Monday, January 11, 2021

Were "those whom God foreknew" the OT saints? (Rom 8:29)

While writing my article on Romans 11:6 (here), something jumped out at me in Romans 11:2, where Paul says: "God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew." This statement sounds very similar to a few chapters prior, in Romans 8:29, where Paul famously says: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son". While I've already discussed Romans 8:29-30 in an older post (here), I haven't looked at it through this "foreknow" lens, so I'll do that today.

In the context of Rom 11:2, the "God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew" is clearly referring to the Israelites, at least those who were faithful, as the prior verse 11:1 asks "has God therefore rejected his people?" as he then lists off marks of Israelite identity. Using the principle of "Scripture interprets Scripture," would suggest that the Israelites of Rom 11:2, "his [chosen/elect] people," at least the faithful ones, are who Paul has principally in mind in Rom 8:29 when he says "those whom He foreknew". In other words, Rom 8:29-30 is actually focused on the Old Testament saints. Others have suggested this is what 8:29 means, but now that I've come across this link to Rom 11:2, I now think the claim has better merit.

If the OT Saints are in view in 8:29, this would better explain why Paul speaks of "those" instead of "us/we" whom God foreknew. It would also better explain why God puts the "called, predestined, justified," and "glorified" all in the past tense, since it would mean the OT Saints already experienced these things. We could even say Paul's repeated use of "also" is to suggest the OT saints "also" experience these blessings along with the NT saints, thus Paul isn't so much speaking of a chain of events, but rather simply saying every blessing the Gentiles experience in Christ, the OT saints "also" experience them. Given the context of Romans 8:29 being about enduring suffering, calling upon the example of the OT saints is an excellent lesson for Paul to draw upon, since we have historical proof of OT saints having to endure trials, and see how God helped them get through it. And, finally, since Paul is concerned about Jew-Gentile tensions, it helps to show the OT saints are blessed, so that the NT saints don't feel superior to them.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Isaiah's prophecy of the New Testament priesthood.

There's a fascinating prophecy in Isaiah that clearly points to an upcoming Gentile priesthood within the New Testament Church. This is a good verse to keep in mind when talking to Protestants, who strongly resist the idea of a New Testament sacrificial priesthood:

Isaiah 66: 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord.

To fully appreciate what Isaiah is saying, recall that in the Old Testament under the Mosaic Law, the priesthood was hereditary, tied strictly to the biological lineage of Levi. Within the Tribe of Levi, only Aaron's biological sons were priests, while the rest of the Levites were assistants, which we would call Deacons (see here). So for Isaiah to say there will come a time when men from 'every nation' will be called to the priesthood, that's very radical.

We would certainly expect Protestants to object to this text, but the good news is that they actually agree with this prophecy! The Reformed Protestant tradition teaches within the Westminster Standards on Form of Church Government:

That the ministers of the gospel have as ample a charge and commission to dispense the word, as well as other ordinances, as the priests and Levites had under the law, proved, Isaiah lxvi. 21. Matt. xxiii. 34. where our Saviour entitleth the officers of the New Testament, whom he will send forth, by the same names of the teachers of the Old.
And also a little bit later:
To administer the sacraments. To bless the people from God, Numb. vi. 23, 24, 25, 26. Compared with Rev. i.4, 5, (where the same blessings, and persons from whom they come, are ex mentioned,) Isa. lxvi. 21, where, under the names of Priests and Levites to be continued under the gospel, are meant evangelical pastors, who therefore are by office to bless the people.

What is ironic here is that the Reformed Protestant tradition basically makes the case for the Catholic priesthood for us, but the Reformed Protestant refuses to admit it (or doesn't want to deal with it).

Another noteworthy prophecy is seen when Jesus goes in to cleanse the Temple: "And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”" This quote is taken from Isaiah 56, which says:

6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant: 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Again, the same theme as Isaiah 66:21 above. Those from all nations, no longer only the Levites, will be welcome to minister to God in liturgical worship, including offering sacrifices. This is no small prophecy, but rather one which the Christian Church is heavily based upon for our own worship even today, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (see here).

