Romans 3:25 and Isaiah 53. In these verses and other posts I've done on Penal Substitution, I don't think Protestantism is honest enough with itself to see that their view of the Cross is quite simply wrong, and even twisted. But hopefully if we can get the word out we can change minds.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Did Paul really think his Jewish opponents saw themselves as being sinless?

Standard Protestant teaching says that the reason why works cannot justify us is "because we are sinners," which is another way of saying that if we were not sinners, then works could indeed save us. As I have noted elsewhere on this blog (e.g. here), Paul never suggests works could save even if we were sinless. In this post, I want to add another detail which goes against this Protestant idea, namely looking at whether the Jews ever considered themselves sinless. I will now turn to the Scriptures to show that the Jews clearly did consider themselves sinners, which thus totally undermines the Protestant Perspective on Paul.

As I was looking around for some Protestant quotes on this matter, I came across this gem from R.C. Sproul's ministry: 
God’s people were justified by faith alone under the Mosaic covenant even though some verses in the Law say the doing of its precepts brings righteousness and life. One of these is Leviticus 18:5, which Paul quotes in Galatians 3:12. We might conclude from a superficial reading of the Mosaic law that old covenant people were saved by works, not faith. Some Christians have held this position. However, the Torah shows us that while it reveals God’s righteous standard, our Creator knew that sinners could never save themselves by doing the Law. For example, the inclusion of sacrifices to atone for sin presupposes that the people will fail and have to look for another way to be justified.
The first sentence here says that under the Law people were justified by faith alone "even though" the Law says you are justified by works. How could the Bible say justification is by faith alone if it teaches justification by works? This claim is a blatant contradiction in thought, which is sadly so characteristic of the PPP. But that's not all! The quote also goes on to say that the Law included instructions on performing sacrifices to atone for sins, since it was obvious that nobody could be sinless. What Jew would go around considering themselves sinless when they were fully aware of the long chapters in Leviticus dedicated to instructions on atoning for sin? Why would God issue a Law that simultaneously demanded sinlessness and a means to atone for sin? Did a single Jew on the annual Day of Atonement, dedicated to atoning for all the sins of the Israelite nation, seriously think they were without sin?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The implicit Filioque?

As I was reading up on the first two Ecumenical Councils, I came across a fascinating tidbit of information from Protestant historian Philip Schaff's famous Nicene Fathers series. For those who don't know, the Nicene Creed we recite each Sunday actually came to us from two Ecumenical Councils. Basically, the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea in AD325 gave us the 'first half' of the Creed, up to the words "and we believe in the Holy Spirit," but stopped there. Later on at the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in AD381, we got the 'second half' of the Nicene Creed, which added everything including and after the words "and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father". What is fascinating is that it turns out these Creeds were not just invented on the spot at these Councils, but rather they existed in a few different 'versions' and were basically used as a 'statement of faith' for one's Baptism. This is an important historical detail because it means that the Filioque - the part where the Creed says the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and the Son" - despite not being part of the Nicene Creed of either the Council of 325 nor 381, should not be automatically taken as a rejection of the idea itself. Nor should having the Filioque clause within the Creed be taken as 'tampering' with the Creed. (I wrote about the Filioque taught in Scripture in an older post, if you're interested.)

The best testimony for this comes from a significant Early Church Father, St Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (Cyprus). He lived from AD310-403 and is held in high regard by both East and West. He lived during both Councils but he did not attend either, making his testimony even more significant. The passage from Schaff's series says that Epiphanius used a creed as early as AD374 (i.e. a decade prior to the Second Ecumenical Council), which none the less was nearly identical to the Nicene Creed as we know it. Epiphanius tells us that this was handed on from ancient times, even from the Apostles themselves, and that it is required knowledge to get Baptized. This means that prior to the Second Ecumenical Council in AD381, certain regions were already using a longer Creed than the one from AD325. Yet we would not say these regions were 'tampering' with the Creed, since they were expounding on it without changing its meaning. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Guardian Angels and Heavenly Intercession

I have been very busy with life so I haven't had much time to blog, but I do have a few interesting posts in the works that I think readers will enjoy. Until I get the time to post them, I'll post this brief reflection on the reality of Guardian Angels and their relation to Intercession. 

