Friday, December 23, 2011

Do the Romans 9 Objections Make Sense?

Calvinist's often say the objections in Romans 9 don't make sense unless Paul is talking about unconditional election on individuals to salvation.  But Steve Hays provides some decent examples of why they still make sense if Paul is talking about God's plan to save by grace (rather than works or nationality). (link)  Romans 9 is about God's sovereignty , one way or another. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Other Views on the Middle Knowledge Texts


I recently posted a list of verses teaching God knows what we would choose under various settings.  (link)   Steve Hays responded, providing two alternative views of these texts. The first grants that the passages teach what a person would in various settings but denies we are choosing1. Here’s Steve’s suggested alternative:

God knows what might have happened because he knows how things would turn out had he decreed that alternative.


And that’s also consistent with God as the final source of every alternate possibility. What’s possible is a measure of divine omnipotence. God knows what God is capable of doing. Divine omnipotence is the engine generating those possibilities. (link)

I don’t think omnipotence (i.e. God’s capabilities) is enough to account for these passages. Imaging God creates Santa (which of course He could do). God could have Santa deliver toys this year or He could have Santa occupy Wall Street instead. How does He know which would happen if Santa existed? God must not only be able to do either, but He must choose one.

The Dominicans (early opponents of the Molinists) said God decrees not only what will happen, but also what would happen under every possible scenario. If you believe in God’s decree about what would happen in every hypothetical world, then you could use that view to account for these texts. And they accuse me of imposing speculative philosophy on scripture. James White once said middle knowledge reminded him of the Star Trek episode when Spock had a beard. Welcome to the club.

Steve also posted a link to Brandon’s post suggesting that in Matthew 11:21-23, Christ uses a figure of speech meaning Capernaum is more hard-hearted than Sodom. (link)   Unquestionably Christ is teaching Capernaum is more hard-hearted than Sodom, but how is He teaching that? Are we looking at a divine guess? No way I am buying that. Is it exaggeration? Rhetorical exaggeration works if the person knows you are exaggerating. If I tell my kids, have some of this salsa, but not that one or smoke will come out of your ears, it works, because they know I am exaggerating. But is it obvious Christ is exaggerating? No, what He is saying is plausible. Besides, His point is better made with the truth.

Brandon also suggests that in 1 Corinthians 2:8, if the leaders knew who Christ was, they could not have killed Him. Granted, it would have been much harder, but impossible? What about Satan or Judas? They faced hard evidence and still rebelled.

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1At least what I mean by choosing and what I strongly believe the bible means by choosing - Steve and I had an extended debate on this, which I don’t mean to reopen, but clearly we ended with different views (link))

God Blames us when we Don't use our Abilities for Him

Jeremiah 5:21"Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.


This passage implies the Israelites were able to see and hear but refused to do so. God gave them the ability but they didn’t use it. Not only could they do otherwise, but they should have. We are accountable to God for how we use the freedom and ability He gave us.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Middle Knowledge in Scripture

One of the criticisms I repeatedly hear of middle knowledge is that it’s a philosophical system rather than scriptural. Now the two scriptural pillars of middle knowledge are the many passages saying men choose and the many passages saying God is in control. Middle knowledge reconciles the two.


However, there’s no shortage of the passages more directly supporting middle knowledge – those passages showing that God’s knows what we would choose under different settings. It’s not as if scripture limits middle knowledge to the famous examples of David in Keilah or the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon. Here’s a list of passages showing God does know what we would choose in various circumstances : Deuteronomy 28:51-57, 1 Samuel 23:6-10, Ezekiel 3:6-7, Jeremiah 49:9, Obadiah 1:5, Matthew 11:21-23, Matthew 12:7, Matthew 23:27-32, Matthew 24:43, Luke 16:30-31, Luke 22:67-68, John 8:39, John 8:42, John 14:28, John 15:19, John 18:36, 1 Corinthians 2:8, Galatians 4:15, and 1 John 2:19.

Some may still protest this fall short of a full-fledge systematic presentation. Well show me the scriptural full-fledge systematic presentation of supra or sub lapsarianism or the Trinity or your brand of eschatology.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Do Permissible Options Imply LFW?

Numbers 30:13 Every vow and every binding oath to afflict her soul, her husband may confirm it, or her husband may make it void. (NKJV)
This passage teaches that both options were permissible, neither option being a sin. Calvinists would probably respond by saying permissible options do not imply that the man can choose either option but why it does not is beyond me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Handful of Anti-Molinist Arguments

Steve Hays recently launched a series of anti-Molinism arguments, mostly in response to William Lane Craig’s defense of Molinism here.

Steve’s first criticism of Molinism is to call it fate and fatalistic, because in Molinism God does not decide what we would freely do in various circumstances.  (link) Steve doesn’t explain why this qualifies as fatalism.  Was the Cowboys selection of Tryon Smith fatalistic just because the first eight players were off the board?  No, just because you don’t decide everything does not mean you cannot decide anything or that the outcome of what you do choose is inevitable.  While God does not determine what we would choose in various circumstances, He does decide the circumstances.  Steve is confusing the inability to determine everything with the inability to determine anything.

Steve’s second criticism of Molinsim is that “So not only must God play the hand he’s been dealt, but he was dealt that hand from a fictitious deck by a fictitious dealer!”  (link) Steve basis this argument on Craig’s statements that “the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt” and on Craig’s denial that abstract objects, like numbers, exist.  But counterfactuals of freedom are not abstract objects like numbers.  Imagine God has a hypothetical simulator machine and keeps it in your basement.  He puts hypothetical people in it and it spits out scenarios.  The idea of the simulator machine or the idea of its output, the scenarios, may be abstract objects like numbers, but the machine is not.  It’s sitting in your basement.  Steve is confusing God’s thoughts and ability to hypothesize with the concepts of God’s thoughts and ability to hypothesize. 

Steve’s third criticism of Molinism is that it’s incoherent to talk about what a person would do if we assume they had a radically different past and were in completely different circumstances, like JFK being born in medieval Tibet.  This assumes there is nothing more to us than our nature, genetics and circumstances.  It’s like we could have an identity swap with another person, so long as that other person had our genetics, memories and upbringing.  But the bible does talk about what people would do if they had been born in another time, like the Pharisees in Christ time would have killed the OT prophets (Matthew 23:29-32) or what Christ’s servants would do if His kingdom had been of this world (John 18:36).  Such statements are not incoherent, in part because there is such a thing as “us”, over and above our circumstances and genetics.

Steve’s fourth criticism of Molinism is that God’s not determining what we would choose in every setting conflicts with His omnipotence.  Steve even compares William Lane Craig to a Rabbi who’s rejected by Orthodox Jews and popular among Mormans for denying omnipotence.  (link)  The comparison is uncalled for and would be like comparing Calvinists to Hindus with an evil god.  Probably Steve’s argument would look something like God cannot create a rock so big He cannot lift it because the idea of a rock so big God cannot lift is logically impossible.  There’s no such rock, and similarly there’s no such thing as libertarian free will. But if LFW is impossible, God does not have LFW, as Plantinga points out (see Theism and Persons within Advice to Christian Philosophers (link)). But perhaps Steve is a uniwiller; holding it’s impossible for more than one libertarian free will to exist.  If so, he should present his argument and meanwhile here’s a decent Molinist account of omnipotence by Flint and Freddoso (link). 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thy Will Be Done

Martin Luther provides a devotional challenge applicable to Calvinists today:

With reference to the elect we might distinguish between three classes.  First, there are those who are satisfied with God’s will, as it is, and do not murmur against God, but rather believe that they are elected.  They do not want to be damned.  Secondly, there are those who submit to God’s will and are satisfied with it in their hearts.  At least they desire to be satisfied, if God does not wish to save, but reject them.  Thirdly, there are those who really are ready to be condemned if God should will this.  These are cleansed most of all of their own will and carnal wisdom.  (Martin Luther.  Commentary on Romans.  Kregel Publishing. 1976 p 132)
Would you be satisfied with God not electing you?  Should you be?  One the one hand, I can see a certain selflessness in what Luther calling for.  Whatever may happen to me, Thy will be Done!  But being reprobate entails your being an unrepentant sinner and perishing for your sins.  God hates sin and has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.  So there’s also a lawlessness to what Luther suggests here.  This tension stems for the “two wills of God” and the practical reality of having to back one of God's wills at the expense of the other.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Arnobius of Sicca on Free Will