Monday, November 30, 2020

Was Abraham kosher before God? (Modern Judaism)

I recently met someone who had come back to the Church after having been fallen away for about 20 years, and he was given the icon pictured here by someone at his Confirmation earlier this year. He wasn't sure what this icon was about, so he asked me. I immediately recognized the "three angels" from a more famous version of the icon that you've probably seen (here), but I hadn't seen this 'version' with the two people in the background. I turned to the passage in Genesis 18, known as "The Hospitality of Abraham," where this event took place and I showed him the story:

(Genesis 18:1-21) 1 The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.”6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three cups of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”

16 Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”
22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.

A surface level reading of this passage is pretty straightforward, but the more you know about the OT and Salvation History, you cannot help but struggle to get through it, since you feel like you must stop and ponder each of the many mysterious "details". For example, who are these "three men"? Are they angels? Are they, at least symbolically, the Three Persons of the Trinity? Or is one of them the Pre-Incarnate Son (as I've noted in an earlier post here)? There are various opinions on this matter, but under my limited meditation, personally I think the "three men" can on a 'symbolic' level refer to the Trinity, while on the 'exegetical' level refers to the Pre-Incarnate Son and two angels. The main reasons for my conclusion is that: (1) it certainly seems God Himself is talking to Abraham from among these three men, without the three men being mere accessory individuals; (2) we see chapter 19:1 begin by speaking of "the two angels" arriving in Sodom, suggesting the "third man" was someone more than an angel, thus God the Son; and (3) I recall St Justin martyr pointing out Gen 19:24 speaks of 'two Yahwehs', or two LORD's, one on earth and one in heaven, raining down fire upon Sodom, which at least hints at the idea of Father and Son. You can read St Justin's thoughts on using Genesis 18 as prooftext in his Dialog with Trypho the Jew, ch56 (here). Also, this passage is speaking about a miraculous conception of a promised son who will bring about promised blessings, which I discuss in detail on my Romans 4 article (here in the comments box).

Friday, November 20, 2020

The righteous shall live by (God's) faithfulness - Part 3 (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38)

One benefit of discussing your theological reflections with others (both Catholic and Protestant) is that, through their feedback, you can often further refine your original conclusions. In the case of Paul's mysterious appeal to the obscure text of Habakkuk 2:4 in key junctures of Romans and Galatians, I have come to write this unexpected Part 3 of this The Righteous Shall Life By Faith series (Part 2 is HERE). This time, I will try to bring the truths of the prior reflections together to form a fully cohesive understanding of why Paul appealed to such an obscure OT text if his goal was to make a convincing argument to his audience, both friend and foe.

First, let us recall that in Galatians 3:11, Paul says: "It is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith." I'll be honest, there is nothing obvious about how this brief phrase from Habakkuk evidently proves faith justifies while the law does not justify. I'm sure that if other folks were honest, they would admit this phrase is more mysterious than it is clear. Most commentaries that I have come across take the very simplistic approach of saying something akin to "Habakkuk says faith gives life, so that's all there is to salvation." Sorry, but I think that's an immature approach to the text, and is full of problems. For one, we already noted in Part 2 that "faith" in Hab 2:4 is more accurately translated/understood as "faithfulness," and nothing in the text or context suggest a person is incapable of doing good works or that everyone is unrighteous (e.g. God did not consider Habakkuk as unrighteous). And the way Hab2:4 is quoted in Hebrews 10:32-39, "you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised," there is nothing in Paul's lesson here that in any way suggests faith alone or "once saved always saved". (Protestants have shamefully and intentionally avoided the rule of "Scriptures interprets Scripture" by refusing to take Hebrews 10:38 into consideration when interpreting Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11.)

On top of that, there are many texts in the Bible that link having life, righteousness, etc, to obeying God's commandments, e.g., Proverbs 4:4; 7:2; 11:19; Eze 18:22; as well as very relevant passages similar in nature to Habakkuk, such as Ezekiel 14:12-14,
And the word of the Lord came to me: “When a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break it, and send famine, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God.
The plain logic here is that when the bulk of the people turn to evil for a sustained time, then even the most righteous saints in OT history wouldn't be able to intervene, and rather such saints would only spare their own life by their righteous behavior. So do we really think that Paul was so intellectually weak that Paul simply mined the OT until he found a text that sounded good to him? Any Jew would laugh at pulling out such an obscure OT text such as Hab 2:4, and they would easily throw a number of OT texts against Paul. Surely we cannot mock Paul's intelligence and gift of the Spirit by thinking he couldn't make a convincing argument! So we are forced to do some reflection and thus discover why Paul's appeal to Habakkuk 2 is actually a pretty solid argument.

