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Calvinism, Covenants and Catholicism.

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Question #1: 

We are doing a study on Covenant (Blood Covenant) to be exact. There is a statement that has me in turmoil and I would like your opinion. The statement is "You are without hope and you are without God when you are without understanding of the covenant." I am trying to understand how this would apply to a Born again believer and also a non-believer. Any input?

Thanks,

In Christ,

Response #1:  

Good to hear from you. The statement echoes what Paul says in Ephesians:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
Ephesians 2:11-12 NIV

The key phrase in Paul's actual quote – left out of the statement you share – is "separate from Christ". It is being "separate from Christ" which makes a person "hopeless", for the hope of eternal life and victory over death comes only with faith in Christ in we whom believe. Paul goes on to say in the next verse:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:13 NIV

Now that we are "in Christ", united to Him as part of His body through faith in Him, we are no longer "separate" but have instead been "brought near" through His blood. That is to say, through our faith in Him, His Person and His work for us in dying for our sins on the cross, we have been saved and have become members of His Body.

Paul's actual phrase is not "the covenant" but "the covenants of the promise" (please note the plural). For while it is true that the old covenant is often described as a singular whole, there have been a number of covenants to or "agreements" with old testament believers which all share a similar thread: they all speak of God's essential promise of eternal life through the One who was to come. That is the fundamental difference between the old and the new, namely, of a promise of something to come and a promise fulfilled.

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
Luke 2:19-20 NIV

The blood of Christ, Jesus' suffering and dying in the darkness on Calvary's cross for our sins (see the link in BB 4A: "The Blood of Christ"), is now a promise completed, salvation accomplished through the washing away of our sins by His blood, that is, His work in expiating our sins, so that our communion ceremony is one of "remembrance of Me", that is, who Jesus is and what He has done for us to save us by dying for us.

To comment on the statement you ask about, this is certainly a case of everything depending upon the context. In terms of any definitive meaning, this statement would have to be expanded. What does this person mean by "when you are without understanding of the covenant"? The most generous "spin" I can put on this part of the statement in isolation is that by "understanding the covenant" the person means "accepting the gospel". That is, however, a bit of a stretch. I rather suspect that instead some sort of idea that knowing about the Mosaic Law (or, more likely, someone's esoteric take on it) is seen as "necessary for salvation". That, of course, is not only not true, but is precisely the opposite of what Paul says in the biblical context the quote alludes to. For he says in the immediately preceding verses . . .

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:4-10 NIV

Thus in the verses immediately following to which the loose "quote" that is troubling you alludes, Paul is not reversing himself about salvation being through faith and apart from the works of the Law, but is instead encouraging the Ephesians by telling them that they are most definitely now in full fellowship with Jesus Christ on account of their faith instead of what they previously were, namely, without hope. These statements are in direct opposition to the false statements of the Judaizers who were telling these Ephesian believers that they could only be saved by keeping the Law. So it is ironic (or, better, despicable) for someone to take a verse that proclaims our deliverance from the Law through the keeping of which no one could be saved and twist so as to lay a "guilt trip" on anyone who is not living a life of legalism instead of grace. We who are of the truth know very well that salvation comes not from keeping the Law or by works of any kind but by the grace of God through putting our faith in Jesus Christ.

"We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
Galatians 2:15-16 NIV

The new covenant is a promise or agreement made by God to us for our benefit – in precisely the same way as the old covenant was: salvation through faith in God's Substitute, God's sacrifice. The difference is that we now look back to the cross and the fulfillment of that promise by our dear Lord Jesus, whereas old testament believers "searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (2Pet.1:10-11 NIV). In both cases the promise or agreement is given by God in complete grace and accepted by faith – and can only be appropriated by faith (not by works which invalidate the principle of grace).

What bothers me most about the statement you report is the phrasing "understanding of the covenant". That is because the issue for persons of faith is one of belief, not one of knowledge. Every person who has ever lived and attained mental competency knows full well through observation of His creation that there is a God who is not only all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent, but who is also intrinsically good, holy, and faithful. Whenever someone turns to Him for a solution to the problems of our existence, mortality and sinfulness, He shares with them the good news about His dear Son our Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit makes that truth understandable so that it may be received in faith. Salvation is a matter of faith, not knowledge.

For more details on what the word "covenant" really means in scripture, please see the following links:

What is a Biblical Covenant?

The Old and New Covenants (in SR 5).

Claiming the New Covenant has not yet Appeared.

The Last Supper and the New Covenant (in BB 4A).

There are also a number of postings on the site where you can find out more about some of the various types of Messianic (and other types of) legalism that are making the rounds these days. I'm not saying this is what you are being assailed by, but just in case:

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism I

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism II

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism III

The Dangers of Messianic Legalism IV

Combating Legalism I

Combating Legalism II

Combating Legalism III

Combating Legalism IV

Combating Legalism V

Combating Legalism VI

Feel free to write me back about any of this.

In Jesus our dear Lord in whom we have eternal life through faith in Him.

Bob L.

Question #2:  

Thank you for placing your brief essay "Does God's Choice of us Eliminate our Free Will?" up on the net. The following point of yours was very helpful in addressing arguments from some Calvinist friends of mine who are convinced by passages that imply a kind of spiritual determinism.

"It really IS God's choice, but that choice is based upon His prior knowledge of our free will responding to Him."

Can you direct me to the first theologian(s) who expressed this sort of interpretation, or an article with a good survey of this line of reasoning? Thank you very kindly for your time.

Warm regards,

Response #2: 

Good to make your acquaintance. When it comes to theological pedigree, my own is more Thieme>Chafer>Hodge than anything else. Not that any of the three would necessarily agree with my particular formulation of this issue, mind you. To begin with Charles Hodge, in volume II of his Systematic Theology, section 9.3, he reconciles the problem of election vs. free will as "certainty consistent with liberty". Lewis S. Chafer, in his Systematic Theology, deals with this issue in volume I, p.228ff. and focuses more upon the difference in perception (human vs. divine) as the basis for the apparent discrepancy. Robert B. Thieme, on the hand, concentrates on the superior knowledge of God in the equation (see his The Integrity of God: Houston 1987). Finally, Henry C. Thiessen's Lectures in Systematic Theology contains an excellent and very understandable synopsis of the historical positions on these matters and also of the various ways evangelicals have approached them (in chapter VIII, section V, "The Content and Order of the Decrees").

