October 11, 2019

It was as well-attested in the early Church as the Canon of Scripture

This is getting into “classic” Newman argumentation: of the sort that he massively utilized in his Essay on Development: by which he argued himself into the Church (and me as well!). I love these analogies, and they are rock-solid, “dynamite” arguments to use with Protestants, who want to accept the biblical canon but deny the equally tradition-based prayers for the dead.


As to the evidence, I consider there is evidence enough that the Church prayed for the dead in Christ, but not evidence that they knew why – for they give various reasons. Tertullian . . . gives as a reason that the departed may have part in the first Resurrection – but other petitions offered referred to their having rest and peace now, and a merciful trial at the last day. . . . As to the date of the evidence, I would only suggest this – that as far as I know, there is as good evidence for this usage as for the genuineness and authenticity of many books of the New Testament . . .

[M]any books of the New Testament . . . are received on the custom of reading them in some Churches from the beginning, the testimony of one or two Fathers to one or two verses in them, and the fiat of the 4th century which formed the Canon. E.g. I speak without accurate investigation, but I believe St Paul to Philemon is received on a reference to it in Tertullian, . . . on a passage in Caius, and then by Origen and Eusebius. This is a favorable specimen – I think I am right in saying that not a single Latin Father for 3 centuries quotes the Epistle to the Hebrews, but Tertullian who gives it to S. Barnabas, Irenaeus and Hippolytus seem to have thought it not St Paul’s, or not canonical – at all events it was not, I believe, received by the Roman Church in early times. I may be incorrect in these particular instances, but they serve as illustrations of what I think will be found to hold, viz that we receive great part of the Canon on less evidence than that produceable for prayers for the dead in Christ. The main evidence for both is the reading of the one and the use of the other in the Church from the beginning. (Letters & Diaries, v. 6; To George Stanley Faber, 16 May 1838)


See My Three Newman Quotations Books (e-books only $2.99)

The Quotable Newman, Vol. II (Aug. 2013, 290p)

Related Reading:

Baptizing the Dead? (Odd Verse 1 Corinthians 15:29) [6-5-02]

Baptized for the Dead: The “UnProtestant” Verse (1 Cor 15:29) [2004]

New (?) Biblical Argument: Prayers for the Dead [2004]

Prayer for the Dead & Retroactive Prayer (Luther & Protestants) [3-22-05]

Does God Forbid All Contact with the Dead? [6-23-07]

John Wesley Believed in Prayer for the Dead [7-13-09]

Paul Prayed for Dead Onesiphorus (Protestant Commentaries) [7-14-09]

Fasting for the Dead in the Old Testament (Not Unlike Praying) [11-4-12]

Dialogue on Prayer for the Dead & the Bible [11-5-12]

Dialogue w Calvinists on Prayer for the Dead & Purgatory [3-18-15]

St. Paul Prayed for a Dead Man: Onesiphorus [8-19-15]

“Armstrong vs. Geisler” #4: Prayer for the Dead [2-20-17]

St. Paul Prayed for Onesiphorus, Who Was Dead [National Catholic Register, 3-19-17]

Was Onesiphorus Dead When Paul Prayed for Him?: Data from 16 Protestant Commentaries (1992-2016) [3-20-17]

Prayers to Saints & for the Dead: Six Biblical Proofs [6-8-18]

4 Biblical Proofs for Prayers to Saints and for the Dead [National Catholic Register, 6-16-18]

Reflections on Interceding for the Lost Souls [National Catholic Register, 6-26-18]

Dialogue w Lutherans: “Proxy Baptism”? (1 Cor 15:29) [12-28-18]

C. S. Lewis Believed in Purgatory & Prayer for the Dead [6-22-10; rev. 10-8-19]


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December 28, 2018

These lively exchanges occurred on my Facebook page underneath a link to my post, Baptized for the Dead: THE “UnProtestant” Verse (1 Cor 15:29). Both men are Lutheran pastors (LCMS). Ken Howes’ words will be in blue; Eric Phillips’ in green.


He [Presbyterian Matt Slick, commenting on the passage] gives it the old college try, and e for effort, but I find it quite a stretch. In context, Paul is not rhetorically disagreeing with the practice he mentions in passing, but rather, agreeing with it.

One reason why I believe that is because Paul continues with analogous examples of practices that he is himself engaged in: “Why am I in peril every hour? . . . I die every day!”

He’s doing penance (on behalf of the dead): just like he prayed for the dead Onesiphorus. Therefore, I think the interpretation of St. Francis de Sales is the plausible one: he is referring metaphorically (cf. “baptism of fire”) to real penances on behalf of the dead: that he himself practices.

He practices them and sanctions them because of the resurrection of the dead: the lacking of which would make such practices futile or null and void.

I have prayed for the dead, and I’m sure I will again. But the doctrine of Purgatory is grossly injurious to the Gospel.

50 Bible Passages on Purgatory & Analogous Processes

The de Sales explanation is better than some of those others, but it’s still not very good.

1) It is not true that Jesus used “baptism” to mean “afflictions and penances.” He used it to refer to His death.

2) St. Paul doesn’t use the word even in that sense. Everywhere else he uses the noun or the verb, it is plainly in reference to the Sacrament of Baptism.


Mark 10:38-39 (RSV) But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” [39] And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;

Luke 12:50 I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!

Why would that not refer to His passion as well as His death? His death was but a moment. The entire Passion was the baptism (“of fire”), or so it seems most plausible to me. The Bible says that not only His death saves us, but also His “stripes” (i.e., wounds). We’re saved by His blood, too, no?

John the Baptist:

Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Luke 3:16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

St. Paul could use the meaning in this fashion once. I submit that there would be several things that he said (or applied one specific meaning of a word among many) only once. The context and comparison to 2 Maccabees 12:44: “It is superfluous and vain to pray for the dead if the dead rise not again” are key, I think, to unpack his intention.

I wasn’t suggesting that Jesus applied it only to the moment when His soul left His body. He was referring to the whole event.

Then how does that exclude “afflictions and penances”?

He wasn’t talking about affliction of the self-inflicted, non-lethal sort, and He certainly wasn’t talking about penance.

He was partially referring to His Passion but that’s not penance? It’s not if you don’t think that Jesus’ suffering has power to save souls. The Bible teaches repeatedly that even our own sufferings can do that!

You just need to be a bit more systematically biblical, Eric. :-)

Penance flows out of repentance, and Jesus had nothing to repent of. You’re basically suggesting that His vicarious suffering could be inexactly labeled as vicarious penance. And perhaps it could. But inexact labeling doesn’t get you want you want exegetically.

The point is that Jesus died. And that is why He could use the metaphor, “be baptized.” Because He was overwhelmed. And to help us understand what it would mean for us to be baptized into Him.

Were we saved by His Passion and blood as well as by His death?:

Romans 3:25 whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins;

Romans 5:9 Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.

Hebrews 9:14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

1 Peter 1:18-19 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, [19] but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Revelation 1:5 . . . To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood

Yes, I agree, that “penance” in His case has a different meaning than in ours, because He was without sin. It’s more technically accurate to say that He suffered for the sake of our salvation, and that we can literally join in that suffering, as Paul teaches: most notably in Colossians 1:24.

But Jesus was also baptized, and He had no need for that, either, since for us, it is to regenerate and wash away sins. Jesus, of course, needs neither thing. You still haven’t told us what 1 Cor 15:29 means.

Dave, nobody knows what it means, so I feel no obligation to join the long line of people with half-baked theories. I think it’s a reference to an early practice that was so short-lived, likely also so local, that no one remembered what that verse meant even a hundred years later.

Thanks for affirming the point that I made, except that I think Catholics do know.

There is no such thing as “the Passion and blood of Jesus” apart from His death.

I never said the blood and Passion were apart from His death. But it is suffering on our behalf and it was Jesus’ baptism of fire.

But you did say that self-inflicted suffering entirely disconnected from death could count as “Baptism,” even though the only metaphorical way that Christ used the word was to refer to His passion-and-death.

But there are also the statements by John the Baptist, saying that we will be baptized by fire (Mt 3:11; Lk 3:16).

And there is the fact that we participate in the redemptive suffering of Christ, according to many statements of Paul, that I linked to.


On this passage, everybody is in the dark. Francis de Sales adds a theory to the heap. That’s all.

The beauty of St. Francis’ take is that it makes sense of immediate context and also the closest (clearly analogous, I submit) scriptural cross-reference: 2 Maccabees 12:44.

I’m interested in what all Scripture means, because it is there for us: for instruction. I’m saying, “here is our theory as to what it means; show us something more plausible if you think it exists, and show us specifically how our interpretation is wrong.”

Catholics have seen all kinds of fruit in following Pauline thought and participating in redemptive / penitential suffering on behalf of the souls of others: alive and dead.

If 2 Maccabees used the term “baptize,” then we would have a clear analogy to 1 Corinthians 15.

There is plenty of analogy:

1 Corinthians 15:29 [RSV] Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

2 Maccabees 12:44 [RSV] For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.

Thus, K. Stauffer observed:

Paul writes about the Corinthian baptism for the dead, quite in the spirit, indeed in the same form as the argument of II Macc. 12. Accordingly he conceives the Corinthian baptism pro-defunctis as an analogy to the Jewish oblatio pro defunctis. (New Testament Theology, London: SCM, 5th ed., 1955 [cited in a paper on 1 Corinthians 15:29] )

He seems to think it is water baptism, but otherwise he sees an analogy. See also:

“1 Cor. 15:29 and Taharat Hamet: Purification of the Dead as Proof of Resurrection?”, by Hanoch Ben Keshet.

“1 Corinthians 15:29”, by Rick Wadholm.

Dave, the only similarity is that something is done for the dead. In one case it is baptism, in another case it is an offering.


I doubt that Lutherans are clueless. This is the first time I’ve been presented with this question, so I checked what a Lutheran response might be. To use this verse as being analogous to the verse in 2 Maccabees on which the Roman Church bases its prayers for the dead would seem to require approval of the practice of vicarious, or what you call “proxy”, baptism–something done by us for the benefit of those already deceased.

A quick look suggests that Lutheran theologians have understood this to mean that our baptism remains with us beyond our own deaths, to the resurrection of our own bodies. It relates to our own hope of resurrection, not to some practice of being baptized on behalf of others. Lockwood, in his commentary, says that there is no suggestion anywhere else in Scripture of some kind of vicarious baptism on behalf of others. He doesn’t rule out that there may have been some practice in Corinth on those lines, in which case St. Paul’s comment wouldn’t necessarily be endorsing that practice but only saying that it would be completely pointless if there were no resurrection.

I took a look at some ancient Church fathers’ comments on the verse. Lockwood is evidently echoing Ambrosiaster (late 4th century) “It seems that some people were at that time being baptized for the dead because they were afraid that someone who was not baptized would either not rise at all or else rise merely in order to be condemned.” (Commentary on Paul’s Epistles) Didymus the Blind (319-398) says this was a practice of the Marcionites: “The Marcionites baptizre the living on behalf of dead unbelievers, not knowing that baptism saves only the person who receives it.” (Pauline Commentary From the Greek Church.) St. John Chrysostom (Homily 40) also attributes this practice to the Marcionites. That would seem to support Lockwood’s comment and even support it with further information.

Another Lutheran commentator, R.C.H. Lenski, says “‘The dead’ of whom Paul speaks are not any persons who are dead but the baptized Christians who died in such Christians in the sure hope of a blessed resurrection. Their example, i.e., their baptism and their godly life and final death in this sure hope, furnishes the *motive* that prompts the living also to desire and to receive baptism for the same blessed purpose. Paul’s question, therefore, has this sense: that all who are thus moved to receive baptism have no hope, and their baptism is wholly in vain if there is no resurrection (for Christ and for Christians). This is the force of: ‘Else what shall they do?’, etc.” He mentions that, in addition to Chrysostom, Tertullian and Epiphanius mention the practice of vicarious baptism as one carried on by heretics.

So your implicit analogy of prayers for the dead to these vicarious baptisms would necessarily take you somewhere I don’t think you want to go. To try to get this verse to support your analogy without endorsing vicarious or “proxy” baptism would require really tortured exegesis. All that said, as we know the saints pray for us before God, it would seem to be fitting that we also pray for them, who like us, will be raised in the body to live in the new heaven and the new earth.

