Monday, April 29, 2013

Does Hebrews 6:4-8 refute Calvinism?

Hebrews 6:4-8 is one of those "special" passages in Scripture from which a lot of debates between Calvinists and non-Calvinists have revolved around. This verse is frequently cited against the Calvinist (Reformed) doctrine of "Once Saved, Always Saved" since it mentions apostasy. Calvinists have long been bothered by this text and have sought ways to explain it, but I think the "interpretations" they come up with are pure desperation and ultimately undermine any responsible approach to the rest Scripture.

The passage states:
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
The first thing I'd like to focus on is the start of verse 6 where this Protestant translation (correctly) says "and then have fallen away," since some translations (e.g. KJV) incorrectly include the word "if" such that it reads "if they fall away." This "if" is not in the Greek, and it's either added out of ignorance or out of an agenda to make this sentence conditional rather than an accomplished fact. (Some say the "if" was inserted by the Protestant Reformer Theodore Beza when he saw it refuted his Calvinist theology.) In short, the first thing to recognize in this text is that it is speaking of an apostasy that has taken place, not merely one that might or could. 

Recognizing this first point, since not all Calvinists I've encountered do, the Calvinist who knows better cannot approach this text a hypothetical, and thus they must explain it as someone who was never saved in the first place. But that begs the question and is a very dubious claim considering verses 4-5 cannot be describing anyone but a genuine Christian. And verses 7-8 support this claim as well, giving the analogy of a plot of land that after being watered (graced) can either yield good fruit (meriting heaven) or bad fruit (meriting hell). Lastly, any Calvinist pushing this view would seriously condemn their own assurance since they themselves could "experience" all those same gifts in 4-5 and yet it wouldn't be any indication they themselves were truly saved!

So they must then shift attention to the term "impossible," and from there argue that it cannot be speaking of actual Christians since repentance is never impossible. While it is true that one can always repent as long as God gives them the opportunity, the term "impossible" here can be understood different ways. For example, the term "impossible" could be hyperbolic, meaning used for exaggeration, reflecting how difficult or unlikely it is for someone who has abandoned Christianity to return (Cf "impossible" in Matthew 19:24-26). Or it could mean it is impossible to return to that once pure state you were originally baptized into, having to settle for an inferior/tarnished status among Christians (some great saints never committed a mortal sin). Or it could be referring to the "unforgivable sin," which I discussed on [this post]. Or it could refer to not being able to repent while in the midst of your apostasy, instead requiring some special pardon by the Church clergy (e.g. from excommunication). 

The following interpretation I think makes the most sense. First, the language of this text describing those apostates who "are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt" strongly suggests this was an apostasy actually witnessed by the early Christians. Since this book was written principally to a Jewish Christian audience, or at least a congregation with Judaizing problems, then it's likely they witnessed apostate Christians fall into a Jewish lifestyle (cf Galatians 5:1-4). This 'problem' of 'crucifying Jesus once again' is held as the cause for not being able to repent, which also holds the key for properly interpreting the whole passage. As folks like Jimmy Akin explain, this text is saying these apostates were rejecting Jesus as the true Messiah and thus they were claiming He got what every false Messiah deserves as a fitting punishment and humiliation (i.e. Crucifixion). And once an apostate has gone this far, they're so hardened against Christianity that it's very unlikely ("impossible") they'll ever return.

To summarize the problems with the Calvinist approaches to this verse: (1) there is no IF statement; (2) the tone of the Epistle is practical and reflecting reality, not issuing empty threat "warnings" that are meant to scare but are basically misleading; (3) presuming that the gifts in verses 4-5 cannot be speaking of genuine Christians, when the opposite face-value reading makes the most sense. Ultimately with the last approach you can basically forget any meaningful exegesis from the rest of Scripture because at that point any passage could be "assumed" or argued to not really be speaking of salvation or true believers, which effectively puts traditions of men above the Word of God.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Was Paul speaking of "works in general" or a specific type of works?

Whenever a Catholic points out that Paul was not opposing "works in general" but rather "works of the [Mosiac] Law" (Rom 3:28) Protestants typically point to Ephesians 2:8 and Titus 3:5 as primary examples where Paul can only be speaking of "works in general." But if one examines the context of each of these, they will see that Paul very likely was speaking of "works of the [Mosaic] Law," and I believe responsible exegesis must recognize this.

Consider the context of each of these verses:
Ephesians 2: 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands - 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.

Titus 3: 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. 9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.
Now this is not to say that we are saved by our own works, because we are not (Jn 15:4-6). But that is very different from reading these two texts as saying the "works" Paul has in mind here are "works in general." Clearly, the contexts are speaking of Jewish "works of the [Mosaic] Law." The "works" that are causing distress in these contexts are works that kept the Gentiles in an inferior place before God, outside the Mosaic Covenant and outside the 'superior' Jewish genealogies. For more, see [This Post] where Protestant scholars (finally) admit the term "law" in Paul means "Mosaic Law," not something generic.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why the Protestant Petros/petra argument is a joke.

