Monday, June 26, 2006

Lesson 8: The Atonement (Part 1)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on the Atonement from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

The Atonement

The atonement is, perhaps, the most important of Christian doctrines. Without the atonement, there would be no hope, nor forgiveness, and in fact no Christians. The atonement means that our sins have been paid for and we are, as a consequence, saved. It does not merely represent potential salvation (It is ready) but accomplished salvation for all Christians (It is finished). Regardless of how the atonement was realized, it is clear that a representative was needed, since every person sins and is need of redemption yet every person also lacks the ability to make amends on his own.

The idea of atonement appears first in the Old Testament, as a foreshadowing of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. We encounter it at the mercy seat of the tabernacle, where the blood of a sacrificed animal was, once a year, sprinkled on the Day of Atonement. The high priest made this sacrifice on behalf of the people by entering the Holy of Holies. Through this sacrifice, Israel was in some sense made acceptable to God. However, this sacrifice did not directly accomplish forgiveness of their sins.

The bible tells us two important facts about blood. The first is that there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood:
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Heb 9:22)
Why is the shedding of blood necessary? I don’t know. Scripture presents it as a fact without really saying why. This appears to be a case where we can’t handle the truth. We have vague (and most likely correct) notions that it is connected to God’s holiness and his justice, but that’s about all we can even speculate about. Somehow, for reasons not made explicit, God requires blood to be shed in order for sins to be forgiven.

The second important fact about blood is that it is impossible for the blood of animals to take away sins:
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb. 10-4)
This is why we say the Old Testament sacrifices, though pleasing to God and beneficial to the Jews, nevertheless did not (directly) result in the forgiveness of sins—although sometimes it is said that the sins were “covered”, as if they were put on layaway awaiting a future payment. In fact, we should be precise and say that sins were forgiven when the Jews faithfully offered sacrifices, but it was not the blood of the animal that brought forgiveness, but the future shedding of Christ’s blood. Further signifying that the Old Testament sacrifices were, in terms of the animal blood they shed, were ultimately ineffectual was the fact that they were repeated over and over, whereas Christ’s sacrifice was once-for-all.

John the Baptist was possibly the first Jew to understand that this, when he said of Jesus: “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the word.” (John 1:29) John, I believe, recognized something about Jesus, prior to Jesus’ public ministry, something that the apostles never saw nor accepted even after spending three years under Christ’s constant teaching: Jesus was a lamb, and as a lamb he would be sacrificed, but in this case the sacrifice would be effectual. Our sins, past present and future, would be forgiven as a result.

The fact that none (save perhaps John the Baptist) recognized the inevitability of Christ’s sacrifice is the most poignant aspect of his death. He went to the cross, alone, suffering for a people who did not even know he was suffering for them, who viewed his crucifixion as a total defeat rather than a somber yet unequivocal victory over death. Even after his resurrection, on the road to Emmaus, when he meets two disciples who fail to recognize him, we see in the account in Luke 24 that they were clueless as to the redemptive significance of the resurrection and had no concept of the atonement. Christ has to teach them, from Old Testament prophecy, the significance of his suffering and the empty tomb.

Did God Die?

Did God actually die at Calvary? This is somewhat of a trick question but the technical answer is no. To understand, we must consider the mystery of the incarnation. The God-man Jesus is a person who is fully man and fully God. A single person with two natures, one human one divine, that are distinct not separate—indeed they are inseparable. The two natures, human and divine, are united. The divine nature, being God, is both eternal and immutable. It therefore could not die. It that sense, God did not die. The human nature, being finite and mutable, dies and was later resurrected. Both natures, being united, suffered. The suffering of the human nature is easy for us to grasp—we can at least imagine the pain of the crucifixion. The suffering of the divine nature is beyond our comprehension. Still, the divine nature did not cease while the body was entombed.

So Jesus the God-man died in the only nature for which that was possible. The divine nature, though not dying, by virtual of being inseparable, experienced that death. The atonement has infinite redemptive value (exactly why is again, somewhat unfathomable) because the human nature that died was both sinless and indissolubly united with a divine nature. This is perfectly represented by a remarkable statement of Christ’s divinity by the apostle Paul—so clear is it in proclaiming Christ’s divinity that I am sorry I left it out of the lesson on the divinity of Christ:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
There is no doubt that Paul is referring to Christ, at the same time the blood is described as the blood of God.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 13)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

Overview of Marian Doctrine

In this lesson, we’ll take a brief look at all the important doctrines the Catholic Church teaches about Mary. Catholics have four official Marion dogmas: (1) that she is the Mother of God, (2) that she was a perpetual virgin, (3) that she was conceived immaculately and (4) that she was bodily assumed into heaven. Finally, we will look at a potential fifth and perhaps most controversial of all—the movement within the Catholic Church to have her declared (infallibly) as “co-redemptrix”.