Our prayers would not be that they be spared any kind of danger, or for his receiving them into his kingdom, for they are in no more danger and they are already in his kingdom; but to thank and praise the Lord for having had them go before us, providing to us examples of, to use a very Catholic expression, faith and morals, that we might follow those examples and, when the time comes, join them in eternal life. We can also thank and praise him for the various benefits that we have by means of their labors–the Blessed Virgin for bearing him, the apostles for bringing the faith to other nations, and the other saints for their respective services to him. This is of course an imperfect response to you, done in about twenty minutes, but I think it is a fair one as far as it goes.

It’s by far the meatiest and most substantive counter-reply yet. Thanks! We’re not arguing for vicarious baptism, so that’s neither here nor there. The Mormons are doing that. St. Francis’ argument (which I follow) states:

This passage properly understood evidently shows that it was the custom of the primitive Church to watch, pray, fast, for the souls of the departed.

None of that is being water-baptized for them. It’s figurative or metaphorical “baptism” (i.e., by fire).

So the analogy to 2 Macc 12:44 is: pray for the dead = fasting and doing other penances for the dead. It’s all in what Paul means by “baptism” here. We know that in Scripture the word can mean something other than the sacrament of baptism.

I think the Lutheran exegesis is not “really tortured” but it is not plausible or straightforward to me at all. I think it’s really stretching it. I believe that the Protestant problems in exegeting the verse stem directly by their rejection of penance (above all for the dead) before they even get to the verse.  Thus they rule out what I believe is far and away the most plausible take: the one that easily explains direct context and the related cross-reference (that I would say Paul had directly in mind).

At least you take some sort of position (I think). Your fellow Lutheran pastor, Rev. Phillips, thinks, on the other hand: “nobody knows what it means, so I feel no obligation to join the long line of people with half-baked theories.”

I would rather speculate and be wrong in good faith than give up and act as if a passage of Scripture is impossible to understand. So in that sense, you and I are closer in spirit than Eric and I.

When all’s said in done, I think my conclusion in my book chapter on this from 2004 is a good one-sentence summary:

This verse offers a classic example of Protestant confusion and incoherence in the face of a biblical passage that appears to be utterly at odds with Protestant theology.

Dave, if Ken gave you a set opinion, I missed it. He gave a survey of multiple opinions, including a number of Patristic quotations that back up what I am saying.

That’s why I replied, ” At least you take some sort of position (I think).” He started out by saying, “I doubt that Lutherans are clueless.” You seem to think that they are, along with everyone else. Me, I think Scripture is more perspicuous than that. :-)

Since we’re not arguing for proxy baptism, that is a non sequitur; it’s arguing against Mormons, not Catholics; and we agree with you and the Fathers on that point.

My position is that since our baptism is not for someone else, then the baptism for the dead, in the only sense that pertains for us, has to do not with any work we do for the deceased and hence has nothing to do with the passage in 2 Maccabees, but with the resurrection of the body and life everlasting which every true Christian, Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox, confesses.

It’s the same as Luther and Lenski. It’s true that Lockwood doesn’t stake out a position very forcefully, though he’s certainly pointed in the same direction. I don’t think the verse, when rightly considered, is confusing. Indeed, it’s sufficiently confusing if not rightly considered, that I might be inclined to take it up as a sermon text or the subject of a Bible study at some future time. By the way, something as to which I would agree with Catholics and with my fellow Lutheran pastors and theologians, and disagree with a certain sort of Protestants who have a distorted understanding of the principle of sola Scriptura, is that the writings of the early Church Fathers are enormously beneficial in the study of Scripture.

I remember a long time ago, before I studied at seminary, having a conversation with a Lutheran pastor. I said, “But traditions can take you a hundred different ways. What if Irenaeus said one thing, Augustine another, Jerome another, Aquinas another, Luther another?” He answered, “Very true. The value of tradition is that if Irenaeus, Augustine, Jerome, Aquinas and Luther all say the same thing, it’s crazy and even a little presumptuous to try to reinvent the wheel.”

I like how he thinks. Both you and Eric, however, seem to completely overlook the possibility of baptism being used in a different sense here by Paul.

Dave, I haven’t “overlooked” the theory that “baptism” is being used to mean “something else” here. What I actually did was to argue specifically against it.


Photo credit: ancient Christian catacomb; photograph by dimitrisvetsikas1969 (9-1-17) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]


June 8, 2018

If you’re in a discussion with a Protestant who denies both of these things, and you want to show that they are expressly, explicitly indicated in the Bible, here’s how you can do it quickly and effectively. I also provide further related reading material, in order to go into more depth.


1) Praying to Saints (i.e., Asking Them to Intercede): Rich Man and Lazarus

A) The rich man in Jesus’ story (known in tradition as “Dives”) asks Abraham to intercede, making two requests: a) relief from his suffering in the “bad” part of Hades / Sheol (Lk 16:24) , and 2) to send Lazarus to earth to warn his five brothers to repent, so as not to end up in the same place and state (Lk 16:27-28). In Luke 16:27 in the King James Version has him even using the words, “I pray thee.”

B) Whether this is a parable or not (many Protestant commentators say it is not, because parables don’t include proper names), Jesus couldn’t possibly teach doctrinal error by means of the story.

C) Abraham’s refusal to answer the prayer does not prove that he shouldn’t have been prayed to in the first place. Prayers can be refused. He never said, “You can’t pray to me!!!!! Pray only to God!”

D) Nor does his refusal prove that he lacks the power to fulfill the prayer (ultimately due to God’s power, of course). He said no in the first instances, because Dives’ punishment in the afterlife was already determined by God. He refused in the second instance because the “proposal” wasn’t going to work, anyway. He didn’t say, “I don’t have the power to send Lazarus and it’s blasphemous for you to think so.” He said, rather, that if he did send him, it wouldn’t make any difference as to the result Abraham hoped for (Lk 16:21: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead” [RSV]).

E) Thus we can only conclude that human beings in the afterlife can be prayed to, and that they have the power (delegated through God, using them as vessels or intermediaries) to fulfill the requests: in other words, exactly what the Catholic communion of saints / invocation of saints holds. And it is straight from our Lord Jesus.

F) Had Abraham fulfilled the request it would also be another instance of permitted communication between those in heaven or the afterlife (in this case, Hades) and those on earth, since the dead Lazarus would have returned to earth, to talk to the five brothers. Protestants tell us this is unbiblical and against God’s will (and is the equivalent of necromancy), yet there it is, right in Scripture, from Jesus.

For more on this, see:

Bible on Asking Dead Men to Intercede (Luke 16) [7-8-14]

Dialogue on Praying to Abraham (Luke 16) [5-22-16]

Dialogue: Rich Man’s Prayer to Abraham (Luke 16) and the Invocation of Saints (vs. Lutheran Pastor Ken Howes) [5-3-17]

If someone asks why we would even think of doing this in the first place, rather than going right to God, I address that, too (highlighting James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects”):

2) Praying to Saints: Saul Petitions the Prophet Samuel After the Latter’s Death
1 Samuel 28:15-16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress; for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy?”
The principle / scenario here is the same as in #1: Samuel could properly be petitioned or, in effect, “prayed to” but he also could refuse the request, and he did so. As Samuel explained, he didn’t question the asking as wrong and sinful, but rather, refused because the request to save Saul was against God’s expressed will: which Samuel also knew about, as a departed saint. Moreover, Samuel knew (after his death) that Saul was to be defeated in battle the next day and would die (1 Sam 28:18-19).
The Bible casually assumes that great prophets like Moses and Samuel would be praying for those on earth after they died:
Jeremiah 15:1 Then the LORD said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! (cf. Heb 12:1; Rev 6:9-10)

Again, it’s not that they couldn’t or shouldn’t pray; rather, even their great prayers (as powerful intercessors: Ex 32:11-12; 1 Sam 7:9; Ps 99:6; Jer 15:1) couldn’t accomplish something if it was already against the will of God. If they in fact weren’t praying to God after their deaths, or shouldn’t have, then God wouldn’t have said that they did so; and/or would have condemned it, having brought it up at all in inspired revelation.


3) Praying to Saints: Possibility of Jesus Praying to Elijah to Save Him

Matthew 27:46-50 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” [47] And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “This man is calling Eli’jah.” [48] And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink. [49] But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Eli’jah will come to save him.” [50] And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. (cf. Mk 15:34-36)

The “bystanders” are presented as allies of Jesus, since one of them gave Him a drink, in the next verse (Matthew 27:48). The next verse (27:49) again shows that this was common belief at the time: “But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Eli’jah will come to save him.’”

Thus, it was believed that one could pray to one such as Elijah (who had already appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration), and that he had power to come and give aid; to “save” a person (in this case, Jesus from a horrible death). It’s not presented as if they are wrong, and in light of other related Scriptures it is more likely that they are correct in thinking that this was a permitted scenario.

Jesus, after all , had already referred to Elijah, saying that he was the prototype for John the Baptist (Mt 11:14; 17:10-13; cf. Lk 1:17 from the angel Gabriel), and it could also have been known that Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration (Mt 17:1-6), if these were His followers.


Prayer to Saints: “New” [?] Biblical Argument [5-23-16]


4) The Apostle Paul Prayed for the Dead

2 Timothy 1:16-18 (RSV): “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, [17] but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me – [18] may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day – and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.” (cf. 4:19)

For more on this, see:

Paul Prayed for Dead Onesiphorus (Protestant Commentaries) [7-14-09]

Cardinal Newman on Onesiphorus and Prayer for the Dead [Facebook, 3-18-15]

St. Paul Prayed for a Dead Man: Onesiphorus [8-19-15]

Was Onesiphorus Dead When Paul Prayed (Or, “Wished” as it Were) for Him? Data from 16 Recent Protestant Commentaries (1992-2016) [Facebook, 3-20-17]


5) The Apostle Paul Taught Penance (Basically the Same as Prayer) for the Dead

1 Corinthians 15:29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?


Baptizing the Dead? (Odd Verse 1 Corinthians 15:29) [6-5-02]

Fasting for the Dead in the Old Testament (Not Unlike Praying) [11-4-12]


6) Jesus and Peter Simultaneously Prayed to Saints and for the Dead

Tabitha was a disciple in Joppa who died. Peter prayed to her when he said “Tabitha, rise.” See Acts 9:36-41. She was dead, and he was addressing her. There is no impenetrable wall between heaven and earth.  This is not only praying to the dead, but for the dead, since the passage says that Peter “prayed” before addressing Tabitha first person. And he was praying for her to come back to life.

Our Lord Jesus does the same thing with regard to Lazarus. He prays for Lazarus (a dead man: John 11:41-42) and then speaks directly to a dead man (in effect, “praying” to him): “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43).


New (?) Biblical Argument: Prayers for the Dead [2004]

Raising of Tabitha: Proof of Purgatory (Tony Gerring) (see also in-depth Facebook discussion) [3-20-15]


Photo credit: The Resurrection of Lazarus (1896), by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


June 5, 2018

I was made aware of a thread at the blog DeoOmnis Gloria.com10 Questions for “Bible Christians.” [link now defunct] It seems that that venue has been visited as of late (starting on 4 January 2007) by a very inquisitive Protestant who wants to learn more about Catholic beliefs: a person who goes by “SandT@cctv.org”.

I think others are doing a good job there, but “the more the merrier”, so I’ll put in my $00.02 worth too, since attempting some sort of answer to “why do Catholics believe so-and-so?” or “how do you support that from the Bible?” is what apologetics is about, and I do apologetics for a living. Besides, it isn’t often that one runs across someone who is vigorously asking about important questions that divide Protestants and Catholics. It’s a great opportunity for constructive discussion. His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Why do you seek Mary in prayer or any other dead saint? It is not in Scripture.

It certainly is (i.e., asking saints to intercede on our behalf). The dead saints are far more alive than we are, and aware of earthly events (see, e.g., the “cloud of witnesses” described in Hebrews 12:1). Revelation describes those in heaven having “the prayers of the saints” (5:8, 8:3-4), and an angel presenting these to God (8:3-4). What is an angel doing with our prayers, pray tell (no pun intended)?

