Saturday, December 26, 2009

Raëlian Catholicism

Back on Dec 17, Bryan Cross posted an ostensible reply to something I posted. I haven’t responded until now in part because I’ve had other things to respond to, and it part because I wanted to let the thread evolve to the point where it was becoming repetitious.

I say “ostensible” because, despite his introductory remarks, Bryan’s post is primarily directed at some of Jason Engwer’s comments.

“What makes this difficult to understand, from a Protestant point of view, is that in Catholic theology there is a distinction between justification and an increase in justification.”

This is one of the pompous ways that Bryan typically expresses himself. If some Protestant disagrees with Catholic theology, it must be because we just don’t understand Catholic theology. And a newbie convert like Bryan, who has no formal training in Catholic theology, will explain it to us.

“There is no such distinction in Protestant theologies, and for that reason Protestants not infrequently treat Catholic statements about the increase in justification as though they are about justification itself.”

Bryan will keep harping on this distinction, as if it salvages the Catholic position. But the problem with this distinction is that increased justification is still a mode of justification. It pertains to the justified state of the believer. It contributes more of the same. And it does so through justificatory works.

So it’s a difference of degree rather than kind. A fundamentally quantitative rather than qualitative distinction. Both initial justification and progressive justification pertain to the same fundamental condition or status. To the nature of someone’s justification.

That, however, doesn’t reconcile Catholic justification with Pauline justification. It doesn’t show that Paul made room for progressive justification, or that he did so on the basis of justificatory works.

So Bryan can repeat himself as often as he likes, but repetition of an otiose distinction does nothing to salvage his position.

“Justification takes place through the sacrament of baptism, and then, if a person falls into mortal sin, through the sacrament of penance. At the instant of justification, the person receives sanctifying grace and the theological (supernatural) virtues of faith, hope and charity (agape).”

i) That’s simply an exposition of Catholic theology. It does nothing to harmonize Catholic justification with Pauline justification.

All Bryan has done is to lift a Tridentine phrase, in which Trent combines three different terms (faith, hope, agape), and apply that set of terms to justification. Bryan will then use that as a prism to view Pauline statements on justification. But unless and until he can show that Paul would combine the same terms in the same way, Bryan is filtering the Pauline data through a prism which is alien to Paul’s own teaching.

ii) Moreover, Bryan’s inference is fallacious. To say a justifying faith is also a loving faith doesn’t imply that love is justificatory. What they have in common is not each other, but a common source (faith). That hardly means one property is identical with another.

The married man may also be a father. But that hardly means a paternal relation is interchangeable with a spousal relation. To be a husband and father are properties of the same man without being properties of each other.

Likewise, a red object may also be a round object. But this doesn’t mean shape and color are the same thing. Or have the same function.

“This does not mean that these cannot be received prior to the actual reception of the sacrament of baptism. Even then, however, they come through the sacrament, and anticipate its reception.”

This is another distinction that Bryan will repeat ad nauseum, as if it’s self-explanatory to claim that someone is justified through baptism even though he can be justified prior to baptism. Bryan needs to pause and actually explain that anachronism.

Does he mean that baptism is retrocausal? Is this a case of sacramental time-travel in which baptismal effects precede their baptismal causes?

“An increase in justification is not the same thing as justification. An increase in justification is not the translation from a state in which one is deprived of sanctifying grace to a state in which one has sanctifying grace. An increase in justification is an increase in sanctifying grace from a condition in which one already has sanctifying grace.”

i) Now he’s using “sanctifying grace” as a synonym for justification. But to show that Catholic justification is reconcilable with Pauline justification, he needs to show that justification and sanctifying grace are interchangeable concepts in Paul. What Bryan has actually done is to swap one for the other, without lifting a finger to demonstrate the Paul would agree with his substitution.

ii) Bryan’s distinguishes the initiation of a state from the continuation (or augmentation) of the same state. Yes, that’s a difference, but that doesn’t have reference to two different states of being. Rather, both have reference to one’s state of sanctifying grace. In the first case, how an individual enters into that state–and in the second case, how he maintains or fortifies that state.

So, once again, Bryan has failed to show that Pauline justification makes room for different phases of justification, as if justification is a process with different stages. If that is Bryan’s position, he needs to exegete that distinction from Paul.

“This is what St. Peter means in exhorting believers to grow in grace. (2 Pet 3:18) An increase in justification is not receiving sanctifying grace where there is none, but a movement of growth from grace to more grace, and thus a growth in conformity to the likeness of Christ, by an increase in the capacity of our participation in the divine nature. (2 Pet 1:4)”

i) Bryan is resorting to private interpretation. His private interpretation of 2 Pet 1:4 and 3:18. Bryan will do that quite often in the course of this thread. But this generates a dilemma:

a) Either private interpretation is illicit, in which case we can automatically discount all of Bryan’s scriptural appeals,

b) Or else private interpretation is legitimate, in which case he can’t automatically discount the interpretations of his Protestant opponents.

ii) Bryan hasn’t shown that Peter’s concept of grace is synonymous with the Catholic doctrine of sanctifying grace. The Catholic doctrine is far more specific than what you can exegete from 2 Pet 3:18.

iii) Moreover, Bryan hasn’t begun to show that 2 Pet 1:4 and 3:18 refer to the same thing as Pauline justification. Where is the supporting argument to bridges this connection? How does Bryan go from Petrine grace or progressive sanctification (or “participation in the divine nature”) to progressive justification? How did he exegete any of that from the terms of his prooftexts?

“The reason this distinction between justification and its increase is important for understanding the Catholic doctrine concerning justification is that although a person can and should prepare for justification (Trent VI.6), he cannot merit justification by any works. But, a person who is already justified and in a state of grace, can merit an increase in justification by doing good works out of love (agape) for God. Among these good works are works in keeping with the moral law, done out of love (agape) for God. God rewards our works done in agape by increasing our capacity to participate in His divine nature, and thus by increasing our participation in His agape. He Himself is our reward, and growth in grace is growth in Him, a reward we receive already in this present life, to be multiplied abundantly in the life to come.”

The question at issue is not what distinctions a Catholic can concoct, but whether one can map Catholic distinctions onto corresponding Pauline distinctions. Where does Paul draw an analogous distinction? Unless Bryan can exegete a relevant parallel, a Catholic distinction does nothing to salvage Catholic justification from the Pauline anathema.

“Does St. Paul teach that justification is by keeping the ceremonial law? No. Does St. Paul teach that justification is by keeping the moral law? No. According to St. Paul, justification is not by works of the law, and in St. Paul ‘works of the Law’ refers to the whole law under the Old Covenant. That’s what Robert is saying, and I agree with him, and nothing I said contradicts what he said.”

This is what Bryan originally said:

“You are not making any distinction between the works of the ceremonial law as part of the Old Covenant, and works of the moral law, done in a state of grace in the New Covenant, out of love [agape] for God. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul wasn’t condemning (or even referring to) growth in justification through good works done in a state of grace; he was condemning a return to the Old Covenant by Christians, because that was a rejection of the New Covenant and implicitly a rejection of Jesus as the Messiah who established the New Covenant in which the requirement of those ceremonial laws is done away. If you don’t understand the distinction between the ceremonial law and the moral law, then you have entirely misunderstood Paul’s point in his letter to the Galatians. Then your whole warrant for calling the Church’s teaching a ‘false gospel’ is based on a misinterpretation of Scripture.”

