Monthly Archives: February 2014

Peter is the Rock

Few texts have been the occasion for the spilling of more ink than Matthew 16:17-19:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

For Catholics, this text is clear. All twelve apostles were present, yet Jesus promised to give to Peter alone the keys of the kingdom, symbolizing the authority of Christ—the authority of heaven—over the kingdom of heaven on Earth, which is the Church. Yet millions of Protestants believe that there is a distinction in meaning in the Greek text between the two “rocks” that would eliminate Peter from consideration for being the rock.

“Thou art petros and upon this petra I will build my church . . .” The first rock, petros, is claimed to refer to a small, insignificant rock: Peter. The second, petra, is claimed to mean a massive boulder: that would be either Jesus or Peter’s confession of faith. The argument concludes Jesus did not build his church upon St. Peter but either upon himself or Peter’s faith.

Below are seven reasons, among many others we could examine, why Peter is undeniably the rock:

1) Matthew, we have pretty solid evidence, was originally written in Aramaic. Both Sts. Papias and Irenaeus tell us as much in the second century. But even more importantly—and more certainly—Jesus would not have spoken his discourse of Matthew 16 in Greek. Greek was the dominant language of the Roman Empire in the first century, but most of the common Jewish folk to whom Jesus spoke would not have been fluent in it. Aramaic was their spoken language.

Moreover, we have biblical evidence—John 1:42—that also points to Jesus using Aramaic specifically in the naming of Peter: “[Andrew] brought [Peter] to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas’” (which means Peter).

The name Cephas is an anglicized form of the Aramaic Kepha, which means simply “rock.” There would have been no “small rock” to be found in Jesus’ original statement to Peter.

Even well-respected Protestant scholars will agree on this point. Baptist scholar D. A. Carson, warites, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary:

[T]he underlying Aramaic is in this case unquestionable; and most probably kepha was used in both clauses (“you are kepha” and “on this kepha”), since the word was used both for a name and for a “rock.” The Peshitta (written in Syriac, a language cognate with a dialect of Aramaic) makes no distinction between the words in the two clauses.

2) In Koine Greek (the dialect of Greek used by the authors of the New Testament), petros and petra are masculine and feminine forms of words with the same root and the same definition—rock. There is no “small rock” to be found in the Greek text, either.

So why did St. Matthew use these two words in the same verse? Petra was a common word used for “rock” in Greek. It’s used fifteen times to mean “rock,” “rocks,” or “rocky” in the New Testament. Petros is an ancient Greek term that was not commonly used in Koine Greek at all. In fact, it was never used in the New Testament, except for Peter’s name after Jesus changed it from Simon to Peter.

It follows that when St. Matthew was translating, he would have used petra for “rock.” However, in so doing, he would have encountered a problem. Petra is a feminine noun. It would have been improper to call Peter Petra. This would be equivalent to calling a male “Valerie” or “Priscilla” in English. Hence, petros was used instead of petra for Peter’s name.

3) There are several words the inspired author could have used for rock or stone in Greek. Petra and lithos were the most common. They could be used interchangeably. A connotation of “large” or “small” with either of them would depend on context. The words simply meant rock or stone.

Craig S. Keener, another Protestant scholar, on page 90 of The IVP Bible Background Commentary of the New Testament, states: “In Greek (here), they (referring to petros and petra) are cognate terms that were used interchangeably by this period…” D. A. Carson points out the big/small distinction did exist in Greek, but is found only in ancient Greek (used from ca. the eighth to the fourth century B.C.), and even there it is mostly confined to poetry. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek (used from ca. the fourth century B.C. to the fifth century A.D.). Carson agrees with Keener and with Catholics that there is no distinction in definition between petros and petra.

One of the most respected and referenced Greek dictionaries among Evangelicals is Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. In a most candid statement about Matthew 16:18, Dr. Oscar Cullman, a contributing editor to this work, writes:

The obvious pun which has made its way into the Greek text . . . suggests a material identity between petra and Petros . . . as it is impossible to differentiate strictly between the two words. . . . Petros himself is this petra, not just his faith or his confession. . . . The idea of the Reformers that he is referring to the faith of Peter is quite inconceivable. . . . For there is no reference here to the faith of Peter. Rather, the parallelism of “thou art Rock” and “on this rock I will build” shows that the second rock can only be the same as the first. It is thus evident that Jesus is referring to Peter, to whom he has given the name Rock. . . . To this extent Roman Catholic exegesis is right and all Protestant attempts to evade this interpretation are to be rejected.

