Category Archives: Scripture

Do the Infancy Narratives Contradict Each Other?

What do apologists for atheism and liberal Scripture scholars have in common? They both love to find alleged “contradictions” in Scripture. And this is no easy task, mind you, because these “contradictions” do not actually exist.

Though there are many of these alleged “contradictions,” one of the favorites of both of these camps is one that you can expect to find being re-hashed again and again on the internet:—especially now that we are approaching Christmas—the “contradictions” found in what are commonly referred to as “the infancy narratives” of St. Matthew and St. Luke.

The late Fr. Raymond Brown, S.S., for example, who definitely made positive contributions to biblical study in the Church, also made some not-so-good contributions. In his book, The Birth of the Messiah, p. 46, for example, he flatly declares the two infancy narratives “are contrary to each other.”

Oy vey!

So What Gives?

The two “infancy narratives” are found in Luke 2:1-39 and Matthew 1:18-2:23. We’ll use St. Luke’s account as our beginning point of reference and from there we’ll move forward inserting the alleged “contradictions” as we go.

I’ll give you a very important pointer here at the outset for clarity’s sake: keep your eyes on the words I put in bold print as I lay out the narrative for St. Matthew and St. Luke’s Gospels. These are the problem areas. And also keep in mind that these problems are not created by the texts of Scripture. They are created in the imaginations of those creating the so-called “contradictions.” Here we go:

According to St. Luke’s account, Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of the census called for by Caesar Augustus. It would be there that Mary “gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger…” (2:1-7) Are we good, so far?

Well, maybe not!

According to St. Matthew’s Gospel, there is no account of a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And this is true. But skeptics claim St. Matthew portrays the Holy Family to have been living in Bethlehem, not Nazareth. There would have been no way for there to have even been a journey to Bethlehem if Matthew’s scenario were true. The Holy Family was already there!

Moreover, Jesus is not found in St. Luke’s “manger,” but Matt. 2:11 says the Wise Men found him in a “house” in Bethlehem where the Holy Family was not staying in the Inn—or more precisely, the manger attached to an Inn—that we find in Luke’s Gospel. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is depicted as being born in the family home of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem where they had lived all along, contradicting St. Luke’s account. Herein we find the first of these narratives’ supposed irreconcilable contradictions.

A Biblical Response:

There are two crucial assumptions made here that have nothing to do with the actual text of Scripture.

1. Because there is “no account of a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem” in St. Matthew’s Gospel, this does not mean St. Matthew’s Gospel excludes it as a possibility. It doesn’t. It just means St. Matthew chose not to mention it. 2. And this is the most crucial error that, when understood properly, will end up dispelling most of the misconstrued contradictions we find out and about in cyberspace. The assumption is made that St. Matthew’s recording of the Wise Men following the star leads them to the Holy Family at the time of Jesus’ actual birth, and in Bethlehem. But the text does not actually say either of these, though the latter may be true.

Let me explain.

First, let’s look at Matthew 2:1:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem…

Critics nearly unanimously interpret this to mean that St. Matthew is claiming the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem at the time Christ was born. The truth is: it doesn’t say that. It simply says Christ was born during the days of King Herod and that the Wise Men came in those days to see—as they themselves asked upon their arrival in Jerusalem—where they could find “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). Matthew 2:1-2 does not specify how much time had transpired since the actual birth of our Lord.

However, having said that, though Matthew 2:1-2 doesn’t specify the time of Christ’s birth, we do have clues elsewhere that indicate the Wise Men did not arrive at the time Christ was actually born; rather, ca. one to as much as two years later.

Little Drummer Boy History

I know what you’re thinking. Or, at least, what you should be thinking. I love “The Little Drummer Boy,” too! My family and I watch it every year at Christmas! And multiple times (we have the DVD).

(It’s great having young children in the house. It gives me an excuse to watch all those kid-oriented Christmas specials!)

But unfortunately, “The Little Drummer Boy,” as well as a whole slew of atheists and liberal theologians, has his (and their) time-line all wrong here. Perhaps there is a lesson here about getting one’s theology, or history, through children’s claymation television shows… or, from atheists and liberal Scripture scholars?

At any rate, the Nativity of our Lord is commonly portrayed with Magi, Shepherds, and yes, maybe even the little drummer boy, all together at the manger with the Holy Family and the new-born baby Jesus. But that is not the way the Bible portrays it.

First of all, when the Magi “saw his star” in the East that indicated the birth of the “king of the Jews,” it was only then that they began their journey to Israel, according to Matthew 2:2. And remember, this was before you could jump on a commuter jet. Coming from Persia, most likely, they would have had to travel ca. 970 miles to get to Jerusalem. At least, that’s the distance from modern Tehran, anyway. Even if you move eastward as far as modern Bagdad as their starting point, they would have still had to travel ca. 500 miles.

Why is this significant?

Matthew 2:3-7 tells us that after the Wise Men arrived in Jerusalem and began asking about the location of  “he who has been born king of the Jews” (notice, they did not say “new-born king” as many assume, they said, “he who has been born king of the Jews…”), Herod was troubled, for obvious reasons. He was corrupt and didn’t want another “king” to threaten his position of power. So, after “assembling all of the chief priests, and scribes” (vs. 4), and asking them where the Messiah was to be born, they informed him of Micah’s prophecy (5:2) that foretold Bethlehem as the birthplace of the coming king. Herod then decided to pretend he was interested in welcoming, and worshipping, this new “king of Israel” just as the Magi were, so he could find out precisely where this king was located, so he could eliminate the threat… permanently.

But notice what Matt. 2:7 says:

Then Herod summoned the Wise Men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared, and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

Herod wanted to know “when the star appeared” so he could know the approximate age of the child. This indicates that the star appeared to the Magi when Jesus was born, before their journey to Israel. This eliminates the possibility of the Magi meeting the shepherds and the Holy Family at the manger.

Moreover, after God warned the Magi “not to return to Herod” in Matt. 2:12, and Herod later realizes they were not coming back to give him his desired information about the location of our Lord, in 2:16, “in a rage” he determined to “kill all of the children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the Wise Men” (emphasis added).

Thus, if we allow for Herod hedging his bet to make sure he kills the right child, the information he garnered from the Magi would probably have placed the birth of Christ at about a year or so before the Magi’s arrival, perhaps a year and a half. Herod would probably want a cushion on each side of the approximate time of Christ’s birth.

Most importantly, this would indicate Christ would have been ca. 1 to at most 2 years-old (though I would again say it would be unlikely Christ would have been a full two years-old) at the time the Wise Men arrived in Jerusalem to find the Christ-child. This would have been ca. 1 to 2 years after the nativity of St. Luke’s Gospel.

Many will say at this point that a journey of 500 to 1,000 miles would not take that long. If you say the caravan of the Wise Men could travel ca. 5 to 10 miles per day, it would have taken anywhere from ca. two to seven months of travel. This is true, but this does not take into account many variables. You didn’t just jump into a car or airplane and go. It would have taken time to plan the trip, gather supplies, security, etc. These and more contingencies are simply not revealed to us in the text. But we do get hints here about what Herod concluded from his personal interview of the Magi themselves. The text of Scripture indicates it was the Magi that revealed the time of Christ’s birth to have been long before the Magi’s arrival.

Check Your Assumptions at the Door

Once we get the above time-line right, the “contradictions” between “infancy narratives” are not so contradictory any longer. We are not going to get to all of the “contradictions” claimed, but as one other example, the claim is also made that when the Wise Men were sent to Bethlehem by Herod, then that would naturally have been where they ended up finding the Holy Family when they arrive at the place “where the child was” in Matt. 2:9. This is the foundation for the “contradiction” between St. Luke’s “manger” and St. Matthew’s “house,” and more. The problem is: the text doesn’t say the Wise Men actually found the Christ-child in Bethlehem. That is an assumption that is not actually found in the text. It may be true, but it may not be as well.

Let me explain.

Matthew 2:9 tells us that after Herod told the Magi to go to Bethlehem, it would be the miraculous star that would actually guide them to Christ. If the Wise Men would have then headed to Bethlehem, the Holy Family may well have been long gone. The star may well have led them to Nazareth, where, St. Luke tells us, in 2:39, “[the Holy Family] returned,” but only after “they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord.”

