Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Man-God – Jesus Christ

How many of you have been reading the newspaper on a Saturday morning when the doorbell rings. Answering the door, you discover two very nicely dressed young men with briefcases, Bibles, and copies of the Watchtower Magazine. If you invited them into your home and dialogued with them for any length of time, you probably encountered a heavy dose of what is considered to be the distinguishing tenet of the Jehovah’s Witness religion: Their belief that Jesus Christ is not God. He was God’s first and most perfect creation and God’s agent in creating the universe, but he was not God. And after he became incarnate, he was simply a man.

John 14:28:

You heard me say to you, “I go away, and I will come to you.” If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.

This is one of the most popular verses used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to prove their points. In a dialogue with a Witness, he may well begin his assault on Catholic Christology with this verse. “Catholics claim Jesus is equal with God? Jesus seems to disagree here in John 14:28?”

There are actually two legitimately Catholic and biblical ways of approaching this text. First, we could note that one person being “greater” than another does not necessarily mean he is ontologically or essentially greater than the other like a man is essentially greater than a monkey. Greatness can refer to one person functioning in a greater way quantitatively. Matthew 11:11 tells us there has never “risen among [men] a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Because John is “greater” than other humans, is he something more than human?

Likewise, because the text says those in heaven are greater than even John, are they essentially different from John? No, all involved in the text are essentially human. Men may be said to be greater or lesser pertaining to their degree of blessedness. In a similar way, the Father can be said to be “greater” than the Son pertaining to their eternal relation within the inner life of God, but not as to their essence. “Everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born …” (CCC para. 246).

A second way of looking at this text is to recognize Jesus is speaking as fully human, or from his human experience. And this makes sense because in the very same verse of John 14:28, Jesus had just said, “You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you…” speaking of his death and resurrection. Thus, it would be entirely appropriate for Christ to say as man, “the Father is greater than [he is],” while as God, he is “equal with God” (cf. Phil. 2:5; John 5:18; John 1:1-3, etc.).

John 17:3

And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.

Jesus cannot be God if the Father is “the only true God,” can he?

Well, yes he can.

The fact that Jesus refers to the Father as “the only true God” does not mean Jesus Christ cannot also be “the only true God,” and the Holy Spirit cannot also be “the only true God.” The distinctions between the three persons of the Blessed Trinity are ones of relation, not essence. Each of the three persons is ”the only true God.” They are absolutely one in nature.

Thus, Jesus does not deny he is God in John 17:3. He simply refers to his Father “the one true God.” We Catholics certainly believe the Father is God.

John 20:17

Jesus said to [Mary Magdalene], “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

The question is asked: “How can the Father be ‘his God’ if he is God?” The answer is biblically clear. John 1:14 tells us “the Word was made flesh.” God became man! Jesus is both God and man. Here, he speaks as man and as man he is dependent upon the grace of God (see John 1:14-16) in order to fulfill the supernatural end to which his human nature is called (see Luke 2:51-52; Heb. 5:8-9; 2:10-11). He calls the Father his God because he is his God whom Christ worships, prays to, and needs in his fully human nature just as we do.

The Best Defense: A Good Offense

After having answered these which are some of the very best from the Jehovah’s Witness’ arsenal, it is time to go on the offensive. We have demonstrated that we agree that the Father can be said to be “greater” than the Son. We agree that the Father is the one true God, though we say the Son is as well. And we agree that in his humanity, the Son of Man would have the Father as his God. But none of these things deny Christ’s divinity. We then need to show what the Scriptures teach quite plainly. Jesus is God!

John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God … All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.

In this text, Jesus (the Word) is called “God” and the creator of all things that were created. Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created …” Jesus is plainly said to be God!

The JW will respond by saying the Greek text actually says “… the Word was a god.” Jesus is a god, not the God because the definite article is not used before god (Gr. “theos”) when referring to Jesus.

