Part 2: Justification
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Quoting from Luther who asserted that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the article upon which the church stands or fall, Sproul stressed the importance of justification – the material cause of Reformation. On the issue of justification, i.e. how a sinner finds salvation in Christ, there are a number of irreconcilable differences between the Reformers and the Catholic Church.
- The meaning of the (Greek) verb dikaioo (to justify)
According to Sproul, the early Latin fathers who used Latin instead of Greek (in which New Testament books were written), developed the doctrine of justification based on their understanding of the legal system of Roman Empire and this explains why to them to justify means “to make righteous”. The English word “justification” comes from Latin “iustificare”, while in Greek it is “dikaiosis” – it is related to righteous (Greek dikaios) and righteousness (Greek dikaiosune). The Reformers, on the other hand, based on original Greek meaning, understand the same verb to mean “to declare righteous”.
The Protestant Reformation, which followed the revival of the study of antiquities, focused attention on the Greek meaning of the concept of justification, which was the word dikaioo, which means “to declare righteous” rather than “to make righteous”.
Sproul: Are We Together, page 30
While it is true that the Church in the west switched to Latin perhaps sometime in 3rd century AD, the Church in the East, which is now known as Eastern Orthodox Church, continued using Greek to this day. But they do not follow the same understanding of justification as taught by the Reformers. Certainly the use of Latin, instead of Greek, is not the source of difference understanding of Greek verb “to justify”.
- According to the Reformers justification is by faith alone and occurs before sanctification. They separate sanctification from justification but these two must come together. The Catholic Church, on the other hand teaches that justification is a process that starts from faith and includes sanctification.
What Paul wrote in Romans supports Catholic teaching: “And those whom he [God] predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30, RSV). In the above verse Paul did not even mention sanctification, but jumps directly to glorification, which is the state after dying. Scripture says that through sanctification we are saved (2 Thessalonians 2:13) and sanctification is the work of God (1 Thessalonians 5:23). If Romans 8:30 supports Reformers teaching then the last part should say “those whom he justified he also sanctified; and those whom he sanctified he also glorified”. Catholic teaching on justification, perfectly explains why sanctified does not appear in Romans 8:30, i.e. it is included in the word “justified”.
In 1 Corinthians 6:11 Paul wrote (RSV): And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul placed “justified” after, and not before, “sanctified”.
According to what Paul wrote in Romans Abraham was justified by faith but he was also justified by his obedience to God in James. On page 45 – 46, Sproul wrote that it would be nice if those books use different Greek word and different patriarch. Certainly it would be nice if James 2:21 says Abraham was sanctified when he offered his son, but it does not. James 2:24 even plainly denies justification by faith alone. What Sproul proposed to reconcile Romans and James is typical among Protestants, i.e. James talks about manifestation of our faith-alone justified state in the form of works of obedience before men. But this does not explain why Romans and James use the same Greek word “to justify” – it is only an attempt to tie justification only with faith. Catholics, who understand justification as a process and includes sanctification, do not need to reconcile Romans and James.
On the relation between justification and works Sproul wrote:
A living faith shows its life by obedience. Such works of obedience contribute nothing to our justification, but it the works are not present, that absence is proof positive that justification has not occurred.
Sproul: Are We Together, page 46
Note that while Sproul stated that works of obedience do not contribute to justification their absence indicates justification never takes place. The question is how much works (amount and/or frequency) need to be present in order to manifest the existence of our faith-alone justification? It is very unlikely to have a situation where works are totally absent in a believer, which according to Sproul means the person was not justified in the first place. Even during Reformation Luther had to admit that good works are necessary for salvation, even though our justification is by faith alone.
- According to the Reformers through justification is the righteousness of Christ imputed on us while according to the Catholic Church the righteousness of God infused in us
The Reformers taught that through justification by faith alone we are declared righteous, whereby the righteousness Christ is imputed on us. This means we are both righteous and sinner at the same time – there is no change within us. Thus a Christian man is righteous and a sinner at the same time, holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God, wrote Luther. This does not mean the justified persons continue remaining like that; it is their state at the time they were justified by their faith alone – God will change them through sanctification.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, through Council of Trent, defines justification as translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Through justification the righteousness of God through Christ is infused by the Holy Spirit in us and this implies a change within us, from sinner to righteous, from enemy of God to child of God. That’s why Catholics understand the Greek verb “to justify” to mean “to make righteous” and through justification we really become righteous. Scripture does say through Christ we are made righteous (Romans 5:19).
Why did the Reformers believe in imputation? Sproul gave the answer as follows:
The psalmist asked, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). In other words, if we have to stand before God and face his perfect justice and perfect judgment of our performance, none of us would be able to pass review. We all would fall, because as Paul reiterates, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
Sproul: Are We Together, page 41
Thus according to Sproul we must have perfect performance in order to pass God’s perfect justice and perfect judgment, which is certainly impossible. That is the reason why we have to rely on Christ’ perfect righteousness, imputed on us to cover our unrighteousness.
The question is does the Bible teach that God demand from us to be perfectly righteous in order to pass His judgment? Before answering that question, how does the Bible define as being righteous? Ezekiel 18:5-9 provides us with definition of righteous persons, i.e. those who obey Commandments and they shall surely live (verse 9). 1 John 3:7 defines a righteous person as the one who does what is right, which is in agreement with Ezekiel. Does a righteous person must continue, without failing, not even once, in doing righteous acts? If we read Ezekiel 18:24, 26 it seems it is the case, because it says if a righteous person commits iniquity then he shall die and none of the righteous things he did will be accounted for. But Ezekiel 18:21-22, 27-28 says that if a wicked person turns away from his sins and commits righteous acts then he will live and none of his past sins will be accounted. Based on those verses, what ultimately counts is our state when we die, whether we are in righteous state (the Catholic Church refers it as in the state of grace) or not. Thus based on Scripture we don’t have to be perfectly and continuously righteous through-out our life to enter heaven.
But Scripture says: Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20, RSV). Yet Scripture refers Noah (Genesis 6:9, Ezekiel 14:14), Daniel, Job (Ezekiel 14:14), even Lot (2 Peter 2:7) as righteous persons. There are many verses indicating the existence of righteous persons, without naming them (Psalms 1:6, 5:12, 34:15, Matthew 5:45, 13:17, 10:41, 23:29, 1 Peter 3:12 etc.). Certainly they are sinners while being righteous. What Ecclesiastes 7:20 means is even righteous persons will commit sin – in other words being righteous is not being sinless. Protestants may argue that those righteous persons were only declared righteous through faith. But when Christ said in Matthew 25:46 that the righteous will go into eternal life, their righteousness is not based on being declared righteous by faith, but on doing righteous acts (verses 34 to 36), which agrees with Ezekiel 18:5-9 and 1 John 3:7.
Catholics believe that our ability to do righteous acts is only possible with grace of God. Thus what Sproul wrote on page 44 that infused righteousness means we will be judged by our own righteousness totally missed the point! Our righteousness comes from God – it is His grace that enables us to believe in Christ and to obey His Commandments, which make us righteous according to Scripture. Our justification comes from the grace of God!
Based on Scripture (1 John 5:16-17), Catholics believe in the existence of deadly (or mortal) and non-deadly (or venial) sins. Luther still believed in mortal and venial sins, though he defined it differently, i.e. the former is applicable to unbelievers while the latter to the believers. Similarly Calvin taught that only the Reprobate, i.e. those whom God predestines to hell, commit deadly sins. Sproul was wrong when he wrote (on page 32) that there is no agreement in the Catholic Church on which sins are mortal. Mortal sin is defined as sin whose object is grave matter (breaking any of Ten Commandments) and done with full knowledge and full consent. Christ Himself said in Luke 10:28: “do this [the Commandments], and you will live”. What He said is in agreement with Ezekiel 18:5-9. Catholics believe that we will enter heaven if we die in the state of grace, i.e. without any un-repented mortal sin. That is why to Catholics both sacraments of Baptism and Penance are essential. Through the former Original Sin (which we inherit from Adam), all past sins as well as punishment of sins are forgiven and through the latter sins and their punishment committed after Baptism are forgiven. To Catholics Baptism is sacrament of regeneration that not only frees us from sin but also makes us reborn as sons of God. Through Baptism we enter the state of grace – thus our justification is conferred in Sacrament of Baptism. Scripture says that through Baptism we have new life (Romans 6:4). Titus 3:5 talks about washing of regeneration, which the Catholic Church refers to Baptism – and so did Luther and Calvin. This state of grace is lost when we commit mortal sin and it is restored back through sacrament of Penance only if the person truly repents. We cannot repent unless we are moved by Grace. Contrary to what Sproul wrote Luther still believed in Baptism of Regeneration. In 1519 he wrote a trilogy on three Sacraments: Penance, Baptism and Lord’s Supper; and one year later he dropped Sacrament of Penance. Calvin taught that through Baptism all sins, including future sins, are forgiven.