Back to St. Luke’s Gospel

It is crucial to understand that other than the mention of Christ’s actual birth in Matt. 2:1, and the Holy Family’s dwelling in the city of Nazareth in Matt. 2:23, there is no overlap with Luke’s infancy narrative and Matthew’s. Here’s a time-line:

Matt. 2:1 mentions Christ’s actual birth in Bethlehem. This parallels Luke 2:6-7.

But because we know St. Matthew’s Gospel then leaps forward (this is a common literary device in Scripture and in literature in general that is called “telescoping”) to the story of the Magi, ca. one to at most two years after Christ’s birth, the story of the shepherd and the angels finding Christ in Bethlehem in Luke 2:8-20, the circumcision of Christ while the Holy Family was still in Bethlehem in Luke 2:21, and the “Presentation of the Lord” in the temple of Luke 2:22-36 (ca. a six-mile trip that would take the better part of a day to walk) would not be expected to be presented in Matthew.

A real question arises after the presentation in the Temple ending in Luke 2:38. That question centers on the “return to Nazareth” in Luke 2:39. Some will claim all in Luke’s Gospel, including the return to Nazareth, happened within ca. 40 or so days after Christ’s birth, and long before the Magi arrive in search of the “king of Israel.” That is one possibility. It may also be true that St. Luke is ”telescoping” in Luke 2:39-40. The text itself does not specify the time. It merely states:

And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew…

A consideration when thinking of “telescoping.” I know in my own conversion story I will often say, “After having come into full communion with the Catholic Church, my bishop gave me permission to immediately enter into formation for the priesthood…” When I say “immediately,” I do not mention the six month period between Easter Vigil and the beginning of my actual formation in September of 1988. That is a kind of “telescoping.”

In Scripture that “telescoping” can skip months or even years of time.

But, for argument’s sake, if we accept the scenario that would have “the return to Nazareth” to have occurred just over 40 days after the birth of Christ, we could then eliminate the above-mentioned “contradictions” quite easily:

1. The “home” in Matthew 2:11 does not conflict with the “manger” in Luke 2:7. The “home” was in Nazareth where the Holy Family had traveled well over a year before the coming of the Magi. 2. Matthew’s Gospel never actually says the “home” mentioned in 2:11 was in Bethlehem. That is possible, but not stated in the biblical text. 3. The Wise Men were “sent” to Bethlehem by Herod, but the text never says that is where they ended up. If the Holy Family did leave for Nazareth ca. 40 or 50 days after birth of our Lord, the Wise Men would have been directed by God through the star to Nazareth where Christ actually was, not Bethlehem.

Now again, it may also be true that the Magi found the Holy Family still living in Bethlehem when they arrived. The “home” of St. Matthew’s Gospel would not contradict the “manger” of St. Luke because we could simply assume the Holy Family stayed on in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus and found themselves a “home” to live in sometime after the birth of the Lord and before their return to Nazareth at a later date.

Another Assumption Exploded

As I said above, in this brief post, we are not going to eliminate all of the errors that are out there claiming contradictions between the infancy narratives. In fact, there are some who argue for contradictions even within the narratives themselves, i.e., St. Matthew contradicting St. Matthew and St. Luke contradicting St. Luke. But if you keep in mind the historical time-line laid out here, you can deal with most of the claimed anomalies.

Here is one final example:

Matthew 2:23 tells us the Holy Family never went to live in Nazareth until after the coming of the Magi and the flight into Egypt. It was only then, the text says, “[Joseph and the Holy Family] went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth.” Yet, St. Luke says, it was after the 40 days of purification after the birth of Christ that “[the Holy Family] returned into Galilee, to… Nazareth.”

Actually, Matthew 2:23 does not say the Holy Family “first” went to Nazareth after the flight into Egypt. That is another unbiblical assumption. After being warned by God to flee Herod’s wrath and travel to Egypt in Matt. 2:13-14, and then after being told by an angel of the Lord to return to Israel, in Matt. 2:20, it appears St. Joseph’s desire was to go back to his family’s native Bethlehem in Judea, but because Herod’s son, Archela’us, was reigning there, “he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream” he went to Nazareth instead (2:22-23).

We have to remember that the inspired authors place emphases on particular aspects of the life of Christ and the Holy Family for particular theological reasons. St. Matthew is writing to a Jewish Christian community; thus, he emphasizes both Christ’s birth in Bethlehem to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy of Micah 5:2 (Matt. 2:5-6), and the fulfillment of the Oral Tradition, or word “spoken by the prophets,” that Christ would be “called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23). St. Luke, the only inspired Evangelist who was also a Gentile, did not seem as interested in pointing those things out.

For St. Matthew’s purpose, it would not suffice for him to simply mention our Lord’s brief sojourn in Bethlehem as an infant and toddler; he had to be raised in Nazareth in order to be “called a Nazarene.” Thus, the emphasis of St. Matthew is on Christ and the Holy Family coming to Nazareth where Christ would be raised in order to fulfill the prophecy “spoken by the prophets” (Matt. 2:23). But he never says this was the “first” time they had been there.

Or, it may well be that the Holy Family actually did not travel back to Nazareth until a year or two after the birth of our Lord. That would allow time for “the home” in Bethlehem, the “flight into Egypt,” and more that we find both in Matt. 2:13-23, and in Luke 2:8-38.

Final Thought

There is much more to be done here—multiple alleged “contradictions” to clear up. But as a parting word of advice, I will repeat the words Fr. Ken Roberts used to say many years ago when he was on the sawdust trail, as they say: “Whenever someone quotes a verse of Scripture to you, ask him to quote the four before it and the four after it before even thinking of beginning a conversation.”

The point Fr. Roberts was making was this: Be sure to establish a true context for Scripture free from assumptions that don’t jive with the entirety of the text.

That’s at the very least a good place to start!

BTW, if you liked this post, you might like this.

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).

If you enjoyed this and you want more information on this topic and more, click here.

The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 3

In my last two blog posts, we examined the first two of the “five points” of Calvinism popularly known by the acronym, TULIP, which represents 1. Total Depravity 2. Unconditional Election 3. Limited Atonement 4. Irresistible Grace 5. Perseverance of the Saints (“once saved, always saved”). In this post, we will tackle the third point:

Limited Atonement

No Christian that I know of would deny that some doctrines are more or less clear than others in Scripture. When it comes to the atonement of Christ, the Scriptures are most clear: Jesus Christ died on the cross for the entire world. The redemption that Christ merited through his passion and death was for every single human person that has ever and will ever live. The Calvinist teaching of limited atonement espouses the exact opposite. We find this teaching in many places in the Calvinist confessions by way of their emphasis on the sacrifice of Christ being only for the sins of the elect and not for the sins of the whole world. The Westminster Confession of 1643, for example, declared:

In this sacrament Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor any real sacrifice made at all for remission of sins of the quick or the dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of himself, by himself, upon the cross, once for all, and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same; so that the Popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect (emphasis added).

Notice, Christ’s sacrifice, was not offered for the sins of all, but only for the elect, according to John Calvin and the Westminster Confession. I am always astonished at this teaching in light of the clear teaching of St. John in I John 2:1-2:

My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (emphasis added).

As Catholics, we have to go with St. John over John Calvin. Yet, Calvin was quite insistent that Christ did not die for all. He taught, as we’ve seen before:

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 3, Ch. 21, Para. 5).

We keep coming back to Calvin’s notion of “double predestination,” and we will again, because It is important for us to understand that for Calvin and true Calvinists, predestination means that it is God’s immutable will that some go to heaven and some go to hell. Before they ever commit one sin, God has already decreed and ordained their eternal torment. Calvin said:

Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children (Ibid., Ch. 23, Para. 1, emphasis added).

If the Calvinist notion of predestination were true, then this doctrine of limited atonement would follow. If God’s eternal decree representing his will from all eternity is that only some be saved, and if his immutable will is for some to go to hell, then clearly, he did not die on the cross for the salvation of all. This follows necessarily.