In Revelation 6:9-10, we see dead human beings praying that God would judge the evildoers (an “imprecatory” prayer, such as found in Psalms 35, 59, 69, 79 and in Jeremiah 11:18 ff., 15:15 ff., 18:19 ff., etc. ). If they can pray for those on earth, then they must be aware of earthly happenings (Heb 12;1); therefore we can make requests of them in prayer. It’s all eminently biblical. Jeremiah 15:1 implies that Moses and Samuel could still pray after they had died.

For tons more biblical argumentation about this and related topics, see my “Saints, Purgatory, and Penance index page.”

The only way you can support this is by adding to Scripture, which is against the word of God . . . 

We haven’t added anything to Scripture; we have simply developed notions found in Scripture. according to the authority of Tradition and Church that Scripture itself refers to.

* * *

As for praying to the dead:

1. Christ said that two on earth could pray with each other. To assume that he also meant those who have passed into heaven is adding to his word. 

Hardly, since Jesus also taught that dead saints were alive:

Luke 20:27-38 There came to him some Sadducees, those who say that there is no resurrection,
28: and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the wife and raise up children for his brother.
29: Now there were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and died without children;
30: and the second
31: and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died.
32: Afterward the woman also died.
33: In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”
34: And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage;
35: but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage,
36: for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
37: But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.
38: Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.”

If these people are living, and perfected with God in heaven, then they will certainly be praying for those on earth. And if they are aware of earthly happenings (Heb 12:1) then they can be made aware by God’s power, of our intercessions, and present them to God on our behalf (Rev 5:8; 6:9-10).

Also no one in the Bible practiced praying to dead saints.

If dead saints care nothing about the earth and what goes on there, why, then, did Moses and Elijah come back to earth to talk to Jesus (Matthew 17:1-3)? Why did many saints come out of their tombs after the crucifixion, appearing to “many” (Matthew 27:52-53)? Why does God send two witnesses to earth during the last days (Rev 11:3-12). But John, who wrote the book of Revelation certainly believed in this practice, since he wrote about it.

I can find where praying to the dead is considered wrong, can you find where it is encouraged in the Scriptures? Can you find one instance of someone praying to a dead saint in Scripture? 

Sure. Tabitha was a disciple in Joppa who died. St. Peter prayed to her when he said “Tabitha, rise.” She was dead, and he was addressing her. Case closed. There is no impenetrable wall between heaven and earth. See: Acts 9:36-41. This is not only praying to the dead, but for the dead, since the passage says that Peter “prayed” before addressing Tabitha first person.

Our Lord Jesus does the same thing with regard to Lazarus. He prays for Lazarus (a dead man: John 11:41-42) and then speaks directly to a dead man (in effect, “praying” to him): “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). So you asked for one instance. I provided two.

The Bible tells us that other disciples raised people from the dead (Matt 11:5; Luke 7:22) and records Jesus telling them that they would be able to do so, and should do so (Matt 10:8). Presumably, they would follow the model of Jesus (and later, Peter), both of whom “prayed to” the dead person by addressing them while they were still dead, before raising them from the dead. That means, by direct deduction or implication, that all Christians could potentially “pray to” (or at any rate, communicate with) a dead person.

Prayers for the dead also occur in these two instances, and also by Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24), and, quite arguably, St. Paul praying for the seemingly dead man Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16-18). One also should note what I have called “the most ‘un-Protestant’ verse in the Bible”: 1 Corinthians 15:29, where Paul casually refers to people “being baptized on behalf of the dead.”

I have argued (exegetically) that this is doing alms and penances on behalf of the dead. But whatever it is, it has to do with folks on earth doing something (penance or praying) “on behalf of the dead.” It’s right there in Paul! Heaven and earth are united in the communion of saints.

Whether you are the person who seeks the medium to reach the dead or you directly communicate with the dead, it is an abomination to God.

That’s fascinating. I agree about the mediums, which is the occult, and condemned, but what about both Jesus and St. Peter, who both “directly communicate[d] with the dead” and thus (according to you) committed abominations?

It’s interesting that your unbiblical position leads you to this conclusion. Jesus (now He is a downright habitual sinner) did the same “abomination” on the Mount of Transfiguration, when He talked to Moses and Elijah: men who had been dead for hundreds of years (Matt 17:1-3).

KJV uses the word necromancer in place of one who calls up the dead, which means the same anyways. Either way, God frowns upon communication with the dead, and it is present in Scripture.

Peter and Jesus certainly “called up the dead” (in a very real, proper sense): they raised them. So did other disciples. I hadn’t heard before that Jesus and Peter were to be classified as “necromancers.” I’ll have to add that to the list of remarkable things I have learned from my esteemed Protestant brethren.

Since it is not in the Bible we don’t accept it . . . the same goes for . . . prayers to dead saints. Once again, because it is not in the Bible and not because of tradition.

What will you do now, then, since I have shown that this clearly is in the Bible? Will you follow the Bible wherever it leads, or stick to the unbiblical traditions of men when you don’t care for something shown to you in the Bible?

* * *

If Calvin or the Roman Catholics have a belief, yet cannot prove it via Scriptures and yet still hold on to that belief, then the answer is no. No they don’t hold Scripture with the highest authority. Like I said, the Bible is not vague. Now, if one has a belief and it is not proven via Scripture, if said person lets go of that belief, then they regard Scripture with the highest authority.

Let me do a play-on-words, to describe the situation you find yourself in:

If Protestants claim that some doctrine cannot be proven via the Scriptures and it is shown them that indeed it can be, yet they still deny that belief, then they don’t hold to Scripture as the highest authority after all.

Now, if one disbelieves something but it is proven via Scripture, if said person then accepts that belief and reverses their previously mistaken one, based on false human tradition, then they regard Scripture with the highest authority.

So, once again, just show me where it says that . . . any dead saint was prayed to. Just show me examples in the Bible. You asked me to show you where praying to the dead is wrong, and I did. Now please, return the favor and show me . . . [a]n example of someone praying to a dead saint. If you can show me these things not based on same vague interpretation, but rather reading the plain text, then I will see your reason for these practices.

I am glad to have been of service to you. I love few things, if any, more, than defending and proving Catholic beliefs from the Bible.

Anyone who believes something that is contradictory to Scripture or not proven by Scripture does not hold Scripture with the highest regard.

Oh, I couldn’t agree more, though the “proven” has to be clarified. There is not explicit proof of all things in Scripture; sometimes there are only kernels and deductions.

There is . . . definitely not an example [in the Bible] to pray to the dead.

I look forward to your explanations of my proofs otherwise, then.

Lastly I have shown that praying to the dead or communicating with the dead is an abomination to God. So why do you feel that prayers to saints are acceptable, despite this fact and also knowing there is not a single instance of prayers to the dead that was approved by God in the Bible. So where is your biblical proof. If you cannot show anything just say so. Show me your references and logically break it down. Ultimately I think you will end up either saying because the Vatican says so, or you will copy Karl Keating and post it here.

Man, you sure know how to dig yourself deeper and deeper into a hole, don’t you?

Ok, well whether it is praying to the dead saints or asking them to pray for you, THE BIBLE says that God clearly says that those who communicate with the DEAD are an abomination unto Him.

Right (hey, I can repeat myself, too, if you want to play that game), so when Jesus addresses the dead man Lazarus and communicates with him, he is committing an abomination. When Peter communicates with the dead woman Tabitha before raising her, he is committing an abomination (or are he and Jesus talking to the wind and not to the people involved?). And when Jesus talks to Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, He is committing an abomination.

And whoever talks to the dead people who came out of their tombs after the crucifixion are also guilty of the same thing. And not just that; according to your “logic” in citing Deuteronomy 18:9, Jesus and Peter and these folks who talked to dead people in Jerusalem on Good Friday must have been either witches or soothsayers, or sorcerers, or mediums, or spiritists or some other such occultic category.

So you prove from Scripture that Jesus and Peter are evil and of the devil. That’s no mean feat! One can only be awestruck at such chutzpah.

Anyone who believes something that is contradictory to Scripture or not proven by Scripture does not hold Scripture with the highest regard.

Oh, I couldn’t agree more, though the “proven” has to be clarified. There is not explicit proof of all things in Scripture; sometimes there are only kernels and deductions.

Rather I hold to the fact that I can be taught and corrected with the Scriptures, since they are all God Breathed. If you can show me clear proof, then I will believe.

Excellent. I eagerly look forward to your retractions, then.

“So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance.” (1 Chronicles 10:13) HE died because he contacted the dead. This is a reference to Saul and the witch of Endor.

That’s not what Holy Scripture said, which was, rather, that he died because he consulted the medium. Using mediums or engaging in other abominable occultic practices are not the sum total of all possible communications with the dead. In fact, the parallel passage you refer to disproves your position, because the real prophet Samuel appears and tells Saul the truth, during the seance with the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:7-20).

That was God’s will, because demons and false spirits would not tell the truth. Therefore, it was another instance of God desiring to break the artificial Protestant barrier between heaven and earth, by sending Saul to break through the nonsense of the seance.

God says that those who call up the dead, a.k.a a necromancer are an abomination to God. The medium who called up on Samuels spirit is a necromancer. She called up on the dead. She was an abomination to God. Not only that, God instructed to avoid spiritists and mediums, for they are detestable to Him. Whether you turn to a familiar spirit(which are what dead saints are), or medium, or you call up on the dead…it is all wrong according to God. It is clearly stated.

Absolutely. But you are not content with what the Bible plainly teaches. You want to go beyond that and condemn any asking of dead saints to pray for us at all, or any communication with the dead (no matter how expressly biblical) at all. You take it too far. You wrote: “Whether you are the person who seeks the medium to reach the dead or you directly communicate with the dead, it is an abomination to God.”

But you want to dig yourself deeper into the hole you are in:

All of it is wrong. Now you as a Catholic do not use a medium, however you do call up on Mary or St. whomever. Guess what, you are calling up on the dead. God finds this detestable. LOOK at the verse. [Deut 18:9] It is clear, THERE IS NOTHING VAGUE ABOUT THE PASSAGE.

Okay; you had a chance to make the logical distinction but you failed to do it. So you again reiterate that Jesus and Peter “called up the dead” since they communicated with two human beings who were dead, before they raised them. One would think that a position that entailed our Glorious Lord and Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ being the sinful equivalent of a medium or a sorcerer would give one pause and wake them up to how ridiculous their extreme, unbiblical position is.

There is nothing wrong with resurrection. That does indeed show God’s power. However, I don’t see your point, because when they appeared to the many people…they were no longer dead. They were very much alive. God here is not allowing a communication between the living and the dead. 

You miss the point entirely. These people were dead, and they were also alive (in the afterlife). The two are not mutually exclusive. Those who die in Christ are alive: more alive than we are ourselves. All “death” means is the temporary separation of the soul from the body. So you don’t get out of your difficulty by saying that these people are now “alive” (i.e., from our earthly, temporal perspective) simply because they returned to earth.

Where a soul resides has nothing to do with whether it is alive or dead or not. The persons who lived on earth were dead, but they were alive after they died. They remain “dead” from our perspective, wherever they are. Therefore, this is communication with the dead.

You have not found any Scripture that overrides Dt. 18:9.

We don’t have to because we don’t disagree with it! What we are saying is that the notion of “communicating with the dead” is a larger category than simply the occultic variant of that. There is a good, divinely-approved practice in this regard and an evil one.


(originally 3-1-07)

Photo credit: The Shade of Samuel Invoked by Saul (1857), by Nikiforovich Dmitry Martynov (1826-1889) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


May 2, 2018

I happened to notice a very interesting piece on the Lutheran blog Here We Stand, from “CPA”, with whom I have had several dialogues. It’s entitled simply “Prayers for the Dead.” CPA opened the article thusly:

In what Martin Luther regarded as his final confession of faith in his 1528 work against the Zwinglians, Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, he wrote as follows:

As for the dead, since Scripture gives us no information on the subject, I regard it as no sin to pray with free devotion in this or some similar fashion: ‘Dear God, if this soul is in a condition accessible to mercy, be thou gracious to it.’ And when this has been done once or twice, let it suffice. For vigils and requiem masses and yearly celebrations of requiems are useless, and merely the devil’s annual fair. (Luther’s Works, vol. 37, p. 369)

Luther’s approval of prayers for the dead given out of free devotion was shared in Melanchthon’s Apology to the Augsburg Confession (article XXIV, 94), where he wrote:

Now, as regards the adversaries’ citing the Fathers concerning the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit; but we disapprove of the application ex opere operato of the Lord’s Supper on behalf of the dead.