To begin finding a satisfying answer, I think we should consider the key phrases which Paul uses when he appeals to Hab 2:4. First, as noted above in Galatians 3:11, Paul says Hab 2:4 somehow demonstrates that 'works of the law do not justify'. Second, in Romans 1:17, Paul says Hab 2:4 somehow demonstrates that 'the righteousness of God is revealed'. I think the answer that addresses both is a proof text along the lines of showing the Mosaic Law was broken and thus put the Israelites in a hopeless condition, yet which nonetheless God promises to rescue/save His people. The book Habakkuk was written to address the national punishment coming upon Judah for its unfaithfulness to the Mosaic Covenant, which did not contain any provision for atonement of major sins. Yet, despite providing no means of un-breaking the Mosaic Law, somehow throughout the OT prophets we are told God promises to rescue His people. This can only mean the Works of the Law do not justify (in the sense of saving a person from their sins and giving them spiritual life or even heaven). It also means that God's Righteousness, that is His promises to correct the issue of sin and bring about salvation, is promised in the prophets to come about in His due time by some other basis than the Law. Thus, when Paul brings up Habakkuk 2:4 to his Jewish opponents, they are reminded of their national disobedience to the Mosaic Law, requiring punishment since the Law does not allow them a second chance, while at the same time promising them a second chance at living through some other merciful provision apart from the Works of the Law. This "other merciful provision" is only revealed at the time of the Apostles, wherein Jesus arrives to deal with sin, and this message is known simply as the Gospel.

This would also explain why in both contexts, Romans 1:16-18 and Galatians 3:10-13, Paul quotes Habakukk right in the middle of talking about God's "wrath" due to disobedient behavior and "curses" for breaking the Law. Habakkuk, and the OT prophets as a whole, are precisely about God's wrath due to breaking the Law. But within Habakkuk and the OT prophets as a whole, there are also prophecies about how God will still have mercy and save. 

It is also possible that Paul was saying that Habakkuk was speaking of a time when it wasn't even possible to practice the Mosaic Law since the Israelites were now in exile and thus couldn't even live out the works of the Law due to living under pagans. Both then and in 70AD, the Temple was destroyed, meaning the Israelites couldn't even carry out their routine Levitical duties regarding sacrifices, purification, holidays, etc. Thus, they must live some other way than by the Law if they want to continue their religion and relationship with God, and that way must be common to both Gentiles and Jews (e.g. not restricted to the geographic land of Jerusalem). Within the context of Christianity, we are also living among the pagans, namely those outside forces that are constantly trying to persecute us, which we must suffer for now and persevere in faithfulness to God.  
Next to reflect upon what Habakkuk meant by "live," we should be able to at least assume this "life" was something more than just earthly comfort, since at the time of exile there was no comfy life on the horizon. If Habakkuk himself was going to suffer exile, he certainly wasn't "living" in any satisfying manner. Thus, his "faith(fulness)" had to be leading to some other kind of life, such as life in heavenly paradise. Just as the Jew was for the foreseen future going to endure life in a fallen world (i.e. Babylonian exile), so too Christians for the foreseen future are going to live life in a fallen world, and thus our faithfulness during this time must be looking to something more than earthly comfort.

One final point to consider is that, as with other posts on this blog, we see in Habakkuk 2:4 that the Greek OT (LXX) text contains inspired elaborations upon the Hebrew OT text. Consider the two OT texts of Habakkuk 2:3-4 and how they differ:
Greek Habakkuk: (3a) For the vision is yet for a time, and it shall shoot forth at the end, and not in vain: (3b) though he should tarry, wait for him; for he will surely come, and will not tarry. (4a) If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him: (4b) but the just shall live by my faith.