Arnobius of Sicca (died c. 330)

64. But, my opponents ask, if Christ came as the Saviour of men, as you say, why does He not, with uniform benevolence, free all without exception? I reply, does not He free all alike who invites all alike? or does He thrust back or repel any one from the kindness of the Supreme who gives to all alike the power of coming to Him,—to men of high rank, to the meanest slaves, to women, to boys? To all, He says, the fountain of life is open, and no one is hindered or kept back from drinking. If you are so fastidious as to spurn the kindly offered gift, nay, more, if your wisdom is so great that you term those things which are offered by Christ ridiculous and absurd, why should He keep on inviting you, while His only duty is to make the enjoyment of His bounty depend upon your own free choice? God, Plato says, does not cause any one to choose his lot in life; nor can another’s choice be rightly attributed to any one, since freedom of choice was put in His power who made it. Must you be even implored to deign to accept the gift of salvation from God; and must God’s gracious mercy be poured into your bosom while you reject it with disdain, and flee very far from it? Do you choose to take what is offered, and turn it to your own advantage? You will in that case have consulted your own interests. Do you reject with disdain, lightly esteem, and despise it? You will in this case have robbed yourself of the benefit of the gift. God compels no one, terrifies no one with overpowering fear. For our salvation is not necessary to Him, so that He would gain anything or suffer any loss, if He either made us divine, or allowed us to be annihilated and destroyed by corruption.

65. Nay, my opponent says, if God is powerful, merciful, willing to save us, let Him change our dispositions, and compel us to trust in His promises. This, then, is violence, not kindness nor the bounty of the Supreme God, but a childish and vain strife in seeking to get the mastery. For what is so unjust as to force men who are reluctant and unwilling, to reverse their inclinations; to impress forcibly on their minds what they are unwilling to receive, and shrink from; to injure before benefiting, and to bring to another way of thinking and feeling, by taking away the former? You who wish yourself to be changed, and to suffer violence, that you may do and may be compelled to take to yourself that which you do not wish, why do you refuse of your own accord to select that which you wish to do, when changed and transformed? I am unwilling, He says, and have no wish. What, then, do you blame God as though He failed you? do you wish Him to bring you help, whose gifts and bounties you not only reject and shun, but term empty words, and assail with jocose witticisms? (link)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Paul's Article on God's decrees and Determinism

Here's a link to Paul Manata's excellent article titled 'Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Reformed Theology: A Contemporary Introduction'.   (link)  Paul's main point, that Calvinism is determinism, is spot on.  Paul recognizes and answers the movement being generated by those denying Calvinism is deterministic.  I also think the article serves as a highly useful interface into the literature on free will/determinism. 

I do, of course, disagree with a number of points in the article, but they are fairly minor except in the arguments against libertarian free will section. 




Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Response to Steve Ray on Salvation by Faith Alone

Steve Ray recently pointed out that the bible attributes salvation to things other than faith.  (link)
Salvation, taken narrowly, is a synonym for justification, but salvation also has a broad sense, including things like entrance into heaven itself.  We are justified by faith alone, but that does not mean we are saved (in the broad sense) by faith alone.  My ear alone hears, but if it’s torn from my head, it will no longer hear.  Likewise, faith, when not accompanied with works, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and forgiving others, does not save.  In this sense, things besides faith are conditions for salvation, but they do not receive God’s free gift of justification – only faith does.

One of the categories of items Steve mentioned deserves special attention – God’s grace, the cross, Christ’s blood and His righteousness.  It’s wrong to oppose faith with God’s grace.  Faith does not earn but rather receives God’s gifts.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Which is more likley?

That Camping could know when Christ will return or that James White could know that if Camping seeks to rescue his reputation, he will end up in hell?

James White:  "I fear if you seek to rescue your reputation, you will end your life under the wrath of God. Your unwillingness to listen to counsel has already caused great damage to the cause of Christ. You have one final chance for redemption, sir. Do not remain stiff-necked. Repent and turn from your ways."  (link)

The Chruch Fathers on Penal Substitution

I recently reviewed what the Church Fathers had to say on the atonement and was pleasantly surprised by what I learned. They often said things that support my understanding of the atonement - penal substitution.
Penal substitution is the idea that sin we broke God's law, His justice demanded that we be punished, and Christ satisfied God's justice by a substitutionary penalty. Sometimes this idea is fairly explicit in the Fathers. In particular, I found Eusebius' statement that in OT sacrifices, animals were slain in the place of men, prefiguring what Christ would do, as a very powerful affirmation of penal substitution. Clearly, the OT sacrifices were offered to God, not Satan, so if you view the sacrifices as penal substitutions, you are basically there. The other person that stood out to me was Theodore Abucara, who plainly taught penal substitution. While he was pre-reformation, he is probably too late to be considered a church father.
Beyond Eusebius and Abucara, the idea of penal substitution is in the Fathers, but it's in pieces; one father talking about Christ paying a penalty, another saying He satisfies the Father, another saying He took our place or was substituted. And that's perhaps why I often hear the Reformers took the best elements of the Fathers and assembled them in a systematic way. After all, the fathers didn’t write that many systematic theologies.

One final lesson I learned from the study; don't throw out a father because he taught the ransom theory or at times describes Christ's work as in medical terms rather than judicial terms. Abucara taught me that the ransom theory (Christ's rescuing us from Satan's power) is compatible with penal substitution. There are just two different views of the atonement - but they are not fundamentally at odds with each other. Similarly, the view that Christ healed our sickness due to sin is not mutually exclusive with the idea that He was a penal substitute.

But enough from me, let's hear from the church fathers!
Turrtullian (160-220): But He has both suffered the penalty in our presence, and surrendered His life, laying it down for our sakes, and is held in contempt by the Gentiles
Against Marcion, Book IV, Chapter 14

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 265-c. 340)
 
But he alone having reached our deep corruption, he alone having taken upon himself our labors, he alone having suffered the punishments due for our impieties, having recovered us who were not half dead merely, but were already in tombs and sepulchers, and altogether foul and offensive, saves us, both anciently and now, by his beneficent zeal, beyond the expectation of any one, even of ourselves, and imparts liberally of the Father's benefits—he who is the giver of life and light, our great Physician and King and Lord, the Christ of God.  Church History. Book X.

And how can He make our sins His own, and be said to bear our iniquities, except by our being regarded as His body, according to the apostle, who says: "Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members?" And by the rule that "if one member suffer all the members suffer with it," so when the many members suffer and sin, He too by the laws of (c) sympathy (since the Word of God was pleased to take the form of a slave and to be knit into the common tabernacle of us all) takes into Himself the labours of the suffering members, and makes our sicknesses His, and suffers all our woes and labours by the laws of love. And the Lamb of God not only did this, but was chastised on our behalf, (d) and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonour, which were due to us, and drew down on Himself the apportioned curse, being made a curse for us. And what is that but the price of our souls? And so the oracle says in our person: "By his stripes we were healed," and "The Lord delivered him for our sins," with the result that uniting Himself to us and us to Himself, and appropriating our sufferings, He can say, "I said, Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul, (468) for I have sinned against thee," Demonstratio Evangelica. Book X.

And this thought, I hold, was not due to accident, nor was its source in man, but it was divinely suggested. For when they saw since they were holy, brought nigh to God, and enlightened by the Divine Spirit in their souls that there was need of great stress on the cleansing of the sons of men, they thought that a ransom was due to the source of life and soul in return for their own salvation. And then as they had nothing better or more valuable than their own life to sacrifice, in place of it they brought a sacrifice through that of the unreasoning beasts, providing a life instead of their own life. They did not consider this was sinful or unrighteous. They had not been taught that the soul of the brutes was like man's, which has discourse of reason: they had only learned that it was the animal's blood, and that in the blood is the principle of life, which they offered themselves, sacrificing as it were to God one life instead of another.
Moses makes this abundantly clear, when he says:

"For the life of all flesh is the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your sins: for the blood shall make atonement for the soul. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood."

Note carefully in the above the words, "I gave to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for the blood shall make atonement for the soul."