According to Sproul confession of sins is not an issue; the issue is on the fact that repentant sinners must perform “works” (like pray, Scripture reading, acts of charity etc.) in order to return to the state of grace. To him this means we do additional works for the forgiveness of sins, which was already accomplished by Christ on the cross. Yet Scripture does not forbid expression of works as outward sign of repentance like fasting, weeping, wearing sackcloth (Jonah 3:8, Joel 2:12). Without genuine repentance all those “works” are meaningless.
 Actually Luther did not write that phrase – the phrase appears in the Introduction of the Disputation Concerning Justification.
Though Luther was not a theological systematizer in the manner of Melanchthon or Calvin, he recognized that all aspects of evangelical theology were related to the one article of faith by which the church stands or falls. That is why he said in the preface to this disputation, “As you have often heard, most excellent brothers, because that one article concerning justification even by itself creates true theologians, therefore it is indispensable in the church and just as we must often recall it, so we must frequently work on it.”
Introduction to the Dispute Concerning Justification (underlined emphasis added)
English translation from Luther’s Works, Vol. 34, page 147
 I cannot find official teaching (something equivalent to Catechism of the Catholic Church) of the Eastern Orthodox Church on justification, but the following links may help:
 God justifies not only by pardoning but by regenerating, he asks, whether he leaves those whom he justifies as they were by nature, making no change upon their vices? The answer is very easy: as Christ cannot be divided into parts, so the two things, justification and sanctification, which we perceive to be united together in him, are inseparable.
Calvin: Institutes of Christian Religion III.11.6
 I reply to the argument, then, that our obedience is necessary for salvation. It is, therefore, a partial cause of our justification. Many things are necessary which are not a cause and do not justify, as for instance the earth is necessary, and yet it does not justify. If man the sinner wants to be saved, he must necessarily be present, just as he asserts that I must also be present. What Augustine says is true, “He who has created you without you will not save you without you.” Works are necessary to salvation, but they do not cause salvation, because faith alone gives life. On account of the hypocrites we must say that good works are necessary to salvation. It is necessary to work. Nevertheless, it does not follow that works save on that account, unless we understand necessity very clearly as the necessity that there must be an inward and outward salvation or righteousness. Works save outwardly, that is, they show evidence that we are righteous and that there is faith in a man which saves inwardly, as Paul says, “Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” [Rom. 10:10]. Outward salvation shows faith to be present, just as fruit shows a tree to be good.
Luther: The Disputation Concerning Justification (underlined emphasis added)
English translation from Luther’s Works Vol. 34, page 135
 The underlined phrase in Latin is simul iustus et peccator
.Luther: Lectures on Galatians. English translation from Luther’s Works, Vol. 26, page 232.
 Refer to end note 3
 Council of Trent: Chapter 4 of the Decree on Justification, available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds2.v.i.i.iv.html.
 Our Justification comes from the grace of God
Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1996
 Therefore it is a pernicious error when the sophists distinguish among sins on the basis of the substance of the deed rather than on the basis of the persons. A believer’s sin is the same sin and sin just as great as that of the unbeliever. To the believer, however, it is forgiven and not imputed, while to the unbeliever it is retained and imputed. To the former it is venial; to the latter it is mortal. This is not because of a difference between the sins, as though the believer’s sin were smaller and the unbeliever’s larger, but because of a difference between the persons.
Luther: Lectures on Galatians
English translation from Luther’s Works, Vol. 27, page 76
But from this text a gloss has flowed, namely, one sin is venial, another is mortal. I understand a mortal sin to be like the sin committed by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, about which one reads in Num. 16:15, where Moses prays against them, saying: “Lord do not respect their offerings. Thou knowest that I have never taken even an ass from them.” Sins of this kind are those that are committed under the guise of godliness and do not mean to be sins, as they actually are. Sins of this kind are those of the heretics, who are hardened after one or another rebuke.
Luther: Lectures on 1st epistle of John
English translation from Luther’s Works, Vol. 30, page 324
 Calvin Commentary on 1 John, available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom45.v.vi.v.html.
 Refer to end note 17
 Calvin Commentary on Titus 3:5 is available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom43.v.v.ii.html.
 In Titus 3:5 St. Paul terms Baptism “a washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” In the last chapter of Mark we read that “he who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). And in this passage Christ declares that whoever is not born anew of the water and the Holy Spirit cannot come into the kingdom of God. Therefore God’s words dare not be tampered with. Of course, we are well aware that Baptism is natural water. But after the Holy Spirit is added to it, we have more than mere water. It becomes a veritable bath of rejuvenation, a living bath which washes and purges man of sin and death, which cleanses him of all sin.
Luther: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapter 3
English translation from Luther’s Works Vol. 22, page 284
Baptism, then, signifies two things—death and resurrection, that is, full and complete justification. When the minister immerses the child in the water it signifies death, and when he draws it forth again it signifies life. Thus Paul expounds it in Rom. 6[:4]: “We were buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This death and resurrection we call the new creation, regeneration, and spiritual birth.
Luther: The Babylonian Captivity of the Church
English translation from Luther’s Works Vol. 36, page 68
 Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I
 Institutes of Christian Religion IV.15.3, available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.xvi.html
Part 1: Scripture
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Dr. Robert Charles Sproul (born 1939) is an American Reformed theologian, author of numerous books, and the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries. He is known to be critical to Catholicism; in one of his latest books: Are We Together, he examined six major differences between teachings of the Catholic Church and those of Reformed Church. Those six are: authority of Scripture, Justification, Church, Sacraments, Papal Infallibility and Mariology.
Sproul considered authority of Scripture as the formal cause of Reformation. The other cause, the so-called material cause is justification. Those two causes were expressed in the two battle cries of the Reformers: sola fide (faith alone) and sola scriptura (scripture alone).
Sproul affirmed that in the Catholic Church has high view of Scripture, including its divine authorship and its inerrancy. Citing from fourth Session of Trent Council (held on April 1546) he reiterated that according to Catholic teaching Scriptures have come to us either directly from mouth of Christ or His apostles or from the Apostles under dictation of the Holy Spirit (Latin Spiritu Sancto dictante) and both Old and New Testaments have God as their author. Sproul questioned the word “dictation” as it implies elimination of any human authors to the biblical text, leaving no room for individual styles, perspective, concerns, and so on. Dictation theory of Scripture has been rejected by Protestants. He admitted that Trent did not elaborate what it meant by “the Holy Spirit dictating”. Trent documents were written in sixteenth century and Latin word for dictation has different meaning as it has today. John Calvin, when in 1536, wrote his monumental work Institutes of Christian Religion in Latin used the same word in “Deus intus dictante” in Book IV.8.5. The English translation by Henry Beveridge of that phrase is “inward teaching of God”, which may represent closer meaning of Lain word “dictante” in sixteenth century.
Sproul questioned Vatican II decree on inerrancy of Scripture. To him Vatican II made the Catholic Church depart from previous teachings on inerrancy of the Bible as taught by past popes and councils. The phrase he questions is in Dei Verbum III.11 which says “The books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted to put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” He argues that the phrase “for the sake of salvation” makes inerrancy of Scripture only applicable to salvation, in contrary to previous teachings that did not limit the application of inerrancy – though they did admit the use of figurative language in Scripture. He pointed out that there are two groups within the Catholic Church, the conservative who believe that inerrancy of Scriptures covers all that it says and the liberal who believe Vatican II did restrict inerrancy only to scriptural teachings on salvation. An article in Called to Communion web site should clarify the issue.