There are three main problems with this line of reasoning. 1) In order to distinguish the subject of a given sentence, the predicate nominative in Greek does not take the definite article. The lack of article is grammatically necessary in order to know whether “the Word” or “God” is the subject in this verse. 2) The JW’s are inconsistent. They translate the word theos as Jehovah or “the God” numerous times when it does not have the article when it refers to the Father (See Matthew 5:9, 6:24, Luke 1:35, 2:40, John 1:6, 12,13, 18, Romans 1:7, 17,18 and Titus 1:1, just to name a few). And 3) Jesus is referred to as theos with the definite article many times elsewhere in Scripture. For example:

Hebrews 1:8

But to the Son [the Father] saith, “Thy throne, O God (ho theos, the article + theos) is for ever and ever.”

Jesus is not a god here. He is the God.

Titus 2:13:

Looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ (emphasis added).

Not only do we see the definite article before theos, but we see the article + the adjective great. Jesus is not only the God, he is the Great God and our Savior. The Bible is very clear that only Jehovah is both the Great God and our Savior. (See 41:4, 43:3,11, 44:6,8, 45:21, Hos. 13:4, and Luke 1:47.)

John 20:28:

Thomas answered, and said to [Jesus]: My Lord and My God.

The Greek reads the Lord (with definite art.) of me and the God (with definite art.) of me.

I was recently talking with two JW’s about this text and they disagreed with each other. One said, “Thomas said that, not the inspired writer or Jesus.” The implication being, Thomas got a little excited and exaggerated about Jesus. If this were true, it would be blasphemy. Yet, it cannot be because Jesus then blesses Thomas for his belief!

The other Witness said that Thomas referred to Jesus as Lord and then to the Father as God. The problem here is there is no evidence for this in the text. Thomas is directly addressing Jesus.

Revelation 22:6:

And the Lord God (ho kurios ho theosthe Lord the God) of the spirits of the prophets sent his angel to shew his servants the things which must be done shortly.

Who is the Lord God who sent “his angel” in this verse? The JW will say it is Jehovah. Rev. 22:16, just ten verses later, tells us who it is:

I Jesus have sent my angel, to testify to you these things in the Churches.

Jesus is “the Lord God of the spirits of the prophets!”

If you were actually conversing with a couple JW’s and you had presented these texts to them, they would probably be getting a bit ancy by now. My prediction is they would retreat to the safest ground possible. And this could lead in a number of directions, but most likely they would head to one of the most “air-tight” verses (so they think!) demonstrating Catholicism’s errors.

Revelation 3:14:

These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the beginning of the creation of God.

“Jesus is the first created being before all else was created,” they will claim. “Therefore, he is definitely not God.”

Notice, the text does not say he was created. The word translated “beginning” (arche) is used in the book of Revelation to connote “the eternal source of all that is.” In Revelation 1:8, for example, “Almighty God” (Jehovah, according to JW’s) is referred to as “the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Do we want to say that Jehovah has a “beginning” because arche (“beginning”) is used to describe Him? “Arche” is here used to mean “the source of all being.”

Thus, Jesus is revealed to be the “source” of the creation of God in Rev. 3:14 because he is the creator of all things. This is confirmed again and again in the New Testament. In John 1:1-3, we are told Jesus (the Word) created “all things … and without him was made nothing that was made.” If he was created, he would have had to create himself which is impossible.

I should warn you at this point: Immediately following Revelation 3:14, Colossians 1:15-17 will normally follow:

Jesus is called the “first-born of every creature. For in him were all things created … he is before all and by him all things consist.”

Jehovah’s witnesses will say this shows Jesus is the first created being because he is “first-born of every creature.” But the problem with their reasoning is that first-born here does not refer to time, but to preeminence. The emphasis is on the fact that he is “before all and by him all things consist.” Even in its Old Testament usage, the title “first-born” is not restricted to a reference to time. The emphasis is on a place of preeminence given by a Father to his son. Isaac, Jacob, and Ephraim received the blessing of the “first-born” though they were not “first-born” in time.