4) If St. Matthew wanted to distinguish “rocks” in the text, he would have most likely used lithos. As stated above, lithos could refer to a large rock, but it was more commonly used to denote a small stone. However, there is a third word St. Matthew could have used that always means small stone: psephos. It is used twice in Rev. 2:17 as “small stone” when Jesus says, “To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.” Here we have one Greek word that unlike lithos and petra always has a connotation of “small stone,” or “pebble.”

5) A simpler line of reasoning gets away from original languages and examines the immediate context of the passage. Notice our Lord says to St. Peter:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Seven times Jesus uses the second person personal pronoun in just three verses. It just doesn’t make sense for Jesus to address everything to Peter and then in the midst of it all say “But I will build my Church upon me.” The context is one of Jesus communicating a unique authority to Peter.

Further, Jesus is portrayed as the builder of the Church, not the building. He said, “I will build my church.” Jesus is “the wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Matt. 7:24) in Matthew’s Gospel. Once again, it just does not fit the context to have Jesus building the Church upon himself. He’s building it upon Peter.

6) A lot of folks miss the significance of Simon’s name change to Peter. When God revealed to certain of his people a new and radical calling in Scripture, he sometimes changed their names. In particular, we find this in the calling of the Patriarchs. Abram (“exalted father” in Hebrew) was changed to Abraham (“father of the multitudes”). Jacob (“supplanter”) to Israel (“One who prevails with God”). In fact, there is a very interesting parallel here between Abraham and St. Peter in Isaiah 51:1-2:

Hearken to me, you who pursue deliverance, you who seek the Lord; look to the rock from which you were hewn. . . . Look to Abraham your father.

Jesus here makes St. Peter a true “father” over the household of faith, just as God made Abraham our true “father” in the Faith (cf. Romans 4:1-18; James 2:21). Hence, it is fitting that Peter’s successors are called “pope” or “papa,” as was Abraham (cf. Luke 16:24).

7) When we understand that Christ is the true “son of David” who came to establish the prophetic “Kingdom of David,” we understand that Christ in Matthew 16, like the King of Israel, was establishing a “prime minister” among his ministers—the apostles—in the Kingdom. Isaiah 22:15-22 gives us insight into the ministry of the “prime minister” in ancient Israel:

Thus says the Lord God of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him . . . Behold the Lord will hurl you away violently. . . . I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station. In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the House of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

In Revelation 1:18, Jesus declares, “I have the keys of Death and Hades.” He then quotes this very text from Isaiah in Revelation 3:7:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens.”

No Christian would deny Jesus is the King who possesses the keys. Who does he give the keys to? Peter!

In my next post, I will give you proof from texts other than Matt. 16:18-19 that St. Peter was “the rock,” the foundation, “first,” or “chief” among the apostles, and shepherd of both the other shepherds and the sheep gathered by Jesus Christ and revealed to be his body, the Church. But if you want to dig deeper into what I’ve presented here, click here.

 

An Amazing Apostolic Work – Not Mine!

Those of you who have been reading this blog since its inception, you know we are the new kids on the block. We just launched this blog back in July, 2013.

To get things started, I have been focusing on some basic, biblical apologetics, which should not be much of a surprise to those who know me. That represents a good chunk of what I do as Director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers here in San Diego, CA.

And BTW, stay tuned because we really haven’t even scratched the scratch on the surface compared to what we have planned for the coming months and years when it comes to biblical apologetics.

But you should also know that we plan much more than just this. We are going to tackle scientific matters as they relate to our Catholic Faith, philosophy, theology, history, and this is not to mention the more “fun stuff,” like movies, sports, popular culture, not so popular culture, politics, news, and more.

Now to the real reason for this post. There is another thing that we have not done to date on this blog, and that’s the promotion of other people, apostolates, etc. There are many reasons why we haven’t done this yet, one of which is we wanted more than three people reading the blog before we do it, but I would like to point you in the direction of an amazing work that is being done by Mr. Chris Stefanick of RealLifeCatholic.com

Chris has a truly extraordinary gift when it comes to reaching young people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in particular, with the message that every human being that has ever been conceived is infinitely loved by an infinitely loving God.

