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April 2, 2011 / vivator

the Eucharist – eating the flesh of Christ and drinking His blood

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:

Priesthood of the Old and New Covenants


The Year of the priests

March 20, 2011 / vivator

On Jude citation from 1 Enoch

It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

Jude 14-15 (RSV)

We cannot find the source of this citation from either Catholic or Protestant’s Old Testament because it came from 1 Enoch 1:9, a book which Catholics consider as Apocrypha (as Pseudepigrapha to Protestants).  This is not the only place where Jude cited from outside the Old Testament – Jude 9 cited from Ascension of Moses, according to Origen [1].  Many would argue that 1 Enoch 1:9 is not cited as Scripture because in New Testament we have also citation from Greek poets (Acts 17:28) and Greek prophet (Titus 1:12).  However citations from Greek works are obviously non-scriptural but 1 Enoch was a Jewish work and Jude 14-15 cites it in the same way Matthew 15:7-9 cite Isaiah 29:13 (of Septuagint/LXX).   Why would Jude cite from 1 Enoch?  The first Christians and the Jews of the first century AD did not have closed canon yet, not even in the next few centuries [2].  1 Enoch was one book that had scriptural status in that time.  Thus among manuscript of the Dead Sea Scrolls we have 20 copies of 1 Enoch – it outnumbered most books of the Old Testament but Psalms (40 copies), Isaiah (21 copies) and Genesis (20 copies) [3].  Other than 1 Enoch we also have the book of Jubilees (15 copies), Tobit (5 copies), Sirach (3 copies) and one copy of Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch Chapter 6 in Catholic Bible) and one copy each of Psalms 151, 154 and 155. Like Jude the early Christians also cited Enoch as Scripture (English translation from Anti Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, available on-line at ):

For the Scripture saith, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the Lord will deliver up the sheep of His pasture, and their sheep-fold and tower, to destruction.” [1 Enoch 89:56,66]

Barnabas 16

Enoch, too, pleasing God, without circumcision, discharged the office of God’s legate to the angels although he was a man, and was translated, and is preserved until now as a witness of the just judgment of God, because the angels when they had transgressed fell to the earth for judgment, but the man who pleased [God] was translated for salvation. [1 Enoch 12:4-5, 13:4-7 and 15:2]

Irenæus, Against Heresies 4.16.2

1 Enoch continued enjoying scriptural status until third century AD.  While he was aware that some doubted its authority Tertullian (c .160 to 230), bishop of Carthage defended it because it preaches Christ and was cited in Jude (On the Apparel of Women 1.3, ).  On the other hand Origen both cited (de Principiis 1.3.3 and 4.35) and rejected it (Against Celsus 5:54).  In fourth century Jerome called it apocryphal in Homily 45 on Psalms 132(133).  Augustine in City of God 15:23 and 18:38 wrote that Enoch left some divine writings quoted in Jude but stated 1 Enoch had no canonical authority.  We could only speculate why 1 Enoch was gradually rejected – one theory says it was rejected because it has apocalyptic nature [4] – but so is the book of Daniel. Today only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has 1 Enoch (and the book of Jubilee) in their Bible.

  1. The work is now lost – it is not to be confused with Testament of Moses, of which few fragments survive. Below is what Origen wrote (English translation is from Anti Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3.):We have now to notice, agreeably to the statements of Scripture, how the opposing powers, or the devil himself, contends with the human race, inciting and instigating men to sin. And in the first place, in the book of Genesis, the serpent is described as having seduced Eve; regarding whom, in the work entitled The Ascension of Moses (a little treatise, of which the Apostle Jude makes mention in his Epistle), the archangel Michael, when disputing with the devil regarding the body of Moses, says that the serpent, being inspired by the devil, was the cause of Adam and Eve’s transgression.

    Origen, de Principiis 3:2

    Origen (c. 185 to 251 AD) was teachers and prolific authors who wrote commentaries of almost every book of the Bible, homilies as well as other books.