Further, the text does not say Jesus was created. If St. Paul were making this point he would have then said Jesus created all “other” things in verse 16, but he did not. St. Paul says Jesus is the creator of all things. He is God. He is given the title “First-born” by his Father. But this is not in time. He is eternally begotten of the Father.

Share What is Most Clear

The New Testament is very clear as to Christ’s divinity. The few verses that seem to be problematic can be easily cleared up making the way smooth for presenting the abundance of evidence for Christ’s divinity. Below is a small sampling of examples. We will not cite each text, but give you the gist of how each reveal the divinity of Christ.

Luke 12:8-9 – Matthew 13:41

In Luke 12:8-9, angels are called “angels of God” while in Matthew 13:41, they’re called ”his [Christ's] angels.” “God” and “Christ” are synonymous.

Mark 2:5-9

Jesus forgives sins by his own authority. Only Almighty God (“Jehovah”) can forgive sins (See Is. 43:25).

Matt. 25:31-46

Jesus here is depicted as judging the world, yet Scripture reveals only God can do this. Both Genesis 18:25 and Joel 3:12 claim Almighty God is the judge of the world.

John 8:58

Here Jesus refers to himself with the divine name, “I am,” as he also does in John 8:24, 28, 18:5-6 and Mark 14:62. This “I am” formula, not copulative, is a reference back to the Divine Name in Ex. 3:14: “I AM” revealed to Moses as God’s own. Jesus refers to himself as “I am” and the multitudes want to kill him because they know what he is saying (see John 8:59!).

Matthew 5:21-28

In this text, Jesus places his word on the same level as the Old Testament. “You have heard it said (he then quotes Old Covenant texts or beliefs) … but I say to you …” This is in sharp contrast to the prophets who always use a formula such as “the word of the Lord came unto me, saying …” (cf.. Jer. 1:11; Ezek. 1:3). Jesus uses his own authority and establishes the New Covenant. Only God has that kind of authority.

John 5:18 – Phil. 2:6-10

In these texts, Jesus is referred to as “equal” with God by both St. John and St. Paul. In John 5:18, St. John gives us his commentary on why the Jews wanted to kill Jesus: “Because he called God his Father making himself equal with God.”

In Phil. 2:6-10, St. Paul refers to Jesus when he was “in the form of God.” The Greek word for “form” there is morphe, which means the set of characteristics that make a thing what it is. That’s about as close as you get to saying Jesus is God. St. Paul then says Christ’s ”equality with God” was not something he clung to; rather, he emptied himself and became man, humbling himself even unto his death on the cross.

In this verse, it appears St. Paul assumes his readers already know Jesus is equal with God, the Father. He says it in passing.

Mark 2:28

In this text, Jesus declares plainly that he is “the Lord of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is referred to as the “Sabbath of Almighty God” in both the Old and New Testaments (see Exodus 20:10; Isaiah 8:13, which is referred to in I Peter 3:15, and Joel 2:31-32, which is quoted in both Acts 2:20-21, and in Romans 10:13).

Acts 20:28

Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the church of God, which he hath purchased in his own blood.

I had to cite this text so you can see the nuance. Only Jesus can be said to have bled, yet this text says “God” shed his blood. Jesus is God.

The bottom line: The New Testament makes it very clear as to Christ’s full humanity. We can agree with JW’s on this point. However, the Scriptures are equally clear as to Christ’s divinity. The choice is ours. Will we choose to believe that Jesus is Almighty God manifest in the flesh as Scripture reveals, or will we choose the alternative, which according to Jesus is “[to] die in [our] sins.” Jesus said, “Unless you believe I AM, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

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Judge Not – Lest You Be Judged

By now, most of us are well aware of how Alana Horowitz (and any number of other secular writers), writing for The Huffpost, informed us of just how surprised people were when Pope Francis encouraged Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna to speak out against a bill that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children in Malta. And this, after the LGBT magazine, The Advocate, named him their “Man of the Year,” and Time Magazine named him “Person of the Year.”