This is a case of a presupposition based on the misunderstanding of a relatively few biblical texts that ends up contradicting the plain teaching of Sacred Scripture. The atonement of Christ on the cross is the greatest expression of our God’s salvific will for all of mankind. And sacred Scripture could not make it any plainer:

John 3:16: 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Notice, the text does not say, “God so loved the elect…”

I Tim. 2:3-6:

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all (emphasis added).

Here we see—contrary to the Calvinist teaching of a limited atonement—that Christ died for all revealing God’s positive salvific will for all to be saved.

II Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (emphasis added).

Here we see not only that God’s positive will is for all to be saved, but he clearly does not will any to perish in the fires of hell either. Again, this is expressly contrary to Calvinism. The biblical text reveals God’s salvific will to include each and every human being that has ever or will ever live. Those who end up in hell will be there because they chose to reject the truth, not because of any positive willing on God’s part.

Calvin Responds:

I actually like to read John Calvin’s magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion. I love the way Calvin’s mind works. Give me Calvin to read any day over Luther. Luther is all over the place with his theology. Calvin is disciplined, thorough, consistent, and easy to understand. Don’t get me wrong, he is profoundly wrong on many crucial matters, but at least you know where he stands.

When it comes to Calvin’s responses to the above-mentioned texts, well, let’s just say they are disciplined, consistent, easy to understand, and dead wrong. For brevity’s sake we will just take I Tim. 2:4 in this post. Let’s cite verses 1-6 for context:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every ways. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…

This text is quite plain, making clear that:

1. God wills all men to be saved.

2. Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all.”

But listen to Calvin’s response:

By this he assuredly means nothing more than that the way of salvation was not shut against any order of men… (Institutes, Bk. III, Ch. 24, Para. 16)

 Really? It is hard to believe Calvin was really satisfied in saying that “all men” did not refer to “all men,” but to all “categories of men.” In this case, St. Paul was limiting prayer for the “categories” of “kings and men in high positions.”

But then you have the problem of verse six saying, “Christ… gave himself as a ransom for all” to have to them mean ”all categories of men.” That is simply not what the text says.

A Final Thought

John Calvin was stuck. He had a presupposition that simply did not fit the text, so he had to twist the text to fit his presupposition. He did not believe Jesus “ransomed all” on the cross (as I Tim. 2:6 says) because he believed Christ only made atonement for the elect. He did not believe God wills the salvation of all (as I Tim. 2:4 says) for the same reason, so he had to come up with the above that is really so far beneath a man with the intellectual capacity of a John Calvin. The man was brilliant.

He had to defend the indefensible belief in “limited atonement” in order to preserve the acronym, right?

But this leads to my final point for this post. There is another text that absolutely obliterates the notion of “limited atonement” that Calvin did not deal with in his magnum opus. That text would be II Peter 2:1-3:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep.

In this text, St. Peter makes clear that Jesus “bought” (the Greek word here is a form of agorazo, which is used in I Cor. 6:20, 7:23, Acts 20:28, Rev. 5:9, 14:3, and 4 to mean “ransomed” or “redeemed”) not just the elect, but even those who will eventually end in the torments of hell. There can be no doubt concerning either the words or the context of II Peter 2.

Calvin did not include this text in the nearly 700 pages of Institutes of the Christian Religion? I have a hard time believing this one got away. He just didn’t know about it. He was too smart for that. Perhaps he left this one alone because his answer would have been even worse than what we saw above in his dancing around I Tim. 2:4. I don’t know.

But what I do know is this text makes clear this fact: Jesus did not only die for the elect. His atonement was not “limited.”

He died for all. And “all” means “all.”

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The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 1

Over my next five blog posts, I am going to critique the famous “five points” of Calvinist theology: 1. Total Depravity 2. Unconditional Election 3. Limited Atonement 4. Irresistibility of Grace 5. Perseverance of the Saints (“Once Saved, Always Saved”).

Pt. 1 – Total Depravity

In John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin presents a view of man that is very much like Luther’s, but contrary to what we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Calvin used texts like Gen.6:5,

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,

and Romans 3:10ff,

None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one…

in order to prove that man is totally and utterly depraved through the fall of Adam and Eve. Calvin’s conclusion from these texts and others was to say, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Institutes, Bk. II, Chapter II, Para. 26).

What Say We?

The context of the texts Calvin used actually demonstrate the opposite of his claim. For example, if we read forward just four verses in Genesis 6, we find this:

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord… Noah was a righteous (“just”) man, blameless in his generation (Gen. 6:8-9).

While we Catholics agree that God’s grace or “favor” was absolutely essential for Noah to be truly “just” before God; nevertheless, Noah was truly just, according to the text.

As far as the quote from Romans is concerned, the greater context of the entire epistle must be understood. One of the central themes of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (cf. Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (cf. Romans 11:22). It is solely because of God’s grace that we can truly become just:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

Further,

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death…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 (Romans 8:2-4).

Notice the emphasis on the fact that man is truly made just so much so that he can fulfill “the just requirement of the law.” It doesn’t get any more just, or righteous, than that!

Thus, Romans 3:10ff simply does not teach total depravity in a Calvinist sense. It cannot when the context is understood.

Moreover, if we examine the very verses where St. Paul paints his picture of the wicked who have “turned aside” and “done wrong,” we find he actually quotes Psalm 14:3. The next two verses of this Psalm explain who these “evil ones” are.

Have they no knowledge, all the evil-doers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

The Psalmist clearly refers to both evil-doers and “the righteous.”

The impetus of these and other texts from Romans tell us that Christ came to make us just, not that there are absolutely none who are just. We must stress again that it is because of the justice of Christ communicated to the faithful that their actions, and indeed, they themselves, are truly made just. But they indeed are truly made just.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right (Gr.—ho poion tein dikaiousunein—the one doing justice) is righteous (Gr.—dikaios estin—is just), as he is righteous (Gr.—kathos ekeinos dikaios estin—as he is just) (I John 3:7).

There is no way the Scripture could be any clearer that the faithful are truly made just in their being and in their actions through the grace of Christ.

The Problem Magnified

More grave problems begin to arise when we begin to follow the path Calvin lays for us with his first principle. Even when considering the unregenerate Calvin is wrong about total depravity because Scripture tells us even those who are outside of the law can,

… do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15).

Though Catholics agree with Calvinists that grace is necessary even for these who are ignorant of the law in order for them to be just before God—in other words this text is not saying these pagans can be justified apart from grace—the text does infer that nature is not totally depraved because man can clearly act justly on a natural level, or by nature.

But an even more grave error comes to the fore when we consider his notion of the depravity of the just. “Depravity of the just?” Yes. That was not a typo. According to John Calvin, even those who have been justified by Christ “cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation” (Institutes, Bk. III, Ch. 9, Para. 9). How far from “he that acts justly is just” (I John 3:7) or the plain words of the Psalmist who uses similar words as found in Gen. 15:6 with regard to Abraham being justified by faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness,” in Psalm 106:30-31: “Then Phineas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation.”

Phineas was clearly justified by his works and not just by faith. In other words, Phineas’ works are truly “just as he is just” to use the words of I John 3:7.

There are a multitude of biblical texts that come to mind at this point, but what about the words of our Lord in Matthew 12:37, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Or, “by works a man is justified and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Or,

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:13-14).

These texts do not even come close to saying all of these works were “worthy of condemnation.” They say just the opposite!

We should be clear here: All “good works” man performs that contribute to his salvation are first and foremost God’s gifts, which, along with his cooperation, truly make him just and worthy to “walk with [Christ] in white; for [he is] worthy” (Rev. 3:4), by God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot escape the biblical fact that these works truly are just and they are truly the fruit of the just man himself.

The Problems Continue

Once Calvin deduces “total depravity” via poor exegesis of a relatively few texts of Scripture, all sorts of unbiblical notions follow. For example, Calvin also concludes from this that human nature is so totally depraved that free will is an impossibility. It’s a farce:

The grace offered by the Lord is not merely one which every individual has full liberty of choosing to receive or reject, but a grace which produces in the heart both choice and will (Institutes, Bk. II, Ch. 3, Para. 13).