  3. Craig A. Evans: Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls
  4. My sense is that Professor Hultin is right in noting that the apocalyptic nature of 1 Enoch was instrumental in its rejection. Apocalyptic literature is helpful and reassuring to people in distress, especially in their being oppressed by the authorities. But as Christianity became more and more part of the main stream and as it experienced less oppression, the role of apocalyptic literature lessened and its helpfulness declined.

    Leslie W. Walck: Response to Jeremy Hultin’s “Jude’s Citation of 1 Enoch”

    Jewish and Christian Scriptures: The Function of “Canonical” and “Non-Canonical” Religious Texts, pages 129-130

January 23, 2011 / vivator

Dr. R.C. Sproul on double predestination

Dr. R.C. Sproul is Reformed scholar and theologian, founder (and president) of Ligonier Ministries and president of Ligonier Academy.  The following is what he wrote (in italic, underlined emphasis is mine) on double predestination, which is taken from:

In the article Dr. Sproul describes what he calls as distortion of double predestination:

The distortion of double predestination looks like this: There is a symmetry that exists between election and reprobation. God WORKS in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate. That is to say, from all eternity God decreed some to election and by divine initiative works faith in their hearts and brings them actively to salvation. By the same token, from all eternity God decrees some to sin and damnation (destinare ad peccatum) and actively intervenes to work sin in their lives, bringing them to damnation by divine initiative. In the case of the elect, regeneration is the monergistic work of God. In the case of the reprobate, sin and degeneration are the monergistic work of God. Stated another way, we can establish a parallelism of foreordination and predestination by means of a positive symmetry. We can call this a positive-positive view of predestination. This is, God positively and actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation. In the same way God positively and actively intervenes in the life of the reprobate to bring him to sin.

This distortion of positive-positive predestination clearly makes God the author of sin who punishes a person for doing what God monergistically and irresistibly coerces man to do. Such a view is indeed a monstrous assault on the integrity of God. This is not the Reformed view of predestination, but a gross and inexcusable caricature of the doctrine. Such a view may be identified with what is often loosely described as hyper-Calvinism and involves a radical form of supralapsarianism. Such a view of predestination has been virtually universally and monolithically rejected by Reformed thinkers.

Dr. Sproul stated that Reformed position of double predestination should be understood to be positive-negative predestination:

In sharp contrast to the caricature of double predestination seen in the positive-positive schema is the classic position of Reformed theology on predestination. In this view predestination is double in that it involves both election and reprobation but is not symmetrical with respect to the mode of divine activity. A strict parallelism of operation is denied. Rather we view predestination in terms of a positive-negative relationship.
In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect
[the Reprobate] God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves. He does not monergistically work sin or unbelief in their lives.

He explains further why God does not monergistically work sin or unbelief in Reprobate’ lives

If God, when He is decreeing reprobation, does so in consideration of the reprobate’s being already fallen, then He does not coerce him to sin. To be reprobate is to be left in sin, not pushed or forced to sin.

What Dr. Sproul explains on positive-negative double predestination could be expressed in the following analogy:

All men are like damaged cars on conveyor belt that will bring them to crushing machine.  There is nothing those cars can do to save themselves – they are not even aware that they will be crushed. They don’t have a will to be saved let alone make request to be saved.  God is a good mechanic – what He did is He chose some cars unconditionally, i.e. His choice does not depend on their colour, year, type, size, value, mileage, manufacturer, country of origin, degree of damage etc.  He repaired those chosen cars, filled their tanks with gas and drove them home (heaven). During this process those cars gave neither resistance, i.e. no kicking and screaming whatsoever, nor cooperation. Their salvation is monergistic work of the Mechanic.  The damaged cars He did not choose obviously ended up being crushed – there is nothing they can do.  Yet the Mechanic (God) is not responsible for their crushing, they were already damaged and were deemed to be crushed in the first place.  When did the Mechanic make the choice, i.e. which cars He wanted to save and which ones He bypassed?  The supralapsarian Calvinists say it happened before they ended-up damaged on conveyor belts (i.e. before the Fall) while the infralapsarian ones will say He made the choice after they ended-up on conveyor belt.  I am not caricaturing Calvinism here – that is their understanding of being spiritually dead.  In the words of Dr. Sproul:

When we considered in an earlier study our condition of original sin, we used the biblical metaphors of death and slavery. By nature we are born into this world DOA, dead on arrival, spiritually although alive biologically.  We have no inclination whatsoever in our souls towards the things of God – no interest, no passion, no love. We are dead. Because we are spiritually dead, we are slaves to the sinful impulses and lusts that drive our behavior. We are not just participation in sin; such a description is far too weak. The Bible teaches us again and again that we are slaves to sin. Sin is not only in our nature, but it is our master.