As for positional differences on Scripture, Sproul enumerated two differences. The first one is Canon of Scripture because Catholic Old Testament has more books than that of Protestant. Citing from Trent Sproul listed books not found in Protestant Bible as 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobias, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees and other books. Those books are referred as deuterocanonica (second canon, a term coined by Sixtus of Sienna in 1546) by Catholics and as apocrypha by Protestants. Sproul made mistake by including 1 and 2 Esdras, which are Trent designation for Ezra and Nehemiah (Trent did say 2 Esdras or Nehemiah) in the list; those two books are also part of Protestant Bible. There are apocryphal books with the name Esdras but they are not part of Catholic Bible. Nomenclature of books of Esdras (Greek for Ezra) is indeed confusing as the same name is applied to different books or the same book has different names. Sproul could confuse those two canonical books with apocryphal 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras of KJV (until 1885 KJV has apocryphal books sandwiched between Old and New Testaments).
There is no single verse in the Bible that tells us how many and which books belong to the Bible. According to Sproul orthodox Protestants believe that canon of Scripture is fallible collection of infallible books while to the Catholic Church it is infallible collection of infallible books. He explained what he meant by fallible collection of infallible books using illustration as follows:
We can perhaps illustrate the difference between the Protestant and Roman Catholic positions by imagining that God gave us ten books, five of which were infallible and five of which were fallible, containing errors. Then He charged us to separate and identify the infallible books. If we were fallible, we might correctly select four of the five infallible books. However, we also might identify one of those fallible books as infallible. Our decisions, of course, would not change the nature of the books. The one infallible book we did not select would still be infallible, even though we failed to include it in our “canon”. Likewise, the fallible book we picked would not therefore be infallible. Our decisions would have no effect in this way because we are fallible.
Sproul: Are We Together, page 22-23
Sproul’s illustration of the concept “fallible collection of infallible books” begs a number of questions. It says that God gave us both infallible and fallible erroneous books. Why would God give us the latter? Does the illustration imply that: (1) Protestant Bible might contain fallible book(s) and (2) the existence of infallible books not part of Protestant canon? Using the above illustration the concept should be called “fallible collection of infallible and fallible books”, isn’t it? Those two kinds of books is the outcome of fallible collection as shown in the illustration. But Sproul insisted that those Protestant selected books are infallible. In other words he simply contradicted the illustration he himself made:
We [Protestants] hold that the church was called to make decisions in history as to whether certain books belonged in the canon, and while those decisions were made with much study and passed through a historical sifting, it is conceivable that the church could have made mistakes in what it included or excluded. However, the books that were chosen are regarded as individually infallible.
Sproul: Are We Together, page 22 (underlined emphasis added)
When God gave us infallible revelation in the form of books written by men, why wouldn’t He give us guidance to recognize them among so many other books? This is what the Catholic Church believes, i.e. Holy Spirit guides the Church to select those infallible books. The Church is not infallible by her own power, which Sproul wrongly accused on page 23, but is infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit to determine which and how many books belong to the Bible.
The second Scripture related difference between Catholic and Protestant is the existence of unwritten Tradition which the Catholic Church considers together with (written) Scripture as revelation from God and therefore are both authoritative. The Reformers, of course, considered only Scripture as revelation from God. God’s special revelation comes only in the Scriptures, wrote Sproul on page 23. On page 24 Sproul pointed out that the draft of Trent said “the truth of God is found partly (Latin partim) in Scripture and partly in tradition” but the final document said “truth of God is contained in Scripture and (Latin et) in tradition”. He argued that the use of “and”, instead of “partly”, make Trent statement ambiguous and implies that tradition is not source of revelation. Sproul draw this conclusion because as a Presbyterian he cannot say that truth of God is contained in Scripture and in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Here he made very poor comparison – for sure Westminster Confession of Faith is not the words of God because it is not inspired by the Holy Spirit, something that Sproul himself or any Reformed Christian would freely admit. In contrast Trent defined tradition as truth coming from Christ and His apostles through the Holy Spirit dictation.
This truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand.
Trent: Decree concerning canonical Scriptures
The use of Latin “et” meaning “and”, not Latin “partim” meaning “partly”, even reinforces dual (and equal) source of revelation (Scripture and Tradition) as taught by the Catholic Church. Even Protestants would say that the words of God are to be found in Old Testament and in New Testament; they would not say “they are found partly in Old Testament and partly in New Testament”, which in fact sounds ambiguous.
Sproul ended the first chapter with the question who has the right to interpret Scripture. Is that right reserved only to the Catholic Church as Magisterium (Teaching Office) or does every Christian have it? Every Christian has the right to interpret the Bible for himself or herself, he wrote on page 28. He explained further about that right:
However this “right” does not include the freedom to misinterpret Scripture. Before God, we do not have the right to be wrong. With the right of private interpretation comes the responsibility to interpret the Bible correctly, not turning the Bible into a lump of clay that can be twisted, shaped, and distorted to fit our own biases.
Sproul: Are We Together, page 28
The question is how to know who has the right interpretation of the Bible? Everybody claims that he or she is guided by the Holy Spirit to interpret the same passage in the Bible yet they end-up with different and even conflicting interpretations. This leads to establishment of different churches with different theological teachings yet all claims to rely on the Bible alone as rule of faith. This even happens within Reformed churches itself – a good example is the conflict between supralapsarian and infralapsarian Calvinists on the issue whether God’s decree of salvation was made before (supra) or after (infra) the Fall.
 Latin and English translation can be found at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds2.v.i.i.html
 Columns 2 to 5 shows the same book with different names according column 1
|Tanakh||Ezra – Nehemiah||–||—|
|Septuagint||2 Esdras||1 Esdras||—|
|Vulgate||1 Esdras||2 Esdras||3 Esdras||4 Esdras|
|Trent, Douay Rheims||1 Esdras||2 Esdras (Nehemiah)||—|
|KJV, RSV||Ezra||Nehemiah||1 Esdras||2 Esdras|
|OSB||2 Ezra||Nehemiah||1 Ezra||—|
Tanakh, the acronym of Torah (the Law), Nevim (the Prophets) and Kethuvim (the Writings) is Jewish scripture.
Septuagint or LXX is Greek translation of Jewish Scripture (and other books) from where most of New Testament quotation of Old Testament made.
Ezra and Nehemiah are combined into one book in Tanakh and in Septuagint (2 Esdras).
Vulgate is Latin translation of Old and New Testament made by Jerome in 4th century AD. 3 Esdras and 4 Esdras were part of its appendix.
Douay-Rheims is Catholic English translation of the Bible completed in 1582 (New Testament) and in 1609-1610 (Old Testament).
KJV (King James Version) is English translation completed in 1611.
RSV (Revised Standard Version) is English translation published in 1946 (New Testament) and in 1951 (Old and New Testaments). Following request from General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, translation of apocryphal books were added in 1952.
OSB (Orthodox Study Bible) is Eastern Orthodox English translation of Old Testament based on Septuagint published in 1993; its New Testament is NKJV (New KJV) translation.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith, which was promulgated in 1646 and is still adopted today by most Reformed churches, is Confession of faith in Reformed/Calvinist theological tradition.
For text refer to http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/
I revised and added brief introduction and analogy to my post on “Synergism and Monergism: which one is scriptural?” to help those who are not familiar with the issue to understand. You may also click here for pdf file of the post
Monergistic regeneration means that regeneration is accomplished by a single actor, God. It means literally a “one-working.” [R.C. Sproul: Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will, pages 23]. As indicated in Sproul’s statement, monergism is closely tied to regeneration and this regeneration precedes faith.
The Reformers taught not only that regeneration does precede faith but also it must precede faith. Because of the moral bondage of the unregenerate sinner, he cannot have faith until he is changed internally by the operative, monergistic work of the Holy Spirit. Faith is regeneration’s fruit, not its cause.
R.C. Sproul: Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will, pages 23
How about conversion and sanctification? According to Sproul and Berkhof these two are not monergistic in nature but synergistic.
This view is clearly monergistic at the initial point of the sinner’s movement from unbelief to faith. The whole process, however, is not monergistic. Once the operative grace of regeneration is given, the rest of the process is synergistic. That is, after the soul has been changed by effectual or irresistible grace, the person himself chooses Christ. God does not make the choice for him. It is the person who believes, not God who believes for him. Indeed the rest of the Christian life of sanctification unfolds in a synergistic pattern.
