Seven Replies Re Interceding Saints (vs. Lucas Banzoli)

Seven Replies Re Interceding Saints (vs. Lucas Banzoli) May 25, 2022

Lucas Banzoli is a very active Protestant evangelical apologist in Brazil, who writes quite a bit in opposition to the Catholic Church and Catholic doctrine. He has a Master’s degree in theology, a degree and postgraduate work in history, a license in letters, and is a history teacher, author of 25 books, as well as blogmaster for six blogs. He’s also active on YouTube.

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I am responding to his article, “7 Perguntas aos católicos sobre a intercessão dos santos” (9-13-12) [Seven Questions for Catholics About Intercession]. His words will be in blue. I use Google Translate to transfer Portugese into English.

Below is a list of saints who supposedly cure the ailments of Catholics who pray to them. With all these saints, the Catholic doesn’t even need to go to the pharmacy or go to the doctor (laughs): [followed by a long list of such patron saints]

Of course, the Church, like the Bible, fully recognizes routine medical care through natural means (as I have written about) and it also recognizes supernatural healings (sometimes, not all the time, according to God’s will). It’s not either/or. It’s the current Protestant “faith and prosperity teachers” who tell people not to seek medical help, and falsely claim that God always heals (a most unbiblical doctrine). I opposed these dangerous errors as unbiblical in one of my very first apologetics efforts, as a Protestant in 1982. So “cast out the beam from your own eye” as Jesus said . . . Catholics have never taught that people shouldn’t seek conventional medical care.

Protestants object that certain saints have special or particular influence with God, and more efficacious prayers in specific areas (our notion of patron saints). I don’t see why. The Bible clearly teaches that different people have different levels of grace (Acts 4:33; 2 Cor 8:7; Eph 4:7; 1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 3:18). From this it follows, it seems to me, that some might specialize in certain areas more so than others, according to different parts of the Body of Christ (there is much Pauline teaching on that). Why should this be either controversial or objectionable? It’s usually objected to because of observed excesses, while an ironclad argument against it from Scripture is rarely made. And we see above that Lucas merely mocks it (which impresses no thinker as any sort of rational argument).

James 5:17-18 (RSV) Eli’jah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. [18] Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.

It sure looks like Elijah had a particular influence over weather, doesn’t it? Therefore, why couldn’t someone ask him to pray to God about the weather, rather than someone else, since he had this record of asking for rain to cease, and it did for three and-a-half years? So he became, in effect, the “patron saint of meteorological petitions.”

We do roughly the same in this life with friends, on the level of empathy. So, for example, if a woman has difficulty with miscarriage or difficult pregnancies or deliveries, she might go to a woman who has experienced the same thing and ask her to pray to God for her. I don’t see any intrinsic difficulty here. Catholics don’t ever deny anyone the ability to “go straight to God.” But we assert with James that certain prayers of certain people have more power (also with regard to certain specificities); therefore it is sensible to go to them as intermediaries.

Now let me ask you a few questions:

#1 Does “Saint Lazarus” only pray for lepers? If, for example, I don’t have leprosy, but I have a kidney disease, and I pray to Saint Lazarus, won’t he answer me?

I see no reason for why we should think so. This is based on a prior fallacy: “to specialize in one thing means that one can’t do anything else.” So, for example, I specialize in apologetics. Because of this, people come to me with apologetics questions, knowing that I am a professional apologist. Does it follow that I don’t love chess, travel, the outdoors, animals, good movies, classical music, children, or that I can’t answer any questions on anything other than apologetics, etc? Of course not. Likewise, with Lazarus or any other saint, by reasonable analogy.

#2 How does “Saint Lazarus” know the requests of all the thousands of faithful who pray to him in the four corners of the world, in all ages of humanity and at the same time, if he does not have the character of omnipresence? For example, if a Catholic in China is praying to Saint Lazarus at exactly the same time that a Catholic in Brazil, another in the United States and another in Angola are praying exactly the same, who will Saint Lazarus answer? If he can serve everyone together, how can he be in these various places at the same time, and hear all these simultaneously, without granting him any divine attributes of omnipresence or omniscience?

