April 12, 2017


The Lord’s Prayer, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




A self-described Hebrew Catholic asked on the Coming Home Network board:

The Catechism and the RSV translate Gk opheilemata as trespasses in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:12), when it manifestly means debts — both in the NT usage (Rm 4:4) and in the Septuagint (Dt 24:10). Why?

The concept of sins as debts is a midrash that ties in the Year of Jubilee (Lv. 25) in which all financial debts are forgiven, the coming of Messiah (Is 61:1-2) which Yeshua applies to himself (Lk 4:21), and the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:12). Dead Sea Scroll 11QMelchizedek portrays Melchizedek as a Messianic figure come to forgive sins as “debts” with this same idea. So it is an important 2nd Temple Jewish idea with real roots in the Tanakh.

So, why does the RSV and the Catechism mistranslate it? Losing the entire OT connections of the midrash?

It is very confusing to pray the Lord’s prayer with others, some of whom use “trespasses”, some “debts”, some “sins” (Lk 11:4, although later on in the verse hamartia (sins) is paralleled withopheilonti (debts).

Why did the Catechism choose trespasses?

First of all, in my RSV (which is the non-Catholic standard version), Matthew 6:12 has “debts” and “debtors.” “Trespasses” occurs at Matthew 6:14-15, but it is a different Greek word than what you note (see below). I thought perhaps the RSV-CE (Catholic edition) might be different. The Wikipedia article on RSV-CE doesn’t list Matthew 6:12 at all. The EWTN Bible Search for RSV-CE has “And forgive us our debts, [opheilema] As we also have forgiven our debtors”.

[later note: I’ve been informed that the RSV-CE2 (second Catholic edition) has “trespass” for Matthew 6:12]

I don’t know Greek and am no expert on translation, but I can go to various lexical references in my library and online (designed for regular old folks like me) to get an idea of what the Greek means (and to speculate why RSV-CE2 chose this rendering for Matthew 6:12). We can also speculate upon the rationale behind the liturgical usage of “trespass” in the (English-speaking) Catholic Church.

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (one-volume, p. 747) states:

In later Judaism it [opheilema] is a common term for “sin.” In the NT it occurs in Mt. 6:12 for “debt” in the sense of “sin” (cf. hamartia in Lk. 11:4).

I think this is possibly the key to understanding the rendering of “trespass” which might be regarded as a synonym (in English) for “sin.” You yourself noted Luke 11:4 as the parallel passage:

Matthew 6:9-13 (RSV / RSV-CE) Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, [opheilema] As we also have forgiven our debtors [opheiletes]; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.

Luke 11:2-4 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins [hamartia], for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted [opheilo] to us; and lead us not into temptation.”

So we have a scenario in the synoptics with two Greek words being used for what was obviously the same address (the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father). We compare Scripture with Scripture, for a more accurate understanding. Hamartia is translated as “sin” 172 times in the KJV, as “sinful” once and as “offence” once. Its cognate hamartano is rendered “sin” 39 times, “offend” once, and as “trespass” three times in the KJV. Here are those three instances:

Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

Luke 17:3-4 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

Compare to the RSV:

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

Luke 17:3-4 Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, `I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

RSV habitually translates hamartia or hamartano as “sin”. “Trespass” occurs 22 times in the NT in the RSV, but not as a rendering of or its opheilema cognates. It is the translation of the Greek paraptoma, where it is clearly synonymous with “sin”:

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Mark 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Romans 4:25 who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Romans 5:15-18, 20 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin [hamartano]. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. . . . Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin [hamartia] increased, grace abounded all the more,

[Note how “trespass” (though here it is paraptoma) and sin (hamartia) are used interchangeably and synonymously in this passage:

5:15 one man’s trespass

5:16 one man’s sin

5:16 one trespass

5:17 one man’s trespass

5:18 one man’s trespass

5:16 the free gift following many trespasses brings justification

5:20 but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more ]

Romans 11:11-12 So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

2 Corinthians 5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted.

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

Ephesians 2:1, 5 And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins [hamartia]. . . even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,

Paraptoma is translated as sin in one place:

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.

It appears, then, that the Catholic liturgical tradition and the Catechism and RSV-CE2 are taking the overall thought of all these related passages into consideration, in choosing “trespass” — even though a solid linguistic argument can be made (and you made it) for preferring “debtor.”

The Catechism has “trespasses” at #2759 but “debts” at #2841 and #2845.

But why is “trespass” the Catholic version for the Lord’s Prayer? The Latin Vulgate rendering and the language in the Latin Mass are, literally, “debts” and “debtors”:

et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris

Wikipedia, “Lord’s Prayer” states:

Though Matthew 6:12 uses the term debts, the older English versions of the Lord’s Prayer uses the term trespasses, while ecumenical versions often use the term sins. The latter choice may be due to Luke 11:4, which uses the word sins, while the former may be due to Matthew 6:12 (immediately after the text of the prayer), where Jesus speaks oftrespasses. As early as the third century, Origen of Alexandria used the word trespasses (παραπτώματα) in the prayer. Though the Latin form that was traditionally used in Western Europe has debita (debts), most English-speaking Christians (except Presbyterians and others of the Reformed tradition), use trespasses. . . .

Matthew continues with a request for debts to be forgiven in the same manner as people forgive those who have debts against them. Luke, on the other hand, makes a similar request about sins being forgiven in the manner of debts being forgiven between people. The word “debts” (ὀφειλήματα) does not necessarily mean financial obligations as shown by the use of the verbal form of the same word (ὀφείλετε) in passages such as Romans 13:8. In Aramaic the word for debt is also used to mean sin. This difference between Luke’s and Matthew’s wording could be explained by the original form of the prayer having been in Aramaic. The generally accepted interpretation is thus that the request is for forgiveness of sin, not of supposed loans granted by God. . .

The article gives the form as it appeared in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (Anglican):

Our Father, which [who] art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in [on] earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that [those who] trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
[For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

This is almost word-for-word identical to the words used in the Catholic Mass and in the Catechism (#2759). I have inserted the Catholic differences in blue. Therefore, it appears that “trespass” is the accepted English liturgical usage of the prayer as passed down; influenced by the lofty Elizabethan language of the Book of Common Prayer, just as the RSV is the continuation of the (Protestant) KJV tradition of Bible translation.

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins noted:

Do you know the reason for the different forms of the Lord’s Prayer? These two common variations of the “Lord’s Prayer” are from two different English translations of Matthew’s version of the prayer (Matt. 6:12).

The “debts” form is from the first English translation of the Bible, by John Wycliffe in 1395 (Wycliffe spelling “dettis”)! The “trespasses” version is from the 1526 translation by William Tyndale (Tyndale spelling “treaspases”).

In 1549 the first Book of Common Prayer in English used a version of the prayer with “trespasses.” This became the “official” version used in the Anglican congregations.

Nicholas Ayo, in his book, The Lord’s Prayer (Roman & Littlefield, 2003) gives us further insight:

Matthew’s debts shows a more Semitic usage. The Aramaic word for sins was debts, with the primary analogue financial debts. To the Greek Gentile Christians of Luke’s community, however, sins would be more understandable. The Greeks knew sin, or hamartia, as literally a missing of the mark, an arrow gone astray, an error or mistake, a falsity of some kind. (p. 72)

Ayo, on the same page, traces the use of “trespass” in English to Wycliffe’s translation of the passage following the Our Father (Matthew 6:14): a practice retained by the KJV and the RSV. Wycliffe used “debts” in the prayer itself, as noted above. Tyndale used “trespasses” in both Matthaean passages and even in Luke’s version, where the Greek is different. Ayo continues:

Jerome translated the Greek word paraptoma (transgressions) . . . by an alternate use of two Latin words, peccata (sins) and delicta (offenses). Wycliffe rendered those two Latin words with the English words “sins” and “trespasses.”

Catholic Bible translator Ronald Knox uses trespass at Matthew 6:12 and also Luke 11:4. Since his version was a revised Vulgate, he either had some linguistic reason to do so, or else he was bowing to the liturgical tradition in English at that point.

Bible translator and commentator William Barclay, in his book, The Lord’s Prayer (Westminster John Knox Press, 1998) provides yet further fascinating speculation:

It may well be that Tyndale did not wish to use the word debts, because there were those who desired to take this petition . . . as a statement in the money sense of the term are obliterated and need no longer be paid. Augustine (The Sermon on the Mount 2.8) in point of fact spends the greater part of his exposition of this petition dealing with the obviously not inconvenient interpretation which found in this petition a new way to abolish old debts. (p. 87)

Finally, here is St. Augustine’s commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Book II, chapter 8, section 28 (complete):

The fifth petition follows: “And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” It is manifest that by debts are meant sins, either from that statement which the Lord Himself makes, “You shall by no means come out thence, till you have paid the uttermost farthing;” or from the fact that He called those men debtors who were reported to Him as having been killed, either those on whom the tower fell, or those whose blood Herod had mingled with the sacrifice. For He said that men supposed it was because they were debtors above measure, i.e. sinners, and added “I tell you, Nay: but, unless you repent, you shall all likewise die.” Here, therefore, it is not a money claim that one is pressed to remit, but whatever sins another may have committed against him. For we are enjoined to remit a money claim by that precept rather which has been given above, “If any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also;” nor is it necessary to remit a debt to every money debtor; but only to him who is unwilling to pay, to such an extent that he wishes even to go to law. “Now the servant of the Lord,” as says the apostle, “must not go to law.” And therefore to him who shall be unwilling, either spontaneously or when requested, to pay the money which he owes, it is to be remitted. For his unwillingness to pay will arise from one of two causes, either that he has it not, or that he is avaricious and covetous of the property of another; and both of these belong to a state of poverty: for the former is poverty of substance, the latter poverty of disposition. Whoever, therefore, remits a debt to such an one, remits it to one who is poor, and performs a Christian work; while that rule remains in force, that he should be prepared in mind to lose what is owing to him. For if he has used exertion in every way, quietly and gently, to have it restored to him, not so much aiming at a money profit, as that he may bring the man round to what is right, to whom without doubt it is hurtful to have the means of paying, and yet not to pay; not only will he not sin, but he will even do a very great service, in trying to prevent that other, who is wishing to make gain of another’s money, from making shipwreck of the faith; which is so much more serious a thing, that there is no comparison. And hence it is understood that in this fifth petition also, where we say, “Forgive us our debts,” the words are spoken not indeed in reference to money, but in reference to all ways in which any one sins against us, and by consequence in reference to money also. For the man who refuses to pay you the money which he owes, when he has the means of doing so, sins against you. And if you do not forgive this sin, you will not be able to say, “Forgive us, as we also forgive;” but if you pardon it, you see how he who is enjoined to offer such a prayer is admonished also with respect to forgiving a money debt.


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November 22, 2022

10. The Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Lk 16:19-31) in Relation to the Doctrine of Immortal Souls

Lucas Banzoli is a very active Brazilian anti-Catholic polemicist, who holds to basically a Seventh-Day Adventist theology, whereby there is no such thing as a soul that consciously exists outside of a body, and no hell (soul sleep and annihilationism). This leads him to a Christology which is deficient and heterodox in terms of Christ’s human nature after His death. He has a Master’s degree in theology, a degree and postgraduate work in history, a license in letters, and is a history teacher, author of 25 books, as well as blogmaster (but now inactive) for six blogs. He’s active on YouTube.

This is my 45th refutation of Banzoli’s writings. Since 5-25-22 he hadn’t written one  word in reply, until he responded on 11-12-22 (see my reply) and on 11-15-22 (see my response). Why so few and so late? He says it’s because my articles are “without exception poor, superficial and weak” and my “objective” was “not to refute anything, but to exhaust [my] opponent.” Indeed, my writings are so bad that “only a severely cognitively impaired person would be inclined to take” them “seriously.” He didn’t “waste time reading” 37 of my 40 replies (three articles are his proof of the worthlessness of all of my 4,000+ articles and 51 books). He also denied that I had a “job” and claimed that I didn’t “work.” I disposed of these and other slanderous insults on my Facebook page on 11-13-22. But Banzoli thought that replying to me was so “entertaining” that he’ll “make a point of rebutting” my articles “one by one.” 

My current effort is a major multi-part response to Banzoli’s 1900-page self-published book, The Legend of the Immortality of the Soul [A Lenda da Imortalidade da Alma], published on 1 August 2022.  He claims to have “cover[ed] in depth all the immortalist arguments” and to have “present[ed] all the biblical proofs of the death of the soul . . .” and he confidently asserted: “the immortality of the soul is at the root of almost all destructive deception and false religion.” He himself admits on page 18 of his Introduction that what he is opposing is held by “nearly all the Christians in the world.” A sincere unbiblical error (and I assume his sincerity) is no less dangerous than a deliberate lie, and we apologists will be “judged with greater strictness” for any false teachings that we spread (Jas 3:1).

I use RSV for the Bible passages (including ones that Banzoli cites) unless otherwise indicated. Google Translate is utilized to render Lucas’ Portugese into English. Occasionally I slightly modify clearly inadequate translations, so that his words will read more smoothly and meaningfully in English. His words will be in blue.


See the other installments:


See also the related articles:

Seven Replies Re Interceding Saints (vs. Lucas Banzoli) [5-25-22]

Answer to Banzoli’s “Challenge” Re Intercession of Saints [9-20-22]

Bible on Praying Straight to God (vs. Lucas Banzoli) [9-21-22]

Reply to Banzoli’s “Analyzing the ‘evidence’ of saints’ intercession” [9-22-22]


This is a reply to Banzoli’s article, “A parábola do rico e Lázaro prova a imortalidade da alma?” [Does the parable of the rich man and Lazarus prove the immortality of the soul?] (11-19-22). It in turn was drawn from his book, The Legend of the Immortality of the Soul.

He starts out by recounting a story that an Adventist preacher told, concerning St. Peter as the gatekeeper of heaven. It turns out that the preacher was using the story as an illustration preceding his sermon about Lazarus and the rich man. Then Banzoli delivers the kicker:

• The audience knows this is not a true story.
• They know the popular belief that those who die go to heaven, and at the entrance they meet Saint Peter.
•  They don’t believe in this creed as a doctrine. They know this is not true (the pastor already knows the audience and knows that they believe as he does, about man’s destiny after death).

None of this, of course, is relevant to Jesus and His telling of the story. Jesus was God. His recorded words are in the inspired, infallible, inerrant revelation of the New Testament. He could not possibly teach falsehood, whether this was a parable or not. I shall argue that it was not; but that even if it was, the same point stands: it could not contain theological error or heresy.

And it could not because this is the Bible: central to the rule of faith for all Christians. What it teaches is always true: whether it comes in the form of a parable or other non-literal idiom, or  a “straight” story of actual history. This is all the more the case, seeing that God the Son Himself is speaking and teaching. But then again, Banzoli is a Christological heretic, who thinks (as far as I can determine) that Jesus stopped existing after His death on the cross and then was put together again by His Father at His resurrection.

Jesus was not an Adventist preacher, whose belief included the heretical doctrine of soul sleep. His teachings were developments of Jewish doctrine, which had always held to conscious souls in the afterlife (as I have abundantly shown in past installments). The sort of folk religion / cultural religion that produced the notion of Peter as the gatekeeper goes beyond Scripture, but is actually loosely based on his being given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16:19). From that people got the idea that he would be standing there with the key to get into heaven for each person, after they die, and that he would tell them why they could enter or not (which in the Bible is a task reserved for God).

Jesus never taught anything that His hearers knew was “not true.” The very notion is nonsensical and blasphemous. It would make Jesus a misleading liar. Banzoli thinks this story is one such case, but he can’t prove that from Scripture itself. He is only thinking like this in this instance because he knows that the story demolishes his belief in soul sleep.

But if this story is considered to contain gross falsehoods and untruths about the afterlife and the nature of souls, then how many other stories, doctrinal teachings, or parables also contain falsehoods, that readers supposedly “know” are false? Perhaps he can inform us of those, and, moreover,  tell us how it is that he determined their less-than-true nature? The dangers are obvious: pretty soon Holy Scripture would become a “slippery slope” and used and abused to supposedly teach any false doctrine imaginable.

After arguing that a parable need not contain truths, Banzoli inexplicably defines a parable as an Allegorical narrative that transmits moral or religious precepts, common in the Holy Scriptures.” Exactly! They are teaching some sort of precepts, to be believed; not falsehood. So he again contradicts himself (a not uncommon occurrence in his writings). He states that parables were “never intended to be a true story or necessarily express real things.” The first clause is true; the second is not.

Parables teach true “moral or religious precepts”: as Banzoli truly stated (a “religious precept” being a “real thing”). The author of Mark wrote that “he taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them” (Mk 4:2). “Teaching” in the gospels refers to the sharing of truths (with regard to Jesus’ “teaching”, see Mt 4:23; 7:28; 9:35; 21:23;  22:33; 26:55; 28:20; Mk 1:22; 6:6; 9:31; 11:18; 12:38; 14:49; Lk 4:31-32; 5:17; 10:39; 13:10, 22; 19:47; 20:1; 21:37; 23:5; Jn 7:16-17; 18:19). Paul also uses the word “teaching” many times, with the meaning of “truth” or “true tradition”.

Jehoash’s purpose [see 2 Kgs 14:8-10] obviously was not to teach that thorn bushes literally converse with the cedars of Lebanon, just as Jesus’ purpose in telling the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was obviously not to say that Sheol/Hades was a place of souls burning or talking. In both cases, the conversation of the trees or the dead serves only as a “resource of analogy or comparison”, which is precisely what a parable consists of.

In other words, although the elements themselves (thorn bushes, cedars or dead trees) are fictitious, they convey a deeper moral lesson, which is in fact the author’s objective in using the parable as a didactic resource.

Alright; Banzoli needs to tell us, then, what Jesus’ purpose was, in misrepresenting what it is like in the afterlife, by means of false symbolic illustrations — in Luke 16 — of what doesn’t actually occur (which amounts to little better than a lie). So what did He mean, then, and why would He use these illustrations? We’re all ears.

It’s beyond strange that if Jesus wanted to teach us that souls were “asleep” or not even in existence in the afterlife (as Banzoli and Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses erroneously believe), until God creates them anew in the general resurrection, that He does so by having the rich man talking to Abraham, asking petitionary requests of him (i.e., praying to him) and Abraham answering: all in the effort to show that none of those very things are possible, and that, in fact, there is no such thing as Sheol / Hades in the sense of a place of conscious souls.

Is it not obvious that the very last way to convey such a meaning would be by use of this story? This scenario makes no sense whatsoever. It’s absurd and ludicrous to think that it does. Heresy always leads to absurdity and self-contradiction.

Add to this the important addendum that, contrary to what most people think, Jesus did not tell parables to clarify spiritual truths, but to hide them.

That’s not strictly true. The parables are true; they convey truths. Whether hearers can hear them is another question. Jesus told them to people He knew would not be able to receive them:

Matthew 13:12-13 For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. [13] This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

Jesus’ disciples, who had not yet received the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, often didn’t understand Jesus, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees (due to their outright rebelliousness and hostility) did not. Hence, Jesus said to His disciples:

Matthew 15:15-16 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” [16] And he said, “Are you also still without understanding?”

Mark 4:13 . . . “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?”

Mark 7:17-18 . . . his disciples asked him about the parable. [18] And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? . . .”

Mark 8:15-18, 21 And he cautioned them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” [16] And they discussed it with one another, saying, “We have no bread.” [17] And being aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? [18] Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? . . . [21] And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

As strange as this may seem, Jesus did not tell parables so that the crowd would better understand his teaching, but just the opposite: so that they would not understand!

The hardened who could not “hear” wouldn’t understand; that’s quite true. But as I just proved, neither did the disciples understand, on many occasions. It doesn’t make the parables not true in what they expressed. Jesus expresses the thought that the disciples should have understood them, if they had opened up their hearts. Otherwise, if it was inevitable that no one could understand a parable, it would be meaningless for Jesus to ask the disciples: “Are you also still without understanding?” (Mt 15:16) The question assumes that it was falling short on their part, or a fault, for them to not understand the parable.

This is why Jesus spoke to the disciples clearly, but to the crowd he spoke only in parables: . . . it was a selfish crowd with a hardened heart. This explains why people were always misunderstanding what Jesus was saying, as they do all the time in the Gospels.

He clarified more so to the disciples, compared to the crowds, but He didn’t always speak “clearly” from their perspective, because they repeatedly misunderstood or didn’t grasp His parables (see the four passages above), or His predictions about His coming death. According to Jesus, His disciples could have hardened hearts at times, too, which is why He asked rhetorically (as an intended rebuke): “Are your hearts hardened?” (Mk 8:17). Mark 6:52 states flat-out about the disciples: “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

To be fair, Banzoli does acknowledge that the disciples sometimes misunderstood Jesus, too:

Even the disciples had difficulty understanding when Jesus was speaking literally and when not, which is why they argued about not having bread when Jesus asked them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt 16:6-7).


This indicates that Jesus did not tell the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to teach anything about the afterlife.

Of course He taught there about the afterlife; otherwise, why did He provide the details that He gave? It makes no sense, as I contended above. In any event, it doesn’t follow that Jesus therefore purposely taught untruths and in effect misled people or lied to them in parables or in (as I believe) His recounting of an actual historical event in Luke 16.

Even if there were anyone so foolish as to think that Jesus meant to teach the afterlife by telling the parable (which is not surprising, since they confused everything Jesus said in an allegorical way), the true purpose of the parable it was not in its lines, but between the lines, hidden from the gaze of the crowd.

There was no interpretation needed in the story of Lazarus and the rich man because it wasn’t a parable. It was a true story, and it stood on its own.

overwhelming evidence, both inside and outside Luke 16:19-31, which demonstrates that Jesus was really telling a parable, not an actual story.