CPA himself makes a rather interesting argument. But he  thoroughly denies purgatory, which he claims “has no Biblical foundation”. I beg to differ: in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (1996), I outlined no less than 25 distinct biblical arguments for purgatory; supported by many Church Fathers, and also many other related Bible passages.

He goes on to argue that one can pray for the eternal destiny of persons who have already died, because God is outside of time and thus that such prayers are applied retroactively for the deceased person’s benefit. I’ve made the same argument before (about prayer being out of time because God is). And I agree with this application of the principle. Concluding with stirring words that I found quite eloquent and moving, CPA stated:

Far more typical is the loyal Christian woman in a mainline church who loved Christ but always indignantly denied the existence of hell, the occasional church-goer who is put into a coma by a stroke and dies without regaining consciousness, the Baptist missionary who spends all her strength winning souls for Christ and taught her converts to reject God’s word concerning baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the devout Christian man with an undiagnosed depressive condition who disappears for a day and is found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the grandmother who slipped into mindless senility years before her death, the writer who longed desperately for a faith she mournfully believed that God had never given her, the man of affairs who did great good for humanity and is cut down suddenly just as he seemed to be returning again to the faith of his fathers, a son baptized and raised in the faith who was drowned on a canoing trip with his live-in girlfriend. . . .

In such cases only simple-minded dogmatists would dare say for sure whether they are in heaven or hell. On what grounds then are we denied the right to pray for those we love, that in their moment of death they might remember the Gospel promise of God in Christ and cling to it? And if God tells us to pray persistently for all the concerns of our heart and especially for the salvation of all (Luke 18; Philippians 4; 1 Timothy 2), how can He be angry when we pray for the thing that weighs most on our hearts, something about which we genuinely do not know His will? And who can be confident denying that the prayers of loved ones, whenever they are offered, before, during, or after death, do not by God’s appointment, comfort and uphold those facing death without preparation and without full knowledge of God’s grace?

For these reasons, for many years now I have believed that prayers for the dead (which are really prayers for those in the hour of death) are a true Christian practice, completely consistent with the evangelical faith, and have practiced this. As I have seen (on Luther Quest of all places), I am not alone in doing so.

I also found the comments fascinating, as several Lutherans and other Protestants agreed that it was not contrary to the Bible or the Christian faith to pray for the dead.

In my book, The Catholic Verses (2004), I have an extended treatment (pp. 169-174) of St. Paul and what I argue are his prayers for the (likely) dead man, Onesiphorus (which also appeared in briefer form in my chapter on purgatory, in A Biblical Defense of Catholicism — pp. 141-143).

So (I maintain) Paul prayed for the dead, as did our Lord Jesus, when He raised the dead on a few occasions. That was my “new” argument (which actually came from a great insight from my wife Judy). The practice, therefore, is supported by explicit biblical evidence. Why, then, we ought to ask, do so many Protestants reject the practice (seeing also that it was very widespread in the early Church)?


(originally 3-22-05)

Photo credit: An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory (c. 1610), by Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


February 14, 2018

Holy Scripture offers massive indication of the existence of purgatory.


This dialogue on my Facebook page was kicked off by this posting:

Anglican Newman on St. Paul’s Prayer for the Dead (Onesiphorus)

[W]hat does St Paul mean when he says of Onesiphorus ’The Lord grant him to find mercy of the Lord in that day?’ [1 Tim 4:19] did his prayer go for nothing? To say that he prayed that Onesiphorus might so conduct himself on earth as to receive mercy at the Judgment seems a refinement; not to say that from the run of the passage O. seems to be dead when St P. wrote. (Letters & Diaries, v. 10; To Anthony John Hanmer, 16 March 1844)

Kevin Jandt’s words will be in blue; Bridget Lorrain’s in green.


Do we have other evidences of praying to the dead in NT? In order to properly interpret Scripture we should not base entire belief systems on one passage of Scripture that is unsupported anywhere else. Do we have examples and do we have commands? “Seems” to be dead is not proper hermeneutics. Just my thoughts Oscar.

Yes. See many articles on my Saints, Purgatory, and Penance web page. Nor should anyone dismiss Onesiphorus so lightly:

Paul Prayed for Dead Onesiphorus (Protestant Commentaries)

St. Paul Prayed for a Dead Man: Onesiphorus

Dave, I will continue to pray for the dead, but I’ll pray for the spiritually dead, not the physically dead. If they are in Christ, they no longer need my prayers. If they are in hell, my prayers can do nothing for them.

We’re not praying for those in hell, but those in purgatory.

Secondly, your demand for explicit NT proof is not itself biblical. I have provided proofs nonetheless, but Protestant thought on this is inconsistent.

There is no proof whatever, e.g., of the canon of the Bible in the Bible itself. Zero, zip, nada. Yet Protestants accept the authority of 27 books of the NT based on Catholic tradition (minus the deuterocanon, which is arbitrarily excluded).

There are no prooftexts whatsoever of sola Scriptura: the idea that only the Bible is the infallible authority (and there are several verses that contradict it). Yet the entire Protestant rule of faith is constructed on this traditional notion that has no scriptural support at all.

Other beliefs are supported by just a few passages, yet firmly accepted (e.g., the virgin birth and original sin).

Dave, Okay, let’s look at the NT verses cited above. [from an old Facebook paper that I didn’t cite above, because the URL will be changing soon]

John 11:41-42 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I think You that You have heard Me, and I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”

Is this support for praying to the dead? It’s quite obvious Jesus was praying to the Father, not to Lazarus, and what was the purpose of the prayer? “THAT THEY MAY BELIEVE” that You sent Me. When we get our theology mixed up, we miss the purpose of God’s work. Your theology is man centered and man focused, which is why the doctrine of Purgatory must be invented. It gives man another chance. 

Acts 9:42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. 

Again, Peter wasn’t praying for Tabitha to have some special help while in some place, or praying for her blessings, Peter prayed to God so that the Apostles would be confirmed in their authority and so that some would believe. This is eisegesis, and it’s allowing the text to fit our own presuppositions, it’s bending and distorting the purpose of the text. 

1 Kings is the same thing, we see in verse 24 “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”

We are giving the purpose and how to pray in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ gives us the model prayer. Matthew 6:8-13 and He also gave us many reasons for prayer such as strength in times of weakness (Matthew 26:36-43). Praying for God’s glory in salvation (John 17) and protection from Satan.

I will say that the Bible, as canonized in the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament is the only source of authoritative truth. It is the Inerrant, infallible, all sufficient, Breath of God, given to mankind that he might know God and might be saved from the wrath to come. On that point I am not only dogmatic but Bulldogmatic. If you are building theology on anything else, you’ve built it on shifting sand.

If you are interested in actually interacting with my arguments (rather than mutual monologue), please do so; if not, I will delete your further comments. I know what you believe. Most of it I used to believe, myself. I want to know why you do, and why you reject my arguments. If you can’t provide those reasons, then this page is not for you. It’s not a platform for mere preaching.

Onesiphorus was about praying for the dead, not to them. Then later you write: “Dave, I will continue to pray for the dead, but I’ll pray for the spiritually dead, not the physically dead.” My further examples were about praying for the dead: the ones whom Jesus and Peter raised.

Acts 9:40-42 (RSV) But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed [i.e., to raise her]; then turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. [41] And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive. [42] And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.

Here he prayed for a dead person and also addressed one.

As for praying to the dead, there is a clear example in Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man prayed to Abraham and Abraham turned down his request. There is, however, no hint in the story (from Jesus) that it was improper to make a petition to Abraham. A teaching of Jesus cannot contain theological falsehood. Therefore, we have explicit NT evidence of praying to someone other than God and asking them to fulfill a petitionary request.

Luke 16:22-31 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried;
[23] and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz’arus in his bosom.
[24] And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’
[25] But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.
[26] And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’
[27] And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house,
[28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’
[29] But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’
[30] And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
[31] He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'”

Why do you believe there are 66 books and not 73? On what basis? The book of Esther never even mentions God. There is not one word in Scripture that tells us these 66 books and no others are Scripture. You have accepted a tradition. Why, then, this tradition, and not a number of others also? Just because lots of Protestants accept the tradition?

Dave, I appreciate your time. I was tagged on the original post by my friend Oscar. It had to do with praying to Onesiphorus as evidence that we should offer prayers to the dead. I reject that premise. You provided your biblical support. I also reject that as evidence and support for Catholic doctrine on this subject and provided by exegesis of the text you provided. I’m not sure that is preaching, but if you believe it is than I’ll exit stage left. 

I’m doubtful I’ll convince you and I’m certain you won’t convince me. I enjoy dialogue with Oscar and I’m attempting to learn more about catholic doctrine to understand, so as not to cast blanket dispersions on Catholicism, but to know what you believe. 

For me there is just too much evidence that contradicts Scripture, even the authority of additional books, canonized after the Reformation.

This is untrue. They were canonized in the 5th century by the Church and already included in the Septuagint before Christ was born.

But again, hey, I’m preaching. So I will once again thank you for your time.

Once again, it had to do with prayer for the dead, not to them. Paul prayed for Onesiphorus. But since you also brought up prayer to the dead, I proved that too, from Luke 16 and Jesus’ own teaching.

You don’t have to merely preach. You can explain why you believe what you believe, and fully interact with my arguments. Your choice. If you simply state what you believe and ignore my arguments (in terms of any interaction with them), that is what I call “preaching” which is one-way, as opposed to dialogue, which is a two-way street. If you are doing that with Oscar, praise God and good for you. I commend you for it.

Dave, you misunderstand the gospel. Here is the quote I’m contradicting. 

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. (CCC 1030)”

Once a sinner comes to repentance and faith in Christ they are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17:19) Verse 19 says this: God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, NOT imputing their trespasses to them… 

If we have been saved we no longer need any further purification, we have Christ’s imputed righteousness. He has declared us as we ought to be. No further action needed. 

What it means to be saved? Those that show a pattern of sinful living are not truly regenerate. They’ve not been saved. They’ve not been born again. 

Paul shows us what we were and then what we’ve become. 

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. BUT you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were JUSTIFIED in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 

Believers live a new life. Once they’ve passed from physical life to death they face judgment either to eternal life or eternal condemnation. Hebrews 9:27

Hebrews 10:26-31 is a fearful reminder of those that remain in willful sin, they are not just imperfectly purified saints, they are unregenerate sinners and they trample God’s grace with their lives, and they can expect to hear Christ tell them He never knew them. 

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father… verse 23 and I will say to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

1 John 3:4-5 whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins (practices sinning) has neither seen Him nor known Him. 

verse 8 He who sins (again, practices and plans to sin) is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning.

verse 10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest. Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.

Ezekiel 36 gives us the purpose in God saving sinful man. It’s for His glory, and He causes it.

We must be without sin to enter into God’s presence (Eph 5:5; Heb 12:14; Rev 21:27; 22:3, 14-15). Therefore, God must purge or wash away our sin to make us fit to be in heaven with Him. Purgatory is indicated most directly in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 (RSV): “. . . the fire will test what sort of work each one has done . . .”

Scripture refers to a purging fire: whatever “shall pass through the fire” will be made “clean” (Num 31:23); “we went through fire” (Ps 66:12); “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29).

The Bible makes frequent use also of the metaphor of various metals being refined (in a fire): “when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10); “thou, O God, hast tested us; thou hast tried us as silver is tried” (Ps 66:10); “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tries hearts” (Prov 17:3); “I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy” (Is 1:25); “I have refined you, . . . I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (Is 48:10); “I will refine them and test them” (Jer 9:7); “I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested” (Zech 13:9); “he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them like gold and silver” (Mal 3:2-3); “. . . your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire” (1 Pet 1:6-7).