Hebrew Habakkuk: (3a) For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end, it will not lie. (3b) If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (4a) Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, (4b) but the righteous shall live by his faith.
For both texts, verse 3a is pretty similar, Habakkuk is given an prophecy of the future by God. In verse 3b, is not immediately clear if this is the return from Babylonian exile or if it is a prophecy of the arrival of Jesus, or perhaps both. The Greek rendering of "he" will come sounds a lot life the arrival of Jesus, either first or second coming, though "it" can mean the same thing, as in 'this prophecy will come to fulfillment'. In 4a, there is a remarkable difference in texts, though I maintain we should always assume differences in texts are merely difference in wording rather than in essential meaning (especially since the Hebrew terms can often be more broad in meaning). In this case of 4a in both, it seems certain that the prideful person whose soul is puffed up in the Hebrew text is to be understood as the one who draws back and has God's favor removed in the Greek. And given that, it means the (already) righteous individual of 4b is going to live by faithfulness. If there is any question as to whose faithfulness, you could read it either as God's Faithfulness, and thus more accurately God's Righteousness, or as man's faithfulness to God's commands. But even here, perhaps both God and man's faithfulness is in view. Thankfully, we have the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 10, that gives a better look at this:
Hebrews 10: 19 We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For [as Habakkuk says],

“Yet a little while, and the Coming One will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.
Within this text, we see Paul touch upon many of the themes we've already discussed. We see Paul talking about God's Judgment that is coming, and the reward for those who are obedient. We see that the Mosaic dispensation did not provide for forgiveness, and thus when it was broken there was only wrath to look forward to, while the New Covenant has more opportunities for mercy and greater rewards...though also greater punishments as well. We see that Hebrews definitely is looking to the Greek Habakkuk, showing that what was in mind was "the Coming One," that is He Who Is Coming, which can only be God, in Jesus Christ.

Paul was thus quoting Habakkuk as a prophecy of Jesus' Second Coming (or at least the judgment in AD70, or both), while we are in a time of exile, and the Mosaic Law has expired, leaving us to live by new Covenant rules and regulations. This applies to the Jew and Gentile alike, and thus "from faith to faith" means there is an analogy of our conditions found in the lesson of the OT conditions of Habakkuk and the Babylonian Exile. To me, this is a far more satisfying explanation of Paul's proof text than a mere surface level reading of a few words.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Another fascinating insight on "The Righteous Will Live By Faith" (Rom 1:17; Hab 2:4; Heb 10:38)

As I continue to research Habakkuk 2:4 from my last post, St Jerome's explanation of 'the righteous will live by faith', I am even more disappointed to see how little attention it gets within Protestant-Catholic discussions. It seems to me that a lot of exegetical credibility is hanging on the meaning of "the righteous man will live by faith," particularly whether it actually is 'plainly' teaching Justification by Faith Alone (as Protestants since Luther have alleged). In this post, I want to take a more careful look at Hab 2:4, because I think this verse is actually quite devastating to the Protestant side, and might well explain why Protestant scholars do not take a careful look at it when it comes to them "proving" Sola Fide from Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38.

The first important detail to consider is that the Hebrew term "faith" in Hab 2:4 is not the Hebrew term for 'believe', but rather means steadfastness, remaining firm, and thus frequently rendered "faithfulness". In fact, this Hebrew term is often used in reference to God's faithfulness (e.g. Ps 36:5; 40:10; 89:1; 100:5; 119:90; Lam 3:23), which obviously cannot mean God's exercises faith (which is illogical). Even major Protestant translations like the NIV and NET render it as "faithfulness". Furthermore, the Reformed ESV and NASB both the term "faith" in the verse but have a footnote that says "or faithfulness". So there is really no controversy even among Protestants that this Hebrew term most accurately means "faithfulness" - it's just that Protestant scholars don't really like bring it up when discussing Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 - likely because it causes considerable problems for 'faith alone'. The very notion of faithfulness suggests holding firm over a period of time. The term perseverance comes to mind. The idea is that you can turn to sin during this period, fall away, and thus fail to attain the blessing. That's hardly the same idea as being saved (permanently) the moment you believe in Jesus.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

St Jerome's fascinating insights on the famous verse "The righteous man shall live by faith"

In the opening chapter of Romans, Paul famously says: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" The "as it is written" verse Paul is citing here in his thesis statement is from the relatively obscure book of the prophet Habakkuk, chapter 2:4. I have always been fascinated by this verse, especially considering Paul quotes it multiple places (e.g. Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11, Heb 10:38), and thus I've been highly suspicious of the general lack of Protestant commentary on the context and meaning of Habakkuk 2:4. I think too often Protestants have glossed over this verse, thinking merely that Habakkuk is saying "a man is justified by faith". But this surface level reading does not seem to fit the actual wording of the verse nor the context. In this post, I want to consider a fascinating commentary on this verse, which I had not considered, which I stumbled upon in St Jerome's Commentary on Galatians.