To begin with, the pericope in question is right in the middle of Luke’s well-known parables. Both the preceding and following chapters, including chapter 16 itself, are filled with parables of the most varied types, as if Luke had reserved that part of the book almost exclusively for the parables of Jesus. . . . 

If the parable of the rich man and Lazarus were inserted in the midst of real stories, such prior notice would be expected, but not when the entire context is notoriously marked by fictional stories.

This portion is not all parables. Luke 15 is all parables but Luke 16 is not. Jesus continues telling them through 16:13, but then 16:14-18 records a dispute between Him and the Pharisees, about the law, the gospel, and adultery. The story of Lazarus and the rich man immediately follows that. And it’s about riches, since the narrator in 16:14 had written: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they scoffed at him.” Jesus then continues with straight teaching, not parables, in John 17:1-5, about temptation and forgiveness. Therefore, both immediately before and after our story, there are non-parabolic teachings.

This suggests (if we are to make such a contextual argument) that 16:19-31 is, or could be, an actual story as well. Jesus did tell those, and He recalled true events. So, for example, He mentioned, “Zechari’ah the son of Barachi’ah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar” (Mt 23:35). These were actual historical figures, just as Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man were. That story just happened to be about the afterlife, which Jesus knew about, since He knows all things. He spoke of true messianic prophecies about Himself: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me” (Jn 5:46). He referred to events concerning King David: “Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, . . .?” (Mt 12:3).

[the parable of] of the dishonest manager (Luke 16:1-8), which immediately precede that of the rich man and Lazarus.

It does not, as already stated. 16:14-18 is a dispute with the Pharisees.

It is obviously unnecessary to emphasize that this is another parable when one has been narrating several parables in a row, which is assumed by anyone with an IQ above zero.

If in fact, it was all parables before and after our story, he might have a point, although this wouldn’t prove that Jesus had to tell a parable in the middle of all of them and couldn’t possibly tell a true story. There is no necessity for that, let alone any statement that says such a thing. So perhaps it is Banzoli‘s IQ that might be lower than he thinks it is, or it may be that he is not nearly as unanswerable as he appears to assume.

neither did the evangelists always make a point of emphasizing when it was a parable, nor did the disciples need Jesus to explicitly state that it was one. They naturally understood that when Jesus told stories he taught in parables.

I agree that Jesus didn’t always say that a parable was a parable. That’s not in dispute.

the parable personifies inanimate characters

There is no indication I am aware of, where the Bible mentions actual historical persons, like Abraham, but only in the sense of personification. Banzoli has his categories mixed up. When Samuel appeared to Saul, it really was him, and he gave a true prophecy of Saul’s impending death and judgment, which demons would not do. Likewise, when Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus at His transfiguration, there is not the slightest suggestion that they aren’t those actual people. Personification involves giving inanimate objects personal features, not giving people personal features, which is a non sequitur or a redundancy. This is desperate special pleading on Banzoli’s part.

characters appear in Hades with a physical body, not as a disembodied soul or disembodied spirit. This becomes clear in verse 24, where the rich man asks Lazarus to “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue ” . This shows that Lazarus had fingers and the rich man had a tongue, both organs of a physical body, not parts of an immaterial spirit or ghostly soul.

It shows no such thing. These are anthropomorphisms. As an apologist who believes in biblical inspiration and understands biblical literary forms, I have to explain these things to atheists and also to heretics like Banzoli. Neither one gets it because neither properly understands biblical idioms.

God the Father, Who is an immaterial spirit (2 Cor 3:17-18), is also (figuratively) described in the Bible as having hands (1Kgs 8:15; Is 59:1), ears (2 Chr 7:15; Is 59:1), a face (2 Chr 7:14; Is 59:2); arms (Ex 6:6); eyes (2 Chr 7:15), a heart (2 Chr 7:16); breath (Ps 33:6); wings (Ps 36:7); breasts, womb (Dt 32:18; Is 66:7-13); a finger (Ex 31:18; Dt 9:10; Lk 11:20); nostrils (Ex 15:8; Ps 18:15); and a mouth (2 Chr 6:4; 35:22).

Let’s take a step back at this point and consider the reasons why I submit that this story should not be regarded as a parable:

1) People are never named in parables. This story names Abraham (Lk 16:23-24) and Moses (16:29, 31), historical figures mentioned many other times in the Bible. Parables refer generally to people: “a king” (Lk 14:31-42), “master of the house” (Mt 24:42-44), “evil servant” (Mt 24:48-51), “a man taking a far journey” (Mk 13:34-37), “judge” (Lk 18:2), “widow” (Lk 18:3), “a certain man” (Lk 13:6), “a certain rich man” (Lk 12:16), etc. If Banzoli thinks he can find one with names, he is welcome to do so. Best of wishes to him in that endeavor!

2) Parables have earthly settings, never heavenly or spiritual ones. This story mentions Hades (Lk 16:23), and “Abraham’s bosom” (16:22).

3) Angels are not mentioned in parables. The “reapers” in the parable of the wheat and tares, are “angels” in the explanation, and “the enemy” in the parable is explained as “the devil” (Mt 13:39). So if angels only appear in the explanation, but never in the parable itself, then the story of Lazarus and the the rich man cannot be a parable, because angels are also mentioned (Lk 16:22).

4) Parables are stories that presuppose commonplace human experience (#2), then delve into a deeper spiritual meaning. But Luke 16, unlike, for example, the parable of the sower, which had to be (and was) explained by Jesus, can be read by anyone and they’ll grasp the meaning without the necessity of interpretation. Jesus never “explains” it.

A literal interpretation of the parable also leaves room for a number of inconsistencies, which immortalists would hardly want to include in their theology. For example, it would make room for the belief that the saved in heaven will be able to converse calmly with the wicked in hell, just as the rich man converses with Lazarus.

This is neither hell nor heaven, but rather, “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk 16:22) or “Hades” (Lk 16:23): the intermediate state or place where the dead resided before the death of Christ. See my article: Luke 16 Doesn’t Describe Hell or Purgatory, But Hades [1-16-20].

Imagine you not only knowing that your child is burning in hell in endless terrible suffering, but still being able to see him suffering before your eyes and communicate with him without being able to do anything to mitigate his suffering or get him out of there. I bet your experience in heaven wouldn’t be all that satisfying…

Since the story is not attempting to describe either heaven or hell, this comment is a non sequitur.

Although some immortalists claim that after Jesus’ death the saved ones in “Abraham’s Bosom” were magically transferred to a heavenly dimension

Yes, because the Bible describes that:

Ephesians 4:8-10 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” [9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? [10] He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

1 Peter 3:18-20 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; [19] in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, [20] who formerly did not obey,

That’s not “magic”; it’s the power and love of God.

Either the fire in the parable is fake, or hell must not be so painful after all.

It was metaphorical flames, which stand for torment and anguish (such chastening heat and/or fire are common motifs in Scripture), just as the described body parts need not necessarily be literal. Scripture refers to a purging fire (1 Corinthians 3:13, 15 is a graphic example); whatever “shall pass through the fire” will be made “clean” (Num 31:23); “Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you; and on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire” (Dt 4:36); “we went through fire” (Ps 66:12); “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29); “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you” (1 Pet 4:12); We also see passages about the “baptism of fire” (Mt 3:11; Mk 10:38-39; Lk 3:16; 12:50).

Besides, what good is a drop of water when the whole body is burning with unquenchable fire? Would that drop put out the fire of hell in which the rich man was plunged?

Of course not. But since this story is not describing hell, that’s neither here nor there.

It is also striking that the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to the world of the living, as if Abraham had some power to do so, instead of God. And though Abraham does not grant the request, he does not say that he did not have this power, 

Excellent! I’ve made precisely this argument many times, in using this part of Scripture to defend the invocation and intercession of saints. If Abraham couldn’t grant prayer requests, he would have made that clear, and would have said, “why are you asking me?! Go to God only!” But he didn’t. He simply declined the request. So this would be more false teaching from the lips of Jesus, if the Protestant denial of the communion of saints is the true state of affairs. Since Jesus cannot and would not ever teach falsehood, it follows that one can make petitionary requests of dead people. Abraham was a great prayer warrior on earth; he is in the afterlife also.

No wonder, the traditional conception of hell in systematic theologies completely deviates from that presented in the parable,

Now he’s starting to get it; since the story is about Hades, as it itself plainly states. But Banzoli is so profoundly ignorant and biblically illiterate that he can’t tell — or doesn’t know — the difference between the biblical concepts of heaven and hell and Sheol / Hades / Abraham’s bosom.

it only makes sense to speak of “lies” when dealing with real stories , not from fictional stories , like a parable.

This simply isn’t true. Jesus can’t utter theological lies or falsehoods in His parables. The parable is a teaching tool of Jesus. He can’t present false notions in them (even granting for the moment that this story is actually a parable, as many honest Christian scholars regard it). So, for example, when using “master” as a metaphor for God (as many parables do), Jesus couldn’t say that the servant had five masters rater than one (implying that there were five gods instead of one God). That would convey the false teaching of polytheism. Parables have to be theologically correct or else they would fail as teaching tools. The first requirement of a good teacher is to tell the truth and not inaccuracies, falsehoods, or lies.

If telling a fictional story was “lying”, then all fiction writers would be big liars.

This would only apply to fiction that is attempting to allegorically convey known truths of Christianity. So, for example, in C. S. Lewis’ famous Chronicles of Narnia series, Aslan the lion represents Christ (as all interpreters agree). He has qualities that are reflections of those of Christ. If he were portrayed as a deceiver or one who hates rather than loves, then that would not be a good or accurate allegory of Christianity. Or if these stories had four Aslans, as if there were four Christs instead of one, it would be a “lie” insofar as it is attempting to mirror or reflect Christian doctrine in a way that doesn’t correspond to the latter.

Lewis (my favorite author these past 45 years) denied that the Chronicles were straight allegories. But Aslan as one element within them reflects Christ. Lewis wrote in a December 1959 letter to a young girl named Sophia Storr:

I don’t say. ‘Let us represent Christ as Aslan.’ I say, ‘Supposing there was a world like Narnia, and supposing, like ours, it needed redemption, let us imagine what sort of Incarnation and Passion and Resurrection Christ would have there.’

So that’s not an exact analogy, but close enough to make my point. With Jesus and the parables, however, He is a teacher in Israel, and in fact, the Jewish Messiah and God the Son, and His teaching is recorded in inspired revelation. In His teaching He could not misrepresent the afterlife and the doctrine of souls (and the invocation and intercession of saints). That simply could not and would not happen, within the paradigm of Christianity and inspired Scripture. It would be a lie, and He’s not a liar. He is “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6).

It makes less than no sense for Him to teach what He did in Luke 16 (whether it’s a parable or a real story) if in fact soul sleep and the absence of the intercession of saints and a place called Hades / Sheol (in a sense other than merely any “grave”) are the actual state of affairs. That would be deception: accessible to many millions who have read the Gospel of Luke for two thousand years.

As we can see, personifying inanimate things is a recurring practice in the Bible, even more so in a parabolic context like this one.

Lazarus, the rich man, and Abraham are not inanimate objects, but people. This is not personification. It has nothing to do with Banzoli’s favorite supposed “counter-example”: talking trees.

None of Jesus’ original hearers would be induced to think that the soul survives after death, 

Really? What would they make of Elijah and Moses appearing at His transfiguration, then? That was an actual historical event. I visited the place on top of a mountain where it happened. Also, how could Jesus say “Laz’arus, come out” (Jn 11:43) if the dead Lazarus couldn’t hear Him? Or how could Peter say, “Tabitha, rise” (Acts 9:40) if the dead Tabitha couldn’t hear him? Jesus’ disciples saw Him raise Lazarus.

In this parable, the unfaithful steward dishonestly halves the debts of his creditors in order to gain some personal gain from them (Luke 16:1-9), but no one accuses Jesus of encouraging dishonesty in business.

It is curious to observe that the same immortalists who use the means of the parable of Luke 16:19-31 to validate the immortality of the soul do not do the same thing with the means of the previous parable to validate dishonest administration, despite the parable saying that “the master commended the dishonest manager, because he acted shrewdly” (Luke 16:8).

Jesus was not sanctioning dishonesty, but rather, prudence. Expositor’s Greek Testament explains:

The master . . . may be supposed to be in the dark; it is the speaker of the parable who is in the secret. He praises the steward of iniquity, not for his iniquity (so Schleiermacher), but for his prudence in spite of iniquity. . . . The counsel would be immoral if in the spiritual sphere it were impossible to imitate the steward’s prudence while keeping clear of his iniquity. In other words, it must be possible to make friends against the evil day by unobjectionable actions. The mere fact that the lesson of prudence is drawn from the life of an unprincipled man is no difficulty to any one who understands the nature of parabolic instruction. The comparison between men of the world and the “sons of light” explains and apologises for the procedure. If you want to know what prudent attention to self-interest means it is to men of the world you must look.

Likewise, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges:

The fraud of this “steward of injustice” is neither excused nor palliated; the lesson is drawn from his worldly prudence in supplying himself with friends for the day of need,—which we are to do by wise and holy use of earthly gifts. . . . The zeal and alacrity of the “devil’s martyrs” may be imitated even by God’s servants.

And Barnes’ Notes on the Bible:

The lord commended – Praised, or expressed admiration at his wisdom. These are not the words of Jesus, as commending him, but a part of the narrative or parable. His “master” commended him – saw that he was wise and considerate, though he was dishonest.

The unjust steward – It is not said that his master commended him because he was “unjust,” but because he was “wise.” This is the only thing in his conduct of which there is any approbation expressed, and this approbation was expressed by “his master.” This passage cannot be brought, therefore, to prove that Jesus meant to commend his dishonesty. It was a commendation of his “shrewdness or forethought;” but the master could no more “approve” of his conduct as a moral act than he could the first act of cheating him.

Banzoli concedes this point later, by asserting (my italics):

the dishonest manager is praised for having acted shrewdly, even though he has robbed his master. . . . In the case of the parable of the dishonest steward, the lesson was that “he who is faithful with a little is also faithful with much, and he who is dishonest with a little is also dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10) – which has nothing to do with stealing from the boss


It is inappropriate and unwise to draw theological conclusions upon the means of a parable, which, by definition, is a fictional story, expressed through allegories. What we must extract from them is their moral lesson, which is usually found between the lines.

If we can learn morals through parables, we can also learn theology. The line is very fine. For example, the biblical statement, “God is love” is at the same time a theological and moral observation. Something like “because the Holy Spirit lives within us, we love others as Christ loved us” is the same blend.

Just as no one believes that bad wolves destroy houses with a breath, no one should think that the dead converse in the afterlife

Well, they do when they learn that Scripture repeatedly teaches it, as I have shown in my past entries (that it does do so). We bow to God’s inspired revelation, which is far more momentous than our own pet speculations and predispositions.

Furthermore, unlike Jesus’ other parables, the one about the rich man and Lazarus does not portray “everyday truths”,

Precisely because it isn’t a parable, as mentioned above. I thank Lucas for confirming one of my arguments.

it is of a completely different type from the other parables found in the Gospels.

Yeah, because it isn’t a parable at all . . .

and, as we shall see, the lesson of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was that “if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone raises from the dead” (Luke 16:31) – nothing to to do with the immortality of the soul.

Nonsense. The very person who made this statement (according to Jesus) was Abraham, who was conscious, in Hades, and conversing with another conscious soul in Hades, who had prayed to him (not God). So it has everything to do with the immortality of the soul. Try as hard as he may, Banzoli can’t ignore all these factors and pretend they aren’t there or have no relevance, anymore than a (non-blind) person looking straight up in the sky at noon on a clear summer day can avoid seeing the sun.

The parable’s lesson had nothing to do with God being irritated by our requests, but only that we must pray with perseverance. . . . 

Anyone making a literal application of the parable would be led to think that God is like that hard-hearted man who acts dishonestly, since it is He who distributes the talents.

Both stories make use of anthropopathism. We can only understand God by making Him seem like us in some respects, even though it isn’t actually true.

the simple reason that the means of a parable can never be used to substantiate doctrine.

Nonsense. They sure can. That was part of Jesus’ intention in giving them (along with teaching good morals). What we have to do is properly, correctly understand when figurative language is being used, and what it means when it is being used. This is what Banzoli gets wrong.  Many of the parables have to do with, for example, going to heaven or hell, which in turn, is related to soteriology, which is certainly theology. Therefore, the opposite of what Banzoli claims, is true: parables can and do “substantiate doctrine.”

Banzoli concedes this point in his next paragraph, contradicting himself: “We know that this parable talks about salvation, . . .”

However, few think that God literally forces people to be saved, as if they had no choice but to reject him.

Calvinists do (“irresistible grace” and “unconditional election”), but that’s beside the point. If the parable has to do with salvation, that’s soteriology, a branch of theology. And that’s doctrine.

It’s a kind of convenient deception, which serves the purpose of someone desperate to find biblical support for a doctrine that he knows is so baseless that the way is to resort to a parable.

Once again, Banzoli casts aspersions upon the basic honesty of all those Christians whom he himself described as “nearly all the Christians in the world.” This is outrageous. I do not claim the same about him. I think he is misinformed and grossly ignorant, and pompously condescending, but not dishonest. In other words, I don’t doubt his sincerity.

I doubt his theological understanding and ability to interpret Holy Scripture according to historic orthodoxy (including Protestant orthodoxy) and the laws of logic. But Banzoli is not a Protestant. He’s a Christological heretic: the worst and most dangerous kind. That’s not a mere insult. It’s a statement of fact, based on his beliefs, as stated in this book.

The Pharisees were proud of having Abraham as their father, but they did not act in accordance with what Abraham did. That is why in the parable Jesus places Abraham beside the beggar Lazarus, and leaves him separated from the rich man by a great gulf (v. 26). All of this is very symbolic, representing at the same time how far the Pharisees were from the one they claimed to have as their “father”, and how those who really followed in the footsteps of Abraham were the repentant sinners whom they so despised, who in the parable are placed at the side of Abraham in the figure of Lazarus.

All of that could have been done in a different way, without having the scene be a place which is precisely what “immortalists” understand as Sheol/Hades. Jesus didn’t need to include false doctrine (according to the soul sleep advocates) in His teaching here. There were a million other ways He could have made the same point and the same distinctions. It makes no sense at all that He just happened to tell the story (or parable, for those who believe that) with all this “baggage.” Banzoli simply can’t overcome this difficulty in his position, no matter how much he seeks to ignore it and special plead and rationalize it away and out of his thoroughly confused brain.

the expression “the bosom of the Father” does not refer to a place with this name, but is just a way of saying that Jesus he is beside the Father, seated at the right hand of the Almighty.

That is a place: in heaven next to God the Father. Likewise, “bosom of Abraham” before the death and resurrection of Christ means being in the place where Abraham was: that is, in the good part of Sheol / Hades, which is where those who would eventually go to heaven reside (with the ones bound for hell across the chasm).

Note further that the rich man says he had five brothers (v. 28). Jesus could have just said that he had brothers, but he is very specific in saying that he had five.

Yes, because this was a true story about real people; so in this case, he actually had five brothers, and Jesus can’t change that (being always a truthteller). It’s overanalyzing it to make out that this represents five factions of Judaism. It doesn’t represent anything except the historical fact that this man had five brothers.

Even the names quoted in the parable, which immortalists slyly use as “proof” that it was not a parable,

I reiterate my challenge: find another parable that has proper names. And if there are none, then that is strong evidence that this is not a parable.

It is noteworthy that there is not a single dictionary in the world that imposes as a rule that a parable cannot have proper names. 

That’s not necessary. This is simply an observation about the nature of existing parables in the NT: what they are and what they aren’t, or what they don’t include.

This is a “rule” invented by desperate immortalists, plucked from their own heads.

Nope. It’s a fact about the actual parables in the NT. A fact is not a rule.

What needs to be understood is that the parable’s exaggerations and nonsense are not occasional, but were deliberately included by Jesus to satirize the Greek Hades. By seeing Jesus treat the pagan Hades as a joke, his hearers would in no way be induced to believe the reality of it. Rather, they would know that Jesus did not endorse belief, just as Elijah did not endorse belief in Baal by ridiculing him. It would be like telling the famous story of Snow White but portraying the seven dwarfs as seven muscular giants. That would elicit laughter from the audience, and certainly no one would think I believed the tale.

I see. How, then, are these other verses to be explained? They certainly don’t read as satire and as exhibiting Jesus’ supposed disbelief in Hades, or His thinking it was a “joke”. He’s dead serious:

Matthew 11:23 And you, Caper’na-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Luke 10:15 And you, Caper’na-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.

This is about judgment of those in these cities who rejected Jesus. That’s funny? That’s a joke or satire? One of these uses is just six chapters before our story. Similarly, Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-14 are as serious as they can be in referring to Hades. 20:13 states that Hades had “dead in” it. It was the abode of the dead. The wicked dead there are “thrown into the lake of fire” (hell: 20:14), while the righteous there go with Jesus to heaven, after He conquered death (Eph 4:8-10; 1 Pet 3:18-20). If these are “joking” and humorous references to Hades, I must say that I don’t see the slightest hint of it. What could be more serious than passages about people going to hell for eternity (or being annihilated, if one follows Banzoli’s heretical view)? If that’s a “joke” I surely don’t know the meaning of the word. Maybe it translates badly from Portugese . . .

this ignorance is deliberate, for no layperson who would take the trouble to research the true purpose of the parable in the face of all the biblical, exegetical, and historical context would go to the ridiculous lengths of concluding that Jesus was endorsing the belief in an immortal soul.

