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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".

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Does Philemon 1:18 support (Double) Imputation?

As I was responding to objections in the comment box on my recent Imputation (Logizomai) article, I realized a truly devastating argument that I had not noticed before. Within that article, I had documented numerous well-respected, conservative Reformed Theologians who made Philemon 1:18 a chief proof-text for Imputation. All this time, I didn't give it much thought though, because Philemon doesn't use the crucial word Logozmai. But now I realize that the better approach is to take Philemon 1:18 head on, and even embrace it!  

Saturday, April 4, 2020

TRULY Understanding Jehovah's Witnesses

The Jehovah's Witnesses are one of the few groups happily excited about the Covid pandemic, because they see it as a "Biblical sign" we are most likely facing the end of the world, which they've been eagerly expecting to come within our lifetime.

Over the past year I've had a series of discussions with a devout, very intelligent Jehovah's Witness and I began to understand more fully their position. I think that accurately understanding the opposing side is very important in apologetics, because then you know what they're thinking and how best to address their claims. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be much quality Catholic or Protestant apologetics material on the JWs, except for some brief 'gotcha' questions that don't really have much substance (and wont make much of an impact). For this post I want to outline the JW mindset, which will allow you to then see the world and Bible as a JW does. This is a very different approach than the standard apologetic of proving the Trinity to a JW, which is a significant issue but not really the key issue. I'm not kidding when I say the Trinity is NOT a primary issue in the mind of JWs. So we must stop wasting time on the wrong issues.

The real driving issue within the mind of a JW is that Jesus is going to return literally any day now to banish all evil and establish a literal 1,000 year kingdom on earth wherein all of us will live in peace. The JWs think that they unlocked a Biblical prophecy which they claim predicts Jesus' return within our very lifetime, literally any day now. Because of this, the JW mindset is that of getting ready and sounding the alarm to anyone who will listen. Think about it: If you knew that Jesus was for sure going to return tomorrow, you would absolutely change your behavior. You would do whatever it took to be ready and to warn others, and you would be exceedingly frustrated and sad to see all the people who didn't seem to care. With this actual JW mindset in mind, we can now think about how to effectively talk to them, using the themes I'll now discuss.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Imputation (Logizomai) & Genesis 15:6 (Romans 4)

Below is my article on Imputation that I wrote back in 2012 and was hosted on a popular Catholic blog that recently went defunct. I made slight edits to it, but otherwise no substantial changes. It is one of the most thorough articles on Imputation and the Greek word Logizomai that I'm aware of. I highly recommend Catholics learn this information, because it will greatly improve your apologetics when talking with Protestants. In fact, there is no Protestant response to this, because I quote almost 50 top Protestant theologians/sources admitting Imputation is nowhere clearly taught in the Bible!

Monday, March 9, 2020

A closer look at St Paul's "none are righteous" (Romans 3:9-20)

A common understanding of the first three chapters of the Epistle to the Romans is to see it as Paul's case for the 'universal sinfulness of mankind' (as some refer to it). This way Paul can then get his audience recognizing their need for salvation, and thus lay the groundwork for presenting us the Gospel. This interpretation quite understandable, and somewhat correct, but I've come to a more nuanced reading of the text that I think better explains the arguments Paul is making. What I'm about to present isn't my own invention, but rather an interpretation that has been widely known from even among the early Church Fathers.

I think the popular take on Romans 3:9-20 is missing the larger point Paul is trying to make. In Romans 3 when Paul says “none are righteous” and “no one seeks after God” and “all have sinned,” I don’t think he is so much concerned about individual sinfulness as he is about corporate sinfulness. This might not seem like a big deal, but if we are truly aiming for solid exegesis we cannot afford to be sloppy and reading things only at the surface level.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Are all of our works really just filthy rags before God? (Isaiah 64:6)

In this Quickie Apologetics post, I will take a look at one of the most abused passages of Scripture which I routinely see Protestants quote in "support" of Faith Alone theology. That passage, or better yet thought fragment, is from Isaiah 64:6, which says:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
The first thing to notice here is that there has to be some context to this. The idea that you can just lift a phrase like "all our righteous deeds are filthy rags" and turn this into some universal principle is just outrageous. It is anti-Biblical when a person can just take a snippet of the Bible and build theology around it. This embarrassing approach to God's Word is found in Protestantism at all levels, but especially the moderately-educated folks who think they actually are being true to God's Word. Such an approach makes the very idea of "righteous acts" completely meaningless when used elsewhere in Scriptur if there's really nothing righteous about them. But can we honestly say that nobody in the Bible has ever done a righteous act? I'm sure some Protestants would love to make such a claim, but that just shows their agenda has no actual intention of taking God's Word seriously. 