1. Mother of God

According to the Catholic Church, Mary's most fundamental privilege is that of being the Mother of God. They do not teach that Mary in anyway produced or was responsible for Christ’s divine nature. They mean, quite simply, that since her Son is God, so then she is the Mother of God. Thomas Aquinas wrote that "From the fact that she is the Mother of God, she has a sort of infinite dignity from the infinite good that God is.” There is, of course, seemingly irrefutable biblical support for this:
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Mary conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (v 1:35). The Archangel Gabriel first told her that her Son was to be the Son of the Most High. However, any devout Jew could be called a son of God, so Gabriel made an important distinction, telling Mary that her son would reign over the house of Jacob forever, thereby designating him as the Messiah, for Jews then commonly believed the Messiah would reign forever. Finally, the angel said He would be conceived when the Holy Spirit would "come upon" her.

We take a moment to remind ourselves of the heresy known as Nestorianism, which denies that Mary is the mother of God. Like many heresies, Nestorianism resulted from good intentions “run amok.” Others before Nestorius erred by denying Christ’s human nature. Nestorius went to the opposite extreme, stressing Christ’s humanity to the extent that there were two distinct personalities—one divine and one human—within the same living consciousness. In arguing his position that the divine and human natures of Christ were separate, Nestor stated that “God was never a two month old baby.” The litmus test of Nestorianism was whether or not you were willing to grant Mary the title theotokos, or “she who gave birth to the child who is God,” or more informally, “Mary, Mother of God.” Nestorius and his followers were unwilling to grant Mary that title, arguing that she bore only the human half of the duality. They would only refer to her as “Mary, mother of Jesus.” Now of course (and for no real good reason) many Protestants are loath to use the phrase “Mary mother of God,” because of its association with Roman Catholicism. We Protestants should fear not, the honorific “Mary mother of God” is self evident.

2. Perpetual Virginity

The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was not only a virgin at the time of Jesus’ conception, but remained a virgin throughout her life—essentially a faithful wife wed to the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, according to Rome, when the Gospels speak of the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus, they do not mean other children of Mary. The Hebrew words were very broad, according to Catholics, and they could cover any sort of relationship. In addition, those who defend the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity point out that Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ and his disciples, lacked a specific word for "cousin", so brother and sister were often used in lieu of cousin. Even modern English, they point out, uses “brother” and “sister” more broadly for members of fraternities and sororities. Proponents also claim there is implicit evidence of Jesus being without living brothers or sisters at the time of his crucifixion in that Jesus entrusts his mother to John instead of a sibling.

In addition, it is sometimes argued that if “brothers and sisters” really means brothers and sisters, it refers to Joesph’s children from a previous marriage. In this view, Joseph was much older and died much earlier than Mary.

This doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity is very old. This doctrine underwent a period of discussion until the late 4th century when general consensus emerged. The earliest witness to the perpetual virginity of Mary seems to appear in the apocryphal Protogospel of James (ca 150). Tertullian (ca 220) denied the perpetual virginity of Mary. Origen (d 254) appears to have affirmed it. In the East, St Athanasius strongly defended Mary's virginity after the birth of Jesus. Shortly after, St Basil the Great (d ca 380) accepted Mary's perpetual virginity and claimed that it reflected the general sense of believers; though he did not consider it to be a dogma. Around the same time, in the West, Jovinian and Helvidius denied the perpetual virginity while Ambrose (d. 397), Jerome (d. 420) and Augustine (d. 430) defended it.

The official acts of the Fifth Ecumenical Council held at Constantinople in 553 refer to Mary as aeiparthenos (ever-virgin). For example, an anathema against the 'three chapters' condemns those who deny:
that nativity of these latter days when the Word of God came down from the heavens and was made flesh of holy and glorious Mary, mother of God and ever-virgin, and was born from her ...
These statements were not made in reference to a direct discussion of Mary's virginity. Hence, some argue that this statement was not a dogmatic definition. For Catholics, such definitions may be made by the Episcopal college, in communion with its President, the Bishop of Rome, or by the Pope in virtue of his Presidency over the entire Episcopal college. Such definitions must be derived, at least implicitly, from the revelation closed at the death of the Apostles.