According to Calvin, man’s total depravity means necessarily that he does not have the capacity to cooperate with God’s grace.

In fact, I argue that Calvin’s notion of grace and nature is a carbon copy of the theology of Sunni Islam. And I am far from alone in my conclusion. The famous Calvinist and anti-Catholic, Loraine Boettner, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, provides:

Dr. Samuel M. Zwemer, who in a very real sense can be referred to as “apostle to the Mohammedan World,” calls attention to the strange parallel between the Reformation in Europe under Calvin and that in Arabia under Mohammed. Says he: “Islam is indeed in many respects the Calvinism of the Orient. It, too, was a call to acknowledge the sovereignty of God’s will… It is this vital theistic principle that explains the victory of Islam over the weak divided and idolatrous Christendom of the Orient” (Boettner, The Doctrine of Predestination, p. 318-319).

Strange bedfellows? Perhaps not. Islam and Calvinism agree based not only upon a distorted notion of the sovereignty of God, but also because of a distorted notion of man’s depravity. The two are very similar.

Understanding the Strange

When John Calvin says man is utterly dependent upon God for every single just thought in his mind (see Institutes, Bk. II, Ch. II, Para. 27), Catholics will happily agree. And they would be correct. We do agree. However, appearances can be deceiving because there is more meaning beneath those words that Catholics cannot agree with.

With Calvin, there is no sense of grace aiding and empowering our wills as St. Augustine taught and the Catholic Church teaches. For Calvin, being “dependent upon God” means our free cooperation or free wills have no part to play. God does not merely empower our wills; he operates them.

In the end, this may well be the most disturbing idea stemming from Calvin’s notion of total depravity. Man is essentially a puppet of God’s, which led to Calvin attributing both the good and the evil actions of man to God.

And mind you, Calvin rejects and ridicules the Catholic notion of God merely permitting evil and working all things together for good. In his words:

Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting, because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases… (Institutes, Bk. I, Ch. XVIII, Para. 1).

Evildoers do not commit acts of depravity in spite of the command of God, but because of the command of God, according to Calvin (Ibid. Para. 4)! In fact, Calvin uses Is. 45:7 and Amos 3:6 to teach that there is no evil that occurs that is not “impelled” by God’s positive command (Ibid. Para. 2).

God is the author of all those things which, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. [45:7]); that no evil happens which he hath not done (Amos [3:6]) (Ibid. Para. 3).

As Catholics we understand—as St. Paul teaches—“since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Romans 1:28). This means God may well remove grace that is rejected. He may also hold back grace as well, but this is, as St. Augustine said, God’s “just judgment.” But, according to Calvin’s unbiblical teaching, God does not give grace in the first place and then “impels” men to act sinfully. As quoted above, according to Calvin, God causes evil. And we are not talking about physical evil here; we are talking about moral evil. That is categorically absurd! God cannot “do” or “impel” moral evil because He is infinitely and absolutely good!

God cannot lie (Heb. 6:8, Number 23:19), “he cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:13)—or act contrary to His nature. If God’s nature is one of love and pure being, it is absurd to say that he can “do” evil, which is by nature a lack of some perfection that ought to be present in a given nature. In fact, James 1:13 tells us that God not only cannot cause this kind of evil, but he cannot even tempt anyone with evil. That is contrary to his nature.

The Bottom Line

When Is. 45:7 and Amos 3:6 say God “creates evil” and “does evil,” this must be seen only in a sense in which it does not contradict God’s nature and what is clearly revealed to us about God in Scripture. God can directly cause physical evil, such as the ten plagues he released against Egypt in Exodus. But this was an act of justice, which in and of itself was morally upright and justified. We can also say that God permits evil in view of the fact that he chose to create us with freedom. But even there, God only permits evil in view of his promise to bring good out of that evil as is most profoundly demonstrated through the greatest evil in the history of the world—the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this greatest evil God brings about the greatest good—the redemption of the world. God did not kill Christ, nor did he “impel” anyone to kill Christ. But by virtue of his omnipotence, he brings good out of the evil acts committed.

The Immaculate Conception

Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I John 1:8 adds, “If any man says he has no sin he is a liar and the truth is not in him.” These texts could not be clearer for millions of Protestants: “How could anyone believe Mary was free from all sin in light of these Scriptures? What’s more, Mary herself said, ‘My soul rejoices in God my savior’ in Luke 1:47. She clearly understood herself to be a sinner if she admits to needing a savior.”

The Catholic Answer

Not a few Protestants are surprised to discover the Catholic Church actually agrees that Mary was “saved.” Indeed, Mary needed a savior! However, Mary was “saved” from sin in a most sublime manner. She was given the grace to be “saved” completely from sin so that she never committed even the slightest transgression. The problem here is Protestants tend to emphasize God’s “salvation” almost exclusively to the forgiveness of sins actually committed. However, Sacred Scripture indicates that salvation can also refer to man being protected from sinning before the fact.

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever (Jude 24-25).

The great Franciscan theologian, Duns Scotus, explained ca. 600 years ago that falling into sin could be likened to a man approaching unaware a massive 20-feet deep ditch. If he falls into the ditch, he would need someone to lower a rope and save him. But if someone were to warn him of the danger ahead resulting in the man not falling into the ditch at all, he would have been saved from falling in the first place. Analogously, Mary was saved from sin by receiving the grace to be preserved from it. But she was still saved.

The Exception[s] to the Rule

But what about “all have sinned,” and “if any man says he has no sin he is a liar and the truth is not in him?” Wouldn’t “all” and/or “any man” include Mary? On the surface, this sounds reasonable. But this way of thinking carried to its logical conclusion would list Jesus Christ in the company of sinners as well. No Christian would dare say that! Yet, no Christian can deny the plain texts of Scripture declaring Christ’s full humanity either. Thus, if one is going to take I John 1:8 in a strict, literal sense, then any man would apply to Jesus as well!

The truth is—and all Christians agree—Jesus Christ was an exception to Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8. And the Bible tells us he was in Hebrews 4:15: “Christ was tempted in all points even as we are and yet he was without sin.” The real question now is: are there any other exceptions to this rule? Yes, there are. In fact, there are millions of them.

First of all, we need to recall that both of these texts—Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8—are dealing with personal rather than original sin. Romans 5:12 will deal with original sin. And there are two exceptions to that general biblical norm as well. But for now, we will simply deal with Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8. I John 1:8 obviously refers to personal sin because in the very next verse, St. John tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” We do not confess original sin; we confess personal sins.

The context of Romans 3:23 makes clear that it too refers to personal sin:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave. They use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness (Romans 3:10-14).

Original sin is not something we do; it is something we’ve inherited. Romans chapter three deals with personal sin because it speaks of sins committed by the sinner. With this in mind, consider this: Has a baby in the womb or a child of two ever committed a personal sin? No, they haven’t (see Romans 9:11)! Or, how about the mentally challenged who do not have the use of their intellects and wills? These cannot sin because in order to sin a person has to know the act he is about to perform is sinful while freely engaging his will in carrying it out. Without the proper faculties to enable them to sin, children before the age of accountability and anyone who does not have the use of his intellect and will cannot sin. Right there you have millions of exceptions to Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8.

The question remains: how do we know Mary is an exception to the norm of “all have sinned?” And more specifically, is there biblical support for this claim? Yes, there is. Indeed, there is much biblical support, but in this brief post I shall cite just five examples, among the many to which I could refer, that give us biblical support for this ancient doctrine of the Faith.

1. LUKE 1:28:

And [the angel Gabriel] came to [Mary] and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Many Protestants will insist this text to be little more than a common greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary. “What would this have to do with Mary being without sin?” Yet, the truth is, according to Mary herself, this was no common greeting. The text reveals Mary to have been “greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29, emphasis added). What was it about this greeting that was so uncommon for Mary to react this way? There are at least two key reasons:

First, according to many biblical scholars as well as Pope John Paul II, the angel did more than simply greet Mary. The angel actually communicated a new name or title to her. In Greek, the greeting was kaire, kekaritomene, or “Hail, full of grace.” Generally speaking, when one greeted another with kaire, a name or title would almost be expected to be found in the immediate context. “Hail, king of the Jews” in John 19:3 and “Claudias Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting” (Acts 23:26) are two biblical examples of this. The fact that the angel replaces Mary’s name in the greeting with “full of grace” was anything but common. This would be analogous to me speaking to one of our tech guys at Catholics answers and saying, “Hello, he who fixes computers.” In our culture, I would just be considered weird. But in Hebrew culture, names, and name changes, tell us something that is permanent about the character and calling of the one named. Just recall the name changes of Abram to Abraham (changed from “father” to “father of the multitudes”) in Gen. 17:5, Saray to Sarah (“my princess” to “princess”) in Gen. 17:15, and Jacob to Israel (“supplanter” to “he who prevails with God”) in Gen. 32:28.