He says clearly that the blood of the victims slain is a propitiation in the place of human life. And the law about sacrifices suggests that it should be so regarded, if it is carefully considered. For it requires him who is sacrificing always to lay his hands on the head of the victim, and to bear the animal to the priest held by its head, as one offering a sacrifice on behalf of himself. Thus he says in each case:

"He shall bring it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hands on the head of the gift."

Such is the ritual in every case, no sacrifice is ever brought up otherwise….
And any Jews, of course, who have taken refuge in Christ, even if they attend no longer to the ordinances of Moses, but live according to the new covenant, are free from the curse ordained by Moses, for the Lamb of God has surely not only taken on Himself the sin of the world, but also the curse involved in the breach of the commandments of Moses as well. The Lamb of God is made thus both sin and curse—sin for the sinners in the world, and curse for those remaining in all the things written in Moses' law. And so the Apostle says: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us"; and "Him that knew no sin, for our sakes he made sin."For what is there that the Offering for the whole world could not effect, the Life given for the life of sinners, Who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb to the sacrifice, and all this for us and on our behalf? …

He then that was alone of those who ever existed, the Word of God, before all worlds, and High Priest of every creature that has mind and reason, separated One of like passions with us, as a sheep or lamb from the human flock, branded on Him all our sins, and fastened on Hirn as well the curse that was adjudged by Moses' law, as Moses foretells: "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." This He suffered "being made a curse for us; and making himself sin for our sakes."And then "He made him sin for our sakes who knew no sin,"and laid on Him all the punishments due to us for our sins, bonds, insults, contumelies, scourging, and shameful blows, and the crowning trophy of the Cross. …

Demonstratio Evangelica. Book I .


Macarius of Jerusalem (Bishop of Jerusalem from 312 to shortly before 335): But he himself came as the Saviour of all, and in our name bore, in his own flesh, the punishment owed by us.  (Acts of the Council of Nice. Book 2)

Athanasious (296-373)

And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father— doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord's body, and had no longer holding-ground against men, his peers)

But since it was necessary also that the debt owing from all should be paid again: for, as I have already said , it was owing that all should die, for which special cause, indeed, He came among us: to this intent, after the proofs of His Godhead from His works, He next offered up His sacrifice also on behalf of all, yielding His Temple to death in the stead of all, in order firstly to make men quit and free of their old trespass, and further to show Himself more powerful even than death, displaying His own body incorruptible, as first-fruits of the resurrection of all.  On the Incarnation of the Word.


And so it was that two marvels came to pass at once, that the death of all was accomplished in the Lord's body, and that death and corruption were wholly done away by reason of the Word that was united with it. For there was need of death, and death must needs be suffered on behalf of all, that the debt owing from all might be paid. 6. Whence, as I said before, the Word, since it was not possible for Him to die, as He was immortal, took to Himself a body such as could die, that He might offer it as His own in the stead of all, and as suffering, through His union with it, on behalf of all, “Bring to nought Him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and might deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”  On the Incarnation of the Word.

For if He came Himself to bear the curse laid upon us, how else could He have become Galatians 3:13 a curse, unless He received the death set for a curse? And that is the Cross.  For this is exactly what is written: Cursed Deuteronomy 21:23 is he that hangs on a tree. On the Incarnation of the Word

Gregory Thaumaturgus (213-270):  and in the glorious advent of the Son of God, who of the Virgin Mary took flesh, and endured sufferings and death in our stead, and came to resurrection on the third day, and was taken up to heaven; and in His glorious appearing yet to come; and in one holy Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the flesh, and life eternal. (A Sectional Confession of Faith, Section 17)

Victor of Antioch (303) He was made like us; he took upon himself our miseries and crosses that he might raise up our nature, fallen through sin, and finally restore it to its former grade of dignity.  The advantages, therefore, which have flowed to us thorugh his sufferings are very many; for he himself paid our debts for us, himself bore our sins, himself for our sake both suffered and groaned. (On Mark xv Cited in J.A. Cramer, Catenae in evangelia Matthaei et Marci (Oxford. 1840))

Ambrose (337-397) 
And so by his own blood he redemed those whom their own sins had sold.  But Christ, sold by undertaking a condition, is not held by the price of a fault and sin, because he committed no sin.  He therefore contracted the debt at our price, not by his own expenditure; he took away the handwriting, removed the userer, freed the debtor, alone paid that wihc was owed by all.  (On the Patriarch Joseph, Ambrose. "De Joseph" PL 14.673–704 Chap. iv)

God so took flesh as to abolish the curse of sinful flesh, and was made a curse for us that blessing might absorb the curse, perfection the sin, pardon the sentance, life death.  For he accepted death that the sentance might be fulfilled, and perfect satisfaction even unto death be made for him condemned through the curse of the flesh.  Therefore nothing was done contrary to the sentence of God, since the condition of the divine sentence was fulfilled.  For the curse extends even unto death, but after death is grace.  (Concerning Esau, or concerning the Flight of the Age, Chap. vii  Ambrose. Seven Exegetical Works.  CUA Press, 1972 p. 314)

Augustine (354-430)
But how do the Pelagians say that only death passed upon us by Adam's means? For if we die because he died, but he died because be sinned, they say that the punishment passed without the guilt, and that innocent infants are punished with an unjust penalty by deriving death without the deserts of death. This, the catholic faith has known of the one and only mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who condescended to undergo death— that is, the penalty of sin— without sin, for us. As He alone became the Son of man, in order that we might become through Him sons of God, so He alone, on our behalf, undertook punishment without ill deservings, that we through Him might obtain grace without good deservings. Because as to us nothing good was due so to Him nothing bad was due. Against two epistles of the Pelagians.  Bk. iv.

The apostle boldly says of Christ, "He was made a curse for us;" for he could also venture to say, "He died for all." "He died," and "He was cursed," are the same. Death is the effect of the curse; and all sin is cursed, whether it means the action which merits punishment, or the punishment which follows. Christ, though guiltless, took our punishment, that He might cancel our guilt, and do away with our punishment. Against Faustus the Manicheaean, Bk. xiv

It is your fault that you are unjust; it is your punishment that you are mortal.  That he might be your neighbor he undertook your punishment.  He did not receive your sin.  Or if he received it, he received it to destroy it, not to do it.... By receiving the punishment, and not receiving the sin, he has destroyed both sin and punishment.  (Sermon in Luke, Sermon CLXXI III.  PL XXXVII)

Proclus of Constantinople (d 446): The nature of man owed much in consequence of sins, and was in perplexity over the debt. For through Adam all had been accused of sin; the devil held us slaves; he made boast of having purchased us, employing for a proof our much suffering body. The evil falsifier of the passions stood pressing the debt upon us, and demanding justice from us. There was therefore need of one of two things, — either that death, arising from the condemnation, should be laid upon all, since also all sinned; or that such a payment should be made in recompense as to satisfy every righteous demand. A man, therefore, could not save us; for he lay under the debt of sin. An angel could not redeem humanity, for he did not know how to provide such a ransom. It remained, therefore, that the sinless God should die in behalf of those who had sinned. For this was the only deliverance from the evil left. What then? He that brought all nature from nothingness into being, who was not perplexed to find a way of delivery, found out for them that were condemned a most sure life, and release most becoming to death, and is made man of a virgin in such a manner as he himself knows, — for reason is not able to interpret the wonder, — and dies in what he became, and paid the ransom in what he was; as Paul says: "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." Oh great work! he purchased immortality for others, for he was himself immortal.   (Homily on the Nativity of Christ Proclus.  C. Moss.  Le Museon. 1929)

Gregory the Great (540-604)

But we must consider how He is righteous and ordereth all things righteously, if He condemns Him that deserveth not to be punished.  For our Mediator deserved not to be punished for Himself, because He never was guilty of any defilement of sin.  But if He had not Himself undertaken a death not due to Him, He would never have freed us from one that was justly due to us.  And so whereas ‘The Father is righteous,’ in punishing a righteous man, ‘He ordereth all things righteously,’ in that by these means He justifies all things, viz. that for the sake of sinners He condemns Him Who is without sin; that all the Elect [electa omnia] might rise up to the height of righteousness, in proportion as He Who is above all underwent the penalties of our unrighteousness. Morals  Book III

Theodore Abucara (d 770) God, in his just judgment, demanded of us all things that were written in the law, when we were not competent to pay them; for that reason our Lord paid them for us, and assumed the curse and condemnation to which we were exposed, and further took it upon himself. What things we ought to have suffered, he himself bore. — The same, in the same place: Now tell me, what those five enemies are from which Christ has liberated us.
A. Death; the devil; the curse of the law, and its condem-  a nation; sin; and hell.