St Jerome, commenting on Galatians 3:11-12, says

We should note that he did not say that just any man lives by faith, lest he provide an excuse for the devaluation of virtuous deeds. Rather, he said that the righteous man lives by faith. This means that before having faith and the intention to live by it, one must already be righteous and must by the purity of his life have claimed certain steps that lead to faith. It is therefore possible for someone to be righteous without yet living by faith in Christ. If this is troublesome to the reader, let him consider what Paul says about himself [Phil 3:6]: "As for righteousness according to the Law, I was faultless." At the time, Paul was righteous in terms of keeping the Law, but he was not yet able to live by faith because he did not have Christ
This is astonishing, because with this explanation, Paul is basically undermining the very erroneous Protestant idea which teaches that our own sinfulness prevents our works from saving us. In Jerome's explanation, a person who is already righteous still needs faith. This fits perfectly with what I've written about numerous times (e.g. Here and Here) against the Protestant heresy of Salvation By Good Works Alone, contrasted to the Catholic teaching of St Paul which is Salvation by Faith.

This lead me to another discovery, noticing the context in which Paul quotes Habakkuk within his Galatians 3:10-12 argument:
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”
By citing Habakkuk 2:4 within the context of the "works of the law," per Jerome's insights this means that Paul has in mind particularly the Jew-Gentile controversy, and is thus saying even if a Jew were following the Mosaic Law, and thus were 'righteous per the Law', such is not enough. Faith would still be needed. Jerome further elaborates that Paul mentions "live" in two instances here: faith causes life and keeping the law causes life. Since both cannot be true in the same sense must mean that the "life" that the Law gives is a temporal living, such as long life and earthly blessings, as well as avoiding the death penalty that the Law holds over a person for grave violations of the Mosaic Covenant. Meanwhile, the "life" that faith in Christ brings is eternal life.   

UPDATE: Now there is a PART 2 of this series HERE.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

How to preach the Gospel as a Catholic.

I've had multiple years of experience in preaching the Gospel to non-Catholics and so I've felt the need to share my findings and results so as to help other Catholics. Those who have an apologetics mindset tend to want to know the most effective tips and tricks (or even 'perfect formula') for to how to effectively evangelize, so it's a shame this topic isn't discussed more.

When I first began real life evangelizing several years ago, I quickly learned that most people are not interested in intellectual discussions. This isn't to say these non-Catholics were stupid, but rather that they weren't "nerdy" the way your typical Catholic apologist is nerdy and excited about theology. As a result, I learned the hard way that there's a real distinction between apologetics and evangelism. So the first thing to know about evangelizing is that not everyone is nerdy, or even has much knowledge on theological matters, so most of what you know isn't even applicable when you talk with them.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Do Jehovah's Witnesses "fulfill the prophecy" of Jesus to preach the Gospel "throughout the world"?

Matthew 24 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible for Jehovah's Witnesses since it deals with predicting the End Times (which JW theology is entirely based upon, see Here). Most of us have heard certain features of what Jesus said in this chapter, but JWs are unique in that they zoom in on certain details in order to emphasize that only they are the ones actually taking it seriously. The JWs are especially keen on what Jesus says in Mt 24:14, "This good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."

JWs think they are the only group that is preaching the Gospel everywhere, and thus that their global preaching ministry fulfills this prophecy that the end of the world will come any day now. To many who hear this it sounds convincing, because most Christians are not evangelizing at all, so the very fact only the JWs are evangelizing gives the JWs credibility that they are the true Biblical religion. So how do you counter this impressive JW claim? It turns out there's a powerful counter-argument that can pull the rug from under them, which we'll look at in this article. 