Now for the dagger. Let's be true Christians (i.e. Catholics) who actually love the Bible and just take a look at the context, just one verse prior:
5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
Here, Isaiah says God is pleased when people do righteous deeds and remember God's commandments. This is impossible if their good deeds are always filthy before God. Surely no Protestant is desperate enough to nullify this text in favor of the next verse. If that's the case, then you really cannot dialog with someone who isn't interested in real exegesis. The truth is, the plain teaching of this chapter is that it is speaking specifically of the Israelites who had turned to continual sinful living, hence "in our sins we have been a long time". In other words, they've made it a habit of sinful living, so much so that their good deeds don't amount to anything. If you're only doing good deeds externally while internally full of corruption, those good deeds don't amount to anything. Of if you decide to be on bad behavior all year but decide to start doing good when you know punishment is coming, then those good deeds are a mockery. If a husband is living in an adulterous relationship, then any good deeds he does for his actual wife are worthless and an insult to her. It's like when a child repeatedly misbehaves and only turns to good behavior when the parent gets upset and comes over.

So the next time a Protestant tries to quote "all our righteous deeds are filthy rags" at you, know that (1) their Biblical credibility is gone, and (2) just quote the prior verse.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Did the claims of Jesus shock anyone? If Yes, then so should the claims of His Church!

This is a "Quickie Apologetics" post.

Someone recently showed me a fascinating comment from the Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on "Antichrist," where Saint John Henry Newman made the argument: 
If the Church must suffer like Christ, and if Christ was called Beelzebub, the true Church must expect a similar reproach; thus, the Papal-Antichrist theory becomes an argument in favor of the Roman Church.
Isn't it interesting how only the Catholic Church ever seems to be the target of such insults and charges by both the secular world and Protestantism and even Eastern Orthodox? It's not surprising though, given that the size, history, and influence of Catholicism means some major superpower is behind it all. The only options on the table are either God or Satan. There's no middle ground. And yet given the many saints (e.g. St Therese of Lisieux, Francis of Assisi) and firm commitment to morals (e.g. the only institution which teaches contraception is sinful), it is highly unlikely that Satan is behind it all. In fact, what we see among Protestants is far more the marks of Satan, if we are being honest (e.g. divisions, no unity on doctrine, no infant baptism, Eucharist is optional/symbolic, there are no saints that stand out, caved in on various moral issues, once saved always saved).

A friend noted that Peter Kreeft makes a similar point about the claims of Christ. If the claims of Christ were shocking to his audience, then the claims of his church also must be: One True Church, Papal Primacy, Papal Infallibility, ability to forgive or retain sins, indulgences, canonization, anathemas, etc. Such "arrogance" by Jesus should also be no surprise coming from Jesus' true Church. And yet, which of the many Protestants are 'brave enough' to make such claims about themselves? Few, if any.

I wrote an apologetics article (HERE) about the Antichrist charge by the Calvinist/Reformed camp, but I've also recently found that the Confessional Lutherans make the same claims, so the arguments work also against them. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Not by works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. Does Romans 11:6 refute Catholicism?

As I continue to address the top Protestant proof-texts for Justification By Faith Alone, I now come to the famous passage in Romans 11:6 where Paul says: "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace." Protestants have traditionally pointed to this text as decisive proof that if our human efforts played any part of our salvation, it would nullify grace. That's a pretty serious charge, and it does seem to be what Paul is saying, so it's definitely worth looking into more. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that Catholicism teaches we are saved by Faith Alone, while it is Protestants who teach we are saved by Works Alone (apart from faith and grace). See HERE for one of many times I've addressed this. Given this, the goal of this analysis of Romans 11:6 is not to argue that works save us. Rather, the goal is to discern what Paul is actually trying to teach, so we can better appreciate his lessons. 

The second thing to keep in mind is that, from the many articles I've written on the subject of "works," it should be clear by now that it is referring to "works of the Mosaic Law," which separated the Israelite lineage from the pagan nations. (See HERE and HERE for recent articles.) God wanted the Israelite race to remain segregated from the Gentiles, so as to one day vindicate His promise that the Messiah would come from Abraham's biological lineage. The various commands from the Old Testament were meant to make Israel a "light to the nations" (Gentiles), which would be impossible if the Israelites were living just as pagan of lifestyles as the Gentiles. This fact means that "works" were never about "working your way into heaven," as has unfortunately become the common understanding from a surface-level understanding of Paul's writings. 

Given the above, we should expect the proper understanding of Romans 11:6 to be about God saving people apart from their ethnic lineage, namely saving a person regardless if they are biologically Jewish. But for apologetic's purposes, we obviously have to confront the popular Protestant reading, so that's what we'll do now. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Not by works "so that no one may boast"? (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I talk a lot about Protestant proof texts, but by far the most popular is Ephesians 2:8-9. As readers know, I don't ever advocate running to James 2:24, but rather address Protestant proof texts head on. So in this post, we will look at how to use Ephesians 2:8-9 against the Protestant position, to not only disarm them of their precious few proof texts, but also prove the Catholic position.

Most Catholics will try to 'counter' a Protestant appeal to Ephesians 2:8-9 by pointing to 2:10, where Paul says God prepared us to do good works. They think that since Paul says "good works" in the next verse, that "good works" are part of being saved in verse 2:8. But I don't think this is a good argument to make, since we cannot have Paul contradicting himself by suggesting we are not saved by works but then we are. It's more reasonable to say Paul is putting these "good works" in a stage of your life that comes after being "saved". Rather, I think the true understanding of Eph 2:8-9 comes through understanding what Paul means by "so that no one may boast".