Let’s compare Bryan’s attempt to drive a wedge between the moral law and the ceremonial law with the observations of a leading Catholic NT scholar:

“Given Paul’s Jewish background, and especially his own affirmations about his pre-Christian past as a Pharisee, one might expect that the phrase frequently used by him, (ta) erga (tou) nomou, ‘(the) deeds of (the law’ (Gal 2:16; 3:2,5,10; Rom 2:15; 3:20,28), or in its abbreviated form, ta erga (Rom 3:27; 4:2,6; 9:11,32; 11:6) would have come from Pharisaism…the Hebrew equivalent has turned up in Qumran literature from Palestine itself,” J. Fitzmyer, According to Paul (Paulist Press 1993), 19-20.

“It [deeds of the law] has recently been restricted by J. D. G. Dunn to mean ‘particular observances of the law like circumcision and the food laws’…According to Dunn, such ‘works of the law’ are regarded neither by Paul nor by his Jewish interlocutors as ‘works which earn God’s favour, as merit-amassing observances. They are rather seen as badges: they are simply what membership of the covenant people involves, what mark out the Jews as God’s people,’” ibid. 23.

“Yet it is now seen in the light of this Qumran text that ‘works of the law’ cannot be so restricted. The text of 4QMMT does single out about twenty halakhot, but they are not limited to circumcision and food laws; they are moreover associated by the Jewish leader who wrote this letter with the status of ‘righteousness’ before God….From this Qumran text it is made clear than the sloganlike phrase did indeed have a legalistic connotation and that it was used in connection with the way a Jew would seek for righteousness in God’s sight,” ibid. 23.

So much for Jason’s having “entirely misunderstood” Paul’s point. Unfortunately, Bryan’s conceited ignorance is endemic among Evangelical converts to Catholicism. Not only are they at odds with wide swaths of Protestant exegetical literature, but equally at odds with modern Catholic exegesis.

Continuing with Bryan:

“But, as I will explain below, unless we recognize the difference between the meaning of ‘works of the Law’ as including the ceremonial law, and the New Covenant law that does not include the ceremonial law, we can mistakenly treat St. Paul’s teaching that justification is not by the former as though it also denies increases in justification by means of the latter.”

So Bryan seems to be saying that whereas moral law-keeping wasn’t justificatory under the old covenant, moral law-keeping is justificatory under the new covenant. But there are some fundamental problems with that argument. Let’s consider just two or three:

i) The Judaizers aren’t suggesting that Christian gentiles become old covenant proselytes. They don’t deny that Jesus is the Messiah. They don’t deny that Jesus inaugurated the new covenant.

Rather, they regard circumcision and other aspects of the ceremonial law as an ongoing part of the new covenant. For them, gentile Christians, to be genuine Christians, must convert to Messianic Judaism.

The Judaizers aren’t like the Jewish-Christians in Hebrews who were tempted to deny Christ and revert to the old covenant.

ii) When Paul uses the paradigm-case of Abraham, who was justified by faith rather than works, he does so to underscore the essential continuity between the principle of justification under the old dispensation and the new. Both Abraham and his Christian counterparts are justified the same way: by faith rather than works. That accentuates the analogous rather than disanalogous relation between the old dispensation and the new in reference to the nature of justification.

iii) Does Bryan think that Abraham and other OT saints were not in a state of grace? Does he think that Abraham and other OT saints did not exhibit faith, hope, and love?

“Without sanctifying grace and living faith, we cannot merit heaven; to claim otherwise would be Pelagianism. And that is why we cannot be justified by works. For St. Paul justification is by living faith, and we receive this living faith by hearing (Rom 10:17), and it is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5) through the sacrament of baptism (Rom 6, Col 2). But none of that condemns or denies increases in justification through good works in accordance with the moral law done out of love (agape) for God.”

i) Notice Bryan’s resort to private interpretation.

ii) Bryan hasn’t shown that, according to Paul, we merit heaven through good works or sanctification. Where’s the argument?

“Jason thinks that the Catholic doctrine is that we are justified by ‘faith and works.’ But that is not true. As I explained above, in Catholic doctrine we are justified not by works, but by living faith, and living faith includes the supernatural virtue [i.e. disposition] of agape. Yet we may increase in justification by works done out of love (agape) for God, according to the order Christ has gratuitously established.”

If good works increase our justification, then we are partially justified by works.

“Here I was pointing out that St. Paul’s condemnation of the teaching of the Judaizers was not for believing that works done in agape (in accordance with the moral law under the New Covenant) increase our justification, but for believing that the keeping of the ceremonial law, and thus returning to the Old Covenant (and a keeping of the whole law) is necessary for justification.”

i) Bryan is interpolating a distinction which Paul doesn’t draw. And he does so in the teeth of what Paul actually says.

ii) The Judaizers weren’t suggesting that we “return” to the old covenant. Rather, they regarded the ceremonial law as an integral part of the new covenant.

“First, the Judaizers were rejecting the New Covenant, in which we are justified by sanctifying grace and [living] faith in Christ, received through the sacrament of baptism instituted by Christ.”

i) Bryan hasn’t show that, according to Paul, we are justified by sanctifying grace, much less that we are justified by sacramental grace. And, by the same token, he hasn’t show that this is what the Judaizers rejected.

ii) Moreover, baptism is the NT counterpart to circumcision. But if, according to the paradigm-case of Abraham, the patriarch wasn’t justified by circumcision, then it follows, by the logic of Paul’s argument from analogy, that a Christian isn’t justified by baptism.

“But the Catholic Church affirms the New Covenant.”

It pays lip-service to the new covenant.

“In fact the Catholic Church is the New Israel, the Israel of the New Covenant (cf. Gal 6:16).”

Except that Paul doesn’t say or even imply that the church of Rome is the New Israel. How does Bryan exegete the church of Rome from Gal 6:16?

“The Catholic Church teaches that we are justified by [living] faith in Christ, a faith that we receive as a gift from God, along with sanctifying grace, in the sacrament of baptism instituted by Christ. Jason’s assumption that St. Paul’s condemnation of the Judaizers’ doctrine applies to Catholic doctrine overlooks the role of the Covenants in the Galatian account. Jason thinks that St. Paul’s concern in his letter to the Galatians is simply excluding works of any sort from justification. It is true that St. Paul recognizes that works cannot justify. But St. Paul’s primary concern for the Galatian believers is that they remain within the New Covenant, and thus remain united to Christ.”

But both sides of the debate (Paul and the Judaizers) affirmed the new covenant, as they understood it. The problem turned on their mutually exclusive understanding of the new covenant.

“By adding the requirement of the ceremonial law they were returning to the Old Covenant, and thus nullifying the New Covenant and the sacrifice of Christ, the long-awaited Messiah and Savior. (cf. Gal 5:1ff) The Catholic Church rejects the requirement of returning to the Old Covenant for justification or salvation. From the Catholic point of view, adding the requirements of the ceremonial law would be nothing less than apostasy from the New Covenant established by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. So in this respect, the Catholic Church does not fall under St. Paul’s condemnation of the doctrine of the Judaizers.”

Actually, the Catholic church merely substitutes one justificatory ceremony for another. Instead of treating circumcision as a justificatory rite, it treats baptism as a justificatory rite. So both Catholics and Judaizers believe in justification by ceremonial works. Ritual law-keeping.

“St. Paul’s condemnation of justification by ‘works of the Law’ is not about increases in justification through good works done in a state of grace under the New Covenant.”