God cleansing or washing us is another common biblical theme: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! . . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Ps 51:2, 7); “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts” (Prov 20:30); “the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning” (Is 4:4); “I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me” (Jer 33:8); “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses” (Ezek 36:25); “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22); “he was cleansed from his old sins” (2 Pet 1:9); “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Divine “chastisement” is taught clearly in many passages: “as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you” (Dt 8:5); “do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof,” (Prov 3:11); “For thou didst test them as a father does in warning” (Wis 11:10); “God who tests our hearts” (1 Thess 2:4); “For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? . . . he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb 12:6-7, 10).

We are subject to God’s indignation or wrath, insofar as we sin: “God will bring every deed into judgment” (Ecc 12:14); “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, . . . He will bring me forth to the light” (Mic 7:9).

Purgatory is “written all over” the passages above.

You are talking about sanctification. Again, you misunderstand scripture. That occurs in this life. Not some in between place.

Yes, it occurs here. That’s the whole point. Because it occurs here, after regeneration and initial justification, it stands to reason that it can and usually does also occur after death, because people are imperfectly prepared for the sinlessness of heaven.

That’s why 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 teaches what it does: “. . . the fire will test what sort of work each one has done . . .”

You claimed, “we no longer need any further purification.” So I showed how Scripture massively disagrees with you.

Dave, justification is by faith alone. That is why I said nothing else required. I fully understand that a believer will do works befitting repentance. James tells us clearly faith without works is dead. 

It does not stand to reason that it occurs after death. Not at all. Once death occurs and judgment a person is either declared righteous and glorified or condemned to hell. That’s it. You are either saved or unsaved. Heaven or hell. 

The whole concept of Purgatory is a rejection of God’s plan. We have this life and this life only to be saved. Once death occurs it’s over, no second chances. But having a second chance sure sells better. This is man-focused, man-centered and is nowhere to be contained in the scriptures. You cited Luke 16 yesterday, isn’t that clear enough?

verse 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

Thanks for the sermon. Do you have any counter-arguments yet? All you’ve done is present a rather standard outline of Reformed soteriology, with which I am very familiar, after 34 years of continuous theological and apologetical studies. You haven’t overthrown the arguments we’ve provided. You merely preach about your views.

wow… really? I’m showing from Scripture purgatory is man made myth. I get that you can’t see it. and I understand that you want to tell me I’m preaching to you. Let’s see your defense? 

Can you tell me the gospel? Can you tell me how I need to be saved?

Glad to oblige (though the topic here is prayer for the dead):


Bible on the Nature of Saving Faith (Including Assent, Trust, Hope, Works, Obedience, and Sanctification)

St. Paul on Grace, Faith, & Works (50 Passages)

Grace, Faith, Works, & Judgment: A Scriptural Exposition

Salvation as a Process

Philippians 2:12 & “Work[ing] Out” One’s Salvation

Bible on Participation in Our Own Salvation (Always Enabled by God’s Grace)

New Testament Epistles on Bringing About Further Sanctification and Even Salvation By Our Own Actions

Final Judgment & Works (Not Faith): 50 Passages

Bible on the Moral Assurance of Salvation (Persevering in Faith, with Hope) 

Bible on Salvation via Baptism & Eucharist 

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” Hebrews 1:1-3

So, since Jesus “by Himself purged our sins,” why would such a place like purgatory be necessary, even if it did exist? (Which it doesn’t.)

Obviously, Jesus purging our sins doesn’t mean that we are sin-free in this life. We aren’t. That passage means that He has made salvation possible by His atoning death, by taking our sins upon Himself.

But since we continue in actual sin, it is merciful for God to provide a way to totally purge the sins before death, since all agree that there is no sin in heaven, and one must be clean to enter there. Thus, the debate is about the duration of the cleansing almost all of us necessarily have to undergo at death.

I’ve provided many biblical arguments for purgatory [one / two / three / four / five] / six]

Jesus didn’t make salvation possible, He made it ACTUAL.

Of course; for those who are saved. But some are not, and Jesus doesn’t force them to be saved. They have free will.

But you are missing the point. In context, I was saying that the cross made salvation possible in the first place; in general. Without it, no one could possibly be saved, because we all fell and rebelled in Adam and Eve, in the fall.

You’re still missing the point also that our being saved in the end (whoever is of the elect, as Judgment Day will reveal) doesn’t mean that we are sin-free in this life. And we have to be literally sin-free to enter heaven.

If you know of a sinless, perfect Christian, please direct me to them. I’ve never met one yet.

Titus 2:13-14 tells us: “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

Jesus gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed, and purified for Himself His own special people.

Yes, of course. You continue to miss my point, tho. Are you completely free of actual sin, even though Jesus died on the cross for you and all sinners? Are you no longer a sinner at all?

Positionally, people who are “Born Again, are now saints, and not sinners anymore. Yes, we still do sin, while here on earth, (1 John 1:8) and we are to confess our sins when we commit them. (1 John 1:9.) But those who have been Born from Above, don’t have their sins counted against them anymore. (Romans 8:1-2)

Biblical theology is complex and interrelated. Anyone serious about theology will have to read and study quite a bit. That’s just how it is. It can’t be reduced to two-sentence summaries.

You seem to believe that there is nothing about purgatory in the Bible; I say there is a ton of indications; which I’ve written about in many papers (linked above).


(originally 3-18-15)

Photo credit: Photograph by RonPorter (7-14-06) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons license]


November 27, 2017




This is a counter-reply to a response to my best-selling pamphlet for Our Sunday Visitor, Top Ten Questions Catholics Are Asked, by Church of Christ preacher Kevin Cauley. His words will be in blue. Words from my pamphlet will be in green.


Part III of the series


Complete Five-Part Series:

Part I: Introduction and Church of Christ Information

Part II: Tradition / Papacy

Part III: “Father” / Purgatory / Statues / Confession

Part IV: Mary / Eucharist

Part V: Salvation (+ Purgatory Again)


III. “Why do you call your priest ‘Father’?” 

1. Catholicism says . . . 
1) They cite Matthew 23:9 which says, “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” 
2) Then they say, “In this passage, Jesus is teaching that God the Father alone is ultimately the source of all authority. But he is not speaking absolutely, because if so, that would eliminate even biological fathers, the title ‘Church Fathers,’ the founding fathers of a country or organization, and so on.” 
3) They go on to say that Jesus uses the term father in regard to Abraham and Paul uses the term to describe himself in his relationship with Timothy in 1 Cor. 4:15. 
2. What does the Bible say? 
1) Matthew 23:5-10 says, “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” 
2) We agree that this passage is not talking about “fathers” in any of the senses that they listed. 
a. Biological fathers. 
b. Ancestral fathers. 
c. Founding fathers. 
d. Even fathers in the faith. 

That’s an irrelevant factor, because the position is against calling anyone “father.” That would include priests or anyone else who is called by that title, if indeed the passage is interpreted hyper-literally, as anti-Catholics do, since (with that approach) the passage doesn’t teach that only teachers or clergymen can’t be called “Father.”

3) We disagree that this passage is talking about God as our authority. 
4) This passage discusses religious elitism and the sin in so calling someone by the religious title of Rabbi, Teacher, Father, Master. 
5) So they fail to achieve what they need to achieve from this passage and still stand condemned. 

Okay, so Mr. Cauley wants to argue that no religious figure, clergyman, Christian teacher, elder etc., ought to be called any of these four titles, based on Matthew 23:5-10? That’s extremely interesting, since John the Baptist was called “Rabbi” in John 3:26 (RSV, KJV), and he registered no protest at this outrageous “religious elitism.” I guess John didn’t understand this simple teaching of his Master, Jesus Christ and was a religious elitist himself, according to Mr. Cauley’s exegesis.

Even he notes that Paul referred to himself as “father” in 1 Corinthians 4:15. If Paul calls himself that, obviously others can call him the same thing. In my pamphlet I noted that he called Isaac “our forefather” in Romans 9:10. So Paul fails to understand what Mr. Cauley and the church of Christ does. He clearly must be an “elitist” himself, and urges the same practice upon others by suggesting these outrageous titles. Jesus also refers to a disciples’ and servants’ “teacher” and “master” twice, in two consecutive verses: Matthew 10:24-25. Jesus called Nicodemus a “teacher of Israel” (Jn 3:10; RSV / “Master” in KJV). The logic is very simple:

1) Jesus refers to the “master” and “teacher” of a disciple or servant.

2) Therefore that servant / disciple can refer to the same person(s) as “master” or “teacher” — since Jesus already did.

3) But Mr. Cauley informs us that this practice is a “sin” and “religious elitism.”

4) Therefore, our Lord Jesus is guilty of “sin” and “religious elitism.”

5) But that is blasphemy, and no Christian believes that (including the “churches of Christ”).

6) Therefore, either (a) Mr. Cauley is mistaken, or (b) Jesus is a sinner and religious elitist (along with Paul and John the Baptist), or (c) the Bible contains many errors, since it presents these scenarios that simply can’t be, according to Mr. Cauley.

7) Most Christians would vastly prefer (a) to (b) or (c).

8) Therefore, Mr. Cauley’s statement: “This passage discusses religious elitism and the sin in so calling someone by the religious title of Rabbi, Teacher, Father, Master,” is (extremely likely to be) false and must be rejected as a lie from the devil. To use his words, he “still stands condemned,” insofar as he urges this argument from the Bible.

If it is a “sin” to use these titles of address, then why do John, Paul, and Jesus do so? This position is so incoherent and self-defeating as to be almost beneath the dignity of a reply, but I have offered a brief one so no one will be led astray by this specious “reasoning” and biblical “exegesis.”

IV. “Why do you pray for the dead?” 

1. Catholicism says . . . 
1) “The Bible teaches the rightness of prayers for the dead….” 

Just for the record: in my pamphlet, the word “clearly” was between “Bible” and “teaches.”

2) They cite 2 Maccabees 12:40ff, 1 Cor. 15:29, and 2 Timothy 1:16-18. 
2. The Bible says . . . 
1) First, the book of 2 Maccabees is not even part of the Bible and holds no authority whatsoever. 

Catholics believe it is, because the early Church did (as Protestant Church historian and patristics expert J. N. D. Kelly confirms), but that is another lengthy discussion. I can prove the rightness of the practice from the NT anyway.

2) 1 Cor. 15:29 speaks of “baptism for the dead” and has nothing to do with prayer. It is an incredible stretch to say that because Paul spoke of baptism for the dead that therefore we can pray for the dead. 

This is an elaborate argument involving comparison of Scripture with Scripture, which I have dealt with elsewhere (see my paper: 1 Corinthians 15:29 and “Baptism for the Dead”: What Does it Mean?). What would Mr. Cauley, then, say that Paul is referring to? It is no less against Protestant principles and beliefs to be “baptized for the dead” (whatever in the world that is — from their perspective –, Paul is talking about) than praying for the dead. I made an exegetical argument elsewhere. Mr. Cauley, however, simply makes bald statements.

This passage remains for Protestants one of the most difficult in the Bible to exegete and interpret. The Presbyterian commentator Matthew Henry called it a “very obscure passage.” Methodist expositor Adam Clarke stated that it was “certainly the most difficult verse in the New Testament.” I argue in my latest book that it is only so because Protestants refuse to allow the traditional Catholic interpretation. Their own false theological presuppositions, which forbid what the Bible and the early Church allowed, cause the difficulty.

3) 2 Timothy 1:16-18 says, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.” There is NO indication in this passage that Onesiphorus was dead. 

Why, then, do the following Protestant commentators believe he was (or probably was) dead, if it is so “clear” to Mr. Cauley, that he is not?:

a) New Bible Commentary (possibly)
b) A.T. Robertson (“apparently”)
c) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (possibly)

Even Matthew Henry didn’t rule it out, since he stated he was probably not dead. In any event, I didn’t have this information in my pamphlet, but there are definitely prayers for the dead in the NT: our Lord Jesus prayed for the dead man Lazarus (Jn 11:41-42), as did St. Peter for the dead disciple Tabitha (Acts 9:36-41). This is why we do it, too, because it is the witness of the Bible and also the early Church.