B. As far as pertain to death, you have said that this was destroyed by the obedience of Christ; so also you have told how it liberated us from servitude to the devil. Now tell us how he redeemed us from the curse of the law, having been made a curse for us ? — After a little:

A. God in his just judgment demanded of us all those things that were written in the law, when we were not competent to pay them; for that reason Christ our Lord paid them for us, and assumed the curse and condemnation to which we were exposed, and further took it upon himself, and himself bore what things we ought to have suffered, having been scourged, spit upon, smitten, struck upon the ears, crucified, and put to death for us.  (Bishop of the Carians. Discussion xv. Chap. v. (Dialogues (PG, XCVII, 1461-1609))

Theophylact of Ohrid (1050-1109) When he had spoken of the majesty of the Divine Word, then he discoursed of the care which he took for men through his flesh, which was of much greater importance than that he sustains all things. Moreover, he lays down here two things, both that he cleansed us from sins, and that he did this through himself. For by the cross and death which he sustained he purged us, not only- because he died for our sin, though he was himself free from all sin, and because he paid the penalty, which nevertheless he did not owe, for us, and freed that nature, which was condemned simply because of the sin and transgression of Adam, etc. — On Chap. ix.: Christ died for this purpose that he might cleanse us, and left to us in his testament pardon of our fault, and the use of our Father's goods, having been made a Mediator of our Father. For the Father was not willing to bestow upon us the inheritance, but was angry with us, as sons rejecting him, and estranged from him. Christ, so made Mediator, reconciled him to us. How? He himself bore for us that which we ought to have suffered (for we deserved to die), and made us worthy of his testament (On those words (Heb. i.) " When he had by himself purged our sins" Migne, CXXIII-CXXIV)

Anselm (1033-1109)
Does any one say, If they have not each the sin of Adam, how do you assert that none is saved without satisfaction for the sin of Adam? For how does a just God exact from them satisfaction for that which they have not? To which I say: God does not exact from any sinner more than he owes; but since none can pay as much as he owes, Christ alone paid more than is due for all that are saved.  (On the Conception of the Virgin, and Original Sin, Chap, xxi.  Why God Became Man, and the Virgin Conception and Original Sin.  Magi Books, 1969))

Anselm. To remit sin in this manner is nothing else than not to punish; and since it is not right to cancel sin without compensation or punishment; if it be not punished, then is it passed by undischarged.

Boso. What you say is reasonable.
Anselm. It is not fitting for God to pass over anything in his kingdom undischarged.
Boso. If I wish to oppose this, I fear to sin.
Anselm. It is, therefore, not proper for God thus to pass over sin unpunished.
Boso. Thus it follows
Cur Deus Homo.  Book I, Chapter XII

Bernard de Clairvaux (1090-1113)   It was a man who owed, a man who paid. For if one, he says, died for all, then all died, viz. that the satisfaction of one may be imputed to all, just as he alone bore the sins of all; nor is there any one found to purchase, and another one to make satisfaction, because one Christ is head and body. The head, therefore, made satisfaction for the members, Christ for his own bowels. (Epistle cxc to Innocent:, Tractate on the Errors of Abelard. PL, CLXXXII, 1062b-1062c)

Nicolaus of Cusa (1401-1464) For our justification did Christ so do. For we, sinners, in him paid the penalties of hell, which we justly deserved. (Cardinal, Excitationes, Book 10  (In Opera Omnia.  Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1983))

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Susanna vs. Open Theism

In one of the additions to the book of Daniel, Susanna makes a statement that I don't think would sit well with Open Theism. 

Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said: O eternal God, who knowest hidden things, who knowest all things before they come to pass, (Daniel 13:42)

It seems safe to say the OT Jews were not Open Theists.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What Makes the Catholic Church 'Catholic'?

Is it her people, her leadership, her beliefs?  The term catholic usually means universal, so one would think it's her 1 billion plus people spread throughout the world. 

However, I recently pointed out that an overwhelming majority of Catholics use birth control.  (link)  Does this mean the Catholic Church is OK with birth control?  Matthew Bellisario responded by pointing me to an earlier post he had written where he claimed all Christians up till the 1930's rejected birth control. 

All Christians up until the 1930s interpreted this text as referring to Onan's punishment of death [Genesis 38 7:9] by his act of “coitus interruptus.” (link)

I responded by quoting Jovinianus' alternative explanation in the 4th century (link).

Matthew then made an interesting move; backing away from his claim of 'all Christians' to 'every Christian group'. 

every Christian group before the 1930 interpreted this passage the way I am interpreting it. (link)

So what is a church group?  Given that 1) the Catholic church group rejects birth control and 2) most Catholics use birth control, one might think a church group is not really about her people, but rather her leadership. Rome's leadership is so small a group compared to the whole Catholic church that they are statistically insignificant - and in this case they don't represent most Catholics. 

Recently Matthew Bellisario added another wrinkle, by posted that Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox are united in Christ due to their common belief of the real presence in the mass. (link) So there's a connection between the East and West that transcends leadership differences; since the East does not recognize the Pope as their leader.  So if it's not her people or her leadership, what makes the Catholic church 'Catholic'?

I think Matthew's move here undermines a fundamental principle of Roman Catholicism - namely the epistemic priority of the Church over doctrine.  Indeed, for a Catholic to know some doctrine is true, they must first know it's approved by the Church.  In some cases knowing the Church teaches something is sufficient to know it's true, without further inquiry.  This is of course contrary the the scriptural model of 'search the scriptures' or teach then baptize, but it's also at odds with Matthew's finding unity across Church boundaries, which seems to invite people to examine doctrine first, then look for the Church.  How could Rome stand up doctrines such as the assumption of Mary based on the evidence rather than her authority?
Of course, the right answer here is that the catholic church is all those who are assembled to Christ by the call of the Gospel. (Hebrews 12:22-24) Other than that, the bible simply speaks of individual, local congregations as churches.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review of the Father’s Know Best on the Pope

Jimmy Akin’s book the Father’s Know Best provides hundreds of quotations from the Church Fathers on various topics allegedly showing the link between the early church and modern Roman Catholicism. Of greatest interest to me were the 143 quotations from the Fathers in support of the Papacy. Reading the book gave me an opportunity to learn more about the Fathers.


Below is a matrix of the results of my review. However, given my review I will risk providing some overall conclusions.

I didn’t find anything in the Fathers that explicitly taught Papal infallibly or got into ex cathedra vs. non-ex cathedra statements by Popes. So right off the bat I would say the Fathers were not Roman Catholic. However, that doesn’t mean they were Southern Baptists either. Many times they were somewhere in-between. As such, I categorized each quotation from the Fathers Know Best on the Papacy in degrees of agreement. My categories were:

1. No objection
2. No biggie
3. Don’t like the wording, but OK
4. I disagree
5. I strongly disagree
6. Roman Catholic

Please note, I never had to use category six but out of the 143 quotes I disagreed nine times and strongly disagreed another nine times. Wherever I didn’t like the wording or disagreed, I looked for the quotes online and read them in their broader contexts.

Two areas of disagreements with the Fathers stood out. First, Leo, around 450, was acting like the boss of the church. That doesn’t mean he thought he was infallible, but he certainly wasn’t a Congregationalist or Presbyterian. Second, in 251 Cyprian of Carthage’s Treaties on the Unity of the Church says the Chair of Peter is the intrinsic reason for unity in the Church. Interestingly there are two versions of the treaties - one of which is fine. Since there’s nothing before Cyprian that I disagree with and nothing after until about 312, Cyprian becomes fairly important. Time permitting, I would like to dig into that work by Cyprian further.