But let me shut up now and you go to:

If you don’t know about Chris yet, you should. But check out this video and more at his website and I think you will know precisely what I mean.

Is Confession Biblical?

The Lord declares in Isaiah 43:25:

I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Psalm 103:2-3 adds:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases…

Many will use these verses against the idea of confession to a priest. God forgiving sins, they will claim, precludes the possibility of there being a priest who forgives sins. Further, Hebrews 3:1 and 7:22-27 tell us Jesus is, “the… high priest of our confession” and that there are not “many priests,” but one in the New Testament—Jesus Christ. Moreover, if Jesus is the “one mediator between God and men” (I Tim. 2:5), how can Catholics reasonably claim priests act in the role of mediator in the Sacrament of Confession?

BEGINNING WITH THE OLD

The Catholic Church acknowledges what Scripture unequivocally declares: it is God who forgives our sins. But that is not the end of the story. Leviticus 19:20-22 is equally unequivocal:

If a man lies carnally with a woman… they shall not be put to death… But he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the Lord… And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin which he has committed; and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him.

Apparently, a priest being used as God’s instrument of forgiveness did not somehow take away from the fact that it was God who did the forgiving. God was the first cause of the forgiveness; the priest was the secondary, or instrumental cause. Thus, God being the forgiver of sins in Isaiah 43:25 and Psalm 103:3 in no way eliminates the possibility of there being a ministerial priesthood established by God to communicate his forgiveness.

OUT WITH THE OLD

Many Protestants will concede the point of priests acting as mediators of forgiveness in the Old Testament. “However,” they will claim, “The people of God had priests in the Old Testament. Jesus is our only priest in the New Testament.” The question is: could it be that “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) did something similar to that which he did, as God, in the Old Testament? Could he have established a priesthood to mediate his forgiveness in the New Testament?

IN WITH THE NEW

Just as God empowered his priests to be instruments of forgiveness in the Old Testament, the God/man Jesus Christ delegated authority to his New Testament ministers to act as mediators of reconciliation as well. Jesus made this remarkably clear in John 20:21-23:

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Having been raised from the dead, our Lord was here commissioning his apostles to carry on with his work just before he was to ascend to heaven. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” What did the Father send Jesus to do? All Christians agree he sent Christ to be the one true mediator between God and men. As such, Christ was to infallibly proclaim the Gospel (cf. Luke 4:16-21), reign supreme as King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Rev. 19:16); and especially, he was to redeem the world through the forgiveness of sins (cf. I Peter 2:21-25, Mark 2:5-10).

The New Testament makes very clear that Christ sent the apostles and their successors to carry on this same mission. To proclaim the gospel with the authority of Christ (cf. Matthew 28:18-20), to govern the Church in His stead (cf. Luke 22:29-30), and to sanctify her through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist (cf. John 6:54, I Cor. 11:24-29) and for our purpose here, Confession.

John 20:22-23 is nothing more than Jesus emphasizing one essential aspect of the priestly ministry of the apostles: To Forgive men’s sins in the person of Christ— “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained.” Moreover, auricular confession is strongly implied here. The only way the apostles could either forgive or retain sins is by first hearing those sins confessed, and then making a judgment whether or not the penitent should be absolved.

TO FORGIVE OR TO PROCLAIM?

Many Fundamentalists claim John 20:23 must be viewed as Christ simply repeating “the great commission” of Matthew 28:19 and Luke 24:47 using different words that mean the same thing:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

… and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations…

Commenting on John 20:23 in his book, Romanism—The Relentless Roman Catholic Assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! (White Horse Publications, Huntsville Alabama, 1995), p. 100, Protestant Apologist Robert Zins writes:

It is apparent that the commission to evangelize is tightly woven into the commission to proclaim forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ.

Mr. Zin’s claim is that John 20:23 is not saying the apostles would forgive sins; rather, that they would merely proclaim the forgiveness of sins. The only problem with this theory is it runs head-on into the text of John 20. “If you forgive the sins of any… if you retain the sins of any.” The text cannot say it any clearer: this is more than a mere proclamation of the forgiveness of sins—this “commission” of the Lord communicates the power to actually forgive the sins themselves.

