Wednesday, January 09, 2008

All Wet

Local Wangateur, Dave "Mundunugu" Armstrong has been helping PhatCatholic in the debate on Holy Water v. Turretinfan. Apparently, he approves of PhatCatholic's argument from Scripture. Let's take a quick look at some of the selected texts, shall we? Note, I am not evaluating the total argument. Turretinfan is doing that. Rather, I am, for my own purposes examining specific texts cited.

For starters, one cannot help but notice that throughout his presentation, PhatCatholic, presumably with Dave's approval, did not bother to do any exegesis. Rather, they felt that simply listing some verses that they felt supported their argument would work. Now, to be fair there is a word limit to be followed. However, one would hope that they did some background work. As we shall see, (a) if they did, they didn't do a very good job or (b) they were too busy to bother so they thought they would assume what they need to prove.

I will not address each and every text. Rather, I will select some particularly egregious errors and leave it to others, like Saint and Sinner, Rhology, James Swan, Carrie, Jason Engwer, Steve Hays, the redoubtable TF, and others to follow up with any additional commentary and biblical analysis. So, with that in mind, let us take a quick look.

Under the line "Believe it or not, there are specific examples of holy water in Scripture" we find a list of texts. So, let us be clear here, the argument appears to be that these texts are examples of holy water itself being used. That seems to me to be quite a stretch. "Holy water" itself is water that has been blessed. The concept is predicated on the Roman Catholic priesthood. Not just any water will do, it has to be blessed by a particular person, and the Roman priesthood is itself dependent on a valid chain of holy orders. So, if we are to connect these examples to "holy water" in the Roman sense, we have to make a set of connections. Does the text support these connections? Further, the argument that is being put forth in the debate deals with the use of such water for a specific purpose, the casting out of demons.

The first text cited is for "water that has been blessed" :
Exodus 23:25 You shall serve the LORD your God, and I will bless your bread and your water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of you.
Here is the text in its context:

20"Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.

21"Be on your guard before him and obey his voice; do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him.

22"But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.

23"For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them.

24"You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces.

25"But you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst.

26"There shall be no one miscarrying or barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.

27"I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.

28"I will send hornets ahead of you so that they will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you.

29"I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you.

30"I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land.

31"I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you.

32"You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods.

33"They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you."

1. At most this text would deal with water being used with respect to sickness. The implication of the text is that God will water the earth ( a point made in Jeremiah ) and protect the nation from severe drought and famine. He will keep their water supply pure and drinkable/usable.

2. God Himself is here blessing the water, not a priest.

3. The point of the text is that God will bless the nation with food and water - ordinary sustenance - on the condition that they are faithful to His covenant.

From Keil & Delitzch: Exodus 23: 20 - 33Relation of Jehovah to Israel.—The declaration of the rights conferred by Jehovah upon His people is closed by promises, through which, on the one hand, God insured to the nation the gifts and benefits involved in their rights, and, on the other hand, sought to promote that willingness and love which were indispensable to the fulfilment of the duties incumbent upon every individual in consequence of the rights conferred upon them. These promises secured to the people not only the protection and help of God during their journey through the desert, and in the conquest of Canaan, but also preservation and prosperity when they had taken possession of the land.

Jehovah would send an angel before them, who should guard them on the way from injury and destruction, and bring them to the place prepared for them, i.e., to Canaan. The name of Jehovah was in this angel (v. 21), that is to say, Jehovah revealed Himself in him; and hence he is called in Ex. 33:15, 16, the face of Jehovah, because the essential nature of Jehovah was manifested in him. This angel was not a created spirit, therefore, but the manifestation of Jehovah Himself, who went before them in the pillar of cloud and fire, to guide and to defend them (Ex. 13:21). But because it was Jehovah who was guiding His people in the person of the angel, He demanded unconditional obedience (v. 21), and if they provoked Him (tammeir for tameir, see Ex. 13:18) by disobedience, He would not pardon their transgression; but if they followed Him and hearkened to His voice, He would be an enemy to their enemies, and an adversary to their adversaries (v. 22). And when the angel of the Lord had brought them to the Canaanites and exterminated the latter, Israel was still to yield the same obedience, by not serving the gods of the Canaanites, or doing after their works, i.e., by not making any idolatrous images, but destroying them (these works), and smiting to pieces the pillars of their idolatrous worship (matseivot does not mean statues erected as idols, but memorial stones or columns dedicated to idols: see my Comm. on 1 Kings 14:23), and serving Jehovah alone. Then would He bless them in the land with bountiful provision, health, fruitfulness, and length of life (vv. 23-26). “Bread and water” are named, as being the provisions which are indispensable to the maintenance of life, as in Isa. 3:1; 30:20; 33:16. The taking away of “sickness” (cf. 15:26) implied the removal of everything that could endanger life. The absence of anything that miscarried, or was barren, insured the continuance and increase of the nation; and the promise that their days should be fulfilled, i.e., that they should not be liable to a premature death (cf. Isa. 55:20), was a pledge of their well-being.

Conclusion: Dave and Nicholas have successfully ripped this text out of its context and utterly misapplied it. This does not bode well. Indeed, they should be ashamed for their abuse of God's Word in this manner.

2) Priest using “holy water”:
Numbers 5:17 and the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.
Here is the context:

11Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

12"Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'If any man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him,

13and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act,

14if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself,

15the man shall then bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity.

16'Then the priest shall bring her near and have her stand before the LORD,

17and the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.

18'The priest shall then have the woman stand before the LORD and let the hair of the woman's head go loose, and place the grain offering of memorial in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest is to be the water of bitterness that brings a curse.

19'The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, "If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse;

20if you, however, have gone astray, being under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you"

21(then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman), "the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people by the LORD'S making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell;

22and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away." And the woman shall say, "Amen. Amen."

23'The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness.

24'Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness.

25'The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman's hand, and he shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar;

26and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial offering and offer it up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water.

27'When he has made her drink the water, then it shall come about, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness, and her abdomen will swell and her thigh will waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people.

28'But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive children.

29'This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, being under the authority of her husband, goes astray and defiles herself,

30or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the LORD, and the priest shall apply all this law to her.

31'Moreover, the man will be free from guilt, but that woman shall bear her guilt.'"

The water here is used as an "object lesson" in the adultery test. It is made bitter tasting and made to potentially bring a bitter curse. This water is not "blessed" as much as it is made to be a potential curse.

Again, from K&D: The water, which the priest had prepared for the woman to drink, was taken from the sanctuary, and the dust to be put into it from the floor of the dwelling, to impregnate this drink with the power of the Holy Spirit that dwelt in the sanctuary. The dust was strewed upon the water, not to indicate that man was formed from dust and must return to dust again, but as an allusion to the fact, that dust was eaten by the serpent (Gen. 3:14) as the curse of sin, and therefore as the symbol of a state deserving a curse, a state of the deepest humiliation and disgrace (Micah 7:17; Isa. 49:23; Ps. 72:9). On the very same ground, an earthen vessel was chosen; that is to say, one quite worthless in comparison with the copper one. The loosening of the hair of the head (see Lev. 13:45), in other cases a sign of mourning, is to be regarded here as a removal or loosening of the female head-dress, and a symbol of the loss of the proper ornament of female morality and conjugal fidelity. During the administration of the oath, the offering was placed in her hands, that she might bring the fruit of her own conduct before God, and give it up to His holy judgment. The priest, as the representative of God, held the vessel in his hand, with the water in it, which was called the “water of bitterness, the curse-bringing,”inasmuch as, if the crime imputed to her was well-founded, it would bring upon the woman bitter suffering as the curse of God.

One wonders if Rome today practices the adultery test. If this is "holy water" in the Roman sense, why do we not find Dave and Nicholas advocating its use as outlined in this text?

The fact that the water is "holy" refers to it being in the laver at the Tabernacle. The water, there, of course, being part of the Tabernacle, is a sign/shadow of something else. Hebrews teaches that all such signs and shadows have passed away. The laver was the washing basin for the priests. Water descending from the heavens through the seasonal pattern of rains represented in the Holy Place comes to the earth; its life giving power renews it. The laver represents dry land. The altar replicates the whole Tabernacle, where sacrifices are offered. The priests went through a particular set of rituals with the water. The water signifies the Red Sea, which in turn answers for a kind of ceremonial cleansing from Israel's enemies. In short, water is a picture of the past and of God's actions in the future under the New Covenant. As the Tabernacle is passed away, so has any need for "holy water." Even the waters of baptism have a symbolic value, there is nothing necessarily "holy" about water used for baptism. People may be baptized in a river or bathtub. This does not consecrate the river, the bathtub, or the water in the tub.

Moving on..

3. The unclean remain so until the “water for impurity” is sprinkled upon them:
Numbers 19:9,13-20 And a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the people of Israel for the water for impurity, for the removal of sin. . . . Whoever touches a dead person, the body of any man who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is still on him. "This is the law when a man dies in a tent: every one who comes into the tent, and every one who is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel, which has no cover fastened upon it, is unclean.

Whoever in the open field touches one who is slain with a sword, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and running water shall be added in a vessel; then a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the furnishings, and upon the persons who were there, and upon him who touched the bone, or the slain, or the dead, or the grave; and the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean. "But the man who is unclean and does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD; because the water for impurity has not been thrown upon him, he is unclean.
If this is an argument for the use of holy water, it proves too much, for if so, why not do the rest of what is stated? Does Dave the Wangateur believe the ceremonial law is still in effect?

4) Elisha makes the water “healed” (KJV) or “purified” (NASB) or "wholesome" (RSV):
2 Kings 2:19-22 (KJV) And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the LORD, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.
This, of course, commits a similar error as the first citation, namely the water here is purified for everyday use. Elisha ministered in a period of growing apostasy, so the land was experiencing numerous curses in accordance with the terms of the covenant, because of Israel's unfaithfulness. This was at Jericho, where Joshua had been. Abarbinel thinks it was so from the times of Joshua, being cursed by him; but, if so, it would not have been inhabited again; rather this was owing to a new curse, upon its being rebuilt; though this might affect only a small part of the ground, not the whole, as before observed. (Gill) God cleanses the water, showing mercy, and these waters are purified for use for something other than planting and yielding no crop; rather the water is purified for human consumption and the land is made to bear fruit. There is nothing here about "holy water." Once again, Dave and Nicholas have abused the Word of God. Again, same standard commentary:

Elisha makes the water at Jericho wholesome.—During his stay at Jericho (v. 18) the people of the city complained, that whilst the situation of the place was good in other respects, the water was bad and the land produced miscarriages. haarets, the land, i.e., the soil, on account of the badness of the water; not “the inhabitants, both man and beast” (Thenius). Elisha then told them to bring a new dish with salt, and poured the salt into the spring with these words: “Thus saith the Lord, I have made this water sound; there will not more be death and miscarriage thence” (mishsham). m'shalleket is a substantive here (vid., Ewald, 160, e.).hammayimmotsa is no doubt the present spring Ain es Sulta{C}n,the only spring near to Jericho, the waters of which spread over the plain of Jericho, thirty-five minutes’ distance from the present village and castle, taking its rise in a group of elevations not far from the foot of the mount Quarantana(Kuruntul); a large and beautiful spring, the water of which is neither cold nor warm, and has an agreeable and sweet (according to Steph. Schultz, “somewhat salt”) taste. It was formerly enclosed by a kind of reservoir or semicircular wall of hewn stones, from which the water was conducted in different directions to the plain (vid., Rob. Pal.ii. p. 283ff.). With regard to the miracle, a spring which supplied the whole of the city and district with water could not be so greatly improved by pouring in a dish of salt, that the water lost its injurious qualities for ever, even if salt does possess the power of depriving bad water of its unpleasant taste and injurious effects. The use of these natural means does not remove the miracle. Salt, according to its power of preserving from corruption and decomposition, is a symbol of incorruptibility and of the power of life which destroys death (see Bähr, Symbolik,ii. pp. 325, 326). As such it formed the earthly substratum for the spiritual power of the divine word, through which the spring was made for ever sound. A new dish was taken for the purpose, not ob munditiem(Seb. Schm.), but as a symbol of the renewing power of the word of God.—But if this miracle was adapted to show to the people the beneficent character of the prophet’s ministry, the following occurrence was intended to prove to the despisers of God that the Lord does not allow His servants to be ridiculed with impunity.
Other texts cited include:

John 9:6-7 As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Silo'am" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
One problem here is that we are left to wonder how we get from this to "holy water." This would be "holy mud." Further, Jesus is using his own saliva. The command to go to the Pool of Siloam is a test of obedience, not a confirmation that its waters were specially blessed or even had medicinal qualities. Rather, the man is told to obey Christ after what seemed like an arbitrary act. The use of mud may be an allusion to the creative act of God in Genesis 2:7. The blindness is congenital, so the healing takes on a creative quality. Also, Tenney notes that the weight of the clay may have reminded the man of Jesus personal interest in Him and served as an inducement to obey. The man had to take quite a trip to the southern end of Jerusalem to get to the pool. Jesus did not tell him he would be healed. He simply told him to go wash. So, his obedience demonstrates His faith. To say that Jesus' saliva mixed with dirt and the water gave him sight restored his sight (much less connect that to "holy water" itself) is misplaced. The Lord's authority healed him. The emphasis on the means is not the point of the text. The emphasis is on the identity of the Healer.

I will stop with this one:
Acts 19:11-12 And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.
I've chosen this because it is a favorite of the Word of Faith snake oil salesmen. I somehow doubt Dave and Nicolas believe that getting a prayer cloth as a "point of contact" is a valid use of holy water. Indeed, we're back to the need for a set of valid holy orders, and it's not really clear how this connects to holy water itself.

1. God is the healer, not Paul, though Paul has the authority of Jesus Himself, being an Apostle.

2. This is an extraordinary means and used among a pagan people. The focus is on Paul, God's messenger, as opposed to the next verses, the Jews who were also casting out demons. When they invoked Jesus' name, the demons refused to recognize them when they did this.

3. Ephesus was home to all manner of magic, superstition, and witchery, and ancient documents note this (See Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 5.242). It therefore is not unnatural that just as Paul met his audiences on common ground ideologically to lead them to Christ, so at Ephesus, he acted this way. The virtue was not found in the materials themselves - that would be witchery - it was in God and the faith of the recipients.

4. How do we get from this to "holy water?" There are several links in that chain. To connect such things to Acts is also to confound an example with a command or an example given as a normative practice to be followed for all ages. Like the Word of Faith crowd, they simply assume what they need to prove and make no supporting argument. This is atrocious and shameful handling of Scripture and it is for this reason that I have intentionally tarred Dave with the descriptions in the opening statement here - and, for his benefit I will add that this is equally true of those who hawk handkerchiefs, prayer cloths, and "holy water" on late night television. It is hardly an issue that is a problem from Roman Catholics. If you're going to advocate such things, whoever you are, you may has well just call up a Voodoo priestess to do your bidding.

I'll not address the other texts. They generally seem to fall short for similar reasons. Others can comment on them.

Do demons sometimes flee at the gesticulations of priests, crucifixes, and "holy" water? No doubt they do, but they could well do so because, as my Protestant forefathers said, Satan likes to make a show of it for such, for he delights in keeping men in bondage through such false miracles. Indeed I am quite sure that the diabolical one is active among pagans to this very day, and it is not without reason that witch doctors do their work,and it no doubt has some effect - for the same reason, to keep men in bondage to sin and death. The Bible, you know, has a doctrine of false miracles as well as true. The message of Rome is a false gospel, so any miracles done by her representatives is confirmation of that gospel. Beware false teachers. A miracles must match the message to be from God.


  1. Dave uses the last text you cited in his "Catholic Verses" to 'prove' the validity of 'holy relics'.

    In fact, I was reading Philip Schaff's "History of the Christian Church", and it seems that that verse has been used as such since the early post-Nicene era.

    As I see it, the problem isn't in the idea of objects being used by God for healing (such as the hem of Jesus' clothing to heal the woman with disease). The problem that Rome or Constantinople or anyone else for that matter has is in validly identifying such objects as truly being 'holy relics'. I think that it was Luther who said that the bones of 15 of the 12 apostles could be found in Spain alone. :)

    Then, of course, there is always the issue of the 'veneration' of those relics (i.e. idolatry).

  2. Gene,

    I think you are not understanding the great power of priests.

    (excellent post, btw)

  3. It therefore is not unnatural that just as Paul met his audiences on common ground ideologically to lead them to Christ, so at Ephesus, he acted this way.

    I guess that since it is the "common ground" of catholics to recognise holy water, that God uses it among them. Sounds like Gene just ceded the whole argument. If God is in the business of doing things on that basis then Gene has effectively given himself the burden of proof to show that holy water does nothing.... ever.

  4. Anonymous said:

    "I guess that since it is the 'common ground' of catholics to recognise holy water, that God uses it among them. Sounds like Gene just ceded the whole argument. If God is in the business of doing things on that basis then Gene has effectively given himself the burden of proof to show that holy water does nothing.... ever."

    Dabbling in the occult can also "do" things. Does that sanction the occult?

  5. The argument has tossed in the towel to special pleading. Paul is now an occultist.