Sproul, R.C.: Romans, St Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 188-189

The problem with double predestination view, even in positive-negative form, is it does not go in-line with a number of verses from Scripture (Romans 5:18, 1 Corinthians 15:22, Titus 2:11, 2 Peter 3:9).  Reformed systematic theologian, Louis Berkhof (1873 to 1957) argued that “all” or “all men” in those verses should be understood to mean “all in Christ” or (for Titus 2:11) “all classes of men” – otherwise they will support universalism (source: Berkhof: Systematic Theology, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, page 396).  Certainly isolating those verses will promote universalism (God will save all men), which no Christians believe. Yet re-paraphrasing them (i.e. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says “in Christ shall all be made alive”, not “all in Christ shall be made alive”) or forcing them to mean something that one first predefined is not correct either.  Under synergism, which is the view of Catholics and of some Protestants, we can avoid universalism without re-paraphrasing or interpreting those verses to mean something else.  God through Christ takes the initiative to offer salvation to all men, yet they have freedom to either accept or reject this free offer.  Such freedom is denied in monergism – we are like damaged cars that have no such ability.

August 8, 2010 / vivator

Merits in Catholicism

Catholic teaching on merit is commonly misunderstood by non-Catholics.  Many thinks that Catholics believe we must do good works to merit salvation or eternal life, just like a worker must work to merit his/her wages.  Catholic teaching that we can merit eternal life and increase of grace [1] is definitely scandalous to Protestants and “Bible only” Christians – it even fuels their common charge that Catholics believe in salvation by works.

Six clauses of Catechism of the Catholic Church, clause # 2006 to # 2011, deal with Catholic teaching on merits. It first defines merit (# 2006), in general, as recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment. Merit is relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it.  Under this general definition a worker merits his wages.  It will be injustice if the employer refuses to pay his/her wages. Note that both employer and workers are equal – the employer needs workers to do the work while a worker does the work to earn his/her wages.  His/her wages are not gifts from the employer but something he/she deserves.

Does the Catholic Church teach we deserve merits or reward from our good works, just like a worker merits his/her wages?  The answer is NO – the Catechism (# 2007) states that with regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man.  The same clause gives the reason: Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.  Because of this immeasurable inequality we cannot apply the general understanding of merit, described in the previous paragraph, to our merits in relation to our salvation. Unlike our employer, God does not need our works because He can do everything by Himself. He can rain down food from heaven to feed the hungry; He can bring the good news to anybody on earth without the help of any missionary.

The next question is: does Scripture say God rewards us for our good works?  The answer is YES – there are ample verses from Scripture, both Old and New Testaments saying that God does reward us for our good works. He who respects the commandment will be rewarded (Proverbs 13:13). The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me [Psalms 18:20]. Look to yourselves that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward [2 John 8]. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done [Revelation 22:12]. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven [Luke 6:23].  Does Scripture say the rewards of our good works include eternal life?  Again, the answer is YES. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment [John 5:28-29]. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life [Romans 2:6-7].

Thus while we do not deserve any reward from God for doing good works, according to Scripture, He nevertheless still rewards us and His reward even includes eternal life.  The Catechism (# 2008) provides explanation: The merit of man before God arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. God chose some of us to be His agents to show love to others like feeding the hungry. He chose others to be His agents to bring good news to mankind etc.  It is worth to mention that in Catholicism the initiative of doing such works always comes from God – The same clause says the fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his [man] collaboration [2].  Because of this, the same clause further says that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Men’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.  To be able to do good works, we must connect ourselves to the true vine, Christ, who said apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:1-5). 