There is much confusion about the debate between monergism and synergism. When Augustinianism is defined as monergistic, one must remember that it is monergistic with respect to the beginning of salvation, not to the whole process. Augustinianism does not reject all synergism, but does reject a synergism that is all synergism.
R.C. Sproul: Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will, pages 73
Regeneration, then, is to be conceived monergistically. God alone works, and the sinner has no part in it whatsoever. This, of course, does not mean, that man does not co-operate in later stages of the work of redemption. It is quite evident from Scripture that he does.
Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 473
But though God only is the author of conversion, it is of great importance to stress the fact, over against a false passivity, that there is’ also a certain co-operation of man in conversion.
ibid, page 490
We can conclude that according to both Berkhof and Sproul: (1) only regeneration is monergistic in nature; (2) regeneration takes place before (synergistic) conversion and (synergistic) sanctification and (3) regeneration is distinct from conversion and sanctification. Interestingly, according to Berkhof’s investigation this view is a later development, i.e. it comes neither from Luther nor Calvin.
Luther did not entirely escape the confusion of regeneration with justification. Moreover, he spoke of regeneration or the new birth in a rather broad sense. Calvin also used the term in a very comprehensive sense as a designation of the whole process by which man is renewed, including, besides the divine act which originates the new life, also conversion (repentance and faith) and sanctification [Inst. III.3.9]. Several seventeenth century authors fail to distinguish between regeneration and conversion, and use the two terms interchangeably, treating of what we now call regeneration under vocation or effectual calling. The Canons of Dort also use the two words synonymously [III and IV. 11, 12], and the Belgic Confession seems to speak regeneration in an even wider sense [Art. XXIV].
Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 466
In contrast Sproul concluded that the Reformers (plural, presumably Luther and Calvin) held the same view as he and Berkhof do (refer to his statement at the beginning of this post). According to Berkhof neither did the early Church believe the same view. Yet at the same time he insisted that Augustine adopted monergism in the same way he and Sproul believe.
In the mind of the early Church the term “regeneration” did not stand for a sharply defined concept. It was used to denote a change closely connected with the washing away of sins, and no clear distinction was made between regeneration and justification. As identified with baptismal grace, the former was understood especially as a designation of the remission of sin, though the idea of a certain moral renovation was not excluded. Even Augustine did not draw a sharp line here, but did distinguish between regeneration and conversion. To him regeneration included, in addition to the remission of sin, only an initial change of the heart, followed by conversion later on. He conceived of it as a strictly monergistic work of God, in which the human subject cannot cooperate, and which man cannot resist
Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pages 465-466
Berkhof wrote that Augustine’s regeneration includes remission of sin through baptism – something that neither he nor Sproul believe. He did not provide us the source of Augustine statement either. It is unlikely that Augustine believed in remission of sins (through baptism) as part of regeneration that takes place before conversion, unless he wrote about infant baptism. As pointed out correctly by Berkhof, to Augustine regeneration takes place in (Sacrament of) Baptism – something that is also admitted by Sproul (just like Berkhof, at the same time he also insisted that Augustine taught monergism in the same way present-day Calvinists understand):
It must be noted that here [Council of Orange decrees], as well as in Augustine, the grace of regeneration is effected by the sacrament of baptism. Baptismal regeneration was later rejected categorically by Calvinists as well as most other Protestants.
R.C. Sproul: Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will, pages 76
The fact that Augustine taught baptism of regeneration, which is still the belief of the Catholic Church, is undeniable. In the words of Augustine (underlined emphasis added)
As a consequence, then, of this disobedience of the flesh and this law of sin and death, whoever is born of the flesh has need of spiritual regeneration—not only that he may reach the kingdom of God, but also that he may be freed from the damnation of sin. Hence men are on the one hand born in the flesh liable to sin and death from the first Adam, and on the other hand are born again in baptism associated with the righteousness and eternal life of the second Adam; even as it is written in the book of Ecclesiasticus: “Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die.” [Ecclesiasticus or Sirach 25:24]
Augustine, a Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book I Chapter 21
If any man, however, is still perplexed by the question why the children of baptized persons are baptized, let him briefly consider this: Inasmuch as the generation of sinful flesh through the one man, Adam, draws into condemnation all who are born of such generation, so the generation of the Spirit of grace through the one man Jesus Christ, draws to the justification of eternal life all who, because predestinated, partake of this regeneration. But the sacrament of baptism is undoubtedly the sacrament of regenation: Wherefore, as the man who has never lived cannot die, and he who has never died cannot rise again, so he who has never been born cannot be born again. From which the conclusion arises, that no one who has not been born could possibly have been born again in his father. Born again, however, a man must be, after he has been born; because, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” [John 3:5] Even an infant, therefore, must be imbued with the sacrament of regeneration, lest without it his would be an unhappy exit out of this life; and this baptism is not administered except for the remission of sins. And so much does Christ show us in this very passage; for when asked, How could such things be? He reminded His questioner of what Moses did when he lifted up the serpent. Inasmuch, then, as infants are by the sacrament of baptism conformed to the death of Christ, it must be admitted that they are also freed from the serpent’s poisonous bite, unless we wilfully wander from the rule of the Christian faith. This bite, however, they did not receive in their own actual life, but in him on whom the wound was primarily inflicted.
Augustine, a Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book II Chapter 43
Augustine also stated that regeneration that begins in Baptism will be continued through-out our life (here he equates regeneration with renewal) – something that both Berkhof and Sproul (and any Calvinist of today) will reject.
For it is not from the moment of a man’s baptism that all his old infirmity is destroyed, but renovation begins with the remission of all his sins, and so far as he who is now wise is spiritually wise. All things else, however, are accomplished in hope, looking forward to their being also realized in fact, even to the renewal of the body itself in that better state of immortality and incorruption with which we shall be clothed at the resurrection of the dead. For this too the Lord calls a regeneration,—though, of course, not such as occurs through baptism, but still a regeneration wherein that which is now begun in the spirit shall be brought to perfection also in the body. “In the regeneration,” says He, “when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Matthew 19:28] For however entire and full be the remission of sins in baptism, nevertheless, if there was wrought by it at once, an entire and full change of the man into his everlasting newness,—I do not mean change in his body, which is now most clearly tending evermore to the old corruption and to death, after which it is to be renewed into a total and true newness,—but, the body being excepted, if in the soul itself, which is the inner man, a perfect renewal was wrought in baptism, the apostle would not say: “Even though our outward man perishes, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” [2 Corinthians 4:16] Now, undoubtedly, he who is still renewed day by day is not as yet wholly renewed; and in so far as he is not yet wholly renewed, he is still in his old state. Since, then, men, even after they are baptized, are still in some degree in their old condition, they are on that account also still children of the world; but inasmuch as they are also admitted into a new state, that is to say, by the full and perfect remission of their sins, and in so far as they are spiritually-minded, and behave correspondingly, they are the children of God. Internally we put off the old man and put on the new; for we then and there lay aside lying, and speak truth, and do those other things wherein the apostle makes to consist the putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness [Ephesians 4:24]. Now it is men who are already baptized and faithful whom he exhorts to do this,—an exhortation which would be unsuitable to them, if the absolute and perfect change had been already made in their baptism. And yet made it was, since we were then actually saved; for “He saved us by the laver of regeneration.” [Titus 3:5] In another passage, however, he tells us how this took place. “Not they only,” says he, “but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” [Romans 8:23-25]
Augustine, a Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, Book II Chapter 9
To conclude since Augustine understanding of regeneration does not match with that of present-day Calvinists (who consider that only regeneration is monergistic in nature), he was not a monergist (and will never be).
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Christians do not have the same number of books in their Bible, especially that of Old Testament. Protestants have thirty-nine books in their Old Testament which correspond to (with different order and grouping) twenty-four books of Jewish Scripture or Tanakh . Catholic Old Testament has seven more books: Judith, Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch (with Letter of Jeremiah), Wisdom and Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) and some more chapters in Esther and in Daniel (Prayer of Azariah, Song of Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and Dragon). Eastern Orthodox Old Testament, translated from LXX , includes all those books and 151st chapter of Psalms, 3 Maccabees and 1 Esdras . That of Ethiopian Orthodox Church has Enoch, Jubilee and other books . Their New Testament has more books than twenty-seven books in Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant’ New Testament. Understandably Protestants (and “Bible only” Christians) try hard to prove that their Bible has the correct number of books, i.e. the canon (list of inspired books) of the Bible is their sixty-six books. Below are the seven reasons they usually bring up against the inclusion of deuterocanonical  (or apocryphal  in their terminology) books in the Bible.