Finally, the other links provided in the piece you cite give my formulation of these things in a more formal and detailed way. I would call particular attention to the rather long extract "Free-will faith and the Will of God" (part of my own systematic theology, "Bible Basics", found in full in part 4B, "Soteriology"; see especially the link: "God's Plan to Save You"). As I try to make clear in that study, God's foreknowledge and decree of everything that would ever happen in the universe during the short period of time we call "history" is not only not inconsistent with genuine free will (which is the essence of the image of God we have received; see the link), but our exercise of free will is actually impossible without God's foreordination of all things. For there could be no universe without God's creation of it, and God certainly could not create time and space, creatures with moral accountability, and set in motion the process of history without knowing in advance precisely how every single one of us would choose and precisely how He would work "all things out for the good". We cannot exist, let alone choose, except in this venue called time-space or "the cosmos" without God's creation of it which in turn could never have happened absent His decree which in turn of necessity linked everything together in a completely foreknown way (to Him). More than that, God's decision to produce this creation and to give men and angels the most incredible power in the universe, the power of choice, necessitated judging all sin in Jesus Christ. By deciding to create the universe and launch angelic and human history, God bound Himself to sacrifice His One and only dear Son and to judge Him for all of humanity's sins. If there were no true free will, then why would Christ have to suffer through the expiation by fire of every human sin in the history of the world? Why would the Son of God have to become a human being forever in order to do so? If there were no free will, if we were not here to make our own genuine choice about this most important issue, none of what God has done, is doing, and will do would seem to make any logical sense – let alone any theological sense. As I say, all this is written up in much more detail in the link above. Best wishes on your continued and continuing love of the Word of God.

In Jesus our dear Lord who died that we might have the opportunity to choose for Him,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Hi Doc!

I was watching a Christian program where the host (Mark Kielar) stated that God is absolutely sovereign (which I agree) and that He created some people to be damned to an eternity in hell. He was basically saying that God would still be just in creating some men to be condemned to an eternity in hell because we are all deserving of hell in the first place and none of us deserve heaven (I also agree). He cited the passage:

Roman 9:20-23 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

The problem I have is trying to reconcile that with the passages where God offers salvation to all (Jn. 3:16; 1 Tim. 4:10; Rev. 22:17). By the way, he believes that the word "world" in John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 4:10 refers only to the elect and used the Greek to prove it.

There seems to be an endless unresolved debate between Calvinists and Arminianists about the doctrine of election. I hold to the belief that Jesus died on the cross so that all may be saved, that is the offer is there to anyone who calls upon Him for salvation.

He also cited this passage:

Romans 11:5-8 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.

He said that God purposely hardened their hearts and blinded their eyes so that they cannot be saved. Did the host (Mark Kielar) take these passages out of context, or does it really teach what he said? the host said that the only reason why people deny this teaching (what he teaches) is because of their unwilling ignorance and failure to submit to the truth. What are your thoughts on this?

Response #3:  

Your comment, "I hold to the belief that Jesus died on the cross so that all may be saved, that the offer is there to anyone who calls upon Him for salvation" is right on the mark. In fact, if Jesus had not died for the sins of all human beings, then the offer of salvation to all could not have been genuine to any. Jesus had to die for the sins of all in order to die for the sins of any, otherwise, our free will would not be genuine (because then those for whom He did not die would not have had any real choice). In truth, the issue of free will is what time and history is all about. If the need to actually exercise free will choice in responding to God in this life (or failing to do so) were not absolute, then God would not have needed to place us in this arena called human history in the first place. Indeed, God could have created the angels perfect and unable to sin; He could have created us the same way. But then we would be more like the animals. As it is, we share the very image of God. We are all "gods" (Ps.82:6; Jn.10:34) in the sense of having the most astounding power in the universe: the ability to choose. That is the "image of God". Thus while we are certainly nothing like God in terms of our power or knowledge or righteousness, we are so much more than His "pets". So much is this true that the Second Person of the Trinity has become a human being just like us – and died for all of our sins. One would think that a consideration of the implications of God becoming an actual human being in the person of Jesus Christ would demonstrate just how important we are to Him and what our creation and selection means to Him. God wants us to want Him back, but will not force us to love Him or chose for Him. That is what we are all here for, to make that choice (and all of the other choices that follow salvation and determine our rewards in the case of believers). But in order to have a family of men (and of angels) who have actually chosen for Him from genuine and uncoerced free will, the process of human history was necessary, a process in which the reality of His glory and power would be shielded from our earthly eyes to a degree great enough for our true desires to be able to come to the fore, for our choice of our eternal futures to be genuinely free; more than that, by creating the universe in a way that provided for genuine free-will choice on the part of all of His moral creatures, God obligated Himself to provide a means for redemption following the inevitable rebellion of some angels and the subsequent fall of Man; by initiating creation, God committed His Son to die for us – for all of mankind, in order for those who wish to be saved to have that opportunity.

The above is a very short precis of what may be found in BB 4B: Soteriology (see the link). In truth, there is no contradiction between the election of God and the free will of man. In truth, these are not opposites but complements. Rather than it being the case that they contradict one another, in truth one is impossible without the other. We could not exist and could not be here with the ability to choose if God had not made us this way, and God could not have made us this way without knowing ahead of time how He was making us and how we would react in the face of actually having choices; on the other hand, God's foreknowledge of what we would do was necessary for us to be able to do it, since nothing could ever happen in time without God making provision for it ahead of time and entering it into His divine decree of history. The universe is actually perfect and so is the Plan of God (see the link); we view imperfection all around in the actions, reactions and persons of human beings (a necessary result of creature choice), but we exist in a universe which loudly proclaims God's perfection. Part of the perfection of creation was the perfect creation of "Angel-kind" and Mankind. It seems that only by creating the whole could the parts (us) be created, for the parts are only complete, functional, possible, and real as part of the whole. Within each whole, different free-wills would react differently. God so constructed history and so ordered it and placed us in it in just the right way so as to maximize our opportunities to say "Yes!" to Him and so as to give us every incentive not to say "No!" The fact that many angels and most human beings say "No!" anyway (and even believers are much more tepid in their "yeses" than they ought to be), is an indication of how powerful this force called free-will really is. Given the chance, most people would rather "reign in hell than serve in heaven"; most people would prefer to "be their own boss" for a few short years in this miserable world than to submit to their Creator so as to be saved. Make no mistake: Jesus died for all, for the sins of all; that was a necessary element in the provision of salvation for any. But most people are not interested. It is not a terrible or mean or selfish thing that God created those who would reject Him; rather it is a mark of His incredible goodness and mercy! For He created them and gave them a chance, even though He knew ahead of time that they would throw this chance right back in His face. More than that, He sacrificed His only dear Son for them even though He knew they would spurn His sacrifice. Such is the love of God: He did this . . . so that we might be saved: for in order for us to live with Him forever, all the unbelievers had to be created too, and Christ had to die. That is the price He had to pay to win us for Himself and for His beloved Son.

By the way, this also explains why all human beings are originally in the Book of Life (see the link) until they cause themselves to be blotted out by unbelief: because Christ died for all that all might be saved, and that provision was factored into the Plan of God and the decree of God from the beginning; it is only by exercising free-will choice against God that human beings are consigned to hell, by their own choosing.

There are many scriptural proofs of the universal atonement of the Blood of Christ (please see the link: "Unlimited Atonement", and "The Universality of the Atonement"). However, "the only reason people don't agree with me is 'because of their unwilling ignorance and failure to submit to the truth' " is an argument that not even the prophets of God ever made in reference to themselves. God only "hardens" those who choose to be hardened. I like to put it this way: God made us who He knew we would choose to be, and so we are just who it was we would have chosen. Our free-will is not only genuine; it is the most potent and important thing we have. For it not only determines our eternal future but also is the key for believers to our earning the greatest rewards, if only we are willing to use it properly in His service.