First, we should take a look at some official JW claims about Matthew 24:14, which can all easily be found on the official JW Online Library page:
  • Jesus pointed out another part of the sign when he foretold: “This good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) While the world is experiencing terrible problems, over eight million people from all nations are declaring the good news of God’s Kingdom in 240 lands and in over 1,000 languages. This has never happened before in human history. (Watchtower, 2020, Public No.2)
  • Whether people agree with us or bitterly oppose us, few would deny that as a group Jehovah’s Witnesses are well-known for their preaching activities. As we know, Jesus foretold that the good news of the Kingdom would be preached in all the inhabited earth. (Matt. 24:14) But how do we know that the work we do is in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy? Is it presumptuous on our part to think that we are the ones who are doing this work? Many religious groups feel that they are preaching the Gospel, or good news. However, their efforts are often limited to personal testimonies, church services, or programs broadcast through the media​ ... What group of people are preaching that message in “all the nations”? The answer is obvious​—only Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Watchtower, May 2016)
  • But how would they [the 12 Apostles] preach “in all the inhabited earth” and give “a witness to all the nations”? Where would the workers come from? If only they could have looked into the future while sitting with Jesus that day! They would no doubt have been amazed to see the fulfillment of those few words that we now read at Matthew 24:14. We are living in the time of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy. Millions have joined together to fill the earth with the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom. (Watchtower, April 2013)
This is but a few of dozens of passages expressing the same idea from official JW material throughout the decades. The sentiment is understandable and their argument is straightforward and apparently quite solid. So where should we turn? How about the Bible itself!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Revisting Abraham's "faith reckoned as righteousness" - Part 4 (Promise vs Law)

(In case you missed them: Part1, Part2, Part2b, Part3)

This past week I began to really think about Paul's terminology of "Promise" as contrasted with "Law," particularly within Romans 4 and Galatians 3. It seems that if we can zero in on precisely what this mysterious term Promise refers to we can better (or even properly) understand Paul's lesson within these key Justification texts. If Promise has nothing to do with some forensic status or of living a perfectly obedient life, then this would cast some serious doubt on the mainstream Protestant reading of these chapters. Here's what I've found regarding this term.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Catholic Quran - proving Christianity using the Quran alone

I am convinced that Islam's holy book, the Quran, is the best resource that Catholics have when evangelizing Muslims. A few years ago I wrote a series of brief reflections on using the Quran to the advantage of Christianity, but I never got around to posting it because I kept waiting to polish it up more. I finally decided to just post it as is so below I present a 16 page PDF for you to view and give your thoughts on:

Monday, May 18, 2020

Monepiscopacy in Rev 1:20 (one Bishop per city)

The past several years some Protestants have been claiming that during the Apostolic era of the Church, each congregation was run by a group of Elders, rather than a single head Pastor/Bishop. They typically claim that the 'one bishop per city/congregation' model, known as the "monepiscopacy," was a 'later' development, appearing around the year 175AD. The goal of their argument is to show that the Catholic understanding of Church leadership, led particularly by a single Bishop in Rome, was never part of the original Apostolic Church, and thus the Papacy must be a later historical invention. Much has be written about this over the past several years, but for some reason one of the chief proof-texts has not gotten much attention, so I think it's worth sharing what I've found on this matter.
Revelation 1:20. "As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches."
In Revelation 2-3, Jesus tells John what he is to tell these "angels," with each "angel" ruling over a major city church (including Ephesus), in which Jesus gives warnings to most of these "angels" leading the churches. While at first it might look like these "angels" are the spirit creatures we are all used to thinking of, the fact is the Greek/Hebrew word for "angel" is a more generic term for "messenger" (usually appointed by God). In fact, the term "angel" is sometimes another Biblical way of referring to God's priests (e.g. "for the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger [Hebrew: angel] of the Lord of hosts" Mal 2:7). Moreover, in Revelation, Jesus is referred to a Angel-Messenger, and in the Old Testament, the consensus among the Church Fathers is that the pre-incarnate Son is who is meant by the "Angel of the Lord" appearing to various OT figures (see HERE).