- The Council of Trent added those apocryphal books in sixteenth century.
- We should trust the Jews to determine which books belong to Old Testament because they were given oracles of God (Roman 3:2).
- New Testament never quotes from any apocryphal books.
- None of apocryphal books claims inspiration.
- Apocryphal books were written after the death of the last prophets of Israel.
Christ approved books belonging to Jewish Scripture (which is equal to Protestant Old Testament), when He said in Luke 11:51: “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah”.
Apocryphal books cannot be inspired because they contain many errors as well as contradictions with sixty-six books of Protestant Bible.
1.The Council of Trent added those apocryphal books in sixteenth century
Before one can accuse Council of Trent (or other) of adding those books, the person should answer this question: how do we know that that are only thirty-nine books in Old Testament and only twenty-seven books in New Testament? There is no single verse in the entire Bible, whether that of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Protestant, states which books belong to the Bible. This should pose a serious problem to Protestants and “Bible only” Christians who declare that (their) Bible is the only and highest authority. Unknowingly to them, the number of books of their Bible depends on their church statement of faith, or on their presumption, or their church councils, or, perhaps, “because my pastor told me so”. In other words they depend on authority outside the Bible to determine which books belong to the Bible. Then they make the Bible, with those predetermined books, the only and highest authority. This should imply we cannot have authority outside the Bible to determine which books belong to the Bible! This is a self-contradicting circular argument! Well, do Catholics have the same reason to know which books belong to the Bible, i.e. they were decided by the Catholic Church?
The birthday of the Church was the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended, as recorded in the book of Acts (Acts 2:1-4), which was not written in that time. We cannot know for sure when each book of New Testament was written. According to scholars the first one (2 Thessalonians) was written, perhaps, in c. 50 or 51 AD and the first Gospel was written after 70AD. This means the Church had been in existence for around two decades before we had the first written New Testament book; and around four decades before the first Gospel was written and, as we will see later, before the Jews closed the canon of their Scripture.
Christ’ words were first circulated orally and later, some were put in written form in the Gospels. Thus from the Gospel according to Matthew we know that Christ intended to give His apostles authority over His Church. He gave Peter (Matthew 16:19) and later all apostles (Matthew 18:18) the authority to bind and to loose. Whatever they bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. In Greek “bound and loosed in heaven” is in (passive) perfect tense, while “bind and loose on earth” is in (active) aorist tense. Unlike that of English, Greek perfect tense indicates continuity of completed past action. This means what Peter and the apostles bind or loose shall follow the ones that have already been bound or loosed in heaven, obviously by God – it is not in reverse as some might think.
Catholics believe that the apostles passed the same authority to their successors, the bishops – the so called apostolic succession. Both (Western) Catholic and (Eastern) Orthodox Churches claim apostolic succession. Apostolic succession belongs to what is known as Tradition (with capital T) – you cannot find it in the Bible. But we know Christ promised His apostles to be with them to the end of age (Matthew 28:20), to send the Holy Spirit to be with them forever (John 14:16), to teach them all things and to remind them whatsoever He said to them (John 14:26); and that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18). New Testament nowhere says those divine promises are valid only in the first three hundred years, i.e. until Roman emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD or in the first fifteen centuries, i.e. until Reformation. Having the same authority, the Pope and the bishops (in union with Him) have the power to bind and to loose and whatever they bind or loose does not come from themselves but it has been already bound and loosed in heaven. No wonder Paul referred the Church as the pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Timothy 3:15) – certainly he was not writing about church (or churches) that came into existence in sixteenth century or later. This is the reason why Catholics believe it is the Church with the apostolic origin has the power to determine which books belong to the Bible. The Church is not above the Bible but is under the guidance of Holy Spirit promised by Christ Himself!
Why it took the Church sixteen centuries to promulgate Canon (list of inspired books) of the Bible? The same canon was declared in provincial council in Hippo, North Africa in 393 AD, reaffirmed at Councils of Carthage, also in North Africa, in 397 AD and in 419 AD. Christians in the first three centuries did not have closed canon – they disagree with each other on which books belong to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. The so-called disputed books of Old Testament were Esther and deuterocanonical books while those of New Testament were Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John and Revelation. The earliest list with the same twenty-seven books as in present day Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant’ New Testament appeared in 367 AD . List of Old Testament books which agrees with Catholic Bible appeared in 382 AD  while the one that agrees with Protestant Old Testament appeared in 391 AD . Council of Trent in 1546 is the ecumenical council that explicitly promulgated canonicity of seventy-three books of Catholic Bible, though the same list of Old Testament books also appeared in ecumenical council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence-Rome (Session 11 on 4 February 1442). The Eastern Orthodox Church declared their canon of Bible in their synod held at Jerusalem in 1672. For Protestants who belong to Reformed Church, Belgic Confession Article 4 (in 1561) and Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1 (in 1647), declared canonicity of sixty-six books of their Bible.
2.We should trust the Jews to determine which books belong to Old Testament because they were given oracles of God (Roman 3:2).
When did the Jews close their canon of Scripture, i.e. the Old Testament? Protestants and “Bible only” Christians would say before the time of Christ because that will bolster their claim based on Romans 3:2. Unfortunately this claim is neither supported by Bible nor by Jewish reliable sources. If canon of Jewish Scripture was closed before Christ’ time, we would expect He and His apostles only quoted from that closed canon, which is not the case, as we will see later. According to Encyclopedia Judaica the third part of Jewish Scripture (Ketuvim or the Writings) was closed in second century AD . Sirach or Ecclesiasticus was quoted as Scripture in Jewish Talmud , composed after second century AD. How about Jamnia (or Javneh) council in 90 AD that purportedly closed canon of Jewish Scripture? Jamnia council hypothesis was created based on Jewish Misnah that only discusses canonical status of Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. All the above mentioned sources indicate that Jewish canon was closed after Christ crucifixion. Christians are not obliged to follow Jewish decision made after Christ crucifixion, considering what He taught through His parable of the vineyard’s tenants in Matthew 21:33-41 – let out the vineyards to other tenants (verse 41). Note that the existence of Scripture or even all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) in Christ and apostolic time does not automatically imply existence of closed canon. Daniel read Jeremiah as Scripture in the first year of Darius (the Mede) reign (Daniel 9:1-2) before prophets Haggai and Zechariah received the words of the Lord in the second year of Darius reign and wrote them.
3.New Testament never quotes from any apocryphal books.
If being quoted in New Testament is the requirement to enter the canon, then New Testament does not quote from Esther, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes either. New Testament also quoted from outside both Catholic and Protestant’ Old Testament. Jerome saw a manuscript of apocryphal work (now lost) attributed to Jeremiah that had the exact words quoted in Matthew 27:9 . What Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, preceded with the phrase “it is written”, resembles but not equal to Isaiah 64:4. According to Ambrosiaster  (c. 4th century AD) it is quotation from apocryphal Apocalypse of Elijah. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:4 about the spiritual rock that followed the Israelites during Exodus and he named two magicians who opposed Moses in 2 Timothy 3:8 – both are not found in the book of Exodus. In 2 Peter 2:22, Proverbs 26:11 is placed in par with a proverb from outside the Bible. Jude 9 quotes from the Ascension of Moses  and Jude 14-16 quotes from the 1 Enoch 1:9. The standard reply for the above non-scriptural quotation is they are not quoted as scripture, like quotation from Cretan poet Epimenides in Acts 17:28 and Titus 1:12. However quotation from non-Jewish works was obviously non-scriptural to the Jews (though as we will see later, God’s word may come through non-Jews). 1 Enoch is cited it in the same way Matthew 15:7-9 cite Isaiah 29:13 (of LXX). We also have quotation from unknown scripture in John 7:38 and James 4:5, both preceded with the phrase “scripture says”. To conclude being quoted in New Testament is not the criteria of canonicity and not being quoted in New Testament is not the criteria for non-canonical either.
4.None of Apocryphal claims inspiration.