In the Name of the One who died for us that we might have the chance to take refuge in Him for eternal life, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #4: 

I thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from the attachment you sent me on "Faith and Free Will", and also from your response. Before your ministry, I could never understand the connection between faith and allegiance. One is a belief, one is a choice. But they are the same because of human nature. When we lose devotion, we necessarily doubt the object of that devotion. The two are inseparable. I wonder if this is part of our being like lowercase gods with our free will.

I have a hundred questions, but hopefully I will work on most of them through The Spirit without having to bother you. I have one more long email to compose when I get a chance, and this relatively short one. Would you mind commenting on the Greek "if" in the first class condition? I have began trying to dissuade my pastor from teaching absolute eternal security. I intend to approach this delicately, so I simply asked his thoughts on Colossians 1: 20-23. He said that Wuest translates verse 23 with "if" in the first class condition, "if and it's true." I do not see how this changes the meaning, but Wuest's expanded translation stands verse 23 on it's head. I have read your translation, and you still use the word "if" the same way I would understand it in English.

Response #4:  

Here is my translation:

(22) Yet God has now accomplished reconciliation [for you] through the death of Christ in His physical body so that you may stand before Him as holy, without blemish and free from accusation – [this you will do] (23) if you remain solidly grounded and firmly fixed in the faith, and un-moved from your hope in the gospel which you have heard proclaimed in all creation under heaven, of which [gospel] I, Paul, have become a minister.
Colossians 1:22-23

On Colossians 1:23, I don't think the type of condition enters into it; if it does at all, it certainly strengthens the idea that "remaining in faith" is a prerequisite for reaping the benefits of salvation. I.e., "if you stand firm [and it is really true that you do], then you stand before Him holy and without blemish and free from accusation. If there were no conditionality involved, there would be no need for an "if". What we have here in Colossians 1:23 is a standard "simple condition" in Greek (aka "first class), but these are used for rhetorical effect throughout Greek literature, and Paul does so here as well: if the protasis (the "if" clause) is true, and in this condition it is assumed to be true, then the apodosis (the "then" clause) is also true. The effect of the condition here is to say "you will stand before Him in holiness . . . . if you stand fast in faith and of course you are doing that, aren't you?" Logically, however, it is merely a simple statement: "if you keep faith, then you will in fact stand before God in holiness" (logical implication: "if you don't, you won't" – and that is a valid deduction since otherwise there is no reason for an "if" and no force to the "if" clause). More important to the true meaning here is the addition in the Greek of the word ge (γε) following the "if": "if at any rate"; by combining this particle with the "if" clause which follows the apodosis in the Greek and English order, the effect of serious qualification is very much strengthened: "if at any rate you do stand firm in faith" or "assuming you stand firm in faith".

I managed to find Wuest's translation of the verse. His rendering of the conditional in his actual translation of the verse is fine as far as it goes (although it is a bit "gobbledygook-ish"): "assuming indeed that you are adhering to your faith . . . ". My real objection to his rendering is what he adds next: " . . . having been placed upon a foundation with the present result that you are on that foundation . . . ". Not only is this an unnecessarily tortured rendering of a single participle in the Greek, but it also disconnects the idea from the main verb in a way that distorts the meaning mightily. I render the whole predicate: "if you remain solidly grounded and firmly fixed in the faith and un-moved from your hope in the gospel". The perfect participle tethemeliomenoi (τεθεμελιωμένοι) is paralleled by a simple adjective and another participle, all of which means 1) that these three are all expressing synonymous facets of what it means to be "remaining" in the faith, and 2) they must be taken as so close to the verb as to be essentially adverbial (as is often the case with Greek adjectives agreeing with the subject as we have here; i.e., Greek will say "Quick Paul boarded the ship" where we must say "Paul boarded the ship quickly). So beyond all question the three words are functioning as modifiers which expand upon "if you remain solid in the faith". They cannot be disconnected. Only by producing an English translation which is impossible to understand in English would anyone fail to see that this is the case (at least if we are speaking about anything not demonstrably false, that is), and I note that all of the versions have similar renderings in this regard, e.g. "if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel" (NASB).

Bottom line: this passage in any reasonable rendering means just what it says: "you're saved, if you stick solid in the faith with that same grounding and solidity of belief you now have, refusing to be moved from the hope of eternal life you responded to in the gospel" (to make use of an "expanded" translation of my own).

One final note. Even if all a person is going on is Wuest's terrible rendering, there is little here to succor the false notion of hyper-eternal security:

And you who were one time in a settled state of alienation, and hostile in respect to your intents in the sphere of your works which were pernicious, yet now He reconciled in the Body of His flesh through His death, in order that He might present you holy and without blemish and unchargeable in His searching and penetrating gaze, assuming indeed, that you are adhering to your faith, having been placed upon a foundation with the present result that you are on that foundation, firmly established, and that you are not continually being shifted away from your hope held out by the gospel which you heard . . .

In spite of Mr. Wuest's denials that "this is not about the retention of salvation but its possession", the text itself, even in the convoluted form he gives it, speaks for itself and makes the final realization of those blessing we now positionally enjoy dependent upon the continuation of our faith. Q.E.D.

Thank you again for all your kind and encouraging words. Do feel free to write back any time.

Best wishes in your efforts for spreading the truth!

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #5:  

What is the meaning of Highly Favored in the context of Mary in Luke?

from Zimbabwe

Response #5: 

Good to make your acquaintance. "Highly favored" in Luke 1:28 is another way to translate the more familiar "full of grace". Either way, it is a translation of the Greek perfect participle kecharitomene which means, somewhat literally, "having been favored". Both "highly" and "full of", therefore, are interpretations which are not supported by the Greek text. Mary was certainly favored by God in being chosen to bear the humanity of our Lord Jesus; that is what this greeting means. It was not meant to impart any additional special status to Mary beyond this unique honor, nor to suggest that she was in any way inherently different from other human beings (i.e., she was most certainly not "immaculate" or sinless, though the conception of our Lord's fetus surely was). Gabriel uses this greeting to convey the blessing, the favor, that has come to her in being chosen as the mother of our Lord's humanity, nothing more, nothing less. Unquestionably, Mary must have been an exceptional believer for God to have made this choice of her (see the link: "Mary, Joseph, and Nazareth."), but that certainly doesn't exempt her from having a sin nature nor does it imply her perfection (see Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology, section I.2, "The Sin Nature"). This participle cannot reasonably be made to do that either (although both of these translations quoted above attempt to inject that idea – without any linguistic basis).

I have written all this up in much greater detail at the following link:

Mary "Full of Grace"?

Thank you for your question.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #6: 

Hello,

I found the articles from your website very interesting. At the start of your article 'Issues of Canonicity' you criticize catholic church. I am a catholic who is aware of many problems that exist within the R.C. church and I will happily accept critique based on the evidence. Could you please clarify where did catholic church go wrong with the inclusion and exclusion of scriptures? Is the Bible used by R.C. any different to other versions of it?

With regard,

Response #6:  

Very good to make your acquaintance. Thank you for your email. When it comes to issues of canonicity, one has to start with the fact that scripture is defined by God not by Man. That is to say, the true Bible is the Bible because of God's actions; all human beings are capable of doing is recognizing and accepting scripture as scripture or failing to do so.