In other words, no one can have a serious, honest, sincere disagreement with Banzoli and his heretical buddies. Any disagreement with them must arise out of deliberate ignorance: that is, consciously, deliberately deceptive lies. This is its own refutation.

Lastly, John Calvin wrote about this topic:

Let us come now to the history of the rich man and Lazarus, the latter of whom, after all the labors and toils of his mortal life are past, is at length carried into Abraham’s bosom, while the former, having had his comforts here, now suffers torments. A great gulf is interposed between the joys of the one and the sufferings of the other. Are these mere dreams – the gates of ivory which the poets fable? To secure a means of escape, they make the history a parable, and say, that all which truth speaks concerning Abraham, the rich man and the poor man, is fiction. Such reverence do they pay to God and his word! Let them produce even one passage from Scripture where any one is called by name in a parable! What is meant by the words – “There was a poor man named Lazarus?” Either the Word of God must lie, or it is a true narrative.

This is observed by the ancient expounders of Scripture. Ambrose says – It is a narrative rather than a parable, inasmuch as the name is added. Gregory takes the same view. Certainly Tertullian, Irenaeus, Origen, Cyprian and Jerome, speak of it as a history. Among these, Tertullian thinks that, in the person of the rich man, Herod is designated, and in Lazarus John Baptist. The words of Irenaeus are “The Lord did not tell us a fable in the case of the rich man and Lazarus,” etc, And Cyril, in replying to the Arians, who drew from it an argument against the Divinity of Christ, does not relate it as a parable, but expounds it as a history. (Tertull. lib. adv. Marcion; Iren. lib. 4: contra haeres, cap. 4; Origen, Hom. 5 in Ezech.; Cyprian epist, 3; Hieron. in Jes. c. 49 and 65; Hilar. in Psalm 3.; Cyril in John 1 chapter 22.) They are more absurd when they bring forward the name of Augustine, pretending that he held their view. They affirm this, I presume, because in one place he says – “In the parable, by Lazarus is to be understood Christ, and by the rich man the Pharisees;” when all he means is, that the narrative is converted into a parable if the person of Lazarus is assigned to Christ, and that of the rich man to the Pharisees. (August. de Genes. ad Liter. lib. 8:) This is the usual custom with those who take up a violent prejudice in favor of an opinion. Seeing that they have no ground to stand upon, they lay hold not only of syllables but letters to twist them to their use! To prevent them from insisting here, the writer himself elsewhere declares, that he understands it to be a history. Let them now go and try to put out the light of day by means of their smoke!

They cannot escape without always falling into the same net: for though we should grant it to be a parable, (this they cannot at all prove,) what more can they make of it than just that there is a comparison which must be founded in truth? If these great theologians do not know this, let them learn it from their grammars, there they will find that a parable is a similitude, founded on reality. Thus, when it is said that a certain man had two sons to whom he divided his goods, there must be in the nature of things both a man and sons, inheritance and goods. In short, the invariable rule in parables is, that we first conceive a simple subject and set it forth; then, from that conception, we are guided to the scope of the parable – in other words, to the thing itself to which it is accommodated. Let them imitate Chrysostom, who is their Achilles in this matter. He thought that it was a parable, though he often extracts a reality from it, as when he proves from it that the dead have certain abodes, and shews the dreadful nature of Gehenna, and the destructive effects of luxury. (Chrysos. Hom, 25 in Matthew Hom. 57; in eundem, In Par ad The. Lapsor. Hom. 4 Matthew). (Psychopannychia, 1534)


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Photo credit: Saint Michael the Archangel and Another Figure Recommending a Soul to the Virgin and Child in Heaven, by Bartolomeo Biscaino (1629-1657) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: Part 10 of many responses to Lucas Banzoli’s 1900-page book, The Legend of the Immortality of the Soul: published on 1 August 2022. I defend historic Christianity.

February 22, 2020

This is my reply to comments on my blog, underneath the article, Dialogue: Are Paul, the Bible, & Catholicism Against Sex?  Words of anti-theist-type agnostic 90Lew90 (who was dialogue opponent in part 1) will be in blue.


“Each and every sexual act must be marital, unitive and procreative.”

I looked through my words in our last dialogue and could not find this “quote.” So why do you put these words in quotation marks, and where did you get it from. I think I know, but I’d like to hear you admit your little sleight-of-hand attempt here. Just as before, you don’t really interact with my arguments. You simply preach and repeat; and this is a logical fallacy. It doesn’t prove anything, except that you believe x, and preach it repeatedly. It tells us nothing as to the truth or falsity of x.

Your “quotation” as it stands is plainly false according to Catholic teaching, which holds that we are always to be open to procreation, if it occurs (i.e., don’t contracept and don’t murder an innocent, helpless child that is conceived (planned or not). Pope St. Paul VI in his encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 made it quite clear that spacing and limitation of children is permissible on three grounds: financial, emotional, and health reasons.

This means that it is perfectly in accord with Catholic teaching to plan children and to also plan to deliberately have sex (not desiring a child at this particular time, for good and valid reasons) during infertile times in the wife’s reproductive cycle. Nor does the Church forbid sex between infertile couples, or couples past the age of childbearing.

What it forbids is contraception and being hostile to a life that may come about due to our sexual activities.

Anything else is intrinsically evil and gravely immoral.

I have explained what we consider immoral.

This is not the kind of sex anyone has.

Many millions of observant Catholics have it, and secular polling repeatedly establishes that married couples who are serious about their Christian faith (go to church every week, pray, read the Bible, follow the moral teachings, etc.) are 1) happier in general (as indicated by self-reports and far less divorce), and 2) happier and more fulfilled specifically in the sexual sense.

Who woulda thunk it, huh? Us supposedly killjoy, puritanistic, fuddy-dud, Victorian, dour, anti-pleasure, anti-sex Christians have a considerably happier sex life than our wild, “liberated” so-called “free” friends who follow no particular religious code: and this is borne out by secular scientific social studies (sociology was my major). The empty promise in the sexual revolution was blissful happiness to all who ventured out to be as promiscuous as they could be. Somehow it didn’t work out that way. We knew all along that it wouldn’t. Pope Paul VI predicted virtually every alarming social trend having to do with sex, that we see today.

Even to have sex for pleasure is intrinsically evil and gravely immoral.

Not at all; only when pleasure becomes the sole and ultimate end of sex, while procreation is rejected. God invented the gift of sex and gave it to us to enjoy. He could have made reproduction something like a blood transfusion or a specialized handshake or what not. He could have done anything He wanted to. But He chose to make reproduction and sexuality one of the greatest physical pleasures that human beings can experience.

He did the same with eating. Taste buds have no biological function. They are strictly for pleasure. That’s how God wanted it. He could have not created, for example, colors, and the infinite variety of plants and wildlife, and of human personalities and different appearances (hair and eye color, shapes, etc.). He chose variety: knowing that we would enjoy that. The world is a feast for the senses.

The pleasure arising from sex may be seen as good in itself but incidental to the sex act.

Again, it is good; it’s great. It is one of the dual purposes of sex, but it’s not the very essence of sex, which is openness to life and reproduction / procreation, as its fundamental purpose. Many people have the greatest difficulty distinguishing between “not making something an ultimate or sole end” and “bad through and through.”

If pleasure is sought as the end of sex, it is intrinsically evil and gravely immoral.

Strictly speaking (as explained) yes, but of course there are many infertile times when the sex is primarily (in practice) for pleasure and unity and togetherness.

This is not the kind of sex anyone has. Every time you do it, according to the church, you must be trying for a baby.

I already explained above how this is clearly false, and (with just a few moments’ reflection) downright stupid and clueless as well. Nor does the Church require Catholics to have unlimited children. We’re allowed to plan. It’s called Natural Family Planning. We’re not allowed to contracept. I have explained the essential difference between the two things in many papers.

Aquinas bases his sexual ethics on his misconception of nature. While man is allowed special status in creation in almost every other sphere, in sexual matters, Aquinas reduces him to the level of the animals, which he supposes only have sex in order to procreate. We know this is not true of animals, and we know that sex — and sex for pleasure — is of vital importance to healthy human bonding and flourishing. Aquinas not only neglects this view but explicitly rejects it.

I’d have to see what he says. But whatever he teaches, he alone (respected though he is) is not part of the magisterium. In other words, his is not the last word on the topic within Catholicism. So he could quite possibly teach many things that the Church has determined to be false, or incomplete truths. What folks who are actually willing to inquire and understand, should seek out, are the wonderful teachings of Pope St. John Paul II on the theology of the body. This is the highest development of Catholic thought on the topic.

Foreplay is not allowed. “Passionate kissing” is extremely dodgy territory.

Not within a marriage, with the proper understanding of the purpose of sexuality. Foreplay is simply part of sex (read Song of Solomon). What we prohibit is male ejaculation outside of the vagina, and female orgasm completely disconnected from intercourse and possible procreation. And this is because orgasm is made an end in and of itself and separated totally from openness to procreation. This is why homosexual sex is by its very nature gravely disordered.

Aquinas goes so far as to make prescriptions even on the position in which you’re allowed to have sex (the missionary is de rigeur, unless some health ailment precludes it and you can’t procreate unless you do it doggy).

Again, no Catholic is bound to what one man (however eminent) wrote about sexuality in the 13th century.

It is the Catholic notion of sex which is unnatural. The natural law prescriptions about sex are based on a completely ignorant misapprehension of nature.

This is one of your typical broad sweeping assertions with no rational content.

You call these “sensible rules” about sex. On what planet? Certainly not our vastly over-populated one. That much seems certain.

The earth is not overpopulated.

I’m surprised you found that little comment box exchange of ours interesting enough to build a post out of it. It smacks of rather desperate click-bait.

It was an opportunity to reveal the bankruptcy of much of the secular argument against the Catholic Church as regards sex, and that’s why I do dialogues: for their pedagogical value. I’m not just doing this just for fun, or as some sort of pastime (though I do almost always enjoy it). I’m a teacher. This is my life’s work. I will show every time how weak the opposing argument is, when it attempts to trash the Bible, Catholicism, or larger Christianity, and offers nothing remotely as good as an alternative. I’ve never found that to be a difficult task to do. Quite easy, actually . . .

I do hope you’re not as yet in penury, but console yourself with the knowledge that life is supposed to be a bitch. “Offer it up,” as my mother used to say.

Thanks for your concern. I’m doing fine. God has provided our needs, as always. As I always note: we have a great credit score, don’t use credit cards, have no debts except a mortgage, pay all our bills, and take a nice vacation every year. Last year was Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon; two years before that we went to Alaska (9000 mile round trip, by car, from Michigan), etc. So we’re not financially suffering in any real sense of that word.

We’re richer than most people in the world and especially most throughout history. We’re certainly not “rich” by American standards, but that is by our own free choice and a result of our priorities in life. I do include a mild solicitation in many of my articles (see it below) because I provide a service, and deserve to be recompensed for it by people who say they have been aided or helped.


Related Reading

Sexuality, Gender, Feminism, & Divorce web page

Life Issues: Abortion, Contraception, War, Etc. web page


Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not Exist: If you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and two children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
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Photo credit: brett jordan (6-28-10); how many view the Catholic Church, but it is grossly inaccurate; in fact, not even accurate as to the nature of Puritanism, either [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]


June 14, 2019

“JS”, a Thomist, with whom I have recently been debating the nature of predestination, has claimed that Pope John Paul II was a “Thomist.” In a very broad sense, one could state this. But once one looks more closely, I think it is a misleading categorization. Here is our brief exchange, from previous comments on my blog (his words in blue), and a collection of several commentaries on the general question of Thomism and the proponents of it, in its various forms:
* * * * *

Thomism is not the last word on everything in the Church. The present pope and John Paul Great (basically a phenomenologist, philosophically) were not particularly of that train of thought at all, and no one would suspect their orthodoxy or huge contributions to the Mind of the Church. Sometimes it appears to me that Thomists view themselves as sort of the “cream of the crop,” somewhat like Calvinists see themselves within Protestantism.

It’s a great tradition, which has made immense contributions to the Church, and I love St. Thomas, but it’s not the magisterium or the extent of the Mind of the Church. If a Thomist acts like it is, he is wrong. And I’m not commenting on JS! Just a general observation from my 15 years of dialoguing about theological matters . . .

John Paul the II was a Thomist, and trained under the greatest Thomist of the 20th century, Father Lagrange at the Angelicum in Rome. In Fides et Ratio he repeatedly defended the tradition of St. Thomas and the Thomists of the 20th century. John Paul II is actually a perfect example of what a Thomist really is – able to adapt and utilize newer currents in philosophy (as Aquinas had done in his day) in the service of theology. Thomism is the undergirding force behind his phenomenology. St. Edith Stein summarized this nicely, “Phenomenology is the handmaid of Thomism.” John Paul II is very much in this school of thought.

Thomism does have privileged place in Catholic theology as per Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris, St. Pius X’s encyclical Against Modernism and John Paul II’s encyclical Faith and Reason.

No one is denying that it does. Again, what I stated was a far less critical assertion: “Thomism is not the last word on everything in the Church” and “it’s not the magisterium or the extent of the Mind of the Church.”

I believe the “Thomism” that Dave is presenting is an overly narrow view of Thomism that is not consistent with the Church’s doctrinal understanding of it.

I haven’t “presented” Thomism at all; all I did was make a subjective observation of how some Thomists sometimes come off, as a matter of attitude. That is not the thing itself, but rather, how it is presented, over against other broadly philosophical approaches to the faith.

As for John Paul the Great being a “Thomist,” this is not true, as biographer George Weigel makes very clear (nor is Pope Benedict XVI). He had great respect for St. Thomas and Thomism, as all Catholics should and must (I would say), but his thought is not a mere development of Thomism: it moves beyond it and dialogues with it, incorporating its truths within a larger intellectual sphere.

That is exactly how I would describe my own approach: I am a syncretist in terms of philosophical theology. The biggest intellectual influence on me was Cardinal Newman, who is also of a very different school and mode of thinking than Thomism (while immensely respecting its contributions, as I do).

Here are biographer George Weigel’s opinions on this question, from his 992-page volume, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (New York: HarperCollins, 1999):

[T]he Dominican-led Angelicum, where Wojtyla studied, had positioned itself as the defender of a rigorous neo-scholasticism, a form of Thomism that had been developed from the mid-thirteenth through the early twentieth centuries as an alternative to modern philosophical methods . . .

The leading figure on the Angelicum faculty during Wojtyla’s doctoral studies was Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, the undisputed master of traditional neo-scholasticism.

. . . In his review of the dissertation, Garrigou criticized Wojtyla for not using the phrase “divine object” of God . . . Garrigou did not persuade Wojtyla of his point . . . his insistence on not treating God as a divine “object,” even by way of analogy, Wojtyla was moving beyond the vocabulary, formulas, and intellectual categories that dominated the Angelicum during his two years there. The Thomism he had learned in Krakow and at the Angelicum . . . had given him an intellectual foundation. But it was precisely that, a foundation. And foundations were meant to be built upon.

. . . The phenomenologist . . . [is] interested in the experience as a whole, the psychological, physical, moral, and conceptual elements . . . It was phenomenology’s determination to see things whole and get to the reality of things-as-they-are that attracted Karol Wojtyla . . . That he looked to Scheler as a possible guide, and that he put himself through the backbreaking work of translation so that he could analyze Scheler in his own language, suggests that Wojtyla had become convinced that the answers were not found in the neo-scholasticism of Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange . . .

Wojtyla didn’t lock himself into intellectual combat with the philosophical method he had been taught, expending his energies in a war of attrition against an entrenched Catholic way of thinking. Certain forms of neo-scholasticism might have been an obstacle to a genuine Catholic encounter with modern philosophy. Wojtyla simply went around the barrier, having absorbed what was enduring about neo-scholasticism – its conviction that philosophy could get to the truth of things-as-they-are . . . The net result would be what Wojtyla would call, years later, a way of doing philosophy that “synthesized both approaches”: the metaphysical realism of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas and the sensitivity to human experience of Max Scheler’s phenomenology . . . Wojtyla also agreed with Scheler’s claim that human intuitions into the truth of things included moral intuitions, a certain “knowledge of the heart” that was, nonetheless, real knowledge [Dave: this reminds one of Augustine and Pascal, as well as Newman] . . . The question Wojtyla posed in his habilitation thesis was whether Scheler (and, by extension, the phenomenological method) could do for contemporary Christian philosophy and theology what Aristotle had done for Thomas Aquinas.

. . . The KUL [Catholic University of Lublin, where he taught, starting in 1953] philosophers also agreed to adopt a distinctively modern starting point for philosophical inquiry. Philosophy would begin with a disciplined reflection on human experience rather than with cosmology (a general theory of the universe), as ancient and medieval philosophy and the neo-scholasticism Wojtyla had been taught at the Angelicum had done.

. . . Karol Wojtyla’s continuing interest in phenomenology and his ongoing investigation of modern and contemporary philosophy raised eyebrows among some of his more traditional colleagues . . .

Ratzinger’s appointment also suggested that the Pope wanted CDF [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] to interact with the international theological community in a thoroughly contemporary way . . . Cardinal Ratzinger was the first man in his position in centuries who did not take Thomas Aquinas as his philosophical and theological master. The Pope respected Thomism and Thomists, but he broke precedent by appointing a non-Thomistic Prefect of CDF. It was a clear signal that he believed there was a legitimate pluralism of theological methods, and that this pluralism ought to be taken into account in the formulation of authoritative teaching. (pp. 84-87, 127-129, 133, 135, 443-444)

From a blog article: Benedict XVI, Vatican II and Modernity: Tracey Rowland on the Pope’s Interpretation of the Council (July 24, 2005; Zenit.org):

Q: In what sense is Pope Benedict an Augustinian? In what sense is he a Thomist?

Rowland: I would say that Pope Benedict is a Thomist insofar as he would probably agree with most of what St. Thomas wrote. However, he is not a Thomist in the sense of appealing to the authority of St. Thomas in his defense of the faith, focusing his scholarly endeavors upon the works of Aquinas or in the sense of using a scholastic methodology. Rather, Pope Benedict is one of the many members of his generation who, while not disagreeing with the content of Thomist thought, believed that the scholastic presentation of the faith doesn’t exactly set souls on fire unless they happen to be a particular type of soul with a passion for intellectual disputation. He has said that “scholasticism has its greatness, but everything is impersonal.” In contrast, with Augustine “the passionate, suffering, questioning man is always right there, and you can identify with him.” Benedict has also been strongly influenced by the Augustinian principle that faith is the door to understanding. He has said that he believes that a kind of memory, of recollection of God, is etched in man, though it needs to be awakened. His Augustinian pedigree is also manifest in his interest in the transcendental of beauty and his understanding of the catechetical importance of language and symbols and the relationship between matters of form and substance.

From: John Paul II and Human Dignity (June 2005), by Tracey Rowland:

This anthropology took its final academic form in the publication of his work The Acting Person in 1969. The ideas contained in this work are often summarised under the label of Lublin Thomism. The important point here is that his solution to the anthropological challenges of the ensemble of Marxists, Freudians and Nietzscheans, was not a mere warmed up late scholastic Thomism, something which would have been about as effective as the Polish cavalry charge against German tanks in 1939. Rather, he took the classical Thomist insight that every human action has two dimensions: the transitive and intransitive, meaning that every one of our actions has both an internal and external effect, and synthesised this with insights from the Existentialist and Personalist movements. In so doing he linked human dignity, not to power, but to the human capacity for self-transcendence. He argued that human persons can transcend their cultural conditioning, can arise above the temptation to do evil, if they train their wills on the good, and their intellects on the true.

In The Duty to Know, on John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio, John J. Reilly wrote:

John Paul II also takes care to note that Neo-Thomism is not the whole of Christian philosophy, and neither does he propose it as the universal philosophy of the future. He alludes to other, more recent methods, especially the phenomenology that has so influenced his own thinking. He suggests that these different intellectual approaches may nevertheless allow for a unity of method . . .

Here are some relevant statements from Pope John Paul II from Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason: 9-14-98) — green emphases added –:

58. The positive results of the papal summons are well known. Studies of the thought of Saint Thomas and other Scholastic writers received new impetus. Historical studies flourished, resulting in a rediscovery of the riches of Medieval thought, which until then had been largely unknown; and there emerged new Thomistic schools. With the use of historical method, knowledge of the works of Saint Thomas increased greatly, and many scholars had courage enough to introduce the Thomistic tradition into the philosophical and theological discussions of the day. The most influential Catholic theologians of the present century, to whose thinking and research the Second Vatican Council was much indebted, were products of this revival of Thomistic philosophy. Throughout the twentieth century, the Church has been served by a powerful array of thinkers formed in the school of the Angelic Doctor.

59. Yet the Thomistic and neo-Thomistic revival was not the only sign of a resurgence of philosophical thought in culture of Christian inspiration. Earlier still, and parallel to Pope Leo’s call, there had emerged a number of Catholic philosophers who, adopting more recent currents of thought and according to a specific method, produced philosophical works of great influence and lasting value. Some devised syntheses so remarkable that they stood comparison with the great systems of idealism. Others established the epistemological foundations for a new consideration of faith in the light of a renewed understanding of moral consciousness; others again produced a philosophy which, starting with an analysis of immanence, opened the way to the transcendent; and there were finally those who sought to combine the demands of faith with the perspective of phenomenological method. From different quarters, then, modes of philosophical speculation have continued to emerge and have sought to keep alive the great tradition of Christian thought which unites faith and reason.