FREQUENT CONFESSION

The next question for many upon seeing the plain words of St. John is, “Why don’t we hear any more about Confession to a priest in the rest of the New Testament?” The fact is: we don’t need to. How many times does God have to tell us something before we’ll believe it? He only gave us the proper form for baptism once (Matt. 28:19), and yet all Christians accept this teaching.

But be that as it may, there are multiple texts that deal with Confession and the forgiveness of sins through the New Covenant minister. I will cite just a few of them:

II Cor. 2:10:

 And to whom you have pardoned anything, I also.  For, what I have pardoned, if I have pardoned anything, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ (DRV).

Many may respond to this text by quoting modern Bible translations, e.g., the RSVCE:

What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ (emphasis added).

St. Paul, it is argued, is simply forgiving someone in the way any layperson can forgive someone for wrongs committed against him. The Greek word—prosopon—can be translated either way. And I should note here that good Catholics will argue this point as well. This is an understandable and valid objection. However, I do not concur with it for four reasons:

1. Not only the Douay-Rheims, but the King James Version of the Bible—which no one would accuse of being a Catholic translation—translates prosopon as “person.”

2. The early Christians, who spoke and wrote in Koine Greek, at the Councils of Ephesus (AD 431) and Chalcedon (AD 451), used prosopon to refer to the “person” of Jesus Christ.

3. Even if one translates the text as St. Paul pardoning “in the presence of Christ,” the context still seems to indicate that he forgave the sins of others. And notice: St. Paul specifically said he was not forgiving anyone for offenses committed against him (see II Cor. 2:5). Any Christian can and must do this. He said he did the forgiving “for [the Corinthian’s] sakes” and “in the person (or presence) of Christ.” The context seems to indicate he is forgiving sins that do not involve him personally.

4. Just three chapters later, St. Paul gives us the reason why he could forgive the sins of others: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:18). Some will argue that “the ministry of reconciliation” of verse 18 is identical to “the message of reconciliation” in verse 19. In other words, St. Paul is simply referring to a declarative power here. I don’t agree. I argue St. Paul uses distinct terms precisely because he is referring to more than just “the message of reconciliation,” but the same ministry of reconciliation that was Christ’s. Christ did more than just preach a message; he also forgave sins.

James 5:14-17:

Is any one among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain… and… it did not rain…

When it comes to one “suffering;” St. James says, “Let him pray.” “Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise.” But when it comes to sickness and personal sins, he tells his readers they must go to the “elders”—not just anyone—in order to receive this “anointing” and the forgiveness of sins.

Some will object and point out that verse 16 says to confess our sins “to one another” and pray “for one another.” Is not James just encouraging us to confess our sins to a close friend so we can help one another to overcome our faults?

The context seems to disagree with this interpretation for two main reasons:

1. St. James had just told us to go to the presbyter in verse 14 for healing and the forgiveness of sins. Then, verse 16 begins with the word therefore—a conjunction that would seem to connect verse 16 back to verses 14 and 15. The context seems to point to the “elder” as the one to whom we confess our sins.

2. Ephesians 5:21 employs this same phrase. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” But the context limits the meaning of “to one another” specifically to a man and wife—not just anyone. Similarly, the context of James 5 would seem to limit the confession of faults “to one another” to the specific relationship between “anyone” and the “elder” or “priest” (Gr.—presbuteros).

ONE PRIEST OR MANY?

A major obstacle to Confession for many Protestants (me included when I was Protestant) is that it presupposes a priesthood. As I said above, Jesus is referred to in Scripture as “the apostle and high priest of our confession.” The former priests were many in number, as Hebrews 7:23 says, now we have one priest—Jesus Christ. The question is: how does the idea of priests and confession fit in here? Is there one priest or are there many?

I Peter 2:5-9 gives us some insight:

… and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…

If Jesus is the one and only priest in the New Testament in a strict sense, then we have a contradiction in Sacred Scripture. This, of course, is absurd.  I Peter plainly teaches all believers to be members of a holy priesthood. Priest/believers do not take away from Christ’s unique priesthood, rather, as members of his body they establish it on earth.