Most of Protestant’s sixty-six book Bible do not explicitly claim inspiration either. Those who insist they do should be able to produce at least one verse from each book that explicitly claims inspiration. Esther, without LXX chapters, as in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testament, does not even mention God  and not quoted in News Testament. 1 Enoch, on the other hand, mentions God and quoted once in New Testament (Jude 4:16) but only Ethiopian Orthodox Church considers it to be inspired. Paul stated what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:12 was not from Christ, but from himself – yet we still consider it inspired.
5. Apocryphal books were written after the death of the last prophets of Israel.
According to Jewish historian Josephus who lived in first century AD, books of Jewish Scripture were written between Moses and reign of Persian king, Artaxerxes . Without naming them, Josephus counted twenty-two books comprising five books of Law, thirteen books of prophets and four books of hymns and conducts of life. Protestants cite Josephus statement and that of 1 Maccabees 9:27 (the prophets ceased to appear among Israelites), both outside their Bible, as proof of canonicity of their thirty-nine books of Old Testament. The last Jewish prophets were Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi but where does the Bible say the words of God given only through prophets? The words uttered by Balaam (Numbers 22:7-10, 18-24 and Numbers 24:2-9) came from God, even though Balaam was not prophet, not even a Jew. Similarly, according to 2 Chronicles 35:22 God spoke through Necho, king of Egypt and in John 11:51 Caiaphas prophesied. From Christ Himself we know that the Law and the Prophets are prophesied until John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13), i.e. there was no silent period between Jewish last prophets and John the Baptist. We do have prophecy of Christ in Wisdom 2:12-20.
6. Christ approved books belonging to Jewish Scripture (which is equal to Protestant Old Testament), when He said in Luke 11:51: “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah”.
Since we can find Able in the book of Genesis (Chapter 4) and Zechariah in the book of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 24:20-21) – those two are the first and the last books in Jewish Scripture, then does it show that Old Testament approved by Christ is the Jewish Scripture? There are two problems with this argument. First, the order of books in Jewish Scripture is not static. Chronicles is the last book of the current Jewish Scripture but it was not always so. Jewish Scripture has three parts: the Law (five books), the Prophets (eight books) and the Writings (eleven books). Encyclopedia Judaica  shows eight different orders of books of the Writings, of which three Chronicles is the first book. Those who rely on Josephus testimony should know that Chronicles cannot be the last book because the last five books according to Josephus are books of hymns and conduct of life. Second, Zechariah of Chronicles (who was priest, not prophet) was son of Jehoiada, while parallel verse in Matthew 23:35 identifies him to be son of Barachiah. Most likely Christ referred to Prophet Zechariah, son of Berechiah (Zechariah 1:1, Ezra 5:1), who together with Haggai and Malachi were the last Jewish prophets.
7. Apocryphal books cannot be inspired because they contain many errors as well as contradictions with sixty-six books of Protestant Bible.
Unfortunately the same applies to sixty-six books of Protestant Bible, though for obvious reason they don’t call them as errors and contradictions, but as difficulties or discrepancies. Geisler & Howe wrote over 500- page The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, published by Baker books in 1992, dealing with those difficulties, from Genesis to Revelation (all sixty-six books). Another work by Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, is a classic (first written in 1874); its 400+ pages deal with discrepancies which he grouped into three: doctrinal, ethical and historical discrepancies. Those books were written to offer solution to those difficulties and number of pages tells us they are not a few in numbers. This is understandable – Catholics and Protestants (and “Bible only” Christians) believe in inerrancy of Scripture. Non-Christians may not accept the solution – once a person pre-decided not to accept inspiration of those sixty-six books, no amount of explanation will satisfy him/her. In the same way Catholics are aware of difficulties in deuterocanonical books and we also offer solution. Protestants and “Bible only” Christians are entitled not to accept the solution – they behave just like non-Christians. Once they pre-decided, without any Scriptural support, that the Bible comprises only sixty-six books, no amount of explanation will satisfy them.
Let’s first examine a few difficulties or discrepancies in sixty-six books of Protestant Scripture (which are also part of Catholics Bible) and their proposed solution, condensed from Haley or Geisler & Howe or both, if any.
In 2 Samuel 24:1 God moved David to number Israel but parallel verse in 1 Chronicles 21:1 says it was Satan (the Devil) who did so. Solution proposed by Geisler and Howe (page 177) is God permitted Satan to incite David to number the Israelites.
Psalms 5:4 and Jeremiah 29:11 say that God is not the source of evil but Isaiah 45:7, Jeremiah 18:11, Lamentation 3:38 and Amos 3:6 attribute evil to God. The word “evil” in those verses is translated from the same Hebrews word. According to Haley (page 77), the word evil in Isaiah 45:7, Jeremiah 18:11, Lamentation 3:38 and Amos 3:6 means natural evil (like volcano, war, plague, earthquake, fire), not moral evil or sin as in Psalms 5:4 and Jeremiah 29:11.
Exodus 21:7-11 allows a Jewish man to sell his daughter as slave. The owner cannot resell her to non-Jews. Exodus 21:20-21 allows slave owner to strike his slave, either male or female and he will be punished only if he/she dies. The slave must be set free if he/she loses his/her eye or tooth (Exodus 21:26-27). In contrast Colossians 4:1 says that the owner must treat them justly and fairly. Neither Haley nor Geisler & Howe mention this difficulty in their books, though the latter wrote one page (pages 509 – 510) of slavery condemnation using verses from the Bible. For example they wrote servants must be treated with respect and relied on Exodus 21:20, 26 to support their statement!
“You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13) is the Commandment from God but in 1 Samuel 15:3 He ordered Saul to annihilate the entire Amalek, including women and babies. In Psalms 137:9 the Psalmist rejoiced over those who took babies (of daughter of Babylon) and dashed them against the rock! Geisler & Howe (page 161) argued that the Amalekites were sinful and deserved that severe punishment. This includes their children lest they later might rise to resume their hateful act towards God’s people and plan. In addition they wrote that children who die before the age of accountability are saved. As for Psalms 137:8 Geisler & Howe wrote (page 243) that the Psalmist rejoiced not over smashing babies against the rock but over the retributive justice of God that would ultimately return the cruelty of the Babylonians upon them as a just punishment for their crime.
In Mark 2:26 Christ named Abiathar as the High Priest when David and his men ate bread of the Presence. But 1 Samuel 21:1-6 says the high priest was, then, Ahimelech, father of Abiathar. Solution proposed by Haley (page 320) is Abiathar was acting as his father substitute. According to Geisler & Howe (page 370) the phrase “in the days of Abiathar” does not necessarily imply that he was high priest at the time David ate the bread. Thus, it was during the time of Abiathar, but not during his tenure in office.
According to Daniel 5:30 Babylonian was defeated by Darius the Mede, who reigned before Cyrus (Daniel 6:28). Darius the Mede was fictitious figure who did not exist in history. He was modeled after Darius I, second successor of Cyrus. Solution proposed by Geisler and Howe (page 295) is Darius the Mede was Gubaru whom Cyrus appointed to be governor over all Babylonia.
Esther had sexual relation outside marriage with king Ahasuerus, what we now call as “one night stand” – breaking Exodus 20:14: You shall not commit adultery. Though the king later made her queen, marriage between Jews (both males and females) and non-Jews (or gentile) were forbidden in Nehemiah 10:30 (while Moses, Boaz and some others married non-Jews). Geisler and Howe argued (page 220) that Esther had no choice because she was taken to the king’s palace and insisted she did not do anything explicitly immoral.
In John 8:14 Christ said: “Even if I do bear witness to myself, my testimony is true” but in John 5:31 He said: “If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true.” Solution proposed by Geisler & Howe (page 410) is everything Jesus said was actually true, but officially it was only considered true if it was verified by two or three witnesses as stated in Deuteronomy 19:15.
After his Damascus conversion Paul wrote that he did not go to Jerusalem but went to Arabia, returned to Damascus and only after three years he went to Jerusalem where he only met Cephas (Peter) and James (Galatians 1:17-20). In verse 20 he wrote that he did not lie. But Acts 9:23-27 indicates that he went to Jerusalem from Damascus where Barnabas brought him to meet the apostles, not just Peter and James. Both Haley and Geisler & Howe missed this difficulty in their books.