Before getting into the review, I must qualify the ongoing by saying I am only reviewing arguments that the Father’s supported the Papacy. So this review is consciously one sided and can present an unbalanced picture. To get a broader picture one would have to look at arguments from the Fathers against the Papacy – but I will leave that for another day. Here’s the analysis. (link)

More Evidence that Rome, not Sola Scriptura Causes Division

http://catholicchampion.blogspot.com/2011/05/luther-calvin-hitler-stalin-and-mao.html

To give credit to Matthew, he is just following Trent the way the Church tells him he should.  He's being consistent - while many Catholics downplay Trent in an attempt to be more ecumenical.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review of the Fathers Know Best on the Pope

The formating wasn't great so here's a link to a google docs format:

http://www.arminianchronicles.com/2011/05/review-of-fathers-know-best-on-pope_10.html

Jimmy Akin’s book the Father’s Know Best provides hundreds of quotations from the Church Fathers on various topics allegedly showing the link between the early church and modern Roman Catholicism. Of greatest interest to me were the 143 quotations from the Fathers in support of the Papacy. Reading the book gave me an opportunity to learn more about the Fathers.


Below is a matrix of the results of my review. However, given my review I will risk providing some overall conclusions.

I didn’t find anything in the Fathers that explicitly taught Papal infallibly or got into ex cathedra vs. non-ex cathedra statements by Popes. So right off the bat I would say the Fathers were not Roman Catholic. However, that doesn’t mean they were Southern Baptists either. Many times they were somewhere in-between. As such, I categorized each quotation from the Fathers Know Best on the Papacy in degrees of agreement. My categories were:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

James White's Definition of KJV Only

Jamin Hubner, a member of the AOMIN blogging team, is involved in a debate regarding the definition of KJV only. He notes:

Dr. White identifies at least 5 kinds of King-James Only advocates p. 23-28):


1. "I Like the KJV Best"
2. "The Textual Argument" - Group A (Majority Text advocates), Group B (TR Advocates) Group C (others)
3. "Received Text Only" - TR is inspired or is inerrant by providence of God.
4. Inspired KJV Group - KJV itself is inspired and inerrant (some would also affirm inspiration and inerrancy of TR, and thus also hold to group 3); KJV Alone = Word of God Alone
5. "The KJV as New Revelation" - God re-inspired the AV 1611 text rendering it in English language (thus, Hebrew and Greek texts should actually be changed to reflect KJV readings) (link)

However, as a counter-point, I should be noted that James White also says the following:

One group that would strongly reject the term KJV Only but believe that the Greek texts used by the KJV translators are superior to those used by modern translations would be the Majority Text advocates. (White. The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations? Bethany House, 2009 P. 24)

King James Onlyism is to be distinguished from the scholarly defense of either the Majority Text or the Byzantine Priority Theory. (p73)

This is of interest to me because I like the arguments in favor of the Majority Text but I have never considered myself KJV Only.  It would seem wrong to call me KJV only, given I use other translations.  I just think a normal transmission of the text would naturally yield a majority text.  Why lump me in with people who think the KJV itself is inspired? 

I hope that Robinson/Pierpont's work will one day be expanded to include a broader range if not all Greek manuscripts.  This would provided a better foundation for translating than is available today.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How reliable is the Catechism?

I claimed, and still do, that sola scriptura is not responsible for all the doctrinal disagreements between Protestants that my friend and CatholicNick had listed. Rather, I cited varying presuppositions, degree of education, study, spiritual maturity or the sinfulness of the individuals involved as other drivers of doctrinal disagreements. My friend disagreed and reasserted that sola scriptura is the reason. But I had offered an argument, regarding intra-Catholic disagreement regarding free will and predestination. He responded by saying:

“The main problem here is the seeming assumption that these matters must be defined in an "either/or" fashion rather than "both/and." Catholic teaching on matters such as these is often both/and, for example, the Catechism addresses the relationship of freewill and predestination by stating:


To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination", he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:27-28; Psalms 2: 1-2). For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness. (Matthew 26:54; John 18:36; John 19:11; Acts 3:17-18) (Catechism of the Catholic Church 600)


Freewill and predestination are not in opposition because of the nature of God, we humans only perceive that they are opposed due to the limits of our own understanding.”

This I think only extends the problem. First, the statement in the Catechism is not sufficient to resolve the dispute between Catholic Molinists and Catholic Dominicans. Molinists define freedom in terms of contra-causal power. Bob is able to choose chocolate or vanilla. He is not causally determined to one or the other. Dominicans disagree – they assert God’s concurrence with Bob determines what he will do, such that he cannot do otherwise.

It’s one or the other; it cannot be both. The both/and distinction only works when the two do not contradict each other – if there is a contradiction you must use either/or. We are either free in a Molinist sense or we are not and the catechism does not resolve this dispute.

Second, the Catechism states “to God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy”. This echoes Thomas Aquinas’ ‘eternal now’ doctrine. Certainly, Catholics have disagreed with this. Occham and Molina come to mind off the top of my head. The counter argument is that if God views April 1st as now and I don’t, then my perspective is wrong. It’s impossible for April 1st to be now and not now simultaneously. If God thinks April 1st is now, then it’s now. So my view that April 1st is future is God playing an April fool’s joke on me by making me think it’s future when it’s actually now.

Now I think the ‘eternal now’ doctrine is wrong, but my point isn’t to argue that. For my present point, it’s enough for me to note that other Catholics have disagreed with it as well. And it doesn’t seem to matter that they do, because 1) the Catechism is fallible and 2) in this case the Catechism is not underwritten by supposed infallible documents. So the Catechism can’t resolve this one.

But what about cases in which the Catechism is underwritten by supposed infallible documents? My friend uses the example of the Mass. Well, first off, if we limit the scope to only issues Rome has infallibly defined, we pair the list down quite a bit – I am guessing only a handful of items would remain. And that would go to my original point that most of the theological disagreements were not caused by sola scriptura.

The remaining items that are infallibly defined by Rome (and not also by scripture) are all examples of Rome causing division where scripture does not, because infallible definitions are affixed with anathemas.

A kinder, gentler anathema?

I had claimed, and still do, that Rome’s anathemas needlessly divide the body of Christ; far more than sola scriptura does. For example, Rome (not scripture) anathematizes those who think indulgences are worthless. So Rome causes divisions that scripture alone does not.
This is not just in theory but in practice. Joseelcarpintero commented in a way that lumped me in with the unsaved false teachers in 1 John 2:19. And that’s not the only time people have tried to scare me into the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, Rome is not the only group to anathematize me. With everyone thinking they alone have found the one true way, the only thing I know to do is turn to Christ and put my trust in Him.

Now consider the reverse. I don’t consider joseelcarpintero a false teacher. I don’t know him but I hope that he is trusting in Christ for his salvation. So which is causing division, sola scriptura or Rome’s anathemas?

My friend tried to soften the blow of anathema by saying:

“Anathema is actually a very formal, fancy and public way of showing that X person incurred latae sententiae or automatic excommunication. The Anathema itself was done away with in 1983. Excommunication, however, remains. Keep in mind that excommunication does not damn one to hell - it is simply a formal state of being way out of communion with Rome and is very severe because if one is totally out of communion with Rome, one is out of communion with Christ.”

And also:

“this is not a judgment against the person's heart and mind. It is a judgment against the person's actions in relation to what the Church, under the guidance/protection of the Holy Spirit (God), has stated.”

But to cause division, one does not need to be God and condemn his opponents to hell. Rather, by not treating ones opponents as Christian, they cause division. So Rome’s anathemas do cause division. Think about it – Rome calls councils ecumenical, even if they don’t include Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. That’s division. Rome considers itself the one true church to the exclusion of all others. That’s division. Catholics threaten Protestants with hell. That’s division.

It should be clarified that Trent’s anathemas do not simply mean you can no longer attend mass but you can go across the street to an EoC or Protestant church and we will still consider you Christian. An anathema is a curse. Consider Paul’s use of anathema in Galatians 1:9:

If any one preach to you a gospel besides that which you have received, let him be anathema.

Consider the formula of Rome’s old anathema ceremony:

"Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive N-- himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate” (link)

That’s division.