Looking at the key text in question, Revelation 1:20 and the references to these "angels" throughout ch2-3, it makes little sense for Jesus to be issuing warnings to Spirit-Angels, given that the Spirit-Angels have already been tested before the time of Adam. This means they are all already categorized as either permanently fallen or glorified. Rather, it makes more sense if these "angels" are Bishops, who certainly have the power to correct the abuses going on in these seven congregations.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Revisiting Abraham's "faith reckoned as righteousness" - Part 3 (The Blessed Man of Rom 4:6-8)

As I've been continuing on the quest of reading the Bible beyond the surface level, particularly Romans 4, I am excited to present another inspiration that I had. In a recent post (HERE), I emphasized how the Adoption theme (i.e. children, heirs, fatherhood) was undoubtedly the main theme of Genesis 15 and Romans 4. That was an expansion of "Part 2" (HERE) of this unexpected "series" on Abraham. To add yet another dimension to all this, I began to wonder if Paul's mentioning of King David in Romans 4 also had an Adoption theme to it, which seemed highly likely. As I thought about it, I came to realize that "we" have gotten used to reading Paul's mention of Psalm 32 as an isolated Psalm, focused only on forgiveness, completely divorced from the historical narrative that the Bible gives us of David's repentance. So I opened up the Bible where it talked about David's sin, and I was pleasantly surprised. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

TRULY understanding Mormonism - Is it nobodies business?

I recently made a post called Truly understanding Jehovah's Witnesses, but now I feel the grace has presented itself for me to make a similar post on getting into the mind of a Mormon. In some recent discussions with Mormons, it finally became clear to me what the fundamental issue was, and how Christian apologetics has largely failed to address it. So for this post, I want to try to convey what the actual mindset of Mormons is, and thus know how to actually have a discussion with them. 

Catholic apologetics on Mormonism has largely centered around the Great Apostasy, which is the Mormon dogma that the Gospel was lost some time after the death of the last Apostle, almost 2000 years ago. Many other groups and Protestant denominations hold to a similar idea of Great Apostasy, since it gives them a basis to start up their own Church. And it makes sense, because why have a new Church if you have nothing new to present to people? Well, in this case, we need to see what it is that Mormons have that nobody else has. 

The main problem with the typical Catholic approach to Mormonism is that Catholics think that simply disproving the Great Apostasy is sufficient to win the debate. While it is easy to disprove and discredit the Great Apostasy, the Catholic fails to really get to the heart of Mormonism. Something bigger is at stake, and so just disproving the Great Apostasy doesn't actually shake the Mormon you're talking to at their core. Recall that the Jehovah's Witnesses have lots of tangential issues that Christians get hung up on (e.g. Trinity), never getting to the heart of things. So too, the Mormons have various tangential issues that Christians get hung up on (e.g. polygamy) that really don't get to the heart of things. So we must get to the heart of things.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

How do the Ten Commandments fit with the Old Covenant? (Seventh Day Adventists)

Seventh Day Adventists are best known for their claim that celebrating the Saturday Sabbath is still binding precisely because the Ten Commandments remain binding. They claim that since the other nine commandments (murder, theft, adultery, etc) remain binding, then we cannot just ignore the Saturday Sabbath commandment. This argument is quite reasonable and one of the most appealing arguments that draws people into becoming SDA. Unless you can address this mindset, it is futile to simply quote to them standard proof-texts such as Colossians 2:16-17 and Galatians 4:9-10. The heart of the SDA error is that the SDAs fail to distinguish between the Ten Commandments being a covenant as opposed to a general moral guideline. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Is Adoption the real lesson of Rom 4 & Gal 3?

Protestant often emphasize that Justification is a "legal" event, envisioning a defendant standing before a Judge in a courtroom. But they seem to miss the much more obvious and explicit Adoption themes within key Justification texts such as Romans 4 and Galatians 3. In this post, we will take a look at what these two chapters actually have to say about Adoption. 
Romans Ch4: 1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. 13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring, not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

Galatians Ch3: 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
From the above survey we see the language Paul uses in reference to Abraham is almost entirely Adoption related terminology: father (7), offspring (5), sons (2), heirs (2), inheritance. If you read those chapters, you will see that "legal" language such as "judge" and "condemn" and such is almost entirely absent. And though the term "law" frequently appears, Paul is certainly talking about the Mosaic Law (see HERE), not some Divine Courtroom. And more importantly, Paul is saying the Law is not the path to salvation. Other common terms that are used in these chapters like "works" and "believe" are not legal terms, especially given that faith/believing/forgiveness has nothing to do with a courtroom.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Does "Repent and Believe in the Gospel" refute Faith Alone?