Omnipresence means being everywhere at once. Omniscience means having all possible knowledge. These are attributes of God only. In order to answer multiple prayers (even offered at the same time) it’s not necessary to possess either of those traits. It’s only necessary to be outside of time and to have greater powers of comprehension (gifts from God to us in heaven). Having great knowledge can still be millions of “miles” away from having all knowledge, which is what omniscience is. It’s a false dilemma or an attempted “false equivalence.” To enter into eternity and heaven is to leave conventional time and enter into eternity, which is a completely different metaphysical reality.

St. John stated: “when he appears we shall be like him” (1 Jn 3:2), and our Lord Jesus said, “in the resurrection they . . . are like angels in heaven” (Mt 22:30). St. Paul teaches the same:

1 Corinthians 2:9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,” (cf. Is 64:4)

1 Corinthians 13:9-10, 12 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; [10] but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. . . . [12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully,

1 Corinthians 15:51-53 Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, [52] in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. [53] For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.

Thus it looks like the saints in heaven will possess very great knowledge. But it’s also true that they will be outside of time, as part of what it means to enter into eternity. Is this just “Catholic stuff”? No. Protestant writer Ray Stedman, in an excellent article, explains in agreement:

The problem . . . arises only when we insist on projecting the concepts of time into eternity. We constantly think of heaven as a continuation on a larger and perfect scale of life on earth. Locked into our world of space and time, we find it very difficult to imagine life proceeding on any other terms. But we must remember that time is time and eternity is eternity and never the twain shall meet. We experience something of the same difficulty in dealing with the mathematical concept of infinity. Many people imagine infinity to be a very large number, but it is not. The difference is that if you subtract 1 from a very large number, you have one less, but if you subtract 1 from infinity you still have infinity. . . .

The thing we must remember in dealing with this matter of life beyond death is that when time ends, eternity begins. They are not the same, and we must not make them the same. Time means that we are locked into a pattern of chronological sequence which we are helpless to break. For example, all human beings sharing the same room will experience an earthquake together. While there are varying feelings and reactions, everyone will feel the earthquake at the same time. But in eternity events do not follow a sequential pattern. There is no past or future, only the present NOW. Within that NOW all events happen. . . . (“Time and Eternity”)

This being the case, answering multiple prayers that may be simultaneous in earthly time, is no problem at all for a saint, who is no longer within time or constrained by it. Many Christian thinkers (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox alike) agree that eternity is a timeless concept by nature. It’s not simply “time extended forever.”

The only other “difficulty” a Protestant might have is with the notion of dead saints being aware of earthly events. The Bible clearly states that they are aware:

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

“Witnesses” here is the Greek word martus, from which is derived the English word “martyr.”

1) Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Joseph H. Thayer, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 4th edition, 1977; orig. 1901, 392) defines it — as used in this verse — as follows: “One who is a spectator of anything, e.g. of a contest, Heb 12:1.”

[Strong’s word #3144; similar usages cited by Thayer: Lk 24:48; Acts 1:8; 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39; 13:31; 26:16; 1 Pet 5:1 – the sense is indisputable in these other verses]

2) Word Studies in the New Testament (Marvin R. Vincent, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980; orig. 1887; vol. 4, 536), another standard Protestant language source, comments on this verse as follows:

‘Witnesses’ does not mean spectators, but those who have borne witness to the truth, as those enumerated in chapter 11. Yet the idea of spectators is implied, and is really the principal idea. The writer’s picture is that of an arena in which the Christians whom he addresses are contending in a race, while the vast host of the heroes of faith who, after having borne witness to the truth, have entered into their heavenly rest, watches the contest from the encircling tiers of the arena, compassing and overhanging it like a cloud, filled with lively interest and sympathy, and lending heavenly aid.

3) Word Pictures in the New Testament (A. T. Robertson [Baptist], Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1932, vol. 5, 432), comments:
‘Cloud of witnesses’ (nephos marturon . . . The metaphor refers to the great amphitheatre with the arena for the runners and the tiers upon tiers of seats rising up like a cloud. The martures here are not mere spectators (theatai), but testifiers (witnesses) who testify from their own experience (11:2,4-5, 33, 39) to God’s fulfilling promises as shown in chapter 11.