Now perhaps modern Catholics have a new and softer understanding of anathema or have even layed down a power inherent to the apostolic office. That’s good but not relevant because it’s anachronistic to apply a novel understanding of anathema to either Paul or Trent.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Dallas Cowboys are on the Clock

The Cowboys have the 9th pick in this year’s draft. Their biggest needs are safety and offensive line. Unfortunately, there are no safeties or offensive linemen rated that high and you don’t really want to reach for a guy with the 9th pick. So the Cowboys decision this year is tough.


It could be simplified if a few guys fall to them. That would include DT Marcell Dareus, CB Patrick Peterson or probably even DT/DE Nick Fairley. Depending on his health, DT/DE Da'Quan Bowers probably joins this list.

If OLB Von Miller falls he would be interesting, but it’s not a lock to take him. We already have two good outside line backers and as frustrated as I was with Spencer last year; I am far from done with him. Worse, Miller may simply be too small for a 3/4 defense. Sure he can pass rush, but what if they run at him? WR A.J. Green makes no sense at all, even if he falls to 9. Even if we cut Roy Williams there’s just no room for him and won’t be so long as Miles and Dez are around. As talented as Green (or Julio Jones for that matter) may be, you need to do better than a 3rd WR with the #9 pick.

Most mock drafts have the Cowboys taking CB Prince Amukamara. I would be OK with that pick, since Terrence is getting up there. But it doesn’t fill a pressing need and I doubt Prince would start year one.

Some mock drafts have the Cowboys picking DE J.J. Watt. That to me would be more of a business decision than an upgrade. If you resign Spears, you don’t need Watt. I doubt Watt will be as good a run stopper as Spears was or as good a nickel pass rusher as Bowen. So did we improve?

A lot of people talk about trading down to the mid to late first round and getting another 2nd round pick. That makes sense to me. We do have plenty of needs. With a later first round pick we could get the best available tackle from Soldier, Costanzo, Tyron Smith or Carimi. Then with two second round picks we could get a safety and guard. Other needs would be an inside linebacker given Brooking is in his last year and Lee has been injury prone. We could also use a corner to develop under Newman, another DE if we get rid of Spears, another RB if we get rid of Barber and another WR if we get rid of Roy Williams.

Still I wouldn’t trade way the number 9 pick. Call me crazy, but if Cam Newton was sitting there at 9, I would grab him. How often are the Cowboys going to have a top ten pick? Even with the same basic squad as last year, they do better because of an easier schedule. Plus if they can play like they did under Garrett rather than Wade they probably are already back in the playoff hunt. So this pick is a once in a decade thing, unless they don’t have a succession plan for Romo. Just remember what it was like between Troy and Tony. Tony is 30. What are we going to do after him? Cam is not ready to start just yet but in his third under Garrett, he would be pushing Tony for the job. One of the main reasons Green Bay won the super bowl this year was they drafted Rodgers before they needed him and let him develop slowly as opposed to throwing him to the wolves. Let’s do the same with Cam. If you have a good QB, you can win the super bowl. If you don’t, good luck. Drafting Cam gives us a shot at winning a super bowl for the next 12 years. Can you say the same about J.J. Watt?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Divisions: Severity and Cause

A Roman Catholic friend of mine posted a list of teachings Protestants cannot agree upon due to sola scriptura. (link)  Along with the list were these comments:

“The following is a ‘open’ list of teachings (subject to further expansion) which Protestants cannot agree upon due to the doctrinal relativism caused by Sola Scriptura. Though many Protestants today would “solve” this problem by tossing a lot of these into the “non-essential” category, I believe the doctrinal issues I’ve mentioned have been clearly seen to cause division among Protestants…


…As a Catholic, it is easy for me to treat this list as a “checklist” of sorts. All I have to do is go down each point and reference the matter in the Catechism. The Catechism is chock full of Bible citations, references to the Church Fathers and council documents, etc. wherein I can read the reasons behind why the Church teaches what it does on these matters.”

‘Division’ does not mean the same thing to Protestants and Catholics. Typical, ‘infallible’, Catholic documents (decisions of ecumenical councils or ex cathedra statements by the Pope) anathematize dissenters. But this is not the case with Protestants; it’s not like credobaptists anathematize paedobaptists. We worship separately and organize separately due to practical difficulties. But we consider all true believers as part of the Body of Christ. So while lists of disagreements may seem like sola scriptura is causing divisions in the Church, really the very reverse is true. Rome’s anathemas of dissenters on doctrinal matters causes real divisions.

Paul speaks of non-essential doctrinal differences in Romans 14: 1-10.

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.


One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.


For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.

Note that Paul himself takes a side by calling one side weak and the other strong in the faith. But he doesn’t just blast the weak. He doesn’t even want them to doubt their inaccurate views; he tells them to be fully convinced in their own minds. What he does not want is divisions over non-essentials, because God will make the weak stand, and we all serve the same Lord and we are all individually accountable to God.

But Rome anathematizes those who say indulgencies are useless (Council of Trent, Chapter 21). We could ask Rome the same question Paul asks: why do you judge your brother?

A second point here is that the argument assumes that sola scriptura is the cause of all disagreements among Protestants. But then how do we account for disagreements among Catholics? Catholics can’t just look up all disagreements in the catechism and find the truth. Not all topics are addressed and of those that are, not all positions are supported by sources supposed to be infallible by Rome. Often Catholics disagree among themselves. For example, one of the items on the list is freewill/predestination. But when the Molinists and Dominicans disagreed on this topic and asked the Pope to decide it, he did not. So sola scriptura was not the cause nor was the Pope the solution. Rather disagreements often stem from either varying presuppositions, degree of education, study, spiritual maturity or frankly, the sinfulness of the individuals involved.

Some disagreements among Christians will probably not be resolved this side of the grave. In other areas I think significant progress can be made with the right approach; which must be founded on scripture alone.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baptismal Regeneration – John 3:5

Catholics interpret “born of water” in John 3:5 as baptism and therefore conclude baptism is necessary for salvation. Here’s the passage:


Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Born of water has been taken as 1) the Spirit or cleansing work of the Spirit, 2) natural birth or 3) baptism. For now let’s assume it means baptism and see how it plays out.

Would first century Jews have instantly recognized 'born of water' as meaning baptism? Certainly Nicodemus was aware of baptism. John the Baptist baptized people for repentance. Some evidence suggests Jews baptized proselytes and even called it birth.

“Everyone agreed that a Gentile became a Jew through proselyte baptism. The big discussion in Nicodemus' day was the degree of cleanliness. Was he immediately clean as "a little child just born" (Yeb. 22a; 48b; 97b*) and a "child of one day" (Mass. Ger. c. 2*)” (link)

Not only did John baptize, but Christ also baptized via His disciples, just as John the Baptist had predicted He would.

John 1:33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

John 4:1-2Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)

So if Nicodemus understood ‘born of water’ as baptism, he would have been thinking of John’s baptism of repentance. And the Jewish leadership had personally rejected John and his baptism; though they were unwilling advertise their rejection.

Luke 7:30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.

Matthew 21:24-26 But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.”

But of course John’s baptism is one of repentance and Christian Baptism looks on Christ’s death burial and resurrection. So when Paul found those who were baptized into John’s baptism, he baptized them again in Christ’s name.

Acts 19:1-5 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Christian baptism had not been established at the time Christ and Nicodemus spoke. Did Christ forget this when berating Nicodemus for not knowing what He was talking about? (John 3:9-10) So clearly Nicodemus would have been thinking about John’s baptism; the baptism he probably personally rejected. Christian baptism simply didn’t exist yet.

So it’s anachronistic to view John 3:5 as teaching Christian baptism is necessary for salvation, since Christ established it after the resurrection. (Matthew 28:19). And no one teaches John’s baptism is or was necessary for salvation, but of course repentance itself is necessary for salvation. So if we take ‘born of water’ as baptism, the most likely conclusion would be that baptism is used for what it represented – repentance.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Baptismal Regeneration and 1 Peter 3:20-21

Catholics and most Protestants disagree on the question of whether baptism saves us – Catholics viewing baptism as a requirement for salvation. One text Catholics cite is 1 Peter 3:20-21:
who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

There is also an antitype which now saves us––baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Before digging into the text a few preliminaries are in order. First, this passage is not part of an extended discourse on salvation, such as Paul undertakes in Romans and Galatians. Nor is Peter addressing the specific question of what must we do to be saved as Paul was in Acts 16:30-31. Rather, Peter is addressing the subject in passing as part of his larger discourse on suffering for Christ. Not to say that we cannot dig out little tidbits on salvation here; it’s just that we must be careful in doing so.