The next clause (# 2009) explains that our filial adoption [as children of God] can bestow true merit on us as a result of God’s gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) and worthy of obtaining the promised inheritance of eternal life.  This means, as the same clause further says, the merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness.  Our merits are God’s gifts.  Thus in Catholicism the merits of our good works are not something we deserve (like our wages) but they are gifts from God.  The first clause dealing with merit (# 2006) is preceded with a phrase from Augustine (354 to 430 AD):

You [God] are glorified in the assembly of your Holy Ones, for in crowning their merits you are crowning your own gifts.

Clause # 2010 says: Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion.  We neither have to do good works nor must become good persons to make God take the initiative to move our hearts to have faith in Christ.  Faith in Christ is gift from God, irrespective of our past behaviour, whether we were good or evil persons. This is how Catholics understand Ephesians 2:8, the verse mostly quoted by Protestants and “Bible only” Christians to support their belief of by faith alone salvation. Catholics understand the phrase “not by works” in Ephesians 2:8 to mean works before our conversion to Christ, while to Protestants and “Bible only” Christians it means all works, before and after our conversion to Christ.

Since our merits are God’s gifts and are not something we deserve, then they may come in the form of increase of grace and even eternal life.  John 1:16 says that through Christ we receive grace upon grace. Thus Clause # 2010 says: Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.  Finally, the sixth clause (# 2011) says that the charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merits before God and before men.


  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2010, Council of Trent: Canon XXXII of the Decree on Justification
  2. This is known as synergism, also in Clause # 2010.  It is not semi-pelagianism who says that the initiative belongs to man.
July 18, 2010 / vivator

How reliable is William Webster’s study on Canon of Old Testament?

William Webster, a former Catholic, is businessman and director of Christian Resources Inc., a book and tape ministry devoted to teaching and evangelism (source: Roman Catholicism, Evangelical Protestants analyze what divides and unites us, Moody Press, page 11).  He wrote a number of books dealing with Roman Catholicism, among which is The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, published by the Banner of Truth Trust in 1995.

The first chapter of the book deals with authority of Scripture where Webster claimed that apocryphal books were not accepted by the early Church as part of the legitimate scriptural canon (page 7), i.e. the canon of Old Testament known to Christ, His apostles and early Christians comprises only thirty-nine books of Protestant’s Bible.  To support his theory Webster proposed the following evidence:

  1. Jesus and the New Testament authors never quote from the Apocrypha, though they quote prolifically from the vast majority of the Old Testament canonical books.  However if being quoted in New Testament is criteria of canonicity we don’t have New Testament quotation from Esther, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes.  New Testament also quotes from outside both Catholic and Protestant’s canon. We do not know from which Scripture Christ quoted His words recorded in John 7:38, though they are preceded with the phrase “Scripture has said”.  James 4:5 also quotes from unknown Scripture while Jude 14 quotes from 1 Enoch.  In 2 Peter 2:22 quotation from Proverbs 26:11 is placed in par with quotation from unknown source.  Paul wrote about supernatural Rock (Christ) that followed Israelites in their Exodus (1 Corinthians 10:4) – nowhere mentioned in the book of Exodus.  This shows that in Christ and His apostles’ time the canon of Old Testament was not defined yet.  For more detail refer to my earlier post: new-testament-quotation-from-old-testament . Second century Christians also quoted from apocrypha and other books as Scripture.  For more detail refer to my post: the-old-testament-of-the-first-two-centuries-christians
  2. Jewish historian Josephus stated that Jewish canon comprises twenty-two books.  This is equal to twenty four books of the present Jewish Bible if we combine four books into two books (Josephus: Against Apion 1:8 (38-40)).  Josephus also stated that prophetic line ended in around 4 century BC (after the death of Artaxerxes, king of Persia).  Hence, apocryphal books, written after second century BC, cannot be prophetic – something that will surely please Protestants.  But Christ said in Matthew 11:13: For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John [the Baptist].  Which one is more trustworthy, Christ’ statement or that of Josephus?
  3. Philo of Alexandria, Jewish philosopher (c. 20 BC to 50 AD) did not quote from apocrypha.  But he did not quote from Ezekiel, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentation, Ecclesiastes, Esther and Daniel either.  For detail refer to my early post: philo-and-canon-of-old-testament
  4. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria from 328 to 373 AD, did not include apocrypha as part of the Old Testament canon.  This is not true and misleading statement.  Athanasius included Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah and omitted Esther in his list of Old Testament books.  While he did consider apocrypha (and Esther) to have inferior status, he nevertheless still quoted them as Scripture in his works – for the details refer to my earlier post:
  5. athanasius-and-canon-of-old-testament