For I did not follow concocted tales in making known to you the power and the coming return of our Lord, Jesus Christ, but was an eyewitness to His majesty. For when He had received honor and glory from God the Father, these words sounded forth to Him from God's majestic glory: "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased." And these words I myself heard as they were delivered from heaven, for I was with Him on the holy mountain (cf. Matt.17:1-8). Yet I consider the prophetically inspired Word (i.e. the Bible) even more reliable (i.e. than what I saw with my own eyes). You too would do well to pay the closest attention to this [prophetically inspired Word], just as to a lamp shining in a dark place (cf. Ps.119:105), until the day dawns, and the Morning Star rises (i.e. the Living Word, Jesus Christ, returns), pondering in your hearts this principle of prime importance: no single verse of prophetically inspired scripture has ever come into being as a result of personal reflection. For true prophecy has never occurred by human will, but only when holy men of God have spoken under the direction and agency of the Holy Spirit.
2nd Peter 1:16-21

The true Bible is the true Bible apart from the decisions of any administrative body of any church. The fact that Mormons include the Book of Mormon does not make the Book of Mormon scripture. The fact Marcion excluding large parts of the Old Testament from his "Bible" does not mean that the entire Old Testament is not scripture. Human inclusion of what is not divinely inspired or exclusion of what is does not affect the actual composition of the true canon. These are the basic principles. How we arrive at the correct assessment of what is or is not scripture in particular cases (i.e, the "canonicity test") is an involved question, and one which you are not asking (so I will leave that for another day).

The purpose of this ministry, Ichthys, is not apologetics (and I have often allowed as how I am wanting in regard to that particular gift). Were I to find fault with the Roman Catholic church's position on the canon, the criticisms would be exactly along the lines of what are suggested in the email response you cite (see the link). First, there is the fact that at least since the council of Trent (1545–63), the collection of books known as the Apocrypha has been wrongly included in the R.C. Bible as if it were a part of the holy scriptures (i.e., the so-called "deuterocanonical" books which do not occur in the Hebrew Old Testament, namely the works from Tobit through 2nd Maccabbees). The acceptance of these books by the Roman Catholic church is not a matter of debate (any more than their rejection by most Protestant churches is). In my considered opinion, these books are clearly not divinely inspired, so that officially proclaiming them to be so is a grave error. That would be true regardless of their content.

As I say, this is not an apologetics ministry so that my comments on the practices of the Roman church (or any other group) come only in the context of questions from readers or as illustrations pertinent to whatever is being taught. It is not my role to press for reform of any group or any church, merely to express the truth as best I can for any and all who are willing to receive it. Were I to take issue with the Roman church in this regard, it would also be along the lines of what was expressed in the response to which you refer. That is to say, a much bigger problem than how the canon is defined is the position of looking outside of the scriptures however defined for doctrinal authority. The Bible is so far down on the list of authoritative sources in the Roman church that it hardly matters whether that church has the canon right or not. Papal authority, traditions, the writings of the church fathers and canon law all preempt the plain teaching of the scriptures wherever and whenever anyone notices the multitudinous discrepancies between the Bible and that religion. Rome's problem is not that it has endorsed the Apocrypha; Rome's problem is that it has made the Bible into a closed book, de facto if now no longer de jure.

In terms of the English versions authorized by the Roman Catholic church, I am certainly no expert. However, I believe I am correct in saying that they are in the main translations of the Latin Vulgate. What this means is that wholly apart from the issue of producing a translation that will be careful to cast certain "problem passages" in a favorable light out of ecclesiastical interest, these translations are "translations of translations" and, in the case of the Old Testament, "translations of a translation of a translation". Since there is much that can be lost in translation, this sort of process is problematic as you may suppose. The Old Testament's original is in Hebrew, but the Old Latin version which served as a model for Jerome's Vulgate (and in large measure was only modified by him) was taken from the Greek Septuagint version produced in the 2-3 cent. B.C. So English readers of the Douay-Rhiems Version (or what have you) are reading an English translation of a Latin translation of a Greek Translation of the Hebrew text. I think it speaks volumes that even so were these version really being read vociferously and considered to be what they are, the Word of God, they would still not fail to change lives dramatically and lead to spiritual rebirth (even though they are rendered in a far less than suitable fashion).

I hope that I have sufficiently addressed your question. Please do feel free to write me back about any of this.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior, in whom alone we have salvation through faith in Him and His work.

Bob Luginbill

Question #7:  

Dear Professor,

Thank you for your quick and detailed response. I appreciate it, particularly as you must be a very busy person and there must be a lot of people like myself, who need your knowledge to answer the questions they have.

I find great interest in theology and I am currently starting to read the articles on your website. It would be great if a person like you could provide me a guidance in my studies. I would be very grateful if you could answer some of my questions:

1. What version of the Bible would you recommend?

2. Should I follow any particular order when reading the articles on your website? There are a lot and I would like to structure my readings.

3. If I want to study theology, would you say that knowing ancient languages is a prerequisite and it's impossible to fully understand the scriptures without such knowledge? Or could I rely on somebody else's translations without sacrificing the fullness of meaning?

4. Are there any particular universities you would recommend to study theology and the Bible? I always considered Rome the best choice, but I would like to be delivered a content without any agenda. Even though I am a catholic myself, I am very critical towards the catholic church and many things about it make me genuinely sad, as the guidance of the Holy Spirit has been taken for granted in my church and pride and complacency are damaging it severely. These problems motivate me to stay rather than leave and I don't believe there is a perfect church and human institution out there any way. Nevertheless, as much as possible, I would like my education to be as free from bias as possible.

5. Are there any books and Bible guides you would recommend for a novice like myself?

In Christ our Lord,

Response #7: 

Thank you for your email. I very much appreciate your godly attitude and your clear desire for the truth. I will do my best here to answer your questions according the light God has given me in these matters, and invite you to write me back about any of these responses (especially since in many cases they may seem not what you had expected).

1. In terms of English translations of the Bible, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I prefer the NIV (1982 – NOT the most recent 'new' NIV which is in the process of appearing). This version is an accessible translation in English (I don't know what to tell you about Polish translations). What I mean by "accessible" is that what is says is actually capable of being understood in most instances by English readers because the translators did what any good translator should do: translate meaning, not just words. Of course, that causes some problems too since all translations – and especially accessible ones – are by necessity also interpretations. When a interpretive translation like the NIV "gets it wrong", they really get it wrong. The KJV, on the other hand, is more "creatively ambiguous". This avoids some of the problems found in the NIV's approach, but often leaves the reader wondering what he/she has just read, especially in the NT epistles; then too there is the issue of archaic language in the KJV. The NASB is good, but the language is cumbersome; in many ways it combines the worst of the two approaches, but I often consult it and have found it very valuable from time to time as a reference work. I have known people who swear by the English Standard Version and also the Standard Version. All of these more "dignified" translations have their pluses (I would stay away from the likes of the "Living Bible" and all other such hyper-modern translations which sometimes do more harm than good). In sum, most of the standard, scholarly English translations are useful and acceptable as a necessary starting point. In general, whenever one reads something that seems "new" or not in keeping with what one had previously thought about theology or doctrine when consulting any translation of any work originally not in English, consultation of the original text (or at the very least of other translations) is a very salutary step. You can find out more on this topic at these Ichthys links:

*Read Your Bible

Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations III

Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations IV

The King James Version or the New King James Version: Which is better?