Wasn’t Pope Francis to be the first Pope to finally reverse the Catholic Church’s antiquated stance against homosexual unions? How could he do such a thing?

Damian Thompson, columnist for The Daily Telegraph, and editor of their Telegraph Blog, writes: “Pope Francis ‘shocked’ by gay adoption. Will Time take back its Person of the Year award?”

Oh, the humanity!

Surprised?

You’d think the fact that he’s the Pope would be enough for folks to know Pope Francis is Catholic, i.e., he believes homosexual acts to be sinful. It’s not like the Pope has the authority to send Moses back up the mountain to make changes.

News Flash: Homosexual acts are sinful always and in every situation. There can be no exceptions. This is an infallible and therefore irreformable teaching of the Catholic Church. Just so we all know (see CCC 2357; CDF; Persona Humana 8).

But even if the pundits are completely in the dark as to the above, wouldn’t they have known that then Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio (before he became Pope Francis), in a letter written to four monasteries in Argentina, urged them to pray “fervently” that legislation would not pass in his native country that was to give same-sex couples the right to both marry and adopt children? He warned if approved, it would “seriously damage the family.” Even more, he said:

In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts…

Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a “move” of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.

I guess not.

In fact, because then Cardinal Bergoglio declared same-sex couples adopting children to be a form of discrimination against children, he was publicly rebuked by Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

I don’t think there is much to be confused about here.

The Disconnect

The reason why I am only now chiming in to a story that has been beaten to death, resurrected, and beaten to death again, is that I believe folks have for the most part missed the fact that much of the confusion surrounding this matter stemmed from, among other things to be sure, a colossal misapprehension of Jesus’ words in Matt. 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” That’s where I would like to jump into the fray.

During an interview the Holy Father gave on his return flight from Rio de Janeiro’s World Youth Day on July 28, 2013, when he was asked about an alleged “gay lobby” at the Vatican, his fateful response was as follows:

So much is written about the gay lobby. I have yet to find anyone who can give me a Vatican identity card with “gay” [written on it]. They say they are there. I think that when you encounter a person like this, you must make a distinction between the fact of a person being gay from the fact of being a lobby, because lobbies, all are not good. That is bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?

In a subsequent interview the Holy Father gave to La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal, later translated into English and published in the Jesuit journal America for the English-speaking world, he reiterated:

In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are “socially wounded” because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says.

These profoundly Christian responses ended up being transmogrified into the Pope’s acquiescence to the moral liceity of homosexual acts. And that is where the trouble started. In fact, Barbara Walters, in an interview with Pierce Morgan on CNN, concerning the revealing of her “10 Most Fascinating People of 2013,” said the Pope is now “embracing” homosexuals and saying words to the effect of, “What these people do in their private lives is none of my business.” This would represent a sort of Ebenezer Scrooge version of Christianity. Our Holy Father could not be further removed from this sentiment. “Humanity [is his] business!”

This level of disconnect is odd when you consider in that same article in America the Pope made clear that while emphasizing Christians should not “insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” spoken in the context of the importance of the initial proclamation of the Gospel to a world in desparate need, he also said:

The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear [on these matters of abortion, homosexual acts, and contraception] and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

Again, what part of this don’t they understand? I would suggest the answer may lie simply in wishful thinking. It is amazing what a human can will himself to either see or not see when he wants to.

Judge Not Lest You Be Judged

In order to understand Pope Francis’s words, we have to separate two senses in which he used the term “judge.” When the Pope said, “Who am I to judge?” he was alluding to our Lord’s famous words from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1—Judge not, that you be not judged. This is speaking of the judging of the actions of others. Our Lord is all in favor as we will see below.

When he Pope spoke of homosexuals being judged in the sense of being “condemned,” he was referring to the absolute prohibition of “judging” the inner motives of the heart, or the eternal destination of souls. According to St. Paul, in I Cor. 4:3-5, this we ought never do as Christians.