Paul wrote that Abraham was justified by faith (Romans 4:1-4) but James 2:21 say he was justified by works. This, of course, has been Protestant problem since Reformation, when the Reformers insisted that justification is one time event and by faith alone. Geisler and Howe (pages 527 – 528) wrote that Paul and James talk about different justification. Paul wrote about root of justification while James wrote about fruit of justification. Justification of Paul is justification before God while that of James is Justification before men. Catholics, who believe justification is on-going process and not by faith alone, find no contradiction between Paul and James – both talk about the same justification.
Now let’s look at some commonly raised problems in deuterocanonical or apocryphal books and their solutions.
Historical problem in the book of Judith where king of Babylonia Nebuchadnezzar was made king of Assyria.
There are two solutions for this difficulty. The first one considers Judith as theological novel or parable or allegory to convey a message. By stating Nebuchadnezzar as king of Assyria the writer produced composite conqueror of both Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) kingdoms. The Assyrian kingdom brought down Northern kingdom or Israel in c. 722 BC while (Neo) Babylonian empire did the same to the Southern kingdom in c. 586 BC. The second solution considers Judith to be historical narrative where Nebuchadnezzar was other name of one Assyrian king, just like Darius the Mede in Daniel 5:30 was Cyrus general by the name Gobiru (who was not a Mede).
Ethical problem in the book of Judith, i.e. she lied to Holofernes about her true mission and through her beauty lured him to death. The angel Raphael in the book of Tobit (Tobit 5:12) also impersonated a person named Azariah.
In 1 Samuel 16:1 God asked Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel but he worried Saul would kill him. For sure God was able to protect Samuel from Saul but He told him to say, if asked, he went there to offer sacrifice, i.e. concealing his true mission. In the same way Judith concealed her true mission to Holofernes. While she did lure him to his death through her beauty, she, unlike Esther, did not have sexual relation with him. As for the angel Raphael impersonating a human, according to Hebrews 13:2 by showing hospitality to strangers, some might entertain angels unaware, i.e. those angels do not reveal their identity and that is exactly what angel Raphael did.
The Catholic Church declared apocryphal books to be inspired because they support Catholic unbiblical teaching like prayer to the dead (2 Maccabees 12:38-46) and salvation by works in giving almsgiving for deliverance from death and purging sins (Tobit 12:9).
Prayer to the dead is closely related to purgatory. The saints in heaven no longer need prayer from saints on earth (who are encouraged to pray for one another) and there is no point praying for those in hell. Hence there is a third place which Catholics refer as Purgatory where those who died with venial sins have their sins cleansed. Catholic teaching on purgatory is understandably hard for Protestants (and “Bible only” Christians) to accept. Yet it does not rely on 2 Maccabees 12:38-46 alone. The Bible refers God as refiner’s fire (Malachi 3:2) who refines some as one refines silver (Zechariah 13:8-9).
What is written in Tobit 12:9 is related to rewards for our good works. No one can deny that God rewards us for our good works (Proverbs 13:13, Psalms 18:20, 2 John 8, Revelation 22:12 etc.) and He even rewards us with eternal life (John 5:28-29, Romans 2:6-7). Catholics understand those rewards as gift from God – they are NOT something we deserve like we deserve our wages and there is no such thing as salvation by works in Catholicism. Thus Tobit 12:9 talks about rewards of our good works just like 1 Peter 4:8 say charity covers multitude of sins. Likewise James 5:20 says whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul and will cover multitude of sins. Does it sound similar to Tobit 12:9 if we replace “almsgiving” with “bringing back a sinner from the error of his way”? No Protestants will say that James 5:20 contradict other verses that say Christ is the only Saviour like Acts 4:12.
Tobit encourages superstitious practice in Tobit 6:16-17 where smoke produced from burning heart and liver of fish was used to scare demon.
Protestants and “Bible only” Christians obviously have problem with Catholic sacramental system. This is why they reject Catholic practices which to them are superstitious like the one stated in Tobit 6:16-17, veneration of relics, wearing scapular and even seven Sacraments. Sacramental system is the belief that God could channel His Grace and help through material or visible symbol. Keep in mind that God can give His Grace and help directly – He is not restricted by the use of material or visible symbol but in some cases He prefers to do so and there are many examples from the Bible, not only in Tobit 6:16-17.
God asked Moses to make bronze serpent and to set it on a pole and whoever looked at it after being bitten by real snake will live. Prophet Elisha asked Naaman to wash in Jordan River to cure his leprosy (2 Kings 5:10-14). According to 2 Kings 13:21 bones of Prophet Elisha were able to bring back to life a dead man. Christ could heal blind men directly (Mark 10:52, Luke 18:42-43) but in John 9:6 He preferred to use soil mixed with His saliva. Likewise many were healed by touching fringe or hem  of His garment (Matthew 9:20, 14:36). Handkerchiefs or aprons after touching Apostle Paul’s body were able to heal the sick and to cast away evil spirit (Acts 19:12).
the acronym of Torah (the Law or in Greek, Pentateuch), Nevim (the Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writings or in Greek, Hagiographa or Holy Writings)
LXX or Septuagint is collection of Old Testament books written in Greek. Most quotations in New Testament are taken from LXX. Catholic and Protestant’s Old Testament are translated from Masoretic text (in Hebrews), though grouping of books follow that of LXX.
- As listed in Orthodox Study Bible. 4 Maccabees and Prayer of Manasseh are in the Appendix according to Orthodox Wiki
- Click here
Deuterocanonical and protocanonical books, meaning second and first canons were coined by Sixtus of Sienna (1520 to 1569)
Apocrypha means hidden, which since the time of Jerome (died c. 420 AD) was commonly used to label books that can be found in LXX but not in Hebrew Bible.
- Athanasius: 39th Festal Letter
- Pope Damasus (died 384 AD): Decretal of Gelasius
Jerome: Prefaces of the Books of the Vulgate version of the Old Testament. Jerome still included (and referred them as) apocryphal books in Vulgate.
On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to show that the collection of the Ketuvim as a whole, as well as some individual books within it, was not accepted as being finally closed until well into the second century c.e. [common era = AD]
As noted above, the practice of calling the entire Scriptures the “Torah and Prophets” presupposes a considerable lapse of time between the canonization of the second and third parts of the Bible. The fact that the last division had no fixed name points in the same direction. Even the finally adopted designation “Ketuvim” is indeterminate, since it is also used in Rabbinic Hebrew in the two senses of the Scriptures in general and in individual texts in particular.
Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 4 page 824
Raba [again] said to Rabbah b. Mari: whence can be derived the popular saying, ‘A bad palm will usually make its way to a grove of barren trees’? – He replied: This matter was written in the Pentateuch, repeated in the Prophets, mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa, and also learnt in a Mishnah and taught in a baraitha: It is stated in the Pentateuch as written, So Esau went unto Ishmael [Genesis 28:9], repeated in the prophets, as written, And there gathered themselves to Jephthah idle men and they went out with him [Judges 11:3], mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa, as written: Every fowl dwells near its kind and man near his equal [Sirach 13:15];
Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nazikin, Baba Kamma 92b
Translated by E.W. Kirzner, Soncino Press (1961
…..And R Aha b. Jacob said: There is still another Heaven above the heads of the living creatures, for it is written: And over the heads of the living creature there was a likeness of a firmament, like the colour of the terrible ice, stretched forth over their heads above [Ezekiel 1:22]. Thus far you have permission to speak, thenceforward you have not permission to speak, for so it is written in the Book of Ben Sira: Seek not things that are too hard for thee, and search not out things that are hidden from thee. The things that have been permitted thee, think thereupon; thou hast no business with the things that are secret [Sirach 3:21-22]
Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Hagigah 13a,
Translated by Israel Abrahams, Soncino Press (1961)
Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, 4.27.10, in Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, New Testament, Vol. 1b, Inter Varsity Press, 2002, page 275.
Ambrosiaster, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, in Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, New Testament, Vol. 7, Inter Varsity Press, 2002, page 23. Ambrosiaster (pseudo Ambrose) was the name given by Dutch theologian Erasmus (1466 to 1536) to otherwise anonymous 4th century author who wrote commentary of all Paul’s epistles.
According to Origen (died c. 251 AD): de Principiis 3.2. No manuscript of Ascension of Moses survived today.