V. Why do you pray to idols (statues)?” 

1. Catholicism says . . . 
1) “No Catholic who knows anything about the Catholic faith has ever worshipped a statue (as in pagan idolatry). 
2) They justify their statues by saying, “Statues are simply a visual reminder of great saints and heroes of the faith….” 
3) Let me say that I find it hard to believe that bowing down in front of statues and kissing their toes are not acts of worship. 

Worship is an interior disposition. One simply doesn’t know what the person intends by acts such as these without asking them. People bow before a picture of an accident victim placed at the scene of their death. I’ve seen many people kiss a dead person in a casket. That is not longer that person, lying there, but obviously to the person doing it, they represent the person that used to be. Is this worship, too?

I’ve seen many people bowing down in repentance at the “altars” of Protestant churches, sometimes at the foot of a pastor or someone praying for them. Is that worship? Or do those persons represent God at those moments, coming to offer forgiveness to the repentant sinner? One can easily imagine a person kissing a photograph of their son, a soldier recently killed in combat. Are they worshiping him?

4) The big toe of Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome has been completely rubbed off over the centuries because of people kissing it. 

That’s fine, but irrelevant unless the necessary questions above are considered.

2. The Bible says, 
1) Exodus 20:4, 5 “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;” 
2) 1 Cor. 5:11 says idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Eph. 5:5 says that covetousness is idolatry, so just because it is not like ancient paganism doesn’t mean something can’t be an idol! 

We wholeheartedly agree that idolatry is a grave sin; we deny with equal vigor that we are doing it! The reasons are difficult to explain to Protestants because of the multiplicity of erroneous assumptions that they have about our practices and idolatry and worship in general, so I refer those interested in learning more to my many papers on these topics.

VI. “Why do you confess your sins to a priest?” 

1. Catholicism says, 
1) “Jesus gave His disciples–and by extension, priests–the power not only to ‘loose’ sins (that is, forgive in God’s name), but also to ‘bind’ (that is, impose penances) . . . .” They cite Matthew 18:18 “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” as justification for this as well as Matthew 16:19. 
2) They cite John 20:23 as justification for forgiving sins on earth. “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” 
3) They cite Matthew 3:5-6, Acts 19:18 and 1 John 1:9 as authority for priests to take confessions. 

2. The Bible says . . . 

As throughout my pamphlet, the “Bible says” lots and lots of things (we see the six passages I offered in support of my views above). But Mr. Cauley blows off what the “Bible says” when it disagrees with his preconceived theology. Catholics are (praise be to God) free to follow the Bible wherever it goes, and to yield to it, rather than to traditions of men, as with the “churches of Christ.”

1) All Christians are priests! 1 Peter 2:5 “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:9 says we are a royal priesthood. 

In the sense in which these passages mean it, yes they are. But it is not referring to the priestly function of offering the Mass and dispensing the sacraments. Thus, only ordained priests may “bind” and “loose” in this fashion, because that is their function as a priest. This is clearly shown in the actions of the Apostle Paul. I wrote in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (pp. 163-164):

1 Corinthians 5:3-5 / 2 Corinthians 2:6-8,10-11

. . . I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. {see 5:1-2}

For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him . . . Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive . . . in the presence of Christ, to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

St. Paul in his commands and exhortations to the Corinthians . . . binds in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 and looses in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7,10 . . . He forgives, and bids the Corinthian elders to forgive also, even though the offense was not committed against them personally. Clearly, both parties are acting as God’s representatives in the matter of the forgiveness of sins and the remission of sin’s temporal penalties . . .

2) Revelation 5:10 says, “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” Who are these? The ones who have been redeemed as verse 9 indicates. 

In the limited sense of the similar verses offered above. There is often more than one sense of a word in Scripture. That’s nothing unusual at all.

3) Sin is committed only against God and so God alone can forgive sins. Psalm 51:4 “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” 

Of course. Every priest who forgives sins is acting as a representative or agent of God. God forgives sins that are committed against others (one can sin against other people, not just God, as Mr. Cauley falsely states, but every sin also breaks God’s law, and is against Him as well). We see Paul above forgiving as person who didn’t sin against him. He was “binding and loosing”; rabbinical functions which were carried over into Christianity, because they were instituted by Jesus Himself.

4) What then is the Bible speaking about when talking about the disciples forgiving sins? Certainly not some formal clergy of priesthood that requires the sinner to confess sins to the priests to get forgiveness. 

Then how does Mr. Cauley explain what Paul did, in the passages above? He imposed penance on the man (much like a priest does in confession) and then urged his brethren to forgive him and receive him back into fellowship. He himself admits that the disciples forgave sins. So what in the world were they doing? Hopefully, he will inform us.

5) The context of Matthew 18 is in regard to personal sins against brethren. 

That’s correct, but then, what did Jesus mean when He said to His disciples (whom He was talking to here), “”whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18)? It’s fine and dandy to be a skeptic and shoot down the other guy’s argument all day long (or purport to), but in the end one has to offer alternative exegesis and arguments. One has to present a positive apologetic and theology, not just a negative condemnation.

6) The context of John 20:23 is in regard to the work of the Apostles on the earth. 

Oh, I see, so is Mr. Cauley contending that the apostles could bind and loose and forgive others’ sins, but then after they died, no one else could ever do so? One can’t claim, on the one hand, that “we are all priests, so all this stuff applies to everyone,” then turn around and limit another very similar passage solely to apostles, without expositing either, and with no plausible principle of differentiation. This is the very essence of eisegesis and special pleading: scattershot analysis with no internal coherence or strength or “recommendation” other than that it disagrees with Catholic teaching. Such a method in effect hoodwinks the listener or reader into accepting things that are fairly easily refuted by more in-depth biblical cross-referencing.

7) Jesus claimed all authority in Matthew 28:18. The apostles had no right to go beyond that authority. 

No kidding. But they can exercise the authority as delegated representatives of Jesus: a state of affairs that he himself desired and set up. Big difference . . . Right after this, of course, Jesus commissions the disciples to evangelize, baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity, and to teach. One of the powers He granted the special class of priests was the ability to forgive sins sacramentally, on behalf of God.

8) Matthew 3:5-6 is speaking of John the baptizer and his work. The confession of sins was an act of repentance here. 

Exactly! So how does this rule out the Catholic belief of confessing sins to a priest, when it is a direct parallel of sinners “confessing their sins” to John? I don’t get it. Rather than see a striking analogy, Mr. Cauley can only see difference, difference, difference. He has to; he has no choice. He has to disagree with Catholic teaching no matter what (no matter how often indicated in the Bible), so it leads him into many absurdities.

Acts 19:18 is in regard to pagans who were repenting. By confessing their sins they were showing repentance here as well. 

Yes, and how is that a disproof of the Catholic belief and practice? Again, I am completely at a loss to understand how Mr. Cauley’s reasoning works.

1 John 1:9 is not even speaking of men, but God! To take this passage and use it to support their doctrine of confession is to wrest the scriptures to their own destruction. 

Not at all. All I was claiming, anyway, was “confession is also indicated in . . . ” That’s it. And I produced three passages from the Bible, all of which referred to confession. That doesn’t mean that every particular of our belief will be in any given verse. They don’t have to be. But all the particulars can be found, when all the relevant texts are considered together. Mr. Cauley’s problem is that he doesn’t seem concerned to synthesize all these into some harmonious whole. We agree that God forgives our sins. But He can choose to do so through a priest. God can do whatever He wants. He can communicate to someone through a donkey, as with Balaam, if that’s what it takes.

9) Christians are supposed to confess their sins one to another (James 5:16), 

Yes, but that doesn’t rule out confession to a priest. The latter is simply a smaller sub-group of the former, not a contradiction, as often supposed.

but this is a far cry from the formal type of confession the Catholic church would have us to believe. 

That is found in kernel form in the indications of binding and loosing, and in the example of Paul exercising this function right in Scripture. Doctrines develop, and we don’t always find them explicit in Scripture (hence even trinitarianism and Christology took four or five centuries to fully develop). But that is no disproof. There is more than enough in Scripture to indicate the truth of this doctrine.


Photo credit: The north rose window of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris; photograph by Julie Anne Workman (8-22-10) [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


October 19, 2017


This is one of my many critiques of the book entitled, Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation, by evangelical Protestant theologian Kenneth J. Collins and Anglican philosopher Jerry L. Walls (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2017).


Kenneth Collins, in his chapter 2: “Tradition and the Traditions” — after railing against supposedly untethered, unchecked, unbiblical Catholic traditions — states about purgatory in particular:

To rectify this considerable deficit in terms of both earlier church history and generous scriptural support, a deficit that was at times embarrassing, medieval theologians such as Rabanus Maurus (on the doctrine of purgatory) simply appealed to the tradition itself or, by implication, to the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of the tradition . . . simply all-too-human teaching. How do we know that such is merely human teaching? It is at variance with the clear teaching of sacred Scripture.

There is considerable irony and humor here, once one discovers that Jerry Walls, Collins’ co-author of this book, wrote a book defending purgatory. Therefore, he has defended something (at book-length) that Collins thinks is “all-too-human” and “at variance with the clear teaching of sacred Scripture.” It’s “clear” to Collins that Scripture teaches no such thing as purgatory. It’s clear to Walls (and folks like, e.g., C. S. Lewis) that it does teach it. How do Protestants resolve such internal contradictions? They can’t; and it’s one of their major problems. They will never solve it, either. They haven’t in 500 years, so there is no reason to think that they will or can at this late juncture.

Collins thinks that the history of the doctrine is so scarce and nonexistent as to be “embarrassing” and a “considerable deficit.” Yet Walls in his book managed to find enough of such history that Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University, wrote a review (on the Amazon page), in which he states: “Walls traces Christian views on purgatory from the early church to C. S. Lewis and comes up with a surprisingly affirmative conclusion . . .” Someone’s gotta be wrong here. The doctrine is either present in the Church fathers or it is not.

As an editor of three books of Church fathers quotations, I am personally acquainted with plenty of such documentation. Cardinal Newman observed that there was much more in the fathers about purgatory, than there is regarding original sin (which almost all Protestants accept). Here is some of that historical data (I could easily provide much more than this):

In short, inasmuch as we understand “the prison” pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades, and as we also interpret “the uttermost farthing” to mean the very smallest offence which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection, when the recompense will be administered through the flesh besides. (Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, chapter 58; ANF, Vol. III)

But we say that the fire sanctifies not flesh, but sinful souls; meaning not the all-devouring vulgar fire but that of wisdom, which pervades the soul passing through the fire. (St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata / Miscellanies, Book VII, Chapter 6; ANF, Vol. II)

It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory: it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord. (St. Cyprian, Epistle 51 [55], To Antonianus, 20; ANF, Vol. V, 332)

[A]fter his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice, and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy cobntagion in his soul by the purifying fire. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Dead)

[St. Ambrose] clearly stated that the prayers of the living could help to relieve the suffering of the dead, that suffrages could be of use in mitigating the penalties meted out in the other world. (Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, University of Chicago Press, 1984, 60)

If the man whose work is burnt and is to suffer the loss of his labour, while he himself is saved, yet not without proof of fire: it follows that if a man’s work remains which he has built upon the foundation, he will be saved without probation by fire, and consequently a difference is established between one degree of salvation and another (St. Jerome, Against Jovinianus, Book II, 22; NPNF 2, Vol. VI)

From these words it more evidently appears that some shall in the last judgment suffer some kind of purgatorial punishments; for what else can be understood by the word, “Who shall abide the day of His entrance, or who shall be able to look upon Him? For He enters as a moulder’s fire, and as the herb of fullers: and He shall sit fusing and purifying as if over gold and silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and pour them out like gold and silver?” [Mal 3:2-3] Similarly Isaiah says, “The Lord shall wash the filthiness of the sons and daughters of Zion, and shall cleanse away the blood from their midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.” [Isaiah 4:4] . . . when he says, “And he shall purify the sons of Levi, and pour them out like gold and silver, and they shall offer to the Lord sacrifices in righteousness; and the sacrifices of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the Lord,” [Mal 3:3-4] he declares that those who shall be purified shall then please the Lord with sacrifices of righteousness, and consequently they themselves shall be purified from their own unrighteousness which made them displeasing to God. Now they themselves, when they have been purified, shall be sacrifices of complete and perfect righteousness; for what more acceptable offering can such persons make to God than themselves? But this question of purgatorial punishments we must defer to another time, to give it a more adequate treatment. (St. Augustine, City of God, Book 20, 25; further references to purgatory in this book occur at 20:26; 21:13, 16, 24, 26)

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (pp. 1144-1145) provides an introductory overview:

St. Clement of Alexandria already asserts that those who, having repented on their deathbed, had no time to perform works of penance in this life, will be sanctified in the next by purifying fire (Stromateis, 7.6), a conception developed by Origen (Numbers, Hom. 15; J.P. Migne, PG, xii, 169 f.). . . . A more developed doctrine is taught by St. Ambrose, who asserts that the souls of the departed await the end of time in different habitations, their fate varrying acc. to their works, though some are already with Christ. The foundation of the medieval doctrine is found in St. Augustine, who holds that the fate of the individual soul is decided immediately after death, and teaches the absolute certainty of purifying pains in the next life (De Civ. Dei, xxi. 13, and ib., 24), whereas St. Caesarius of Arles already distinguishes between capital sins, which lead to Hell, and minor ones, which may be expurgated either by good works on earth or in Purgatory. This doctrine was sanctioned also by St. Gregory the Great . . .