  6. Melito, bishop of Sardis in late 2nd century AD did not name any apocrypha in his list of Hebrew canon.  Webster did not tell his readers that Melito’s list omits Esther.  Since it is Hebrew canon it is obvious why it does not include apocrypha.  For detail refer to my earlier post:
  7. melito-and-canon-of-old-testament

  8. Origen, Epiphanius, Gregory Naziansen, Hillary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome omit apocrypha.  Again Webster gives misleading statements.  For more details refer to my earlier posts:







Is William Webster reliable and/or trustworthy source on Canon of Old Testament of the first four centuries of Christianity?  I leave it to my readers to judge.

July 9, 2010 / vivator

Did Augustine consider apocryphal books to be non authoritative in defining doctrine?

William Webster, former Catholic converted to Calvinism, wrote that Augustine (354 to 430 AD), bishop of Hippo, believed that the Church held the apocrypha to be canonical in the broad sense that these writings provided a good example and an inspiration to perseverance in the faith (Webster: The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, page 13). Webster drew his conclusion from statement made by (Catholic) Cardinal Cajetan (1469 to 1534) who considered those books to be non-canonical in confirming matters of faith and canonical for edification of the faithful.  Cardinal Cajetan was entitled to have his opinion but he was not in authority to define canon of Scripture.  The question is did Augustine share the same view, i.e. those books have second class status?  Some of Augustine’s works are available online at – anybody can browse and check all scriptural citation in his works.  Augustine cited from those books without any distinction, i.e. as Scripture – from my observation apocryphal books he mostly quoted are Wisdom and Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus).  Below are examples taken from some of Augustine’s other works (underlined emphasis are mine):

But, in case anyone should think that those servants of God, whom you mentioned as having been put to death by barbarians ought to have escaped that death, as the three men were delivered from the flames, and Daniel from the lions, let him know that such miracles were wrought to make the kings who had handed them over to torment believe that the Hebrews worship the true God. Thus it was the hidden judgment and mercy of God to grant salvation in that way to those kings. But He did not do so for King Antiochus, who put the Macchabees to death with cruel torments; on the contrary, He inflicted a more severe punishment on the hard heart of the king by reason of their glorious martyrdom. For so it is written. Read what was said by one of them who was sixth to suffer: ‘After him, they brought the sixth, and when he had been racked and tortured, and was about to die, he said: Be not deceived; we suffer these things for ourselves, for having sinned against our God, and these are worthy things which are done to us. But do not think that thou shalt escape unpunished for that thou hast willed by thy laws to fight against God and his law.’ [2 Maccabees 7:18-19]

Augustine, Letter to Severus

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 18, page 251

Consequently, that saying of the Apostle: ‘Let your petitions be made known to God,’ [Philippians 4:6] is not to be taken in the sense that they are actually made known to God, who certainly knew them before they were uttered, but they are made known to us before God, through our patience, but not before men through our boasting. Or, perhaps they might be even be made known to the angels who are with God, so that they may, in a sense, offer our prayers to God and consult Him about them, and bring us back His answer, either openly or secretly, according as they know what He wills, as it befits them to know. Thus, an angel said to a man: ‘And now, when thou didst pray, thou and Sara, I offered the remembrance of your prayer in the sight of the splendour of God.’ [Tobit 12:12]