A Catholic apologist named Sean showed me some good insights about the Petros-petra debate from Matthew 16:18. If you have never heard the Protestant claim, it's basically that when Jesus says "You are Peter [Petros] and upon this Rock [petra]" the Greek word Petros means "little pebble" while petra means "big rock". Thus, the Protestant is arguing that Jesus was not identifying Peter with "Rock," but rather contrasting Peter's littleness with the bigness of the Rock (i.e. Jesus). But this argument is simply ridiculous and desperate, and many Protestant scholars have rightly rejected it as well. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

John Calvin added the word "alone" to James 2:24

Most people are aware that Luther added the word "alone" to Romans 3:28 in his German translation, but few people are aware of an equally pernicious attempt to mess with God's Word done by John Calvin when he inserted the word "alone" into James 2:24. In reality, the word "alone" does not appear in the Greek of James 2:24. If one is going to be faithful to Scripture, a Catholic can no longer say that James opposes "justification by faith alone," because James never speaks of "faith alone" in the first place. But there's good news about this, because once we see why Protestants have continued to follow Calvin by adding the word "alone" to James 2:24, we will be able to refute Luther's heresy all the more easily.

Luther demonized the book of James because Luther rightly saw that James' Epistle was incompatible with Luther's interpretation of Paul's Epistles to the Romans and Galatians. He rightly figured that something had to give, and it made more sense to dispense with James' one Epistle than with all of Paul's writings. John Calvin would likely have rejected James as well, but he realized that something more important was at stake: the integrity of the canon of Scripture. Calvin rightly recognized that if Protestants threw out James, then it would be a free-for-all with the canon, which would demolish Sola Scriptura. So Calvin came up with an last ditch effort by adding the word "alone" to James 2:24 and thus (temporarily) saving both key doctrines of Scripture Alone and Justification by Faith Alone.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How the "warning passages" of Scripture end up leading to Calvinism's own apostasy.

One of the most humorous (and maddening) doctrines to discuss with a Calvinist is how Calvinism deals with the subject of apostasy (i.e. falling away from the Christian faith). Since Calvinism teaches that the 'true believer' can never lose his salvation, this naturally leads one to ask how Calvinism deals with the "warning passages" in Scripture. The "warning passages" are all those passages which warn about the danger against turning to sin, particularly grave sins which can cause one to be damned. An excellent example of this is Galatians 5:19-21, where Paul (for the second time) warns the Galatian Christians that if they commit grave sins they will be in jeopardy of not entering the kingdom of Heaven. 

Calvinists approach the "warning passages" with a sort of double standard. On the one hand they say that anyone who commits those sins was probably "never saved in the first place," while on the other hand they admit a 'true Christian' could fall into those sins but that God has pre-forgiven all their sins since the moment of their conversion and justification. (I discuss this inherent-contradiction in my Lordship Salvation post.) But there is yet another damning contradiction to go along with this, and this stems from the fact Protestants in general (and Calvinists in particular) reject the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin

The problem the Calvinist is in is simply this: if there is no distinction between mortal and venial sin, then all sin is equally grave and thus equally damning. And if even Christians sin in "small" things many times each day (Prov 24:16), this leads to the terrifying realization that they're committing damnable sins throughout each day. This error and failure to follow the Church caused Luther to be deeply distressed, and logically so, which in turn was passed onto Calvin and eventually most all Protestants. This forced Luther and Calvin into having to invent the doctrine of the "Imputation of Christ's Righteousness," where Christ's Righteousness would "cover" the believer and effectively hide their daily repeated (mortal) sins from God's sight. Protestants call this God "not imputing" sin, meaning God knows you commit all these grave sins each day, but since you're "covered" by Jesus' righteousness then God will graciously not count you guilty for them. But this only compounds the problem at hand rather than alleviate it. 

Since the Calvinist Christian is committing the very damnable sins warned against in places like Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:3-5, and 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6, the Calvinist really cannot explain how these are "warnings" at all if they're virtually inescapable even by Christians. This all but makes these "warnings" complete jokes and naturally should lead one to reject the Calvinist view in virtue of the fact Calvinism reduces to absurdity on this point. The only way to explain these texts is to recognize the mortal and venial sin distinction, which is why these texts are clearly singling out certain grave sins and not speaking of every sin being damnable. But that would require Protestants to reject Sola Fide, which isn't going to be easy for them to do.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Does the Biblical term "justify" really mean "to declare righteous" (as Protestants teach)?

This post ties into my last post discussing the Biblical teaching on "righteousness." When it comes to justification, Protestant apologists insist that the Biblical term "justify" means "to declare righteous" (in a courtroom setting). More bluntly, Protestants understand the declaration to mean something of the form of "declared by God the judge to have kept the law perfectly." But I think the Protestant argument contains some serious errors and is not built on actual Biblical evidence but rather some unbiblical and faulty assumptions. In this post, I'll show why the Protestant understanding cannot be true and thus should be abandoned.