Philip Schaff (as a “hostile witness” of sorts) sums up the consensus of the fathers and the early Church in this regard:

The majority of Christian believers, being imperfect, enter for an indefinite period into a preparatory state of rest and happiness, usually called Paradise (comp. Luke 23:41) or Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:23). There they are gradually purged of remaining infirmities until they are ripe for heaven, into which nothing is admitted but absolute purity. Origen assumed a constant progression to higher and higher regions of knowledge and bliss. (After the fifth or sixth century, certainly since Pope Gregory I., Purgatory was substituted for Paradise). . . .

Eusebius narrates that at the tomb of Constantine a vast crowd of people, in company with the priests of God, with tears and great lamentation offered their prayers to God for the emperor’s soul. Augustin calls prayer for the pious dead in the eucharistic sacrifice an observance of the universal church, handed down from the fathers. He himself remembered in prayer his godly mother at her dying request. . . .

These views of the middle state in connection with prayers for the dead show a strong tendency to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, which afterwards came to prevail in the West through the great weight of St. Augustin and Pope Gregory I. . . .

Origen, following in the path of Plato, used the term “purgatorial fire,” by which the remaining stains of the soul shall be burned away; but he understood it figuratively, and connected it with the consuming fire at the final judgment, while Augustin and Gregory I. Transferred it to the middle state. The common people and most of the fathers understood it of a material fire . . . (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, Chapter XII, § 156. Between Death and Resurrection, 601, 603-605)

So much for the alleged “scant” history of purgatory in the Church fathers. . . .

Moreover, there is a strong argument indeed that can be made for purgatory from Holy Scripture. I have compiled no less than fifty passages that describe either purgatory or the processes of purging, cleansing, fire (either real or metaphorical), etc., that make up its essence. I’ve written several other papers as well about biblical indications for purgatory (one / two / three / four / five).

I’ve also written many times about scriptural support for prayers and penance for the dead (which pretty much presupposes purgatory) — which St. Paul did regarding Onesiphorus — (one / two / three / four / five / six).

There are all kinds of biblical arguments for purgatory: and very good ones, too. If Collins had been familiar with them, then he could have dealt with at least a few of these in his book. But he did not. That makes it a far less effective persuasive tool against Catholicism. To be impressive or successful in theological debate, one must deal with the best arguments an opponent can put up, not the worst, or none at all. Collins doesn’t even show that he is aware of them, let alone willing or able to take them on.

And the present shortcoming in this respect is by no means an isolated one in the book. In my previous post on the “Queen of Heaven” it was observed that Collins was either completely unaware of the considerable scriptural data regarding the Queen Mother in ancient Israel; or if aware, chose to utterly ignore what is clearly a relevant major (and biblical) Catholic rationale for its doctrine of Mary as Queen of Heaven.


Photo credit: Illustration for Dante’s Purgatorio 02, by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


March 10, 2017

Photograph by Dr Dawn Tames (3-9-04) [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]




My friendly dialogical opponents were evangelical Protestants. Their words will be in blue.

We have the historical fact that Christians prayed to the dead, and Dave says they did this because the apostles told them to.

1. We have no evidence of even one apostle praying to the dead, nor of any apostle teaching others to pray for the dead.

Au contraire! There is, I believe, some evidence of prayers for the dead in the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 15:29 as cf. to 2 Maccabees 12:44 may be one such case (I believe it is). 2 Timothy 1:16-18 is perhaps another (confusion in Protestant commentaries as to whether Onesiphorus is dead or not and what Paul is doing related to him, is, I think, telling). The standard passage of 2 Maccabees 12:39-45 reflected Jewish practice and it was included in the Septuagint, which was the Bible of the Apostles. All other biblical indications of purgatory (which are many, and I’ve compiled them in my book) also support the practice of prayers for the dead, which presupposes some sort of intermediate state, neither heaven nor hell.

Intercession of the saints is indicated in Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4; 6:9-10 and also somewhat suggested by the appearance of long-dead figures on the earth once again (1 Sam 28:12-15; Mt 17:1-3; 27:50-53; Rev 11:3). The saints are alive, observe us (“cloud of witnesses”), pray for us (Rev 6:9-10), and hence it follows logically that they can hear our intercessory requests, as can guardian angels (which many Protestants such as Billy Graham accept). It’s really quite straightforward and sensible. But Protestantism “cut the umbilical cord between heaven and earth,” as Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger has insightfully stated.

It seems common for people to support strange doctrines with notoriously difficult passages.

Or none whatsoever: e.g., sola Scriptura and the Canon of the NT (which isn’t even a “strange” doctrine).

To use the example of baptism for the dead [1 Cor 15:29] is really stretching it.

Do you think I was expecting Protestants to readily accept this possible evidence? :-) We think that this saying indicates the practice of early Christians of praying and performing penance for departed souls (the two being synonymous in a pragmatic, efficacious sense, in Catholic theology). “Baptism” in Scripture is often a metaphor for afflictions and penance (Mk 10:38-39; Lk 12:50; cf. Mt 3:11; 20:22-23; Lk 3:16). There is a strong-enough similarity between 1 Corinthians 15:29 and 2 Maccabees 12:44 (scriptural or not: that’s irrelevant vis-a-vis the similarity) to give even a Protestant hostile to prayers for the dead pause. The “penance” interpretation is supported contextually by the next three verses, where the Apostle speaks of being “in peril every hour,” and dying “every day.” Paul certainly doesn’t condemn the practice, whatever it may be deemed to be. In any event, what is the alternative Protestant explanation? [My opponent] offers none (an argument from silence?). I asked an Assembly of God pastor (trained at Dallas Seminary!) this publicly a while back, and the question stopped him dead in his tracks.

Maccabees doesn’t mean much to me because its canonicity is questionable,

Of course; I’m basically giving you our perspective, and we do accept the deuterocanonicals. But, besides that issue, it does show us what the historical practice of the Jews was, and this should never be altogether irrelevant for a Christian, particularly all who are not dispensationalists.

I’ll get to purgatory in a minute.

You’re not leaving our earthly sphere that soon, are ya? :-)

But that the saints are alive and pray for us does not at all imply that they can hear our intercessions. (This would include any souls in purgatory.)

So you flat-out deny that the saints in heaven (or, alas, purgatory) are aware of earthly affairs, including “hearing?” On what scriptural basis? Are they not glorified in some sense by the mere fact of being with God in heaven?

My sister is alive and prays for me, but she can’t hear my prayers.

That’s the whole point; she is “alive” (i.e., on the earth). Thus, the analogy is improper. Saints are, in all likelihood, out of time and also out of space if they have not yet received their glorified bodies. Even then, our glorified bodies will not be in accord with the present laws of physics, if the example of Jesus’ walking through walls after His Resurrection is any indication of our own future abilities.

But let me lend you a hand on this one. I think it would not be unreasonable to argue from Heb. 12:22 ff. that the “spirits of righteous men made perfect” can join in our intercessions in corporate worship. I wouldn’t be against asking the saints to pray with us in corporate, public prayer.

Glad to hear it. You’ve just conceded, however, in my opinion, the lion’s share of the argument (I believe C. S. Lewis took a similar approach to this).

(so long as it was limited to that and didn’t spill over into road-side chapels and holy medals and all that silliness). But the idea that St. Whoever can hear what I think is completely unsubstantiated, and is in my opinion mere superstition.

Ah, this is where the Protestant bias comes in (and you were getting my hopes up in that last admission!). I disagree that it is superstition. I think all the biblical data we can muster regarding the afterlife deductively lends itself more readily to the viewpoint that these souls both see and hear what is going on on earth. For example, it sure seems that they are at least observing us closely in the scenes in heaven in Revelation. I fail to see why it is so great of a stretch for you to move from “observation” to “hearing.” The saints are perfected in love, being as they are, with God. Love always by definition leads to a concern for others (still in this vale of tears). Therefore, is it not altogether reasonable to expect these saints to pray for us, and if so, why wouldn’t God make it possible for them to hear our intercessory requests? You call much of the intercession of saints “superstition.” I call the Protestant denial of the same mere prejudice, based on misunderstandings (e.g., the idolatry and spiritism charges), a misplaced and exaggerated horror of abuses, and an incomplete grappling with all the scriptural information which can be brought to bear.

2. Even if an apostle did pray to the dead, we have no guarantee that he was right to do so! When Paul wrote Scripture, he was “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” There is no guarantee of accuracy on prayers.

We have a guarantee by your (and the Protestant) criterion if indeed the above scriptural proofs are valid.

3. We know for certain that the apostles did wrong things. E.g., Peter rebuked Jesus, Thomas doubted Him, etc. And even after Pentecost, Peter led the Antiochian Jews into hypocrisy. There’s an apostolic practice for you.

So the Apostles, like us, sinned? This is supposed to be a compelling argument against apostolic tradition? What am I missing? Bible writers sinned, too, but Protestants and all Christians believed they were prevented from committing errors when writing Scripture. We merely extend the analogy to Christian tradition, councils, and the papacy, even to a large extent to the sensus fidelium (“sense of the faithful”). And you guys do the same in at least one instance, making a tacit exception in the case of the NT Canon.

St. Paul was a sinner. I do not believe his writings because he was impeccable, but because he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In that circumstance his religious judgments are entirely trustworthy. That does not mean that all his sermons were theologically correct, or that every practice he instituted in the churches was right and proper. He made mistakes, but not when he wrote (or spoke) under inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Substitute tradition, popes, and ecumenical councils for Paul, and the guarantee of infallibility for inspiration and you have our notion of Church authority stated fairly precisely. Many of the dynamics are the same.

St. Peter illustrates this for us in Antioch. His personal sin led the rest of the Jews into sin in such a way that an essential doctrine was compromised. Here is an apostolic practice that leads (according to St. Paul) to false doctrine.

In God’s Providence this sin didn’t last for long, did it?! :-) And it was indeed hypocrisy, not doctrinal error here. But I still think that this has no bearing on the apostolic tradition which was passed down, preserved from error by God Himself, guided by the Holy Spirit.

You can argue all you want about whether St. Peter himself was guilty of doctrinal error or only personal sin, but it is unquestionable that the “doctrinal development” of his actions was leading the church into doctrinal error. Maybe St. Peter was infallible in faith and morals, but his personal sin was leading his flock into damnably false doctrine.

But this is always the case; hence, your argument proves too much. Sin is always present, and scandal, sadly, is also far too often present. When this occurs, some people will be led astray. But one must always “look at the books.” And what we find in Church history is consistent (i.e., the orthodox stream of history which is centered in Rome) with the Catholic take on things, not Protestantism, which must hold its beliefs in the teeth of history, thus leading to a-historicism.

4. There are other explanations for the development of the practice. Ancestor and/or hero worship is very common. Even today, it is very common for people to go to the graveyard and speak to their dead relatives. Given this common human tendency, there is no reason to invoke apostolic teaching to explain the phenomenon.