Let’s begin with Matt. 7:1. Unfortunately, this text, I would argue, is not only the most often misapplied verse in the Bible (a photo finish with “turn the other cheek”—fodder for another blog post), but it is right up there with John 3:16 and Psalm 23 as one of the most recognized passages in the Bible. People who have never darkened the door of a church know it and quote it, while very few actually understand it… in context.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:1-5).

To many, and evidently to Barbara Walters, “judge not” here means if you want to follow Jesus, you cannot judge anyone in any sense. Committed adultery, did you? Just pull out your Matt. 7:1 “judge not” card and no one can say anything about what you’ve done. I mean, after all, “You don’t want to judge anyone,” right? Homosexual sin? “Don’t you dare judge!”

But the context of Matthew 7 makes clear that our Lord was not condemning all judgment. He was condemning being hypocritical in judgment. He condemns the tendency all of us have, and we must guard against, to judge others more severely than we judge ourselves.

Our Holy Father also brought to the fore the importance of mercy when it comes to judging. Notice, he was speaking of homosexuals who are attempting to follow God’s will for their lives when he said, “Who am I to judge;” He was not speaking of those who live openly and willingly in sin. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7) immediately comes to mind. That’s another quite famous line from that same Sermon on the Mount.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (cf. Matt. 18:23-35) serves as a dramatic reminder for us that justice must always be tempered with mercy. This, it seems to me, is at least one of the Pope’s points. After the “unmerciful servant” was forgiven a debt of ten thousand talents (that would represent all of us who have been forgiven by the Lord), he refused to forgive his fellow servant who owed a mere one hundred denarii. Jesus said of that servant:

You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me; and should not you have had mercyon your fellow servant…? And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

I find it interesting how so often it will be those known for demanding strict justice when it comes to other people’s failings who quickly change their tune decidedly when the crosshairs of justice focus in upon them. Anybody remember Jimmy Swaggart? Suddenly, the concept of mercy comes into focus.

The bottom line here is this: Our Lord asks us in the Gospel to judge both consistently and mercifully. Our Lord’s Vicar predictably does the same.

Contrary to popular opinion, an emphasis on mercy and consistency in judgment need not diminish the importance of justice—and the essential judgments that must be made in order for there to be justice—in the slightest. It is to bring balance. Jesus condemned those who would pass over either justice or mercy:

Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith… (Matt. 23:23)

I have no reason to believe the Holy Father does anything different.

Jesus Commands Christians to Judge

Now we proceed to one of the least known Bible verses when it comes to the topic of “judging.” John 7:24:

Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.

Here, Jesus commands us to judge.

For those who misunderstand Matt. 7:1, this sounds like a contradiction. But if we pause to think about this for a moment, the spiritual works of mercy we should have been taught from our childhood represent the classic example of this truth. And these are not optional, folks. Our eternity depends upon fulfilling them in our lives.

What are the Spiritual Works of Mercy (see CCC 2447)?

1. To comfort those who are suffering.

2. To console those who have suffered loss.

3. To forgive those who ask for pardon.

4. To forbear with those who hurt us, even if they are not sorry.

5. To admonish the sinner

6. To educate the ignorant.

As Catholics, we are generally aware of the corporal works of mercy. Jesus lists five out of six of them in his famous depiction of the final judgment in Matt. 25:31-46: To feed and give drink to the hungry (I am joining those two into one work as does CCC 2447), clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and to visit the sick and imprisoned. The sixth is to bury the dead, and is found in Tobit 1:16-17.

Our Lord used the strongest of terms in teaching these corporal works of mercy to be constitutive of the Chrisian life. One day we will all stand before the Lord and give an account of our lives—every thought, word, and deed. And an essential part of that judgment will involve an examination of how we fulfilled the corporal works of mercy. Catholics generally get that. If we cannot actually perform all of these ourselves, we need to support those who do through our prayers and financial gifts.