Though not an Ecumenical Council, the Lateran Council of 649 convened by Pope Martin I also issued an important statement affirming Mary's lifelong virginity:
If anyone does not, according to the Holy Fathers, confess truly and properly that holy Mary, ever virgin and immaculate, is Mother of God, since in this latter age she conceived in true reality without human seed from the Holy Spirit, God the Word Himself, who before the ages was born of God the Father, and gave birth to Him without corruption, her virginity remaining equally inviolate after the birth, let him be condemned.
After Constantinople II the title was universally accepted by the Church. Finally, it should be pointed out that Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, the three main reformers, all demonstrated support for the doctrine.

Objections to the Doctrine

A first objection arises from the reference to Jesus as Mary’s firstborn:

6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)
It should be remembered that Luke wrote long after both Mary and Joseph were dead. If Jesus was Mary's only child, with hindsight, he would likely not, it is argued, have used the word firstborn.

A second objection comes from the fact that all the gospels refer to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, for example:

Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? Matt. 13:55)

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” (Mark 3:31-32)
Again, the Catholic explanation of these (and other) passages is that either (a) brothers and sisters was used for other relatives such as cousins, or (b) they refer to Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. It should be pointed out that Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, is not referred to as her sister but rather her relative. (Luke 1:36)

Those opposed to the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity argue that Jesus entrusted John with his mother because, at the time of his death, it appeared that none of his siblings were believers (John 7:5). Of course, most Protestants believe that references such as:

But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. (Gal. 1:19)
Clearly indicate that James, author of the Gospel of James, was Jesus’ brother. How did he come to believe? Apparent by an unrecorded visitation of the risen Christ, perhaps similar to Paul’s, for Paul writes:
6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Cor. 15:6-8)
It is interesting to read what Calvin has to say about Gal. 1:19:
Who this James was, deserves inquiry. Almost all the ancients are agreed that he was one of the disciples, whose surname was "Oblias" and "The Just," and that he presided over the church at Jerusalem. Yet others think that he was the son of Joseph by another wife, and others (which is more probable) that he was the cousin of Christ by the mother's side: but as he is here mentioned among the apostles, I do not hold that opinion. Nor is there any force in the defense offered by Jerome, that the word Apostle is sometimes applied to others besides the twelve; for the subject under consideration is the highest rank of apostleship, and we shall presently see that he was considered one of the chief pillars. It appears to me, therefore, far more probable, that the person of whom he is speaking is the son of Alpheus [The husband of Mary’s sister]. (Calvin’s Commentaries)
A final objection to the doctrine comes from the passage:
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matt. 1:24-25)
To most Protestants, this passage clearly implies that Joseph and Mary had normal sexual relations after the birth of Jesus. To Catholics, who argue, in part, based on the subtleties of the Greek word hoes, (translated as until) this passage states nothing more than what happened during the time period under discussion—from the conception of Jesus until His birth, with no implication for what occurred afterwards even though in modern English we infer that the “until” means that the situation later changed. And not just Catholics teach this—Calvin writes:
This passage (Matt. 1:25) afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary's perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.
Calvin’s position, as I read it, is that he affirms the Catholic viewpoint that this passage says nothing about what happened after the birth of Christ, and furthermore he laments that it is the fodder of excessive argument.

Next: Immaculate Conception, Assumption of Mary, Co-Redemptrix

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 12)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

The Immaculate Conception

Having discussed the Mass, purgatory, indulgences, and the treasury of merit, we know move on to one of the Catholic Churches Marian doctrines: The Immaculate Conception.

If you have heard of this doctrine but have never studied it, you may have a common misconception among non-Catholics that the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conceiving Jesus. It does not—we all agree that Jesus’ conception was immaculate—that is he was conceived without being tainted by Original Sin. The Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, however, refers to Mary’s conception in her mother’s womb—in a nutshell the doctrine states that Mary was born not just washed of sins but, like Jesus, sin-free.

Here is how the Catholic Encyclopedia defines the doctrine:
In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."

"The Blessed Virgin Mary . . ." The subject of this immunity from original sin is the person of Mary at the moment of the creation of her soul and its infusion into her body.