In Matthew 18:10, Jesus says: "Beware of despising one of these little ones; for I say to you that their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." In this passing verse we see an affirmation of something most of us hardly ever think about: the reality of guardian angels, at least for believers. The implications of such a reality are actually quite astonishing when you think about it: you have a spiritual being assigned to assist you on your salvation journey. 

Many interesting other insights arise once you recognize this basic truth, and some significant issues arise for the Protestant tradition (which typically neglects the issue of guardian angels entirely). Having a Guardian Angel means you aren't alone, and in God's best judgment, you need this angel to help you navigate life. That's a major swipe against the Protestant notion of Salvation by Faith Alone and Eternal Security, for it suggests your journey is dangerous and thus you need heavenly assistance. This would hardly be necessary if your salvation were secure. Furthermore, the angels here are described as 'beholding the Father's face in heaven', which means the Guardian Angel in some sense is constantly reporting back to God and receiving instructions of how to proceed. This is the essence of the Catholic dogma of intercession of the saints in heaven. A Protestant might say the angel cannot communicate with you. But it would be kind of silly and nonsensical to think the angel couldn't hear you if you called out to it, especially for help, and there are instances in Scripture where angels have conversations with men (e.g. the Annunciation). A Protestant might further object and say this only applies to angels but not to saints in heaven. Well, at that point it just seems even more desperate, for the essential matter is affirmed - i.e., heavenly intercession, without undermining Jesus' mediation - and so the Protestant would be forced to say the saints in heaven are effectively unconscious, rather than the reality, which is that the saints in heaven are more alive than ever and are rejoicing along with the angels. Also, if "little ones" here refers to children, which 18:2-6 strongly suggests, then this verse would be an implicit testimony to Infant Baptism, as it would mean these children would have to be members of God's Church family in order to have their Guardian Angel, rather than having to wait until they are older to "accept Jesus for themselves".

Lastly, a recent Protestant convert to Catholicism pointed out a particular irony in the very famous "Doxology" which most Protestants have historically enjoyed praying: "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." What else would "praise him above you heavenly host" mean except you praying to angels/saints? It is biblical after all: "Praise him all his angels, praise him, all his host!" (Ps 148:2) It seems like Protestants just don't think things through.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

We must stop being the whores of goat demons - More Problems with Penal Substitution

Another one of the developing insights I've recently come across was found in a passing sentence in the book of Leviticus, chapter 17. This is the famous chapter where God explains why blood is 'special' and why the Israelites were forbidden to eat blood. This is one of the most important chapters in the Old Testament, since it speaks on the heart of the sacrificial system. This insight should radically alter your perception of animal sacrifices, such that you will see Penal Substitution truly has no place. 

I begin by quoting the relevant portion of Leviticus 17: 
1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them, This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. 3 If any one of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it as a gift to the Lord in front of the tabernacle of the Lord, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people. 5 This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and sacrifice them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the Lord. 6 And the priest shall throw the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 7 So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.
Before the chapter goes onto speak on the issue of sacrificial blood, it begins by speaking on the location of where sacrifices are taking place. In this passage, God commands all animals which were slain for sacrifice to be brought to the priestly tent to be offered upon the altar, and anyone who fails to do this will be subject to severe punishment. Why is this such a big deal? Because God wanted to stop the Israelites from sacrificing "to goat demons, after whom they whore" themselves. This bizarre statement actually contains a crucial insight into what Sacrifices were all about: Liturgical Worship! Man's chief goal has always been to give God the form of Worship which God desires to receive; anything else is technically idolatry. In this case, the lesson seems to be that while in Egypt, the Israelites had picked up some bad religious habits, particularly offering worship to animal-idols, in this case a goat-deity. This got me reflecting and researching, which led me to some further insights by some Catholic Biblical scholars. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Does suffering mean you're being punished by God? (Isaiah 53 & Romans 3:25) - More problems with Penal Substitution

The fun continues with my research and apologetics involving the Protestant heresy called Penal Substituion, which I've written about many times before on this blog. I'm excited to say that I've recently come across many great insights which further refute this heresy, which I hope to present in the near future. Today, I'd like to present two that I have recently come across, both which shed astonishing light on two key atonement passages, Isaiah 53 and Romans 3:25. 