But what many of us don’t seem to get is the fact that the spiritual works of mercy are not optional either. We will also be judged as to how we’ve fulfilled these in our lives. And most imortant to our point: the last two—to admonish the sinner, and to educate the ignorant—necessarily involve making judgments concerning the actions of others.

James 5:19-20:

My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Ez. 3:18-19:

If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way… that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.

These two texts are examples of the Christian calling to admonish the sinner.

I Tim. 4:16:

Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

This is an excellent example of the call to educate the ignorant. In order to admonish the sinner or educate the ignorant, judgments simply must be made about either the actions or the state of knowledge of others. These texts are both clear in their exposition of these truths and reminders that these matters bind each of us gravely.

St. Paul Brings Clarity

When it comes to judging in the sense of “condemning,” St. Paul definitely concurs with Pope Francis that this kind of judging is out of bounds for Christians:

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not prounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God (I Cor. 4:3-5).

Notice, St. Paul says he cannot even judge himself, much less others, but in the context of judging inner motives and eternal destinations. Why? Because God alone knows the hearts of men (cf. II Chr. 6:30). God alone is, therefore, the judge of souls.

Conclusion

When Pope Francis speaks of judging mercifully or not judging (i.e. condemning) at all, he is coming from a long Christian tradition that distinguishes between the judgment of actions that all Christians are required to make both in their own lives and in the lives of others they are called to love with the truth, and the judgment of the inner motives of people that is the domain of God alone.

What Pope Francis was certainly not saying is that the Church is about to change the unchangeable. This we can know for certain because our Lord himself guaranteed when he promised the keys of the kingdom to Peter, “I will build my church” (cf. Matt. 16:15-18). Peter and his successors couldn’t change infallible teachings of the Church if they tried. Jesus simply would not allow it.

No need to worry, the Ten Commandments are safe and protected.

Is Man Constituted by Two Parts or Three?

Televangelist and Founder and President of Charis Bible College, Andrew Wommack, has said:

The most important revelation I have ever received is the understanding that we were created by God with three distinct parts: spirit, soul, and body.

This idea of man as essentially “tripartite” verses the Catholic and biblical notion of man as a body/soul composite (“bipartite”) is a rather common misconception among Evangelicals and Pentecostals. They may not go as far as Mr. Wommack and say this is “the most important revelation” they have ever received, but they will be quick to defend their position nonetheless. And I Thess. 5:23 is often their first biblical stop:

May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sounds pretty clear, doesn’t it? Or, how about Hebrews 4:12?

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The Catholic Response:

First of all, and from a philosophical perspective, the soul is pure spirit and is the form of the body. By the “form,” we mean it actualizes the potentiality of the body. Without the soul, the body is not even a body; It is a corpse. It is reduced to its constitutive parts. But what is most important for us here is the fact that the soul is spiritual in nature. It has no parts. You cannot divide up into constitutive parts that which has no parts at all. Thus, the idea of dividing the soul into two parts analogous to the division of soul and body makes no sense.

From a biblical perspective, we have to be careful to distinguish what Scripture speaks of as powers, qualities or characteristics of man verses the essential elements that constitute his essence. For example, in Luke 10:26-27 Jesus has an interesting back-and-forth with a lawyer who was more interested in justifying his own position than in really coming to the truth (can you imagine that?). The lawyer asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds:

“What is written in the law? What do you read there?” And [the lawyer] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus lists four things here. So should we now conclude man to be quadripartite? I think not. But if we are going to add up various lists of man’s powers or qualities, we could come up with a much greater list than just three or four. That’s the problem.

The truth is, St. Paul and the inspired author of Hebrews, who if he was not St. Paul, was definitely Pauline in his theology, were not teaching man to be essentially tripartite. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in paragraph 367:

Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit: St. Paul for instance prays that God may sanctify his people “wholly”, with “spirit and soul and body” kept sound and blameless at the Lord’s coming. The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul. “Spirit” signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God.