". . .in the first instance of her conception . . ." The term conception does not mean the active or generative conception by her parents. Her body was formed in the womb of the mother, and the father had the usual share in its formation. The question does not concern the immaculateness of the generative activity of her parents. Neither does it concern the passive conception absolutely and simply which, according to the order of nature, precedes the infusion of the rational soul. The person is truly conceived when the soul is created and infused into the body. Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin at the first moment of her animation, and sanctifying grace was given to her before sin could have taken effect in her soul.

". . .was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin. . ." The formal active essence of original sin was not removed from her soul, as it is removed from others by baptism; it was excluded, it never was in her soul. Simultaneously with the exclusion of sin. The state of original sanctity, innocence, and justice, as opposed to original sin, was conferred upon her, by which gift every stain and fault, all depraved emotions, passions, and debilities, essentially pertaining to original sin, were excluded. But she was not made exempt from the temporal penalties of Adam -- from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death.

". . .by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race." The immunity from original sin was given to Mary by a singular exemption from a universal law through the same merits of Christ, by which other men are cleansed from sin by baptism. Mary needed the redeeming Savior to obtain this exemption, and to be delivered from the universal necessity and debt of being subject to original sin. The person of Mary, in consequence of her origin from Adam, should have been subject to sin, but, being the new Eve who was to be the mother of the new Adam, she was, by the eternal counsel of God and by the merits of Christ, withdrawn from the general law of original sin. Her redemption was the very masterpiece of Christ's redeeming wisdom. He is a greater redeemer who pays the debt that it may not be incurred than he who pays after it has fallen on the debtor.

Such is the meaning of the term "Immaculate Conception."
It is interesting to ask whether or not this doctrine is said, by Rome, to be taught in the bible or only in tradition. The answer: both. That is almost always the modern answer, a partial response to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura: that all Catholic doctrines are taught, explicitly or implicitly, in both scripture and sacred tradition. To see an example of how Catholics find scriptural support, we present excerpts from an article entitled Ark of the new covenant by Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid from the December, 1991 issue of This Rock magazine.

His face stiffened, and his eyes narrowed to slits. Until now the Calvary Chapel pastor had been calm as he "shared the gospel" with me, but when I mentioned my belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception, his attitude changed.

"The problem with you Roman Catholics," he said, thin forefinger stabbing the air a few inches from my face, "is that you’ve added extra baggage to the gospel. How can you call yourselves Christians when you cling to unbiblical traditions like the Immaculate Conception? It’s not in the Bible--it was invented by the Roman Catholic system in 1854. Besides, Mary couldn’t have been sinless, only God is sinless. If she were without sin she would be God!"

At least the minister got the date right, 1854 being the year Pope Pius IX infallibly defined the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, but that’s as far as his accuracy went. His reaction was typical of Evangelicals. He was adamant that the Catholic emphasis on Mary’s sinlessness was an unbearable affront to the unique holiness of God, especially as manifested in Jesus Christ.
Madrid employs an obvious stereotype fall guy—the fundamentalist bumpkin.
After we’d examined the biblical evidence for the doctrine, the anti-Marianism he’d shown became muted, but it was clear that, at least emotionally if not biblically, Mary was a stumbling block for him. Like most Christians (Catholic and Protestant) the minister was unaware of the biblical support for the Church’s teaching on the Immaculate Conception. But sometimes even knowledge of these passages isn’t enough. Many former Evangelicals who have converted to the Catholic Church relate how hard it was for them to put aside prejudices and embrace Marian doctrines even after they’d thoroughly satisfied themselves through prayer and Scripture study that such teachings were indeed biblical.

For Evangelicals who have investigated the issue and discovered, to their astonishment, the biblical support for Marian doctrines, there often lingers the suspicion that somehow, in a way they can’t quite identify, the Catholic emphasis on Mary’s sinlessness undermines the unique sinlessness of Christ.
Madrid has set the stakes high, hinting at substantive biblical support. Let us see if we are indeed astonished at the biblical support he musters. He continues:
Several objections are raised by Protestants.

First, if only God is sinless, Mary couldn’t have been sinless or she would have been God.

Second, if Mary was sinless, why did she say, "My spirit rejoices in God my savior" (Luke 1:47)? If only sinners need a savior, why would Mary, if free from sin, include herself in the category of sinners? If she were sinless, she would have had no need of a savior, and her statement in Luke 1 would be incoherent.