FULL AND ACTIVE PARTICIPATIO

If one understands the very Catholic and very biblical notion of participatio, these problematic texts and others become relatively easy to understand. Yes, Jesus Christ is the “one mediator between God and men” just as I Tim. 2:5 says. The Bible is clear. Yet, Christians are also called to be mediators in Christ. When we intercede for one another or share the Gospel with someone, we act as mediators of God’s love and grace in the one true mediator, Christ Jesus, via the gift of participatio in Christ, the sole mediator between God and men (see I Timothy 2:1-7, I Timothy 4:16, Romans 10:9-14). All Christians, in some sense, can say with St.   Paul, “…it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (Gal. 2:20)

PRIESTS AMONG PRIESTS

If all Christians are priests, then why do Catholics claim a ministerial priesthood essentially distinct from the universal priesthood? The answer is: God willed to call out a special priesthood among the universal priesthood to minister to his people. This concept is literally as old as Moses.

When St. Peter taught us about the universal priesthood of all believers, he specifically referred to Exodus 19:6 where God alluded to ancient Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” St. Peter reminds us that there was a universal priesthood among the Old Testament people of God just as in the New Testament. But this did not preclude the existence of a ministerial priesthood within that universal priesthood (see Exodus 19:22, Exodus 28, and Numbers 3:1-12).

In an analogous way, we have a universal “Royal Priesthood” in the New Testament, but we also have an ordained clergy who have priestly authority given to them by Christ to carry out his ministry of reconciliation as we have seen.

TRULY AWESOME AUTHORITY

A final couple of texts we will consider are Matt. 16:19 and 18:18. Specifically, we’ll examine the words of Christ to Peter and the apostles: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” As CCC 553 says, Christ here communicated not only authority “to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church,” but also “the authority to absolve sins” to the apostles.

These words are unsettling, even disturbing, to many. And understandably so. How could God give such authority to men? And yet he does. Jesus Christ, who alone has the power to open and shut heaven to men, clearly communicated this authority to the apostles and their successors. This is what the forgiveness of sins is all about: to reconcile men and women with their heavenly Father. CCC 1445 puts it succinctly:

The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to learn more, click here.

Did the Catholic Church Remove One of the Ten Commandments?

My mother recently sent me an email from a friend who was being challenged by an Evangelical to re-consider her Catholicism. He claimed the Catholic Church had perniciously omitted what he referred to as the second commandment—“You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4)—in order to keep the Catholic faithful in darkness as to the truth that they should not have statues in their churches. Despite appearances, we know Exodus 20 is not a prohibition against making “any likeness of anything” in a strict sense because we clearly see God either commanding or praising the making of images and statues in multiple biblical texts (see Numbers 21:8-9; I Kings 6:23-28; 9:3). Just five chapters after this so-called prohibition against statues, for example, God commands Moses to make statues representing two angels to be placed over the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant:

And you shall make two cherubim of gold… The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another…. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark… There I will meet with you (Ex. 25:18-22).

There are five key points to be made concerning this common misunderstanding among Protestants as well as many quasi-Christian sects.

1. Exodus 20:4 is part of the first commandment that begins in verse 3 and stretches through part of verse five:

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.

Verses 3 and 5 make clear that this commandment is not simply condemning making statues; It is condemning making gods that you bow down to or serve. In a word, this first commandment forbids idolatry, i.e., the adoration of anything or anyone other than God. The Catholic Church condemns this as well.

2. By lifting out part of the first commandment appearing to prohibit the making of “any likeness of anything,” not only do you have God contradicting himself in later commanding the making of statues, but you also end up making the first two commandments repetitive. They are both essentially condemning idolatry.

3. Though the commandments are said to be “ten” in Exodus 34:28, they are not numbered by the inspired authors of Sacred Scripture. If you count the “you shall nots” along with the “you shalls” of keeping holy the Sabbath and honoring father and mother, you end up with 13 commandments. So the actual numbering of the commandments depends upon which “you shall nots” you lump together as one commandment and which ones you separate. And in the end, which “you shall nots” you lump together depends upon your theology.

4. We believe the Catholic Church alone has the authority to give to God’s people an authoritative list of the Ten Commandments. And the Catechism of the Catholic Church does exactly that. At least, it gives us a list as a sure norm for us.