Issues of Canonicity II: Aramaic, Enoch, KJV, and the Pastorals

Bible Vocabulary and Bible Word Studies

The Greek Text of the New Testament and some Issues of Textual Criticism.

2. Here is what I say about this on my FAQ page:

Recommended Sequence: Which of these studies should I read first?

As these studies all reinforce and complement one another, a variety of approaches will work equally well. I do recommend the study Read Your Bible as a good place to start in order to understand the methodology of this ministry. The Peter Series then provides a good general introduction to many basic doctrines. The Bible Basics series is not yet complete, but the available studies (Theology, Angelology, Anthropology, Hamartiology, Christology) provide comprehensive treatments of the subject matter they contain. The completed Satanic Rebellion series and the nearly complete Coming Tribulation series, while primarily focused on eschatology, contain much additional doctrinal information on a variety of subjects and can thus also be very profitable for general spiritual growth. Making a habit of reading the weekly e-mail response postings is also recommended: E-mails at Ichthys.

3. This depends on you, your personal situation, and God's plans for you. If you are young enough, not married, and have been endowed with the spiritual gift of teacher and or pastor, then I would most certainly advise you to do all that is necessary in order to master Greek and Hebrew, the original languages of the New and Old Testaments respectively (there is some Aramaic in both, of course, but gaining facility in biblical Aramaic is not a lengthy process for those who already know Hebrew). Theology in general and in fact any correct understanding of any point or principle the Bible genuinely teaches flows from an understanding of what the scriptures actually say. You are quite correct to assume that those who use English translations exclusively of necessity must rely on other people's assigning of meaning to what they have read and studied. There is no shame in that of course, provided those people we rely on are 100% correct in all things. However, that would be impossible for a variety of reasons: not only are people fallible, but there is also the fact that a translation is not the original. At the very least, when I translate, I am making choices about emphasis, tone, and tenor – even if I have transferred the meaning over from the Greek or Hebrew in an absolutely perfect way (which of course no one can do). Reading an English translation is a little bit like viewing a sunset through rose-colored glasses; on the one hand, the experience is much more profound without the glasses, and on the other hand the tint obscures much of the spectrum. Getting to the point of attaining a functional facility in these languages is not a quick or easy matter. For most of us mortals, that can only be achieved by first spending much time in rigorous academic study (which brings me to your next point).

4. I did attend a seminary, a non-denominational one in the evangelical protestant tradition (Talbot Theological), and I am very glad that I did. However, what I really got out of it was the network of like-minded students of the Word of God with whom I spent many hours discussing theology et al. That is to say, it was the milieu of the place rather than the courses taught which proved the most valuable thing in the end. I'm not sure I could recommend Talbot today (it has grown less conservative in approach), or any other seminary for that matter. As I say, it was helpful for me, but was not nearly as important in terms of academic preparation as was my time spent in secular universities working on languages et al. Theological institutions of whatever stripe are more interested in their own versions of applied theology than they are in any fresh search for the truth. As a result, the original languages of scripture – the one crucial element of pastoral/teaching preparation that really cannot be gotten effectively on one's own – are more and more being given short shrift in such places (to the point that some seminaries do not require them at all!). You can read theology on your own; you can learn a tremendous amount about the culture and history of the ancient world on your own; but unless you are a John Stuart Mill, you need to spend a good number of years in university studying Greek and Hebrew in order to come to the point of being able to exegete scripture for yourself. Many "experts" have a passing knowledge of these languages which they use as a sort of patina of authority to impress their sheep. However, to become truly proficient to the point of actually understanding the original and digging out the truth from it takes many years of preparation and experience. For everyone who does aspire to this worthwhile pursuit of teaching the Church of Christ, Paul says "he desires a noble task" (1Tim.3:1). My advice to those who have what it takes to finish the course is to get absolutely as much academic Greek and Hebrew as possible (adding other things to the mix in the process like ancient history, Latin, German, and systematic theology where applicable). In my view, this is best accomplished at a reputable, secular university, where there is no preconceived theological bias (except the error of atheism which is easily ignored by persons of faith). After all, we receive our spiritual training from the ministries of the Body of Christ; we seek out technical training to enhance our own capabilities in fulfilling the ministries and gifts with which we have been entrusted. For seminaries, you might see my links page: "Seminaries and Universities" (n.b., these listings do not constitute any sort of endorsement).

5. As to books, there are plenty, of course. I can certainly expatiate on this at length, but will leave you with an observation of my own experience. I bought many books and book-sets when many years ago I was contemplating what you are now considering, many of which are doing little else than gathering dust and taking up space today. The books I have found the most valuable are 1) good study Bibles; 2) good editions of the original languages in Greek and Hebrew; 3) good reference works (lexicons, grammars, histories, systematic theologies). The last category has proven to be the most valuable of all. A good one-volume lexicon is worth much more than any multi-volume set you can name. Most commentaries, most multi-volume "dictionaries", and even most Bible encyclopedias are a complete (or near complete) waste of money. I have few regrets about the choices I made to prepare and pursue a life-task of serving Jesus through ministering His Word. One thing I might have done differently, however, is to have exercised a bit more discrimination on this wise in terms of what I bought. Here are some links which may give you a start on some general acquisitions (though, as I say, the reference work categories listed above have proven to be exponentially more valuable to me in the long run than anything else):

Study Tools and Methodologies.

Tools and Techniques for Bible Translation.

Hebrew Language Study Tools.

You might also have a look at the Hebrew Language Study Resources and Greek Language Study Resource pages.

I want to encourage you to nurture your dream of a life devoted to serving the Lord through seeking and teaching His truth. If done correctly, it is a hard road which inevitably leads away from all established religion and can frequently seem very lonely. But if you pursue it with all your heart, and if that is where the Lord is leading you, you will find that He is ever with you, and that is the greatest joy of all.

In Jesus Christ who is our all and everything,

Bob L.

Question #8: 

Dear Professor,

Again thank you for your prompt and detailed response.

1. I will read one of the translations you recommended and see whether they are available in Polish. I also checked the Polish translation I am currently reading - it's a catholic translation based on three critical (that's what they are called in Polish, a different term might be appropriate in English) editions of the Biblical text:

a) Biblia Hebraica (Kittel, Kahle, Alt, Eissfeldt, 1945) for the Hebrew text in the Old Testament,

b) Septuagint (Rahlfs, 1943) for the Greek text in the Old Testament,

c) Novum Testamentum Graece et Latine (Merk, 1951)

What do you think of these texts? If the translations you recommended are available in Polish, I might read both the English and Polish versions. Reading the Bible in English will not be a problem from a linguistic point of view, even though I will have to use the dictionary occasionally, but I would like to be familiar with the Scriptures in my mother tongue as well.