Third, Paul says in Romans 3:10-12, 23, "There is no one just [righteous], not one, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God, all have gone astray; all alike are worthless; there is not one who does good, not even one. . . . all have sinned and are deprived [fallen short] of the glory of God." In Romans 5:12 he says, "Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned . . . ." These verses seem to rule out any possibility that Mary was sinless.
This is a strawman. First of all, the primary Protestant objection to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is that it is absent from scripture. If it were in scripture, then we would deal with the apparent inconsistencies with the indicated passages. But the doctrine is nowhere to be found. Secondly, for reasons that Madrid is about to point out, the Protestant position is not that a creature cannot exist in a state of sinlessness unless he is a God, the Protestant position is that since the fall no man in his humanity, save one, can live in sinlessness. The second and third points are fair.
The Immaculate Conception emphasizes four truths: (1) Mary did need a savior; (2) her savior was Jesus Christ; (3) Mary’s salvation was accomplished by Jesus through his work on the Cross; and (4) Mary was saved from sin, but in a different and more glorious way than the rest of us are. Let’s consider the first and easiest of the three objections.

The notion that God is the only being without sin is quite false--and even Protestants think so. Adam and Eve, before the fall, were free from sin, and they weren’t gods, the serpent’s assertions to the contrary notwithstanding. (One must remember that Mary was not the first immaculate human being, even if she was the first to be conceived immaculately.)

The angels in heaven are not gods, but they were created sinless and have remained so ever since. The saints in heaven are not gods, although each of them is now completely sinless (Rev. 14:5; 21:27).
As mentioned, Madrid sets up a strawman and proceeds to knock it down. He is addressing an argument that Protestants don’t really make.
The second and third arguments are related. Mary needed Jesus as her savior. His death on the Cross saved her, as it saves us, but its saving effects were applied to her (unlike to us) at the moment of her conception. (Keep in mind that the Crucifixion is an eternal event and that the appropriation of salvation through Christ’s death isn’t impeded by time or space.)

Paul’s statements in Romans chapters 3 and 5 (no one is righteous; no one seeks God; no one does good; all have sinned) should not be taken in a crassly literal and universal sense--if they are, irreconcilable contradictions will arise. Consider Luke 1:6 (Zechariah and Elizabeth). Common sense tells us whole groups of people are exempt from Paul’s statement that "all have sinned." Aborted infants cannot sin, nor can young children or severely retarded people. But Paul didn’t mention such obvious exceptions. He was writing to adults in our state of life.

If certain groups are exempt from the "all have sinned" rubric, then these verses can’t be used to argue against Mary’s Immaculate Conception, since hers would be an exceptional case too, one not needing mention given the purpose of Paul’s discussion and his intended audience.
Madrid appeals to our emotions, arguing that since neither murdered infants nor the mentally handicapped can sin, then obviously Paul didn’t really mean “all have sinned” when he wrote “all have sinned” and to interpret “all have sinned” as “all have sinned” is to be guilty of hyper-literalism. How does Madrid know that neither infants nor the mentally handicapped have sinned? He doesn’t say. Why then does the Catholic Church baptize infants if even young children cannot sin? He doesn’t say. What of the clear teaching in scripture that we all are born in rebellion to God (Ps. 51:5)? He ignores it.
Now let’s consider what the Bible has to say in favor of the Catholic position. It’s important to recognize that neither the words "Immaculate Conception" nor the precise formula adopted by the Church to enunciate this truth are found in the Bible. This doesn’t mean the doctrine isn’t biblical, only that the truth of the Immaculate Conception, like the truths of the Trinity and Jesus’ hypostatic union is mentioned either in other words or only indirectly.

Look first at two passages in Luke 1. In verse 28, the angel Gabriel greets Mary as "kecharitomene" ("full of grace" or "highly favored"). This is a recognition of her sinless state. In verse 42 Elizabeth greets Mary as "blessed among women." The original import of this phrase is lost in English translation. Since neither the Hebrew nor Aramaic languages have superlatives (best, highest, tallest, holiest), a speaker of those languages would have say, "You are tall among men" or "You are wealthy among men" to mean "You are the tallest" or "You are the wealthiest." Elizabeth’s words mean Mary was the holiest of all women.
There is some truth here: we must allow for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, like the Trinity, to be deduced from other scripture. But this is another strawman; the Protestant objection is not that the phrase “immaculate conception” does not appear, but that the doctrine it refers to is not deducible from scripture.