In each case, the names reveal something permanent about the one named. Abraham and Sarah transition from being a “father” and “princess” of one family to being “father” and “princess” or “mother” of the entire people of God (see Romans 4:1-18; Is. 51:1-2). They become Patriarch and Matriarch of God’s people forever. Jacob/Israel becomes the Patriarch whose name, “he who prevails with God,” continues forever in the Church, which is called “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). The people of God will forever “prevail with God” in the image of the Patriarch Jacob who was not just named Israel, but he truly became “he who prevails with God.”

An entire tome could be written concerning the significance of God’s revelation of his name in Exodus 3:14-15 as I AM. God revealed to us volumes about his divine nature in and through the revelation of his name—God is pure being with no beginning and no end; he is all perfection, etc.

What’s in a name? A lot according to Scripture!

When you add to this the fact that St. Luke uses the perfect passive participle, kekaritomene, as his “name” for Mary, we get deeper insight into the meaning of Mary’s new name. This word literally means “she who has been graced” in a completed sense. This verbal adjective, “graced,” is not just describing a simple past action. Greek has the aorist tense for that. The perfect tense is used to indicate that an action has been completed in the past resulting in a present state of being. That’s Mary’s name! So what does it tell us about Mary? Well, the average Christian is not completed in grace and in a permanent sense (see Phil. 3:8-12). But according to the angel, Mary is. You and I sin, not because of grace, but because of a lack of grace, or a lack of our cooperation with grace, in our lives. This greeting of the angel is one clue into the unique character and calling of the Mother of God.

Objection!

One objection to the above is rooted in Eph. 2:8-9. Here, St. Paul uses the perfect tense and passive voice when he says, “For by grace you have been saved…” Why wouldn’t we then conclude all Christians are complete in salvation for all time? There seems to be an inconsistency in usage here.

Actually, the Catholic Church understands that Christians are completed in grace when they are baptized. In context, St. Paul is speaking about the initial grace of salvation in Ephesians two. The verses leading up to Eph. 2:8-9, make this clear: “… we all lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath…even when we were dead in trespasses and sins…(by grace you have been saved)” (vss. 3-5). But there is no indication here, as there is with Mary, that the Christian is going to stay that way. In other words, Eph. 2:8-9 does not confer a name.

In fact, because of original sin, we can guarantee that though we are certainly perfected in grace through baptism, ordinarily speaking, we will not stay that way after we are baptized; that is, if we live for very long afterward (see I John 1:8)! There may be times in the lives of Christians when they are completed or perfected in grace temporarily. For example, after going to confession or receiving the Eucharist well-disposed. We let God, of course, be the judge of this, not us, as St. Paul tells us in I Cor. 4:3-4:

I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted (Gr.—justified). It is the Lord who judges me.

But only Mary is given the name “full of grace” and in the perfect tense indicating that this permanent state of Mary was completed.

2. An Ancient Prophecy—Genesis 3:15:

Genesis 3:15 is often referred to by biblical scholars as the Protoevangelium. It is a sort of “gospel” before “the gospel.” This little text contains in very few words God’s plan of salvation which would be both revealed and realized in the person of Jesus Christ. Yet, when one reads the text, one cannot help but note that this prophetic woman seems to have what could be termed almost a disturbing prominence and importance in God’s providential plan:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Not only do we have the Virgin Birth here implied because the text says the Messiah would be born of “the seed of the woman” (the “seed” is normally of the man), but notice “the woman” is not included as “the seed” of the devil. It seems that both the woman and her seed are in opposition to and therefore not under the dominion of the devil and “his seed,” i.e., all who have original sin and are “by nature children of wrath” as St. Paul puts it in Eph. 2:3. Here, we have in seed form (pun intended), the fact that the woman—Mary—would be without sin, especially original sin, just as her Son—the Messiah—would be. The emphasis on Mary is truly remarkable in that the future Messiah was only mentioned in relation to her. There can be little doubt that a parallel is being drawn between Jesus and Mary and their absolute opposition to the devil.

3. Mary, Ark of the Covenant:

The Old Testament ark of the Covenant was a true icon of the sacred. It was a picture of the purity and holiness God fittingly demands of those objects and/or persons most closely associated with himself and the plan of salvation. Because it would contain the very presence of God symbolized by three types of the coming Messiah—the manna, the Ten Commandments, and Aaron’s staff—it had to be most pure and untouched by sinful man (see II Sam. 6:1-9; Exodus 25:10ff; Numbers 4:15; Heb. 9:4).

In the New Testament, the new and true Ark would not be an inanimate object, but a person—the Blessed Mother. How much more pure would the new and true Ark be when we consider the old ark was a mere “shadow” in relation to it (see Heb. 10:1)? This image of Mary as the Ark of the Covenant is an indicator that Mary would fittingly be free from all contagion of sin in order for her to be a worthy vessel to bear God in her womb. And most importantly, just as the Old Covenant ark was pristine from the moment it was constructed with explicit divine instructions in Exodus 25, so would Mary be most pure from the moment of her conception. God, in a sense, prepared his own dwelling place in both the Old and New Testaments.

4. Mary, the “New Eve” of the New Covenant:

It is important for us to recall, as I mentioned briefly above, that New Covenant fulfillments are always more glorious and more perfect than their Old Testament types, which are “but a shadow of the good things to come” in the New Covenant (Heb. 10:1). With this New Testament truth in mind, let us consider the New Testament revelation of Mary to be the antitype of Eve, or the “New Eve.” After the fall of Adam and Eve in Gen. 3, God promised the advent of another “woman” in Gen. 3:15, or a “New Eve” who would oppose Lucifer, and whose “seed” would crush his head. This “woman” and “her seed” would reverse the curse, so to speak, that the original “man” and “woman” had brought upon humanity through their disobedience.

It is most significant here to note “Adam” and “Eve” are revealed simply as “the man” and “the woman” before the woman’s name was changed to “Eve” (Heb.—Mother of the living) after the fall (See Gen. 2:21ff). When we then look at the New Covenant, Jesus is explicitly referred to as the “last Adam,” or the “New Adam” in I Cor. 15:45. And Jesus himself indicates Mary to be the prophetic “woman” or “New Eve” of Gen. 3:15 when he refers to his mother as “woman” in John 2:5 and 19:26. Moreover, St. John refers to Mary as “woman” eight times in Rev. 12. As the first Eve brought death to all of her children through disobedience and heeding the words of the ancient Serpent, the devil, the “New Eve” of Revelation 12 brings life and salvation to all of her children through her obedience. The same “serpent” who deceived the original woman of Genesis is revealed, in Revelation 12, to fail in his attempt to overcome this New Woman. The New Eve overcomes the serpent and as a result, “The serpent is angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God, and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rev. 12:17).

If Mary is the New Eve, and New Testament fulfillments are always more glorious than their Old Testament antecedents, it would be unthinkable for Mary to be conceived in sin. If she were, she would be inferior to Eve who was created in a perfect state, free from all sin.

5. Mary, the Beginning of the New Creation:

Jeremiah 31:22 presents another fascinating prophecy concerning the coming of the “New Woman” and the New Covenant. In the midst of this well-known chapter famous for its prophecy concerning the coming of the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31, which is quoted in Heb. 8:8), we read: “For the Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth. A WOMAN SHALL COMPASS A MAN” (DRV). St. Jerome, in the fourth century, comments on this text:

“Can a bride forget her jewels, or a virgin her girdle” (Jer. 2:32) Always in this very prophecy it is said that a great miracle occurred involving this woman: The woman will surround the man and the virgin’s womb will contain the parent of all.