2. Thank you, the guide you gave me will be very helpful and will provide me with a structure in my study.

3. I will see whether it will at some point become feasible for me to devote my time to the study of Greek and Hebrew. I am perhaps not the one to make a judgement, but I have always felt the desire to serve God, even if that's a hardly an indication of God's plans towards me and the word 'serve' is semantically capacious. Some events in my life also make me believe that I should engage in some form of ministry, even though I cannot afford to be any more specific for the time being. Whatever it shall be, education and knowledge of the scriptures is fundamental.

I had considered theological seminary for a long time, but for numerous reasons I didn't go there eventually and having become more familiar with the catholic church I wouldn't choose this path now. I communicate fluently in English and I can speak some German, I have studied other languages and thoroughly enjoyed it, so there are reasons for me to believe that the study of Hebrew and Greek could be fruitful. Although, for professional reasons I am not able to devote a significant amount of time to doing this at the moment and unfortunately I cannot see this changing in the foreseeable future. I wanted to learn Italian and Spanish in roughly the next 20 years, I'm willing to change these to Hebrew and Greek.

4. Perhaps attending a non-denominational seminary could be the solution for me too. Similarly as with regard to the study of Hebrew and Greek, finance and logistics make it impossible for the time being to start a university course anywhere and should this change, it's unlikely I would do it in the US. Most probably I would have to do it in Europe. Although, some English Universities might be influenced by Anglican church and Italian by catholic church, so if you know any European seminaries or universities that you would recommend for ancient languages or theology, please let me know.

I can imagine that the experience of meeting like-minded students must have been very stimulating and helpful and I believe I could benefit a lot from that too, as I am currently doing my studies in isolation. I'm doing readings as often as I can, for example I recently had a debate with a Muslim student of mine and read articles on answering-islam.org. I'm curious of your opinion on the work presented on that website.

5. With regard to books, I will remember to invest in reference works and I will follow the links you provided.

In a way unknown to me yet, I would like to serve the Lord and with His help, I will pursue that desire. Even through these few steps I made in discernment I recognized that, as you said, it's a road that inevitably leads away from all established religion. I would like to believe you will not mind me contacting you for guidance in the future.

In Christ,

Response #8:  

Good to hear from you. The texts listed are fine; however the Greek Septuagint overlaps the Hebrew and the Latin NT overlaps the Greek (i.e., any given OT/NT translation would in many cases have to follow one or the other). Without a detailed explanation from the translation committee (and an extensive analysis of their end-product) it would be hard for me to weigh in on the quality of the work. My rule of thumb remains: if you read something that seems quite different from what you expect, consult another version or two.

As to the other questions, everything you say seems reasonable to me. Not everyone is called to be a pastor or a teacher. Like the human body, the Body of Christ is composed of many members (1Cor.12), and each of us has his/her unique role to play in God's plan. Trying to be a leg if we are an arm or an arm if we are a leg is a mistake. The same overall rules apply to us all. We are all called to salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. Once we commit our lives to Jesus and are spiritually reborn, that is not the end; that is only the beginning. After becoming believers, we are called to grow spiritually, progress spiritually, and produce spiritually. The last phase is the one which is based upon the proper and mature functioning of our individual spiritual gifts. Many Christians (often those who are in the wrong place to grow properly) make the mistake of trying to hop over steps one and two; the result is often that they try to wedge themselves into roles which their own unique gift or gifts do not fit. If someone has a gift of administration, that person should not be a missionary. If someone has the gift of pastor, that person should not devote him/herself to earning money so as to focus on charitable giving (etc., etc.). Very few of us are aware of the particular gifts we are given immediately after being saved. Generally speaking, it takes a good deal of spiritual growth and the passing of some serious tests in order to begin to become confident about the role Jesus is leading us to play in support of His Church. And there is also the critical point that until a person is spiritually mature and has progressed in the Christian life to a certain point, quite apart from being able to recognize their gift that person is really not ready to begin their life-ministry in any case.

Please feel free to write me back any time. You are certainly welcome to any and all of the materials at Ichthys. It is my sincere hope that they will be of help to you in your quest for personal spiritual advance and preparation for whatever ministry God has in store for you. Nothing could be more important: this is what we are left here on planet earth for after salvation – so that we may produce a bountiful crop and earn a good reward that blesses us and glorifies our Lord Jesus for all eternity.

In the Name of the One we love above all else, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #9: 

Dear Professor,

I am reading the texts from your website and slowly progressing my understanding. I wanted to ask you another few questions:

1. You said that the path you took inevitably leads away from all established religion and I have noticed growing isolation in my spiritual life as well. The Catholic church is very far from what it should be and I have doubts whether I should keep attending the masses which I don't fully celebrate (cult of Mary and saints are only some of the problems, pride and poor understanding of the Bible are truly horrifying though), but then all denominations suffer from their own problems and no church will ever be perfect.

So far I thought I will do my best to make a good contribution to R.C. church, but making any contribution to such a huge and rigid machine is hardly possible. I feel that, apart from obviously the Bible (although even there I feel a certain lack of security stemming from the variability between translations you mentioned), your ministry and to an extent some other resources, there is no 'earthly' reference point to my spiritual life.

Jesus said that 'Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head' (Luke 9, 58) and I'm beginning to understand that. First I thought I should become a priest, then considered perhaps adopting a more remote role and becoming a deacon, but then there are too many things I couldn't accept anyway, I have seen how other groups live their religious life and usually found a lack of genuineness and some more or less similar problems that I experienced in R.C. church. I am by no means an authority to judge different denominations, but I certainly haven't found my place. And I would really like to, I pray for God to lead me and even though my discernment has been progressing rather slowly, at some point I would like to make some sort of contribution to God's vineyard. I don't know how, when and where, as I don't truly belong anywhere.

I wanted to ask you, what is your place with this regard? Do you celebrate Christianity with any group? How about Eucharist?

2. I found your ministry inspirational, but for many reasons I am not able to fully devote myself to the study of the Bible. I could have made better choices with regard to my studies, but it's too late now and I will do my best to change the course of my life so that I can study the Bible and potentially Greek and Hebrew. If this is God's will. I would like to ask you, what is the best thing for me to do in the meantime (I accept that the 'meantime' could take many years or could never pass)? I work and I am a busy person, I read the Bible every day and I'm trying to read your website as well. Are there any readings you would particularly recommend me to do? You mentioned good reference works is particularly helpful, are there any specific lexicons, grammars, histories and systematic theologies you would recommend?

In Christ,

Response #9:  

Good to hear from you again. Your spiritual journey is not unlike my own and that of many others who became serious about walking with Jesus in the proper way somewhat later in life. For those who truly do want to draw closer to Him there is only one way to do so, through the truth of His Word. It would be nice, it would be proper, if there were indeed many large groups of others who were so inclined, and numerous, well-organized fellowships of similarly dedicated true Christians. That is just simply not the case, however. I very much wish for you to find such a fellowship, however small, but I know from experience (my own and that of countless others) that such a thing is a rare wonder. If you do find it, prize it.

The natural human instinct to fellowship with others is a fine one in most cases. It is "not good for man to be alone". On the other hand, "bad associations corrupt good character". In my opinion, better a crust of bread alone on the corner of a roof than merriment and abundant fellowship in a place or with a group that will only retard spiritual growth or even bring about spiritual shipwreck. This ministry was born out of just such a dilemma and is humbly offered up as a partial solution for those who need and crave the pure milk of the Word and are unwilling to compromise that desire for the sake of unworthy fellowship which does not edify.