Here we see the single greatest passage claimed for biblical support: the use of the Greek word "kecharitomene" to describe Mary. In essence, the entire doctrine is based on this superlative being applied to Mary. According to Rome, this word implies sinlessness. But in no Greek lexicon bears that out. Instead, it refers to divine favor, something that nobody disputes was shown to Mary. At the end of the paragraph, when referring to Luke 1:42, Madrid substitutes the superlative “holiest” for no lexical reason—the actual superlative being “most blessed.”

Madrid also argues on the basis of Genesis:
We see a crucial statement in Genesis 3:15: "I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he will crush your head, and you will strike at his heel."

If Mary were not completely sinless this prophesy becomes untenable. Why is that? The passage points to Mary’s Immaculate Conception because it mentions a complete enmity between the woman and Satan. Such an enmity would have been impossible if Mary were tainted by sin, original or actual (see 2 Corinthians 6:14). This line of thinking rules out Eve as the woman, since she clearly was under the influence of Satan in Genesis 3.
Madrid’s conclusion is rather bizarre:
Granted, none of these verses "proves" Mary’s Immaculate Conception, but they all point to it. After all, the Bible nowhere says Mary committed any sin or languished under original sin. As far as explicit statements are concerned, the Bible is silent on most of the issue, yet all the biblical evidence supports the Catholic teaching.

A last thought. If you could have created your own mother, wouldn’t you have made her the most beautiful, virtuous, perfect woman possible? Jesus, being God, did create his own mother (Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), and he did just that--he created her immaculate and, in his mercy and generosity, kept her that way.
There are many things the bible does not state explicitly. It does not explicitly negate the Mormon teaching that Jesus is Lucifer’s brother. One can prove just about anything by arguing what the bible does not explicitly negate.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Lesson 7: Roman Catholicism (Part 11)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Roman Catholicism from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. For this lesson, I will also draw from James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy, (Bethany House, 1996).There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

Biblical Support for Purgatory

We have already discussed one passage used to defend the doctrine of purgatory:
And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matt. 12:32)
Here Rome argues that “the age to come” refers to purgatory. As we saw, Calvin believed this passage could be paraphrased as “will not be forgiven now, nor at the final judgment.” Other Protestant commentators teach that the two ages refer to the old and new covenant. Finally, we saw that this passage, taking the Roman view that “the age to come” refers to purgatory, leads to a contradiction of their own doctrine. For if blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a mortal sin that cannot be forgiven in purgatory, it then implies that there most be some mortal sins that can be forgiving in the age to come, which violates Catholic dogma that only venial sins can be forgiven (in terms of guilt) in purgatory.