To begin, the Greek word "justify" appears in about 36 verses in the New Testament. Of all these occurrences, the only time it is used in an explicitly forensic (legal, courtroom) context is in four verses: Mt 12:37; Rom 3:4; 8:33; 1 Cor 4:4. So how do Protestants come to the conclusion that it must mean "declare legally righteous by a judge"? Certainly not from the New Testament evidence, especially since 'forensic terms' don't really appear in places like Romans 3-4 and Galatians 2-3. Turning to the 40 verses of the Old Testament that use the term "justify," there were more occurrences in a legal context than in the New Testament, but still not enough to form any concrete conclusion: Ex 23:7; Deut 25:1; 2 Sam 15:4; 1 Kings 8:32 (same as 2 Chron 6:23); Ps 19:9; 51:4 (quoted in Rom 4:3); Ps 143:2; Prov 17:15. So for a Protestant to say that "justify," especially as Paul uses it in Romans 3-4 and Galatians 2-3, means "declared to be a perfect law keeper by a judge" is by no means an established fact at all.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

How does the Bible define "righteousness"?

The Protestant view of justification largely hinges on their definition of "righteousness." In the Protestant view, to be justified one must be righteous, and to be righteous one must have kept all of God's commandments perfectly. It's akin to needing to score a 100% on the SAT, with anything less than 100% being a complete fail in God's sight. In this post I will go through the Bible and show why the term "righteousness" does not mean "perfect law keeper" or anything similar, which in turn will totally undermine the Protestant understanding of salvation and the Gospel. 

The Greek words for "righteous" ("just") and "righteousness" are used a few hundred times in the Bible, so if the Protestant thesis is true, there should be some clear evidence for it. Most of the occurrences uses the terms "righteous" and "righteousness" in passing, so not much can be gleaned from the bulk of the texts. That said, I did not find a single instance where "righteous" or "righteousness" was tied to perfectly keeping the law or commandments. This means that the Protestant definition does not come from the Bible, and rather from traditions of men. Instead, the notion of being righteous, according to Scripture, simply refers to doing good actions (e.g. Mt 6:1; Acts 10:35; Eph 6:1; 1 Th 2:10; 1 Jn 3:7,12) or having an upright quality about your character (e.g. Mt 1:19; Lk 1:6; 1 Tim 1:9; 1 Pt 3:14). Nothing is ever implied about perfect or flawless obedience

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What does it mean to say Jesus "died for" us? - More problems with Penal Substitution

Calvinists insist that Penal Substitution is proven by the fact the Bible often says that Jesus "died for" us (e.g. 1 Cor 15:3), thinking that this means that Jesus 'took our place' in God's divine 'electric chair'. While that claim is understandable, that is not automatically what we should assume, since to do something "for" another commonly just means "on their behalf," not necessarily in their place. For example, to "pray for" your enemy (Mt 5:44) does not mean you prayed what they were supposed to pray in their place. Rather, it just means you prayed on their behalf (cf Acts 12:5). 

When I looked up the term "for" in Greek, of the 170 times it was used it most often meant something along the lines of "on behalf of," and rarely did it mean "in substitution of" another person.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A discussion on Judeo-Christian monotheism - Steven's Response

Opening Essays: Nick : Steven ::: Concluding Essays: Nick : Steven
*     *     *

I'd like to thank Nick for participating in this discussion, and hope it's allowed the reader to see classical polytheism in a more viable light.

Recall that the resolution was that Judeo-Christian monotheism (as opposed to classical polytheism) is true. In order for Nick to have established this, he must have done a couple of things. First, he'd have to show that a perfect god exists, because if no such god existed, Judeo-Christian monotheism would be false. However, the existence of such a god wouldn't be enough to defeat classical polytheism, since all it claims is that more than one god exists. So, it's entirely compatible with a perfect god existing, just so long as it isn't the only god that exists. Nick’s task was then two-fold: (i) show that a perfect god exists, and (ii) show that no other gods exist. Did he accomplish this?

A discussion on Judeo-Christian monotheism - Nick's Response

Opening Essays: Nick : Steven ::: Concluding Essays: Nick : Steven
*     *     *

In this post I will respond to Steven's case for why the Judeo-Christian God cannot exist.

The way I understand his argument, it is a variation of the age-old "problem of evil" argument in which it is claimed that it is unreasonable to believe there is a God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world. Steven calls his case a "moral argument," with God failing to act in a morally upright manner by letting evils like child abuse take place.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Who killed Jesus? (And why the Resurrection?) - More problems with Penal Substitution

Every Easter the Protestant blogs are full of posts about the Resurrection, and rightfully so. One thing about the Protestant view of the Resurrection of Our Lord has always bothered me though: their view that the Resurrection was essentially nothing more than a 'sales receipt' to show that the Father accepted Jesus' sacrifice. Last year I wrote a brief article on why the Protestant view of Imputation makes the Resurrection of Jesus superfluous, but over the last few days I came to realize another troubling feature about the Protestant view.