5. The problem with creating a second “commandment” where there actually is not one really comes to the fore at the bottom of the list. The common Protestant listing of the Ten Commandments combines coveting your neighbor’s wife, the Catholic ninth commandment, with coveting your neighbor’s property, the Catholic tenth commandment. And really it just can’t be any other way because you run out of room. I can’t imagine many women being happy with being equated to property! Some may argue at this point: “Well, that is what the Old Testament teaches. We’re just going with what the inspired author teaches.” Are you really? Let’s take a look. Now, it is true that Exodus 20’s version of the 10 commandments appears to place both women and servants in the place of property.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

I say it “appears” to do so because Genesis 1:26-27 does reveal God himself to have said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” There is an essential equality between male and female revealed even in the Old Testament, though this revelation is not as clear and unambiguous as what we have in the New Testament. Exodus 20 certainly does anything but add to the clarity of the point. When I say the revelation of this essential equality is not as clear in the Old Testament, we need to understand why this is so. The Old Testament consists of 46 books written over a period of ca. 1500 years, representing a progressive revelation. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets.” The Greek word for “many ways” is polumeros, which means “in many portions;” God gave his revelation in piecemeal fashion over the centuries, taking an ancient people right where they were and gradually beginning to reveal more and more truth as they were able to receive it and as he gradually gave them more and more grace to be able to receive it, all the while respecting their freedom. “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son…” (Galatians 4:4) to communicate the fullness of the revelation God willed for his people. For example, the divorce God permitted in Deut. 24:1-4, he later says “[he] hates” in Malachi 2:16. And when Jesus elevated marriage to the level of sacrament eliminating divorce and remarriage absolutely in Matt. 19:5-6, he explained that this allowance by God through Moses was never intended from the very beginning citing Genesis 2:24, “the two shall become one flesh.” God permitted things early that he would not have ever willed in an antecedent sense as he helped his people to grow much like a parent does not treat a four year-old the same as he would treat a fourteen year-old. In a similar way, though God revealed the essential equality of man and woman very early in salvation history (Gen. 1:26-27), this revelation was given by God to an ancient people who did not have the same understanding of the essential equality of man and woman we so often take for granted given the fullness of revelation we have enjoyed in the New Covenant for 2,000 years. God did not expect his people to change immediately, nor did he give them the fullness of the revelation that we have in Christ all at once; rather, he helped them along as we’ve said. In fact, we can see this development of understanding even in the Old Testament itself. We cited the earlier version of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, but notice the change by the time God gave his people Deuteronomy:

Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox. Or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

The inspired author of Deuteronomy now makes the distinction between wife and property sharper by using two different Hebrew words for “covet” and “desire” and by only using the word “covet” with regard to the wife. The two separate commandments now become undeniable. We’ll leave the discussion of the status of the servants for another blog post!

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Catholic, Are You Born Again?

Have you been born again, my friend?” Thousands of Catholics have been asked this question by well-meaning Fundamentalists or Evangelicals. Of course, by “born again” the Protestant usually means: “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior through the recitation of ‘the sinner’s prayer?’” How is a Catholic to respond?

The simple Catholic response is: “Yes, I have been born again—when I was baptized.” In fact, Jesus’ famous “born again” discourse of John 3:3-5, which is where we find the words “born again” (or “born anew”) in Scripture, teaches us about the essential nature of baptism:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

At this point, a Fundamentalist or Evangelical will respond almost predictably: “Baptism does not save you, brother; John 3:5 says we must be born of water and the Spirit.” The Catholic will then be told the “water” of John 3:5 has nothing to do with baptism. Depending on the preference of the one to whom the Catholic is speaking, the “water” will either be interpreted as man’s natural birth (the “water” being amniotic fluid), and “the Spirit” would then represent the new birth, or the water would represent the word of God through which one is born again when he accepts Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.