Second, Protestants believe that the scripture elsewhere teach justification by faith in such black and white terms that the sacramental view of salvation is ruled out. God promises to save believers and it would be wrong to think God would not save a true believer who was un-baptized. Now I do think contempt of baptism is a sign of unbelief. But if for some legitimate reason someone were to remain un-baptized (i.e. the thief on the cross) they will still be justified by their faith as God has promised.

On to the text... We have two reasons to believe Peter was speaking loosely when he says the waters of baptism save us: one in the inbound context and the other in the outbound context.

First, Peter says Noah and his family were saved by water. Strictly speaking, Noah was saved from water not by it. In light of this people have understood Peter’s statement in various ways. Some spiritualize the text by saying that the threat of water was the occasion on which Noah exercised faith and was justified. But this interpretation portrays Noah’s deliverance as spiritual rather than physical. The error in this view is plainly shown by the word ‘anittype’ - Noah’s physical deliverance from the flood typifies baptism rather than parallels it.

Others say Noah was saved ‘through’ water rather than by it. Thus Noah is being saved by something else while he passes through water. But that destroys the parallel with baptism as well, since with respect to baptism the passage says water saves us. Water is said to act in our salvation rather than simply to be around us as we are being saved.

Others say water buoyed up the ark or that water carried Noah to a new life. These views seem closer to being correct but these explanations are still not totally satisfying, since Noah would not have needed salvation in the first place if it were not for water and Noah’s life was not biologically different after the flood. In the final analysis, Peter is simply speaking loosely, water is a metonymy representing the whole business of God delivering Noah from the flood.

Second, Peter clarified what he was saying (i.e. not the removal of the filth of the flesh…). And this is a tell that Peter was speaking loosely and wanted to tighten up what he was saying a bit to avoid misunderstandings.

So what did Peter mean when he said water now saves us? I take water as a metonymy – both in the case of Noah’s salvation and ours. Strictly speaking water didn’t save Noah and it doesn’t save us, but it does represent our salvation and his. Baptism is a sign of the covenant. No one questions that; the question typically is if it’s more than that. In Genesis 17:13 God verbally substitutes His covenant for the sign of His covenant (i.e. I will put my covenant in your flesh). Here Peter substitutes the sign for the covenant.

One of the main reasons I take it that way is the expression “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer [or pledge] of a good conscience toward God”. In baptism, we pledge ourselves to God and join the visible church. If a believer is baptized, they are expressing their faith and God is saving them. If an unbeliever is baptized, he is not saved by it.

Babies are an interesting case, but without getting into that issue it seems safe to say babies neither pledge themselves to God nor are they bothered by conscience, so to say this passage teaches infant baptismal regeneration is quite a stretch.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Papal Infallibility

I recently discussed the Immaculate Conception with a Roman Catholic friend. I started with the obvious argument that the idea that Mary was sinless contradicts Paul’s teaching that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. He responded ‘Mary is an exception’, but his reasoning was based on official catholic teachings, not on the context of Romans 3. I needed to get past the official teachings of the Catholic Church since authority is somewhat of a discussion stopper. Perhaps Papal infallibility doesn’t hit the same impasse.

I understand that not all Catholic doctrine is suspended on the Pope’s decisions. Certainly some Catholics held to the Assumption of Mary and the Immaculate Conception before the Vatican Council of 1870 officially declared the Pope infallible. I am not trying to use the Pope as a scapegoat or red herring or the sort. Rather, my purpose is to get at a baseline difference between Catholics and Protestants; epistemologically one that cannot be referred to the authority of the Pope.

It would be completely irrational and circular for anyone to accept Papal Infallibility because the Pope said so. Thus in asking the question ‘why believe in Papal infallibility?’, we move past the official church teachings and get to somewhat of a level playing field between Catholics and Protestants. No longer is it a matter of church authority vs. private judgment – we all have an individual responsility to make up our own minds. The scriptures must be allowed to speak for themselves rather than being defined and interpreted by Rome.

First off, it makes sense to get a clear view of what is meant by Papal infallibility. Popes have erred. Take for example the problems of Pope Sixtus in publishing the Vulgate and related coverup1. Then we have the heresies taught by Popes, such as Honorius teaching the Monothelite heresy and being condemned by the 6th ecumenical council2 and Liberius subscribing to an Arian creed.3 There’s also Pope Marcellinus who made sacrifices to idols. (link)

But Catholics claim Papal infallibility only for ex cathedra statements. Examples of ex cathedra statements look and feel like the Pope’s proclamations on the Immaculate Conception4 and Assumption of Mary5. Thus for papal statements to be ex cathedra they must be given by the pope in an official capacity with the intent to bind the whole church in a matter of faith and morals with an anathema affixed. This is a special gift unique to the Pope.  Further, Papal infallibity is to be understood as preservation from error only; not as God inspiring Popes like He did scripture's authors.

On the one hand, I am glad Roman Catholics are defining their own terms with regard to what they believe, but on the other, I think this highly technical definition requires some justification beyond the fact that it’s official catholic teaching. This specific definition, in opposition to other ways of understanding infallibility, must be justified and it cannot be justified on the grounds that the Pope said so.

When Moses or the Prophets or Apostles spoke, they spoke with the authority of ‘thus saith the Lord’, not with this highly qualified technical understanding of infallible teaching. Consider the following passages:

Jeremiah 1:4 “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying...”

Acts 1:16 "Holy Spirit through mouth of David..."

Acts 15:28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us...”

II Peter 1:21 - "no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God"

Unlike the catholic teaching on papal infallibility, the subject matter of the biblical concept of infallibility is not limited to just matters of faith and morals, and does not have to be something binding to the whole church and does not have to be something taught from an official office and is not unique to Peter. So this catholic definition is distinct from the scriptural understanding of infallibility.

Just imagine Peter about to send a heretical letter he has already written and firmly believes in and has taught to those within earshot, but James, John and Andrew steal his stamps so he can't send it. This little scenario seems completely in harmony with Rome's definition of Papal Infallibility and the past actions of Popes, but shocking and obviously not within the biblical understanding of infallibility. Christ forbid the apostles from teaching before they recieved the Spirit.  After Pentecost, He so transformed them that they were able to say "when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God". 1 Thessalonians 2:13

Now let's look at some of the reasons given to hold to Papal infallibility. Some point to Matthew 16 and say Peter’s confession was the first infallible statement by a Pope. But the form of Peter’s confession looks nothing like the Pope’s statements regarding the Assumption of Mary or Immaculate Conception, so Peter’s confession do not meet the specialized Catholic definition of infallibility. The rest of the passage in Matthew 16 may or may not have anything to do with Peter’s primacy, but does not teach papal infallibility.

Others point to tradition. Thus they say Christ and the Apostles taught many things not recorded in scripture and they are now embodied in the teachings of the Church Fathers and Ecumenical Councils. Thus the doctrine of papal infallibly was handed down to us via tradition and the church has always believed it.

But Jerome said all bishops were of equal dignity and leaders were chosen for practical reasons (not based on an office)6. Gregory said it was prideful to be called universal bishop and denotes that the times of anti-Christ is at hand. 7 Keenan’s Catholic Catechism itself denied the doctrine just 20 years before it was pronounced official. 8

Others point to Church Councils. But no council until 1870 teaches Papal infallibilty and it says Popes are higher than councils. Further, when there were three papal claimants, the Council of Constance that deposed the ‘fake popes’ did so on the basis that the councils are higher than popes. But the popes rejected the council and the council said the very opposite of Vatican Council of 1870, which defined Papal infallibility.9

In addition to the lack of evidence in favor of papal infallibility (and the burden of proof is on Catholics who assert such infallibility), there’s good reasons not to hold to it.

First, there’s no scriptural promise for Papal infallibility. Regeneration and the work of the Holy Spirit is simply incomplete in this life. We all sin and we all hold to a certain amount of bad theology.