[Note that the notion of “spectators” is the primary metaphor — the arena — so that both meanings: that of spectators and witnesses in the sense of example are present. Neither can be ruled out]

4) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (ed. Gerhard Kittel & Gerhard Friedrich; tr. and abridged by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1985; 567), an impeccable and widely-used linguistic (non-Catholic) source, states: “In Heb. 12:1 the witnesses watching the race seem to be confessing witnesses (cf. 11:2), but this does not exclude the element of factual witness.”

So our four non-Catholic language references all confirm that the element of “spectatorship,” which lends itself to the Catholic notion of communion of saints, where saints in heaven are aware of, and observe events on earth, is present in Hebrews 12:1, and cannot be ruled out by any means, on the basis of a doctrinal bias.

Then the objection is to asking dead saints to intercede in the first place. I reply to that as follows:

1) We ask others on earth to pray for us.

2) Angels (many passages) and dead saints (Rev 6:9-10) care very much for us.

3) Angels are aware of earthly events (Lk 15:10; 1 Cor 4:9, and many other passages); so are dead saints (Heb 12:1). Moreover, angels are extremely intelligent and can deduce our thoughts and follow our actions.

4) We observe both angels (Rev 8:3-4) and dead saints (Rev 5:8) presenting our prayers to God, and know from other passages that they intercede for us (Jer 15:1).

5) The Bible says that the prayers of the righteous are very powerful in their effects (Jas 5:16-18). How much more the prayers of perfected saints (Mt 22:30; 1 Jn 3:2) and always-sinless angels?

6) Men also talk to dead men (1 Sam 28:12-15; cf. Mt 17:1-3; 27:50-53; Rev 11:3) and angels on numerous occasions, and angels initiate discourse with human beings (Gen 21:17-18; when Jesus Christ was born); this is scarcely distinguishable from invocation of them.

7) Petitions made to angels are granted (Genesis, chapters 19, 32, 48).

8) Therefore, it follows that we can ask either to intercede.

#3 And if, while our Saint Lazarus intercedes for the Chinese Catholic leper, ten other faithful begin to pray to this saint simultaneously, what does he do? How does he have time to specifically intercede for each of their requests, without leaving anyone “to the back of the line”? If the answer is that time in Heaven is different from time here and therefore this problem does not exist, how can we measure the correspondence between time in eternity and time here?

This is the same question posed in #2, which I just answered. We don’t have to “measure” anything. We simply recognize that being in heaven with God, in eternity, is fundamentally different from operating in chronological, sequential time.

#4 How much time does a saint spend praying for the faithful and how much time does he spend doing other things? Does the saint have nothing else to do but spend the whole day interceding for each of the thousands of faithful who pray to him? Does he still find time to enjoy Heaven, to praise, to converse with the other saints, or is he all the time interceding?

This, too, was already answered above, because Lucas seems to not comprehend the nature of eternity. Saints in heaven have all the time in the world to do whatever they like. There are no temporal limits, as in this life.

#5 How can we be absolutely sure that all these saints are really in Heaven, if the Catholic Church teaches that no one can be sure of salvation?

We can’t be absolutely sure who is in heaven, apart from having faith that the Catholic Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, in proclaiming that a saint is indeed in heaven. If we attempt to ask the intercession of a person who in fact was not saved and in heaven, certainly God would direct our prayer to someone who is. The Catholic Church also doesn’t teach the utter inability to know whether we are saved or not (“eternal insecurity”). It teaches the biblical view of moral assurance of salvation.

#6 Even if the saints were really in Heaven, as the Bible says that “David did not ascend to heaven” (Acts 2:34), and that “in the hereafter, where you are going, there is neither work nor design, nor knowledge, nor any wisdom” (Ecc.9:10)? How can there be so much intercession in Heaven, if there is no knowledge (of things that happen on earth), no wisdom (necessary requirement for a well-made intercession), and no works (and interceding is a work)? Note that the text is not just talking about the destiny of the body, but the “beyond [Sheol]” (v.10), which immortalists say is the gathering place of souls after death.