Paul's condemnation is expressed in categorical terms.

“St. Paul rules out justification by works, but so does the Catholic Church. (Cf. Trent VI.1).”

A fallacy of equivocation, since Catholicism redefines key terms and concepts.

“In none of his writings, including his letter to the Galatians, does St. Paul teach that good works done in a state of grace under the New Covenant do not increase justification.”

i) To the contrary, he condemns the principle of justificatory works in general. And he does so by drawing attention to the continuity, rather than discontinuity, between the way in which Abraham was justified under the old dispensation, and Christians are justified under the new covenant. Abraham is the exemplar.

ii) Moreover, this is significant because it uses the same rule of faith as the Judaizers. Because they appeal to the OT, so does Paul.

“My point here is not to demonstrate from Scripture that good works done out of love (agape) for God merit an increase in justification. My point here is to show that claiming that the Catholic Church teaches that we are justified by ‘faith and works’ is false, because such a claim mistakenly conflates increases in justification with justification. A role for works in the increase of justification does not entail that there is a role for works in justification.”

Bryan needs to document these distinctions in the Pauline formulation to avoid the Pauline anathema.

“If in Gen 15 Abraham was already justified, then the justification referred to in Gen 15 either is a ‘maintaining of or increase in justification, based on the act of faith Abraham makes in Gen 15, or is referring back to Gen 12 (or whenever was the first time Abraham believed).”

That hardly follows, either logically or exegetically. In context, Gen 15 describes the inauguration of the covenant.

“Of course it wasn’t accompanied by baptism under the Old Covenant, since Christ established Christian baptism only in the New Covenant. But the absence of baptism in the Old Covenant doesn’t tell us anything about how it is to be received in the New Covenant.”

What we have in the OT is circumcision, which is the OT counterpart to NT baptism. Given Paul’s argument from analogy, baptismal justification makes the same mistake. If baptismal justification were true, then the most direct argument which Paul could deploy to refute the Judaizers would simply be: “Of course the Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised to be justified, for baptism takes the place of circumcision, and as long as you’ve been baptized, then that’s how you’re justified!”

Continuing with Bryan:

“And it seems clear that Abraham’s faith was accompanied by works, as James points out.”

i) It’s methodologically invalid use James to explicate Paul. Bryan needs to construe each writer on his own terms.

ii) The question at issue is not whether we can be justified by works in the Jacobean sense, but whether we can be justified by works in the Pauline sense.

iii) Moreover, Bryan needs to demonstrate that Catholic justification is reconcilable with Pauline justification and Jacobean justification alike. He hasn’t done either–much less both.

“Justification” is an English word, derived from Latin, which is used to translate a Greek word. You can’t start with Catholic usage, then appeal to Biblical usage (in translation, no less!) as if these are synonymous concepts.

“A mere suggestion is not sufficient to warrant schism from the Church, or the public charge that the Catholic Church teaches a false gospel.”

Jason isn’t proposing schism from “the Church.” Rather, he’s attributing a false gospel to Bryan’s sectarian denomination.

“There is continuity between the Old and New Covenants, but the New Covenant exceeds the Old Covenant, and for this reason baptism exceeds circumcision.”

i) That’s a fallacious inference. The fact that the new covenant exceeds the old covenant in key respects doesn’t mean the covenant sign of the new dispensation exceeds the covenant sign of the old dispensation. Bryan is confusing the sign with what it signifies. What exceeds the old dispensation is not the sign, but the significate.

ii) Indeed, one of the major points that Paul was making in Rom 4 is that a covenant sign has no intrinsic value. It doesn’t justify you. Rather, a covenant sign is, at best, a token of a preexisting state. Apart from a prior, underlying act of justifying faith, the covenant sign is nothing more than a bare token.

“It is St. John who tells us at the beginning of his gospel (written later in his life, according to tradition) that Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.’ (John 3:5) Jesus is the one who ‘added’ baptism, just as He did in Mark 16:16, and just as Peter did on Pentecost: ‘repent, and let each of you be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 2:38) It is baptism that now [in the New Covenant] saves us. (1 Pet 3:21)”

i) Notice that Bryan is resorting to private interpretation.

ii) Concerning Jn 3:5:

a) The sacramental interpretation cuts against the grain of the dialogue. Jesus upbraids Nicodemus for his failure to grasp what Jesus is referring to. But if Jesus is referring to Christian baptism, then Nicodemus would be in no position to know what Jesus referred to since Christian baptism had yet to be instituted. Therefore, Bryan’s interpretation is pitifully anachronistic.

b) The Fourth Gospel frequently uses natural metaphors. And as Jason rightly pointed out, John specifically uses an aquatic metaphor in 7:37-39, where water symbolizes spiritual renewal. So, in terms of Johannine usage, we’d also construe 3:5 as a figurative description of spiritual renewal, using a hendiadys to make his point.

c) As Jason also points out, the use of aquatic metaphors to symbolize spiritual renewal go back to the OT. Many commentators think Ezk 36:26-27 lies behind the picturesque imagery in Jn 3:5.

And some OT allusion or another fits the historical context, since that’s something that Nicodemus would be familiar with.

iii) Concerning Mk 16:16:

a) As Jason rightly points out, this is a spurious scribal interpolation.

b) Even if, for the sake of argument, we concede the authenticity of this verse, then it proves too much. For it would make water baptism a sine qua non for salvation. Yet that’s hardly the position of Vatican II, or even Trent.

iv) Concerning Acts 2:38:

a) There is no fixed sequence between baptism and reception of the Spirit in Acts (cf. 8:12,14-17; 9:17-18; 10:44-48; 19:5-6).

b) Baptism is a concrete metaphor for spiritual purification. The same imagery is used for repentance in 3:19. Therefore, baptism is simply a picturesque figure for God’s forgiveness of the penitent believer. Repentance, not baptism, is what literally results in divine forgiveness. Baptism merely signifies that transaction.

c) Apropos (b), the Book of Acts attributes forgiveness to three different things: faith, repentance, and baptism. How are these related? Do they represent three alternate routes to arrive at forgiveness?

It’s easy to see how faith and repentance are interrelated. These flow from a common source: a change of heart and mind.

In relation to faith and repentance, baptism would symbolize the effect of repentance and faith. It trades on the figurative imagery of washing and cleansing as a concrete emblem of inner purification. What scholars call an enacted parable.

d) In this passage, repentance is a precondition for baptism. Yet infant baptism is the norm in Catholicism. But infants aren’t penitent. Therefore, Bryan can’t cite this as a Catholic prooftext for baptismal justification (or baptismal regeneration.

v) Concerning 1 Pet 3:21:

a) This passage undermines the efficacy of baptism. For one thing, it tells us what baptism can’t do: baptism can’t wash away moral corruption.

b) And its moral inefficacy stands in contrast to a clear conscience.

c) Conversely, baptism is the token of a “pledge” which the baptismal candidate made at the time of his baptism. This is just another way of saying forgiveness is contingent on faith.

For the exegetical details, cf. K. Jobes, 1 Peter, 253-56.

“Faith comes by hearing, of course. But if it comes to a person in its fullness (as a virtue), it has come to them through the sacrament of baptism, even if they have not yet been baptized. The Spirit ordinarily works through the sacrament, but the Spirit is capable of outrunning the sacrament, as John outran Peter at the tomb. This ability of the Spirit to act prior to the sacrament, should not be interpreted as nullifying the sacrament or implying that the Spirit has not come through the sacrament.”