Amniotic Fluid vs. Baptismal Water

To claim the “water” of John 3:5 is amniotic fluid is to stretch the context just a smidgen! When we consider the actual words and surrounding context of John 3, the waters of baptism seem to be the more reasonable—and biblical—interpretation. Consider these surrounding texts:

John 1:31-34: Jesus was baptized. If you compare the parallel passage in St. Matthew’s gospel (3:16), you find that when Jesus was baptized, “the heavens were opened” and the Spirit descended upon him. Obviously, this was not because Jesus needed to be baptized. In fact, St. John the Baptist noted that he needed to be baptized by Jesus (see Matthew 3:14)! Jesus was baptized in order “fulfill all righteousness” and “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,” according to Scripture (cf. Matt. 3:15; Luke 1:77). In other words, Jesus demonstrably showed us the way the heavens would be opened to us so that the Holy Spirit would descend upon us… through baptism.

John 2:1-11: Jesus performed his first miracle. He transformed water into wine. Notice, Jesus used water from “six stone jars … for the Jewish rites of purification.” According to the Septuagint as well as the New Testament these purification waters were called baptismoi (see LXX, Numbers 19:9-19; cf. Mark 7:4). We know that Old Testament rites, sacrifices, etc. were only “a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). They could never take away sins. This may well be why “six” stone jars are specified by St. John—to denote imperfection, or “a human number” (cf. Rev. 13:18). It is interesting to note that Jesus transformed these Old Testament baptismal waters into wine—a symbol of New Covenant perfection (see Joel 3:18; Matthew 9:17).

John 3:22: Immediately after Jesus’ “born again” discourse to Nicodemus, what does He do? “… Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized.” It appears he baptized folks. This is the only time in Scripture we find Jesus apparently actually baptizing.

John 4:1-2: Jesus’ disciples then begin to baptize at Jesus’ command. It appears from the text, Jesus most likely only baptized his disciples and then they baptized everyone else.

In summary, Jesus was baptized, transformed the “baptismal” waters, and then gave his famous “born again” discourse. He then baptized before commissioning the apostles to go out and baptize. To deny Jesus was teaching us about baptism in John 3:3-5 is to ignore the clear biblical context.

Moreover, John 3:5 is not describing two events; it describes one event. The text does not say “unless one is born of water and then born again of the Spirit…” It says “unless one is born of water and Spirit…” If we hearken back to the Lord’s own baptism in John 1 and Matt. 3, we notice when our Lord was baptized the Holy Spirit descended simultaneously upon him. This was one event, involving both water and the Spirit. And so it is with our baptism. If we obey God in being baptized—that’s our part of the deal—we can count on God to concurrently “open the heavens” for us and give us the Holy Spirit.

And finally, it would be anachronistic to read into Jesus’ use of “water” to mean physical birth in John’s gospel. In fact, St. John had just used a word to refer to physical birth in John 1:12-13, but it wasn’t “water:”

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

St. John here tells us we are not made children of God by birth (“of blood”), or by our own attempts whether they be through our lower nature (“of the flesh”) or even through the higher powers of our soul (“the will of man”); rather, we must be born of God, or by God’s power. Notice, St. John refers to natural birth colloquially as “of blood,” not “of water.”

Washing of Water by the Word

It is perhaps an even greater stretch to attempt to claim the “water” of John 3:3-5 represents the word of God. At least with the amniotic fluid argument, you have mention of “birth” in the immediate context. However, the Protestant will sometimes refer to Ephesians 5:25-26 and a few other texts to make this point:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word…

“See?” a Protestant may say, “The ‘washing of water’ is here equated to ‘the word’ that cleanses us.” If you couple this text with Jesus’ words in John 15:3, “You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you,” the claim is made, that “the water” of John 3:5 would actually refer to the word of God rather than baptism.

The Catholic Response

Beyond the obvious fact that there is nothing in the context of John’s gospel to even remotely point to “water” as referring to ”the word,” we can point out immediately a point of agreement. Both Catholics and Protestants agree that Jesus’ words—unless one is born anew (or, again)—speak of man’s initial entrance into the body of Christ through God’s grace. Perhaps it would be helpful at this point to ask what the New Testament writers saw as the instrument whereby one first enters into Christ. This would be precisely what we are talking about when we speak of being “born again.”

I Peter 3:20-21: “… in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Romans 6:3-4: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were indeed buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

Galatians 3:27: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

I Cor. 12:13: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit (See also Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16 and Col. 2:11-13).

If baptism is the way the unsaved are brought into Christ, no wonder Christ spoke of being “born of water and spirit.” Baptism is the instrument of new birth according to the New Testament.

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