Contrary to Lucas’ claim, there is extraordinary knowledge and wisdom in heaven. He cites the classic proof text always produced by annihilationists like himself (and, for example, the Arian heretics, Jehovah’s Witnesses), which is taken radically out of context.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 . . . the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward . . .

If the first clause is understood in an absolute sense, then so must the second clause be interpreted. Thus, the dead would have no “reward” as well as no consciousness. This would deny the resurrection and the rewarding of the righteous (see Rev 20:11-13; 21:6-7; 22:12, 14). Obviously, then, a qualification of some sort has to be placed on Ecclesiastes 9:5. In the very next verse, we learn that:

. . . neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.

In other words, in relation to this world, the dead know nothing, but they are in a different realm, where they do know something. As further examples of this limited sense of “not knowing anything” in Scripture, see 1 Samuel 20:39 and 2 Samuel 15:11, where an interpretation of unconsciousness would be ridiculous.

Beyond all that, the passage was talking about Sheol, or Hades (see Luke 16), which is not heaven at all, but rather, the place where souls went before the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was sort of a holding tank. Jesus in Luke 16 proves that souls in Sheol are quite conscious indeed.

For many other disproofs of annihilationism and/or soul sleep, see my papers, “Soul Sleep”: A Thorough Biblical Refutation [11-28-07]  and Biblical Evidence for an Eternal Hell [1998]

#7 And, finally, the most important question: is it not enough to pray to the Saint called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to fulfill all the offices of all the other saints? Wouldn’t I, praying to Jesus, be answered in what would be answered if I prayed to Saint Lazarus? Which is more efficient: praying to the saint or praying directly to Jesus?

The Bible teaches that “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16). This means, that, yes, it is more “efficient” to ask a person more righteous than we are to pray to God on our behalf. Hey, it’s in the Bible! I didn’t make this up. Nor did the Catholic Church. In the larger context of that passage, James also states:

James 5:14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

The passage doesn’t say “go right to God, and if you don’t, it is a danger of idolatry.” No; the sick person is advised to go to the elders, and have them pray, and anoint. The dead in Christ are more alive and more aware than we are, so it’s foolish to exclude them from our prayer life. James 5:14 and James 5:16 clearly teach a notion of “differential prayer factors”.

Moses said: “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin” (Ex 32:30). One of the sinning Israelites could have asked Moses to pray for him, knowing that he had a relationship with God Himself and was a holy man. It’s perfectly biblical . . . In Numbers 14:19 Moses prayed: “Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray thee . . . ” Moses and Aaron stopped a plague that had already “gone forth from the Lord” (Num 16:46-48). God proclaimed: “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel” (Num 25:11). So Moses and Aaron might be called the “patron saints of preventing Gods wrath.”

Then there is the remarkable passage where Abraham “stood before the LORD” (Gen 18:22) and interceded for the people of Sodom, asking God to spare the wicked city if there were “fifty righteous” there (18:23-26). Then he “bargains down” God to agree to not judge the city if 45 (18:28) or 40 (18:29) or 30 (18:30) or 20 (18:31) or ten (18:32) righteous could be found. But alas, there were not even ten, and so it was destroyed. But this shows the extraordinary power even to “persuade” God that a holy, righteous person has. Obviously, we ought to add Abraham, too, to the “patron saints of preventing Gods wrath” too. He almost saved two cities from destruction (if only there had been ten righteous persons in them).

Moreover, since Catholics believe that Mary was without sin and is the greatest creature God ever made, and the Mother of God to boot, we think her prayers have the most power of any creature’s prayer. It makes entire biblical sense.

I look forward to Catholic responses.

He got his wish! I look even more eagerly forward to his counter-reply.

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Photo credit: Saint Paul Writing His Epistles (c. 1620), attributed to Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Summary: Brazilian Protestant apologist Lucas Banzoli asks seven questions regarding interceding saints. I’m only too happy to oblige! But I wonder if he will counter-reply?

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