The following article expresses opinions on these matters, and also concerning Cardinal Newman and his intellectual approach, so eloquently, that I wish to cite it at great length (almost in its entirety):

Chairman addresses the question of Thomism in Franciscan University’s philosophy department, by John F. Crosby:

I had not planned to enter the debate over the place of Thomism in Catholic philosophy. I prefer to listen in and learn from it. But Edy Morel de la Prada leaves me no alternative, for he makes certain public criticisms of the department I chair. He says, in effect, that the philosophy department, since it does not feature Thomism as strictly as he would, has a deficient relation to the teaching Church. He further alleges that, as a result, our department somehow collaborates with the forces of dissent in the post-conciliar Church.

It would not be right to reject such serious criticisms without first carefully considering them. Various popes have expressed great esteem for St. Thomas both as philosopher and theologian, and those expressions of esteem, as indeed all papal utterances, should be carefully listened to. If the leadership in the philosophy department has failed to listen closely enough, it should be willing to recognize this lack and to make the needed changes.

But after carefully reflecting on what Mr. Morel de la Prada is saying to us, I must say I find his interpretation of the mind of the Church with respect to Thomism is a rigid, “wooden” interpretation that would hinder intellectual growth and development in the Church. A fuller, freer, more imaginative interpretation yields a very different picture of the papal recommendations of Thomism. I also find that he shows himself to be surprisingly misinformed about the department he is so eager to reform. I begin with this last point.

Mr. Morel de la Prada suggests that the non-Thomists in the philosophy department hold “that a freedom unhindered by tradition is necessary for one to make a contribution” in philosophy. I suppose I am among those he has in mind. But in my book, The Selfhood of Human Persons, I write in the Introduction: “I stand in the philosophia perennis, in the broad tradition of Western philosophy originating with Plato and Aristotle, and passing through St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and Suarez.” And his characterization not only fails to fit me, it fails to fit most of my colleagues as well.

From Mr. Morel de la Prada’s articles you would never know that the Department of Philosophy passed this resolution, drafted by me, on April 22, 1991: “St. Thomas Aquinas occupies a privileged position within this philosophical patrimony [of the philosophia perennis]. The professors of philosophy recognize, and gladly recognize, the unique stature and prestige of Aquinas, not only as a theologian but also as a philosopher; they gladly concur in the tradition of calling him ‘the Common Doctor.'”

Nor would you be able to tell from his picture of the department that all of us who teach in it would–I am so sure of this that I do not even bother to poll my colleagues–readily agree with what Dr. Waldstein said in his letter to the Concourse about the surpassing wisdom of St. Thomas and the importance of letting him be one of our teachers in philosophy.

Nor does he know that I for my part never identify myself as “a phenomenologist.” I have too many intellectual debts to non-phenomenologists such as Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas, Newman.

Of course, I do not claim that if Mr. Morel de la Prada knew our department better than he does, he would find it sufficiently Thomistic to satisfy him. But he would find vastly more respect for and study of St. Thomas than he had supposed. He would find that his notion about the a-historical approach of most of the faculty does not correspond to what we really are. Above all, he would find that he was not sufficiently informed about us to challenge us publicly to change our ways.

I turn now to my other main difficulty with Mr. Morel de la Prada’s articles. I do not think that he knows how to interpret with balance and precision the papal recommendations of St. Thomas.

I begin by going back to John Henry Cardinal Newman, about whom Mr. Morel de la Prada and Mr. Gordon were debating. I base my remarks on my lifelong immersion in his works, and I say: anyone who dwells in Newman’s intellectual world knows that Newman is in no way indebted to Thomas for his first principles, which he instead derives mainly from the Greek fathers of the Church. In fact, Newman holds any number of philosophical positions that are hardly consistent with those of St. Thomas. The pious references to St. Thomas that Mr. Morel de la Prada cites in Newman can also be found in abundance in von Hildebrand’s Ethics. It is one thing to quote Thomas with respect; it is another thing to take over his first principles in one’s philosophy, and it is just this that is so conspicuously missing in Newman.

In the most thorough study that has been made of Newman the philosopher we read: “It is true that he [Newman] often consulted St. Thomas and other Scholastic theologians… He consulted them as authorities, to be assured that what he had reasoned out for himself was in accordance with the mind of theologians whom he knew to have the approval of the Church, but he never attempted to follow their method, nor their lines of thinking on any theological or philosophical questions” (Sillem, General Introduction to the Study of Newman’s Philosophy, 238, my italics).

Now why do I make so much of Newman’s independence from Thomistic philosophy? Certainly not because I think that he is a model for us in this respect. I do not myself try to follow him in his non-Thomism, nor would I in any way recommend this to my students. I make so much of it because for all his non-Thomism Newman entirely belongs to the Catholic intellectual tradition, and in fact occupies a unique position in it. He is perhaps the most seminal Catholic thinker since the Reformation. He is called the “hidden Council father” of Vatican II, being commonly credited with doing more than any other single theologian to prepare the ground in the Church for Vatican II. The saying of Erich Pryzwara, S.J., has gained great currency in the Church: what St. Augustine was for the Church in the patristic era, and what St. Thomas was for the Church in the medieval era, that Newman is for the Church in the modern era. When in 1991 John Paul II took the first step toward canonizing Newman, the official declaration of the Church read in part: “John Henry Newman’s theological thought is of such stature and profundity that he is judged by many learned men to rank alongside the greatest Fathers of the Church.” But he has this stature and profundity without being a Thomist. Both Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI said that they looked forward to the day when Newman would be declared a doctor of the Church. This means that they looked forward to him being made an official model for Catholic philosophers and theologians even though he was not a Thomist.

We ought to interpret the recommendation of Thomism in the light of those whom the Church proposes to us as models. If a non-Thomist enjoys enormous prestige as a Catholic thinker, and if the popes confirm this prestige, and if none of them ever complains about his not being a Thomist, or expresses any regret about it, then we can only conclude: the recommendation of Thomism does not mean that each and every Catholic philosopher is encouraged to be a Thomist. Nor does it mean that a Catholic philosopher not a Thomist must have a deficient relation to the teaching Church and must be an accomplice to the confusion that presently wracks the Church.

There is something else that the recommendation of Thomism does not mean. It does not mean that all the philosophical theses, or even the fundamental theses of St. Thomas are guaranteed by the Church to be true. A Catholic philosopher, while he should consult the teaching of St. Thomas with the greatest respect, is at liberty to think St. Thomas sometimes errs. It would seem in fact that he has to think this in certain cases, as when St. Thomas takes over Aristotle’s teaching that the human female is a “deformed male,” or when he takes over Aristotle’s account of embryonic development including the theory of “mediate animation,” which has been a source of embarrassment to contemporary Catholic philosophers trying to defend the personhood of the embryo from the moment of conception. Even with regard to St. Thomas’s philosophical first principles it is possible to have serious reservations. The great Italian Thomist, Cornelio Fabro, thought that the account of freedom in St. Thomas, so far as it was based on Aristotle, was in many ways problematic.

. . . It seems to me that one should never say of any human philosophy that it is “indestructible as truth.” Any philosophy developed by Christians, even if developed by thinkers of the stature of St. Augustine, St. Thomas or St. Bonaventure, always shows itself to be “treasure in earthen vessels.” That is, for all the treasures of truth and wisdom to be found in such philosophy, there is always also in it no lack of historical conditioning, unclarified concepts, missing distinctions, doubtful inferences, regrettable lapses, etc. One should not venerate any Christian philosophy, not even the Thomistic philosophy, in such a way as to overlook, or to repress, this inevitably earthen side of it. Otherwise, one ends up canonizing all the historical contingencies and deficiencies of that philosophy.

All the papal recommendations quite leave open the possibility that some future philosopher or school of thought will develop a philosophy, which, while preserving all the truth in Thomas, will go beyond him. In the 13th century St. Augustine was the pre-eminent Christian philosopher; along came St. Thomas, who took over this position of pre-eminence. Why should this surpassing not happen again? There are weighty reasons for thinking that at least in certain points of philosophy, including certain fundamental points, Christian philosophers have already gone decisively beyond St. Thomas. I do not only speak of correcting St. Thomas, but also of their working toward a more comprehensive view of reality. Think of the way in which Karol Wojtyla has objected to what he calls the excessively “cosmological” approach of the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy; think of the more “personalist” approach that he himself takes. (See his short essay, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in Man.”) He is of the opinion that with his personalism he is retrieving an important dimension of the human person that remained altogether undeveloped in the tradition. It is true that he wants to preserve the truth in the old cosmological view of man; and yet his own view, once systematically developed, could become a unified philosophy more perfectly congenial to Christian revelation than the Thomistic.

Mr. Morel de la Prada should take care not to turn Thomistic philosophy into an obstacle to this growth of which Christian philosophy is capable. He should beware of casting aspersions on the labors of Catholic philosophers, whose work might one day share in the prestige St. Thomas today enjoys. Above all, he really must abstain from the insinuation that the work undertaken by non-Thomists must be born of a grudging spirit that refuses to accept wholeheartedly the magisterium of the Church.

This is not the first time I have seen Thomism used in a way that cramps and constrains the freedom Catholic philosophers need to do their work. It is now widely recognized that in the century before Vatican II a rigid “manualistic” Thomism had become established in many Catholic seminaries and universities, and that, under the impact of the Council, Catholic philosophy cracked and came apart, becoming engulfed in confusion, in part because authentic philosophy had for too long been replaced by a kind of “Thomistic ideology.” Looked at from this perspective it is the Thomists of the strict observance who may be contributing to the continuing crisis in the Church; they may be absolutizing St. Thomas in such a way as to pervert authentic philosophy into ideology, which then inexorably calls forth reactions that do the Church great harm.

The Church since the Council seems to be aware of the danger of prescribing Thomism too strictly; in any case, the old recommendation of St. Thomas as philosopher has been significantly weakened. Just compare the old with the new Code of Law with respect to the philosophical formation of seminarians. The old code says: “let the professors deal with the study of rational philosophy and theology…entirely according to the thought, content, and principles of the Angelic Doctor and let them hold these things as sacred” (Canon 1366.2). The new code does not so much as mention St. Thomas; instead the well-known expression of Vatican II, “the ever valid philosophical patrimony,” is used (in Canon 251) to describe the philosophical education of seminarians.

It is not to the point to insist on the special place St. Thomas occupied in this philosophical patrimony; I quite recognize it. But we cannot fail to recognize the fact that the Church since the Council has taken a more inclusive approach to Christian philosophy. This is also the approach we take in the philosophy department at Franciscan University.

See the related article: A perennially valid and Christian philosophy: Why the Church gives St. Thomas primacy of place in Catholic education, by Edy Morel de la Prada.

In a further article, John F. Crosby writes, hitting the nail on the head again:

I am reminded of the debates that Newman had with the English Ultramontanes of his day. They went much farther than he did on the question of papal infallibility. Newman thought that this theological difference between himself and them was fairly minor, being just the kind of difference that is bound to exist at all times in the Church. But the Ultramontanes refused to be so conciliatory; they questioned the Catholic faith of those who did not go the full distance with them on papal infallibility. This provoked a severe rebuke from Newman, an example of which is a famous letter written to Ward: “I protest then again, not against your tenets, but against what I must call your schismatical spirit.”

So the question is, does Mr. Morel de la Prada think that his own reading of the recommendations of Thomism completely coincides with the mind of the Church, so that any other reading of it is foreign to the mind of the Church? He seems to suggest this in the opening of his response to me. For he has me saying that the Church’s recommendation of Thomas is wooden and rigid, when in fact I only said that his interpretation of this recommendation seems to me wooden and rigid. He does not seem to mark any distinction between the mind of the Church and his own reading of the mind of the Church. But it is all important for him to make this distinction. For then it becomes possible for him to say that, as there are legitimately diverse interpretations of infallibility, so there are legitimately diverse interpretations of the recommendations of Thomism. And then he can say that these recommendations fully leave a place for Catholic philosophers who, while approaching Thomas with the greatest respect and studying him as a master from whom one has much to learn, can still not adhere to every point in Thomas with the strictness with which he personally adheres to every point.

. . . In this matter of due nuance I would urge Mr. Morel de la Prada to take greater care with his use of papal documents. In his response to me I think that he trims rather too tendentiously his quotations from John Paul’s address of September 29, 1990. He omitted these words from the passage he quoted, words in which John Paul explains why the direct references to St. Thomas were dropped at Vatican II and in the new Code of Canon Law: “without doubt the Council wanted to encourage the development of theological studies and allow their followers a legitimate pluralism and a healthy freedom of research…” The recommendation of Thomism has to be qualified by the necessity of this “legitimate pluralism.” The Church is teaching this today more emphatically than she taught it before . . . We see that there is as much a place in the intellectual realm of the Church for Newman and Blondel and von Balthasar as for Garrigou-Lagrange and Maritain and Gilson, and that it would in fact be a great loss for the Church if she had only the latter.  (Finding common ground between Thomists and non-Thomists in Catholic philosophy)

Here is another observation from Tracey Rowland: De Lubac’s writings in English translations:

One of the major undertakings of Ignatius Press has been to publish in English translation the works of the most influential European theologians in the Communio circles. The word “Communio” stands for both the title of a journal which is published in several different languages and the ecclesiology, or theory of the Church, implicit within the works of scholars associated with the journal. Initially, in the late 1960s, the leaders of this theological group were Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac. All three were subsequently nominated as Cardinals.

Another concept associated with the Communio circles is that of “ressourcement” – a French word translated as “back to the sources”. Ressourcement scholars were all in different ways critical of elements of late scholasticism and neo-Thomism. They believed that the Thomist tradition, although of great value for the Church, had become ossified into rigid categories, that principles which were thought to have been formulated by Aquinas were in fact 16th century revisions, that the interpretation of the grace-nature relationship in 16th and 17th century scholastic thought had given rise to unhelpful dualisms in Catholic thought and practice, that the insights of the Patristics had been neglected in the focus upon scholasticism, and that the intellectual formation of seminarians was all too often limited to parroting scholastic maxims. They were not, however, opposed to Thomism per se.

Historians of the Second Vatican Council tend to agree that there were three dominant intellectual groups represented at the Council: the Neo-Thomists, the Ressourcement types (most particularly de Lubac), and the Transcendental Thomists (most particularly Karl Rahner). Thus one way of construing post-Conciliar theological conflict is to study the fault-lines which define scholars as proponents of one or other of these positions. Fr Joseph Fessio SJ, the founder of Ignatius Press, is in the Ressourcement tradition and this explains his emphasis upon the publication of the works of de Lubac, Ratzinger and von Balthasar.


(originally 5-5-06)

Photo credit: Detail from Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas over Averroes, by Benozzo Gozzoli (1420–97) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


February 16, 2019

[purchase my apologetics notes only, from this bestselling work, for only $2.99]


This is a response to a tag in an article written by Catholic journalist Jay McNally. It had to do with the early Internet, and how journalists have fared in the Internet Age. Jay seems to imply that I am a journalist, which I deny. I’m an apologist. Apples and oranges. Anyway, I had thoughts about it that I wrote on his page and now share here. Jay wrote:

I enjoyed this paragraph early in the essay and thought of my friend Dave Armstrong:

Most professional journalists who had work when the Web was born are out of the business, or under-employed within it. Many work for little or no money. Crazy as it may seem, they keep working because they believe the world needs what they do.

Since my name was (somewhat curiously) mentioned, just some thoughts that I have, for the record (stimulated by your comment!):

1. I’m not a journalist (like you) but an apologist, evangelist, and teacher. They are different tasks and goals, though they can overlap. You seem to think that my job should necessarily incorporate what you do (per our discussions about problems in the Church), but I would disagree with that. I’m not an ombudsman or investigative journalist for the Church: coming up with all the “inside dope” and exposing scandals, corruption, and sin in the bishops and various Catholic organizations (that’s your task) but rather, a defender of it and its doctrines, and of larger Christianity over against secularism.

2. Apologetics has always been a tiny field in terms of bookselling. As Karl Keating has said, 10,000 copies sold is considered a bestseller. I have exceeded or will exceed 20,000 for several of my books. In other words, the success or lack thereof in terms of selling books, for an apologist, is not due only or even primarily to the Internet, but rather, to the fact that only a tiny percentage of Catholics could care less about apologetics or even theology itself, and learning more about it.

3. The folks in apologetics who are doing the “best” (i.e., financially) are doing so, not mainly because of the Internet but because of 1) TV, 2) radio, 3) the lecture circuit, 4) large donor bases, and 5) aggressive fundraising campaigns using Madison Avenue type time-honored techniques (which are fine and perfectly ethical for a very good cause, as this is, but I personally don’t care much for them, myself).

All of these existed prior to the advent of the Internet. I have none of those advantages (though I have been on the radio about 25 times; I meant having a regular show), and do merely one mild, quite low-key fundraiser each fall. Even that began only in 2012 because of the Obama economy. I hadn’t done a fundraiser since 2001, before that. I’m one of very few full-time Catholic apologists who have succeeded without any of the five advantages above. It has all been a result of my writing. If folks like it, they’ll buy my books and/or consider financially supporting my apostolate. But that’s what they get with me: tons of writing: over 2,200 blog posts and 50 books [as of February 2019].

4. My career as a professional writer (originally part-time) began before the Internet took off: in 1993, when I first made it into Catholic magazines. My first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (finished in 1996, published in 2003) was endorsed by Fr. John A. Hardon (in the Foreword) in 1994. My conversion story was also one of eleven in Surprised by Truth that year. But there is no question that the Internet has played a key role in whatever name recognition I have achieved.

5. We chose to live simply and to give up certain things (that lots of folks think they can’t live without), and we are perfectly happy doing so.

6. The world certainly “needs” evangelization and its half-sister, apologetics. Like Jesus said: “the harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few.”

7. We manage (with four children) to pay all our bills, have good credit, no debts excepting our mortgage; we don’t use credit cards, and take a good vacation every year (including four times out west since 2006, from Michigan, and Nova Scotia in 2004).

In a month I will have 19 books that have been published by “real” publishers (not just self-published: though I do a lot of that, too). That’s very successful in the publishing world by any standard or reckoning, so I don’t consider myself “under-employed” nor making “little or no money”: though by American materialistic standards I don’t have much. It’s fine for the life we have chosen, since we’re payin’ our bills and manage to do a lot of fun things for entertainment and recreation.

8. Moral of the story: If God calls a person to a particular task, He will provide and make a way for them to do so. I’ve been a full-time apologist since December 2001. God has provided. I can testify to that. That is the main reason I write this lengthy comment: to give the glory to God and give testimony that He is good to His word: He provides our needs when we devote our lives to Him (in whatever calling in life He has for us). On “paper” it didn’t seem possible, yet it happened, and is a matter of record, and continues to be the case. I’m perfectly happy, content, and fulfilled in what I do and wouldn’t do anything other: precisely because we must follow God’s calling in our lives.

I write this in part, knowing that there are people out there (I hear from them occasionally) who don’t know a thing about my living situation, who believe any number of myths about me and my family and are quite willing to slander me in public: such as, for example, that we’re starving and destitute because I am obsessed with having a blog, typing like a madman up in my “attic” (what one idiot critic of mine calls the top floor of a bungalow) and force my wife to go along, and other such absurdly false caricatures that have no relation to truth whatsoever (in fact, are invariably precisely the opposite of the truth).

We don’t feel that we are lacking in anything. Like St. Paul wrote: “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11, RSV).

Whether journalists can say the same about their life situations, I have no idea, but then again, I am not a journalist in the first place . . . (which is why I thought it was odd that my name was brought up in this context, and wanted to clarify some things).


(originally 3-6-14)


January 31, 2019

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)


IV, 15:10-11


Book IV



10. Objection of those who imagine that there is some kind of perfect renovation after baptism. Original depravity remains after baptism. Its existence in infants. The elect after baptism are righteous in this life only by imputation.

It is now clear how false the doctrine is which some long ago taught, and others still persist in, that by baptism we are exempted and set free from original sin, and from the corruption which was propagated by Adam to all his posterity, and that we are restored to the same righteousness and purity of nature which Adam would have had if he had maintained the integrity in which he was created. This class of teachers never understand what is meant by original sin, original righteousness, or the grace of baptism. 

Calvin’s roster of the ignorant contains many great figures who do not hold to his novel views of baptism and its effects:

St. Irenaeus

‘And [Naaman] dipped himself . . . seven times in the Jordan’ [2 Kgs. 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’. (Fragment 34 [A.D. 190])

St. Clement of Alexandria

When we are baptized, we are enlightened. Being enlightened, we are adopted as sons. Adopted as sons, we are made perfect. Made perfect, we become immortal . . . ‘and sons of the Most High’ [Ps. 82:6]. This work is variously called grace, illumination, perfection, and washing. It is a washing by which we are cleansed of sins, a gift of grace by which the punishments due our sins are remitted, an illumination by which we behold that holy light of salvation. (The Instructor of Children 1:6:26:1 [A.D. 191])

St. Cyprian of Carthage

While I was lying in darkness . . . I thought it indeed difficult and hard to believe . . . that divine mercy was promised for my salvation, so that anyone might be born again and quickened unto a new life by the laver of the saving water, he might put off what he had been before, and, although the structure of the body remained, he might change himself in soul and mind. . . . But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the water of rebirth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; afterwards, through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man. (To Donatus 3–4 [A.D. 246])

St. Cyril of Jerusalem

If any man does not receive baptism, he does not have salvation. The only exception is the martyrs, who, even without water, will receive baptism, for the Savior calls martyrdom a baptism [Mark 10:38]. . . . Bearing your sins, you go down into the water; but the calling down of grace seals your soul and does not permit that you afterwards be swallowed up by the fearsome dragon. You go down dead in your sins, and you come up made alive in righteousness. (Catechetical Lectures 3:10, 12 [A.D. 350])

St. Ephraem

The baptized when they come up are sanctified;–the sealed when they go down are pardoned.—They who come up have put on glory;–they who go down have cast off sin. (Hymns for the Feast of the Epiphany, 6:9 [ante A.D. 373] )

St. Basil the Great

For prisoners, baptism is ransom, forgiveness of debts, the death of sin, regeneration of the soul, a resplendent garment, an unbreakable seal, a chariot to heaven, a royal protector, a gift of adoption. (Sermons on Moral and Practical Subjects 13:5 [A.D. 379])

St. Gregory of Nazianz 

Such is the grace and power of baptism; not an overwhelming of the world as of old, but a purification of the sins of each individual, and a complete cleansing from all the bruises and stains of sin. And since we are double-made, I mean of body and soul, and the one part is visible, the other invisible, so the cleansing also is twofold, by water and the Spirit; the one received visibly in the body, the other concurring with it invisibly and apart from the body; the one typical, the other real and cleansing the depths. (Oration on Holy Baptism 7–8 [A.D. 388])

St. Ambrose of Milan

The Lord was baptized, not to be cleansed himself but to cleanse the waters, so that those waters, cleansed by the flesh of Christ which knew no sin, might have the power of baptism. Whoever comes, therefore, to the washing of Christ lays aside his sins. (Commentary on Luke 2:83 [A.D. 389])

St. Augustine

Baptism washes away all, absolutely all, our sins, whether of deed, word, or thought, whether sins original or added, whether knowingly or unknowingly contracted. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 3:3:5 [A.D. 420])

This is the meaning of the great sacrament of baptism, which is celebrated among us: all who attain to this grace die thereby to sin—as he himself [Jesus] is said to have died to sin because he died in the flesh (that is, ‘in the likeness of sin’)—and they are thereby alive by being reborn in the baptismal font, just as he rose again from the sepulcher. This is the case no matter what the age of the body. For whether it be a newborn infant or a decrepit old man—since no one should be barred from baptism—just so, there is no one who does not die to sin in baptism. Infants die to original sin only; adults, to all those sins which they have added, through their evil living, to the burden they brought with them at birth. (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love 13[41] [A.D. 421])

Now, it has been previously shown (Book 2 chap. 1 sec. 8), that original sin is the depravity and corruption of our nature, which first makes us liable to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which Scripture terms the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19). The two things, therefore, must be distinctly observed—viz. that we are vitiated and perverted in all parts of our nature, and then, on account of this corruption, are justly held to be condemned and convicted before God, to whom nothing is acceptable but purity, innocence, and righteousness. And hence, even infants bring their condemnation with them from their mother’s womb; for although they have not yet brought forth the fruits of their unrighteousness, they have its seed included in them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed of sin, and, therefore, cannot but be odious and abominable to God. 

Calvin’s faulty, excessive view of total depravity has been examined in these papers of mine:

Total Depravity & the Evil of the Non-Elect (vs. John Calvin) [10-12-12]
Believers become assured by baptism, that this condemnation is entirely withdrawn from them, since (as has been said) the Lord by this sign promises that a full and entire remission has been made, both of the guilt which was imputed to us, and the penalty incurred by the guilt. 
These statements are not too far from Catholicism.
*They also apprehend righteousness, but such righteousness as the people of God can obtain in this life—viz. by imputation only, God, in his mercy, regarding them as righteous and innocent.The falsity of imputation only with regard to removal of sin, is refuted by innumerable Scripture passages:
11. Original corruption trying to the pious during the whole course of their lives. They do not, on this account, seek a licence for sin. They rather walk more cautiously and safely in the ways of the Lord.

Another point is, that this corruption never ceases in us, but constantly produces new fruits—viz. those works of the flesh which we previously described, just as a burning furnace perpetually sends forth flame and sparks, or a fountain is ever pouring out water. For concupiscence never wholly dies or is extinguished in men, until, freed by death from the body of death, they have altogether laid aside their own nature (Book 3 chap. 3 sec. 10-13). 

Catholics agree that concupiscence continues in us, but not that our entire human nature is corrupted.

Baptism, indeed, tells us that our Pharaoh is drowned and sin mortified; not so, however, as no longer to exist, or give no trouble, but only so as not to have dominion. For as long as we live shut up in this prison of the body, the remains of sin dwell in us, but if we faithfully hold the promise which God has given us in baptism, they will neither rule nor reign. But let no man deceive himself, let no man look complacently on his disease, when he hears that sin always dwells in us. When we say so, it is not in order that those who are otherwise too prone to sin may sleep securely in their sins, but only that those who are tried and stung by the flesh may not faint and despond. Let them rather reflect that they are still on the way, and think that they have made great progress when they feel that their concupiscence is somewhat diminished from day to day, until they shall have reached the point at which they aim—viz. the final death of the flesh; a death which shall be completed at the termination of this mortal life. Meanwhile, let them cease not to contend strenuously, and animate themselves to further progress, and press on to complete victory. Their efforts should be stimulated by the consideration, that after a lengthened struggle much still remains to be done. We ought to hold that we are baptised for the mortification of our flesh, which is begun in baptism, is prosecuted every day, and will be finished when we depart from this life to go to the Lord.

This is a good section that Catholics can agree with. Calvin agrees that the Christian life is one of day-by-day struggle and vigilance in the avoidance of sin by God’s grace. His practical piety and spirituality is much better (and far more biblical) than his abstract, flawed soteriology (and this is common ground where Catholics and Calvinists can wholeheartedly agree). I have noted and rejoiced elsewhere that Calvin strongly urges good works as the proof of a lively and authentic faith.


(originally 11-17-09)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


December 19, 2018

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1845, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin (2010 book: 388 pages)

A Biblical Critique of Calvinism (2012 book: 178 pages)

Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love” (2010 book: 187 pages; includes biblical critiques of all five points of “TULIP”)


IV, 1:20-23


Book IV


20. Fifth objection. Answer to the ancient and modern Cathari, and to the Novatians, concerning the forgiveness of sins

Their moroseness and pride proceed even to greater lengths. Refusing to acknowledge any church that is not pure from the minutest blemish, they take offence at sound teachers for exhorting believers to make progress, and so teaching them to groan during their whole lives under the burden of sin, and flee for pardon. For they pretend that in this way believers are led away from perfection. I admit that we are not to labour feebly or coldly in urging perfection, far less to desist from urging it; but I hold that it is a device of the devil to fill our minds with a confident belief of it while we are still in our course. 

This is highly important. Note that Calvin is discussing and urging the necessity of progressive sanctification. He is not resting on an abstract assurance, as if the believer needs no further vigilance and has no sense of process. This is quite different from the mindset of many of his followers today and various offshoots of his thought (the “instant salvation” / “absolute assurance” / “eternal security mindsets).

Accordingly, in the Creed forgiveness of sins is appropriately subjoined to belief as to the Church, because none obtain forgiveness but those who are citizens, and of the household of the Church, as we read in the Prophet (Is. 33:24). 

How rare would such a thought be in many Protestant circles today! Calvin retains the corporate sense of even forgiveness of sins.

The first place, therefore, should be given to the building of the heavenly Jerusalem, in which God afterwards is pleased to wipe away the iniquity of all who betake themselves to it. I say, however, that the Church must first be built; not that there can be any church without forgiveness of sins, but because the Lord has not promised his mercy save in the communion of saints. 

Another extremely important point . . . This is as far as it can be from the prevalent “me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit” individualistic mentality we often observe today. That’s far more “American” than it is Catholic or even Calvinist, let alone biblical.

Therefore, our first entrance into the Church and the kingdom of God is by forgiveness of sins, without which we have no covenant nor union with God. 

The Catholic applies this to baptismal regeneration, but alas, Calvin rejected that (though I believe some Calvinists argue that he did not reject it).

For thus he speaks by the Prophet, “In that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow, and the sword, and the battle, out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely. And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies” (Hos. 2:18, 19). We see in what way the Lord reconciles us to himself by his mercy. So in another passage, where he foretells that the people whom he had scattered in anger will again be gathered together, “I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me” (Jer. 33:8). Wherefore, our initiation into the fellowship of the Church is, by the symbol of ablution, to teach us that we have no admission into the family of God, unless by his goodness our impurities are previously washed away.

Again, I would challenge the Calvinist as to what this means in concrete terms. If it is not in baptism, then from whence does it come? He is probably (I would guess) referring to sanctification, not imputed justification, because “cleanse them from all their iniquity” and “our impurities are previously washed away” are literally analogous to a real, in-this-life cleansing of sin, not a merely declared, forensic, abstract, extrinsic “cleansing.” It’s not totally clear what he means, so I am speculating a bit here.

21. Answer to the fifth objection continued. By the forgiveness of sins believers are enabled to remain perpetually in the Church.

Nor by remission of sins does the Lord only once for all elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive if only granted once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in need of divine mercy. 

This goes against the “eternal security” notion: i.e., when it is corrupted and used as a pretext for antinomian freedom from concerns of ongoing holiness. It seems to be a notion of ongoing forgiveness of sins, somewhat akin to the Catholic sacramental absolution, at least insofar as it is ongoing. But I doubt that Calvin would apply it in its entirety to that mechanism of forgiveness, so I will have to read on to see exactly what he means (particularly by the term “remission of sins”).

And truly it is not without cause that the Lord promises this gift specially to his own household, nor in vain that he orders the same message of reconciliation to be daily delivered to them. 

This seems to imply a preaching function only; not a sacramental remission of sins and absolution.

Wherefore, as during our whole lives we carry about with us the remains of sin, we could not continue in the Church one single moment were we not sustained by the uninterrupted grace of God in forgiving our sins. 

Now it is starting to sound more typically “Protestant” . . . the process is more subjective, internal, and abstract, rather than concrete and sacramental, and involving another human being (i.e., a priest).

On the other hand, the Lord has called his people to eternal salvation, and therefore they ought to consider that pardon for their sins is always ready. Hence let us surely hold that if we are admitted and ingrafted into the body of the Church, the forgiveness of sins has been bestowed, and is daily bestowed on us, in divine liberality, through the intervention of Christ’s merits, and the sanctification of the Spirit.

Calvin’s categorization of this process under “sanctification” shows that, for him, it has nothing directly to do with salvation. Indirectly it does, though, even for Calvin, since he holds that works are an essential manifestation of an authentic saving faith.

22. The keys of the Church given for the express purpose of securing this benefit. A summary of the answer to the fifth objection.

To impart this blessing to us, the keys have been given to the Church (Mt. 16:19; 18:18). 

But also to St. Peter, preeminently and individually, which fact Calvin deliberately passes over.

For when Christ gave the command to the apostles, and conferred the power of forgiving sins, he not merely intended that they should loose the sins of those who should be converted from impiety to the faith of Christ; but, moreover, that they should perpetually perform this office among believers. 

That sounds sacramental and very Catholic again . . . let’s see where Calvin goes form here.

This Paul teaches, when he says that the embassy of reconciliation has been committed to the ministers of the Church, that they may ever and anon in the name of Christ exhort the people to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). 

But how to be reconciled, is the question . . . Catholics agree that one can become right with God again, without the need of priestly absolution, in the matter of venial sin (it can aid in that but is not required), but not when mortal sin has occurred.

Therefore, in the communion of saints our sins are constantly forgiven by the ministry of the Church, when presbyters or bishops, to whom the office has been committed, 

Calvinist bishops? What has happened to them, pray tell?

confirm pious consciences, in the hope of pardon and forgiveness by the promises of the gospel, and that as well in public as in private, as the case requires. For there are many who, from their infirmity, stand in need of special pacification, and Paul declares that he testified of the grace of Christ not only in the public assembly, but from house to house, reminding each individually of the doctrine of salvation (Acts 20:20, 21). 

Calvin is now being more clear that he intends more or less a preaching function (which is classic “low church” Protestantism): tell people the message of reconciliation and they (by God’s grace and His will) will receive it of their own accord without need of sacramental absolution or even baptismal regeneration. I’ve dealt with this at length.

Calvin neglects to also include the transactional element of forgiveness of sins. The priest does not only, merely declare (by preaching or evangelizing) the availability of forgiveness and reconciliation through God’s grace, to be subjectively appropriated by the individual; he also brings it about as a sacramental agent. Calvin apparently rejects this latter element. But it is entirely biblical:

Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

John 20:21-23 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

“Binding” and “loosing” were rabbinical terms that had to do with authority to punish or pardon. We see the Apostle Paul literally exercising these prerogatives with the Corinthians. He “binds” in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (what Catholics would call “imposing a penance”) and “looses” in 2 Corinthians 2:6-11. Paul forgives another man for a transgression that wasn’t personally committed against him, and instructs the Corinthians to do the same (the sin wasn’t committed against all of them, either). So both he and the Corinthians as a whole were acting as “God’s representatives” in the matter of forgiving sins (emphases added):

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, 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.

2 Corinthians 2:6-11 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. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

Three things are here to be observed. First, Whatever be the holiness which the children of God possess, it is always under the condition, that so long as they dwell in a mortal body, they cannot stand before God without forgiveness of sins. 

Very true. And in the end these will have to literally be removed or cleansed, which is precisely why we believe in purgatory.

Secondly, This benefit is so peculiar to the Church, that we cannot enjoy it unless we continue in the communion of the Church. 

Yes, but again, how is it appropriated by the individual in the Church, and from whom does it come on a human level, as a representative of God? That is our difference.

Thirdly, It is dispensed to us by the ministers and pastors of the Church, either in the preaching of the Gospel or the administration of the Sacraments, and herein is especially manifested the power of the keys, which the Lord has bestowed on the company of the faithful. Accordingly, let each of us consider it to be his duty to seek forgiveness of sins only where the Lord has placed it. Of the public reconciliation which relates to discipline, we shall speak at the proper place.

As far as I know, Calvin only allowed for the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, and neither in the traditional sense of a real regenerational change and the Real Presence of Christ on the altar after the consecration. I’m unaware that he retained the sacrament of absolution / reconciliation / confession. Perhaps I’ll learn differently, as I proceed.

23. Sixth objection, formerly advanced by the Novatians, and renewed by the Anabaptists. This error confuted by the Lord’s Prayer.

But since those frantic spirits of whom I have spoken attempt to rob the Church of this the only anchor of salvation, consciences must be more firmly strengthened against this pestilential opinion. 

Calvin, like Luther, was already dealing with Protestant fanatics and sectarians to the “left” of him: the so-called “radical reformers.” This was of great concern to both of them, and they made no bones about being troubled by it. They don’t seem to figure out, however, that these sectarians were acting consistently upon Luther and Calvin’s new principles of authority: private judgment, absolute supremacy of the individual conscience, sola Scriptura in some form, etc.

In other words, where Luther and Calvin saw a qualitative, essential difference between themselves and these sectarians, Catholics see only a matter of degree, and a different place on the same essential spectrum, and see both parties using the same rule of faith, but applied in real life to a greater or lesser extreme. Calvin was certainly closer to the received Catholic tradition than these more radical factions, but not (from our Catholic perspective) as much closer as he himself assumed.

The Novatians, in ancient times, agitated the Churches with this dogma, but in our day, not unlike the Novatians are some of the Anabaptists, who have fallen into the same delirious dreams. 

Just as I mentioned in my last comment (I’m replying as I read) . . .

For they pretend that in baptism, the people of God are regenerated to a pure and angelical life, which is not polluted by any carnal defilements.

It’s interesting that they have some notion of regeneration (which is correct and orthodox) but take it too far and act as if this wipes out any future sin.

But if a man sin after baptism, they leave him nothing except the inexorable judgment of God. In short, to the sinner who has lapsed after receiving grace they give no hope of pardon, because they admit no other forgiveness of sins save that by which we are first regenerated. 

Which is far too rigorous and unscriptural (as well as remarkably unrealistic and untrue to human reality), as Calvin rightly observes . . .

But although no falsehood is more clearly refuted by Scripture, yet as these men find means of imposition (as Novatus also of old had very many followers), let us briefly show how much they rave, to the destruction both of themselves and others. In the first place, since by the command of our Lord the saints daily repeat this prayer, “Forgive us our debts” (Mt. 6:12), they confess that they are debtors. 

Great point!

Nor do they ask in vain; for the Lord has only enjoined them to ask what he will give. Nay, while he has declared that the whole prayer will be heard by his Father, he has sealed this absolution with a peculiar promise. What more do we wish? The Lord requires of his saints confession of sins during their whole lives, and that without ceasing, and promises pardon. 

Good as far as it goes . . . Calvin needs, however, to add the priestly, absolution element to have the entire biblical doctrine of confession.

How presumptuous, then, to exempt them from sin, or when they have stumbled, to exclude them altogether from grace? Then whom does he enjoin us to pardon seventy and seven times? Is it not our brethren? (Mt. 18:22)

Another wonderfully relevant and apt rejoinder . . .

And why has he so enjoined but that we may imitate his clemency? He therefore pardons not once or twice only, but as often as, under a sense of our faults, we feel alarmed, and sighing call upon him.

Exactly right (not forgetting the inherent limitations of his entire doctrine of forgiveness of sins).


(originally 5-15-09; rev. 12-19-18)

Photo credit: Historical mixed media figure of John Calvin produced by artist/historian George S. Stuart and photographed by Peter d’Aprix: from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures archive [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


December 6, 2018

[my book above was published by Catholic Answers in 2012. See full book and purchase information]


[The article below was published in This Rock: 1 November 2004]


Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11–13)

My wife and I looked at each other with that expression of concern that husbands and wives share in inverse proportion to how much income they happen to be blessed with. This happened just last week, as it has many times over the course of our marriage. Being in ministry or having an apostolate (as Catholics generally describe it) presents its own unique financial, emotional, and psychological challenges, especially for a married man with four children.

Almost every time when we get to the point of worrying out loud about where the next dollar will come from and how we will pay the latest bill due, one or the other of us will hearken back to what God has done in the past when we were about to give up, and all hope of financial survival—that is, while being in full- or part-time ministry—seemed lost.

We can bear witness to the fact that God has provided our needs. We’re not in danger of cracking the Forbes 500, but our bills have been paid, we have a decent house, we’re healthy, and our family is clothed and fed. Time and again when we were at the brink of discouragement and disenchantment, money would come from somewhere, and we would feel ashamed at our anxiety and lack of faith. It’s happened so many times that we marvel at it and thank God for his tender mercies. I wish we had written all of these “saved in the nick of time” occurrences down. It would be quite a story.

Today it remains true that God provides the basic needs of his children. I am presupposing, of course, that able-bodied men and women are doing some sort of work by way of making a living (cf. 1 Tim. 5:8). That said, our Lord Jesus himself, in his Sermon on the Mount, taught us that we should not be anxious about food, clothing, or the troubles that may come “tomorrow” (cf. Matt. 6:25–34).

The Catholic Church is oriented to celibate priests and nuns doing ministry and devoting themselves to the Lord with a minimum of distraction (cf. 1 Cor. 7). That is as it should be. Praise God for all these wonderful men and women who are “married to the Lord.” We should all pray for them daily and express our gratitude for their work as often as we can. They are engaged in a heroic level of commitment for the sake of the gospel and the Church.

Yet there is also a definite place for lay ministry (of both single and married men and women) in the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council placed particular emphasis on the laity in its Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam Actuositatem). The following passage provides a good capsule summary of the thrust of the Council’s teaching about the laity:

Since, in our own times, new problems are arising and very serious errors are circulating that tend to undermine the foundations of religion, the moral order, and human society itself, this sacred synod earnestly exhorts laymen—each according to his own gifts of intelligence and learning—to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church (AA 2:6).

The Church has been blessed with great lay teachers and ministers, especially in the area of apologetics. In the last century, Frank Sheed and the Catholic Evidence Guild immediately come to mind, as do G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. The growing, thriving apologetics movement in the Church today is populated by many lay apologists. Some are theologically trained former pastors (Scott Hahn and Marcus Grodi); some are theologically trained non-pastors (Karl Keating); some are academics in other fields but also very skilled apologists (as the Anglican C. S. Lewis was), such as Peter Kreeft (philosophy), and Thomas Howard (English). Still others have no significant formal theological education (Mark Shea, Steve Ray, and many others; I fall into this category).

So there are differences in qualifications and areas of strength and specialties, but all of these men are laymen. I hasten to add that many of the current top apologists are priests and religious (Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Fr. Peter Stravinskas, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Mother Angelica). To the extent that all of these writers and teachers are engaged in spreading the faith and the gospel of salvation and the message of the fullness of Christianity found in the Catholic Church, they are engaged in ministry and an apostolate of some sort.

Charting the Course

How does one determine such a vocation? I think it is largely like anything else in life: One finds that certain activities are enjoyable and interesting, and, with the aid of prayer and spiritual discernment and the counsel of others, discovers that this might be an area to be pursued as one’s occupation. I knew that I was called to a ministry of apologetics and evangelism in 1981, my last year of college. I started reading a lot and sharing what I was learning. I was a Protestant then, but the dynamics of vocation work the same way: I was being called by God to do a certain thing that not everyone can do. Soon I was involved in counter-cult ministry (my area of concentration was Jehovah’s Witnesses), campus outreach, and pro-life work.

I left a job as a quality-control technician at an auto-related company in 1985 to engage in campus ministry full time. I had been married for six months. This is the sort of course of action that makes people suspect mental illness or a serious case of financial irresponsibility. But Peter left his nets as a fisherman, and Matthew forsook his dreaded tax-collecting. It all depends on what God is calling you to do.

I did the so-called “radical” thing and followed my vocation as I discerned it, but does that mean that everything was fine from then on and that no difficulties occurred because I was right smack dab in the middle of God’s will (as we Evangelicals were fond of saying in one way or another)? Of course not. Again, we observe the instructive model of Paul. He certainly was called to be the greatest evangelist of all time and founder of several local churches, but he also was called to suffer for the Lord’s and the gospel’s sake (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7–10, Phil. 3:7–11).

In fact, my first attempt at full-time ministry proved traumatic and disappointing and, from a certain point of view, a total disaster. It lasted full-time less than two years. Somehow I survived another two and a half years part-time until I finally gave up. In the meantime we had been subjected to unjust accusations, misunderstandings, and almost general scorn (or so we perceived it) from our church community. A lot of that was due to false but pervasive notions of what “success” in ministry entails. In the Protestant world—shot through with pragmatist notions of “whatever works is right and good”—that boils down to lots of conversions as a direct result of one’s work, or growing churches. If you fail at these, your calling often becomes suspect.

Despite these trials, I remained convinced that I was called to this work. At the time of the disintegration of my Protestant campus and pro-life ministry in late 1989, I had no idea what lay ahead in my life. I felt like a total failure—I was 31, after all, and had no idea what else I wanted to do with my life—and was disillusioned, disenchanted, and cynical (not toward God but people in the Christian community). It was a mystery. I couldn’t understand it. I didn’t even try to. I went through an existential crisis of sorts.

But God is omniscient and outside of time, so he knew that I would convert to Catholicism almost exactly a year after that and start writing and doing apologetics in the Catholic Church and eventually—after many more years of trials and frustrations and immense disappointments—become a published writer and author, able to make my writing available to all via the Internet. I suspect that my own particular journey, filled with joys and equally strong disappointments, is rather typical.

The Laborer Deserves his Wages

The main “problem” to be solved in any apostolate is how to obtain enough money to live. There are many valid approaches to this problem, provided one seeks the Lord and discerns which is prudent and best for his situation. I can think of five different ways of “fundraising”:

1. Full-time ministry in total dependence on God to provide through financial donors—without asking, or with minimal solicitation.

2. Full-time ministry made possible by overt solicitation through various means.

3. Part-time ministry with livelihood obtained by other full-time means of employment.

4. Full-time ministry with livelihood at least partially obtained by other part-time means of income (the “tentmaker” category).

5. Full- or part-time ministry made possible by being on staff with a Catholic organization that has funds at its disposal.

Unfortunately, apologists such as myself are not usually afforded the “luxury” of being able to pursue our calling full-time, freed from financial worries. It simply doesn’t work that way, because the “product” we offer is not a tangible good. It is a spiritual good or benefit, which ought to be valued more highly than it is but in fact is often not valued, at least not to the extent that people are willing to support it financially. This is the central dilemma for the person in ministry. If he is indeed called, others will recognize this at some point. But that doesn’t translate automatically into financial support.

Thus, large lay ministries or individual lay apostolates such as my own usually are forced to or, by necessity, choose to engage in direct solicitation. This is perfectly proper in light of the biblical principles of “the laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7) and “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14).

It is my belief that apostolates such as Catholic Answers or the various radio, television, and Internet outreaches are entitled to and deserving of financial support, because they are educating Catholics and bolstering their faith. People who are helped, and those who believe in the high importance of such work, should support it by sending donations.

Some few engage in ministry without overtly soliciting funds, but this is a hard road. My usual modus operandi is simply to make my need known and let the chips fall where they may. I have survived only through royalties from my books and articles. In fact, in 2003, my income consisted almost equally of royalties and donations. Without either source of income, my ministry wouldn’t have been possible.

A Second Chance

I found myself in full-time ministry once again almost by default. I lost my job in December 2001 (two weeks after my daughter—our fourth child—was born) because the company I worked for went out of business. I had been doing ministry on the model of the third option above for over ten years.

Two months before that I had self-published my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, after having been turned down by several publishers; it has since been published by Sophia Institute Press. My web site had been online since March 1997, and I had a number of published articles in magazines, so my name was known somewhat by virtue of this exposure.

I decided to make a plea on my website to people who believed in what I was doing just to see what would happen. People responded generously; many sent donations that month, and I was on my way to a full-time writing/evangelization/apologetics ministry. It remained full-time until June 2004, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that additional income was needed. I had been willing to take on additional work as needed. But our needs had been provided for up until then, so it wasn’t necessary.

Now it looked like the Lord was moving us in a different direction: the “tent-making” option. So now I deliver newspapers for about three to four hours a day seven days a week. Like Paul’s tent-making, this makes my apologetics work possible without having to solicit funds, but I still need royalties and donations to meet my bills and debts. And I have a lot less time and energy to write papers and books and web site and blog posts.

Paul is practical about all this: “If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?” (1 Cor. 9:11). He makes it clear that Christian workers are entitled to their wages provided by those who believe they have been helped by these workers. At the same time, he himself chose to not press this “right”: “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this to secure any such provision” (1 Cor. 9:15). He wanted to “make the gospel free of charge” (1 Cor. 9:18). Paul was supported by the churches, but he also supported himself by making tents (cf. Acts 18:3). Thus he taught the obligation and principle but recognized the reality.

Apologetics and teaching ministries in the Catholic Church are important. The goal and driving inspiration of apologetics, rightly understood, is to build people up in the faith, to better understand the relationship of reason and revelation and the Christian life, to be more confident in sharing it with others, and to grow spiritually in the Lord.

Everyone needs encouragement and needs to pay bills and “bring home the bacon.” If you can’t offer financial support for Catholic apostolates, please pray for those in ministry—priests and religious first and foremost, but also laymen. Apologists are on the front lines, taking on those who oppose our faith and offering answers to the harshest critics and most serious criticisms. It’s exciting and rewarding work, but it is often not easy and frequently accompanied by various temptations and struggles.

I know from firsthand experience that prayer and encouragement are crucial to my own determination to continue this work. I am sure it is the same for other apologists. I wish, then, to offer a strong expression of deep, heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all of you who have supported our work (financially or otherwise), on behalf of all my fellow apologists. We literally couldn’t do it without you.


August 20, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).


I’ve been going through Bob’s voluminous collection of anti-Christian posts for the purpose of this series, and there is nothing that he mentions more than slavery: as a supposed obvious disproof of the goodness of biblical teaching (and its inspiration) and of God Himself. Here is just a small (but altogether typical) sampling:

[W]e looked at the popular Christian notion that biblical slavery was a benign form of servitude, quite unlike American slavery. In fact, it turns out that they were almost identical. (5-4-18)

The Bible gives full support for the kind of slavery we had in the United States, but Christians had at least been hypocritical enough to pretend it didn’t. But not always. (3-16-16)

How can Christians satisfy themselves that the Ten Commandments have “Don’t covet” but not “Don’t enslave anyone”? The Bible is obviously the work of Man, not that of God. The Bible is simply a reflection of their society. Christians who justify slavery in the Bible are determined to shoehorn an ancient religion into modern society, but the result is as out of place as a Neanderthal in a tuxedo. My advice: they should stop embarrassing themselves. (1-15-16)

Slavery is a bad thing, and the Bible condones slavery. (6-11-12)

You’re seriously going to handwave away God’s being okay with slavery . . .? If it’s wrong now, it was wrong then. How do you get past the fact that the Old Testament reads just like the blog of an early Iron Age tribe rather than the wisdom of the omniscient creator of the universe? And if you dismiss slavery as not that big a deal, would you accept Old Testament slavery in our own society? (9-29-14)

Slavery is first on the bonus list of God’s immorality. . . . Old Testament slavery of foreigners was just like American slavery of Africans . . . (8-20-14)

In what follows I will be referring to many resources (by number) listed at the end in the Bibliography. I won’t bother to indent citations or put them in quotation marks. Everything will be quotes from other materials, except for my own comments here and there, which will be in green color. General observations on the entire Bible will be included here. All bolding or italics or capitalizing, and abbreviations (and in some cases, different colors) are in the originals (or in secondary sources that cite the original: such as, e.g., notably sources #1 and #2). Treatments of the New Testament only will be confined to a second companion-post devoted to that.


I. Definitions

The specific case of slavery is more complex than first appears…there is no monolithic ‘institution’ of slavery in the bible–e.g. the OT has SEVERAL models of what might be called ‘slavery’ and much of what passed as slavery in the ANE [Ancient Near East] is no longer considered such in socio-economic understandings of the period and area. (1)

[E]ven in wars on foreign soil (e.g., Deut 20.10,10), if a city surrendered, it became a vassal state to Israel, with the population becoming serfs (mas), not slaves (ebedamah). They would have performed what is called ‘corvee’ (draft-type, special labor projects, and often on a rotation basis–as Israelites later did as masim under Solomon, 1 Kings 5.27). This was analogous to ANE praxis, in which war captives were not enslaved, but converted into vassal groups. (1)

Scholars do not agree on a definition of “slavery.” The term has been used at various times for a wide range of institutions, including plantation slavery, forced labor, the drudgery of factories and sweatshops, child labor, semivoluntary prostitution, bride-price marriage, child adoption for payment, and paid-for surrogate motherhood. (11; vol. 4, 1190f.)

Freedom in the ancient Near East was a relative, not an absolute state, as the ambiguity of the term for “slave” in all the region’s languages illustrates“Slave” could be used to refer to a subordinate in the social ladder. Thus the subjects of a king were called his “slaves,” even though they were free citizens. The king himself, if a vassal, was the “slave” of his emperor; kings, emperors, and commoners alike were “slaves” of the gods. Even a social inferior, when addressing a social superior, referred to himself out of politeness as “your slave.” There were, moreover, a plethora of servile conditions that were not regarded as slavery, such as son, daughter, wife, serf, or human pledge. (12; vol. 1, 40)

The nations subjected by the Israelites were considered slaves. They were, however, not slaves in the proper meaning of the term, although they were obliged to pay royal taxes and perform public works. (13)

The word >ebed, however, denoted not only actual slaves occupied in production or in the household but also persons in subordinate positions (mainly subordinate with regard to the king and his higher officials). Thus the term >ebed is sometimes translated as “servant.” Besides, the term was used as a sign of servility in reference to oneself when addressing persons of higher rank. Finally, the same term was also used in the figurative meaning “the slave (or servant) of God.” Thus, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prophets, David, Solomon and other kings are regularly called slaves of Yahweh (Exod 32:13; Lev 25:55; 1 Sam 3:9; Ezra 9:11, etc.). Similarly, all the subjects of Israel and Judah are called slaves of their kings, including even wives, sons, and brothers of the latter (1 Sam 17:8; 29:3; 2 Sam 19:5, etc.; cf. also Gen 27:37; 32:4). Addressing Moses and prophets, the Israelites called themselves their slaves (Num 32:25; 1 Sam 12:19, etc.). Ruth refers to herself as a slave girl of her relative Boaz (Ruth 3:9). Being a vassal of the Philistine king Achish, David called himself his slave (1 Sam 28:2). (13)

In the OT, the ‘status’ associated with the role of servant was directly proportional to the status of the “master” (as it is today, in more traditional cultures). For example, the highest title of importance that could be given to a human by God was that of ‘my servant’. It is given to Abraham (Gen 26.24), Moses (Num 12.7), Caleb (Num 14.24), David (2 Sam 3.18), Eliakim (Is 22.20), the Messiah (Is 42.1,et.al.), Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 25.9!), Zerubbabel (Hag 2.23), and the prophets (2 Kings 9.7; 17.13, et. al). And, ‘servant’ could be used of virtually ANY subordinate (in the sense of authority) or anyone seeking something from a more powerful figure, . . . The point of these examples is to show that the term ‘servant’ could refer to kings, military leaders, patriarchs, priests, servants, and the general populace. In general parlance, it merely reflected a relative (and sometimes temporary) position of authority or influence. (1)

II. Summaries and Overviews

Rights of Slaves:

As noted in the beginning of this article, the Hebrew slaves fared far better than the Grecian, Roman and other slaves of later years. In general, the treatment they received and the rights they could claim made their lot reasonably good. Of course a slave was a slave, and there were masters who disobeyed God and even abused their “brothers in bonds.” As usual the unfortunate female slave got the full measure of inhuman cruelty. Certain rights were discretionary, it is true, but many Hebrew slaves enjoyed valuable individual and social privileges. As far as Scripture statements throw light on this subject, the slaves of Old Testament times might claim the following rights, namely:

(1) Freedom.

Freedom might be gained in any one of the above-mentioned ways or at the master’s will. The non-Hebrew could be held as a slave in perpetuity (Leviticus 25:44-46 ).

(2) Good Treatment.

“Thou shalt not rule over him (Hebrew slave) with rigor, but shalt fear thy God… Ye shall not rule, one over another, with rigor” (Leviticus 25:43 , Leviticus 25:46 ). The non-Hebrew seemed to be left unprotected.

(3) Justice.

An ancient writer raises the query of fairness to slaves. “If I have despised the cause of my man-servant or of my maid-servant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up?” (Job 31:13 f). No doubt the true Hebrew master was considerate of the rights of his slaves. The very fact, however, that the Hebrew master could punish a Hebrew slave, “to within an inch of his life,” gave ready opportunity for sham justice. “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid (“bondman or bondwoman”), with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his money” (Exodus 21:20 f).

(4) Family.

The slave before his release might have his wife and children (Exodus 21:5 ).

(5) Voluntary Slavery.

Even when the seventh year came, the slave had a right to pledge himself, with awl-pierced ear, to perpetual service for his master (Exodus 21:5 f; Deuteronomy 15:16 ). The traditional interpretation of “forever” in these passages is “until the next Jubilee year” (compare Ḳiddūshı̄n 21).

(6) Money or Property.

Some cases at least indicate that slaves could have money of their own. Thus, if a poor slave “waxed rich” he could redeem himself (Leviticus 25:49 ). Compare 1 Samuel 9:5-10 , where, however, the Hebrew throughout calls the “servant” na‛ar , “a youth,” never ‛ebhedh .

(7) Children.

If married when free, the slave could take wife and children with him when freedom came, but if he was married after becoming a slave, his wife and children must remain in possession of his master. This law led him often into perpetual slavery (Exodus 21:3 f).

(8) Elevation.

A chance to rise was allowable in some instances, e.g. Eliezer, a foreign slave in a Hebrew household, and Joseph, a Hebrew slave in a foreign household. Each rose to a place of honor and usefulness (Genesis 15:2 ; Genesis 39:4 ).

(9) Religious Worship.

After being circumcised, slaves were allowed to participate in the paschal sacrifice (Exodus 12:44 ) and other religious occasions (Deuteronomy 12:12 ).

(10) Gifts.

Upon obtaining freedom, slaves, at the discretion of masters, were given supplies of cattle, grain and wine (Deuteronomy 15:13 f). (3)

In the ANE (and OT), . . . [t]he dominant (statistically) motivation was economic relief of poverty (i.e., ‘slavery’ was initiated by the slave–NOT by the owner–and the primary uses were purely domestic (except in cases of State slavery, where individuals were used for building projects). (1)

[S]ince most slavery was done through self-sale or family-sale, it was likewise voluntary (at least as voluntary as poverty allows), cf. Lev 25.44 in which the verbs are of ‘acquisition’ and not ‘take’ or ‘conquer’ etc. (1)

A person would either enter into slavery or be sold by a parent or relative. Persons sold their wives, grandchildren, brother (with his wife and child), sister, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, nephews and niece…Many of the documents emphasize that the transaction is voluntary. This applies not only to self-sale but also to those who are the object of sale, although their consent must sometimes have been fictional, as in the case of a nursing infant. (12; vol. 1, 665)

Many of God’s commands to Israel about treatment of ‘slaves’ are cast in light of Israel’s experience of harsh slavery in Egypt (which generally DID conform to the “western” paradigm described above). She is told to remember her slavery and to not oppress the slave or the alien in the Land. There are many, many verses relative to this (e.g. Deut 5.6; 6.12, 21; 7.8; 15.15; 16.12; 24.18, 19). (1)

The vast majority of cases would have been voluntary, with the person himself initiating the transaction–it is ALWAYS couched in the terms of ‘selling oneself’ [cites Lev 25:39, 47; Deut 15:12]. Although most of these arrangements were limited to six years in length . . . continuation of this relationship was possible, but ONLY AS a strictly voluntary act of the ‘slave’ [cites Ex 21:5; Deut 15:16-17]. (1)

The Law forbade harsh treatment, set stipulations for positive treatment, and set tight boundaries around punishment/abuse of servants. There are several general admonitions in the Law against harsh/abusive/oppressive behavior toward Hebrew servants [cites Lev 25:43, 46, 53; Deut 15:18]. In fact, the Law assumes that the situation may be lucrative enough for some servants to decide to stay with their masters for their lifetime [cites Ex 21:5; Deut 15:16]

[D]omestic slavery was in all likelihood usually fairly tolerable. Slaves formed part of the family and males, if circumcised, could take part in the family Passover and other religious functions. Moreover, in general there were probably only a few in each household–there is no indication, for example, that large gangs of them were toiling in deplorable conditions to cultivate big estates, as in the later Roman world. (14; vol. 1, 101)

Slave labor was used in domestic service and thus made for a close relationship between master and servant in everyday life. In spite of the legal status, the slave’ position was in practice closer to that of a filius-familias than to that of a mere chattel. (15; 114ff.)

The slave’s personal dignity is also evident in the prescriptions concerning personal injury (Ex 21.20-27), since the punishments for mistreatment are meant to restrain the abuse of slaves…Clearly, the personal rights of slaves override their master’s property rights over them. (16)

ALL servants were required to take the Sabbath day off–just like the masters [cites Ex 20:9; 23:12; Deut 5:13-15]. In fact, the servants were supposed to take part in the rejoicing of the cultic “parties” and trips to Jerusalem (including the big Feasts–Deut 12.11,14) [cites Deut 12:11-12, 18]. Not only was abusive treatment of servants strictly forbidden, but the Law held masters very accountable!  If a master beat a slave and the slave died, the master was held accountable under the ‘life for life’ clause [cites Ex 21:20].  If a master caused any type of permanent damage to a servant, the servant was given immediate freedom [cites Ex 21: 26-27]. (1)

The law allowed disciplinary rod-beating for a servant (Ex 21.20f), apparently under the same conditions as that for free men. Free men could likewise be punished by the legal system by rod-beating (Deut 25.1-3; Prov 10.13; 26.3), as could rebellious older sons (Prov 13.24; 22.15; 23.13). Beating by rod (shevet) is the same act/instrument ( flogging (2 Sam 7.14; Ps 89.32). (1)

In keeping with the ‘variableness’ of notions of property in the ANE (as noted by historians and anthropologists), Israel’s notion of ‘property’ was a severely restricted one, and one that did NOT preclude the humanity of the servant nor absolve the master from legal accountability. Although Hebrew servants are mis-called ‘property’ in one verse (Ex 21.21), Israel’s notion of ‘property’ in the law was severely restricted to economic output only–NOT ‘ownership of a disposable good’.  Both the land and Hebrew servants belonged to God–always! [cites Lev 25:23, 39-42] . . . ‘Property’ is therefore seen not as ‘owned disposable goods’ but as economic output (including labor) [cites Ex 21:18; Lev 25:14-16, 49-53]. (1)

One of the more amazing things about Hebrew servant-status was how ‘easy’ it was to get free! . . . Freedom could be bought by relatives [and] [t]he servant could buy his own freedom, whether the master WANTED to let him go or not (Lev 25.49). Every 7th year (the Sabbath year), all servants were to automatically go free–without ANY payment of money to the master [cites Ex 21:2; Deut 15:12]. (1)

Although slaves were viewed as the property of heads of households, the latter were not free to brutalize or abuse even non-Israelite members of the household. On the contrary, explicit prohibitions of the oppression/exploitation of slaves appear repeatedly in the Mosaic legislation.  In two most remarkable texts, Leviticus 19:34 and Deuteronomy 10:19, Yahweh charges all Israelites to love (‘aheb) aliens (gerim) who reside in their midst, that is, the foreign members of their households, like they do themselves and to treat these outsiders with the same respect they show their ethnic countrymen. Like Exodus 22:20 (Eng. 21), in both texts Israel’s memory of her own experience as slaves in Egypt should have provided motivation for compassionate treatment of her slaves. But Deuteronomy 10:18 adds that the Israelites were to look to Yahweh himself as the paradigm for treating the economically and socially vulnerable persons in their communities. (19; 60)

Chattel slavery did not exist under the Law of Moses. There was no form of servitude under the Law of Moses which placed them in the legal position of chattel slaves. Legislation maintained kinship rights (Exodus 21:3, 9, Leviticus 25:41, 47-49, 54, providing for Hebrew indentured servants), marriage rights (Exodus 21:4, 10-11, providing for a Hebrew daughter contracted into a marriage), personal legal rights relating to physical protection and protection from breach of contract (Exodus 21:8, providing for a Hebrew daughter contracted into a marriage, Exodus 21:20-21, 26-27, providing for Hebrew or foreign servants of any kind, and Leviticus 25:39-41, providing for Hebrew indentured servants), freedom of movement, and access to liberty (Exodus 21:8, 11, providing for a Hebrew daughter contracted into a marriage, Leviticus 25:40-45, 48, 54, providing for Hebrew indentured servants, and Deuteronomy 15:1, 12; 23:15, providing for Hebrew or foreign servants of any kind). Though several forms of servitude existed under the Law of Moses, in every case all rights were maintained unless voluntarily relinquished (Exodus 21:5-6, Deuteronomy 15:16-17). (4)

[C]ertain types of slavery are not morally wrong. For instance, when a man is convicted of murder, he often is sentenced to life in prison. During his life sentence, he is forced by the State to do (or not do) certain things. He is justly confined to a small living space, and his freedoms are revoked. Sometimes, he is compelled by the State to work long hours, for which he does not receive even minimum wage. Would it be justifiable to label such a loss of freedom as a type of slavery? Yes, it would. However, is his loss of freedom a morally permissible situation? Certainly. He has become a slave of the State because he violated certain laws that were designed to ensure the liberty of his fellow citizen, whom he murdered. Therefore, one fact that must be conceded by anyone dealing with the Bible and its position on slavery is the fact that, under some conditions, slavery is not necessarily a morally deplorable institution. (5)

In an ideal world, slavery would neither be an option nor a necessity. Because of the socioeconomic situation of Old Testament Israel, God did allow slavery, but He allowed it for a simple purpose: to help the poor survive. A person could sell himself into slavery (akin to indentured servitude) in order to pay off debt or provide a basic subsistence. God did not intend for Israel to have poverty (Deuteronomy 15:4), but sin made it inevitable (Deuteronomy 15:5), and God allowed slavery to deal with that reality. (7)

[S]lavery in Israel resulted from poverty or theft, two phenomena which are still with us. Consider our society’s response to these. For poverty, we have social security (and, where applicable, bankruptcy laws). For theft (of a serious kind), we have imprisonment. All these measures involve lowering a person’s status (if not formally then at least socially) when compared with an ordinary ‘free’ person. Imprisonment, in particular, has in common with slavery that the person is deprived of their liberty—the main difference being that the master is the state rather than an individual. Long-term welfare dependency, although preserving a person’s formal freedom, is arguably a less satisfactory solution to poverty than being placed, for a limited time, in the household of a kind master and given meaningful work to do. . . . Israelite ‘slavery’ was not grinding misery. It was really bonded service, with a lower status, but for a limited time and with certain protections. . . . Slavery of Israelites was not the sort of dehumanizing experience which we normally imagine. In fact, it was designed to help the person who had fallen into poverty or crime back into society. (9)

Servants were placed upon a level with their masters in all civil and religious rights. Num. xv. 15, 16, 29; ix. 14. Deut. i. 16, 17. Lev. xxiv. 22. (10)

We should compare Hebrew debt-servanthood (many translations render this “slavery”) more fairly to apprentice-like positions to pay off debts — much like the indentured servitude during America’s founding when people worked for approximately 7 years to pay off the debt for their passage to the New World. Then they became free. In most cases, servanthood was more like a live-in employee, temporarily embedded within the employer’s household. Even today, teams trade sports players to another team that has an owner, and these players belong to a franchise. This language hardly suggests slavery, but rather a formal contractual agreement to be fulfilled — like in the Old Testament. (20)

III. Comparisons with Slavery in Other Cultures

[T]he Hebrew word עבר , ‛ebhedh , in the Old Testament and the Greek word δοῦλος , doúlos , in the New Testament more properly might have been translated “slave” instead of “servant” or “bondservant,” understanding though that the slavery of Judaism was not the cruel system of Greece, Rome, and later nations. The prime thought is service ; the servant may render free service , the slave, obligatory , restricted service. (3)

The present Western image of slavery has been haphazardly constructed out of the representations of that experience in nineteenth-century abolitionist literature, and later novels, textbooks, and films…From a global cross-cultural and historical perspective, however, New World slavery was a unique conjunction of features…In brief, most varieties of slavery did not exhibit the three elements that were dominant in the New World: slaves as property and commodities; their use exclusively as labor; and their lack of freedom… (11; vol. 4, 1190f.)

Accordingly, I think–to avoid the inflammatory associations that naturally occur for Westerners when something is referred to as ‘slavery’–it wise to carefully set out the structure of what we consider ‘slavery’ today, and compare that to the OT institution of ‘Hebrew slavery’. New World slavery differs substantially from most ANE institutions labeled ‘slavery’, which themselves differed at significant points from OT slavery. (1)

The images we have of the Old American South are filled with mistreatments, and we need no documentation of that here. The ANE, on the other hand, was much less severe, due largely to the differences in the attitudes of the ‘master’ to the ‘slave’. Slavery in the ANE was much more an ‘in-house’ and ‘in-family’ thing, with closer emotional attachment. However, there were still some extreme punishments in the ANE, but the biblical witness is of a decidedly better environment for slaves than even the ANE.  (1)

[I]n New World slavery at least two-thirds of plantation slaves would have lived in barracks (field-slaves), and not in intimacy with owners (domestics), whereas in the ANE/OT, the vast majority of the slaves were domestics under the same roof. In the ANE/OT, we don’t have the ‘gangs’ of agricultural workers we will see later in Republican Rome and in the New World. (1)

It should be QUITE CLEAR . . . that the institution in the Mosaic law involving voluntary, fixed-term, flexible, and protected servant-laborer roles was unlike “western“, chattel labor in almost ALL RESPECTS. To label it as ‘slavery’, except in the most general/metaphorical sense of the word, is significantly inappropriate. God’s intent in Leviticus 25.39f of protecting their status and self-image was VERY clear: “”`If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you.”  (1)

Translating ‘ebed as ‘slave’ is problematic because of its negative connotations, which were not originally there but we associate from other historical contexts. This generally leads to inconsistency in translation and it becomes hard for readers not to read into the word ideas from subsequent, very different systems of slavery (eg. in Greece, Rome and North America). (2)

Conditions of slaves in different systems (2)
Old Testament Roman
New World
Holiday Yes No Yes
Enough food Yes No No
Legal redress Yes No No
Sexual protection Yes No No
Kidnapped No Yes Yes
Chains No Yes Yes
Torture No Yes Yes
Physical abuse No Yes Yes

Israel did not make chattel slaves of defeated nations, and the Law of Moses made no provision for any kind of mass service aside from vassalage. Plantation style slavery was impossible for the Israelite in any case, as family groups did not have the capacity to house, secure, and provide for large groups of chattel slaves. Chattel slaves were expensive because they had no capacity to sustain themselves, and had to be fed and clothed at the expense of their master. (4)

The Law of Moses commanded that servants, of whatever origin (Gentile or Hebrew), were to be treated as human beings who were part of the family and community. Unlike any other ANE society, the Law of Moses commanded that servants enjoy at least one day a week free from every kind of labour, participating in the Sabbath day of rest together with the free members of the community: [cites Ex 20:10; Deut 5:14]. The commandment in Deuteronomy 5:14 specifies that one reason for this injunction is that male and female servants may enjoy the same privilege of leisure as their free masters. This commandment was unique to the Law of Moses. No other ANE society provided its slaves, servants, or even hired workers, with a legally protected day of rest every 6 days. In addition, the Law of Moses required that servants be incorporated into the community festive activities. One was the thanksgiving feast in memorial of God’s deliverance: [cites Deut 12:12; 16:10-14]. . . . The inclusion in these feasts of servants and socially disadvantaged groups such as the resident foreigners, orphans, and widows demonstrates that these individuals were not to be marginalised by the community, but included with the free community, and provided with the same benefits as equal citizens. This explicit emphasis on the humanity of servants encouraged strong personal and emotional bonds between servants and the households they served, and prevented them from being viewed as mere chattels or being dehumanized, as they frequently were in other ANE societies. (4)

[T]he Law of Moses placed an equal value on the life of the slave as on the life of a free born man, which the Code of Hammurabi did not do:

* The Code of Hammurabi exacted no penalty for the murder of a slave, but the Law of Moses proscribed the death penalty for the murder of any man (Exodus 21:12)

* The Code of Hammurabi exacted no penalty for injuring a slave, but the Law of Moses required a master to set his slave free if he inflicted permanent injury (Exodus 21:26-27)

* The Code of Hammurabi held the life of a slave to be of less value than the life of a free born man, but the Law of Moses valued them equally (Exodus 21:12, 19)  . . .

Several laws in the Law of Moses which applied to servitude are unique, having no counterpart in any other ANE society.  (4)

It is a simple fact that obedience to two of the commandments regulating servitude within the Law of Moses would have prevented every form of slave trade in which Western civilization became involved. The South American, East and West Indian, and African slave trades would have been totally prevented if Western societies had passed laws expressly forbidding involuntary slavery and sale on the one hand (such as Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7), and granting an escaped slave their full liberty and freedom of movement whilst forbidding the community to return them to their master or take advantage of their marginalized position (such as Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Although many Christians campaigned against slavery for centuries, laws in Western society unfortunately did not become as civilized as the Law of Moses in this regard until around the 19th century. (4)

[T]he slavery regulated in the Bible had absolutely nothing to do with race, color, or ethnic background. While it is true that certain nations, as a whole, were captured and enslaved because of their wicked, idolatrous practices, it is not true that they were enslaved due to their allegedly inferior nationality. Leviticus 19:34 states: “But the stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 24:14 reads: “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren, or one of the aliens who is in your land within thy gates.” And, although certain regulations applied only to Hebrews who found themselves enslaved (Deuteronomy 15:12-14; Exodus 21:2), it was not because they were a “superior” race or nationality, but simply because they were citizens of the nation of Israel . . . (5)

The Roman writer Pliny tells of a case where a slave accidentally dropped and broke a crystal goblet. His owner immediately threw him into a courtyard fishpond where he was torn apart by savage lampreys. Under the law of Moses, to kill a slave was a crime that carried punishment (Ex. 21:20). While the law allowed the physical punishment of one’s slave, the Jew was not permitted to kill his servant. This protection was unprecedented in the ancient world. One scholar has noted that the Jews’ treatment of Gentile slaves was “a great deal more humane than elsewhere in the ancient world” (Jeremias 1969 [Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. London: SCM Press], 348). (8)

IV. Verse-by-Verse Analysis

Exodus 21:7-11 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. [8] If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt faithlessly with her.  [9] If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter.  [10] If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.  [11] And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

Female slaves needed special protection, which is spelled out [above]. The basic thrust of these verses is that a man purchasing a female slave must marry her, or give her to his son to marry. Even though she is sold as a slave, she is treated virtually as a free woman given for a bride price. She could not be sold into prostitution. Thus, just in case anyone should wonder, the Bible is clearly opposed to sexual slavery. (9)

Exodus 21:16 Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death. (cf. Deut 24:7)

Forced enslavement of Hebrews was punishable by death. (1)

Certainly, any parallel to slavery in early America can be easily refuted [in light of the above verse]. (5)

Exodus 21:18-21 If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed,  19 the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed. 20 If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished,  21 but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.

ksph–“silver”; not the normal word(s) for property, . . . This Exodus  passage is very instructive, because it places slaves (both Hebrew and foreign, apparently) on a legal-protection par with full, free citizens. It no more ‘authorizes’ a master to abuse a slave, than it ‘authorizes’ a Hebrew to bash his fellow’s head with a rock, knocking him unconscious for a day or so! (1)

This law-the protection of slaves from maltreatment by their masters-is found nowhere else in the entire existing corpus of ancient Near Eastern legislation. It represents a qualitative transformation in social and human values and expresses itself once again in the provisions of verses 26-27. The underlying issue, as before, is the determination of intent on the part of the assailant at the time the act was committed.

his slave The final clause of verse 21 seems to indicate that the slave in question is a foreigner. Otherwise the terminology would be inappropriate, given the conditions under which an Israelite might become enslaved.

a rod Hebrew shevet, the customary instrument of discipline [2 Sam 7.14 (to the sons of David!); Is 10.5,24; Prov 10.13; 13.24; 23.13-14; 26.3]. The right of a master to discipline his slave within reason is recognized. But according to rabbinic exegesis, it is restricted to the use of an implement that does not normally have lethal potentiality, and it may not be applied to a part of the body considered to be particularly vulnerable.

There and then Literally, “under his hand,” in contrast to “a day or two” in verse 21. The direct, immediate, causal relationship between the master’s act and the death of the slave is undisputed. The master has unlawfully used deadly force, and homicidal intent is assumed.

He must be avenged The master is criminally liable and faces execution, in keeping with the law of verse…The verb n-k-m is popularly taken to signify “revenge.” Actually, it means “to avenge,” that is, to vindicate, or redress, the imbalance of justice. Its use in the Bible is overwhelmingly with God as the subject, and in such cases it always serves the ends of justice. It is employed in particular in situations in which normal judicial procedures are not effective or cannot be implemented. It does not focus on the desire to get even or to retaliate; indeed, Leviticus 19:18 forbids private vengeance. (18)

1. This passage is unparalleled in its humanitarian considerations. 2. This passage is absolutely anti-abuse, in the strongest sense of the term. 3. This passage is completely parallel to the case of the freeman, under discipline by the community. 4. This passage is completely parallel to the case of a brawl between Hebrews: 5. It applies primarily to the foreigner. 6. The “because he is his property” is NOT about ‘property’, but about how the punitive payment was made (economic ‘silver’–lost output, increased medical expense) 7. It is a remarkable assertion of human rights over property rights. (1)

This was a protective right granted to slaves that they should not be beaten to death! If that seems like a small blessing to us, let it be remembered that under the system in vogue all over the pagan world of that era, and extending down even till apostolical times, the Roman Law, in force all over the world, provided as a penalty against slaves, even for trivial and unintentional violations, that shame of the whole pagan world “flagellis ad mortem” (beaten to death), a penalty usually inflicted in the presence of all the other slaves of a master. God here provided that punishment should be meted out to a slave-owner for following that pagan custom (6; 309-310)

Exodus 21:26-27 If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth.

In the case of bodily injury to slaves, whose status does not qualify them for equal compensation, the owner whose abuse results in the loss of an eye or a tooth is to free that slave, a remarkably humanitarian provision directed at cruelty and sadism in a slave-owner. (17)

Again, let it be noted that physical punishment might be the only solution to an unruly, rebellious slave who should have received the death penalty. However, something else of interest emerges from this verse that, rather than expressing the cruelty of Old Testament laws regulating slavery, shows instead God’s care for those enslaved. The text states that the eyes and teeth of slaves should not be knocked out or destroyed. However, the nations around the Israelites did not adhere to any such standards. When the Philistines captured Samson, they “took him and put out his eyes; and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters; and he became a grinder in the prison” (Judges 16:21). Also, when the Babylonian soldiers raided Israel, capturing King Zedekiah, “they killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:7). God’s regulations for the treatment of slaves provided the slaves with many more rights than they had in the nations surrounding Israel. (5)

Leviticus 22:11 but if a priest buys a person with his own money, that person may eat the holy offerings, and those born in the priest’s own house may eat his food.

Priests under the Law of Moses had no income other than that which they received from the community tithe (a tax of ten percent of the community’s produce), and from certain of the offerings made under the sacrificial code. Ordinarily, the food of the offerings was permitted to be eaten only by the priests. Since it had been ritually sanctified, it could not be eaten by a non-priest. A priest could not offer it to his guest, his lodger, or his hired worker: [cites Lev 22:10]. However, both an indentured servant owned by the priest, or a servant who was born in his own house, were permitted to eat of the food which was ordinarily reserved only for the priest. This remarkable law provided uniquely for the servant of the priest, treating their welfare as equally important as that of the priest himself. The servant had the right to share the ritually sanctified food which was otherwise reserved only for the priest, who belonged to the most privileged class in the community. (4)

Leviticus 25:35-43 “`If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. 39 “`If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. 40 He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

The ‘slavery’ of the OT was essentially designed to serve the poor! Indeed, . . . the proceeds of the transaction went to the servant only–each ‘sold himself’ to someone. Notice that the sole motive–in the primary text before us– for allowing ‘slavery’ is so the poor can continue in the land, and that it is NEVER ‘forever’ (indeed, other passages indicate that it was 6 years at the most!). This is radically different than an elitest-motive. (1)

This protected the Hebrew debtor from being sold into slavery or indentured service against his will, an act which his debtor had no right to do. The only way for the Hebrew debtor to enter indentured service to pay his debts was by his own choice. Even when this occurred his fellow Hebrews were to treat him as an employee, and were forbidden to treat him as a chattel slave (‘you must not subject him to slave service’, verse 39, a term different from that used of the hired employee or the indentured servant). Both he and his family would be released in the Jubilee year. . . . This was in direct contrast to the Law of Hammurabi, which permitted a master to give away his servants for forced labour or lease them out to another master, who could sublease them or even sell them. (4)

Deuteronomy 5:13-15 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

Slaves / servants rested on the Sabbath also.

Deuteronomy 15:1-2 At the end of every seven years you must declare a cancellation of debts. 2 This is the nature of the cancellation: Every creditor must remit what he has loaned to another person; he must not force payment from his fellow Israelite, for it is to be recognized as “the Lord’s cancellation of debts.”

This legislation ensured that the impoverished Israelite would never have more than seven years to wait before his debts were cancelled, whether or not he could pay them. (4)

Deuteronomy 15:7-10 If a fellow Israelite from one of your villages in the land that the Lord your God is giving you should be poor, you must not harden your heart or be insensitive to his impoverished condition. 8 Instead, you must be sure to open your hand to him and generously lend him whatever he needs. 9 Be careful lest you entertain the wicked thought that the seventh year, the year of cancellation of debts, has almost arrived, and your attitude be wrong toward your impoverished fellow Israelite and you do not lend him anything; he will cry out to the Lord against you and you will be regarded as having sinned. 10 You must by all means lend to him and not be upset by doing it, for because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you attempt.

[T]he Law explicitly required the wealthy to lend to those in need, regardless of the close proximity of the year of debt cancellation. (4)

Deuteronomy 15:12-15  If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. 13 And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. 14 Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.

[T]his is a ‘standard’ case of debt-slavery, and is different from cases of ‘selling a daughter’ for a dowry-less marriage–a la Exodus 21 . . . (1)

Interestingly, when a servant was to be released at the Sabbath year (without payment of money!), the master was to send him out with gifts of material possessions! (1)

Not only did the Law of Moses protect the Hebrew indentured servant from exploitation and permanent debt, when the servant was released in the year of debt cancellation the master was required to present them with a substantial gift of property from his own belongings, in order to help him recover from his poverty. At the end of the seven years, therefore, the indentured servant not only had his debt cancelled (no matter how large it had been), but he actually made a substantial profit from his service. No other ANE law code required such extraordinary generosity from those who purchased an indentured servant. (4)

Deuteronomy 20:10-11 When you approach a city to wage war against it, offer it terms of peace. 11 If it accepts your terms and submits to you, all the people found in it will become your slaves.

The text here from the New English Translation does not adequately describe the situation, since the passage actually uses the Hebrew word ‘mas’, referring explicitly to vassals who are placed under tribute, and the Hebrew phrase here is actually ‘become as a vassal and will serve you’. This does not describe the personal enslavement of the individuals of the city, to be sold among the Hebrews as household slaves, but refers to the city being placed under vassalage to Israel. The citizens would retain their city and place of residence, continuing their lives as they had before, with the difference that now they were required to supply tribute (usually through a tax of money or goods), and service in the form of manual labour (it appears that the Hebrews did not require military service of their vassals). They retained their personal liberty and property, but were now subject to Hebrew law, tribute, and service.

This same term (‘mas’), is also used for the ‘taskmasters’ who were set over the Hebrew slaves by the Egyptians (Exodus 1:11), and also for the Israelites who were conscripted by the king of Israel into civil service for public works (2 Samuel 20:24, 1 Kings 4:6; 5:13-14; 9:15, 21; 12:18, 2 Chronicles 10:18), proving that it did not involve entire populations being broken up and sold as chattel slaves or even as indentured servants, nor did it involve a loss of personal liberty or property. The Hebrews are recorded as having subjected a number of cities and states to vassalage (Joshua 9:3-27; 16:10; 17:13, Judges 1:28, 30-35), and are also recorded as having fulfilled their obligations to the suzerainty treaty by protecting their vassals from military attack by hostile forces. In [Joshua 10:6-7], the Israelites come to the military aid of the Gibeonites, their vassals. . . .

Suzerainty treaties always included clauses invoking the vengeance of the gods on the vassals if they did not obey the terms of the treaty, but remarkably the Hebrew suzerainty treaty actually placed the burden of Divine punishment for breach of treaty on the Hebrews, not their vassals. When the Gibeonites were persecuted and murdered by one of the families of the tribe of Benjamin, God punished the Hebrew nation for their breach of the suzerainty treaty (2 Samuel 21:1), and the king of Israel was required to compensate the Gibeonites for their loss (2 Samuel 21:2-9). This demonstrates that the Hebrew suzerainty treaty placed a higher order of obligation on the suzerain (in this case Israel), than it did on the vassal (in this case the Gibeonites), a situation unique in the ANE. (4)

Deuteronomy 23:15-16 If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master. 16 Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him.

This passage refers to slaves, without any mention of their origin. No matter what the cause of their servitude, nor the cause of their refuge, God still says that extradition is NOT to be done! (1)

Most commentators understand this to be a reference to non-extradition of a foreign, runaway slave. That is, a slave in another country runs away and flees to Israel. Israel, under this verse and under this understanding, has to allow the runaway to live freely in the land (as a sanctuary), and cannot extradite him/her to their former master. Commentators also note that this is in abject contradiction to ANE and international law of the time. (1)

This contrasts to former slavery laws in America or even in the ancient lawcode of the Babylonian king Hammurabi (law 17). (2)

The laws for servants who were non-Hebrews were slightly different. For them there was no automatic release, either in the Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:44-46), or the seventh year of debt cancellation (Deuteronomy 15:3). . . . However, the Law of Moses still maintained their personal legal rights relating to physical protection (Exodus 21:20-21, 26-27), freedom of movement, and access to liberty (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Any bondservant purchased from the Gentiles had the right to flee their master, and receive the protection of the Law of Moses if they did so. Thus even for bondservants purchased from the Gentiles, servititude was not a permanent institution. (4)

Deuteronomy 24:7 If a man is found stealing one of his brethren, the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.

Importantly, the Law of Moses made no provision for any slave trade. It was permissible to purchase men and women who voluntarily sold themselves into indentured service, but not to sell them (Exodus 21:2, Leviticus 25:39, 42, 45, Deuteronomy 15:12). Taking men and women and enslaving them against their will, or selling them into slavery, was expressly forbidden on pain of death (Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7). (4)

Deuteronomy 24:21-22 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.

The Jews were to be mindful that they had once been slaves (in far worse Egyptian conditions), and so they were to be compassionate to those less fortunate.

Job 31:13-15 If I have despised the cause of my manservant (ebed) or of my maidservant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up? And when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?

[T]he picture that we often see when the biblical words for “slave” are employed is a mutually beneficial arrangement similar to an employer/employee relationship. Job describes this relationship quite well. Obviously, Job’s dealings with his slaves provided a mutually acceptable situation for master as well as slave. (5)

Job states that master and slave alike come from the mother’s womb and are ultimately equals. (20)

V. Sources

1) Does God Condone Slavery in the Bible? [OT] (Glenn Miller, Christian Thinktank, 11-9-97; updated 3-18-04).
2) Does the Bible Support Slavery? (Peter J. Williams, BeThinking).
3) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (James Orr, gen. ed., 1915) (“Slave; Slavery”, by William Edward Raffety).

4) Slavery in the Bible (Bible Apologetics).
5) The Bible and Slavery (Kyle, Butt, Apologetics Press).
6) Commentary on Exodus (Burton Coffman, Abilene, TX: ACU Press: 1985).
7) Why was slavery allowed in the Old Testament? (Compelling Truth).
8) What About the Bible and Slavery? (Wayne Jackson, Christian Courier).
9) Slavery and the Old Testament Law (Andrew Schmidt, The Briefing)
10) The Bible Against Slavery (Theodore Dwight Weld, New York: The American Anti-Slavery Society, 1838).
11) Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology (4 vols), David Levinson and Melvin Ember (eds), HenryHolt: 1996.
12) A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (2 vols). Raymond Westbrook (ed). Brill: 2003.

13) Anchor Bible Dictionary, David Noel Freedman (main ed.), DoubleDay: 1992 (s.v. “Slavery, Old Testament”).
14) The Israelites, B.S.J. Isserlin, Thames and Hudson: 1998.
15) Hebrew Law in Biblical Times, Ze’ev Falk, Eisenbrauns: 2001 (2nd ed).
16) Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (eds). IVP: 2003 (s.v. “Slavery”).
17) Word Biblical Commentary (multi-volume).
18) The JPS Torah Commentary (5 vols). Nahum Sarna (gen ed). JPS: 1989.
19) Marriage and Family in the Biblical World. Ken Campbell (ed). IVP: 2003.
20) Does the Old Testament Endorse Slavery? An Overview (Paul Copan, Enrichment Journal).


Photo credit: The Flight of the Prisoners, c. 1902, by James Tissot (1836-1902), depicting the Jews being taken into exile to Babylon, after ancient Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar [public domain / Wikipedia]

November 10, 2017




—— “The most godly man I ever met” ———- Jack T. Chick


Alberto Rivera, the alleged former Catholic priest, bishop, and anti-Catholic hero of Jack Chick comic strips, was exposed as a total fraud by non-Catholic (evangelical Protestant) Gary Metz, in two articles appearing in evangelical magazines:

1) “The Alberto Story,” Cornerstone, vol. 9, no. 53, 1981, pp. 29-31.
2) Christianity Today, March 13, 1981.

I have heard that the Christian Research Institute (CRI), founded by the late Dr. Walter Martin, widely regarded as the foremost evangelical counter-cult specialist, has also done an exposé of Rivera. Here are some excerpts from the first article above:

. . . the Christian Reformed Church, Zondervan Publishers, and the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board have banned it from their bookstores.

Jack Chick states that Christian bookstores are being infiltrated by undercover Catholic propaganda teams who pressure the owner until he ‘compromises with Rome and pulls Alberto out of the store.’

Is Alberto’s story true? No! Our intensive investigation reveals his police record, his investment schemes, his bad check-writing, his contradictory testimony, his fabricated educational record, and his reported family abuse . . . Alberto Rivera, also known as Alberto Romero, has a history of legal entanglements. He is currently involved in a court action in Southern California, accused of fraud.

In 1965, a warrant for his arrest was issued in Hoboken, New Jersey, for writing bad checks. He also left debts in excess of $3,000.

In 1969 two warrants were issued against him in DeLand and Ormond Beach, Florida. The first was for the theft of a Bank-Americard. The criminal investigation division of the Bank of America reports he charged over $2,000 on the credit card. The second warrant was for the ‘unauthorized use of an automobile.’ Alberto abandoned the vehicle in Seattle, Washington. From there he moved to Southern California.

Alberto’s account of his conversion is contradictory. In 1964 while working for the Christian Reformed Church, he said he was converted from Catholicism in July of 1952. Now he maintains it was in 1967 . . . 3:00 in the morning on March 20, 1967. He says he immediately defected from the Catholic church. However, five months later, in August of 1967, he was still promoting Catholicism and the ecumenical movement in a newspaper interview in his hometown of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.

Alberto commands great respect from many with his alleged numerous degrees including an N.D., a D.D., a Th.D., a Ph.D., and a master’s in psychology. However, he is ambiguous when asked where he received these degrees. Alberto attended a seminary in Costa Rica (the Seminario Biblio Latinamericano) with a friend from Las Palmas, but he did not graduate. That friend, Rev. Plutarco Bonilla (a respected Christian leader in Central America), said that Alberto never finished high school in Las Palmas and that he was in the seminary program for non-high school graduates. The school in a letter said they were forced to expel Alberto for his ‘continual lying and defiance of seminary authority.’ The known chronology of his life does not allow time for him to have achieved the academic status he claims. When Rev. Wishart [former associate of Alberto, and once a pastor of the First Baptist Church of San Fernando] pressed Alberto concerning his degrees, Alberto admitted receiving them from a diploma mill in Colorado. This ended their relationship. Pastor Rasmussen (Faith Baptist Church in Canoga Park, California) also asked Alberto to substantiate some of his claims by submitting to a lie detector test. Alberto said he would: three times apoointments were made for him, three times he failed to appear.

He met his first ‘wife’ in Costa Rica while working with the Methodist church. Rev. Bonilla says that Alberto was living there with a woman in the late 1950s but they weren’t legally married: Alberto said God ordained their marriage. Alberto later claimed in an employment form that he and Carmen Lydia Torres were married on November 25, 1963. Their son Juan was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, in September, 1964 . . . A supervisor at the time, Rev. Edson Lewis, said that Alberto physically abused both Carmen Lydia and Juan. Less than a year after his birth, in July, 1965, Juan died in El Paso, Texas, where his parents had fled, after they wrote bad checks in New Jersey.

[a new son, Alberto, was born in 1967 or 1968] It is difficult to determine the whereabouts of the child Alberto today, but Rev. Abrego [former associate and roommate] claims he was placed in a welfare home in Tennessee . . . Alberto and Carmen Lydia had still another son, Luis Marx, early in 1969. While they were still in Florida, their hosts said Luis Marx was mistreated. What happened to Luis Marx is unknown, but when Alberto left Florida for Seattle with the car and credit card, they no longer had the child with them. What happened to Carmen Lydia after Seattle is also unknown, but Alberto remarried in 1977 to Nury Frias, a woman from the Dominican Republic. Whether he was ever legally married to and/or divorced from the other woman is unknown. At any rate, it is extremely damaging to Rivera’s credibility to discover that he had two children (Juan and Alberto) in America during the time he was supposed to be a celibate priest in Europe!

What does Jack Chick think about this? . . . When he was finally reached by phone at his home, he said that he had never met a more godly man than Alberto, and that he knows Alberto’s story is true because he ‘prayed about it.’ Jack says he expects his own life to be taken by Jesuit assassins [he is still kicking 17 years later]. When we reached Alberto by phone, he also refused to meet with us . . . He claims that any wrongdoings prior to his conversion in 1967 were done under the orders of the Catholic church, and any wrongdoings since his conversion are fabrications by the conspirators.

As we have seen, Alberto’s story is fraudulent, as was the story of John Todd, another Jack Chick protégé, who said the witches are taking over the world (see Issue #48 of Cornerstone). Alberto has skillfully created a closed, paranoid defense system which makes it difficult to corner him on specific issues. He can always dismiss any accusation as part of the Jesuit plot.

Alberto Rivera’s fraudulent claims underscore a sad fact: many Protestants have as distorted a view of Catholics as whites earlier in the century had of blacks. The black man was caricatured as having ‘lotsa rhythm and little-a brains,’ while the Catholic is portrayed as an automaton who is in unquestioning bondage to church authorities.

In a later issue of Cornerstone (Vol. 10, Issue no. 54), is an article, “Cornerstone Responds to Chick”:

Jack T. Chick has issued a three-page reply to Gary Metz’s expose of Alberto Rivera . . . In his letter of March 25, 1981, co-signed by Rivera, Chick alleges that ‘the systematic destruction of John Todd’s ministry’ is being repeated by the Vatican to destroy Alberto. (Todd claimed to have been one of the leaders of an international conspiracy of witches to set up Jimmy Carter as the Antichrist; Chick promoted Todd’s story in earlier comic books.) Chick accuses Christianity Today  and Cornerstone, both of whom ran exposes on John Todd, of furthering the cause of the ‘antichrist in the Vatican.’

A typical example of Chick’s defense of Alberto: the evidence for Alberto’s degrees disappeared because the Vatican ‘erased Dr. Rivera’s name from all directories in schools, seminaries, and colleges’; Rivera’s former associates and acquaintances contradict his story because they are Vatican spies; the women he was involved with were from ‘the Legion of Mary or Catholic Youth.’ So with the magic wand of Vatican conspiracy, Rivera is exonerated from any evidence that can possibly be adduced against him.

We feel that if Jack Chick really has a burden for Catholics, he needs to steer clear of fabrications and find a more reliable source of information.

Rivera’s third Chick comic book, The Godfathers, contains the following claims, presented seriously as solemn truth (my descriptions):

The Vatican plans to exterminate the Jews and set up the seat of the papacy in the Temple of Jerusalem, where the pope will reign as God, literally fulfilling the prophecies concerning the “man of sin” in 2 Thess 2:3-4;

The Vatican financed the Moslem-Jewish wars in the 10th century;

The Jesuits assassinated Abraham Lincoln;

Communist Founders Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were coached and directed by Jesuit agents;

The Jesuits also trained Trotsky, Lenin, and Josef Stalin;

Adolf Hitler was a pawn of the Catholics, while his book Mein Kampf was really written by a Jesuit priest;

The Vatican was behind World War I and II, and the Russian revolution of 1917;

The Ku Klux Klan, the Nazis, and the Masons are all secretly being directed by Jesuit agents;

All the other so-called international conspiracies (the Illuminati, the Communists, the Bilderbergers, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Club of Rome, etc.) were actually created by the Catholic Church as a smokescreen to direct attention away from the Vatican.

Cornerstone magazine observes:

Rivera’s claim to be a former priest, bishop, and intelligence agent for the Roman Catholic hierarchy has been discussed in previous issues . . . we found this claim to be a complete falsehood . . . I am amazed that Jack Chick can have such a paranoiac view of history; the word ‘Catholicaphobia’ immediately forms itself in my mind. It was because of such propaganda that two previous Chick comic books were banned by the Canadian government last October. They refer to it as being in the category of ‘obscene literature.’

Actually, if I did believe there was a secret Jesuit conspiracy, I would say that Alberto Rivera is still a part of it. His ludicrous accusations have damaged the cause of legitimate Protestant/Catholic relations.

* * * * *
I received a forward of the following letter from Fr. Phil Bloom, who runs a website called Simple Catholicism. Since this person (who will remain anonymous unless he informs me otherwise) has issued such a vigorous challenge, I have decided to post his mail. He is free to reply again if he so wishes. In the meantime, I have offered my answers. His words are in blue:
Mr. Bloom, this is my first encounter with your site and I read the response you gave Peter concerning the popes. Also I read the answer you gave to [name] where he is concerned with a lot of anti-Catholic web sites. He also states that when a Catholic becomes a Protestant, they become anti-Catholic.

Oftentimes, yes, but not always. My wife didn’t do that.

First of all, I have a question for that guy: What he means by anti-Catholic?

If he is using my definition, which is fairly standard, he means someone who denies that the Catholic Church is a Christian institution and who denies that anyone who fully accepts its teachings (i.e., an orthodox Catholic) can be a Christian. 

Does he mean that nobody can question the false teachings of Rome?

People can disagree vigorously with teachings (just as Protestants do amongst themselves; e.g., on the Calvinist vs. Arminian controversies), but to read an entire group out of Christianity altogether (when it is in fact Christian) is an entirely different thing. This is bearing false witness, and it is also (in my opinion) intellectual suicide. If Protestantism is Christian (as it certainly is), Catholicism must also be, given the history of Christianity.

Is doing that what makes someone anti-Catholic?

No. See my second comment back.

What about those Catholics who speak against evangelical Christians? Can we call them also anti-evangelicals?

Only if they say they are not Christians. And no Catholic who knows his faith will do that. Only fringe groups like Feeneyites and so-called “traditionalists” (who question the authority of Vatican II and the pope) ever do that. We critique teachings all the time, of course. I do that, but I am not “anti-evangelical.” I admire them quite a bit, in fact (having been one for 13 years I know what they are about).

How about those catholics who bitterly criticize and oppose evangelical Christians? Can we label them also as anti-evangelicals? I ask you.

Isn’t this saying basically the same thing that the last question said?

Worse yet, is the response you gave to this uninformed man. In fact, you assert that “there is a tremendous amount of anti-Catholic propaganda out there”. So, the question concerns you too, What do you mean by anti-Catholic?

Answered above. I’m sure Fr. Bloom would agree with this.

Do you mean that nobody has the right to question the false teachings of the roman catholic church? Is that what you mean?

Apparently, you think repetition makes your argument stronger, since you keep repeating yourself. Note, too, that this is a loaded question, much like saying, “Do you mean that nobody has the right to question the fact that Protestants beat their wives?”

Not only that, but you implied that such amount of information is not true or relevant, when you say that “one is tempted to simply ignore it except for the fact that so much of it is directed to our young people”.

I know how he feels. Much of it is sheer nonsense and not worth reading at all. But priests and apologists such as myself have a responsibility to speak out against lies, slander, and disinformation.

In other words, you say that almost all the information against catholicism is too false and full of errors, that you will probably waste your time trying to refute it. But because much of that information goes to young people, you are really concerned.

Precisely. The priest must protect his flock, and the apologist’s task is to defend Catholicism and reveal the errors and falsehoods of its opponents and their critiques.

After that, you mentioned Richard Bennett about his vicious attacks against the roman catholic church. We can talk about Bennett in other occasion, but something that really got my attention was your statement that “…there have been some notorious fake priests like “Dr. Alberto Rivera” who pulled the wool over Jack Chick’s eyes”. Of course you cannot substantiate your claims, because you did not know Alberto Rivera, much less, the efforts the Vatican made to kill him.

See the material above.

I met Alberto Rivera. In fact, I was very close to his ministry. I know first hand what you and other catholics call “a lie”. I know his story was true.

Then I’m sure you can refute the information in the article (above). Best wishes.

He had the proofs and the catholic church wanted him dead. Why? Because he knew too much. But most important, because he was preaching the true gospel that saves. He was proclaiming with boldness and without fear the biblical gospel that sets people free from the bondage of Roman Catholicism. You guys did not find another way to refute his testimony, because he was telling the truth.

It’s not “us guys” — the person who did the research was a Protestant evangelical named Gary Metz. The article appeared in Christianity Today (founded by Billy Graham and not exactly a Catholic magazine), on March 13, 1981.

The only choice you had, was trying to discredit him, even using the so called “evangelical apologists” such as Walter Martin and Hank Hannegraaf.

How do you define “evangelical”? Anyone who is a fundamentalist or a Calvinist or an anti-Catholic, or all three? That can easily be shown to be absurd and self-contradictory.

Everybody knows that Vatican always plays dirty. And in this case was not the exception.

Bigots always “know” everything about their opponents, and think everyone else “knows” too.

You say David Armstrong does a “good expose” of Alberto Rivera. Can you e-mail it to me to check it out?

Your wish has been granted. I will shortly post the article again. As a special bonus, I will even include our little dialogue, and you can respond if you like and I will post your reply. You can’t ask for more than that, can you? Here’s your big chance to expose all the Catholic lies and murderous tactics “everybody knows” about on a large Catholic website!

Please send me that expose, maybe he is right. Who knows?

I commend your open-mindedness.

But, let say for a moment that Alberto Rivera was not for real and that he was a liar. Does that change the verifiable data against roman catholicism? No!! How about Dave Hunt, Mike Gendron, Timothy McCarthy, Roger Oakland and a host of others which were not catholic priests, but present the naked truth against the roman catholic church? Are they also anti-catholics?

Yes. And they have been refuted time and again on websites such as Fr. Bloom’s and my own.

Are they not for real?

They’re for real alright. But they are wrong.

Come on!! Give me something more logical. You are a Catholic priest and you know the Scriptures, but the Word of God is not enough for you. What a tragedy!! Having the light you prefer to be in darkness. Having the bread of life you are starving to death. Am I an anti-Catholic?


Of course not!! I love Catholics.

Of course you are. It is not about loving Catholics or not. It is about speaking falsehoods about brothers in Christ. The sin is in the lie. We are not reading your heart; only objecting to your false statements.

I know they need desperately to trust Jesus Christ as their only and solely SAVIOUR.

Amen! We have taught no differently. Last I checked Catholics believed in one Saviour just as Protestants do.

Apostle Peter, the one you say was the first Pope answered Jesus: “…Lord to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Only Him is the One who can forgive your sins!!

Amen! This only goes to prove that every falsehood contains some truth, so that more people can be fooled.

In case you may wonder if I know for sure the teachings of the roman catholic church,

I don’t have to wonder. It is obvious that you do not, from what you write.

I want to let you know that I lived in Mexico with my parents for almost thirty years.

So what? Everyone has to learn their faith as an individual.

Do I know what [the] Roman Catholic church teaches? Of course!

Of course not!

And I know that almost every Roman Catholic do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour.

I’m amazed by your God-like ability to read into the hearts of men.

And those who by the mercy of God are saved, they can not remain in the catholic church,

Exactly as I stated above. This is classic anti-Catholicism.

such as Alberto Rivera, Richard Bennett, et.al. You say you are amazed of how an ex-Catholic priest can give such a distorted presentation of Catholic teaching. Believe me, is not distorted. Probably you are the one who don’t know Catholic teaching very well, or perhaps, you are totally deceived.

Oh, I see. So a priest with a seminary education does not know his own Church’s teachings, while the former Catholic with an axe to grind, does (simply because he lived in Mexico for thirty years). I find this hilariously funny (but, of course, tragic at the same time).

I urge you to watch a video of a debate between Dave Hunt and Karl Keating:

I saw them debate in person. It may be the same one you refer to.

Can Roman Catholicism be identified with early Christianity? If you haven’t watch it yet, you are missing something that can give you a clear perspective of what is the true and biblical Christianity.

If it is the one I attended, Hunt did no such thing. Here is what I wrote about it elsewhere:

. . . Dave Hunt . . . “debated” Karl Keating in the Detroit area on the historical proposition, “Was the Early Church Catholic?” without citing a single Church Father all night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When I pointed out the absurdity of this to him by mail, he retorted:

You missed the whole point of my debate — that I do not go to the church fathers to find out what the early church was like or what it should have been like, but I quoted the Bible. The Bible is what tells us about the early church . . . What’s the point of looking to the early church fathers? They could have departed from the truth as well! Our only sure knowledge of the early church was and should have been the scriptures.(Personal letter of April 24, 1995)

Such a view is embarrassing, to say the least (with great restraint) and is self-refuting. Thus I will not waste my time “answering” it. Articulate Protestants tell me that sola Scriptura does not cancel out Tradition or Church History, yet with statements like this and the nonexistence of any substantial recourse to the history of Christianity before 1517 . . . I become that much more hostile to sola Scriptura.I see all around me the “fruit” it produces — Christians . . . who can’t see past their own nose and couldn’t care less about even the most brilliant Fathers such as St. Augustine (who is often inexplicably claimed by the rare history-minded Protestant as one of their own), or even the heritage of their own forerunners, the “Reformers,” quite often eschewing the very title “Protestant.” I must say I’ve never understood or comprehended the a-historical mindset, and I never possessed it as a Protestant. Since, as Newman says, “to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant,” I was destined to become a Catholic eventually.

I sincerely hope you may ponder what I write to you, and in so doing, you arrive at the same conclusion than me: Roman Catholicism is totally contrary to the Word of God.

I have arrived at precisely the opposite conclusion, and have debated or refuted (in writing) most of the leading anti-Catholics today: James White, John Ankerberg, William Webster, David King, Eric Svendsen, Jason Engwer, and others.

Almost all of them (the only exception was Engwer) split after my first reply, never counter-responding. That doesn’t appear to me as the confidence of one who possesses the truth and “knows” about the “falsehood” of Catholicism, particularly since in every case I offered to post their words on my website just as I am doing with you. I continue to support Catholicism from the Bible in articles and books. You are welcome to try and answer any of my papers. I will counter-respond to any such attempt (unlike my anti-Catholic buddies who always run for the hills as soon as they are decisively answered).

* * *
Brought to you by Dave Armstrong, 2nd Lieutenant Colonel (Y2K Division) of the Jesuit / Jewish Banker / Nazi / Communist / Illuminati / Pan-African / Masonic / Trilateral Commission / New Age World Conspiracy; uploaded on 1 January 1999 (if you flip “999” upside down, do you know what it becomes???!!!!). Reply and counter-reply added on 9 July 2003. If you add all the numbers up of this date, plus four for the four letters of July, you get 18. 18 is the sum of three 6’s (666)!!! Oh No!!!!!

Photo credit: Image by “geralt” [Pixabay / public domain / CC0 Creative Commons license]


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