Second, the Old Testament is replete with the errors of the leaders of Israel. The Prophets judged the Priests for their sins and errors. Christ warned the Israelites of the leven of the Pharisees (Mt 16:6,12), and the Sanhedrin with the High Priest (basically a the OT equivalent of a Church council) errored in condemning Christ. Further, we are warned of future apostasy of church leadership in the end times 2 Thess 2.

Third, we are given the duty to examine doctrines presented to us: Is 8:20, John 5:39, Galatians 1:8, 1 Jn 4:1, 1 Thess 5:21

Fourth, apparently there was some dirty pool involved in the council related to the official pronouncement. 10

So I remain baffled as to what reasons might be given to believe in Papal infallibility and I fear the real reason Catholics believe in the Pope is because the Pope says to.

----------------------------------------------------

1The Council of Trent had declared the translation of Jerome to be the authentic text of the Bible for the Western Church, but there was as yet no authentic edition of the Latin Bible; i. e. none accredited by the Church. Sixtus V. undertook to give one; and it appeared, provided with the anathemas and penal enactments which had now so long been stereotyped. His Bull declared, that this edition, corrected by his own hands, must be adopted and used by all and each as the only true and genuine edition, under pain of excommunication; any change, even of a word, was forbidden under the like penalty.
"Now, then, it appeared that it was full of faults; some 2000 incorrect passages were found, for which the Pope himself was responsible. It was said that the Six-tine Bible must be openly forbidden. But Bellarmine advised to hush up, as far as possible, the great peril into which Sixtus V. had by his act brought the Church; all copies were to be withdrawn; the corrected Bible was to be reprinted, but under the name of Sixtus V., and it was to be given out in the Preface that the errors had been introduced through the fault of the compositors and the carelessness of others. Bellarmine himself received the commission to write the preface, and thereby to put in circulation this lie, to which the new Pope gave his name. In his Autobiography, the Jesuit and Cardinal boasted that he had thus requited Sixtus with good for evil, since the Pope had had Bellarmine's chief work, the Contro-versies, put on the Index, because in it he did not maintain the direct supremacy of the Pope over the whole world, but only the indirect. (Annals of Raynaldus, Ad. 1439. P 65)

2 He [Honorius]specifically taught the Monothelite heresy in two letters to the pa-triarch of Constantinople [that is, that Christ had only one will, which by implication meant that he denied either His deity or His humanity]. The opinion was condemned by the sixth ecumenical council (68o) which condemned and excommunicated Honorius by name (Honorio haeretico anathema, Session XVI). The Roman breviary contained this anathema until the sixteenth century (until the time of Luther, when apparently the Reformers made so much of it that it was quietly dropped)…..Honorius was a heretic according to Roman Catholic standards and was condemned by church councils and popes for 800 years. (Harris. Fundamental Protestant Doctrines, 11 p. 13).

3Alphonsus de Castro saith : De Liberio papa constat fuisse Ari-anum2: "Touehsabeu" ln pope Liberius, it is well known he was an Arian." Sabellicus saith: Ariani Eimead. TU. precibus suis apud Constantium.... Liberio reditum ad urbem confecere. Quo iUe beneficio commotus, ex confesso Arianus, ut quidam scribunt, est actus: "The Arian heretics, by their entreaty unto the emperor Constantius, obtained of him that pope Liberius might be restored again unto the city. With which good turn Liberius being moved, as some have written, became an Arian heretic (ex confesso) in good earnest, and with his heart." Platina saith: Liberius imperatoris beneficio motus, ut quidam volunt, in rebus omnibus sensit cum hareticis, fyc. Pontifex.... to met si cum Arianis sentiebat, [tamen] eccksias Dei.... diligenter exornabat: " Pope Liberius, moved with the emperor's gentleness, as some think, agreed in all things with the heretics." The works of John Jewel University Press, 1848 p 342 )

444. For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

45. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith. (link)



5Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as  we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adorn-ment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."[29] therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful." Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart. (link)



6When subsequently one presbyter was chosen to preside over the rest, this was done to remedy schism and to prevent each individual from rending the church of Christ by drawing it to himself. For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon. For what function, excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter? It is not the case that there is one church at Rome and another in all the world beside. Gaul and Britain, Africa and Persia, India and the East worship one Christ and observe one rule of truth. If you ask for authority, the world outweighs its capital. Wherever there is a bishop, whether it be at Rome or at Engubium, whether it be at Constantinople or at Rhegium, whether it be at Alexandria or at Zoan, his dignity is one and his priesthood is one. Neither the command of wealth nor the lowliness of poverty makes him more a bishop or less a bishop. All alike are successors of the apostles. (link)



7Still it is very distressing, and hard to be borne with patience, that my aforesaid brother and fellow bishop, despising all others, should attempt to be called sole bishop. But in this pride of his what else is denoted than that the times of Antichrist are already near at hand? For in truth he is imitating him who, scorning social joy with the legions of angels, attempted to start up to a summit of singular eminence, saying, I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven, I will sit upon the mount of the testament, in the sides of the North, and will ascend above the heights of the clouds, and I will be like the most High (link)


8Question: Must not Catholics believe the Pope in himself to be infallible?
Answer: This is a Protestant invention; it is no article of the Catholic faith; no decision of his can oblige, under pain of heresy, unless it be received and enforced by the teaching body; that is, by the bishops of the Church. (Keenan's Controversial Catechism, on Protestantism Refuted and Catholicism Establish, by the Rev. Stephen Keenan, Second Edition revised and enlarged, published in 1851 by C. Dolman, 13 South Hanover Street, Edinburgh; and 61, New Bond Street, Lon-don).

9,‘In the 1300’s, the popes moved to Avignon, France, and for seventy years were manifestly subservient to the French kings. This has been called the “Babylonian Captivity” of the papacy. Following this time, Gregory XI went back to Rome. His successor, Urban VI (1378—1389) made an election promise to return to France, but election promises are not always kept and he later refused. The French then called his election illegal and elected a new rival pope, Clement VII (1378-1394). This schism continued until a council was called at Pisa in 1409, which deposed both rival popes and elected a new one, Alexander V (1409—1410). The rival popes refused to accept the council and so three popes were on the scene. After the death of Alexander V, he was succeeded by John XXIII whom Roman Catholics do not acknowledge and whose name the present pope has taken to show the illegality of the first John XXIII. Roman Catholics do not accept the Council of Pisa as an ecumenical council (that is, one representative of the whole church). But most of them accept Alexander V whom it elected! (Hefele, History of the Church Councils, Vol. 1, p. 58). The Council of Pisa declared that a council is superior to a pope.

‘The schism continued and the Council of Constance (1414-1418) was called. This council deposed all three popes and elected a new one, Martin V (1417—1431) . . . The Council of Constance also declared that a council is superior to a pope, and thus it acted to depose three popes at once. Hefele, one of the best known Roman authorities, takes the odd position that the first forty sessions of the council were not ecumenical but that sessions 41-45, presided over by Martin V whom they elected, were ecumenical. Martin proceeded to confirm all the decrees of the first forty sessions except those that minimized the papacy. Here, of course, was the pope’s dilemma. If the earlier sessions were valid, the Council was supreme over the pope. If not, the other popes were not deposed and Martin V was not rightly elected! The Vatican Council of 1870 declared: “They err from the right course who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgment of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff.” This is wonderful. The pope is higher than a council. The Vatican Council made him so! But a previous council, just as regular, had denied him to be so’ (Article, The Bible Presbyterian Reporter, Dec., 1958).

10 ‘Out of the 541 prelates from Europe, the Italian peninsula, with a population of 27 million, was represented by 276, or 11 more than the whole of the rest of the continent in-cluding Britain and Ireland. . . . Even more horrifying is the fact that those of the Papal States that had not at that time been seized, and which had a population of less than three-quarters of a million, were represented by sixty-two bishops, while five million Roman Catholics elsewhere were represented by only three bishops—those of Paris, Cambrai and Cologne—all three critical of the standpoint of the papalist party. . . . It was calculated in an anonymous pamphlet circulated in Rome after the Council had been in operation for five months and attributed to Mgr. Darboy, Archbishop of Paris, that one hundred and ninety-one members of the Council had no constitu-tional right to be there at all’ (MacGregor. The Vatican Revolution, pp. 28, 29).