For St. Paul, the “spiritual” element in man represents the God-consciousness that is introduced into the life of a man through grace. We get a great picture of the Pauline understanding of this in I Corinthians 2 and 3. He refers to men in three categories. The “unspiritual man” or literally the “soulish man” (Gr.—psukikos’, I Cor. 2:14), “fleshly men” (Gr.—sarki’nois, I Cor. 3:1), and the “spiritual” man (Gr.—pnuematikos’, also in I Cor. 3:1).

The “soulish” man or “natural man” as it is sometimes translated in I Cor. 2:14, or as the RSVCE has it, the “unspiritual man,” is someone who is caught up in the “soulish” realm wherein resides the intellect and will. But he is apart from God’s grace to aid his understanding. Thus, again, the RSVCE has it as “unspiritual:”

The unspiritual man (psukikos’) does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The “fleshly man” (sarki’nois) refers to the man who is dominated by his “lower nature” or the passions, and as such, he cannot please God. He too, like the “unspiritual man” is acting apart from grace. Whereas the “spiritual man” (pneumatikos’)is one who is allowing himself to be led by the Spirit of God. I Cor. 3:1-3 puts it this way:

But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh.

At times, in St. Paul’s writings, as well as other places in the New Testament, the “unspiritual man” and the “fleshly man” are telescoped into one category. They are referred to as being “in the flesh.” Romans 8 is a great example of this. Here, St. Paul does not make the fine distinction he makes in I Corinthians 2-3 between the psukikos’ and the sarki’nois. He lumps them all into the one category of “in the flesh” whether they are being dominated by the “soulish” realm or the “fleshly.” “The flesh” would then simply represent the human person apart from grace. Keep an eye out for the use of “flesh” and “spirit” here in Romans 8:3-14:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him… for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

So we see here in Romans 8, St. Paul puts it more simply in saying, in essence, one is either led by the Spirit or one is “in the flesh.” One is either being led by the Spirit and so is in friendship with God, or we would say, he is “in a state of grace,” or one is apart from grace and therefore in a state of being wherein one “cannot please God.”

In I Corinthians, St. Paul takes it a bit deeper and distinguishes between the “natural man” or the “soulish man” (Gr. psukikos’) and the “man of the flesh” (Gr. sarki’nois), who are each apart from God’s grace, as opposed to the “spiritual” man who is in friendship with God.

What is most important for us here is to note that St. Paul’s introduction of the “spirit, soul and body” in I Thess. 5:23 and elsewhere was not intended to teach man to be “tripartite.” Man is essentially a body/soul composite. St. Paul is introducing the “God-consciousness” that is introduced into man’s soul through grace and elevates him to a level of understanding and loving God that he could not attain to according to his nature alone.

If you want biblical texts that give us what constitutes man in his essence, Jesus said it plainly in Matt. 10:28:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul: rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Ecclesiastes 12:7:

And the [body] returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Both of these texts are speaking directly to man’s essence; They refer to man as he is constituted in death and in eternity. When examined carefully, as we have done here in this post, further distinctions of the human soul in Scripture refer to various powers, qualities or characteristics, not to the constitutive elements of human nature.

Vocation Boom

Vocation Boom is the fruit of a vision that began to take shape in the heart of founder Jerry Usher during his six years in formation for the priesthood from 1989-95. It provides to seminarians and others who are discerning a call to the priesthood, resources that will enable them to more clearly hear the voice of God extending to them that invitation. Vocation Boom is committed to utilizing all forms of media and technology to carry out this mission. These include the social media, our award-winning website, a weekly radio show distributed by the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, which is aired on nearly 250 AM and FM stations, Sirius Satellite Radio, the Internet and smartphone apps, an upcoming television program on EWTN, which is scheduled to debut in September 2014, on-location events at seminaries and other places of formation, and pilgrimages for priests and seminarians to the Holy Land (the first of which is scheduled for December 2015).

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