I will begin with examining the first passage, Wisdom 3. As all good Catholics should know, Wisdom is an inspired book of Scripture, and it contains one of the most clear prophecies of the suffering and death of Jesus in the whole Bible, even clearer than Isaiah 53. Furthermore, Wisdom 15:7 is quoted by Paul in Romans 9:20, which further attests to it's divine inspiration (HT: Joe for finding this). And now, I quote Wisdom 3:1-10, trimming it back for length only:
1 The souls of those who do what is right are in God’s hand. They won’t feel the pain of torment. 2 To those who don’t know any better, it seems as if they have died. 3 Their leaving us seemed to be their destruction, but in reality they are at peace. 4 It may look to others as if they have been punished, but they have the hope of living forever. 5 They were disciplined a little, but they will be rewarded with abundant good things, because God tested them and found that they deserve to be with him. 6 He tested them like gold in the furnace; he accepted them like an entirely burned offering. 7 Then, when the time comes for judgment, the godly will burst forth and run about like fiery sparks among dry straw. 8 The godly will judge nations and hold power over peoples, even as the Lord will rule over them forever. 9 Those who trust in the Lord will know the truth. Those who are faithful will always be with him in love.
This text sounds a lot like Isaiah 53, with very similar terms and themes going on. Both texts speak of a Lord's Servant who enduring suffering for fidelity to God, but which others mistakenly think is a punishment by God. Instead, God accepts their life as a pleasing sacrifice and rewards them with life and power. Both texts use nearly identical Greek terms like peace, chastise, sacrificial offering, reckoning (falsely), etc. The parallel is impossible to miss, and the grand lesson here is that just because you're suffering, doesn't mean God is mad at you or transferring someone's guilt onto you. Quite the opposite. Let Scripture-Interpret-Scripture and have Protestants stop presuming that the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 must have been suffering a punishment, particularly God's wrath. 

This leads us to the second text, the testimony of Eleazar and the Widow of Seven Sons from the books of Maccabees. In the books of Maccabees we hear of a pagan king who subjects the Jews to torture and forces them to eat pork in violation of the Mosaic Law. The king brutally tortures the woman, her seven sons, and Eleazar, and ultimately kills them all for refusing to apostatize. Their lives are all extolled and they are regarded as martyrs for their heroic virtue for their love of God. While 4 Maccabees isn't considered canonical, it is nonetheless true, tells us what the Jews at the time actually believed, and in this case simply contains further insights on what the canonical 1-2 Maccabees already tell us. In 4 Macc 17:8-24, we see how these heroes were honored:
8 What would be an appropriate message that could be carved on their tomb to remind our nation’s people? Perhaps these words: 9 here lie buried an old priest, an old woman, and seven children because of the violence of a tyrant who wished to destroy the hebrew way of life. 10 they won justice for their nation by fixing their eyes on god and enduring torture to the point of death. 11 The competition in which they were engaged was truly divine. 12 Moral character itself handed out awards that day, having proved their worth through their endurance. Victory brought immortality through an endless life. 13 Eleazar was the first competitor. The mother of the seven children and the brothers competed also. 14 The tyrant was the opponent, and the world and the human race were the audience. 15 Respect for God won the day and crowned its champions. 16 Who wasn’t amazed at the athletes who were competing in the name of the divine Law? Who wasn’t astonished? 17 The tyrant himself, along with all his political advisors, was amazed at their resistance, 18 for which they now stand in front of God’s throne and live a blessed life forever. 19 Moses says, “All those who have set themselves apart for you are in your care.” 20 These people who have dedicated themselves to God are honored, therefore, not only with this privilege but also because they kept our enemies from ruling our nation. 21 The tyrant was punished, and our nation was cleansed through them. They exchanged their lives for the nation’s sin. 22 Divine providence delivered Israel from its former abuse through the blood of those godly people. Their deaths were a sacrifice that finds mercy [Greek: propitiation] from God.
This passage is, quite simply, astonishing. First, when it speaks of athletes "competing" and "enduring," it sounds a lot like St Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Second, some scholars have pointed out that there are many similarities between verses 21-22 in this passage and Romans 3:25, and as such think Paul probably had this passage in mind. In both places there is mention of ransoming/redeeming, saving blood, and propitiation, along with imagery of cleansing and sacrifice. In fact, the Greek term for "propitiation" used here is a unique Greek word that only appears in the New Testament twice, Hebrews 9:5 and Romans 3:25. In this situation, it is undeniable that Eleazar was a righteous man, not being punished by God nor under God's Wrath. Yet God allowed Eleazar to undergo suffering for the sake of righteousness, and from the Blood of Eleazar the Chosen People of God were cleansed, redeemed, and God's Wrath turned away from them (propitiated). It is clear there is a parallel to Christ, with Eleazar being a foreshadowing of Christ. There is really no reason to think Jesus couldn't have suffered and died with a similar motif as Eleazar, though with Jesus we see far greater blessings and merits won. Eleazar won temporal earthly blessings for his people, while Jesus won eternal blessings for us Christians. 