As I wrote you before, we all have our own unique gifts from the Spirit and we all have our own unique ministries assigned by our Lord, given their ultimate effects from our God and Father (1Cor.12:4-6). Until we reach a certain point in our spiritual growth and progress, it may not be at all clear to us what our particular role in God's plan is to be, but if we persevere on the right path, this and all of our other important questions will be answered. In the meantime, the basic requirement of God's plan for each of us is fundamentally the same: keep growing, progressing and producing for Jesus Christ. And at the heart of everything we do aright will ever be the truth of the Word of God. In the history of the Church, the number of individuals who by gift, preparation, temperament and life-circumstances have been able to "feed themselves" has been precious few. It should not at all put you off if that is not God's will for you. After all, a hand is a hand, a foot is a foot. An eye is of no use without a head or a torso without the other essential parts. We, the Church of Jesus Christ, are one Body, His Body, and each of us members has an important job to do for the benefit of the whole. And we will all be rewarded according to our production based ideally in large part upon the proper function of the actual gifts we were given (not ones for which we might have wished).

The journey upon which you have embarked is not necessarily an easy one, but it is the only path not only to "making your salvation secure" but also to pleasing Jesus Christ and earning a good eternal reward. I commend your persistence, your honesty, your realism, and your zeal for Jesus Christ. Continue in this vein and God will work everything out for the good as He always does for those who love Him.

I like to think that Ichthys has and will come to have everything necessary for the continued spiritual growth of those who partake of it, but I have no doubt that the Lord will lead you to whatever other sources of the clear water of truth you need for spiritual refreshment and spiritual growth. My essential advice remains ever the same: read your Bible and pray daily and consistently, find a good source of teaching and dedicate yourself to it, believe the truth God gives you and live it, walking with Jesus day by day, and helping others do likewise through the opportunities for ministry the Lord brings your way.

I pray that the Lord will help you to continue with the good work to which you have set your hand. This is the only course of true happiness in this life, and in the life to come.

In the Name of the One who is our all in all, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #10:  

Dear Professor,

I forwarded some of your arguments with regard to the catholic church (I'm aware they are not aimed only at R.C. church) and canonicity to one of my friends, who is currently studying in a catholic seminar to become a priest.

This is the response I got (please accept my apology for the judgmental character of the text):

1. Deuteronomical books are taken from the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Old Testament, done by the Jews from the Alexandrian diaspora. Whether the original was in Hebrew or Greek is not an argument in the discussion (what is original in the first place, if books were often written over centuries?!). Jews only accepted to the canon the books Hebrew version of which they knew and closed the canon. After the discoveries in Qumran for example it turned out that the ancient versions of Hebrew books and fragments were found, so far known only in Greek. What do Jews and protestants say about that? One more interesting fact: when Christianity was starting to emerge, the Jewish canon of the holy books was not yet ready (it was accepted in the second century).

2. It is rude to write that the main source for the R.C. church is not the Bible. It is a sign of ignorance or even hatred of this biblist towards the Church. I hope you understand the role of the light of Tradition in the interpretation of the Scripture in the Church, this is just logical that when reflecting on God's word one cannot omit how the Word of God was interpreted by the first Christians.

3. Reflection about 'translations of translations' is simply laughable. For a long time the Scripture has been translated from original languages and these translations are used in the Church (even the Millenium Bible that's the bible we commonly use in Poland is a translation from Hebrew and Greek, not to mention the widely accessible original or interlinear editions of the Bible.

I asked you already about the 'Millenium Bible' translation (I didn't mention its name though, only the texts on which it was based) and you said you're not quite familiar with it, so the last point made by my friend might need to be left without an answer, at least for the time being. I will be looking forward to your responses to the first two and the first one in particular.

I wanted to add another question from myself. I read the articles on Mary and Peter (http://ichthys.com/mail-Only-Begotten-Mother-Of-God-On-This-Rock.htm) and I'm still puzzled about the form in which Jesus speaks to Peter.

And I tell you that you are Peter [the little rock] (petr-os), and upon this [mighty] Rock (petr-a, i.e., upon Christ Himself; cf. 1Cor.3:11) I shall build My Church (cf. Dan.2:44-45), and the gates (i.e., the fortified defenses) of Hades (i.e., the devil's kingdom) will not [be able to] resist it.

Matthew 16:18

I cannot understand why Jesus speaks of himself using a third person perspective ('upon this mighty rock'), rather than simply stating 'and on myself'. Also, because 'and' is used before 'upon this...' I have always taken it for granted that Jesus refers to the same person before and after 'and'. It seems logical that this should apply to Peter, even though I accept and agree the arguments you present with regard to the semantics of petros and petra. If someone told me: "And I tell you that you are X and upon this mighty rock...", I would find it correct to assume that I'm it's myself who is meant by the mighty rock, hopefully that presents my problem clearly enough.

Also, the Polish translation I've used all my life leaves no room for the interpretation that you propose, so I have never even considered that Peter might not be the rock. If translated to English, what I read in my Bible would look like this: 'You are Peter (the Rock) and on that rock I will build my Church,... I would really appreciate if you could clarify this point, correspondence with you has been most helpful.

In Jesus,

Response #10: 

Good to hear from you. I am certainly not surprised that acquaintances who are happy with Roman Catholicism would defend it and find little of use in my words:

And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old [wine] straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.
Luke 5:37-39 KJV

If the old were without fault, however, there would have been no occasion for the new. The question today, and the one with which you are grappling, is whether or not there is even yet any worth in the old. As I believe I mentioned to you in the past, I am agnostic about whether or not it is possible to be saved and grow spiritually in the R.C. church, but I do have to note that all those I have ever come into contact with in the past who have escaped from that tradition have claimed it is impossible. Given the inveterate legalism of that institution's approach – a fault it shares with many Protestant groups, let me add – I can see how someone who really did want to put Jesus and His truth first in their lives might get that impression.

The secular scholarly consensus is that the books of the Apocrypha were written in Greek not in Hebrew (i.e., they were never translated into Greek from Hebrew; rather, they never existed in Hebrew). As St. Jerome writes to Laeta asking for advice about her daughter's education:

"Let her be wary of all apocrypha; and if she ever wishes to read such works not for the truth of dogma, but for the miracles contained in them, let her know that they do not belong to those men whose names are indicated in the inscription and that it requires great wisdom to seek gold amid the mud." (Epist. 107, 12)

Having spent much time on this issue, my opinion is much the same. The apocryphal books are all late, they are all pseudonymous and bereft of any positive doctrine, and they have in common the fact that while they can do a person no good they may do him some harm should they be considered authoritative on any point.

The argument about Dead Sea scrolls puzzles me. The fact that they prove that Hebrew remained the language of scripture many centuries after the close of the canon is a further point in invalidating these later Greek productions. As I say, it should make very little difference to those of the R.C. persuasion, since beyond all argument the scriptures are not decisive for them in determining faith and practice. That is not an insult. That is stated R.C. doctrine. That is why the Roman church's apologists rail against proponents of "Sola Scriptura", i.e., scripture only, using that description as an insult.