Once again, this is not self-explanatory. If saving faith sometimes occurs prior to baptism, then it comes apart from baptism at the time of its occurrence. So, in that event, what does baptism subsequently confer?

“When Paul says ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’, he is asking them if they were confirmed when they were baptized.”

i) Is that what he’s asking? What evidence does Bryan adduce that a sacrament of confirmation even existed in the NT church? Can he point to some example in the Book of Acts or Pauline epistles? Later he mentions Acts 8, but there is no fixed sequence for reception of the Spirit in Acts.

ii) Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Bryan’s interpretation is correct. According to Catholic theology, confirmation is normally applied to candidates who reach the age of discretion:

So, if we apply that to Acts 19, then no baptized Catholic has the Holy Spirit unless and until he attains the age of discretion and submits to confirmation.

“St. Paul’s question shows that when the Apostles speak about believing the gospel, they are not speaking of this believing as something merely mental; ‘believing the gospel is a phrase that implicitly (when not explicitly) includes baptism…Faith is not merely an internal epistemic change; it is also a public profession and identification.”

Bryan is equivocating. Faith is a private, mental state. Public profession of faith is a way to share that private mental state with others. But the two are hardly equivalent. Bryan is confusing the nature of a mental state with acting on a mental state.

“Correct, but this believing includes baptism; it is not a merely private, internal epistemic change. It is sacramentally effected in the presence of many witnesses, by Christ.”

i) Except that Bryan admits you can have saving faith prior to baptism.

ii) Moreover, what about the Catholic “baptism of desire”?

“In neither the Cornelius situation nor the Acts 19 situation is faith truly separated from baptism. Faith precedes it, but the Apostles do not take this as nullifying the need for baptism.”

Once again, Bryan is equivocating. The obligation to be baptized doesn’t mean saving faith or justifying faith is equivalent to baptism.

“Likewise, when St. Paul says ‘hearing with faith’ (in Gal 3:2) he is not saying that faith does not come through baptism.”

i) Notice that Bryan doesn’t cite any verse from Galatians where Paul tells us that faith comes through baptism.

ii) And what does that even mean? Does every baptized Catholic have faith? Hitler received Catholic baptism. Did Hitler exercise justifying faith?

“But faith is public.”

Once again, this repeats the same equivocation (see above).

“St. Paul is essentially saying in Gal 3:2: Did you receive the Spirit through the sacraments of the Old Covenant (e.g. circumcision) or through the sacraments of the New Covenant (i.e. baptism and confirmation)?”

If that’s what Paul is essentially saying, then why doesn’t he say that, either explicitly or implicitly?

“Catholics aren’t limited to trying to determine the faith from Scripture. We have the living Tradition from the Apostles, the ‘view from the inside’ handed down to us faithfully within the community of faith, by which we understand what the Apostles were saying. We don’t read Scripture in an ecclesial or historical vacuum; we read it with the living memory of the community to whom it was entrusted.”

i) Bryan will continue to use this fallback for the remainder of the thread. It’s a backdoor admission that he lost the exegetical argument. So his prooftexting is just a charade since, by own reckoning, his prooftexts don’t really prove what he needs them to prove. He can’t get what he needs from his prooftexts. So he repairs to the backup system of the Magisterium.

ii) Needless to say, an argument from authority is comically tendentious without a preliminary argument for his authority. Before he can appeal to the authority of his church, he needs to make a case for his church. What’s the point of telling a Protestant opponent that apostolic tradition has been faithfully preserved by the church of Rome? That begs the very question in dispute.

iii) His Jungian appeal to collective memory is specious. Timothy had a living memory of the apostles. Pope Benedict XVI does not. A living memory is an eyewitness memory.

It’s true that recollections can be passed down from one generation to the next, like family lore. But that’s a precarious and often unverifiable process.

Say I have a living memory of my parents. I might also remember some things they told me about their parents. And that’s about as far back as it goes.

iv) Evangelical Bible scholars don’t interpret the Bible in a historical vacuum. And they don’t disregard the community of faith. But the question at issue is which historical context supplies the relevant context. Which community supplies the relevant community?

Is it future to the text? Or is it past and present at the time of writing? The historical background leading up to the text. The community to whom it was written.

“You don’t seem to realize Who is doing the baptizing. Does the believer exercise his free will in stepping into the font? Of course. But that’s not baptism. Who does the baptizing? Christ. Christ is the Baptizer.”

And the argument for that is what, exactly?

“The gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord is free in this sense — it comes to us from God without any merit on our part. But, we should not therefore think that working out our salvation (Phil 2:12) will require no sacrifice on our part. Jesus said, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23, cf. Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34) We are fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him. (Rom 8:17) So the freedom of the gift of eternal life should not be conceived in an unqualified (or antinomian) way, but with respect to the utter graciousness of God’s offer of eternal life to us. On our part, it requires giving up everything. ‘If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Lk 14:26)’.”

i) What percentage of Roman Catholics is regularly called upon to suffer for their faith? Is Pope Benedict XVI suffering for the faith? If he’s suffering, it’s pretty well-concealed. With a game face like that, the Holy Father missed his calling as champion poker player.

Is the College of Cardinals suffering? Is the Archbishop of Boston, Venice, Vienna, Paris, or New York suffering? If that’s what you call suffering, I daresay millions of hurting people around the world would envy their suffering.

Does Bryan have a pain-o-meter to register the rate of Catholic pain and suffering? Are devout Catholics in Monte Carlo taking up their cross every day? Inquiring minds want to know!

ii) Lk 14:26 has reference to a willingness to forgo everything, if push comes to shove. Not a necessity to do so. But something we must be prepared to do, if the situation arises.

If every Catholic followed the example of Mother Theresa, the Catholic church would go broke.

“Assuming that simply going by ‘the most natural way’ of reading the Bible correctly guides you to the proper understanding of the Apostolic deposit of faith is your underlying hermeneutical mistake. To understand the Bible, we need to read it in and with the persons to whom it was entrusted. In the history of the Church, we see that in many cases, the heretic’s most natural way of interpreting Scripture is to see his own heresy in it. That’s the danger of simply going by ‘the most natural way’ of reading Scripture.”

Of course, that’s a popular Catholic argument. I’m struck by the number of Catholic epologists who think it’s a good argument. On the one hand they admit that, if we simply read the Bible on its own terms, then the “heretical” interpretation is the most natural interpretation. So the only way to avoid heresy is override the most natural interpretation by the deus ex machina of Mother Church. Raw authority trumps exegesis.

But that’s what people always say when they lose the argument. Having lost on the merits of the case, they take refuge in authority to silence opposition and compel submission.

“Such a claim presupposes the falsity of the distinction between justification and its increase, and thus begs the question.”

If the question at issue is the nature of Pauline justification, then the onus hardly lies on a Protestant to disprove the Catholic distinction between initial justification and progressive justification. Rather, the onus lkes on the Catholic to document that distinction in Pauline theology.

“We work not for justification, but only for its increase. We can never merit justification. But once justified, we can, by the grace of God, merit eternal life, because in a state of grace (initiated by God), even one act done in agape for the God who is infinite Love merits an infinite reward, and this infinite reward is the eternal vision of God Himself.”

Well, it’s nice to hear a Catholic baldly tell us the reward (eternal life) is directly proportional to our merit.

“Only if we persevere. All the Scriptural warnings about persevering would be heretical if past justification guaranteed future justification.”