This is about as convincing and silly as the search for Babylonian precedents for so-called Catholic “paganism” (e.g., the papal tiara). The cogent point here (besides the issue of the alleged biblical proofs above) is: why did the practice develop in the first place among Christians of the first generation, or (in a more skeptical view) in the second generation, right around John’s death? Is this yet another instance of the “train” of the early Church de-railing before it even got up any speed into the journey through Church history, over the rails of God’s Providence (forgive the clumsy analogy!)? Why, if this practice is wrong and un-apostolic, do we find no protest among the early Christians and Fathers against it? Would you really have us believe that such prayer is impermissible, despite the fact that no Father or bishop can be found who understood the truth of these matters and rebuked the poor, ignorant souls who stupidly participated in them? I challenge you to produce for me one authoritative figure who does rebuke such prayers (and if you are right, there ought to be many more than just one). Until you do, I say that your view is utterly implausible, and that these practices can only be deemed apostolic due to their earliness and widespread use, and the biblical indications.

If you don’t know the weakness of an argument from silence, I suggest you argue that way yourself.

It is beyond me how you could not find it strange that there is no protest to be found in history against all these “Catholic corruptions” right after the apostolic period. You guys claim that all the “Catholic distinctives” aren’t apostolic. But we produce historical evidence to the contrary. If these “corruptions” are not apostolic and Christian and are derived from the whole cloth of paganism, why is it incredible to expect there to be a massive protest from Christian leadership against these pagan encroachments (as there is today, with whole “ministries” dedicated to the extirpation of such “grave errors”)? It is clearly an inadequate response to dismiss this issue as an “argument from silence” and go your merry way. I want to hear a plausible reinterpretation of this “silence” from all the good ol’ “evangelicals” and “on-fire, saved” Christians in the early Church who managed to successfully avoid and maneuver around all this “Catholic” error which somehow, some way, was smuggled into Christianity from the very earliest periods. I myself have never heard such an explanation. That’s not to say that no one has attempted it. I just want to hear from someone here, or else a reputable historian, from a citation recommended by someone here.

“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” — Cardinal Newman (That’s largely what happened to me!)

So Dave wants us to accept as an infallible rule something that is readily explainable on a human level and which has no demonstrable ties to inspired apostolic teaching.

No I don’t, because I’ve just demonstrated how they are indeed both biblical and apostolic. The real problem is: why do these “Catholic” practices (two of many such examples) pop up so early and with no protest against them? And if so, what becomes of historical continuity, for those Protestants who care about mundane matters such as the perpetuity of the Church and orthodoxy?

* * * * *
For one thing the Bible expressly forbids contact with the dead:

When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? (Isa 8:19) . . . Let no one be found among you . . . who consults the dead (Deut 18:10-11). . . The Egyptians . . . will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead, the mediums and the spiritists (Isa 19:3).

So I’m reminded again of 1977 in my own life, when I figured out — thanks to God’s completely undeserved grace — that I ought to give up my ESP, Ouija Board and other weird occultic practices and follow Jesus. As for the subject at hand, this prohibition, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with it, since what is forbidden is spiritism and sorcery, not intercession among the mystical Body of Christ. I ask you: if God wants no contact with dead saints whatsoever (not just a prohibition of occultism, which is a branch of magic and sorcery), why did Moses and Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration? And why would a bunch of dead saints run around Jerusalem after the Crucifixion, “appearing to many”? (Mt 27:53) And why should Samuel truly appear, even in the midst of a forbidden practice (a seance)? Strange indeed, unless God doesn’t follow the rules He supposedly gives us.

Second, in order for the saints to hear our prayers, one must postulate that they not only hear us, but even more, they must be either omniscient or omnipresent (or both). Suppose Dave is praying to Mary at exactly 10pm EST; let’s further assume that Dave is in New York at this time. Suppose further that someone else decides that he is going to pray to Mary at that exact same time (10pm EST), only he is doing it from Waukegan, IL. Let us further suppose that on the other side of the world, every Catholic church in China is also praying to Mary at that same instance. Whom does she hear? She cannot hear all of the at once without ascribing omniscient or omnipresent (or both) to her.

The obvious fallacy here is to assume that for a created being to hear more than one request for intercession at once, he or she must have all knowledge and be present everywhere or both, when in fact all that is necessary is that they are out of time and are enabled to observe and hear what is going on in the earth (which is expressly indicated in Scripture – at least the observing. The “hearing” is a valid deduction.

Yet omniscient and omnipresent is clearly a distinctive attribute of God–it is part of what makes Him infinite rather than finite.


Yes, we will be in a glorified state in heaven; but the glorification of the saints does not entail assuming divine attributes.


Now, please Dave, try to resist Keating’s argument that since in heaven there are not the kind of limitations we find on earth, then God could grant some special ability to the saints to hear everyone at one time without also granting them omniscience or omnipresence.

Oh? You would have me presume to say what God can or can’t do? This argument is well beneath your capabilities. Please (in all sincerity) take a deep breath and ponder what fallacies you are asserting. It is clear enough. The logic is evident wholly apart from whatever theological side one comes down on. Being out of time is more than sufficient to overcome the standard “million prayers at once” polemical objection.

Why stop there?

Because there is no logical necessity to postulate any further granting of supernatural attributes.

What is to prevent us from postulating that God has also granted them omnipotence?

The fact that the Bible sez only God is omnipotent (e.g., Mt 19:26).

After all, how many Catholics would hesitate to run to St. Jude in times of trouble?

Beats me. Am I supposed to know that?

Perhaps the reason he is able to help them is because he is all-powerful.

Or, that the “prayers of a righteous man availeth much.”

It is completely meaningless to speak of the distinctive attributes of God if we are allowed to transfer those same attributes to mere creatures (which is one of the reasons we must reject such Marian beliefs as Mediatrix of all Grace).

Of course. Mary’s role as Mediatrix has absolutely no bearing on God’s prerogatives or attributes, since it is wholly derivative and secondary in nature, just as all graces granted to mankind are. It does not flow from inherent necessity, but rather, from God’s decision to utilize Mary in such an extraordinary way. If you want to say God absolutely could not act in such a fashion, then go ahead: I will not make such improper and illogical judgments. You may deny that He in fact did do so, which is another logical and theological issue.

This is the exact same tactic as the Jehovah’s Witnesses use when they assert that Jesus is a god, but not God. The imply that Jesus can have all the divine attributes of God without actually being god (creator, etc.).

Being created is an attribute of God? [scratching head] “Exact same tactic”? Methinks your language and logic ought to be more “exact.”

No, Dave, we must draw the line when it comes to those attributes that define God; a line no creature may cross over.

As do we, so there is no dispute here.

February 20, 2017


Photograph by “jclk8888” (7-7-13) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]


[This is an installment of an extensive series of mine, in which I interact with the book that I believe is the best Protestant critique of Catholicism in our times: Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, by Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. Mackenzie (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995).]
Norman Geisler wrote:
There is no indication in the Bible that anyone ever prayed for another after the person died. (p. 348)
Inspired Holy Scripture (God’s revelation), to the contrary, states:
1 Kings 17:17-23 (RSV) After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; and his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. [18] And she said to Eli’jah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” [19] And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her bosom, and carried him up into the upper chamber, where he lodged, and laid him upon his own bed. [20] And he cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, hast thou brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?” [21] Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.” [22] And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Eli’jah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. [23] And Eli’jah took the child, and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother; and Eli’jah said, “See, your son lives.”
2 Kings 4:32-35 When Eli’sha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. [33] So he went in and shut the door upon the two of them, and prayed to the LORD. [34] Then he went up and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. [35] Then he got up again, and walked once to and fro in the house, and went up, and stretched himself upon him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.
Acts 9:36-41 Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. [37] In those days she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. [38] Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him entreating him, “Please come to us without delay.” [39] So Peter rose and went with them. . . . [40] But Peter . . . knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. [41] And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive.
The Bible informs us that the disciples raised people from the dead (Mt 11:5; Lk 7:22) and that Jesus told them that they would be able to, and should, do so (Mt 10:8). So they went out and did it, presumably with the use of prayer for that end (since Elijah, Peter, and also Jesus prayed when they raised the dead). Thus, they prayed for the dead. If dead saints are not too far “out of reach” to be prayed for and raised from the dead back to earthly life, then I submit that they are not too distant for us to pray for their souls while in purgatory.

It’s inescapable logic:

1. The prophet Elijah prayed for the widow’s son, and the prophet Elisha prayed for the Shunammite’s son, and St. Peter prayed for Tabitha, that they be raised from the dead.

2. In order for such miracles to occur, the person prayed for had to have been dead, by definition.

3. Therefore, Elijah, Elisha, and the Apostle Peter all prayed for the dead, so that such a thing is recorded in the written Word of God (directly contrary to Norman Geisler’s claim above).

4. We must conclude, then, that it is God’s will and an entirely scriptural practice to pray for the dead. If it were not God’s will for men to pray such things, He would not have honored the prayers of Elijah, Elisha, and Peter, and the three dead persons would not have been raised (1 Jn 5:14-15).

If Protestants demand biblical examples of praying for the dead, we have provided them. Even if they are exceptional cases, this is not fatal to the argument. All miracles are exceptions by definition. Raising the dead was certainly an exception to routine, humdrum everyday life, yet Jesus told his disciples to go do it (Mt 10:8).

If we can pray for a dead man to come back to life, it seems only likely that we can pray for his soul as well, since the first prayer presupposes an intermediate state wherein that soul (without a body) is neither in heaven nor hell, from which there is no end or exit (as far as it is revealed in Scripture). These third states are Hades and purgatory.

If a person can be so aided in the earthly direction, why couldn’t he or she be aided in the heavenly direction, and who can completely deny that there might be gradations or processes in the journey from earth to heaven? As Jesus would ask the Pharisees, “which of these two things is more difficult to do?”

But Dr. Geisler maintains that:

Praying for the dead contradicts the example of Jesus. When Jesus lost his close friend Lazarus by death he never prayed to God for him. He simply resurrected him . . . (p. 354)

This is a pretty desperate argument. We know from Scripture that Jesus prayed to God right at the time of the raising of Lazarus, saying, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me” (Jn 11:41). What, I ask, is He thanking His father for? The most straightforward explanation is that He was thanking Him for raising Lazarus. Again, in  Acts 9:40, St. Peterknelt down and prayed” right before raising Tabitha. I submit that very few people would deny that he was praying for her: to raise her.

Likewise, the prophet Elisha “prayed to the Lord” right before raising a child from the dead (obviously praying for that result). Yet, Geisler would have us believe that Peter’s and Elisha’s prayers contradict “the example of Jesus”: as if there were something wrong with them. It’s ludicrous. They are plainly praying for the dead, and it is presented as an altogether good and moral thing to do, not a bad and immoral, impermissible thing.

But if those three counter-arguments are deemed insufficient, for those whose preconceived, unbiblical theology is contrary to them, then the undeniable, unarguable clincher is Elijah’s example above, in which we are expressly, specifically, explicitly informed that he prayed for the dead child, and that God heard the prayer and raised him: 

Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.” [22] And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Eli’jah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.

Therefore, If Geisler is to be believed, Elijah would be contradicting Jesus and doing something wrong, which is absurd, as there is no hint of disapproval in the text. Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament: so righteous that he could pray for it to stop raining for three-and-a-half years, and then to start up again (Jas 5:16-18). He was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, and appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and Jesus. This particular argument is beyond silly, and embarrassing to even have to refute. But so it is with many arguments against Catholicism. The only contradiction here is between Dr. Norman Geisler and the clear, perspicuous teaching of the Holy Bible.

Another fairly straightforward biblical example of prayer for the dead, is St. Paul’s prayer for Onesiphorus. Geisler casually assumes (p. 348) that Onesiphorus wasn’t dead. Many Protestant commentators, however, disagree with him. See my papers,  St. Paul Prayed for a Dead Man: Onesiphorus, and Paul Prayed for Dead Onesiphorus (Protestant Commentaries).

The Bible teaches that one can and should pray for the dead. Period. End of discussion (for those who believe that the Bible is God’s inspired Word and revelation). Next question?


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