I am happy to say that everything I believe and teach comes from the Bible, and am happy to defend everything I say and teach based on the Bible alone. If I am in error on any point large or small, it is because I have misread or misapplied the truth of scripture – and I am only too happy in such a case to be corrected from and by the scripture. If a tradition is worth anything whatsoever, it is only so to the extent that it accurately reflects what the scripture teaches. If a tradition does accurately reflect what the scripture teaches, then that is verifiable by attention to the scripture. The apostles appealed to the scriptures as the basis for the authority and truth of what they taught – and so did our Lord during His earthly ministry. Do we really think that God expects us to give more authority to the opinions of lesser men over scripture when John and Paul and Peter put scripture first (not to mention our dear Lord Jesus)?

I think it is completely disingenuous for someone who claims to be one of its supporters or members or especially a future member of its priesthood to claim that the Bible is the "main source" for R.C. teaching and belief. Where are cathedrals in the Bible? Where is the non-Jewish priesthood? Where are all the sacraments, rituals, saints, holy days and liturgies? Where is the pope? Now I grant you that this church has spent many centuries carefully constructing a series of biblical apologies for the way it does things. But anyone who knows anything about this church historically or contemporarily will have to admit that the form and the function do not flow from the scripture but from the tradition. No one who had read the Bible without any prior contact with the Roman church would find anything particularly familiar in it coming to it from a Bible-first perspective. As your friend relates, it is the "Tradition" (he uses a capital "t") which is all important. There are all manner of groups out there that claim to be Christian and that put their own tradition in front of everything else. The Roman Catholic tradition is one of the oldest, but it is not unique in this approach.

There is a real trap in accepting the proposition, "we reverence the Bible by reverencing our tradition". That is because when one takes the time to look into those who interpreted the Bible earlier in the western tradition, one finds that the lion's share of that tradition does not flow from the earlier interpreters of the Bible either (the whole point of John Calvin's voluminous Institutes of the Christian Religion was to demonstrate the hollowness of this argument by showing how far contemporaneous R.C. practices were from what the Church Fathers actually said). When discrepancies between R.C. practices and not only the Bible but also the Church Fathers are pointed out, apologists then fall back on canon law and church authority. This is an understandable sort of defense-mechanism employed by many cult-like groups who have long since discharged themselves from any accountability to the Bible. I understand it. I only want no part of it, and in my view all those who value their spiritual safety and spiritual growth will do well to put the truth in first place, not what any group of human beings has chosen to put forward for their own benefit.

As to your question about Peter and Jesus' words to him, I do understand your hesitation to accept this interpretation, commend your care in investigating it, and would advise you to keep to this practice in all your spiritual inquiries. Scripture means what it means. Discovering that meaning is sometimes very simple, so simple that it flows without effort from the words of almost any translation. Sometimes more care is needed to get to the truth – that is a short history of the divisions in the Church (namely, separations based upon a lack of care or a parti pris twisting of the truth).

Let us begin by considering whether or not Peter (and later interpreters) would have been justified in assuming that he was the rock upon the entire Church would be built.

1) Peter is petros, a stone, but Christ will build on a Rock, petra, a significant difference in wording. It may not be obvious in English or Polish, but in Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic these are significantly different words; there is a big difference between a pond and an ocean, even if both of these words get translated into another language as "lake".

2) Peter is one of twelve disciples and will be one of twelve apostles whose names are all recorded on the foundation stones of New Jerusalem's gates. In this and in all other things Peter is certainly not greater than Paul nor even John by any objective measure (cf. Gal.2:11-14). Would anyone ever have taken this passage to mean that Peter was "the first pope" if there had never been a series of popes (extrapolated backwards by the way; Gregory the Great was the first real "pope")? Isn't this "Peter as pope" view really a question of the tradition exercising an influence on our interpretation?

3) Everywhere else Jesus emphasizes the unity of the Church and the humility of leadership; nowhere else does our Lord single out individuals for greater authority (cf. Matt.23:11-12).

4) Only five verses later, Jesus calls Peter "Satan" (Matt.16:23).

5) Scripture constantly affirms that the Messiah is the Rock, not one of His followers (e.g., Is.28:16; 1Pet.2:6; Eph.2:20).

Isn't it at least conceivable that even if Peter himself had misapplied these words to himself that he would at the very least have had some mental reservations about that connection, given the above? And what does Peter Himself say?

"This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone."
Acts 4:11 ESV

And by the way the word "stone" here is lithos not petros (i.e., a sizeable stone versus a pebble). Since we understand from this and many more scriptures and points which might be adduced that Peter is elsewhere described as a pebble but not the pillar of the Church, it is reasonable to look deeper at the passage. Since the superficial meaning that many have drawn from Matthew 16:18 has obvious problems prima facie (covered above), finding the truth requires a bit more work than merely assuming what one tradition has promoted for its own advantage.

Jesus Christ is the Church's true foundation (1Cor.3:11), and that Church is not built primarily on Peter but is "built on the foundation of all of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone" (Eph.2:20). Since Peter is not the foundation himself nor the Cornerstone nor the Rock upon which it is founded, and since Jesus is that Rock and Cornerstone, is it not reasonable to ask whether or not by saying "on this Rock" Jesus was referring to Himself?

"This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."
John 6:58 NIV

Jesus answered and said unto them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up".
John 2:19 KJV

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church;
Matthew 16:18 KJV

In all three of these passages, our Lord uses the near demonstrative pronoun, "this", to refer to Himself, and in all three places one has to do with a teaching analogy Jesus is using. He is the Bread of Life ("this Bread"); He is the true sacrifice of God for our sins ("this Temple", being His body); He is the true foundation upon which the entire Church of God is built ("this Rock"). All three of these passages cause problems. After calling Himself the Bread of Life, "From that [time] many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (Jn.6:66 KJV). His claim to be able to "rebuild the temple" in three days was used to convict Him of blasphemy before the Sanhedrin (Matt.26:61). And the "misunderstanding" of our present passage has been used to support a tradition which teaches Christians to diminish the authority of scripture in comparison to its own authority – to the shipwreck of the faith of many over many generations.

The text of Matthew 16:18 is somewhat ambiguous – and no doubt deliberately so. Jesus spoke in parables or "teaching examples" so that those who were really not interested in the truth "might hear and not understand" and "see and not perceive" (Matt.13:14). That is to say, scripture gives the unbeliever a measure of "plausible deniability". The truth is there for those who want it; it is easily demeaned and twisted by those who really have no interest in it.

Finally, as to the "and" which bothers you, you should know that in Hebrew the universal connective waw equally may mean "and" or "but" with the difference being only contextual. The Septuagint frequently uses the main Greek connector kai as a translation for waw so that kai in the New Testament sometimes means "but" rather than "and", the difference being one of interpretation of the context. "But" is what I would prefer here, since there is a definite contrast (see the BAG lexicon, s.v. kai, I.1.g).

Keep on striving for the truth. Non salus extra veritatem.

Here are some links on this:

The Pebble and the Rock (in Peter #2)

Christ the Rock

Petra versus Petros

Upon this Rock (in SR 5)

Jesus is the Rock (in BB 4A)

Jesus not Peter is the Rock

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

 

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