To say it’s “heretical” simply begs the question in favor of Catholicism. Bryan makes no effort to argue for Catholicism. He simply preaches at us.

“Mere suggestions do not establish anything, including your public charge that the Catholic Church teaches a false gospel. No schism from the Church is justified by a mere suggestion. If greater continuity were the criterion by which we adjudicated between competing interpretations, Ebionism would be the orthodox understanding of the New Testament. But, Ebionism is not the orthodox understanding of the New Testament. Therefore continuity does not carry the interpretive weight that you suggest. And for this reason your criteria of continuity is a kind of covenantal Ebionism.”

If Bryan wants to make invidious comparisons, then Catholic ritualism and sacerdotalism are Ebionitic in their continuity with OT ritualism and sacerdotalism.

“Of course I’m not denying that living faith is first inward. If justification absolutely depended on works, then even baptized babies who die in infancy could not be saved. But we know that baptized babies who die in infancy are saved. Hence, we know that justification does not absolutely require that the living faith possessed be expressed in works, or that justification be increased.”

Does Bryan think that unbaptized babies who die in infancy are damned?

“You don’t know that Jesus and the apostles didn’t say that. What you mean is that the NT does not explicitly say it. I grant that. I’m speaking as one guided by the Apostolic Tradition, which is a living Tradition, and in which therefore, by the work of the Holy Spirit, there has been growth in understanding of the Apostolic deposit throughout the Church age. All the grace that comes from Christ’s Passion, comes to us in the New Covenant through the sacraments He has established in His Church.”

When Bryan can’t win the argument, he impersonates a cult member. He might as well be a Moonie or Mormon or Raëlian or Rosicrucian, Freemason or Swedenborgian.

“That is true even when this sanctifying grace comes to a person prior their reception of the sacrament. In such a case it is not that sanctifying grace came to them apart from the sacrament; rather, the grace they received came through the sacrament, prior to their reception of the sacrament.”

He keeps making statements like this as if the distinction were self-evident. They receive sacramental grace prior to reception of the sacrament, but somehow, that’s not apart from the sacrament, but through it.

“The canon is determined by the Magisterium of the Church, not by the latest opinion of academic scholars. And the Church has determined that Mark 16:9-20 is inspired and canonical. Jesus didn’t choose twelve scholars to govern His Church; He chose twelve Apostles. And those whom the Apostles chose to succeed them were not authorized to govern the Church by their scholarship, but by the laying on of the Apostles’ hands. And so it belongs to the bishops (i.e. the Magisterium), not the scholars, to determine what is the authentic canon, and which texts belong to it.”

i) Bryan would make a dutiful member of a suicide cult. Such unquestioning, unconditional allegiance. Of course, one problem with being a blind loyalist is that every competing cult makes the same fideistic, totalitarian demands. Yet they can’t all be right.

ii) Of course, the point of evangelical scholarship is not to replace the apostles, but to defer to the apostles by distinguishing their authentic writers from forgeries, and allowing them to speak for themselves.

iii) Catholic Bible scholars also practice textual criticism. It’s not as if the Vatican prohibits textual criticism.

“The Church Fathers frequently refer to John 3:5 to show the necessity of baptism under the New Covenant. You might think that makes ‘little sense’, but that is precisely how the Church Fathers understood it, and how they understood Jesus to be intending it.”

So what? Notice he doesn’t give us a reason for assuming that their understanding must match the intention of Jesus. Bryan constantly substitutes his ipse dixit for reason, evidence, and exegesis.

“It is bad reasoning, because the relative difference in the frequency of terms used in Scripture tells us absolutely nothing about the ontological relation of the referents of those terms. You are seeking to be guided by Ron Fung, published by Eerdman’s in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and by J. Ramsey Michaels published by Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville, Tennessee. But I am not an ecclesial deist; I am following St. Justin Martyr, St. Theophilus bishop of Antioch, St. Irenaeus bishop of Lyon, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Augustine bishop of Hippo and the many other Church Fathers, who consistently taught that the sanctifying grace by which we are justified comes to us through baptism. This is what is meant in the Creed by ‘one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’ This is the faith of the Church, handed down from the Apostles.”

i) It’s fine with me if Bryan can only defend his Catholicism by resorting to rampant anti-intellectualism.

ii) It’s pretty meaningless to quote church fathers to vego to modern scholarship when they had no exposure to modern scholarship. They were indebted to, and reacted to, the cultural influences and challenges of their own time and place.

Suppose Chrysostom was born in Biloxi, Mississippi. Suppose he attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School or Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Suppose he studied under Tom Schreiner or D. A. Carson.

The church fathers occupied a very different intellectual environment than we do. And it’s asymmetrical. While we know a fair amount about theirs, they know nothing of ours. It’s not as if they consciously rejected modern scholarship. They wouldn’t know what to reject. And there’s no telling whether they’d reject it or accept it. They never had that opportunity.

“Without the Fathers and the Church, you are left groping about, like Nicodemus, trying to understand what Jesus could have meant in John 3:5. And, not surprisingly, your conclusion is anti-sacramental and gnostic. If you start with propositions alone, it is no surprise you end up with gnosis alone.”

To the contrary, Jason interprets Jn 3:5 in light of Johannine usage and Johannine allusions. He is sensitive to the way in which the Johannine Jesus uses aquatic metaphors, as well as how the OT supplies the comparative background for many dominical statements in John. That’s not “groping.” That’s entering into the world of the narrative. Seeing it from within.

“Of course, you are presupposing that justification is not an initial sanctification. The Church Fathers believed and taught that justification is sanctification. According to the Fathers, we come up from the font holy, and without sin. The notion that Christian baptism does not justify, provided the recipient places no obstacle, is not the teaching of the Fathers.”

For Bryan, Biblical exegesis is nothing and patristic exegesis is everything.

“Again, I have an advantage in bringing the Apostolic Tradition to the Scriptures. It makes Scripture so much easier to understand.”

So much easier on the groundless assumption that patristic understanding directly correlates with apostolic understanding. But Bryan doesn’t give us any reason to believe that. All we’re getting from Bryan is the expression of his childish faith in Mother church. But how is his implicit faith any different than a suicide bomber’s implicit faith in the Hadith?

“My intention here (in this exchange) is, as I said above, only to show that the Catholic Church does not teach a false gospel.”

He hasn’t begun to show that. All he’s done is to stipulate that his own denomination doesn’t teach a false gospel. But he never gets around to defending his stipulation.

“I’m not going to take your solo scriptura point of view, and then try to establish from that limited perspective, the Catholic understanding of Scripture. I’m standing with the Church Fathers, and I seek to read Scripture through their eyes, not as though they never existed.”

i) Spoken like a loyal Moonie, Mormon, Raëlian, &c. Does he gets a pat on the head and a doggie biscuit for fealty?

ii) At the same time, this preemptive line of attack sounds the death knell for Catholic apologetics. If you have to be a Catholic insider to properly evaluate the meaning of Scripture, then no outsider can ever be persuaded by Catholic prooftexting since Bryan has automatically disqualified an outsider from sifting the argument.

How did Bryan decide? Did he flip a coin to choose between the “authoritative” interpretations of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Oriental Orthodoxy?

“I’m not sure who the ‘we’ is, but Catholics and Orthodox read Scripture through the eyes of the Fathers. And the Fathers show that [Christian] faith includes baptism.”

Both groups say they read Scripture through the eyes of the Fathers, and both groups claim to represent the one true church, to the detriment of the other one true church. Do the church fathers have squinty vision?

“That would be a ‘problem’ if I were stuck in the solo scriptura paradigm. But, Catholics don’t need to treat the New Testament as an exhaustive theology manual. We have the Apostolic Tradition by which to understand Scripture. So what looks like a problem from a Protestant point of view, is not a problem from a Catholic point of view, precisely because of the Tradition that provides the interpretive framework by which to understand Scripture.”

What’s the difference between a Raëlian and a Roman Catholic? Their dress code.

“See, we’re talking past each other. When I say that we (Catholics) read Scripture through the Fathers, you respond by saying that Scripture is more authoritative than the Fathers. Of course Scripture is more authoritative than the Fathers. That’s not the question. The question is whether we come to Scripture through the Fathers, or we use our own individual interpretation of nuda scriptura to critique the Fathers, accepting from the Fathers only what fits our nuda scriptura interpretation, and rejecting what doesn’t. (And thus making the Fathers hermeneutically superfluous and irrelevant.) Because Catholics are not ecclesial deists, we don’t use nuda scriptura to critique the Fathers; we come to Scripture through the Fathers and the Tradition.”

i) Bryan makes the Bible writers hermeneutically superfluous and irrelevant.

ii) Bryan accepts from the Fathers only what fits into his 21C Catholic theology.

“The baptizing person acts in persona Christi, because it is Christ who baptizes.”

He says it, but he doesn’t show it. Truth by stipulation.

“Even an atheist can administer a valid baptism, so long as he/she intends to do what the Church does in baptism.”

On the one hand, Bryan cites passages from the Book of Acts to allegedly show that only an apostle could administer the sacrament of confirmation. Yet he tells us that even an atheist can administer baptism. Why can the lesser (atheist) do the greater (baptize), but only the greater (apostle) can do the lesser (confirm)?

Why not have an atheist administer confirmation? Or celebrate the Mass? Why didn’t Jesus appoint the twelve atheists instead of the twelve apostles?

“If you read the Greek, the word in Romans 6:23 is _______, which means gift. There is no word which means ‘free’ in the Greek text of Romans 6:23. Eternal life is the gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And union with Christ requires saying yes to Christ and no to self and to the world. Living faith is not mere internal trust; it includes agape, which is love for God above all other things. The one who claims to have living faith, but does not love God above all things, is deceived. Agape, by its very nature, includes denial of self, flesh and the world. So the person who does not deny himself, flesh and the world, does not have agape, and hence does not have living faith, and hence is not justified and does not have eternal life. The denial of self, flesh, and world is in this way an intrinsic part of the cost of attaining eternal life. This is why there is no justification without repentance, for those who have attained the age of reason. Your notion that eternal life is absolutely free would make repentance entirely optional.”

Bryan has a shallow grasp of saving grace. To say eternal life is absolutely free doesn’t make repentance entirely optional. For repentance is, itself, the effect of spiritual renewal. The grace of God has a transformative dimension as well as a forensic dimension.

“The Scriptures were entrusted by the Apostles to the Church, and in particular to those whom they had ordained. And that is why it belongs to the Church to interpret them. Heretics and schismatics have no right to interpret Scripture, or to tell the Church what Scripture means. Scripture does not belong to them.”

i) Which church would that be? The Eastern Orthodox church? The Oriental Orthodox church? The Roman Catholic church? The LDS church?

ii) What’s to prevent, say, the President of the LDS church from making similar, unaccountable claims? Because it’s a cult? But you’d need some independent criterion to say that.

iii) Even if, for the sake of argument we accept his claim that the Scriptures were entrust to “the Church,” how does that make the trustees reliable interpreters? Imagine Caiaphas resorting to the same argument:

“The Scriptures were entrusted by the Prophets to the Levitical priesthood. And that is why it belongs to the Sanhedrin to interpret them. Nazarenes have no right to interpret Scripture, or to tell the Sanhedrin what Scripture means. Scripture does not belong to them.”

Bryan appeals to the papacy, which he traces back to Peter. But Caiaphas could deploy the very same argument against “Pope Peter”!

“Those documents testify that Christ founded a Church, and that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Once we know that, then to understand Scripture rightly, we must submit to the Church’s interpretation of Scripture.”

How does Bryan know those documents testify that dominical institution and indefectibility of the church? If, on the one hand, he knows it through private interpretation, then he didn’t submit his interpretation to the prior review of the church.

If, on the other hand, the Church’s interpretation is his starting-point, then how does he know those documents testify the dominical institution and indefectibility of the church? Unless he already knows that the church which interprets those documents is the same church which Jesus founded and preserves, then there’s no reason to credit that interpretation.

Bryan needs the true church to arrive at the true interpretation, but he needs the true interpretation to arrive at the true church. How does he cut into the circle to even get started?

Unless he knows the true interpretation apart from the church’s interpretation, he has no independent criterion to distinguish a true church from a false church. But in that case, private interpretation takes precedence over the claims of the church.

“As I said before, all the Scriptural warnings about persevering would be heretical if past justification guaranteed future justification. Nothing in your immediate paragraph above resolves that problem. If ‘initial justification’ determined our ‘future justification’, all the Scriptural warnings about perseverance and apostasy would not only be misguided; they would be heretical, i.e. contradicting the doctrine that initial justification guarantees future justification.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, contradicting Catholic dogma is only heretical on the prior assumption that Catholicism is true. The onus is hardly on Jason to resolve a problem which is only problematic on the very assumption which Jason denies. Since Jason isn’t Catholic, that isn’t a problem for him.

What if a Mormon told Bryan that Catholicism was heretical because it contradicted Mormon dogma, and Bryan had thus far failed to resolve that problem?

“For fifteen hundred years (and to this day) the Church believed that justification can be lost. The Orthodox also have always believed that justification can be lost. There are many places in the Fathers where we see that justification can be lost.”

Of course, that’s a silly argument. He’s invoking to tradition to warrant tradition. But it’s just a tautology. Yes, tradition is…traditional. Once something becomes entrenched, then tradition-bound believers continue to say and do the same thing because it is…traditional to do so.

“But we can find the same teaching clearly in the New Testament. Jesus tells us: ‘Anyone who does not remain in Me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned’ (John 15:6). Why is Jesus wasting our time talking about impossible hypotheticals?”

Needless to say, the doctrine of perseverance doesn’t reduce Jn 15:6 to an “impossible hypothetical.” It’s quite possible for nominal believers to fall away. And we also need to make allowance for the limitations of the horticultural metaphor.

“Your implicit argument presupposes your Ebionitic notion of continuity of the New Covenant with the Old Covenant. Christ is the Son of God. He instituted a new and better Covenant with His own infinitely precious blood. So from some weakness in the Old Covenant, it does not follow that the New Covenant suffers from this same weakness.”

In that case, Bryan’s interpretation of Heb 6 & 10 presupposes his Ebionitic notion of continuity of the New Covenant with the Old Covenant. Even though Christ is the Son of God, who instituted a new and better Covenant with His own infinitely precious blood, Bryan assures us that Christians can fall away–just like the members of the Exodus generation who fell away in Heb 3-4. For Bryan, the new covenant suffers from same liability as the old covenant.” Christians are just as vulnerable as OT apostates.

“The fall that he is talking about is falling from grace. The very warning would make no sense unless St. Paul believed it is truly possible to fall, just as did those Israelites. If we couldn’t lose our salvation, then instead of warning them about taking heed lest they fall, he would be enjoining them not to worry, since they could not possibly fall.”

The warning functions as a deterrent. So Bryan is telling us a deterrent makes no sense unless it’s possible for the deterrent to fail. But that’s rather odd. Why would the deterrent value of a warning be contingent on potential failure of the warning to achieve its intended effect? Must a warning be ineffectual to be meaningful? Does it serve no purpose unless its purpose can be thwarted?

“And in his letter to the Galatians he says: ‘You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4). That verse makes no sense if it is impossible to be severed from Christ and to fall from grace.”

In Gal 1:6, Paul uses “grace” as a synonym for the “gospel.” Therefore, Paul is not describing a lapse in their state of grace, as if, in this context, “grace” has reference to their subjective condition. Rather, he’s talking about their defection from the content of the gospel. A contrast between the message of Paul and the message of the Judaizers.

“Notice the warning. He is speaking to Christians. If Christians cannot lose their salvation, then there could be no warning about not inheriting the kingdom of God. It would make no sense.”

He’s speaking to members of the Corinthian church. That doesn’t carry any presumption regarding the spiritual status of anyone in particular. In the nature of the case, a public letter is addressed to a range of different individuals. Paul knew some better than others. And the congregation probably had a certain turnover, with various individuals cycling in and out.

“The warning is an actual warning, because it is truly possible (through committing the mortal sins he lists there) to lose one’s salvation, be cut off from Christ, and not inherit the kingdom of God. He gives these lists of mortal sins frequently: (Rom 1:28-32; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Eph 5:3-5; Col 3:5-8; 1 Tim 1:9-10; 2 Tim 3:2-5).”

i) There’s a difference between saying it’s possible not to be saved if you commit these “mortal” sins, and saying it’s possible to lose your salvation if you commit these “mortal” sins.

ii) Moreover, it’s counterfactually possible to lose your salvation if you do these things. But that doesn’t make it a live possibility. Does Paul think 1 Cor 15:12-19 is a live possibility?

“And in the book of Hebrews we find the same doctrine about the real possibility of losing one’s salvation. These enlightened persons have tasted the heavenly gift and become partakers of the Holy Spirit (through baptism, which was early in the Fathers called the sacrament of illumination/enlightenment), and then rejected Christ. But it would be impossible for them to fall away if they were never regenerated (and hence justified) in the first place. And yet they do fall away — the warning is not merely hypothetical. Such persons cannot be restored to repentance by baptism, because in baptism we are crucified with Christ (Rom 6), and Christ died only once. (But they can be restored by the sacrament of penance.)”

i) Bryan isn’t faithful to his own prooftext. On the one hand, he quotes it show that true believers can commit apostasy. On the other hand, he hastens to add that such apostates can be restored through penance. But, of course, the text doesn’t say that! So his appeal either proves too much or too little.

ii) A basic problem with this appeal is Bryan’s failure to construe the author’s terminology on his own terms. As one scholar explains:

“More importantly, the above analysis sheds some valuable light on the vexing question of the status of those envisioned in Heb 6:4-6. After analyzing the statements in vv. 4-6, McKnight confidently concludes that ‘[i]f the author is accurate in his description of the readers' experience, then we can only say that they are believers—true believers.’49 However, the preceding analysis leads us in a different direction. It appears that in analogy to the old covenant community the people depicted in 6:4-6 are not genuine believers or true members of the new covenant community. Like their OT counterparts, they have experienced all these blessings (vv. 4-5), but like the wilderness generation they are hardhearted, rebellious (3:8) and possess an "evil heart of unbelief” (3:12, 19).50 More clearly, 4:2 poignantly states that both groups (the wilderness generation and the new covenant community) have had the gospel preached to them, but the wilderness generation to which the readers of Hebrews are compared failed to believe, and therefore the message was of no value to them. Thus, the conclusion of Lane that ‘[t]ogether, the clauses describe vividly the reality of the experience of personal salvation enjoyed by the Christians addressed’ is premature.51 Wayne A. Grudem has recently proposed a similar understanding to the one presented in this section.52 According to him, the descriptive phrases themselves in vv. 4-6 are inconclusive as to whether the subjects are genuine believers or not. Here in Hebrews 6 they describe ‘people who were not yet Christians but who had simply heard the gospel and had experienced several of the blessings of the Holy Spirit's work in the Christian community.’53 The falling away (v. 6) is not a falling from salvation, but a failure to exercise saving faith in light of the blessings to which the readers have been exposed through association with the Christian community.54 The preceding analysis of the OT background to 6:4-6 confirms Grudem's conclusions. Thus in analogy to the old covenant community, those envisioned in vv. 4-6 have experienced the blessings of the new covenant (‘being enlightened,’ ‘tasting the heavenly gift,’ etc.), experiences common to all by virtue of belonging to the new covenant community, but have recapitulated the error of their old covenant predecessors by failing to believe and rejecting what they have experienced. In doing so they come under the covenantal curse."

Continuing with Bryan:

“Later in Hebrews the author writes about the apostasy of Christians in chapter 10…The writer speaking as a Christian to Christians, says that if “we” sin deliberately [he's speaking of mortal sin] after receiving the knowledge of the truth, we face the fearful prospect of judgment and a fury of fire. How do we know he is talking about justified people? Because he explicitly says that a man who ‘was sanctified” by “the blood of the covenant,’ who then profanes this blood and outrages the Spirit of grace, will deserve much worse punishment than those (Israelites) who violated the law of Moses and died without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. Then he says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Under what condition is it fearful? Under this condition: when we who are sanctified by the blood of Christ, then sin deliberately [i.e. commit mortal sin]. Such a person forfeits all the benefits of the grace of the New Covenant, and, if he dies in that condition, is punished in the eternal fires of Hell. Yes, that’s something to fear. The Christian is not told not to fear this possibility because he can never lose his salvation. Rather, the warning (about falling into the “fury of fire” [i.e. Hell]) is precisely to Christians. The warning implies the real possibility of Christians losing their salvation.”

i) The “we” is a rhetorical device. It’s not as if the author feared that he himself was in danger of apostasy by reverting to Judaism.

ii) The author is using categories of ritual purity or impurity. “Sanctify” in the sense of ritual consecration. Cultic holiness rather than actual holiness. As Ellingworth explains in his commentary:

“Koinon [common] contrasts with hegias the [consecrated]…the apostate treats as profane…that which is in fact not only holy in itself, but the source of cleansing holiness for the believer. The language is cultic, not ethical” (540).

Likewise, Hagner says, in his commentary, that “the word for ‘common’ (koinos)…is a cultic world meaning ‘unclean’ or unholy” (172).

Moving along:

"[Andrew Preslar] Interestingly, Protestantism, especially in its Lutheran and some of its Reformed strains, has insisted that saving faith is essentially passive (this is one of the reasons why Luther could sometimes accept baptismal justification)."

I’m not Lutheran. Neither is Jason. The elect are passive in regeneration, but active in faith.

"[Sid Cundiff] Without desiring to start a flame war: The New Perspective(s) on Paul scholarship — the work of E. P. Sanders, James G. D. Dunn, the Right Rev. N. T. Wright, and their precursors Schweitzer and W. D. Davies — as far as I can tell demolishes the Lutheran-Calvinist view of “righteous-making”. And when Calvinists attempted to demolish the NPP, Wright demolished them in his _Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision_, 2009. Frankly, reading these men — and I’m reading now more from them — makes me wonder if classic Protestantism has any Biblical foundation at all anymore.”

i) Of course, it sounds more impressive if you only read one side of the argument. Wright’s book as already been subjected to some withering reviews:

ii) It’s a kamikaze mission for Catholics to take refuge in the New Perspective on Paul. If that undercuts the Protestant doctrine of justification, then it equally undercuts the Catholic doctrine of justification. For folks like Wright don’t regard justification as a soteriological category. Yet traditional Catholic theology does regard justification as a soteriological category.

“[Ciatoris] In other words, this is a pivotal moment in St Paul’s argument. It cannot be a mere ancillary illustration. It is, in fact, the hinge that connects justification by faith (for uncircumcised Gentiles of all people!) with the Heilsgeschichte of the promise to Abraham that St Paul has sketched out in chapter 3. His answer? ‘For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (vv. 27-28; cf. 1 Cor 12.13). This is St Paul’s logical warrant for the chapter’s conclusion: ‘And if your are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise’ (Gal 3.29). If St Paul thought of baptism as a “work of the law,” and therefore as in potential conflict with justification by faith, I cannot imagine why he would use it as an “illustration” at such a crucial moment in his argument. That would be misleading in the extreme.”

This fails to adequately address the function of Gal 3:27 in Paul’s argument. As one commentator points out:

“Whereas the Jewish ‘rite of passage’ was reserved for males only, in the new community of God’s people, entered into by faith in Christ Jesus and experienced by the coming of the Spirit, the ‘rite of entry’ was available to all. This is quite the point of the clause that follows (v28), where Paul singles out the three most obvious ways people are ‘distinguished,’ and thus separated, from each other–ethnicity (Jew and Greek), social status (slave and free), and gender (male and female)–but who have now been made ‘one’ Christ Jesus. It is especially true of the last designation, where Paul does not use the more traditional, case specific, language of ‘man and woman’ (cf. Gen 2:22), but the language which puts emphasis on gender as such (from Gen 1:27). Thus the very thing that excluded women from full participation in Israel, the fact that they were ‘female’ and could not be circumcised, has been set aside in Christ, since ‘all of you’ are baptized into Christ. Now ‘all of you’ have the same ‘rite of passage,’” G. Fee, Galatians (Deo Publishing 2007), 140-41.

“It needs to be emphasized that this alone is what the passage is all about; but because of other concerns that have surrounded it, much more needs to be said. We begin with the reference to baptism in v27. This is often read as having to do either with the necessity of baptism or with baptismal regeneration, but that is to read later ideas back into Paul’s text. The ‘for’ does not here explain how they became ‘sons=children’ or how they were regenerated, but what they have in common with all other brothers and sisters in Christ that makes circumcision for men in the Christian community so anathema for Paul…The point is that Paul is not trying to make any point at all about baptism other than the one he makes: it is the common entry point into the Christian community for everyone, irrespective of race, social status, or gender,” ibid. 141.

Continuing with Ciatoris:

“(I should add that if baptism were a ‘work’ extraneous to or even in competition with justification by faith, St Paul would also have been extremely misleading in Titus 3.5-7. There, he opposes baptism to “deeds done by us in righteousness”; he links baptism to the renewal of the Spirit, to justification, and to inheritance; and he does not even mention faith.)”

Of course, this uses one tendentious interpretation of prop up another tendentious interpretation. As Jason rightly points out, aquatic imagery is a common Biblical metaphor for spiritual cleansing. The mere use of aquatic imagery (“washing”) doesn’t imply or even presume that baptism is in view, and Paul had a specific word to denote that rite if he wanted to refer to it without fear of ambiguity.

“Your denial that John 3.5, 1 Cor 12.13(!!), Titus 3.5, etc., refer to the sacrament of baptism instantiates Andrew’s point. Your denial is sufficiently idiosyncratic that I’m at a bit of a loss for how to counter it succinctly and in a way that remotely adheres to the subject and scope of this combox. To my knowledge, your denial is contrary to the entire Christian tradition of scriptural exegesis from the Fathers of the Church forward. And I’m including Luther and Calvin. I suppose you might be able to build a case for your reading if the Bible were interpreted in an ecclesial vacuum. But the Bible is to be read in the Church and through her eyes.”

i) By “idiosyncratic,” Ciatoris apparently means any interpretation which runs counter to tradition. Of course, appeal to tradition is circular. By definition, tradition is…traditional. Tradition represents groupthink. Both synchronic and diachronic groupthink. The next guy repeating whatever the last guy said, and so on and so forth.

But that’s one of the problems with tradition. For it may codify a primitive error. Once the cement is dry, then even if the foundation was laid over a fault-line, the traditionalist will continue to raise one story atop another on that unstable foundation. The superstructure is increasingly precarious the higher it rises.

ii) While it’s certainly possible that 1 Cor 12:13 refers to water baptism, that isn’t clear in view:

a) Although the Greek verb and noun came to be technical terms for the Christian rite of initiation, the words also retain an ordinary meaning in Greek. Whether or not Paul is using the word in a specialized sense must be determined by context. We need to guard against assuming the English connotation of the word every time the Greek term is used.

b) And, as I’ve said before, Scripture frequently uses aquatic imagery as a spiritual metaphor.

c) One problem with assuming that Paul refers to baptism in this verse is that he uses two different aquatic images: to be “immersed in” (or “baptized by”) the Spirit, and to “imbibe” the Spirit. But the imagery of “drinking” is clearly figurative. Do Catholic think we literally sip or guzzle the Spirit? Therefore, it makes more sense to construed the paired images the same way. And that favors a figurative interpretation for both.

iii) Through the eyes of which church should we read the Bible? If we ought to read the Bible through the eyes of the church, then logically we’d read the NT through the eyes of the NT church. And what about the OT? Through the eyes of what church did OT or Intertestamental Jews read the OT scriptures?

However, it’s possible for NT churches to misinterpret NT scriptures. The Corinthians and Thessalonians were both capable of misunderstanding what Paul told them, which is why he had to write follow-up letters. But if the eyesight of the NT church sometimes misreads the NT scriptures, then the vision of the subapostolic church is scarcely more acute.


  1. Steve Hays: "However, it’s possible for NT churches to misinterpret NT scriptures. The Corinthians and Thessalonians were both capable of misunderstanding what Paul told them, which is why he had to write follow-up letters. But if the eyesight of the NT church sometimes misreads the NT scriptures, then the vision of the subapostolic church is scarcely more acute."

    Hmmmmmm... meaty food cooked rare for ponderous thought and reflection. On the other side of the coin, there are limits to "doctrinal development".

  2. "This is what Bryan originally said"

    Good catch.

    A thorough rebuttal - I will be surprised if he tries to respond.

  3. If Bryan Cross or any other Called to Communion Catholic is reading this comment thread, I'd like them to read this post about the looming divide between the Catholic Health Association and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops over Health Care Reform.

  4. Bryan said:
    “Jason thinks that the Catholic doctrine is that we are justified by ‘faith and works.’ But that is not true. As I explained above, in Catholic doctrine we are justified not by works, but by living faith, and living faith includes the supernatural virtue [i.e. disposition] of agape. Yet we may increase in justification by works done out of love (agape) for God, according to the order Christ has gratuitously established.”

    Uh-huh. And the alcoholic isn't 'drunk.' He's just 'inebriated.'

  5. Perhaps fermented agape is the operative phrase. Fermented agape juice tastes like fermented grape juice, but with an added dash of luv potion.