Calvin elaborates:
Those passages of Scripture on which it is their wont falsely and iniquitously to fasten, it may be worth while to wrench out of their hands. When the Lord declares that the sin against the Holy Ghost will not be forgiven either in this world or the world to come, he thereby intimates (they say) that there is a remission of certain sins hereafter. But who sees not that the Lord there speaks of the guilt of sin? But if this is so, what has it to do with their purgatory, seeing they deny not that the guilt of those sins, the punishment of which is there expiated, is forgiven in the present life? Lest, however, they should still object, we shall give a plainer solution. Since it was the Lord's intention to cut off all hope of pardon from this flagitious wickedness, he did not consider it enough to say, that it would never be forgiven, but in the way of amplification employed a division by which he included both the judgment which every man's conscience pronounces in the present life, and the final judgment which will be publicly pronounced at the resurrection; as if he had said, Beware of this malignant rebellion, as you would of instant destruction; for he who of set purpose endeavors to extinguish the offered light of the Spirit, shall not obtain pardon either in this life, which has been given to sinners for conversion, or on the last day when the angels of God shall separate the sheep from the goats, and the heavenly kingdom shall be purged of all that offends. (Institutes III.5.7)
Another passage used to support purgatory is:
23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matt. 5:23-26)
Here the idea is that, allegorically, the devil is the accuser and God is the judge. Clearly then, according to Rome, you can be placed in a prison from which you can get out—as long as you have paid your debt. They are certain this clearly teaches of purgatory. Calvin comments:
The next passage they produce is the parable in Matthew: "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost earthing," (Matt. 5: 25, 26.) If in this passage the judge means God, the adversary the devil, the officer an angel, and the prison purgatory, I give in at once. But if every man sees that Christ there intended to show to how many perils and evils those expose themselves who obstinately insist on their utmost right, instead of being satisfied with what is fair and equitable, that he might thereby the more strongly exhort his followers to concord, where, I ask, are we to find their purgatory? (Calvin, ibid.)
Calvin is telling us that Jesus wants us to come to fair and equitable agreements with our brothers, lest we cut off our nose to spite our face. Christ is speaking, according to Calvin, of the unseemliness and also risk for a person, especially a Christian, to hold out for ultimate satisfaction, especially against a brother. Matthew Henry comments in a similar vein:
Upon a temporal account. If the offence we have done to our brother, in his body, goods, or reputation, be such as will bear action, in which he may recover considerable damages, it is our wisdom, and it is our duty to our family, to prevent that by a humble submission and a just and peaceable satisfaction; lest otherwise he recover it by law, and put us to the extremity of a prison. In such a case it is better to compound and make the best terms we can, than to stand it out; for it is in vain to contend with the law, and there is danger of our being crushed by it. Many ruin their estates by an obstinate persisting in the offences they have given, which would soon have been pacified by a little yielding at first. Solomon's advice in case of suretyship is, Go, humble thyself, and so secure and deliver thyself, (Prov. 6:1-5). It is good to agree, for the law is costly. Though we must be merciful to those we have advantage against, yet we must be just to those that have advantage against us, as far as we are able. "Agree, and compound with thine adversary quickly, lest he be exasperated by thy stubbornness, and provoked to insist upon the utmost demand, and will not make thee the abatement which at first he would have made." A prison is an uncomfortable place to those who are brought to it by their own pride and prodigality, their own wilfulness and folly.
Finally, we have this passage that allegedly supports purgatory:
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
Rome argues that the juxtaposition of works, fire, and rewards speak of the doctrine of purgatory. But in truth the passage speaks for itself, and the only link to purgatory is that fire is mentioned.

The main problem for the Catholic position is that purgatory is supposed to be about sins, punishment, and purification. This passage is not about sins, but rather about works. It is not sins that are being judged, but works. Here we see a rather plain teaching: that if a Christian does good works that withstand inspection, he will be rewarded. If his works do not withstand inspection there will be the opposite result: he will suffer loss, though not his salvation. The fire refers to the burning up of works made of wood or straw instead of bricks. Matthew Henry comments:
There are others whose works shall be burnt (v. 15), whose corrupt opinions and doctrines, or vain inventions and usages in the worship of God, shall be discovered, disowned, and rejected, in that day--shall be first manifested to be corrupt, and then disapproved of God and rejected. Note, the great day will pluck off all disguises, and make things appear as they are: He whose work shall be burnt will suffer loss. If he has built upon the right foundation wood and hay and stubble, he will suffer loss. His weakness and corruption will be the lessening of his glory, though he may in the general have been an honest and an upright Christian. This part of his work will be lost, turning no way to his advantage, though he himself may be saved. Observe, those who hold the foundation of Christianity, though they build hay, wood, and stubble, upon it, may be saved. This may help to enlarge our charity. We should not reprobate men for their weakness: for nothing will damn men but wickedness. He shall be saved, yet so as by fire, saved out of the fire. He himself shall be snatched out of that flame which will consume his work. This intimates that it will be difficult for those that corrupt and deprave Christianity to be saved. God will have no mercy on their works, though he may pluck them as brands out of the burning. On this passage of scripture the papists found their doctrine of purgatory, which is certainly hay and stubble: a doctrine never fetched from scripture, but invented in barbarous ages, to feed the avarice and ambition of the clergy, at the cost of those who would rather part with their money than their lusts, for the salvation of their souls. It can have no countenance from this text, (1) Because this is plainly meant of a figurative fire, not of a real one: for what real fire can consume religious rites or doctrines? (2) Because this fire is to try men's works, of what sort they are; but purgatory-fire is not for trial, not to bring men's actions to the test, but to punish for them. They are supposed to be venial sins, not satisfied for in this life, for which satisfaction must be made by suffering the fire of purgatory. (3) Because this fire is to try every man's works, those of Paul and Apollos, as well as those of others. Now, no papists will have the front to say apostles must have passed through purgatory fires.