Augustine, Letter to Proba

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 18, page 390

Certainly, there was a reason and no slight one why He [God] delivered Noe [Noah] from the flood [Genesis 6-8], Lot from the fire from heaven [Genesis 19:29], Isaac from the uplifted sword [Genesis 22:1-13], Joseph from the calumny of a woman and from imprisonment [Genesis 39:7-18, 41:14], Moses from the Egyptians [Exodus 3-13], Rahab from the destruction of the city [Joshua 6:16-25], Susanna from the false witnesses [Daniel 13:1-62], Daniel from the lions [Daniel 6:21-23], the three men from the flames [Daniel 3], and the other ‘fathers who cried to Him and were saved’ [Psalms 22:5]

Augustine, Letter to Honoratus Chapter 11

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 20, page 81

If our will, remaining in itself, and without any change in itself, expresses words through which it manifests itself, after a fashion, how much more easily can the omnipotent God, maintaining His nature hidden and unchangeable, appear under any form He wills and to whom He wills, since He made all things out of nothing [2 Maccabees 7:28], and remaining in Himself, ‘reneweth all things.’ [Wisdom 7:27]

Augustine, Letter to Paulina, Chapter 47

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 20, page 216

The fact that Christ had not yet come at that time should not be an obstacle to prevent us from accepting this interpretation of the Apostle Peter’s words about Christ preaching to those spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:19] who had been incredulous in the days of Noe [Noah]. It was in the flesh that He had not yet come, since ‘After this he was seen upon earth and conversed with men.’ [Baruch 3:37]

Augustine, Letter to Evodius

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 20, page 394

When He [Christ] assumed human form He did not abandon His divine operations, nor did He cease to reach ‘from end to end mightily and to order all things sweetly.’ [Wisdom 8:1]

Augustine, Sermon 187 For the Feast of the Nativity

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 38, page 13

Your letter greatly distressed me, and I confess floundering for quite a while, not knowing how to reply. I had no ideas, when the words of Scripture came to mind: “If you have understanding, answer your neighbour; but if not, let your hand be on your mouth.” [Sirach or Ecclesiasticus 5:12]

Augustine, Letter to Classicianus

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 81, page 11

Because of people who think that that which they do not deny is a good ought to be put off, these frightening words of the divine Scriptures strike like a thunderbolt: “Do not delay to turn to the Lord, nor postpone it from day to day; for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will go forth and at the time of punishment you will perish.” [Sirach or Ecclesiasticus 5:7]

Augustine, Letter to Classicianus

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 81, pages 22-23

June 27, 2010 / vivator

a simple analogy to explain the difference among monergism, synergism, semi-pelagianism and pelagianism

In the analogy we have three persons, let’s call them John, Jim and Theo.  John and Jim represent all men – John represent those will go to heaven, which in this analogy is represented by going to the concert, of which a ticket, representing salvation, is required.  Jim represents those who do not go to heaven while Theo represents God.


John and Jim are not aware of the concert – they even cannot afford to buy ticket no matter how hard they work.  Theo decided to send free ticket to John.  John found the ticket inside his mail box – it made him interested in the concert and therefore he goes to the concert.  Jim did not receive free ticket – he cannot go to the concert and remains unaware of the concert.

Protestants and “Bible only” Christians who follow Calvinism or Reformed theology are monergists.


John and Jim are not aware of the concert – they even cannot afford to buy ticket no matter how hard they work.  Theo took the initiative – he offered free tickets to both John and Jim.  John said he wanted to go to the concert and accepted the offer.  Jim, on the other hand, said he is not interested in the concert and declined the offer.

Catholics, Protestants and “Bible only” Christians who follow Arminianism are synergists


John and Jim are aware of the concert – but they cannot afford to buy ticket no matter how hard they work.  John decided he wanted to go to the concert.  Realizing he will never be able to buy the ticket, he contacted Theo for help – Theo gave him free ticket.  Jim, on the other hand, is not interested to go to concert and does not bother to contact Theo.


John and Jim are aware of the concert and they can afford to buy ticket, though they must work hard. John decided he wanted to go to the concert – he has been working hard for it. Optionally he can ask Theo for help – if he does Theo will give him money – a gift from him (not a loan) and it can cover partial cost of the ticket.  Jim, on the other hand, is not interested to go to concert and does not bother to do anything.

Pelagian and semi-Pelagian were condemned at Council of Orange in 529 AD.