In the first covenant, the man “compassed” or “encompassed” the woman. The woman came from the rib of the man. In the New Covenant, “the New Man,” or “New Adam”—Jesus—would come from the womb of “the Woman”—or “New Eve.” It is Mary that would “compass” Jesus.

Many fathers of the Church, in agreement with St. Jerome, will see from this and other biblical texts Mary as the “new earth” or “new land” out of which God would form the “New Adam.” Consider St. Jerome’s Tractus de Psalmo 66 and 96 (these are commentaries on the Psalms). When considering Psalm 66, St. Jerome sees Jesus and Mary in both the “flower and the Lily” of Song of Solomon 2:1 and the “fruits of the earth” from Psalm 66 (67):6:

Do you want to know what this fruit is? It is the virgin from the Virgin, the Lord from the handmaid, God from a human creature, the Son from a mother, the fruit from the earth.

St. Jerome here refers to Mary as “the earth.” He says something similar in his commentary on Psalm 96. He speaks of the promised land to David as being Mary:

The land of David is holy Mary, Mother of the Lord, “who was born of David’s seed according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). What was promised to David was fulfilled in Mary’s virginity and birth, where a virgin is born from a Virgin.

Mary is the new earth out of which would be formed the New Adam. Just as God formed the first Adam from a pristine earth untouched by the curse of original sin, so God would bring the “New Adam” from a “New Land” or “New Earth” that would also most fittingly be pristine and untouched by sin. The first creation began without sin, so the New Creation would begin without sin as well. The first Eve would fall from grace; the New Eve would not.

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Should Bishops Be Married?

As both a guest and, at times, a host on Catholic Answers Live, I have spoken on many different topics over the years. Mostly, I do the “Open Forum Q&A” on Tuesdays, but my favorite hours have been our “Open Forum for Non-Catholics,” when we take calls only from non-Catholics or from people who are in the process of coming into full communion with the Church but who are not yet formally Catholic.

After a recent hour of “Open Forum for Non-Catholics,” I stayed late to take a call we couldn’t get to on the air for lack of time. In short order it became an adventure.

It was not just one caller but several who were sharing the phone, and it quickly became obvious they were calling on a lark. The laughing in the background was a dead giveaway! In a nutshell, they posed as Catholics but obviously weren’t, and they asked the question of how to deal with “crazy Fundamentalists” who “take God’s word literally and actually believe what St. Paul wrote in I Tim. 3:2″:

Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money.

“Notice,” they said, “it says a bishop must be the husband of one wife. And in verse 12, St. Paul will say the same about deacons. How does that square with the Catholic Church that says bishops can’t be married at all? I’m not saying I agree with it, but how do you answer these crazy people who actually believe the Bible?”

This conversation reminded me of my second formal debate I had as a Catholic in 1995 with an Evangelical pastor. He brought up this same text and made a similar argument. When it was my turn to respond, I said, “Man, I’ve got to give this guy credit for one thing. He’s tough! He wouldn’t allow either Jesus or St. Paul to be a bishop in his church! But I want you all to know that the Catholic Church welcomes Jesus not just as a bishop but as the bishop of ours, as I Peter 2:25 says:

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

The word translated guardian here in the RSVCE is actually episkopon, or ‘bishop.’ And notice, Jesus is not just depicted as a bishop; rather, the bishop (Greek, ton episkopon) of your souls. Jesus is the bishop of the Catholic Church. And he was and is celibate.”

Neither my opponent in that debate almost two decades ago nor our friends who called into the broadcast two weeks ago really ever recovered from the obvious implications of that text. But there are a few more points we should consider when answering this point that I did not get to in either of those interactions.

1. Even the Evangelical scripture scholar Dr. Ralph Earle, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, says that St. Paul in 1 Timothy 3 is not requiring bishops to be married. In stating his reasons, he first offers the most ancient position—which we know as Catholics to be apostolic in origin and found in written form in the late second century—that would say this text is placing a limitation on the number of marriages a bishop could have in his lifetime. He could only have been married once. This is the position of the Catholic Church today. If a man has been married more than once, even if licitly, he cannot be admitted to the episcopacy.

2. Earle also notes, “[M]ost commentators agree that [the text] means monogamy—only one wife at one time.” While this interpretation of the text is unlikely for the five reasons we’ll mention below, it is significant to point out that both Catholic and “most [Protestant] commentators” generally agree St. Paul is not making marriage a requirement for the bishopric.

Five points concerning Dr. Earle’s claim that St. Paul “means monogamy,” or that St. Paul was merely condemning polygamy to bishops by saying a “bishop must be the husband of one wife:”

1. The lists of disqualifications to the ministry in both Timothy and Titus were not consisting of things that would exclude a person from being a Christian at all, like polygamy would. They were things that would ensure the candidate in question was living an exemplary Christian life. Illicit “marital” situations were condemned at the Council of Jerusalem in AD 49 and declared to be deal-breakers for one to be a Christian at all (see Acts 15:1-3; 24-28). Though polygamy is not mentioned there verbatim, it would certainly be condemned implicitly in the condemnation of illicit conjugal situations.

2. There was not a single place in the Greco-Roman world where polygamy was being practiced in the first century A.D. It is unlikely St. Paul would speak of something directly like this that was simply not a problem at the time.

3. In the case of St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he would go on to declare that a widow who was “enrolled,” or consecrated as a celibate, and then would marry again, to have sinned gravely:

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband. . . . But refuse to enroll younger widows; for when they grow wanton against Christ they desire to marry, and so they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge (I Tim. 5:9-12).

What gives here? There is nothing wrong with a widow remarrying. That is licit and clearly so elsewhere in Scripture, specifically in St. Paul’s own writings (see Romans 7:2-3; I Cor. 7:27-28, 39-40). Yet, St. Paul declares the “enrolled” widow who re-marries to be condemned? That makes no sense, unless we understand this to be so because these “enrolled” widows were consecrated as celibates for service in the Church.

It is also interesting to note here that St. Paul uses the same language of limiting the widow to having been the wife “of one husband” that he used for bishops and elders.  Obviously this was not meant to say “one husband at a time.” Polyandry would not have even been a thought in St. Paul’s mind.

It is more than fitting that those consecrated as bishops, elders, and deacons would make a similar commitment.

4. St. Paul’s repeated recommendations to all to remain celibate (I Cor. 7:1; 7-8), remain single after having lost a spouse (I Cor. 7:25-28; 32-35; 38; 39-40), or even to live a celibate life within marriage (I Cor. 7:29), are consistent with his prohibition to remarriage to those called to Holy Orders in I Tim. 3:1. St. Paul seems to speak a great deal about second marriages but never about polygamy.

5. I find it interesting that the Protestant New International Version of the Bible translates I Tim. 3:2, “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife.” While I do not necessarily agree with translating the text with the “but” in there, because it is not in the original Greek text, there is no doubt where the Protestant translators of the NIV stand on the question. St. Paul is limiting the candidate for the bishopric to “but” one wife.

3. Going back to the Evangelical, “Bible Expositor’s Commentary,” this time commenting on Titus 1:6, which extends the same prohibition against multiple marriages to both elders and bishops, another Evangelical scholar, Dr. D. Edmond Hiebert, adds, “If Paul had meant that the elder must be married, the reading would have been ‘a’ not ‘one’ wife.” In other words, St. Paul would have said, “The bishop must be the husband of a wife.”

I would argue it would most likely simply say, “The bishop must be married.” But I agree with Dr. Hiebert that the term one indicates that he is limiting the number of marriages, not mandating them.

A Final Thought

I have no doubt that those three or so callers who called in to Catholic Answers that day were sincere. Maybe not in their masquerading as Catholics, but I am sure they sincerely believed the Catholic position of having celibate bishops to be just plain wrong. However, hopefully now they will re-think who it is that really takes St. Paul at his word; that is, his word taken in its proper context.

The Papacy in Scripture – More Than Matthew 16

In an earlier blog post, I made the point that the role of St. Peter and his successors is made remarkably clear in Matthew 16:18-19 and its immediate context:

And I tell you, you are Peter (Gr.—petros—‘rock’), and on this rock (Gr.—petra—‘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 shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Jesus here promises infallible authority to Peter that would empower him to speak in the place of Christ, or as his vicar on earth. Catholics believe just what the text says. When St. Peter (and his successors) “binds” something on earth, it is “bound” in heaven. That’s definitive authority–infallible authority–with the power of heaven to back it up!

A response I get fairly regularly in response to this is to claim the Church is using “this one text” to try and establish a dogma.

My first thought in response is always to say, ”How many times does God have to tell you something before you will believe and obey it?” After all, Jesus only gave us the proper form for baptism one time in Matthew 28:19, and yet all Christians believe it to be the proper form nonetheless.

Nevertheless, I do think this is a valid question that deserves an answer: Is Matthew 16 the only text that demonstrates the truth of Peter’s primacy and of the papacy in Scripture?

The answer is a resounding no!

The List Goes On and On

Below is a list of biblical texts all related to the primacy of St. Peter and the Papacy. Word count limitations prevent me from quoting all of them; you’ll have to do some homework and look up some of these texts yourself. But when you do, you’ll notice there is not a single “rock” to be found among them.

Mind you, this is not an exhaustive list. There are more biblical texts we could take a look at. Consider this my top 18 list:

1. Matt. 14:23-27: St. Peter is uniquely and miraculously empowered by Jesus to walk on water, and when his faith begins to falter, our Lord does not allow him to go under. This is a prelude to Jesus promising to communicate his authority that can never fail to Peter in Matt. 16. The gift of the papacy is here assured not to depend upon the person of St. Peter or of his successors, but on the promise and power of Christ.

2. Matt. 17:24-27: After receiving the promise of authority in Matt. 16, St. Peter is once again given supernatural power, and this time to provide for both himself and Jesus when the first-century equivalent of the I.R.S. comes calling. Peter acts as Christ’s “vicar,” or, in the place of Jesus, in miraculous fashion, once again, guaranteed by Jesus not to fail. He “pays the tax” for both Jesus and himself. If you don’t think this is miraculous, it’s almost April 15 right now. God ahead down to the closest fishin’ hole, cast a line in, catch a fish, and let’s see if there’s enough money in the fish’s mouth to pay your taxes, let alone yours and someone else’s.

3. Luke 5:1-10: The multitudes that gather to hear Jesus at the shore of Lake Gennesaret press in on him so that he has to step off shore into one of two boats that are there docked. The boat he steps into just happens to be Peter’s boat. Hmmmm. Jesus then proclaims the gospel from the barque of Peter (5:1-3)! Sound familiar? Then, Jesus tells Peter to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch. Can you imagine the people present? They must have been thinking that Jesus was nuts! Multitudes have to just stand there and watch St. Peter go fishing? St. Peter then says, “We have toiled all night and caught nothing” (vs. 5), yet he lets down the nets at the command of Jesus. When they catch so many fish they need to bring out the other boat to haul in the load, Peter realizes that Jesus is calling him to more than just catching catfish! These fish are metaphors for Christians. Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (vs.8)! But Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.”

Thus, St. Peter receives a unique and singular calling from Christ to be the fisher of men. And once again, Peter receives supernatural power that cannot fail to fulfill his unique calling.

4. Luke 22:24-32: In this text, Jesus teaches the apostles the true nature of authority, especially in verses 24-28. True authority in the New Covenant is commanded to be servant of all. He will speak with infallible authority just as Christ did, but he must also wash the feet of his brothers just as Christ did. In this context, Jesus said to the apostles:

[A]s my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you (Gr.—humas, plural—“you all”), that he might sift you (Gr.—plural again) like wheat, but I have prayed for you (Gr.—sou, singular—Peter alone) that your faith (Gr.—singular again) may not fail; and when you (Gr.—singular) have turned again, strengthen your brethren.

In the context of committing his kingdom authority to the apostles to govern the church (the “Israel of God”—see Gal. 6:16), Jesus especially prays for Peter so that he may be the source of strength and unity for the rest of the apostles. If the apostles want to be protected from the devil’s attempts to divide and destroy them and the Church, they must be in communion with Peter. And notice, Jesus says specifically to Peter, that, literally from the Greek text, “the faith of you [Peter] will not fail.” This is precisely what the Catholic Church has been teaching for 2,000 years!

5. John 10:16: Jesus prophesied:

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, and one shepherd (emphasis added).

Who is this prophetic shepherd? The answer seems simple. And on one level it is. Jesus declared himself to be “the good shepherd” (Gr.—poimein—“shepherd” or “pastor”) in John 10:14. Yet, if we dig deeper into the text we discover another meaning as well. In the context of prophesying about this “one flock” and “one shepherd,” Jesus says he must gather “other sheep” referring to the gentiles. Who does our Lord use as the shepherd to bring this prophecy to pass? The answer is found in our next two texts.

6. John 21:1-17: Here, we find another example of Jesus aiding the fishing of the apostles who “caught nothing” all night long (vs. 3). At the command of Jesus they let down their nets and catch an astonishing 153 “large fish” (vs. 11). When Jesus commands the net to be hauled ashore, St. Peter heaves the entire net of fish to shore by himself. No man can lift that size of a catch out of the water and on to the shore by himself. If you take these words literally to mean Peter actually did this, it seems Peter was given supernatural strength to do what no man could naturally accomplish. Fish are symbols representing the faithful (recall Luke 5:8-10). And the symbol of “the net” is used elsewhere in the New Testament for the Church (see Matt. 13:47). Not only is Peter’s ability to carry these “fish” (all the faithful) a miracle, but the fact that the “net” is not broken is also extraordinary. The message seems to be that the Church Jesus establishes containing all of God’s faithful with Peter packing the power will never be destroyed!

It is in this context that Jesus then asks St. Peter three times, “Do you love me… Do you love me… Do you love me?” When Peter responds in the affirmative the second time, Jesus responds by commanding Peter to “tend (Gr.–poimaine—’shepherd’) my sheep” (vs. 16). Jesus the shepherd here commissions Peter to be the prophetic shepherd of John 10:16 to shepherd the entire people of God!

How do we know Peter was called to shepherd the entire flock? I would only ask this: How many of the sheep belong to Jesus? Answer? All of them. So how many of his sheep did Jesus entrust to St. Peter to shepherd? Answer? All of them.

7. Matt. 10:2: In the context of the calling and listing of the twelve apostles, Peter is referred to as “the first” apostle. We know he was not the “first apostle” chronologically. John 1:37-41 tells us Andrew believed Jesus was the Messiah first and told his brother Peter about him. Andrew would be the “first” chronologically. Peter was “first” in primacy.

Though the Greek word, protos (first), can certainly mean “first” chronologically, it can also denote “chief,” “superior” or “the first in rank.” In Acts 28:7, for example, protos is used to describe “the chief man of the Island, Publius.” In Matthew 20:27, we discover, “Whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” Luke 15:22 adds: “Bring forth the best robe…” And I Tim. 1:15 provides: “And I am the foremost of sinners.” All of these texts use protos in the sense of “chief” or “superior.”

Moreover, Christ is referred to as prototokos, or “first-begotten” in Col. 1:15. Here St. Paul uses protos in order to teach us about Christ’s eternal generation, which has been accomplished outside of time. He is; therefore, the creator and the one who has “preeminence” over all things, according to the text. Colossians 1:15-18 reads:

[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born (Gr.—prototokos) of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth…He is before all things…He is the head of the body, the church…that in everything he might be pre-eminent (Gr.—proteuon, a verb with the same root as protos and prototokos).

Thus, in a notably direct and overt manner, by referring to St. Peter as the “first” apostle, St. Matthew presents Peter (and his successors) just as we see him represented in the rest of the New Testament; he is revealed to be “chief” of the apostles, or to have a primacy of authority over all the apostles and, by extension, over the entire church.

8. Acts 1:15-26: 

During those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers (there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place).  He said, “My brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled which the holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus … For it is written in the Book of Psalms:  “Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it” (citing Psalm 69:25).  And: “May another take his office” (citing Psalm 109:8). Therefore it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us … become with us a witness to his resurrection.  So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two you have chosen …”  Then they gave lots … and the lots fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.