I cannot believe the wild success that I've achieved against Calvinists with a "new" argument that I've developed. It stems from the series of my recent articles addressing the Protestant favorite proof-text: "for by grace you have been saved through faith, this is not of yourself, it is a gift from God; it is not of works, so that nobody may boast". The Protestant mindset is that Paul's frequent contrast of "faith vs works" means faith is good because it comes from God, while works are bad because they come from man. But it's silly to put faith in opposition to works for a Christian since both faith and good works are gifts from God, both produced by God's regenerating power within the person. In other words, it is impossible for a Christian to produce good works apart from God! We can see this absurdity of categorizing "works come from man" versus "faith coming from God" by looking at a few of the very texts Calvinist Protestants point to in support of their doctrine of Regeneration:
  • 1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes in Jesus has already been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
  • Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand.
  • Rom 6:13 present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
  • James 2:17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
  • Phil 2:12 Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 
As you can see here, anyone who does good works has been enabled by God to do so, and in fact God is the one producing the good works within them. Notice that none of these texts limit God's gift to merely faith, but rather to good works in general. Thus "obey his commandments" above is just as much a product of Regeneration as is believing in Jesus. This completely undermines the Protestant paradigm of "faith vs works" because now they must read it as "Holy Spirit produced faith versus Holy Spirit produced works," which is nonsense. We can bring out this absurdity even further within another key Protestant passage, Romans 4, where Paul mentions Abraham. We must certainly think Abraham was "Regenerated" since otherwise he wouldn't have been able to believe in the first place. Thus, Romans 4 should actually look like this from the Reformed perspective: 
2 For if [regenerate] Abraham was justified by [regenerate good] works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “[regenerate] Abraham believed God, and his [regenerate] faith was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the [regenerate] one who [produces regenerate] works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the [regenerate] one who does not [regenerately] work but [regenerately] believes in him who justifies the [regenerate] ungodly, his [regenerate] faith is counted as righteousness. Just as [regenerate] David also speaks of the blessing of the [regenerate] one to whom God counts righteousness apart from [regenerate] works.
Look how outrageous this famous text now reads with the Calvinist paradigm applied to it: Why can someone who produces regenerate works not have those counted as a gift? Why would there be a regenerate person who "does not regenerately work"? Why would there be a regenerate ungodly person? Keep in mind, Calvinists don't actually read the text this way, but this is how they logically should be reading it. When you show this to them, they realize that it is true, but they also resist it because it is obviously absurd. This demolishes the "gift of faith vs human works" reading they've been projecting on this text all this time. The only possible reading for "works" here that fits is the ceremonial works of the Law.

We can take this one step further by another great text, taken from the words of Jesus: The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15) Jesus was distinguishing repenting from believing here, so Jesus is saying both repentance and faith are needed to be Justified. And we must logically conclude that repenting is just as much a gift as faith is and just as much a result of regeneration. This prompts the devastating question: does this mean "repentance" is a work? The Protestant side mistakenly thinks that anything that isn't "faith" must be categorized as a "work," so they logically are forced to say repentance is a work. But you can see the obvious problem now, for then Jesus would be explicitly saying "faith plus works" saves us. I'm sure some Protestants will attempt to say Repentance isn't actually required for Justification, but this is pure desperation:
  • Acts 2:38 Repent ... for the forgiveness of your sins
  • Acts 3:19 Repent that your sins may be blotted out
  • Acts 11:18 God has granted repentance that leads to life
  • 2 Cor 7:10 repentance that leads to salvation
Since we have proven that Repentance is required for getting justified, we can turn back to the Ephesians 2:8-9 text and ask: where does Repentance fit into the text? Should we read it as: "for by grace you have been saved through repentance and faith, this is not of yourself, these are a gift from God; it is not of works, so that nobody may boast". Or read it as: "for by grace you have been saved through faith, this is not of yourself, it is a gift from God; it is not of repentance, so that nobody may boast". The Protestant side is trapped. If they say Repentance is a "work," then Paul is saying Repentance doesn't save and (somehow) lets us boast, which is obviously false! But if they say "faith" implies repentance, which it often does, then they just exposed the fact "faith" doesn't automatically mean "only faith," but rather can include other Christian actions. For instance, this forces Protestants to admit that they cannot simply categorize Baptism as a "work". They must either show Baptism is considered a "work" in Paul's mind, or admit that Baptism might very well be implied when Paul talks about faith saving us, such as in Col 2:12-13, "having been buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith".