Thursday, May 28, 2015

The TurretinFan/Albrecht Debate On Intercession Of The Saints

TurretinFan recently debated William Albrecht on the subject of the intercession of the saints. Albrecht claimed that none of the church fathers opposed praying to the deceased. He said that he didn't know of anybody who opposed the practice before John Calvin, though he later added the qualifier that Vigilantius opposed it in the fourth century. He cited a passage from Hippolytus, popularized by Ludwig Ott, to argue that Hippolytus supported the practice of praying to the dead. He also claimed that Origen supported it, among many others.

Actually, the evidence suggests that prayer to the dead wasn't practiced by believers in the Biblical era, is sometimes contradicted by the Biblical authors, and was rejected in the earliest generations of patristic Christianity. You can find a collection of many of my posts on these issues here. And here's a listing of our posts under the Prayer label. (Keep clicking "Older Posts" at the bottom right of the screen to see more.)

In a post on Hippolytus here, I explain that he seems to oppose praying to the dead rather than supporting it. I don't know if Albrecht read more of Hippolytus' commentary on Daniel than the one passage he cited. He may have just been repeating what he saw in Ludwig Ott. But Tom Schmidt recently published the first full English translation of Hippolytus' commentary, and I've read the entirety of it. If you read the passage Ott cites in context, it doesn't support the conclusion Ott and Albrecht have used it for. Similarly, the evidence suggests that Origen opposed prayer to the dead rather than supporting it. Celsus, a second-century opponent of Christianity Origen wrote against, suggests that Christians reject prayer to deceased humans, angels, or any other beings other than God, and Origen suggests the same in response. See here and here, among other posts I've written about Celsus and Origen's comments on these issues.

In a thread here you'll find a lengthy comments section in which I address Hermas, Athenagoras, and many other patristic sources. You can use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard to find the material you're interested in. For example, if you search for "Vigilantius", you'll find my comments on how he wasn't alone in opposing prayers to the dead in the fourth century. Other church leaders and laymen held the same view.

In our index post on prayer, you'll also find links to posts in which we address the Biblical evidence. On the issue of deceased believers being spiritually alive, which supposedly exempts them from Biblical passages about not trying to contact the dead, see here. For example, go to the comments section of that thread, and read my posts at 4:55 A.M. and 4:59 A.M. on 6/4/10. On Revelation 5:8, which was cited by Albrecht, see here. See here concerning catacomb inscriptions. Albrecht made much of the fact that deceased believers in heaven are sometimes portrayed as being aware of events on earth. On that subject, see here. The same post expands on a good point TurretinFan made during the debate, that prayer to the dead is absent in scripture across so many passages and so many contexts addressing so many timeframes.


  1. "Albrecht claimed that none of the church fathers opposed praying to the deceased."

    Tall order for him to have tried to prove. Does Albrecht believe he has read affirmations of the practice from each and every father?

  2. In response to Barron I would say that the interestamental and 2nd Temple period literature was trying to explain the previous cryptic passage of Dan. 7:13-14 as well as the other passages in the OT that dealt with the Angel/Messenger of YHVH and the Word of YHVH. The Jews interpreted it in at least to main opposing ways. Some groups interpreted, explained and expanded on the concepts in a way that denied the full deity of those persons or that person [assuming, ad arguendo, all three personages was the same person], while others affirmed the full deity of that figure [or nearly so]. You find the latter among those Jews who affirmed the "Two Powers in Heaven" view that even Jewish Alan Segal acknowledged existed among Jews before, during and for some time after the time of Christ. Only later was it deemed a heresy [likely in response to Christianity].

    In fact, both groups were not entirely consistent with their own selves. Sometimes veering to one side of the spectrum in some of their statements to deny the deity of the 2nd godlike figure, and other times veering toward the other end of the spectrum in affirming the figure as approaching the identity or attributes of YHVH. That's because they were struggling to explain how God could be one and transcendent, YET at the same time the OT suggesting that there's at least one other person who is also divine to such an extent that it borders on encroaching on and violating God's transcendence and singularity.

    So, the way to interpret the New Testament statements regarding Christ's identity is not by going to the intertestamental and 2nd Temple period literature as Barron argues, but by going back to what the OT teaches. When one does that, it strengthens a Trinitarian interpretation. The OT is inspired teaching and revelation, while the 2nd Temple period literature is uninspired speculation that often bordered on the truth of the Trinity, and sometimes fell short or denied it. Barron's method of interpretation is backwards. See the YouTube videos and articles by Anthony Rogers on the Trinity and the Messenger/Angel of the LORD. Also, the A/V and written materials by Tony Costa, Jonathan McLatchie, Sam Shamoun, Michael Heiser et al.