It is St. Peter who is clearly in charge in choosing and ordaining a new apostle to replace Judas. He stands in the midst of the apostles and gives an authoritative interpretation of Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. And mind you, these are not exactly obvious interpretations of these texts. Psalm 69:25 uses the plural, yet Peter applies it singularly to Peter. The context of Psalm 109:8 also uses the plural (see verse 20). This is not exactly self-evident. Yet, St. Peter then declares the apostles must choose a successor of Judas based upon these two texts. And there is nary a question from the rest of the apostles like, “Hey, Peter, that’s a pretty shaky interpretation of those two texts. What hermeneutical principles are you using, anyway?”

In the case of St. Peter, the old saying is true, “It is my (Peter’s) way or the highway.”

9. Acts 2:14-41:

It is St. Peter who is in charge at Pentecost and preaches the first sermon whereby 3,000 are baptized. And you’ll notice a theme we are going to often see in the Book of Acts (and in the Gospels as well). Peter is listed as a category all by himself. Acts 2 says, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them.” There’s Peter alone, and then there is “the eleven.”

10. Acts 3:1-10:

Peter and John are “about to go into the temple,” when a man who was “lame from birth” called out to them begging alms. We note that it is Peter who speaks and it is Peter who performs the first miracle in the Acts of the Apostles. Another “first” for St. Peter. We will see more.

11. Acts 4:3-12:

When St. Peter and St. John are arrested and called before the Sanhedrin, it is St. Peter in verse 8, who speaks for both and preaches boldly of Christ and the name of Jesus.

12. Acts 5:1-15: It is St. Peter who clearly depicted as in charge of the Church in collecting funds for world evangelism. And it is St. Peter who pronounces God’s judgment on Ananias and Sapphira, speaking for God in the process. And it is then, in verse 15, that after seeing “more than ever” numbers of converts flood into the Church, that the sick were brought to him in hope that even his shadow might pass over them so that they may be healed.

13. Acts 5:29: After the apostles were arrested and then miraculously set free by the angel of the Lord, they are before the Sanhedrin for the second time. St. Luke records:

Peter and the apostles said in reply, “We must obey God rather then men.”

Once again, St. Peter is set apart from the rest of the apostles. If he was just one of the apostles with no special position St. Luke would not set him apart like he does. Why does he do this? Because St. Peter has the keys of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:15-19). He is the Shepherd over the whole flock of God’s people (cf. John 10:11-16, 21:15-17).

In fact, every time St. Peter is mentioned in sacred Scripture with the other apostles, he is either listed first (see Matthew 10:2, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16 and Acts 1:13, etc.), or given a special place apart from the other apostles (see I Cor. 9:5, Mark 1:36, Mark 16:7 and Luke 9:32) except for one example in Galatians 2:9. This one example is often used by non-Catholics to demonstrate absolute equality among the apostles or even to prove St. James to have been the true leader of the early Church rather than St. Peter.

And when they perceived the grace that was given to me (St. Paul), James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the gentiles and they to the circumcised.

A closer look at the context clears up this apparent difficulty. In Galatians 2, St. Paul is speaking in the context of the church at Jerusalem. We know from Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History …) that James was the first bishop of Jerusalem after the apostles dispersed throughout the world.  It would not be surprising to list James first in the context of the diocese (or city, as it were then) over which he presides. Even today, if there were a Council held in a diocese other than Rome, the local bishop would normally be given a special place of honor in some distinct manner. This, in fact, has been the case many times in the history of the Church. James should be given a place of honor because he is the head of local Church there in Jerusalem.

This is the context of Galatians 2. However, notice the difference between this second visit St. Paul made to Jerusalem and his first visit fourteen years earlier (cf. Galatians 2:1).

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:18-19)… Then, after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas… and when they perceived the grace of God was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (Gal. 1:18-2:9).

St. Paul originally went to Jerusalem not to see James, though he did see James. He went to confer with St. Peter. After receiving revelation from God, St. Peter is the first man St. Paul wants to see. This was not just a casual meeting. It lasted fifteen days. It was fourteen years later (cf. Gal. 2:1), after St. Peter had gone and established his see in Antioch (cf. Gal. 2:11, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History), that St. Paul lists James first in the context of the Church of Jerusalem.

An interesting not: There are four lists of apostles given in Scripture. Matthew 10:2-4 (which we saw before), Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16 and Acts 1:13. In every case St. Peter is first and Judas is last (except in Acts, Judas is not listed at all because he had committed suicide). In oriental culture, the listing of names is important. It connotes position and honor. Notice in all the lists the order is generally identical. There is a bit of juxtaposition in St. Mark’s list, but St. Peter’s place is always the same. This is reminiscient of the early Church. There was some juxtaposition in the early Church when it came to the second and third place of honor in the Church, but never a doubt who was at the helm:  The Bishop of Rome.

14. Acts 8:14-23:

In this text we see St. Peter leading when he and St. John confirm the new converts in Samaria because of the evangelistic efforts of St. Phillip. And once again it is St. Peter who takes the helm in pronouncing judgment on Simon the sorcerer who wanted to buy the power to confirm or convey the Holy Spirit (verses 18-23).

15. Acts 9:32:

Here we have an interesting little passage in verse 32 most pass over too quickly.

As Peter was passing through every region, he went down to the holy ones living in Lydda (NAB).

Here we have St. Peter making his pastoral rounds. To what part of the Church?  All of it!  Why?  St. Peter is the shepherd of the whole world.  He then proceeds to do another first.  He raises Tabitha from the dead in Joppa (cf. 9:40-43).

16. Acts 10:1-48:

In this chapter from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus personally sees to the fulfillment of the prophecy of John 10:16, which we saw above. He appears to St. Peter and commands him to bring the gospel to the gentiles by way of Cornelius, the centurion. When Peter then “commanded [Cornelius and his household] to be baptized” in Acts 10:48, the prophecy of John 10:16 was fulfilled. There was now one fold and one shepherd for Jews and Gentiles. That ministry has continued to this day in the successors of St. Peter, the bishops of Rome.

It would be easy to pass over this text and miss its importance. It is most significant that it is St. Peter to whom God gives a vision to allow the gentiles to be baptized and enjoy full membership in the Church. This was a radical move! If you think we have a problem with racism in the 21st century, we have nothing on first century opinion of the gentiles!

If we read further, into Acts 11:18, after the other apostles and other disciples heard Peter declare what God had done, they say, in chapter 11:18:

When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.”

They heard St. Peter speak and the question was settled. The question would continue to plague the Church with reference to how the gentiles and Jews were to harmonize in the Church. But the question of Gentiles being in the Church was settled by St. Peter and the question would not be raised again. Peter had spoken, the rest of the Church “held their peace.”  Would to God we today would do the same!

17. Acts 12: 3-11:

In this text, St. Peter is arrested again. Notice that the entire Church then goes to ‘round the clock prayer for him until he is released miraculously. This is not recorded to have been the case when St. James or any others were arrested. When the head of a fledgling Church struggling for its existence is put in jail, you better believe everyone is praying!

18. Acts 15: 1-12:

The ministry of St. Peter as “the shepherd” of the Universal Church continues. When there was a heresy spreading in the church at Antioch (and elsewhere) so widespread and problematic that Paul and Barnabas could not quell the resulting confusion, the church there decided to “go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question” (vss. 1-2). The question concerned salvation and the Old Covenant law in relation to the gospel. Some among “believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise…and…to keep the law of Moses’ (vs. 5) or else you ‘cannot be saved’” (vs. 1). In particular, they spoke of the gentiles who were converting to Christ, but the same would apply to all. The real question was: Are Christians saved by the grace of Christ in the New Covenant or must they obey the Old Covenant as well for salvation? The first Church Council (of Jerusalem) was convened and the theological question was put to rest by the pronouncement of St. Peter.

The apostles and elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice…that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe…we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly kept silence… (Vs. 6-12, emphasis added)

Like we saw in Acts 11:18, when the Pope finally speaks on a matter, the rest are silent. And so it should be.

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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.

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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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