A Protestant might object to such texts by saying "not canonical," but really that is quite a weak objection, for these texts are not random pagan texts, but rather were written by faithful Jews and were included in Jewish collections. It would be absurd to suggest the Jews had no insights on theology or prophecy, and indeed throughout history Christians have always granted a fair hearing to any Christian scholar who worthily shares his insight on theology. 

The notion that a person cannot lay down their life, shed their blood, in sacrificial atoning offering, for cleansing, redemption, and life for others, apart from taking on their guilt and suffering hellfire in their place, is plainly refuted by these two shining examples. Penal Substitution has no basis in Scripture, and in fact is an insult to Scripture and an insult to Christian suffering and martyrdom.

Friday, June 2, 2017

"Eternal Life" according to Scripture

I thought I had written a dedicated post about the Biblical teaching on "eternal life," but after doing a search it seems I only wrote about it in passing (e.g. Here and Here). As with many of my posts, the heart of good apologetics is defining key theological terms according to the Bible. Most theological errors are due to people unconsciously assigning their own definitions to key theological terms, which results in building other theological conclusions on an faulty foundation. In this case, many people will read verses such as "whomever believes in him will have eternal life" (Jn 3:15) as if it were saying once you accept the Gospel your spot in heaven is secure forever. This is understandable, but it's a serious mistake and even misses the beauty of such texts. 
Doing a simple word search, the term "eternal life" appears in approximately 45 verses in the Bible. To keep this post short, I wont go through every verse, but you can and should follow the link to see the verses for yourself. The key verses I want to highlight are as follows:
  • John 4:14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
  • John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
  • John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
  • 1 John 3:14-15 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him
In these passages from John, it is clear that "eternal life" is not something that comes in the future, it is not a ticket to heaven, but rather it is something you presently experience. In John's mind, to have "eternal life" means you have a relationship with the Trinity, the Trinity dwells within you. You "know" the Father and the Son, you have a spring of water flowing within, you have passed from spiritual death to inner spiritual life. In short, you have "eternal life abiding within" yourself (1 Jn 3:15). So all those times in John when Jesus says "believe and you will have eternal life," this is simply saying if you believe Jesus is your Savior, you will be in communal relationship with the Trinity. This communion can obviously be broken, as we see Adam originally had communion and fell, and 1 John 3:15 warns that mortal sin will result in no longer having eternal life in yourself (unless you repent). 

It is understandable why the term "eternal life" would confuse many, but it's pretty clear once you stop and try to understand the term from John's mystical perspective. That said, now it's time to look at how the term "eternal life" is used by Paul and other Apostles, because we will see a different usage than John's.