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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.

2 comments:

Sean Killackey said...

St. Dismas did also rebuke the other theif. One wonders what else he might have said out loud or within his heart.

john church said...

The Good Thief is often employed against the Necessity of Baptism. But think about the passage: St. Ditmas was technically saved under the OLD COVENANT. The New Covenant had yet been consummated by the death of Christ -- much less his Resurrection from the dead and his Ascension into heaven to serve as our high priest. 1 Peter says baptism saves us through the Resurrection of Christ. Given that the Resurrection had not yet occurred, and the Spirit had not yet descended, the ritual of baptism would not yet have possessed its spiritual efficacy of regeneration. In light of these things, /of course/ the Good Thief's case bears no prejudice against the necessity of baptism.