According to Geisler & Howe the name of God is found in the book of Esther in acrostic form, at four crucial points in the story (Esther 1:20, 5:4, 5:13, 7:7), twice forward and twice backward (Geisler & Howe: The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, page 219)
- Josephus, Against Apion 1:8 (38-40)
- Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 4, pages 829-830
Kraspedon in In Greek, which refer to tassels, appendages attached to mantles to remind the Jews of the Law
Catholic teaching on Eucharist is certainly one of the toughest for non-Catholics to understand. Not surprisingly it is also one of the mostly attacked and caricatured. The following clauses of the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarize the teachings of the Catholic Church on the Eucharist (underlined emphasis is added):
At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharist sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal [Passover] banquet “in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.
Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1323
At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood.
Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1333
Thus Catholics do believe that (1) the bread and wine at the consecration truly becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, which the faithful consume and (2) Eucharistic celebration (or the Mass) is not just a memorial of his death and resurrection but also the same sacrifice Christ offered on the cross made present. Both of them certainly scandalize or at least puzzle non Catholics and maybe even some Catholics.
We look first at the first one. Catholic belief that we literally consume the Body and Blood of Christ is indeed a hard teaching – it is not something new or only started during Reformation. Almost two thousand years ago Christ disciples who heard it directly from Him said so (John 6:60) and then left Him (John 6:66).
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
John 6:53-56 (RSV, underlined emphasis added)
Most, if not all Protestants usually argue that Christ spoke metaphorically – His words are not to be taken literally, after all Christ also claimed He is the Way (John 14:6), the light of the world (John 8:12), the true vine (John 15:1) etc. But did Christ always speak metaphorically? Looking at the above quoted verses there is Greek word “alethos” translated into English as “indeed” (in RSV and KJV). According to Strong concordance (# 230) it means: truly, of a truth, in reality, most certainly. This word appears in a number of verses in (Greek) New Testament, translated as “of a truth”, “certainly”, “surely”, “indeed”, “really”, “truly” (Matthew 14:33, 26:73, 27:54; Mark 14:70, 15:39; Luke 9:27, 12:44; John 1:47, 4:42, 6:14, 7:40, 8:31; Acts 12:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 2:5) and it never refers to something non-real, untrue or symbolic. Food and drink is something to be consumed – thus when Christ said that his flesh is food indeed and his blood is drink indeed (John 6:55), He meant we are to consume His Flesh and Blood. Some may use John 6:63 where Christ said (RSV), the flesh is of no avail, to deny Catholic belief. But here Christ did not say “my flesh is of no avail” – in other words He did not talk about His Flesh. The Greek word translated as flesh is sarx, which may mean flesh of human and animal or body or human nature. Compare with Matthew 26:41 where Christ told His disciples that the spirit is willing but (their) flesh (Greek sarx) is weak. Keep in mind that in John 6:63 Christ also said: “It is the spirit that gives life” and “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”.
Scripture also refers Christ as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). He is the Lamb of God, without blemish (1 Peter 1:19), who takes the sins of the world (John 1:29). Jewish Passover begins on fifteenth day of Nissan (the first month of Jewish calendar) and according to Scripture (Exodus 12:1-9) they choose un-blemish lamb (or goat) on the tenth day which they kill and consume on fourteenth day of Nissan. Note that they (Jews) do not offer the lamb as burnt offering but must consume the lamb (Exodus 12:8), only what remains on the next day must be burnt. This lamb of Old Testament prefigures Christ, the Passover Lamb of New Testament (1 Corinthian 5:7). According to the fourth Gospel He was crucified (sacrificed) on fourteenth day of Nissan (John 18:28). On the other hand the first three (synoptic) Gospels refer the Last Supper as Passover meal (Matthew 26:17-18, Mark 14:12-14 and Luke 22:8-11) and He was crucified on the next day, i.e. on fifteenth day of Nissan. The Gospel according to John does not mention the Last Supper – we know Christ and His disciples had it (John 13:1-2), but it would be on thirteenth day of Nissan, which means it was not Passover meal. The Last Supper of the first three Gospels, which was Passover meal, does not mention any lamb because Christ Himself is the Lamb. Just like the lamb of the Old Covenant we have to consume Him literally, not symbolically. Does this mean Catholics are allowed to partake the Eucharist only on fourteenth or fifteenth day of Nissan? Does the different date of crucifixion (with respect to Jewish calendar) pose a problem? To be Passover Lamb of New Testament Christ had to be crucified on fourteenth day of Nissan as according to the fourth Gospel. The Last Supper, being a Passover meal, must fall on the same day (as according to Matthew, Mark and Luke) – but how can Christ be the Passover Lamb when He was not yet crucified? The following paragraph will give the answer.
Now we look at the second Catholic belief that in every Mass the same sacrifice of Christ on the cross is made present. It is not repeating or re-sacrificing of Christ – His sacrifice on the cross is once for all (Hebrews 9:12, 26). But this would not satisfy those who are against this belief – we need more explanation from Scripture. We know that Christ sacrifice on the cross took place in c. 30 AD but, interestingly, Scripture says (Revelation 13:8) that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, i.e. from the time of creation, not on fourteenth or fifteenth day of Nissan in c. 30 AD. In addition the Greek word translated into “slain” is esphagmenou – it is the passive form in perfect tense of Greek verb sphazo (to slay). Unlike the English perfect tense, the Greek perfect tense indicates continuation and present state of a completed past action – in this case it was completed at foundation of the world, though in human time His sacrifice appeared to take place almost two thousand years ago. he has appeared once for all at the end of age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). This explains why Christ was the Passover Lamb of the Last Supper (of the first three Gospels) even though He was not yet crucified. Also whether He was crucified on fourteenth or fifteenth day of Nissan makes no difference. For the same reason Catholics believe the same and single sacrifice Christ made on the cross can be made present in every Eucharistic celebration (or Mass). Christ is the Passover Lamb of New Testament and partaking the Eucharist is participating in Passover meal of the Last Supper. Thus Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1323 also refers Eucharist as Paschal (Passover) banquet. Some might argue that the phrase “foundation of the world” in Revelation 13:8 is to be applied to those who names not written in the book of life. However Hebrews 9:24-26 says that if Christ did not offer Himself in heavenly sanctuary then He, like Old Testament High Priest, must do it repeatedly, interestingly, not from the year He was crucified, but from the foundation of the world.
Closely related to sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is the Catholic Ministerial Priesthood – through whom the Eucharistic sacrifice is made present. We cannot find such priesthood in any Protestant or post-Reformation churches. Catholics believe ministerial priesthood is New Testament Levitical priesthood. Protestants usually say that Levitical priesthood was abolished with the coming of Christ, our High Priest. Yet Scripture says that Levitical priesthood will continue offering sacrifice forever (Jeremiah 33:17-22) and God will take some as priests and levites from all the nations (Isaiah 66:21), i.e priests no longer have to be Jewish and descendants of Aaron. Levitical priesthood of Judaism still exists today – male Jews with the surname Cohen (or Cohn, Coen, Katz, Kant and other variants) are priests and they were born priests (Hebrew word for priest is kohen). However after the destruction of Jerusalem Temple in c . 70 AD sacrificial system of Judaism came to an end, i.e. their priests no longer offer sacrifice, not even on Atonement Day (Yom Kippur) and on fourteenth day of Nissan. Yom Kippur is the only day of Jewish calendar year when the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies of the Sanctuary (housed in Jerusalem Temple) to offer blood atonement through-out generations (Exodus 30:10) – yet they have stopped doing it for almost two thousand years. Christ, the New Testament High Priest of the order Melchizedek, offers Himself as atonement in heaven, not in man-made sanctuary (Hebrews 9:24). Because of this He needs to do it only once for all, at the end of age, not every year like High Priest of Old Testament (Hebrews 9:26). The atonement through-out generations stated in Exodus 30:10 is fulfilled in every Holy Mass, where His sacrifice is made present through the ministry of priests. When Christ instituted the Eucharist in the Last Supper He also consecrated His disciples to be His priests. They in turn ordained the bishops as their successors and so on. The ministerial priesthood was later extended to include presbyters (from which we get the English word priests). For more detail of New Testament priesthood my readers can read my earlier posts on this topic at: