November 4, 2017


“Trinidad” commented underneath my article for National Catholic Register: “Biblical Evidence for Catholic Justification”:

Faith and works is the problem. The use of the word “works” creates a false dichotomy. Faith in action or Faith in love is a better description of what you find in the New Testament, the Catechism and the papal audience addresses of Pope Benedict on Paul’s teaching of Justification. Faith is not a momentary one off event followed by a series of meritorious works (too close to semi-Pelagianism), but a life time response to the grace of God which effects our salvation. Fighting old battles is an apologetic obsession. Its time to move on.

There is no clash here with the Bible or Pope Benedict, who stated in a General Audience of 11-26-08:

The Doctrine of Justification: The Apostle’s Teaching on Faith and Works” [title in the document]

. . . relationship between faith and charity, between faith and works: . . .

Often there is seen an unfounded opposition between St Paul’s theology and that of St James, who writes in his Letter: “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead”(2: 26). In reality, while Paul is primarily concerned to show that faith in Christ is necessary and sufficient, James accentuates the consequential relations between faith and works (cf. Jas 2: 24).

I use different expressions more similar to yours as well; e.g., in my 2010 book, Biblical Catholic Salvation. Its subtitle is “Faith Working Through Love.”  St. Paul uses the terminology of “work of faith” (1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:11). Faith and works are repeatedly regarded as hand-in-hand (in those words), in James (2:14, 17, 20, 22, 24, 26). James 2:18 (RSV) states: “. . . I by my works will show you my faith.” Quite biblical indeed.

This is no “apologetic obsession” nor is it “old.” Rather, your comment is too narrow and insufficiently biblical.

The phrases “faith in love” and “faith in action” never appear as such in the NT (RSV), although the association of faith and love is a strong one, as seen in this NT search.

I never denied that, but I do deny the assertion made by “Trinidad”: that the terminology of “faith and works” is an expressly unbiblical one. James 2 refutes that over and over.

“Action[s]” only appears once in the NT (RSV): “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom 7:15)

It was also asserted that “works” in conjunction with “faith” was not Catechism terminology. This is untrue. They are connected positively in #1815 (citing James 2), #1021 (with reference to judgment), and in #1698. #1697 reads in part: “it is by grace that we are saved and again it is by grace that our works can bear fruit for eternal life;”.

On the other hand, the phrase “faith in action” never occurs in the Catechism; nor does the concept in that terminology. Nor does the term “faith in love.” But I agree that both are acceptable as  descriptions of a proper life of discipleship in faith. I never denied it. It is the denial of (or assertion of impropriety of) the phrase or notion of “faith and works” which hasn’t been established.

I do appreciate, however, the opportunity to respond to gratuitous bum raps against apologetics and apologists.


Photo credit: Saying by Mitch Albom [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]


May 4, 2017


Image by “geralt” (April 2017) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]


[from another public Facebook thread. Lutheran (LCMS) Pastor R. Daniel Carlson’s words will be in blue]


You can’t take a passage like “whoever BELIEVES (has faith) in Me will not perish but have everlasting life”, which are Christ’s own words from His mouth, and negate it by saying that other passages imply that it’s not just believing but also works. That’s called BAD exegesis.

So instead you look at these straight forward passages (like John 3:16, Romans 3, Ephesians 2, etc.) and let them stand. Then you look at James where it says “faith without works is dead” and other such passages IN THE LIGHT of the clearer passages AND the Gospels. You also look for passages that talk about works and “fruits”…lo and behold, the ONLY conclusion that can be drawn without stepping outside of Scripture is that faith PRODUCES works/fruits. Works DO NOT go alongside with faith as an additional requirement, but follow faith. WE are saved by grace through faith….NOT of ourselves, it is the GIFT of God, NOT by works…WE are CREATED (or better we are created as Christians) to DO good works, but NOT works must be done for salvation. Again, Jesus says, “whoever BELIEVES [has faith] in me shall not perish but have everlasting life,” not “whoever believes and does good works…”

Lutherans and Catholics do NOT agree on this, and your Sacrament of Penance is a fine example of our disagreement. Roman Catholics see works as a “paying off” of sin. So you go to confession, and the priest tells you, for your penance, to do certain works in order to pay off your transgression. For Catholics, Baptism is just a seed, planted into the heart and good works are required to make the seed grow. The more good works, the closer you are to heaven, the less good works, the more time you spend in purgatory.

Lutherans believe none of this. For Lutherans, good works are a bi-product of faith, a bi-product produced by the Spirit of Christ living in us and giving to us in our Baptisms. We are FULLY sanctified, FULLY made holy, FULLY set apart – yes, FULLY saints and absolutely going to heaven when we die, no strings attached. We are thankful for God’s gifts of the spirit, for good works, but we don’t gauge our salvation by them. When we sin, we confess our sins and then, by faith trust that Christ’s death on the cross paid IN FULL the price.

[my citation of  part of the above] “We are thankful for God’s gifts of the spirit, for good works, but we don’t gauge our salvation by them.”

Why do God and Scripture writers, then, mention works and never faith alone, in 50 passages concerning the final judgment? You tell me. How do you interpret that in your theological system? Why is faith alone never mentioned in those contexts, in the very place where it seems to me that we ought to expect it, if Protestant theology is correct?

[cited again] “Then you look at James where it says “faith without works is dead” and other such passages IN THE LIGHT of the clearer passages”

James is very clear. It’s not unclear at all. It’s only unclear to those who don’t care for the message he is giving:

James 2:14 (RSV) What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?

2:17-18 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. [18] But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

2:20-22 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? [21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? [22] You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works,

2:24-26 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. [25] And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? [26] For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

Crystal clear; couldn’t be any more clear than it is!

Catholics synthesize that with the passages that discuss grace and the ones that talk of faith. It’s no problem. I’ve done it in various papers and books of mine many times. We think in “both/and” terms because (I would contend) that is the scriptural / Hebrew outlook. “Either/or” is the overly rationalistic approach. Here are relevant papers of mine:

St. Paul on Grace, Faith, & Works (50 Passages) [8-6-08]

Grace Alone: Perfectly Acceptable Catholic Teaching [2-3-09]

Bible on Participation in Our Own Salvation (Always Enabled by God’s Grace) [1-3-10]

Bible on the Nature of Saving Faith (Including Assent, Trust, Hope, Works, Obedience, and Sanctification) [1-21-10]

Justification: Not by Faith Alone, & Ongoing (Romans 4, James 2, and Abraham’s Multiple Justifications) [10-15-11]

New Testament Epistles on Bringing About Further Sanctification and Even Salvation By Our Own Actions [7-2-13]

Reply to James White’s Exegesis of James 2 in Chapter 20 of His Book, The God Who Justifies [10-9-13]

Jesus vs. “Faith Alone” (Rich Young Ruler) [10-12-15]

Dialogue: Rich Young Ruler & Good Works [10-14-15]

“Catholic Justification” in James & Romans [11-18-15]

Grace Alone: Biblical & Catholic Teaching [12-1-15]

Philippians 2:12 & “Work[ing] Out” One’s Salvation [1-26-16]

To answer some of your questions:

“Faith without works is dead”. This is a statement of fact, not a statement of condition. Also, the word “works” in many of these contexts does not equate to someone earning their way to salvation by DOING such works.

Let’s change the words “faith” and “works” to something more day-to-day. “TV” without “REMOTE” is “USELESS”. This is a point of fact, not a condition. My TV has one button and it turns the TV on or off, that’s it. Thus when I got the TV, the remote necessarily had to come with or it is worthless.

Likewise, faith which does not produce [good] works is no faith, why? Well, faith is a gift from God, given through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in a person. Therefore works necessarily follow.

James’ statement “faith without works is dead” isn’t James shaking his pointer finger at us and saying “you better do good things or God will take your faith away”, or “you can’t have faith unless you force yourself to do good” or anything like that. If you read the greater context, James tells us what he’s trying to get at. He is saying that his faith is shown/proven/demonstrated by his good works, that anyone who says “we have faith” but no works show from it…they truly don’t have faith.

It’s not faith AND works but faith THEN works, otherwise Jesus would be wrong when He says that believing is what gives eternal life, and St. Paul would be wrong when he says that we are saved by grace (alone) through faith (alone). You take issue with the “alone” word, but since neither Christ or St. Paul, or the writer of Hebrews adds any trailing thought to this, it’s fine to say “alone” after these phrases because they stand alone. Likewise, Abraham was made right by FAITH, and with regard to his works, he was not exactly a consistent good-doer. “Abraham believed God” and what? He was righteous! That’s it.

All the other passages that you contend teach that it’s works AND faith that save, well I assert that they must be filtered and exegeted with John 3:16 in mind, and not on their own, and yes, this includes James.

You still haven’t answered my question about the 50 passages concerning judgment. That’s not surprising. I don’t think any Protestant has since I came up with the argument 15 years ago. What possible answer could there be?

Catholics aren’t saying that it is works that save (which is the Pelagian heresy). We’re saying that we’re saved by grace through faith, and that faith by nature includes works within it, in the overall matrix of faith, action, justification, and eschatological salvation.

And this is massively backed up in Scripture, as I have shown in many of my writings.


It becomes a big problem if one wants to only consider a particular set of Bible passages that have a certain theme, and ignore another set that has a different theme, within the overall topic of soteriology.

The Catholic position takes both sets seriously and (agree or disagree with us) harmonizes them into a coherent whole.

But Protestants too often want to ignore all the passages having to do with good works and merit and synergy and concentrate almost solely on the passages having to do with grace and faith.

We see this happening above: in the refusal to deal with the 50 passages I collected, that have to do with the final judgment, and are unanimously about works, not faith.

I see Protestants (in the course of my hundreds of dialogues these past 21 years online) doing the same thing with the Church fathers. Passages about Scripture are always produced, while the ones from the same person about tradition, Church authority, and apostolic succession are ignored.

Neither side can be hyper-selective like that. We need to take all of Scripture and all of a Church fathers’ writings into account, in order to accurately convey the teaching of either.

Many of us who used to be Protestant, became Catholics largely due to starting to look at all of Scripture rather than only the usual prooftexts, and reading the fathers to see what they actually taught, rather than relying on selected “pre-filtered” quotations, meant to prop up a Protestant outlook that began 800-1400 years after the patristic period.

[a day later] Do you plan on ever explaining to me why 50 passages in Scripture about the final judgment all talk about works but never faith alone?

Here’s my response to works playing a part in our salvation and not faith alone: [Defense of the Augsburg Confession: section on good works].

How many of my 50 passages does it address? [I then looked at it] Looks like it doesn’t deal with a single one. I am underwhelmed. So (what else is new?): no Protestant reply to fifty biblical passages about works in relation to judgment and salvation.

You can have a million passages and it doesn’t change the fact that Jesus said “believe in me…have eternal life…” and never said anything about works.

If I were to say to you that I have a dog, love my dog, and take him to the park every day and play fetch with him – you’d say “okay”. If, 20 years later, I tell you that my dog is dead, do you take these two statements and conclude that I play with my dead dog?

Of course not! The 50 passages, when I’m going to go through one by one as you’ve not gone through them one by one, ALL have to deal with Christians – we who ARE saved. They are not in refute, other than the suggestion that works are required TO BE saved. Jesus, in John 3, is telling Nicodemus how one IS saved – these are two different things and they need not be intertwined.

Dave Armstrong James, when talking to his audience, it talking to CHRISTIANS, people who ARE SAVED, who HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED, who have on their bodies the marks of Christ. He’s not to a pagan, unbelieving audience.

Note how Peter, in Acts 2, and in other places, is talking to an audience of people who are NOT saved. What does he say to them? Does he or St. Paul or anyone EVER tell them that they must do good works to be saved? NO, but only faith. It’s the same for St. Paul in Romans 3 – “a salvation APART FROM WORKS…justification BY FAITH…” Yet, St. Paul, St. Peter, and all the rest, even Jesus, all say to the faithful, to those who are saved, that good works must necessarily follow or it is dead faith – like the parable of the sower.

You can refute this all you want to, but you simply cannot say that one is saved by faith AND works….because Jesus never said it, and by saying it, you very strongly imply that Christ’s work on the cross is inadequate, and that, sir, is blasphemy.

And you know that’s also what the Baptists do with their whole “decision” and “ask Jesus into your heart” garbage – it’s all works righteousness and it’s all slander against Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”

Romans 2:6-7 For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (cf. 2:8; 2:10)

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (cf. James 1:22-23; 2:21-24)

Romans 8:13 for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. (cf. 2 Cor 11:15)

1 Timothy 6:18-19 They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed.

You’re not quoting anything that we don’t already know. EVERY one of these passages come from a context of preacher preaching to a child of God and NOT to pagans.

Find me a quote where the preacher is preaching to pagans and telling them “you must do good works to be saved” and then we’ll talk.

Half of my passages (Romans 1-2) deal with a wider audience than Christians. St. Paul is talking to pagans in Romans 1:18 up through 2:16: which incorporates my first three passages.

Martin Luther, in his Lectures on Romans (Luther’s Works, vol. 25, p. 155: I have the whole 55-volume set in hardcover) agrees:

[v. 1: 20] [T]he apostle with these words does not rebuke the Romans only, as many believe. He rebukes not individuals but all people, Gentiles and Romans alike. This can be seen very clearly from the words of the apostle later in Rom. 3:9: ‘We have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.’ . . . the apostle, as he writes, sees before his eyes the whole world as one body . . .

Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed.

This passage is also written expressly about unbelievers, since the preceding verse 15 states: “To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted.” That makes it four out of six of my passages that are about unbelievers and not Christians, whereas you stated (inexplicably and remarkably): “EVERY one of these passages come from a context of preacher preaching to a child of God and NOT to pagans.”

Or find me a passage from the Gospels where Jesus tells an unbeliever that he must have faith AND works to be declared righteous by God and I will throw away my Luther’s rose.

Matthew 19:16-24 And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” [17] And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” [18] He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, [19] Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [20] The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” [21] Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” [22] When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. [23] And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. [24] Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

What is most striking about this incident in the life of Jesus — given Protestant views — is the almost sole emphasis on works rather than faith, in Jesus’ reply to the rich young ruler’s question (I have combined elements in all three accounts), “what good deed must I / shall I do to inherit / have eternal life?” It’s reiterated over and over again: works, works, works. It doesn’t follow that faith is not involved, too. Elsewhere, Jesus and Paul and other biblical writers say plenty about faith and assent. But it does mean that works are central in the whole equation and can’t be separated from faith and put in a secondary category.

Right at the beginning of the incident, the ruler asks, “what good deed must I do?” Inheriting eternal life is clearly synonymous with “ultimate salvation.” According to Protestant soteriology (theology of salvation), this isn’t even the right question to ask. Their immediate reply would be, “you have a fundamental misunderstanding of salvation. You can’t do anything to be saved. No work you do is sufficient. All you can do is have faith in Jesus Christ, Who died for your sins.” That’s evangelical Protestant doctrine.

The interesting consideration here, then, is: why doesn’t Jesus act like a good evangelical and correct him right out of the starting-gate? Jesus would have failed Soteriology 0101 in any evangelical seminary or divinity school. Not only are good works, or deeds front and center; he also asks about which deed “must” he do. There is an element of necessity. If he doesn’t do some sort of good deed, he won’t be saved. But if this is essentially wrong and wrongheaded, Jesus would have corrected him by saying that he was wrong to be thinking about works rather than faith, and about thinking that any work was necessary for salvation.

He doesn’t do that at all. Instead, Jesus strengthens the man’s initial assumptions and explains what works he has to do to be saved: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” It’s a required condition for obtaining a desired goal: “If you want x, do y.” Y is necessary to obtain x, and y = keeping commandments, which are good works, in order to achieve x (eternal life). This is not like any sermon I ever heard in my 13 years as an evangelical! This is not how we were taught to share out faith in street witnessing, in order to “get people saved.”


You’re arguing something different from what we are arguing anyway. You’re acting as if we believe that the non-believer can be saved by faith + works at first (i.e., semi-Pelagianism), rather than be initially justified by faith through grace (as we believe). He then is required to do good works (just as in your system) to show that he has an authentic faith. If he fails to do these, he can lose this justification or (worst-case scenario) his ultimate salvation.

Our systems then diverge in that we say these works are part and parcel of merit and increase of grace, whereas as you say they are relegated to the box of sanctification, having nothing to do with either justification or salvation.


What the Bible actually teaches about attaining eschatological salvation; what you resolutely refuse to deal with, is summarized by the following, from the end of my paper of 50 passages dealing with judgment and final salvation:


In light of this survey of biblical statements on the topic, how would we properly, biblically answer the unbiblical, sloganistic questions of Matt Slick [Presbyterian pastor and head honcho of the large CARM forum]: “If you were to die tonight and face judgment and God were to ask you why He should let you into heaven, what would you tell Him? Just curious.”

He’s completely well-intentioned and has the highest motivations. He desires that folks should be saved. But he is dead wrong in his assumptions, when they are weighed against the overwhelming, (far as I can tell) unanimous biblical record. Our answer to his question and to God when we stand before Him, could incorporate any one or all of the following 50 responses: all perfectly biblical, and many right from the words of God Himself:

1) I am characterized by righteousness.
2) I have integrity.
3) I’m not wicked.
4) I’m upright in heart.
5) I’ve done good deeds.
6) I have good ways.
7) I’m not committing abominations.
8) I have good conduct.
9) I’m not angry with my brother.
10) I’m not insulting my brother.
11) I’m not calling someone a fool.
12) I have good fruits.
13) I do the will of God.
14) I hear Jesus’ words and do them.
15) I endured to the end.
16) I fed the hungry.
17) I provided drink to the thirsty.
18) I clothed the naked.
19) I welcomed strangers.
20) I visited the sick.
21) I visited prisoners.
22) I invited the poor and the maimed to my feast.
23) I’m not weighed down with dissipation.
24) I’m not weighed down with drunkenness.
25) I’m not weighed down with the cares of this life.
26) I’m not ungodly.
27) I don’t suppress the truth.
28) I’ve done good works.
29) I obeyed the truth.
30) I’m not doing evil.
31) I have been a “doer of the law.”
32) I’ve been a good laborer and fellow worker with God.
33) I’m unblamable in holiness.
34) I’ve been wholly sanctified.
35) My spirit and soul and body aresound and blameless.
36) I know God.
37) I’ve obeyed the gospel.
38) I’ve shared Christ’s sufferings.
39) I’m without spot or blemish.
40) I’ve repented.
41) I’m not a coward.
42) I’m not faithless.
43) I’m not polluted.
44) I’m not a murderer.
45) I’m not a fornicator.
46) I’m not a sorcerer.
47) I’m not an idolater.
48) I’m not a liar.
49) I invited the lame to my feast.
50) I invited the blind to my feast.

You miss the whole point of Jesus’ conversation with the young man in Matthew. He thinks he’s done all the good he needs to do – even responds with “I’ve done all these things”. Jesus then says, “one thing you lack…”, and reveals the true heart of the young man — greed and covetedness and hate and idolatry…breaking every one of the commands he thinks he keeps. Afterward, Jesus says to his disciples that with man it is impossible, but not with God, calling the disciples to believe (have faith) in God’s work of salvation. He NEVER tells the young man that he’ll be saved if he just does good works.

Man, you need to learn the difference between Law and Gospel.

But this particular text isn’t dealing with good works for salvation but revealing that, before God, no good works will save them, not from the Jews or the Gentiles or anyone because…ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Yes, ultimately the issue is one of grace. What IS grace? Is it a substance that you can get more and more of through good works? NO. Grace is a disposition God has toward us on account of His love for us. When we are saved, we have ALL the grace He can give. Being saved is a WHOLE lot more valuable than anything. For Roman Catholics, grace is a substance, sort of like the angels in the show Supernatural have. You get enough grace in baptism for justification, but then you must do good to get more grace and more grace…

I don’t take issue with good works – and the BEST work we can do is proclaim the Gospel to the lost. Yet, all of the stuff that you’ve written about the necessity of good works for salvation is like cat screams to me. Not only do I interpret the passages you provide differently than you do, I simply refuse to say that salvation is by faith AND works. I agree with James when he says “faith without works is dead” because works are a God-given response to faith and if there is no faith, there are no works.

You may not know this, but the most opposing thing that I read – maybe you’re not trying to say this – is that works must come from the old man. See what I mean? When you say we MUST do good works to be saved, to me that’s LAW, and we cannot be saved by keeping the law because the primary purpose of the law is to show us our sinfulness. Now, if good works come from the NEW MAN, then that’s a God-thing! God is creating the good works in us, and that’s GOOD NEWS! I WANT to do good works, and God enables me and empowers me to do them. This is completely different than saying we MUST do good works to be saved, see??

In essence it’s ‘true’, but the language of “MUST” vs. “CAN” changes the whole thing. When I read Eph 2:8ff, I read that the works that God prepares for us to do aren’t burdensome, heavy, or demand, but gospel, joyful, and we’re empowered by God so that we CAN do them. Thus, if I sin, I don’t feel like I have to do 2x as much good to pay my penance – Christ has paid it all ready – instead I have the freedom to, with God’s help do better.

Thanks for your reply.

May 13, 2020

This came about in a related discussion concerning the Judaizers — in the combox of a post about whether Francis Beckwith, prominent Catholic convert, is saved. Anti-Catholic Protestant apologist Jason Engwer’s words will be in blue.

* * * * *

We believe in sola gratia as you do, but reject sola fide as an unbiblical innovation. The fact remains that works are profoundly involved in the salvation (ultimately by grace) in some sense:

St. Paul on Grace, Faith, & Works (50 Passages) [8-6-08]

Catholic Bible Verses on Sanctification and Merit [12-20-07]

They are even central to the criteria of how God will decide who is saved and who isn’t, as I have proven from no less than 50 Bible passages:

Final Judgment in Final Judgment & Works (Not Faith): 50 Passages [2-10-08]

We interpret all this in a non-Pelagian fashion. We incorporate all of Scripture, not just our favorite pet verses. You guys simply ignore this data or act as if it is only in the realm of sanctification and has nothing whatever to do with salvation, which is absurdly simplistic and unrealistic in the face of the overwhelming data showing otherwise.

Paul’s focus in Galatians is on the means by which justification is attained (Galatians 3:2), not whether justification is attributed to grace. The idea that one can seek justification through a combination between faith and works, as long as the process is attributed to grace, is a contradiction of what Paul taught. If works are absent from Genesis 15:6, Acts 10:44-46, Galatians 3:2, and other relevant passages, then saying that the works are preceded by and accompanied by grace doesn’t make sense. There are no works for grace to accompany in such passages. To make this a matter of whether the works are attributed to grace is to get the gospel fundamentally wrong. There’s no need to discuss whether non-existent works are works of grace or graceless works. The gospel shuts us up to faith, not to a combination between faith and gracious works (Galatians 3:21-25).

Then why are works always central in every discussion of the final judgment that I could find in Scripture (50 passages: linked to above)?

The final judgment involves more than the means by which the justified attained that justification. It also involves the means by which the unregenerate are condemned, the vindication of the justified, and the non-justificatory rewarding of those individuals. I wouldn’t expect the final judgment to not involve works. In the post you’re responding to, I cited some examples of passages that are about how we attain justification. They don’t just exclude graceless works. They exclude works of any type. Many other such passages could be cited, as I discuss here and here.

Why is this the case if God is supposedly wanting to completely separate any notion of works or acts from salvation itself?

We wouldn’t have to know why works are excluded in order to know that they’re excluded. But it’s a good question, and I addressed it in a post last year.

I agree with what C. S. Lewis said: asking one to choose between faith and works is as senseless as saying which blade of a pair of scissors is more important.

It’s an organic relationship. Actually, Catholics and Protestants, rightly understood, are not far apart on this in the final analysis. It’s mostly mutual misunderstandings and unfortunate semantic confusion.

I wouldn’t expect the final judgment to not involve works.

Good. That’s part of the common ground I alluded to.

But then my question would be: why is the aspect of faith (let alone faith alone so glaringly absent in these 50 accounts of judgment (I think only one mentioned it at all, in my list), if in fact it is the central, fundamental consideration, according to Protestantism?

It’s just not plausible. The Bible doesn’t at all read as it should, were Protestant soteriology true, and Catholic soteriology false. I contend that it would read much differently indeed. As it is, it appears to overwhelmingly favor the Catholic positions.

Central to what? All that the judgment involves? No. The unjustified are condemned for their sins, so works are relevant to their judgment. And the justified are reconciled to God through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) for good works (Ephesians 2:10). The works evidence the faith (vindication), and the works determine non-justificatory rewards. Mentioning works is an effective way of summarizing the judgment, since it brings together so many of the relevant themes. Even when a passage only mentions works with regard to the judgment, we have to keep the nearby context in mind. The original authors (or speakers) didn’t expect their audience to take their comments in isolation, ignoring the context. Those who hear Jesus speak of works in Matthew 25:31-46 know that He was carrying out a ministry in which He forgave, pronounced peace, and healed people upon their coming to faith (see here). Those who heard Jesus speak of works in John 5:29 would also have known that He spoke of reconciliation through faith and avoidance of condemnation as a result of that faith in John 5:24. Those who believe are assured of the future resurrection of life (John 11:25-26). When Paul says that men will be judged by his gospel (Romans 2:16), he doesn’t expect his audience to ignore everything he said about justification through faith and think only of works. Works are relevant, for reasons explained in my last paragraph, but nobody reading Paul in context would think that summarizing statements that only mention works are meant to exclude what Paul said about faith. To ignore the role of faith in his gospel would cause a major distortion of his message. Paul speaks of deliverance from future wrath through Jesus’ blood (Romans 5:9) after having said that the deliverance through that blood was received through faith (Romans 5:1). Etc. And I point out, again, that citing passages on the final judgment doesn’t explain the line of evidence I mentioned earlier. As we see over and over again in Jesus’ ministry and Paul’s, people are justified through faith alone, as illustrated in the paradigm case of Abraham in Genesis 15:6. There is no issue of whether the works involved are works of grace or graceless works, since works of both types are absent.

Thanks very much for your reply, and especially for sticking directly to the issues. I think you have answered well from within your own paradigm, and it is interesting to learn how you answer the question I asked. I truly do appreciate it.

I disagree, of course, but as I said, I didn’t come here to debate. Let me conclude, if I may, by briefly clarifying that the Catholic position is not saying to ignore faith or grace (the content of your entire long second paragraph). Our position is that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, which is not alone, and includes works by its very nature.

So all your warnings about “ignoring” faith are non sequiturs, as far as Catholicism is concerned, and a rather large straw man, if you are intending to target Catholic soteriology there.

The point of my paper and question about it is not to stake out some “works alone” position (which would, of course, be a Pelagianism that Catholics totally reject as heresy), but to note that it is rather striking that only works are mentioned in the judgment passages, and never faith alone (and faith at all only once out of 50).

I realize that the Catholic view involves grace and faith as well, which is why I previously referred to faith rather than “a combination between faith and gracious works” in reference to Galatians 3:21-25, for example. The second paragraph in the post you’re responding to was meant to be an explanation of the intention of the Biblical authors, not a response to Catholicism.

In another paper I mentioned here I cite 50 passages from Paul that exhibit the threefold scenario of grace-faith-works.

We also get accused of believing in “sola ecclesia” when in fact our position on authority is the “three-legged stool” of Scripture-Tradition-Church. It’s simply Protestant either/or thinking applied to us.

Thanks again, and I will record your complete reply in a post I’ll make on the topic. You or anyone else is always welcome to comment on my site about anything.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

* * *

I don’t see how some of the passages I mentioned in my last post, such as John 11:25-26 and Romans 5:1-9, can be exempted from an examination of judgment passages. When people are assured of a future in Heaven, the resurrection of life, the avoidance of God’s wrath in the future, etc. on the basis of faith, why wouldn’t such passages be relevant to the subject you’re addressing?

They are thematically related insofar as they are also soteriological, but my 50 passages had specifically to do with final judgment, God’s wrath, and eschatological salvation.

That came about because I was asked in debate with Matt Slick (the big cheese at CARM) what I would say if I got to heaven and God asked me why I should be let in. I replied that we had biblical data as to what God would actually say at such a time, and it was all about works, not faith alone at all. And I found that quite striking (after studying it in greater depth), though it never surprises me to find profound biblical support for Catholicism. I always do whenever I study the Bible.

Romans 5:9 does mention God’s wrath, but it is a generalized, proverbial-like statement (such as often found in, e.g., 1 John), rather than particularistic and eschatological, which is what I was talking about in my paper.

John 11:25-26 is of the same nature, and moreover, if we look at it closely, we see that the Greek for “believe” is pistuo, which is considered the counterpart of “does not obey” (apitheo) in John 3:36. 1 Peter 2:7 also opposes the two same Greek words. In other words, “believe” in the biblical sense already includes within it the concept of obedience (i.e., works). Hence, “little Kittel” observes:

pisteuo as “to obey.” Heb. 11 stresses that to believe is to obey, as in the OT. Paul in Rom. 1:8; 1 Th. 1:8 (cf. Rom. 15:18; 16:19) shows, too, that believing means obeying. He speaks about the obedience of faith in Rom. 1:5, and cf. 10:3; 2 Cor. 9:13. (p. 854)

Jesus joins faith (“belief” / pistuo) and works together, too, when He states:

John 14:12 (RSV) Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.

So even if one grants that these passages have to do directly with judgment and eschatological salvation (as I do not), it is still the case that the “belief” mentioned in them is (through cross-referencing) seen to include obeying and works, and we’re back to the Catholic organic relationship between the two, rather than the Protestant ultra-abstraction of the two into the justification and sanctification categories.

“Faith alone” is tough to verify from Scripture once everything is taken into account and not just the garden-variety Protestant passages that are always utilized.

* * *

In other words, ‘believe’ in the biblical sense already includes within it the concept of obedience (i.e., works).

I agree that faith is obedience, but it can be obedience without being work in any relevant sense. That’s why we’re told that people can believe without working (Romans 4:5-6), that justifying belief occurs in the heart (Acts 15:7-11, Romans 10:10), that works demonstrate faith (James 2:14-26), etc. Different terms are used to refer to faith and works, because they’re different concepts. They can have obedience in common without having some other things in common.

A reference to faith can’t be assumed to include outward action, much less a specific outward action like baptism. That’s why we often see baptism and faith distinguished, for example (Acts 8:12-13, 18:8, etc.). The fact that faith is obedience wouldn’t lead us to the conclusion that other forms of obedience can be included in references to faith.

The term “faith” and its synonyms aren’t all that are relevant here. When we read of a paralytic being lowered into a house, a man visiting a Jewish temple, a crucified man, or a man listening to the gospel being preached, we don’t define what that person is doing solely by a term like “faith”. Rather, we also take into account the evidence provided by the surrounding context. It would make no sense to conclude that a paralyzed man being lowered into a house or a man visiting a Jewish temple was being baptized simultaneously or that a man nailed to a cross or a man listening to Peter preach the gospel was giving money to the poor at the same time. We judge how these individuals were justified partially through the surrounding context, not just a reference to faith or some related term. Part of the problem with the Catholic gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, but the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren’t involved.

So even if one grants that these passages have to do directly with judgment and eschatological salvation (as I do not)

How can a passage about resurrection life and never dying (John 11:25-26) not be directly relevant? Passages of a similar nature use other phrases that are likewise relevant to future judgment and salvation, such as “on the last day” in John 6:40. Your article includes John 5:26-29, so I don’t see a problem with including verse 24 as well. Themes of resurrection and judgment are already being discussed in verses 21-22. Yet, your article only cites verses 26-29.

Similarly, Romans 5:1-9 repeatedly brings up themes of hope for the future and deliverance from future wrath.

And I want to remind the readers of something I said earlier. The coming judgment is primarily a judgment of works even from the perspective of justification through faith alone. The unregenerate are condemned by their works, and the regenerate are justified in order to do (Ephesians 2:10), vindicated by, and rewarded for their works. The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn’t tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification. The dispute isn’t about whether works are relevant to the judgment, but rather the type of relevance they have.

Thanks for the continuing excellent discussion. Just one point:

the regenerate are justified in order to do (Ephesians 2:10), [be] vindicated by, and rewarded for their works. The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn’t tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification.

This is classic Protestantism, of course: works are relegated to post-justification status, as part of a separate sanctification and the realm of differential rewards of those already saved. I used to believe the exact same thing, so I’m very familiar with it.

The problem is that Scripture doesn’t teach such a view. The disproofs are already in my paper, in many passages that directly connect or associate salvation with the works that one does: therefore, works are not unrelated to either justification or eschatological salvation, as you claim they are:

Matthew 25:34-36 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

The “for” shows the causal relationship: “you are saved because you did all these works.” That’s what the text actually asserts, before false Protestant presuppositions and eisegesis are applied to it in the effort to make sure works never have to do directly with salvation (no matter how much faith and grace is there with them, so that we’re not talking about Pelagianism).

If Protestantism were true, the Bible should have had a passage something like this (RPV):

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for you did not believe in Me with Faith Alone.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous who believed with Faith Alone into eternal life.

But alas, it doesn’t read like that, does it?

John 5:28-29 . . . the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

A direct correlation: the ones who do good works are saved; the ones who do evil are damned.

Romans 2:6-8, 13 For he will render to every man according to his works: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. . . . For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Again, works are directly tied to eternal life and justification; they are not portrayed as merely acts of gratefulness that will lead to differential rewards for the saved; no, the differential reward is either salvation or damnation. Paul totally agrees with Jesus.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 . . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

Note that simply believing the gospel and knowing God is not enough for salvation. One has to also “obey the gospel” (and that involves works).

Revelation 2:5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

If we don’t do the works, we can lose our salvation; therefore works have to do with salvation; they are not separated from that by abstracting them into a separate category of sanctification, that is always distinguished from justification. That ain’t biblical teaching. That is the eisegesis and false premises of Melanchthon and Calvin and Zwingli.

Revelation 20:11-13 Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.

Same thing again. Obviously, St. John, St. Paul, and our Lord Jesus need to attend a good Calvinist or evangelical seminary and get up to speed on their soteriology. They don’t get it. The passage should have been written something like the following:

. . . and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to whether they had Faith Alone. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to whether they had Faith Alone.

Perhaps we should get together a council and rewrite the Bible so that it doesn’t have so many “Romish” errors throughout its pages . . . :-) The King James White version or sumpin’ . . . :-)

* * *

Part of the problem with the Catholic gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, but the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren’t involved.

I can easily flip that around, based on the biblical data I have been highlighting:

“Part of the problem with the Protestant gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention works without mentioning faith (and especially not faith alone), but also the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that faith alone isn’t involved.”

Since the Catholic believes in the triumvirate of GRACE—>faith—>works as the criteria for salvation, passages dealing with faith pose no problem. The more the merrier. We are saying that faith alone is the unbiblical doctrine, not faith. We’re not against faith at all, but rather, a false definition of faith, that restricts and confines it in a way that the Bible doesn’t do.

But since your position is faith alone (in terms of salvation itself), you have to explain away or rationalize all passages suggesting an important place of works in the equation, in a way that we’re not required to do (given our position) with all the passages about faith that you produce.

So you claimed, for example, that “The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn’t tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification.” I have now produced six, plain, clear passages that do do just that. And that has to be explained from your paradigm.

I’m sure you will attempt some sort of explanation for your own sake (if even just in your own mind), because if you fail to do so, you would be forced to give up Protestant soteriology. The stakes are high.

But in any event, bringing out ten, twenty, fifty passages that mention faith does nothing against our position, because we don’t reject faith as part of the whole thing.

The problem for your side remains: how to interpret the centrality of works in the judgment / salvation passages like the six I dealt with in my last two postings, in a way that preserves the “faith alone” doctrine.

I contend that it is impossible. To do so does violence to the Bible and what it teaches. We must base our teaching squarely on biblical theology and not the arbitrary, self-contradictory traditions of men (folks like Calvin), who eisegete Holy Scripture and substitute for biblical thought, their own traditions.

Sometimes it’s easy to confuse those traditions with biblical teaching itself. But by examining Holy Scripture more deeply and over time, I think anyone can eventually see that it supports the Catholic positions every time.

That’s why we continue to see folks who study the issues deeply moving from Protestantism to Catholicism (such as Francis Beckwith: the original subject of this post).

our article includes John 5:26-29, so I don’t see a problem with including verse 24 as well. Themes of resurrection and judgment are already being discussed in verses 21-22. Yet, your article only cites verses 26-29.

Fair point. I love discussions of context. Protestants too often ignore context, but you don’t, and I respect that and commend you for it. I have explained my criterion for inclusion in my article on final judgment and works: it depends on how exactly one decides to categorize; how one determines which is a directly eschatological passage or one having to do with judgment. Reasonable folks can differ on that, as there is a subjective element. Not every systematic theologian cuts off the passages they employ at the same exact point.

But as I have been saying, a consideration also of the larger context of John 5 does nothing to harm the Catholic case. You wrote:

many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, . . . the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren’t involved.

Using John 5 as an example (since you brought it up), we see that this doesn’t apply. You say 5:21-22 mentions resurrection and judgment. Fine; indeed it does But what it doesn’t do is give the criteria for these judgments and who is resurrected. That has to come by reading on (further context). You want to highlight 5:24:

. . . he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

I have explained that this is a generalized statement: one could perhaps paraphrase it as “Christian believers have eternal life” or (to bring it down to a Sunday School nursery level): “all good Christians go to heaven.”

It doesn’t follow from a general statement like this that no Christian can ever fall away (though Calvinism requires this, over against many biblical passages to the contrary), or that works have nothing to do with it. We need to look at the deeper meaning of “believe” (as I have already done).

As we read on (the same discourse from Jesus) we get to 5:29:

. . . those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”

Now, you want to highlight 5:24 and de-emphasize 5:29. I can gladly consider both of them in the entire equation. It’s once again the Catholic (Hebraic) “both/and” vs. the Protestant (and more Greek) “either/or”. Scripture is asserting two truths:

5:24 “he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life”

5:29 “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life,”

Faith and works. For us, the two passages are entirely compatible and in harmony with our Catholic theology: one is saved by grace through faith, in believing in Jesus, and this belief entails and inherently includes good works.

But you guys can’t do that, because you wrongly conclude that any presence of good works in the equation of both justification and salvation itself is somehow “anti-faith” or antithetical to grace alone; and is Pelagianism. This doesn’t follow.

But because you believe this (the false, unbiblical premise), you have to explain 5:29 as merely differential rewards for the saved (who are saved by faith alone); whereas the actual text does not teach that. It teaches a direct correlation between good works and eternal life. It explains 5:24 in greater depth; just as I noted earlier that Jesus Himself places works and faith in direct relationship:

John 14:12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do . . .

That’s why we often see baptism and faith distinguished, for example (Acts 8:12-13, 18:8, etc.).

Ah, but baptism (odd that you should bring up that example) is also equated with regeneration and entrance into the kingdom, so this is hardly an example amenable overall to your position:

Acts 2:38, 41 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” . . . So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

The order is not:

1) faith
2) forgiveness
3) indwelling Holy Spirit
4) baptism

but rather,

1) faith
2) baptism
3) forgiveness (directly because of baptism)
4) indwelling Holy Spirit (directly because of baptism)

Because of the baptism, souls were added to the kingdom. They weren’t already in the kingdom, and then decided to be baptized out of obedience. Therefore, the work of baptism directly ties into both justification and final salvation.

Galatians 3:26-27 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Colossians 2:12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Faith and baptism are virtually equivalent in their importance. One is “in” Jesus both through faith and through baptism. Both/and.

Baptism is not a separate, optional work. It is part and parcel of the process. Insofar as it, too, is regarded as a “work” then here we have again the Catholic grace-faith-works (and efficacious sacraments) paradigm.

* * *

Jason gave further answers in a three-part reply (one / two / three). I then wrote in conclusion:

Hi Jason,

We could go round and round on this forever, and keep trying to poke holes in each other’s arguments. Again, I think you have answered very well from within your paradigm. You can have the last word.

Thanks for sticking entirely to theology and avoiding any hint of personal attack. How refreshing, and a model to be emulated.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and all here.


(originally posted on 12-6-09)

Photo credit: Christ and the Rich Young Ruler (1889), by Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


November 11, 2019

Reformed Baptist anti-Catholic apologist Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White took on the issue of synergy, man’s cooperation with God, God’s free gift of grace, and faith and works in his article entitled, “An Attempted Syllogism Examined” (11-3-09). He cited Catholic philosopher Francis Beckwith, denying “that Catholicism embraces ‘works righteousness’ because justification requires human cooperation (though performed in sanctifying grace)”. White’s words will be in blue.


[H]e does not tell us why we should think that because Jesus was the God-Man this means the gospel has to be partly God’s work and partly man’s (a synergistic system). Further, in quoting the Roman Catholic position Beckwith embraces not only the concept of infusion, but that “Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” Of course, only God’s grace makes it possible for this to happen, however, we are still doing the meriting and, of course, there are those who do not “cooperate” and thus lose the grace of justification, becoming enemies of God. And so the real issue of the Reformation remains the same today as it was then: it is not the NECESSITY of grace that is at dispute, it is the SUFFICIENCY of grace that is the focus of the debate. And, of course, so many of those who are non-Roman Catholics today actually agree with Rome against the Reformers on that topic, and are thusly crippled in resisting Rome’s teachings. . . . 

But there is by far a more pressing reason to reject Beckwith’s syllogism: the Bible speaks directly to the issue of the fact of God’s solitary and unique role in salvation. Not only are we told that salvation is of the Lord, but that all of salvation is of the Lord, from beginning to end, and that God, and God alone, is to be glorified as a result. Consider these words:

26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1Co 1:26-31)

Further, the problem with Rome’s gospel can be illustrated by asking Frank Beckwith (and any other follower of Rome) the same question I asked Fr. Peter Stravinskas in 2001, a question that a truly honest Roman Catholic cannot answer as the Bible does. Dr. Beckwith, are you the blessed man of Romans 4:7-8? Are your sins imputed to you? What does your priest say when you ask him? You know the answer from Rome’s teachings, but surely you must know that Paul’s answer would be, “the blessed man is every believer in Jesus Christ.” So how do you answer this question?

Delighted to have the opportunity to interact with White’s provocative question. My answer is, yes, indeed I and any other regenerated Catholic believer, not mired in mortal sin (see 1 Jn 5:16-17), is the “blessed man” of Romans 4:7-8 (RSV, as throughout): “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; [8] blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.”

We can, however, lose this blessedness by means of our rebellious free will, and so those familiar with all the relevant biblical teaching on possible apostasy and the moral assurance of salvation (as opposed to some imaginary absolute assurance), agree with the Bible writers that we are in Christ and will be saved, provided that we don’t “turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits” (Gal 4:9), or “submit again to a yoke of slavery” leading to our being “severed from Christ” and “fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:1, 4), and “provided that” we “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Col 1:23), and do not (according to what “the Spirit expressly says”) “depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1), and if we have not “strayed after Satan” (1 Tim 5:15).

The apostle Paul made it clear that he himself (as in 1 Cor 9:27) had “not . . .   already obtained” this salvation, and that he had to “press on” to make that happen (Phil 3:12); he would be saved unless “after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27). He also wrote that we will be “children of God” and “fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:16-17).

The writer of Hebrews is even more crystal clear and explicit. We will be saved by God’s grace unless “there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (3:12), or if it so happens that we are “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (3:13), and “if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end” (3:14). Is it clear enough yet? The same inspired writer of God’s infallible revelation informs us that “it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy” (6:4-6).

St. Peter continues the same sort of thought on apostasy: “Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Balaam, . . . For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet 2:15, 20-21).

Thus, — bottom line –, we must sadly conclude that James White’s exegesis and soteriological teaching is shallow and hyper-selective, whereas Catholic soteriology is far more comprehensively biblical: taking into account all relevant themes and passages, so as to create a coherent whole.

I suppose that if anyone simply chose to ignore the passages I have highlighted (most of them from the apostle Paul), or had never ever learned of them at all, then sure (ignorance is bliss, as they say), he or she would believe in absolute assurance of salvation, based on the every carefully selected passages that White and other Protestant preachers and theologians and apologists produce. But that would be insufficiently biblical and it would be a simpleton man’s religion. That’s the problem.

Lastly, I would like to examine another portion of Scripture that doesn’t fit at all into James White’s and the general Calvinist / eternal security / fundamentalist mold (this argument would not apply to the many Arminian / Wesleyan-type Protestants, who believe that apostasy or falling away from grace and salvation is possible).

For White and his like-minded buddies, it’s a very simple affair: you are forgiven once and for all with a sinner’s prayer or some other outward form of committing oneself to Christ (an adult baptism or whatever). That’s it. There is no more need for forgiveness because God imputes justification to such a believer, and saves him or her once-and-for-all in that one-time event.

The problem is that 1 John (among many other passages) completely contradicts this scenario. St. John repeatedly and undeniably teaches that we must exhibit this moral assurance of salvation and being in Christ by good works (the two are hand-in-hand; two blades of a pair of scissors, or two sides of the same coin, just as they also are in James). This is most assuredly not a “faith alone” theology:

1 John 1:7 but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 2:3-6 And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; [5] but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: [6] he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

1 John 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that every one who does right is born of him.

1 John 3:3  And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

1 John 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous.

1 John 3:10 By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:22-24 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. [23] And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. [24] All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us. (cf. 5:2-3)

1 John 4:8 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. (cf. 4:11-12, 16, 19, 21)

1 John 4:20 If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.


Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not ExistIf 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 three children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2600 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.


Photo credit: Piotr Siedlecki [ / public domain]


October 21, 2015

Original Title: St. Paul’s Teaching on the Organic Relationship of Grace, Faith and Works, and Obedience (50 Passages)


St. Paul (1482), by Bartolomeo Montegna (1450-1523) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

* * * * *

[all passages RSV]

Romans 1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, (cf. Acts 6:7)

Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”

Romans 2:6-7 For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; (cf. 2:8; 2:10)

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (cf. James 1:22-23; 2:21-24)

Romans 3:22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction;

Romans 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Romans 6:17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,

Romans 8:13 for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. (cf. 2 Cor 11:15)

Romans 8:28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

Romans 14:23 But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Romans 15:17-18 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentilesby word and deed,

Romans 16:26 but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — (cf. Heb 11:8)

1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (cf. 3:8; Mk 16:20)

1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.

1 Corinthians 9:27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.

1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 16:13 Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.

2 Corinthians 1:6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

2 Corinthians 1:24 
Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evilaccording to what he has done in the body.

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.

2 Corinthians 8:3-7 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints — and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. Accordingly we have urged Titus that as he had already made a beginning, he should also complete among you this gracious work. Now as you excel in everything — in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us — see that you excel in this gracious work also.

2 Corinthians 10:15 We do not boast beyond limit, in other men’s labors; but our hope is that as your faith increases, our field among you may be greatly enlarged,

2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one — I am talking like a madman — with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.

2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faithTest yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 5:6-7 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Galatians 6:7-9 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sowsthat he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reapif we do not lose heart.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanshipcreated in Christ Jesus for good workswhich God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in youboth to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:14-16 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Philippians 3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith;

Philippians 4:3 And I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workerswhose names are in the book of life.

Colossians 3:23-25 Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

1Thessalonians 1:3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 1:8 inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power,

1 Timothy 6:11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousnessgodlinessfaithlovesteadfastnessgentleness.

1 Timothy 6:18-19 They are to do good, to be rich in good deedsliberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the electthat they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.

2 Timothy 2:22 So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousnessfaithlove, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.

2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds; they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good deed.

Titus 3:8 The saying is sure. I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.

Titus 3:14 And let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful.

July 5, 2020

Or, “Does Christianity Reduce to Mere Philosophy or Rationalism?”

There seems to be some erroneous — sometimes almost obsessive — thought around in certain circles (roughly speaking: liberal Catholic ones) that apologetics is supposedly about the obtaining of absolute certainty through reason alone, as if faith has little or nothing to do with it. This is flat-out absurd and is a glaring falsehood (I carefully refrained from using the word “lie” because people get all on their ear).

I’ve been doing apologetics for 39 years now — the first nine as an evangelical Protestant — and have been a published apologist for 27 years and published author in the field (four bestsellers and over twenty “officially” published books) for 18 years. I’ve never seen anyone, to my recollection, who was an actual credentialed apologist (not just a guy with a blog who calls himself one after maybe reading one book), who was stupid and philosophically (or theologically) naive enough to teach such a view.

Even St. Thomas Aquinas: often the whipping-boy for those who foolishly think he taught some kind of “hyper-rationalism”, was clearly a proponent of faith and reason. His project was about a synthesis of orthodox Catholic faith with Aristotelian philosophy, which had been recently revived in 13th-century Europe.

Yet there is this thinking that apologists somehow delusionally pretend that hyper-rationalism is “the way” and that “certitude” is placed higher than God Himself; “absolute certainty” is the idol in their hearts and minds, that faith plays so little of a role in their view that they are actually not far from atheism. Rather than “faith alone” the motto is “reason alone” (so we are told). Those are the stereotypes.

Now I shall proceed to show what orthodox Catholic apologists (folks who actually accept the Catholic faith in its entirety) actually believe and teach: using my own example, since I think I am a rather typical one and in the “mainstream” and have perhaps written more on the topic than any other Catholic apologist operating today (2965 blog articles and 50 books). The following are all excerpts from my writings, with the original date and a link.


And yes, it requires faith, like all Christian beliefs (which, in turn, requires enabling grace). No one denies that. [1997]

It is only the deliberate attempt to denigrate the reasoning process, or the intellect, or mental effort, or “philosophy,” or logic, which undermines what is clearly a biblical viewpoint and creates a false and unbiblical dichotomy between reason and faith. I could go on and on about this, . . . [3-20-99]

Believing Christians and Jews have always possessed “certainty” (I recommend St. John Henry Newman’s Grammar of Assent in this regard [extremely heavy reading: be forewarned] ). It is a rational faith, backed up by eyewitness testimony and historical evidences, and the history of doctrine. It is not mere hyper-rationalistic, Enlightenment-inspired philosophy, . . . No one is saying (or should say) that there is an absolute certainty in a strict philosophical sense . . . [July 2000]

[T]he atheist often demands absolute proof for the Bible’s claims before granting that the Christian has any basis for placing faith in it, that it is God’s inspired word. How an atheist regards any other work as true or false involves largely the same processes, with faith (or, trust, extrapolation, inductive leaps) added onto them. [11-13-02]

Christianity is not philosophy. It may be consistent with true philosophy, and not irrational or incoherent at all (I certainly believe so), but it is something different from philosophy per se. Philosophy simply does not constitute the sum of all knowledge. [3-10-03]

We deny “blind submission” and hold that one can have a reasonable faith and belief that God guides His one true Church. We believe that the one Church which He guides is the Catholic Church. [4-10-03]

When it comes to things like conversion (to Christ or to another faith community) it really comes down to faith. This is how conversion works. We are not computers or machines. We are whole people. Christianity is a faith, and requires faith to adopt (in whatever one of its brands). There is no avoiding this. One can never absolutely prove their system. That is not only true for Christianity but for any thought-system, in my opinion. Faith is also a gift from God and is only received through grace (contra Pelagianism and a religion of works). I think there is a concept of a “reasonable faith” and I certainly seek to follow reason at every turn, because I don’t see that “irrational faith” does anyone any good. A lack of reason can be as harmful as a lack of faith. Some people seem to think that Christianity and personal Christian faith are almost strictly matters of rationalism and making selections, much as one chooses a pair of shoes or what website to visit. This is sheer nonsense. They reduce Christianity to philosophy at various important points, which, to me, smacks of the Enlightenment and a sort of religion possessed by people like Jefferson or Voltaire. [5-13-03]

One ought to always have a reasonable faith, supported by as much evidence as one can find (I thoroughly oppose fideism or “pietism” — which attempt to remove reason from the equation). We accept in faith what appears most plausible and likely to be true from our reasoning and examination of competing hypotheses and worldviews. We are intellectually “duty-bound” to embrace the outlook that has been demonstrated (to our own satisfaction, anyway) to be superior to another competing view. Is that absolute proof? No, of course not. I think “absolute proof” in a strict, rigorous philosophical sense is unable to be obtained about virtually anything. But one accepts Catholicism in and with faith, based on interior witness of the Holy Spirit and outward witness of facts and reason and history; much like one accepts Christianity in general or how the early disciples accepted the Resurrection and the claims of Jesus. [4-25-04]

It requires faith to believe that God will guide His one true Church and preserve it from error, but it is a faith based on what we are taught in the divine revelation, and from Jesus Himself (which is sufficient for me). [6-23-05]

In any event, it requires faith to believe that the Church speaks authoritatively and can be trusted for its theological judgments. You’ll never be able to prove that in an “airtight” sense. [5-18-06]

The same God also revealed that He often refuses to give a sign if the purpose is as some sort of “test.” He wants you to have faith in Him without some absolute proof, just as you have “faith” (i.e., assent without absolute proof) in any number of things that you don’t fully understand. So, e.g., Jesus appeared to “Doubting Thomas” after His resurrection, to “prove Himself.” Yet at the same time, He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe” (John 20:29). There is more than enough evidence out there to support belief as rational and worthy of allegiance. But God will not be tested in the way that you seem to demand. This is a common biblical motif. [10-11-06]

The fact is, that any Christian position requires faith, for the simple reason that Christianity is not merely a philosophy, or exercise in epistemology. [James] White’s view requires faith; so does the Catholic outlook. One exercises faith in the Catholic Church being what it claims to be: the One True Church, uniquely guided and led by the Holy Spirit, with infallible teaching. Hopefully, one can give cogent reasons for why this faith is reasonable, but it is still faith in the end: reasonable, not blind. [9-4-07]

Christianity is not philosophy. One cannot achieve airtight, mathematical certainty in matters of faith. . . . It requires faith to believe this, and that is what a Catholic does: we have faith that this Church can exist and that it can be identified and located. We don’t say this rests on our own individual choice. It is already there; like “stumbling upon” the Pacific Ocean or Mt. Everest. We don’t determine whether the thing exists or not. And we must believe it is what it claims to be by faith, absolutely. Why should that surprise anyone except a person who thinks that Christianity is determined purely by arbitrary choice and rationalism without faith? That is no longer simply philosophy or subjective preference, as if Christianity were reduced to Philosophy 0101 (where someone might prefer Kierkegaaard to Kant) or the selection of a flavor of ice cream. [10-7-08]

[O]ne can have a very high degree of moral assurance, and trust in God’s mercy. St. Paul shows this. He doesn’t appear worried at all about his salvation, but on the other hand, he doesn’t make out that he is absolutely assured of it and has no need of persevering. He can’t “coast.” The only thing a Catholic must absolutely avoid in order to not be damned is a subjective commission of mortal sin that is unrepented of. [10-21-08]

Christianity is not philosophy: it is a religious faith. It is not contrary to reason, but it does go beyond it. [1-2-09]

Faith by definition means a thing that falls short of absolute proof. I don’t see how Catholics and Protestants differ all that much in this respect. We have faith in things. I think it is a reasonable faith and not contrary to reason, but it is still faith, and faith is not identical to reason . . . this whole discussion of epistemology might be fun and interesting, but again, it overlooks the fact that faith (including Catholic faith) is not philosophy . . . [11-11-09]

I was saying (a variant of what I have stated 100 times on my blog, though I could have stated it more precisely) that religion is not philosophy; Christianity is not philosophy. It can’t be reduced to that. It requires faith. [6-5-10]

This is a mentality of reducing Christianity to mere philosophy rather than a religion and spiritual outlook that requires faith and incorporates innate and intuitive knowledge that God grants to us through the Holy Spirit and His grace. . . . This sort of thinking is post-Enlightenment hyper-rationalism. It certainly isn’t a biblical outlook. [6-8-10]

There are serious lessons to be learned here: along the lines of having an informed, reasonable faith (complete with apologetic knowledge as necessary), and of yielding up our private judgment and personal inclinations to a God and a Church much higher than ourselves. Faith comes ultimately by God’s grace and His grace alone: not our own semi-understandings. Christianity is not “blind faith”; it is a reasonable faith. But there is such a thing as allegiance and obedience to Christian authority, too. When reason is separated from faith or (on a personal level) never was part of it, “faith” (or the unreasonable facsimile thereof) is empty and open to Satanic and cultural attack, and we are tossed to and fro by the winds and the waves: a cork on the ocean of our decadent, corrupt, increasingly secularist and hedonistic culture. [8-9-10]

“Evidence” is not used in this sense to mean “absolute proof.” A hundred times in my writings, I’ve stated that the Catholic notion of “biblical evidence” is not absolute proof, but rather, consistency and harmony with Scripture and a given doctrine, including implicit and indirect, deductive indications. [9-20-11]


My conversion, then, in summary (considered apart from God’s grace; I am talking specifically about my thought processes), was a combination of the cumulative effect of three different “strands” of evidences (contraception, development of doctrine, and the Catholic perspective on the “Reformation”): all pointing in the same direction. This was perfectly consistent (epistemologically) with my apologetic outlook that I had developed over nine years: the idea of cumulative probability or what might be called “plausibility structures.” [2013]

If we have all faith and no reason, that is fideism, which leads to many bad things. If we go to the other extreme and place reason above faith, then we have positivism and hyper-rationalism (the roots of theological liberalism, or sometimes rigorist schism, the radical Catholic reactionary outlook, and many heretical sects which deny the Holy Trinity, etc.), leading to the loss of supernatural faith if unchecked. The balance is a reasonable faith: with faith higher than reason, but a faith that is always in harmony with reason, inasmuch as it is possible, given the inherent limitations of reason. [12-28-13]

We believe in faith first; we don’t have to “solve every problem” before we believe. That’s not Christian faith, given by God’s grace, but man-centered rationalism. There are always “difficulties” and “problems” in any large system of thought. That doesn’t prevent people from believing in the tenets of same. This includes physical science, where there are a host of things that remain unexplained (e.g., what caused the Big Bang; whether light is a particle or a wave, how life began, the complete lack of evidence for life anywhere else, etc.). People don’t disbelieve in the Big Bang because we can’t explain everything about it. Likewise with Catholic dogma. If even science requires faith and axiomatic presuppositions, how much more, religious faith, which is not identical to philosophy or reason in the first place? . . . All of this requires faith, and faith comes through grace accepted in free will. . . . We’d all be in very rough shape if our personal “epistemology” required us to know every jot and tittle of everything before we could believe it. Most things we do or believe in life we don’t fully understand at all. [July 2015]

Christianity requires faith. It’s not philosophy. We accept many things that we don’t fully understand. People do that in many areas of life every day. [10-8-15]

An intelligent Christian position doesn’t maintain “absolute knowledge” but rather, a reasonable faith in God, or belief in Him, that is made very plausible and likely to be true, by arguments such as these, which indeed provide evidence. [10-29-15]

I don’t think any [theistic arguments] provide absolute proof (but I think absolute proof is difficult to attain in any field of knowledge, so no biggie). But that’s not to say the weaker ones fail. My own view for many years now (at least 30) is that the strength of the overall argument for theism and Christianity is in a cumulative sense, adding up to very strong plausibility (like many strands becoming a very strong rope), seeing that all the arguments point in the same direction. [11-6-15]

Like all arguments from analogy, it is one of plausibility, not one of intended “absolute proof.” In fact, I think all the arguments for God are of the same nature. [11-10-15]

Well, it’s a mixture: faith and reason. The appeal to Church history or tradition also requires faith, but it is a reasonable faith, able to be substantiated historiographically. [5-6-16]

The (philosophical-type) believer approaches it from common sense: “If there is such a thing as a God with omni- qualities a, b, c, what would we reasonably expect to see in a man Who claims to be that God in the flesh? What kind of things could or would He do [not absolutely demonstrate according to some philosophical standard] in order for us to credibly, plausibly believe His extraordinary claims?” And when we see Jesus (assuming the accuracy of the accounts on other rational bases, as we do), we see exactly what we would reasonably expect: He heals, He raises the dead; He raises Himself. He calms the sea and walks on water. He has extraordinary knowledge; He predicts the future, etc. It’s more than enough for us to say, in faith: “He’s God.” [5-22-18]

My Opinion on “Proofs for God’s Existence” Summarized in Two Sentences

My view remains what it has been for many years: nothing strictly / absolutely “proves” God’s existence. But . . . I think His existence is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) theistic arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives. [6-18-18]

There are many things we don’t know with absolute certainty (in fact, almost all things, if we want to be strictly philosophical). Catholics believe in a very high degree of “moral assurance” of salvation, but not absolute certainty of salvation. [7-22-18]

It is [an act of faith] insofar as one accepts the possibility of the miraculous and that which cannot be absolutely proven. Since there are many things that can’t be absolutely proven, I don’t think it’s too much of a big deal. [3-27-19]

I would say that, ultimately, God’s existence is not an empirical question, if by that one means, “Can God be proven by empirical arguments such as the cosmological and teleological arguments?” I don’t think that absolute proof is possible, as I have already stated. But those two arguments are still relevant to the discussion; they touch on empirical things, and I think they establish that God’s existence is more likely than not (because they “fit” much better with a theistic world than they do with an atheist world). . . . So does this [Romans 1:19-20] prove that there is a God by rigid philosophical standards? No. But of course, very few things at all can be proven, if we’re gonna play that skeptical “game.” . . . The atheist “explanation” of the existence of the universe is incoherent and implausible, according to what we know from science; the Christian view is plausible and makes perfect sense, even if it is not ironclad proof. Thus, I would say that for one who likes science and interprets the physical world by means of it, theism is the more plausible and believable meta-interpretation or framework. [5-27-19]

What you bring up is something different: “why believe that God is immutable?” I agree with you (I think): this is a teaching that comes from revelation, and Christians accept it on faith on that basis. . . . Is that absolute proof? No. Very few things can be absolutely proven and almost every belief entails unprovable axioms to get off the ground. Christians believe it in faith, based on revelation. And if we do philosophy we think it is reasonable on that basis as well. [7-26-19]

Related Reading

Epistemology of My Catholic Conversion  [4-25-04]

Cardinal Newman’s Philosophical & Epistemological Commitments [10-19-04]

Pascal, Kreeft, & Kierkegaard on Persuasion & Apologetics [9-2-05]

Dialogue with an Agnostic: God as a “Properly Basic Belief” [10-5-15]

The Certitude of Faith According to Cardinal Newman [9-30-08]

Dialogue on Reason & Faith, w Theological Liberal [1-19-10]

Non-Empirical “Basic” Warrant for Theism & Christianity [10-15-15]

Atheist Demands for “Empirical” Proofs of God [10-27-15]

Dialogue: Religious Epistemology (with an Agnostic) [11-17-15]

Implicit (Extra-Empirical) Faith, According to John Henry Newman [12-18-15]

On Mystery & Reason in Theology [4-5-16]

Analogical Reasoning, and Reasoning from Plausibility [5-27-17]

Argument for God from Desire: Atheist-Christian Dialogue [8-7-17]

Dialogue: Has God Demonstrated His Existence (Romans 1)? [9-1-18]

Theistic Argument from Longing or Beauty, & Einstein [3-27-08; rev. 3-14-19]

Apologetics: Be-All & End-All of the Catholic Faith? NO!!! [7-1-19]


Photo credit: St. John Henry Cardinal Newman (my “theological hero”) in 1866: four years before his seminal work of philosophy of religion, An Essay in Aid of the Grammar of Assent [public domain]


July 2, 2020


Some Catholic liberals argue that the following famous “missionary / evangelism” passage refers only to Jews among all the nations. This is sheer nonsense. Here is the passage:

Matthew 28:19 (RSV) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Now what does the Greek say? Is this solely about Jews, as is absurdly claimed? Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A. T. Robertson states for this passage: “All the nations (παντα τα ετνη — panta ta ethnē). Not just the Jews scattered among the Gentiles, but the Gentiles themselves in every land.”

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (“Little Kittel”) states that “In some 100 passages, ethnē is undoubtedly a technical term for the Gentiles as distinct from Jews or Christians” (p. 201). There is nothing whatsoever in the passage indicating that Jesus was referring only to Jews in foreign nations: to be evangelized.

We’re told that “the Jesus of Matthew” is utterly unconcerned with non-Jews (Gentiles). This is an equally ludicrous opinion. A clear instance in Matthew of Jesus’ outreach beyond the Jews is His interaction with the Roman centurion:

Matthew 8:5-13 As he entered Caper’na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him [6] and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” [7] And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” [8] But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” [10] When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” [13] And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

Note how Jesus not only readily healed the Roman centurion’s servant (8:7, 13), but also “marveled” at his faith and commended it as superior to the faith of anyone “in Israel” (8:10). And that led Him to observe that many Gentiles will be saved, whereas many Jews will not be saved (8:11-12). If this is supposedly a “Jewish only” view (“Gentiles need not apply”), it sure is the weirdest, most confusing way imaginable to express it.

A second counter-example is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told His followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

A third example is the parable of the weeds, which showed a universal mission field fifteen chapters before Matthew 28: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; [38] the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; . . .” (13:37-38).

A fourth example is Jesus healing the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (of demon possession):

Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

As a fifth example, Matthew seems to not be aware of his own supposed “Jews only Jesus” since he applies an Old Testament passage about outreach to Gentiles directly to Jesus as the Servant and Messiah:

Matthew 12:15-21  Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all, [16] and ordered them not to make him known. [17] This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: [18] “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. [19] He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will any one hear his voice in the streets; [20] he will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick, till he brings justice to victory; [21] and in his name will the Gentiles hope.”

A sixth counter-example is Jesus telling the Jewish “chief priests and scribes” (Mt 21:15) and “Pharisees” (21:45) that righteous Gentiles will enter the kingdom before self-righteous Jews (like them):

Matthew 21:31b-32 “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. [32] For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.

Matthew 21:42-43, 45  Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? [43] Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.”  [45] When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

A seventh example is Jesus earlier echoing His message of the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20):

Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come. (cf. Mk 13:10; Lk 24:47)

The same view is also supposedly apparent in the Gospel of Luke as well. Really? That’s news to me. We must read different Bibles. Folks who argue in this fashion must not have read (or understood) Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). The whole point of it was to show that Samaritans were truly neighbors to Jews if they helped them, as the man did in the parable. In 2014, I drove on the road (from Jerusalem to Jericho) which was the setting of this parable.

Secondly, Luke records Simeon saying about Jesus:

Luke 2:30-32 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation [31] which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, [32] a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”

Thirdly, Jesus healed yet another foreigner: a Samaritan man, commending his faith:

Luke 17:12-19 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance [13] and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” [14] When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. [15] Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; [16] and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. [17] Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? [18] Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” [19] And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Fourthly, Jesus specifically went to the land of the Gadarenes or Gerasenes, east of the Sea of Galilee, to minister to them (I was there, too). This was where Jesus sent the demons into the pigs, and it appears in all three synoptic Gospels (Mk 5:1-20; Lk 8:26-39; Mt 8:28-34). Wikipedia, in its article on the region, states:

The name is derived from either a lakeside village, Gergesa, the next larger city, Gadara, or the best-known city in the region, Gerasa. . . . They were both Gentile cities filled with citizens who were culturally more Greek than Semitic; this would account for the pigs in the biblical account.

As anyone can see, the evidence in the Bible against this ridiculous critique is abundant and undeniable. Jesus never says (nor does the entire New Testament ever say) that He came to “save Israel” or be the “savior of Israel.” Anyone who doesn’t believe me can do a word search (here’s the tool to do it). Verify it yourself. He only claims to be the “Messiah” of Israel (Jn 4:25-26): which is a different thing. When Jesus says who it is that He came to save (i.e., provided they are willing), He states explicitly that He came “to save the lost” (Lk 19:10) and “to save the world” (Jn 12:47).

Likewise, St. Paul states that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Last I checked, sinful human beings were not confined solely to the class of Jews or Israelis.

Lastly, if we look at the Gospel of John, we observe Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:5-29), which perfectly illustrates His “inclusive” view. Here He not only ministered to her with great compassion, but noted at the end that salvation was to extend to the non-Jewish Gentiles as well: “salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him” (4:22b-23).

This outlandish insinuation that Jesus somehow didn’t want to help or heal anyone but his own Hebrews / Jews, simply doesn’t hold water. People who think like this appear unwilling to crack open a biblical concordance and look up passages relevant to these dubious claims.


Photo credit: Christ and the Centurion (c. 1575), by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) and his workshop [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


June 5, 2020

[originally posted on 1-18-10]


This is a follow-up discussion (Round Two) to my previous four-part critique of a post by Jason Engwer. Jason is now starting to counter-reply, with preliminary remarks and the beginning of more substantive response, in his latest post, Papias, Apostolic Succession, Oral Tradition, And “Relativism”. Near the end I also reply to his article, “Where Are ‘Apostolic Succession’ And ‘Authoritative Tradition’ In Papias?”. His words will be in blue. Past comments of mine that he cites will be in green.


Yesterday, I posted some introductory remarks [linkabout a series of posts by Dave Armstrong that was written in response to an article I posted in 2008. What I want to do today is address some comments Dave made about one church father in particular, Papias. I do so for a few reasons. For one thing, it was in response to something I said about Papias that Dave issued some of his harshest criticism.


And some of his other comments about Papias are relevant to his claims to “copiously document everything” and his objection that I’m not offering enough documentation for my own views. His comments on Papias also illustrate just how misleading it can be to use terms like “apostolic succession” and “oral tradition” to describe the views of a father.

Well, we’ll see about that as we go along.

In the course of his series of posts responding to me, Dave repeatedly accuses me of “relativism”.

That’s because his position on this business of the rule of faith in the fathers entails it, as I will be happy to elaborate upon and clarify. I don’t make any serious charge lightly, and readers may rest assured that when I do, that I have very good reason to do so: a rationale that I can surely defend against scrutiny and/or protest (as indeed I am doing presently).

I said that if I were in the position of somebody like Papias, I wouldn’t adhere to sola scriptura. I went on to comment that “If sola scriptura had been widely or universally rejected early on, it wouldn’t follow that it couldn’t be appropriate later, under different circumstances.” Dave responded:

And he is employing the typical Protestant theological relativism or doctrinal minimalism….After having expended tons of energy and hours sophistically defending Protestantism and revising history to make it appear that it is not fatal to Protestant claims (which is a heroic feat: to engage at length in such a profoundly desperate cause), now, alas, Jason comes to his senses and jumps on the bandwagon of fashionable Protestant minimalism, relativism, and the fetish for uncertainty. He resides, after all, in the ‘much different position’ of the 21st century. He knows better than those old fuddy-duds 1500 years ago. What do they know, anyway?…Why are we having this discussion at all, then, if it doesn’t matter a hill of beans what the fathers en masse thought?

What Dave claims I “now” believe is what I had been saying for years, long before I wrote my article in 2008.

That comes as no surprise. But my “now” was primarily intended in a rhetorical / logical sense, not a chronological one, anyway. But in a larger sense it is part of Jason’s overall approach (which is not without self-contradiction, which I was partially alluding to there): what I call the “slippery fish” or “floating ducks at the carnival sideshow” approach. Protestants of a certain type (nebulous evangelicals, primarily: I still have no idea even what denomination Jason attends; perhaps he will be so kind as to inform me) reserve the right to criticize Catholicism endlessly; yet if we dare to dispute their arguments and ask if they have anything superior to offer, it’s often the moving or unknown target runaround. Or there is the retreat into obfuscation: Jason’s own specialty.

First, we hear from these circles that the fathers believe in sola Scriptura, period (I will have more on this below). Then we are blessed with a more clever, subtle argument: that they didn’t believe in sola Scriptura per se, but that, nevertheless, what they did believe (whatever it was, in many variations), is definitely closer to Protestantism than to Catholicism. This has been Jason’s general approach through the years, as I understand it. Now we enter into a third phase, so to speak: the fathers didn’t always believe in sola Scriptura, but it doesn’t matter, because times were different, then, and different times demand a changing rule of faith. The moving target . . .

And I didn’t say or suggest that “it doesn’t matter a hill of beans what the fathers en masse thought”.

Mostly what matters to Jason is how he can poke holes in what he (sometimes falsely) believes to be Catholic belief.

Anybody who has read much of what I’ve written regarding the church fathers and other sources of the patristic era ought to know that I don’t suggest that they’re “old fuddy-duds” whose beliefs “don’t matter a hill of beans”.

He picks and chooses what he thinks will hurt the Catholic historical case. Jason’s method is nothing if it is not that. But he’s highly selective and the “grid” that he tries to fit all of this data into is incoherent and changes to suit his polemical needs at any given moment.

My point with regard to Papias, which I’ve explained often, is that God provides His people with different modes of revelation at different times in history, and there are transitional phases between such periods. For example, Adam and Eve had a form of direct communication with God that most people in human history haven’t had. When Jesus walked the earth, people would receive ongoing revelation from Him, and could ask Him questions, for example, in a manner not available to people who lived in earlier or later generations. When Joseph and Mary could speak with Jesus during His childhood and early adulthood, but the authority structure of the New Testament church didn’t yet exist, a Catholic wouldn’t expect Joseph and Mary to follow the same rule of faith they had followed prior to Jesus’ incarnation or would be expected to follow after the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy.

Catholics agree with many, if not all of these points. But how Jason goes on to apply this in his analysis will eventually involve a self-contradiction that isn’t present in the Catholic view of history and development of doctrine.

Catholicism doesn’t claim to have preserved every word Jesus spoke or everything said by every apostle. A person living in the early second century, for example, could remember what he had heard the apostle John teach about eschatology and follow that teaching, even if it wasn’t recorded in scripture or taught by means of papal infallibility, an ecumenical council, or some other such entity the average modern Catholic would look to.

Of course. Both sides agree on that.

Because of the nature of historical revelation in Christianity (and in Judaism), there isn’t any one rule of faith that’s followed throughout history. And different individuals and groups will transition from one rule of faith to another at different times and in different ways.

This is where the differences emerge. Catholics believe there was one rule of faith that consistently developed. It is what we call the “three-legged stool”: Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession). There is a great deal of development that takes place over time: especially when we are looking at the earliest fathers (Papias lived from c. 60 to 130, so he was actually in the apostolic period for a good half of his life). But the rule of faith did not change into anything substantially or essentially different.

Papias had the Scripture of the Old Testament and he even had much of the New Testament even at that early stage, as the Gospels and Paul’s letters were widely accepted as canonical, very early on. Therefore, Papias could indeed have lived by sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. There is no compelling reason to think that he could not have done so, simply due to his living in a very early period of Christian history.

The position that Jason is staking out: that Papias wouldn’t have lived by sola Scriptura, and indeed, that he didn’t have to, for the Protestant historical position to make sense, entails not a consistent development, but an essential break: there was one rule of faith in the earliest periods, and then suddenly, with the fully developed canon of Scripture, another one henceforth.

Needless to say, this is merely yet another arbitrary Protestant tradition: a tradition of men: just as sola Scriptura itself is. There is nothing in the Bible itself about such a supposed sea change. The Bible teaches neither sola Scriptura, nor this view of tradition at first, and then sola Scriptura after the Bible. But these are cherished Protestant myths, despite being absent altogether in Holy Scripture.

These complexities can be made to seem less significant by making vague references to “oral tradition” or “the word of God”, for example, but the fact remains that what such terms are describing changes to a large extent over time and from one individual or group to another.

There are complexities in individuals and exceptions to the rule (of faith), but there is also a broad consensus to be observed and traced through history, as we see with all true doctrines. Jason wants to assert both a radical change and the absence of a consensus. At the same time he denies the interconnectedness of all these related concepts having to do with authority, as I have noted in my previous critique.

In any event, he dissents from some of the allegedly best lights in Protestant research about the rule of faith in the fathers; for example, the trilogy of books about sola Scriptura by David T. King and William Webster (Vol. I (King) / Vol. II (Webster) / Vol. III (King and Webster), where it is stated:

The patristic evidence for sola Scriptura is, we believe, an overwhelming indictment against the claims of the Roman communion.
(Vol. I, 266)

Such statements manifest an ignorance of the patristic and medieval perspective on the authority of Scripture. Scripture alone as the infallible rule for the ongoing life and faith of the Church was the universal belief and practice of the Church of the patristic and medieval ages. (Vol. II, 84-85)

When they [the Church Fathers] are allowed to speak for themselves it becomes clear that they universally taught sola Scriptura in the fullest sense of the term embracing both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. (Vol. III, 9)

Sales pitches for the trilogy on a major Reformed booksite (Monergism Books) echo these historically absurd assertions:

It reveals that the leading Church fathers’ view of the authority and finality of the written Word of God was as lofty as that of any Protestant Reformer. In effect, Webster and King have demonstrated that sola Scriptura was the rule of faith in the early church.

–Dr. John MacArthur, Pastor/Teacher of Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA

William Webster and David King have hit the bull’s eye repeatedly and with great force in their treatment of sola Scriptura. The exegetical material sets forth a formidable biblical foundation for this claim of exclusivity and the historical argument illustrates how the early church believed it and traces the circuitous path by which Roman Catholicism came to place tradition alongside Scripture as a source, or deposit, of authoritative revelation.

–Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

(on the book page for Vol. I)

[Description]: In this Volume, William Webster addresses the common historical arguments against sola Scriptura, demonstrating that the principle is, in fact, eminently historical, finding support in ‘the unanimous consent of the fathers.’

The authors show, with painstaking thoroughness, that sola Scriptura is the teaching of the Bible itself and was central in the belief and practice of the early church, as exemplified in history and the writings of the Fathers.

–Edward Donnelly, Minister of Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, Newtownabbey, and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological College, Belfast, Northern Ireland

King and Webster have utterly destroyed that position by showing that the consent of the fathers teaches the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

–Jay Adams, co-pastor of The Harrison Bridge Road A.R.P. Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina, founder of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation of Laverock, Pennsylvania

In painstaking detail, Webster and King systematically dismantle the unbiblical and ahistorical assertions made by modern Roman Catholic apologists who all too often rely on eisegetical interpretations of the Bible and ‘cut and paste’ patrology.

–Eric Svendsen, Professor of Biblical Studies at Columbia Evangelical Seminary

[The Forewords of this volume (II) and Vol. I were written by James White]

(on the book page for Vol. II)

[Description]: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the principle is illegitimate because, she claims, it is unhistorical. By this she means that sola Scriptura is a theological novelty in that it supposedly has no support in the teaching of the early Church. Roman apologists charge that the teaching on Scripture promoted by the Reformers introduced a false dichotomy between the Church and Scripture which elevated Scripture to a place of authority unheard of in the early Church. The Church of Rome insists that the early Church fathers, while fully endorsing the full inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, did not believe in sola Scriptura. . . .

The documentation provided reveals in the clearest possible terms the Church fathers’ belief in the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. By material sufficiency we mean that all that is necessary to be believed for faith and morals is revealed in Scripture. Formal sufficiency means that all that is necessary for faith and morals is clearly revealed in Scripture, so that an individual, by the enablement of the Holy Spirit alone, can understand the essentials of salvation and the Christian life. Page after page gives eloquent testimony to the supreme authority that Scripture held in the life of the early Church and serves as a much needed corrective to Rome’s misrepresentation of the Church fathers and her denigration of the sufficiency and final authority of Scripture.

(for the book page of Vol. III)

This is the standard anti-Catholic-type boilerplate rhetoric about sola Scriptura and the fathers. At least it is consistent (consistently wrong). But Jason dissents from his colleagues and wants to play the game of having a relativistic rule of faith: not in play from the beginning of Christianity, but only set in motion later. This allows him to play the further game of denying that Papias’ views are consistent with Catholic dogma and our rule of faith, while not having any responsibility of showing that it is consistent with a Protestant view.

He always has that “out” (which is rather standard Protestant anti-Catholic apologetics): “but that ain’t me / us.” It’s like a wax nose that can be molded to any whim or desire. Papias ain’t Protestant but (and here is the important part) he certainly ain’t Catholic (!!!) — so sez Jason Engwer. Yet I have shown (and will continue to demonstrate) that his views are perfectly consistent with the Catholic rule of faith, taking into account that he is very early in history, so that we don’t see full-fledged Catholicism. We see a primitive Catholic rule of faith: precisely as we would and should suspect.

Jason thinks he contradicts our view because (as I discussed in my Introduction to the previous four-part series) he expects to see the Catholic rule of faith explicitly in place in the first and second century: whereas our view of development, by definition, does not entail, let alone require this. Thus, he imposes a Protestant conception of “fully-formed from the outset” that he doesn’t even accept himself, onto the Catholic claim.

I could agree with the vague assertion that we’re to always follow “the word of God” as our rule of faith, for instance, but that meant significantly different things for Adam than it did for David, for Mary than it did for Ignatius of Antioch, for Papias than it does for Dave Armstrong, etc.

It depends on what one means by different: different in particulars; different in time-frames (David had no NT or revelation of Jesus); difference in amount of development, etc. What was in common was that all accepted “the word of God” (both written and oral) as normative for the Christian faith, but not in the sense of sola Scriptura.

To accuse me of “relativism”, “minimalism”, and such, because I’ve made distinctions like the ones outlined above, is unreasonable and highly misleading. The average reader of Dave’s blog probably doesn’t know much about me, and using terms like “relativism”, “minimalism”, and “fetish for uncertainty” doesn’t leave people with an accurate impression of what a conservative Evangelical like me believes.

Jason can hem and haw all he likes. The fact remains that he has expressly denied that Papias would have believed in sola Scriptura. But the standard anti-Catholic historical argumentation is what I have documented: “Scripture alone as the infallible rule for the ongoing life and faith of the Church was the universal belief and practice of the Church of the patristic and medieval ages” (William Webster); they universally taught sola Scriptura . . . embracing . . . formal sufficiency of Scripture” (David T. King and William Webster)So which will it be? There are three positions to choose from:

1) Papias was one of the fathers who “universally” held to sola Scriptura.

2) Papias didn’t hold to sola Scriptura, but also didn’t espouse a rule of faith consistent with Catholicism.

3) Papias didn’t embrace sola Scriptura, and his rule of faith was consistent with Catholicism.

#1 is the standard boilerplate anti-Catholic Protestant position, as I have shown above. #2 is Jason’s pick-and-choose “cafeteria patristic” view, that contradicts #1. #3 is my view and the Catholic view.

In some other comments about Papias, Dave writes:

Jason will have to make his argument from Papias, whatever it is. J. N. D. Kelly says little about him, but what he does mention is no indication of sola Scriptura…When we go to Eusebius (III, 39) to see what exactly Papias stated, we find an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition. He even contrasts oral tradition to written (as superior): ‘I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice’ (III, 39, 4).

I didn’t cite Papias as an advocate of sola scriptura.

Exactly. From what we can tell, James White wouldn’t say that. Webster and King and Svendsen and John MacArthur wouldn’t. Why is it, then, that they aren’t out there correcting Jason? He disagrees with them (Papias doesn’t teach sola Scriptura) just as much as he does with me (Papias doesn’t hold to a primitive version of the historic Catholic rule of faith; he contradicts that). He’s betwixt and between. He needs to go back to King’s and White’s and Webster’s books to get up to speed and get his evangelical anti-Catholic act together.

I didn’t cite Papias as an advocate of sola scriptura. And we have much more information on Papias than what Eusebius provides. See here.

Thanks for the great link.

I referred to Richard Bauckham’s treatment of Papias in Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006). See, particularly, pp. 21-38. Bauckham goes into far more depth than J.N.D. Kelly did in the work Dave is citing.

Cool. And what position did he take, choosing from #1, #2, and #3 above? I was able to read pp. 21-38 on Amazon, and discovered that Bauckham tries to make a big deal of the distinction between oral history and oral tradition, with the former directly relying on eyewitness accounts (of the sort that Papias tried to collect). Bauckham’s stance, then, is a subtler version of #2. He seems to be trying (by repeated, almost mantra-like emphasis) to undermine a Catholic notion of oral tradition without saying so in so many words.

But he doesn’t prove at all that Papias’ approach is inconsistent with the Catholic three-legged stool rule of faith. Of course we would expect Papias to seek eyewitness accounts, since he lived so early. How in the world that is construed as somehow contrary to Catholic tradition is, I confess, beyond me. The following distinctions must be made and understood:

View of Tradition I:

I. 1) Legitimate tradition relies on eyewitness testimony only.

I. 2) Once the eyewitnesses die, then there is no longer true [binding] tradition to speak of.

View of Tradition II:

II. 1) Legitimate tradition relies primarily on eyewitness testimony where it is available.

II. 2) Legitimate tradition after eyewitness testimony is no longer available continues to be valid by means of [Holy Spirit-guided] unbroken [apostolic] succession, so that the truths originated by eyewitnesses continue on through history.

Jason and Bauckham appear to be asserting I. 1. But I. 2 does not necessarily follow from what we know of Papias’ views. We know that he collected eyewitness testimony. We don’t know that he would say that was the only tradition that was legitimate. In other words, it is the claim of exclusivity that involves the prior assumption brought to the facts. The Catholic view is Tradition II, which is perfectly consistent with what we know of Papias, or at the very least not ruled out by what we know of him.

The biggest problem with Tradition I is that it is not biblical. It contradicts what the Bible teaches. St. Paul, after all, was not an eyewitness of the life of Jesus (though he did have a post-Resurrection encounter with him that remains possible to this day). Yet he feels that he can authoritatively pass on Christian apostolic traditions (1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6, 14). Thus, whoever learned Christian truths from St. Paul did not receive them from an eyewitness. Paul had to talk to someone like Peter to get firsthand accounts (or Bauckham’s “oral history”).

He was passing on what he himself had “received” from yet another source (1 Cor 11:23; 15:3; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 2:13). He even specifically instructs Timothy to pass on his (oral) traditions to “faithful men,” who in turn can pass them on to others (2 Tim 2:2). So just from this verse we see four generations of a passed-on tradition (Paul: the second generation, Timothy, and those whom Timothy teaches). This tradition is not even necessarily written by Paul or anyone else (Rom 10:8; Eph 1:13; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Tim 1:13-14; cf. Heb 13:7; 1 Pet 1:25). There is no indication that the chain is supposed to end somewhere down the line.

Secondly, even Papias, according to Eusebius, didn’t claim to talk to the apostles, but only to their friends:

2. But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.

7. And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, . . . (Ecclesiastical History, III, 39, 4)

That makes Papias a third-hand witness; not even second-hand (someone who talked to apostles).

Contrary to what Dave claims, there is no “explicit espousal of apostolic succession” in Papias. And the “living and abiding voice” Papias refers to is a reference to proximate and early testimony that was soon going to die out.

This doesn’t rule out apostolic succession; to the contrary, it is a perfect example of it. He talked to people who knew the apostles. His testimony was third-hand. He “received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their [the apostles’] friends.” What is that if not succession? It is more or less independent of Scripture. Papias’ rule of faith was:

Apostles and apostolic doctrine —> friends of the apostles —> Papias

But the Protestant methodology and rule of faith is:

Apostles and apostolic doctrine —> Scripture —> Papias and everyone else

The theme Papias is referring to is taken from, among other sources, the historiography of his day. As Bauckham notes, Jerome’s rendering of the passage in Papias indicates that he understood Papias as Bauckham does (pp. 27-28).

He says that Jerome understood Papias as referring to access to living witnesses as his preferred mode of collecting information. But as I have already shown, I think, this in no way is inconsistent with Catholic tradition. It’s plain common sense. What Jason doesn’t mention, however, is Bauckham’s observation right after citing Jerome, translating Papias:

Jerome here seems to take Papias to mean that he preferred the oral communication of eyewitnesses to the written records of their testimony in the Gospels. (p. 28)

And that sounds distinctly unProtestant and contrary to sola Scriptura, doesn’t it? If we’re gonna mention one aspect of St. Jerome’s thought (even if it is falsely thought to bolster some anti-Catholic line of reasoning), why not the other also, even if it doesn’t fit in with the game plan? Get the whole picture, in other words.

Here are some of Bauckham’s comments on the subject:

Against a historiographic background, what Papias thinks preferable to books is not oral tradition as such but access, while they are still alive, to those who were direct participants in the historical events – in this case ‘the disciples of the Lord.’ He is portraying his inquiries on the model of those made by historians, appealing to historiographic ‘best practice’ (even if many historians actually made much more use of written sources than their theory professed)….What is most important for our purposes is that, when Papias speaks of ‘a living and abiding voice,’ he is not speaking metaphorically of the ‘voice’ of oral tradition, as many scholars have supposed. He speaks quite literally of the voice of an informant – someone who has personal memories of the words and deeds of Jesus and is still alive….Papias was clearly not interested in tapping the collective memory as such. He did not think, apparently, of recording the Gospel traditions as they were recited regularly in his own church community. Even in Hierapolis it was on his personal contact with the daughters of Philip that he set store. What mattered to Papias, as a collector and would-be recorder of Gospel traditions, was that there were eyewitnesses, some still around, and access to them through brief and verifiable channels of named informants. (pp. 24, 27, 34)

Again, the trouble with this is that Eusebius specifically says (twice) that Papias only knew friends of the apostles: not they themselves. So one of is key premises is unfactual. And then we have Paul espousing authoritative fourth-hand tradition in Scripture. In any event, Bauckham appears to contradict himself:

Bauckham I: “what Papias thinks preferable to books is not oral tradition as such but access, while they are still alive, to those who were direct participants in the historical events – in this case ‘the disciples of the Lord.’ . . . when Papias speaks of ‘a living and abiding voice,’ he . . . speaks quite literally of the voice of an informant – someone who has personal memories of the words and deeds of Jesus and is still alive . . . ”

Bauckham II: “Even in Hierapolis it was on his personal contact with the daughters of Philip that he set store. What mattered to Papias, as a collector and would-be recorder of Gospel traditions, was that there were eyewitnesses, some still around, and access to them through brief and verifiable channels of named informants.”

Which is it?: Eyewitnesses or those who knew eyewitnesses? Once one starts going down the chain to third-hand, fourth-hand or later generations of witnesses, one is squarely within oral tradition. It’s something other than eyewitness testimony. Protestants have been rejecting, for example, St. Ignatius, as too “Catholic” (therefore corrupt), for centuries. They thought the books with his name weren’t even authentic for a long time, till they were indisputably proved to be so. Now they are authentic, but still disliked by Protestants because they are already thoroughly Catholic.

In other words, the traditions that he teaches are rejected, no matter how proximate they are to the apostles. St. Ignatius (c. 35 – c. 110) was born a generation earlier than Papias. He may possibly have known St. John, or known of him through St. Polycarp (c. 69 – c. 155). But does that impress Protestants? No; not if they are intent on rejecting any doctrine that has the slightest “Catholic” flavor in it. Anti-Catholicism is the driving force: not some great goal of getting close to apostles via those who talked to them or to those who knew them.

Bauckham goes into much more detail than what I’ve quoted above. He gives examples of Polybius, Josephus, Galen, and other sources using terminology and arguments similar to those of Papias. He emphasizes that Papias is appealing to something more evidentially valuable than, and distinct from, “cross-generational” tradition (p. 37).

It is more valuable, in evidential or strictly historiographical terms. But this is no argument against Catholic tradition. It simply notes one special, early form of apostolic tradition.

As he notes, the sources Papias was referring to were dying out and only available for a “brief” time. The historiography of Papias’ day, from which he was drawing, was interested in early oral tradition, the sort we would call the testimony of eyewitnesses and contemporaries, not an oral tradition three hundred, a thousand, or two thousand years later. He got it from individuals and his own interpretation of their testimony, not mediated through an infallible church hierarchy centered in Rome. It wasn’t the sort of oral tradition Roman Catholicism appeals to.

Sure it was. This is apostolic tradition. Much ado about nothing . . . Jason will try to kill it off by his “death by a thousand qualifications” methodology, but it won’t fly. Nothing here (in the case of Papias) causes our view any problems whatsoever. The only problems are whether (in the Protestant paradigms) one wants to claim Papias as one of the fathers who supposedly “universally” believed in sola Scriptura, or to deny that he did so, as Jason does. The contradiction arises in Protestant ranks, not between Papias and Catholic tradition.

Modern Catholics aren’t hearing or interviewing the apostle John, Aristion, or the daughters of Philip and expecting such testimony to soon die out.

Thanks for that valuable information.

That’s not their notion of oral tradition.

It’s perfectly consistent with our notion, and we continue to think oral tradition is authoritative, whereas Protestants have ditched it: in direct contrast to what the fathers thought about such things.

And it won’t be sufficient for Dave to say that he doesn’t object to that other type of oral tradition that we find in Papias.

It will do just fine!

He’s accused me of “relativism” for making such distinctions.

No. Jason was accused of that because he arbitrarily decides that sola Scriptura kicks in later on and not from the first (itself a wacky Protestant tradition, and not biblical at all). He has a “jerky,” inconsistent view of Church history. But the Catholic view is a smooth line of development.

(It’s not as though Papias would disregard what he learned about a teaching of Jesus or the apostle John, for example, until it was promulgated in the form of something like papal infallibility or an ecumenical council.

Exactly. More truisms . . .

Rather, the oral tradition Papias appeals to makes him the sort of transitional figure I referred to above. He didn’t follow sola scriptura, but he didn’t follow the Catholic rule of faith either.)

He followed the latter in a primitive form. What he believed is no different in essence from what Catholics have believed all along, and from what I believe myself, as an orthodox Catholic. But it’s sure different from what Protestants and Jason believe. Even he concedes that, and is half-right, at least.

And Dave’s appeal to “oral tradition” in a dispute with an Evangelical is most naturally taken to refer to the common Catholic concept of oral tradition, not the form of it described by Bauckham.

Which is a species of ours . . .


If Dave agreed all along that Papias’ oral tradition was of the sort Bauckham describes, then why did he even bring up the subject?

My goal was to show that Papias is not a counter-example to Catholic tradition. I think I have succeeded in showing that, if I do say so.

It’s at least misleading to refer to Papias’ view as “oral tradition” in such an unqualified way in a dispute with an Evangelical.

One doesn’t have to go through every fine point and distinction at any given time. There is an oral element here that is different from sola Scriptura. The Jason method won’t work (i.e., note any distinction or exception whatever to be found, and then thrown that in the Catholic’s face as a supposed disproof). It hasn’t worked in the past, and it is failing again now.

How many of Papias’ oral traditions, such as his premillennialism, does Dave agree with?

I don’t believe in that (used to), but the Catholic Church has not proclaimed many eschatological beliefs as dogma. Our position is not to uncritically accept any given father’s view on anything, but to look at the consensus.

In response to my citation of Bauckham in my article in 2008, Dave wrote:

I’m not gonna go read all that. I’ve spent enough time on this as it is. Whatever Jason’s argument is involving Papias, can be presented anew, if he thinks it is worthwhile to consider.

The point being that if Jason wants to drop scholars’ names, then he can at least cite some of it rather than making his readers go look up everything. He didn’t even link to the Amazon book, where, fortunately, I could read the section he referenced. He cites it now; but that bolsters my point. He could have done that before, rather than just dropping names.

Yet, in his articles responding to me he frequently links us to other articles he’s written, without “presenting anew” what he said previously.

I didn’t know it was too hard for Jason to click on a mouse (take all of a third of a second to do that “work”) or to do a simple word search within articles. I am providing instant access to support for some point I am making if I cite past articles and link to them.

[Part II]

Catholics believe there was one rule of faith that consistently developed. It is what we call the ‘three-legged stool’: Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession).

When Papias spoke with the daughters of Philip (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39), for example, were they giving him information by means of “apostolic succession”?

I would think that was a manifestation of it, yes: transmission of firsthand apostolic information through another party (in this case, daughters of an apostle).

Dave hasn’t given us any reason to think that Papias attained his oral tradition by that means.

What means? If he was talking to Philip’s daughters, that was part of the tradition. What else would it be? Homer’s Odyssey? Betting on chariot races? It’s primitive Christian apostolic tradition being passed down: “delivered” and “received,” just as St. Paul uses those terms. Jason can’t get out of the obvious fact by nitpicking and doing the “death by a thousand qualifications” game that he has honed to a fine art.

To the contrary, as Richard Bauckham documents in his book I cited earlier, Papias refers to the sort of investigation of early sources that was common in the historiography of his day, and we don’t assume the involvement of apostolic succession when other ancient sources appeal to that concept.

The two are not mutually exclusive at all. Now, routine historiographical investigation (because of historical proximity to the apostles), is pit against tradition, as if one rules out the other. The NT is good history; it is also good tradition. The twain shall meet: believe it or not.

Why should we even think that what Papias was addressing was a rule of faith?

He demonstrated the rule of faith in how he approached all these matters. This is how he lived his Christianity: his standard of authority. That’s the rule of faith. Nothing about Scripture Alone here: even Jason admits that, because he accepts a “herky-jerky” notion of the rule of faith being one thing early on and then magically transforming into something else later on. That’s not development; it is reversal: the very opposite of development.

When he attained information about a resurrection or some other miracle that occurred, for example, why should we conclude that such oral tradition became part of Papias’ rule of faith once he attained it?

Why should any Christian believe anything that he hears (from the Bible or whatever)? Why should Papias believe Philip’s daughters or other close associates of the apostles? Why should Jason question everything to death? Why can’t he simply accept these things in faith? Why does he have to play around with every father he can find, to somehow make them out to be hostile to Catholicism (if not quite amenable to Protestantism)? Why can’t he see the forest for the trees?

Why does he keep arguing about Papias, when even he admits that he didn’t abide by sola Scriptura? Why doesn’t he then explain why the rule of faith supposedly changed? Why doesn’t he show us from Scripture that it was to change later on? If he can’t do that, then why does he believe it? Would it not, then, be a mere tradition of men? If Protestants can arbitrarily believe in extrabiblical traditions of men, then why do they give Catholics a hard time for believing traditions that are documented in the Bible itself?

See, I can play Jason’s “ask 1000 questions routine: to muddy the whole thing up beyond all hope of resolution” game. I came up with twelve rapid-fire questions. I’m proud of myself! It’s kind o’ fun, actually, but you do have to type quite a bit and strain your brain to come up with a new hundred questions for any given topic at hand, so that nothing can ever be concluded, as to any given Church father believing anything. Of course I rhetorically exaggerate, but I trust that those who have been following this, get my drift.

Cardinal Newman himself describes Jason’s overly skeptical methodology, hitting the nail on the head:

It seems to me to take the true and the normal way of meeting the infidelity of the age, by referring to Our Lord’s Person and Character as exhibited in the Gospels. Philip said to Nathanael “Come and see”—that is just what the present free thinkers will not allow men to do. They perplex and bewilder them with previous questions, to hinder them falling under the legitimate rhetoric of His Divine Life, of His sacred words and acts. They say: “There is no truth because there are so many opinions,” or “How do you know that the Gospels are authentic?” “How do you account for Papias not mentioning the fourth Gospel?” or “How can you believe that punishment is eternal?” or, “Why is there no stronger proof of the Resurrection?” With this multitude of questions in detail, they block the way between the soul and its Saviour, and will not let it “Come and see.” (Letter of 11 January 1873, in Wilfred Ward’s The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman, Vol. II, chapter 31, p. 393)

I’m not saying Jason is skeptical of Jesus. It’s an analogical point. He applies the same method that the skeptics Newman describes, use: only applied to patristic questions.

Some of his oral traditions would be part of his rule of faith, but not all of them.

Probably so (but this is self-evident). I didn’t see anyone (let alone myself) making a literal list of what is and what isn’t.

Dave is appealing to what Papias said about oral tradition in general, but Catholicism doesn’t teach that all oral tradition within Papias’ historiographic framework is part of the rule of faith.

Correct. All we’re saying is that his methodology does not fit into the Protestant rule of faith. Why is this still being discussed when Jason has already conceded that, and has moved on to another tack in trying to account for that fact?

When Papias uses the historiographic language of his day to refer to oral tradition, including traditions that wouldn’t be part of a Christian rule of faith and premillennial traditions, for example, it’s misleading for Dave to cite Papias’ comments as a reference to his rule of faith and claim that he agreed with Catholicism.

At this early stage, there will be anomalies and vague things. Newman’s theory incorporates those elements within itself. Hence he writes in his Essay on Development of the “Fifth Note of a True Development—Anticipation of Its Future”:

It has been set down above as a fifth argument in favour of the fidelity of developments, ethical or political, if the doctrine from which they have proceeded has, in any early stage of its history, given indications of those opinions and practices in which it has ended. Supposing then the so-called Catholic doctrines and practices are true and legitimate developments, and not corruptions, we may expect from the force of logic to find instances of them in the first centuries. And this I conceive to be the case: the records indeed of those times are scanty, and we have little means of determining what daily Christian life then was: we know little of the thoughts, and the prayers, and the meditations, and the discourses of the early disciples of Christ, at a time when these professed developments were not recognized and duly located in the theological system; yet it appears, even from what remains, that the atmosphere of the Church was, as it were, charged with them from the first, and delivered itself of them from time to time, in this way or that, in various places and persons, as occasion elicited them, testifying the presence of a vast body of thought within it, which one day would take shape and position.

We find exactly this sort of thing in Papias. His view is consistent with a Catholic one, that would be far more developed as time proceeded; but not consistent with the Protestant sola Scriptura.

Therefore, Papias could indeed have lived by sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. There is no compelling reason to think that he could not have done so, simply due to his living in a very early period of Christian history.

The question is whether he should have, and I’m not aware of any reason why an adherent of sola scriptura ought to think so.

How about the existence of the Old Testament? Or is that no longer considered Scripture by Protestants these days, or adherents of sola Scriptura. We’ll have to start calling it sola NT, huh? How about the Gospels and most of Paul’s letters, which were accepted as canonical very early: well within Papias’ lifetime?

Papias was at least a contemporary of the apostles, and, as I’ll discuss in more depth below, most likely was a disciple of one of the apostles as well.

That’s not what Eusebius stated. But even if he was, no problem whatever, because I showed (following Eusebius’ account) how he also accepted tradition from secondhand witnesses, and that St. Paul refers to fourth-hand reception of apostolic tradition. But of course, that is a part of my paper that Jason conveniently overlooked, per his standard modus operandi of high (and very careful) selectivity in response. We mustn’t get too biblical in our analyses, after all. You, the reader, don’t have to ignore the Bible, and can incorporate actual relevant biblical data into your informed opinion.

But Jason dissents from his colleagues and wants to play the game of having a relativistic rule of faith: not in play from the beginning of Christianity, but only set in motion later. This allows him to play the further game of denying that Papias’ views are consistent with Catholic dogma and our rule of faith, while not having any responsibility of showing that it is consistent with a Protestant view.

Dave keeps accusing me of “playing games”, being “relativistic”, etc. without justifying those charges.

Right. I gave an elaborate argument, point-by-point, just as I am doing now.

The fact that my view allows me to point to inconsistencies between Papias and Catholicism without having to argue that Papias adhered to sola scriptura doesn’t prove that my view is wrong.

That’s right, but Jason has failed in his attempt to prove that anything in Papias is fundamentally at odds with the Catholic view on the rule of faith. Where has he done this? It just isn’t there. I haven’t seen it. Maybe Jason will travel to Israel and find a new stone tablet that seals his case: primary evidence. Anything is possible. I’d urge him to keep optimistic and not to despair: something, somewhere may prove his anti-Catholic case vis-a-vis Papias once and for all. I won’t hold my breath waiting for it, though . . .

I’ve given examples of other transitional phases in history, during which the rule of faith changed for individuals or groups. Dave said that he agreed with “many, if not all of these points”, but then accused me of “relativism” and such when I applied the same sort of reasoning to Papias. Why?

I don’t know. I’d have to go back and see what I said, in context. I’m too lazy to do that (doin’ enough work as it is). But I know that I already adequately explained it, so I recommend that he go read it again (so that he doesn’t need to ask me what I meant).

What was in common was that all accepted ‘the word of God’ (both written and oral) as normative for the Christian faith, but not in the sense of sola Scriptura.

To say that everybody from Adam to Mary to Papias to Dave Armstrong followed the same rule of faith, defined vaguely as “the word of God”, is to appeal to something different than the “Scripture-Church-Tradition (as passed down by apostolic succession)” that Dave referenced earlier.

Here we go with the word games . . . As Ronald Reagan famously said to Jimmy Carter, “there you go again . . .” I was referring, of course, to the Christian era, not Adam and Eve, etc.

Adam and Eve didn’t have scripture or a magisterium.

Very good observation, Jason! But who needs apostles or Scripture, anyway, when you’re able to talk directly to God?

Even under Dave’s view, a change eventually occurred in which the word of God was communicated by a means not previously used. The sort of direct communication God had with Adam isn’t part of the average Catholic’s rule of faith today.

Exactly. What this has to do with anything is beyond me, I confess.

A Protestant could say that the rule of faith has always been “the word of God”, and thus claim consistency in the same sort of vague manner in which Dave is claiming it.

No, because Protestants tend to collapse “word of God” to Scripture alone, when in fact, in Scripture, it refers, many more times, to oral proclamation. This is the whole point: Scripture all over the place refers to an authoritative tradition and an authoritative Church. Scripture doesn’t teach that it alone is the infallible authority. Sola Scriptura ain’t biblical.

He seems to be trying (by repeated, almost mantra-like emphasis) to undermine a Catholic notion of oral tradition without saying so in so many words.

I don’t know how familiar Dave is with Richard Bauckham and his work. Bauckham isn’t interacting with Catholicism in the passage of his book that I cited. As far as I recall, he never even mentions Catholicism anywhere in the book, at least not in any significant way. Bauckham is a New Testament scholar interacting primarily with other New Testament scholars and scholars of other relevant fields.

Great. I interacted with his arguments, and saw some inconsistencies in them. Implicitly he is opposing, in a way, those Christian traditions that stress tradition, in his pitting of oral history against oral tradition, as I already noted. I say it is “both/and” — not “either/or.”

How in the world that is construed as somehow contrary to Catholic tradition is, I confess, beyond me.

Papias’ position wouldn’t have to be contrary to the Catholic position in order to be different than it. If Papias can take a transitional role under the Catholic view, in which he attains his rule of faith partly by means of the historical investigation he describes, then why can’t he take a transitional role under a Protestant view?

His position shows no semblance of a Protestant view in the first place, but it is not at all contrary, or even different from the Catholic view. It’s simply a primitive Catholic rule of faith: exhibiting exactly what we would expect to see under the assumption of Newmanian, Vincentian development.

We know that he collected eyewitness testimony. We don’t know that he would say that was the only tradition that was legitimate.

I didn’t claim that we know the latter. Remember, Dave is the one who claims that Papias was a Catholic, cited him in support of “oral tradition” (in a dispute with an Evangelical and without further qualification), etc.

Until we see anything that suggests otherwise, which we haven’t, that is a perfectly solid position to take.

His testimony was third-hand. He ‘he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their [the apostles’] friends.’ What is that if not succession?

Why should we define apostolic succession so vaguely as to include “the apostles’ friends”? In the same passage of Eusebius Dave is citing, Papias is quoted referring to these people as “followers” of the apostles. Many people, including individuals outside of a church hierarchy, can be considered friends or followers of the apostles. And, as I said above, the historiographic concept Papias is appealing to doesn’t limit itself to apostolic successors or an equivalent category in its normal usage. Why think, then, that the concept has such a meaning when Papias uses it?

How is what he did contrary to apostolic succession? It isn’t at all. Papias was a bishop, who received Christian tradition from friends or relatives of the apostles. This ain’t rocket science. There is nothing complicated about it: much as Jason wants to obfuscate.

Dave originally claimed that “we find an explicit espousal of apostolic succession” in Papias. He still hasn’t documented that assertion.

Of course I have. This is another annoying constant in debates with anti-Catholics: one is forced to simply repeat things three, four, five times or more, because the anti-Catholic seems unable to process them, even after five times. It’s as if one is writing to the wind. Three strikes and you’re out.

Again, the trouble with this is that Eusebius specifically says (twice) that Papias only knew friends of the apostles: not they themselves. So one of [Bauckham’s] key premises is unfactual.

Dave makes that point repeatedly in his article. But Richard Bauckham argues against Eusebius’ position elsewhere in the book I’ve cited. I’ve argued against Eusebius’ conclusion as well. See, for example, here.

Earlier, I cited an online collection of fragments by and about Papias. Eusebius’ dubious argument that Papias wasn’t a disciple of any of the apostles is contradicted by multiple other sources, including Irenaeus more than a century earlier (a man who had met Polycarp, another disciple of John). Some of the sources who commented on Papias when his writings were still extant said that he was even a (or the) secretary who wrote the fourth gospel at John’s dictation. Eusebius wasn’t even consistent with himself on the issue of whether Papias had been taught by John. See the citation from Eusebius’ Chronicon on the web page linked above. The only source I’m aware of who denied Papias’ status as a disciple of the apostles, Eusebius, wasn’t even consistent on the issue. The evidence suggests that Papias was a disciple of the apostle John.

Fair enough. But if we grant this, of course it has no effect on my position: that his views are consistent with the Catholic rule of faith. Either way, it works the same: if he knew the apostles, it was apostolic succession (just more directly). If he didn’t, it was still apostolic succession, since that is an ongoing phenomenon. Moreover, as I reiterated again above, Paul refers to apostolic succession from fourth-hand sources. So it is valid apart from necessarily knowing an apostle personally. And knowing one does not, therefore, rule out apostolic succession. It is completely harmonious with it.

Bauckham appears to contradict himself…Which is it?: Eyewitnesses or those who knew eyewitnesses? Once one starts going down the chain to third-hand, fourth-hand or later generations of witnesses, one is squarely within oral tradition. It’s something other than eyewitness testimony.

No, Bauckham explains, in the section of his book I cited, that though eyewitnesses were the primary source of interest, other early sources were involved as well. Even if you disagree with the historiographic standard in question, the fact remains that Papias was appealing to that standard. It involved witnesses who would quickly die out rather than going into the “fourth-hand or later generations” Dave refers to. Even apart from that ancient historiographic standard, it makes sense to differentiate between a source who’s one step removed and other sources who are five, twenty, or a thousand steps removed.

St. Paul didn’t think so, as I have shown: not in terms of accurate transmission of apostolic tradition.

We don’t place all non-eyewitnesses in the same category without making any distinctions. Why are we today so focused on the writings of men like Tertullian and John Chrysostom rather than modern oral traditions about them?

We go back as far as we can, and we do make judgments as to relative trustworthiness of sources.

In other words, the traditions that he [Ignatius] teaches are rejected, no matter how proximate they are to the apostles.

Like Dave’s rejection of Papias’ premillennial tradition, the soteriological tradition of Hermas (his belief in limited repentance), etc.?

What St. Ignatius taught (real presence, episcopacy, etc.) was universal in the early Church, unlike the two things above. Huge, essential difference, but nice try, Jason. The arguments get increasingly desperate. My friend, Jonathan Prejean, made a great comment today on another blog, that has relevance here:

What I would find far more troubling, were I a Protestant, is the new patristics scholarship of the last 40 years, which convincingly demonstrates that, while giving nominal adherence to the ecumencial creeds, Protestants have done so according to the same defective interpretation as the heretics. The modest claims of papal authority, which in any case are not refuted by what you cited (and I’ve read them), are trivial compared to the fact that the Protestant account of salvation and grace is fundamentally opposed to the Christian account of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The physical presence (i.e., real presence according to nature) of God in the Church and its necessity for salvation is unanimously agreed by all Catholic and Orthodox Christians, echoing St. Cyril of Alexandria, the great “Seal of the Fathers.” Yet Protestants deny it, making the spiritual resemblance to God merely moral (hence, imputed justification) and not physical.

That’s a Nestorian account of salvation, plain and simple. And the historical evidence about the heterodoxy of Nestorianism has been piling up over the last couple of decades (see, e.g., J.A. McGuckin, Paul Clayton) after some scholarship suggesting that Nestorius might have been orthodox (mostly based on Nestorius’s own erroneous claims; see, e.g., F. Loofs), and therefore, that Calvin’s identical beliefs might have been as well. But that has been crushed even more convincingly than the admittedly excessive claims of some Catholics about papal infallibility, and it is a much more serious error in any case. This is why I stopped even bothering with these debates, at least until I saw David [Waltz] wavering, because Newman’s prophetic words about being “deep in history” were absolutely vindicated by the neo-patristic scholarship. Protestants today have no hope of being orthodox in the historical sense; they have to redefine orthodoxy to be broad enough to include what they believe (see, e.g., D.H. Williams).

St. Ignatius (c. 35 – c. 110) was born a generation earlier than Papias. He may possibly have known St. John, or known of him through St. Polycarp (c. 69 – c. 155). But does that impress Protestants? No; not if they are intent on rejecting any doctrine that has the slightest ‘Catholic’ flavor in it.

Ignatius’ earliness is significant to me. I often cite him and often refer to the significance of his earliness. But I prefer the more accurate interpretation of Ignatius offered by an Ignatian scholar like Allen Brent to the interpretation of somebody like Dave Armstrong.

Great. J. N. D. Kelly (also an Anglican patristics scholar) thought that St. Ignatius “seems to suggest that the Roman church occupies a special position” (Early Christian Doctrines, 1978, 191). Brent writes (cited by Jason in his linked previous paper):

Ignatius doesn’t make any reference to apostolic succession as later defined by men like Irenaeus and Cyprian and by groups like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

This is exactly what we would expect under a thesis of development. Obviously he wouldn’t write as explicitly about apostolic succession as it was “later defined.” This poses no difficulty for us whatever. It is only a difficulty if one (as Jason habitually does) constructs a straw man of what Catholic development in the late first and early second century supposedly was (far more developed than we should reasonably expect).

The primitive state of development that we expect to find in St. Ignatius is reflected in a Brent remark such as “The low Trinitarianism in Ignatius’ letters supports an early date.” He also had a “low ecclesiology” because he was so early. But even Jason agrees (in the same former post) that St. Ignatius already in his time had a rather robust Catholic ecclesiology:

I agree with Brent that Ignatius seems to have been trying to convince other churches to adopt or retain his preferred form of church order, involving a monarchical episcopate, thus explaining why he mentions the subject so much in his letters. However, I suspect that the monarchical episcopate was already more widespread than Brent suggests. The truth probably is somewhere between Brent’s concept of Ignatius as an innovator and the view that all of the early churches had a monarchical episcopate all along. (Brent prefers not to use the term “monarchical episcopate” when discussing Ignatius’ view, but I’m using it in a broad sense, which I think is more common, to refer to having a single bishop who leads the remainder of the church hierarchy.)

It’s perfectly consistent with our notion, and we continue to think oral tradition is authoritative, whereas Protestants have ditched it: in direct contrast to what the fathers thought about such things.

Catholics “ditched” the approach of Papias long ago. They don’t appeal to an oral tradition attained by means of historical investigation,

It’s tough to meet associates of the apostles these days; sorry, Jason. If he builds me a time machine, I’d be more than happy to go talk to them. Probably couldn’t afford a ticket, though . . .

without the mediation of the Catholic hierarchy acting in its infallible capacity, and they don’t think that their oral tradition is soon going to die out, as Papias’ “living and abiding voice” was about to.

The tradition continues being accurately transmitted after the eyewitnesses die out, as St. Paul believed. That’s sufficient for me. Jason prefers Brent to me; I prefer St. Paul’s opinion on tradition and succession to his.

My goal was to show that Papias is not a counter-example to Catholic tradition.

No, Dave went further than that. He said that we find in Papias “an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition”. He also refers to the fathers in general as Catholic, which presumably would include Papias.

Yes on both counts, as explained. But the word “explicit” was relative insofar as someone that early can only be so explicit. “Direct” would have been a better term to use in retrospect, because of the meaning of “explicit” in discussions having to do with development of doctrine. I trusted that readers acquainted with the broad parameters of the discussion would understand that, but sure enough, Jason didn’t, and so keeps trying to make hay over this non-issue. No doubt he will classify this very paragraph as special pleading or sophistry, but most readers will understand that it is simply clarification of a phrase used.

I don’t believe in that [premillennialism] (used to), but the Catholic Church has not proclaimed many eschatological beliefs as dogma. Our position is not to uncritically accept any given father’s view on anything, but to look at the consensus.

If Dave doesn’t accept Papias’ premillennial oral traditions, and he’s identifying Papias’ oral traditions as part of the rule of faith followed by Papias, then it follows that Papias’ rule of faith involved a doctrine that Dave rejects.

But since that particular belief isn’t a dogmatic one in the first place, it is quite irrelevant. No Catholic is obliged to believe it, or much of anything else in eschatology, as I understand. No one is saying that any given father is infallible, so if he is wrong on that one item, this causes no problem to our view.

Was premillennialism part of the rule of faith in Papias’ generation, but not today? Did Papias follow a different rule of faith than others in his generation? Would that qualify as “relativism”?

He got some things wrong. So what? One could collect a huge bucket of seaweed and other marine items from the sea and discover that a pearl was also part of the collection. The pearl is “transmitted” along with the rest. Not everything in the bucket is equally valuable. Again, this is no problem for us whatever. The real problem is Protestant rejection of beliefs virtually universally held by the fathers, such as, for example, the real presence or baptismal regeneration.

If Dave wants to argue that he wasn’t referring to Papias’ rule of faith when he made comments about “authoritative tradition” and “oral tradition” in Papias, then what’s the relevance of such fallible tradition that’s outside of a rule of faith? As I said before, that sort of “authoritative tradition” and “oral tradition” isn’t what people normally have in mind when Catholics and Evangelicals are having a discussion like the current one, so Dave’s comments were at least misleading.

Since we don’t hold individual fathers to be infallible, this is much ado about nothing.

And Papias thought he got his premillennialism from the apostles. It was apostolic tradition to him. It’s not to Dave.

The Church in due course makes all sorts of judgments as to what is authentic tradition and what isn’t. Jason knows this, but he mistakenly thinks he has scored some sort of point here, so he runs with that ball.

How does one see a Catholic concept of apostolic succession in a phrase like “the apostles’ friends” or a Catholic concept of oral tradition in a historiographic phrase like “living and abiding voice”? In much the same way one sees everything from papal infallibility to a bodily assumption of Mary in scripture and an acorn of Catholicism in the writings of the church fathers.

I have done my best to explain. I trust that open-minded readers can be persuaded of some things, and that my efforts are not in vain, in that sense.

Jason Engwer has made a third response dealing with Papias: about whom we know very little. He basically rehashes the same old arguments again, thinking that this somehow makes them less weak and ineffectual than they were before.


Photo credit: Mosaic, c. 1000, in St. Sophia of Kyiv. From the left: Epiphanius of Salamis, Clement of Rome, Gregory the Theologian, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and Archdeacon Stephen. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


June 4, 2020

This is my reply to Jason Engwer’s article, “Baptismal Justification” (12-20-09), which was a portion of a larger discussion he was having with Catholic apologist Bryan Cross. His words will be in blue.


As an introductory statement, I would emphasize that the Bible and Catholicism teach both justification by grace through faith and baptismal regeneration (including normative infant baptism). The two notions and events are harmonious. But they can be discussed by themselves.  Often (if not most times), the Bible will mention one without the other. But it doesn’t follow that every mention of one without the other implies some sort of contradiction. It does not, because both are asserted in inspired Scripture. I agree that many mentions of something constitute good biblical evidence for it (I presuppose this in many of my own articles, in citing a lot of Bible passages); however, there are things that are mentioned a lot less in the Bible that remain just as true as the frequently mentioned doctrines.

The examples of this that I usually point out are the virgin birth and original sin. Both are firmly believed by virtually all Christian believers: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox: yet they are mentioned (especially in the case of original sin) fairly few times. Moreover, there is an example of a firmly and universally held doctrine (apart from seven disputed books pout of 73) that is absolutely absent from Holy Scripture: the canon of the Bible: which was ultimately determined and decreed by Church authority and apostolic tradition.

Bottom line: assertion of either aspects of baptism or justification, without mentioning the other doctrine, does not imply a negation of the other. and if and when Jason argues in such a fashion, he will be engaging in logical fallacy and inadequate biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. The task of the fair and open biblical exegete is to incorporate all of the data regarding justification and baptism into a harmonious whole. As one would expect, I think the Catholic view does that. And there are two passages in Paul that explicitly link baptism and justification.

Below is a portion of my latest response, relevant to the subject of attaining justification through baptism. . . . 

Paul, James, and other New Testament authors suggest continuity between justification through faith in the Old Testament era and justification through faith in the New Testament era.

Indeed they do. But baptism was prefigured by circumcision. I summarized the biblical data on that analogy in my paper, Infant Baptism: A Fictional Dialogue

Paul in Colossians 2:11-13 makes a connection between baptism and circumcision. Israel was the church before Christ (Acts 7:38; Romans 9:4). Circumcision, given to 8-day-old boys, was the seal of the covenant God made with Abraham, which applies to us also (Galatians 3:14, 29). It was a sign of repentance and future faith (Romans 4:11). Infants were just as much a part of the covenant as adults (Genesis 17:7; Deuteronomy 29:10-12, cf. Matthew 19:14). Likewise, baptism is the seal of the New Covenant in Christ. It signifies cleansing from sin, just as circumcision did (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; 9:25; Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:3).

I also have an article about John Calvin commenting at length about Paul’s circumcision-baptism analogy.

But works of faith come later than faith. Genesis 15:6 is about a faith that would result in works, but the works come after the faith.

We fully agree, which is why we speak of initial justification, by faith. I’ve even written a post entitled, Monergism in Initial Justification is Catholic Doctrine. So this notion doesn’t contradict Catholic soteriology or theology in general.

When somebody trusts God in response to a promise God makes, as in Genesis 15, that’s faith in the heart (as in Acts 15:7-11 and Romans 10:10), not faith accompanied by an outer manifestation like baptism.

Now here is where Jason attempts to illogically separate such justification from an equally necessary and regenerative baptism. Acts 15:7-11 is the account St. Peter at the Jerusalem Council talking about how he had observed Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit (15:8) and have their hearts “cleansed . . . by faith” (15:9). But there is no reason to believe that he would separate baptism from that, simply because he doesn’t mention it here. How do we know that? Well, we know from looking at actual instances of reception of the Holy Spirit in which Peter was present.

In Acts 2, it is the Day of Pentecost and the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and are indwelt by Him (2:1-4). As a result, St. Peter gives the first Christian sermon, explaining what had happened, and presents the gospel (2:14-36). When he is done, the Bible says that “they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?”‘ (2:37; RSV, as throughout). And here is how Peter responds:

Acts 2:38-41 . . . “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [39] For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” [40] And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” [41] So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Thus, the very first act or “work” that those who have accepted the gospel by grace through faith is to get baptized. And this baptism is “for the forgiveness of your sins” and its result will be receiving “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And it is intended for all believers, and for their “children” (infant baptism). Lastly,  getting baptized is, according to Peter and inspired Scripture, “Sav[ing] yourselves from this crooked generation.” I don’t know how the Bible could be more explicit in describing baptismal regeneration and its actual necessity, either at the beginning of an adult convert’s Christian life or for an infant who is the child of Christians. Everything is here: repentance, forgiveness of sins, the indwelling Holy Spirit, salvation, and the idea that baptism formally adds one to the Church.

When Peter observes the Holy Spirit falling upon Gentiles, too, he acts in exactly the same fashion:

Acts 10:44-48 While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. [45] And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. [46] For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, [47] “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [48] And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

When St. Paul converted, it was precisely the same state of affairs again:

Acts 9:17-18 So Anani’as departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” [18] And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized,

Acts 22:11-16 And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. [12] “And one Anani’as, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, [13] came to me, and standing by me said to me, `Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him. [14] And he said, `The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; [15] for you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. [16] And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Note that his sins were not yet “washed away” when he first converted and saw Jesus. That only came with baptism, just as was the case in Acts 2:38, 40.

Obviously, then, for Peter and Paul, baptism (i.e., for adult converts accepting Christianity for the first time) goes along with — at the same time — repentance, belief in the gospel and justification by faith. How is it, then, that Jason can claim the exact opposite: that it’s not faith accompanied by an outer manifestation like baptism”? Well, he does so by highlighting certain passages while ignoring other relevant ones, and playing the usual Protestant unbiblical and illogical “either / or” game. The Bible teaches both things; he contends in futility that it teaches only one of them.

It isn’t the case that the chronological order is always the same (baptism —> reception of the Holy Spirit or reception of the Holy Spirit —> baptism), but rather, that they are, broadly speaking, together in time. That is the constant. The ancient Hebrews didn’t view chronology like we do. One being accompanied by the other (whether technically before or after) is the essence of the thing, rather than one being slightly before the other. That’s what Scripture teaches, whether Jason and other Protestants care for it or not. 

There isn’t a single individual who’s described as coming to faith, but having to wait until baptism to be justified. Nor is there any individual who’s described as only having a lesser, unjustifying faith prior to baptism or not having faith at all until baptism. Rather, we repeatedly see people justified as soon as they believe, prior to or without baptism.

I just provided several counter-examples. In Acts 2, the sequence was repentance, then baptism, which brings forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, salvation, and entrance into the kingdom (i.e., the Church). One can hardly be “justified” without all those things or have a greater faith before baptism (given this description). Therefore, baptism is what immediately caused it. When Paul was baptized, according to his own interpretation, his sins were washed away as a result.

So how could he be justified (before baptism), seeing that his sins weren’t even forgiven and washed away and he wasn’t “saved” yet? He could not, since forgiveness of sins and salvation / regeneration are essential to the notion of justification. And an infant can have no conscious, “personal” faith at all prior to baptism or even after. Yet the Bible teaches infant baptism. Other passages on baptismal regeneration reinforce this point:

Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (cf. 3:3: “unless a man is born again …”)

Romans 6:3-5 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,

1 Peter 3:20-21 . . . during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. [21] Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, . . . 

We see from this additional relevant biblical data that a person is “saved” by baptism; it’s how he can “enter the kingdom of God” and be “born again”; it allows the baptized person to “walk in newness of life” and be united with Jesus in His Resurrection. It brings about “regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” I fail to see what else is required to prove the point! Is this not overwhelming evidence for the Catholic view (and Orthodox and Anglican and Lutheran and the view of other Protestant groups that believe in baptismal regeneration)? Yet Jason wants to argue that justification is before baptism. It makes no sense whatsoever. It’s exactly the opposite of the biblical presentation on these matters.

I just discovered some very exciting arguments for baptismal regeneration tonight (I don’t know how I’ve missed this, all this time, but I’m always learning), from my friend David Palm, who wrote on my Facebook page:

I remember when I was not-yet-converted and was scratching my head about this whole baptism and justification connection that the Council of Trent made. Trent references Romans 6:7, so I went and read it in the Greek and was absolutely gobsmacked. Romans 6:7 in English is often translated along the lines of, “For he who has died is freed from sin” (RSVCE). But in Greek it says, “ὁ γὰρ ἀποθανὼν δεδικαίωται ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας.” That word “δεδικαίωται”, is a form of the verb “to justify”, the very same verb used in the more prominent passages in Rom 3 and 4. So more literally it would be (in the context), “For he who has died [in Christ, in baptism] has been justified from sin….”

I was curious to see if there were translations that reflected this. There aren’t many, but I found a few (including several quite old ones):

ASV for he that hath died is justified from sin.

Darby For he that has died is justified from sin.

Douay-Rheims For he that is dead is justified from sin.

Tyndale For he that is dead is justified from sin. [Old English spelling modified]

Wycliffe For he that is dead [to sin], is justified from sin.

Wuest for the one who died once for all stands in the position of a permanent relationship of freedom from the sinful nature.

ASV is the most surprising, since it was the American revision of the King James Version: produced in 1901. Strong’s Concordance lists the word here as dikaioo (#1344).  Knowing that, we can trace its use in other passages, as David suggests above. It occurs 14 more times in Romans alone and 12 times in other Pauline epistles. Here are the most notable instances:

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Romans 3:23-25 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, [25] whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. . . . 

Romans 3:26 . . . he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:28 For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.

Romans 3:30 . . . he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.

Romans 4:5 And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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

Galatians 2:16 . . . in order to be justified by faith in Christ . . . 

Galatians 3:24 So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith.

Titus 3:7 so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Apologists, theologians, and avid Bible readers are well familiar with Paul’s theme of being justified by grace (Rom 3:24; Titus 3:7) and by faith (most of the other passages above). But in Romans 2:13, Paul applies the term not to either grace or faith, but to “doers of the law.” James uses the word (in a way that gave Luther fits) in relation to Abraham and Rahab being “justified by works” (Jas 2:21, 24-25). 

But now we also see that St. Paul teaches that the baptized person is “justified from sin” (Rom 6:7). This pretty much dramatically shoots down Jason’s entire attempt to separate baptism from justification / regeneration. The entire chapter of Romans 6 is now seen in an exciting light in reference to baptism and its profound spiritual power. Paul creates an analogy between our baptism and Jesus’ death (6:3-6). Then we have the bombshell verse of 6:7, which directly applies justification to baptism.

The rest of the chapter, in light of the stage that Paul has set, is filled with proof texts for baptismal regeneration. Because of our baptism / “death” we are now “dead to sin and alive to God” (6:11). Thus, sanctification seems intimately tied in with the justification and regeneration that baptism has brought about (a very Catholic and unProtestant view indeed).

Perhaps this is some of what St. Paul means by saying, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27; cf. Rom 13:14), and also his terminology of “put on the new nature” (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10), and “if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17), and “the new life of the Spirit” (Rom 7:6): not to mention several other verses about the indwelling Holy Spirit.

As a result of this baptism, sin is no longer to “reign” over us or have “dominion” (Rom 6:12-15), leading to “righteousness for sanctification” (6:19). We’re no longer “slaves to sin” (6:16-18, 20). Now as a result of baptismal regeneration, we’ve been “set free from sin” with “the return” being “sanctification and its end, eternal life” (6:18, 22).

Wow! Hard to argue against all that! It’s baptismal regeneration, justification, sanctification, and salvation all in one fell swoop: in one chapter of Paul: supposedly the great “Protestant” apostle and alleged herald of justification by faith alone.

It’s not as though people like Cornelius and the Galatians didn’t have access to baptism,

In the passage about Cornelius, Peter preaches, and then Cornelius, along with other Gentiles who receive the Spirit are baptized (Acts 10:44-48). So this is more evidence of the Catholic position, not Jason’s. We know what Paul and Peter thought baptism did: not from this particular passage, but others, that have to be considered along with Acts 10.

It would make no sense to dismiss a passage like Luke 18:10-14, Acts 19:2, or Romans 10:10 as an exception to the rule. Justification upon believing response to the gospel, prior to baptism, is the rule, not the exception.

In Luke 18:10-14, we hear of the righteous man who was “justified”because he exhibited genuine repentance and humility. This doesn’t prove that he would not also have to be baptized (see my logical point in the introduction). The same Jesus Who taught this in a story, also said: 

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 

After we preach and make disciples and bring about new converts and believers by the power of the Holy Spirit, we baptize them. The disciples were already baptizing others, early in Jesus’ ministry: thus we can assume that they must have themselves been baptized, in order to baptize others, but it wasn’t by Jesus (John 4:2).

Acts 19:1-6 While Apol’los was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. [2] And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” [3] And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” [4] And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” [5] On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. [6] And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

It’s the same again here: some disciples were found who had been baptized by John the Baptist. But then they were baptized in the name of Jesus and after that, they received the Holy Spirit. Apparently, then, Jason manages to believe (I know not how) in a justification without the Holy Spirit. 

Romans 10:10 For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.

This refers to justification, but the same Paul makes it clear that baptism is also an essential part of the overall equation, in Romans 6:3-5 and Titus 3:5 (seen above). So it’s not “either/or” but “both/and.” I have repeatedly shown how the two can go hand-in-hand and be perfectly harmonious. This is what the Bible teaches. So why does Jason keep trying to separate them? Well, because he is engaged in systematic eisegesis: reading into the Bible and apostolic Christianity what isn’t there. And he is engaging in the typical and distressingly common Protestant false dichotomy. 


Mark 16:16 is an extra-Biblical source. It has some significance as an early text, but the readers should keep in mind that it’s an extra-Biblical text. The authentic gospel of Mark says nothing of baptismal justification. (Similarly, the authentic letters of Ignatius of Antioch say nothing of it. The inauthentic longer versions of his letters, on the other hand, include reference to the concept.)

There are many excellent and compelling arguments for Mark 16:9-20 being part of Scripture. But even if it isn’t, there are plenty more passages teaching baptismal regeneration that Jason can’t dismiss.

You’ve made no attempt to explain the large number of Biblical examples of justification apart from baptism that I cited earlier. As I said, such passages have moved many advocates of baptismal justification to argue that baptism didn’t become a requirement (in normative cases) until after Jesus’ public ministry. . . . John refers to justification through faith many times (1:12, 3:15-16, 3:18, 3:36, 5:24, 6:35, 6:40, 6:47, 7:38-39, 11:25-26, etc.), and baptismal justification is alleged to be referred to only once, in 3:5.

As explained in the introduction, mentions of justification that do not also mention baptism, don’t wipe out all the passages that teach required baptism as an essential component of Christian discipleship and justification itself (which Paul literally asserts in Romans 6:7). It’s simply not a disproof. The Bible has to be interpreted as a harmonious whole, since it is inspired revelation, and Jason cannot ignore this massive biblical evidence regarding baptism. How very odd, if Jason is correct, that the very first thing Jesus did when He commenced His public ministry, was to be baptized as an example.

And the immediate precursor and proclaimer of the arrival of Jesus the Messiah: John the Baptist, was primarily one who baptized (as we see in his very title): which prophets had never done before. Then we see Jesus’ disciples baptizing (Jn 4:2), and His command. shortly before ascending, that mentioned baptism in conjunction with making disciples (Mt 28:19). After the Day of Pentecost and the first Christian sermon of the new covenant, Peter immediately calls for a mass baptism: precisely as Jesus said His disciples should do: preach and baptize. Jason’s inability to grasp the significance of all this is like a person looking all over the sky at high noon on a clear summer day and not being able to find the sun.

Most likely, Acts 2:38 has a meaning similar to Matthew 3:11. The people in Matthew 3 weren’t being baptized to attain repentance. Rather, they were repenting, then being baptized on the basis of that repentance. Not only would it be irrational to think that unrepentant people would be baptized in order to attain repentance, but Josephus specifically tells us that John’s baptism was for people who had already repented (Antiquities Of The Jews, 18:5:2).

Of course, this was the order (repentance, then baptism, which “seals” it), as indicated in Mark 1:5: “they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (cf. Mt 3:6). John’s words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2), imply — it seems to me — a repentance, followed by baptism: rather like a Protestant altar call, where the person repents, then goes up to the altar in a ritual gesture of public proclamation of newfound faith. In Catholicism, the equivalent would be reception into the Church at Easter, followed by baptism, for those who had never been baptized. When I was received, I was conditionally baptized, just in case my previous one (as a Methodist infant in 1958) was invalid for some reason.

Acts 2:38 is the same order: “Repent, and be baptized.” And it was the same for St. Paul. He repented and stopped warring against Jesus Christ and His Body, and then he was baptized.

Given the availability of such a reasonable understanding of Acts 2:38 (one similar to how we all read Matthew 3:11), it wouldn’t make sense to adopt some other view of the passage that would be so inconsistent with what Luke says elsewhere and what other Biblical authors say (documented above).

Jason seems to think that repentance is the same thing as justification, but it’s not. It’s only the first step towards justification and regeneration. Hence we see a verse like this:

Mark 1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (cf. Lk 3:3)

The people in John’s baptisms would repent and confess, then get baptized, which would bring the forgiveness (which is the justification: at least by analogy to later Christian baptism). The Apostle Paul taught that the two are not identical:

2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation . . . 

1 Peter 3:21 is a passage addressed to Christians in the context of discussing sanctification. Baptism saves in that sense, not in the sense of justification. Like the baptism of John the Baptist, Christian baptism doesn’t remove the filth of sin (1 Peter 3:21). Instead, it’s a public pledge made to God that commits Christians, like those to whom Peter is writing, to faithfulness to God in their present experience of persecution.

The preceding context shows that Peter is talking about unbelievers being saved by baptism:

1 Peter 3:18 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;

Peter goes on to make a parable-like comparison: during the Flood, “eight persons, were saved through water” (3:20). Then he says, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (3:21). “Salvation” in the Old Testament generally meant “saved from death” or from “enemies” (who often would bring death). In the New Testament it means being rescued from eternal death or spiritual death. So it’s a clear-cut analogy: eight people were saved from physical death “through water” on Noah’s ark. Now, by analogy, we are saved through the waters of baptism, which “correspond” to the waters of the Flood.

If baptism were intended as some sort of “pledge of faithfulness,” Scripture would say so. Instead, it is repeatedly referred to (including in key passages by Peter himself) as bringing salvation, regeneration, the Holy Spirit, and justification itself (Rom 6:7). Jason is simply doing more desperate eisegesis. It doesn’t fly. His view is neither biblically plausible nor self-consistent. 

Acts 19:2 only mentions faith. 

That’s right, but it’s just one verse. The original New Testament did not even have verses. When we consider context, the discussion immediately turns to baptism (19:3-4), then the people get baptized (19:5), which results in the reception of the Holy Spirit (19:6). Jason simply repeating that Acts 19:2 only mentions faith over and over proves or resolves absolutely nothing, as to the present dispute. 

If you want us to believe that Galatians 3:2, Ephesians 1:13-14, and other passages are including baptism when they refer to faith, you need to argue for that position rather than just asserting it. . . . We don’t begin with a default assumption that references to belief include baptism. If you want baptism included, you carry the burden of proof.

As explained, they don’t have to mention baptism because it’s mentioned (and very prominently in the whole scheme of salvation) in many other places. Not everything has to be noted in any one particular passage. But St. Paul does put both things (and sanctification) in one verse:

Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

If Paul can put them together in that passage, then it follows that he could very well be presupposing this in other passages, and he also connects them in Romans 6:4-5, where he directly connects baptism with waling “in newness of life” and being “united” to Christ: both of which — I submit — are essentially synonyms of justification; and above all in Romans 6:7, where st. Paul leaves no room for doubt.

It’s not just a matter of faith coming before baptism. Rather, justification does as well. Cornelius’ example and Paul’s assumed soteriology in Acts 19:2 involve the reception of the Spirit, the seal of adoption and justification, at the time of faith and prior to baptism.

I don’t know why Jason can’t see the sequence of events around Acts 19:2. It’s not rocket science. These people did not have the Spirit prior to baptism. It says that they were “disciples” (19:1) and “believed (19:2). But so were the original twelve disciples, and they did not have the Holy Spirit till a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus (John 20:22). The text says that they were baptized, Paul laid his hands on them,  and then “the Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19:4-5). What is so hard to grasp about the chronology there? How is it that Jason gets it dead wrong? I find it perplexing, even given the usual, expected Protestant bias.

That’s why the Christians in Jerusalem, after hearing Peter mention Cornelius’ reception of the Spirit without any mention of his baptism, respond by saying that Cornelius had been given eternal life (Acts 11:18).

He doesn’t have to mention that they were baptized. In terms of Bible readers, that was already in the text at 10:47-48: just ten verses before. So Peter didn’t happen to mention Cornelius’ and the others’ baptism; so what? Paul certainly mentioned his own when he recounted his conversion story, and said that the effect of it was to “wash away [his] sins” (Acts 22:16). So one apostle (by far the favorite of Protestants) mentioned it and the other didn’t (but talks explicitly about it elsewhere). It’s a wash, and of no particular significance for determining the correct theology of baptism and justification.  

Moreover, if we want to talk about what gives eternal life, Jesus explicitly said also that it was receiving His Body and Blood in Holy Communion:

John 6:48-51 I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

John 6:53-58 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.

This is extremely plain and clear, yet I don’t see Jason going around teaching that “the Bible says very plainly that the Eucharist gives eternal life.” He doesn’t even believe it. Nor does he believe the many passages clearly proclaiming that baptism regenerates and gives salvation. All he seems to care about are the ones that talk only about justification. He thinks — for some unknown reason — that he can avoid and ignore all of this additional relevant biblical revelation about salvation because it doesn’t harmonize with his man-made theology: devised in the 16th century after Jesus. But if he wants baptism and justification directly tied together, then we have Romans 6:7 and 1 Corinthians 6:11.

Peter goes on to use Cornelius as an example of a person whose heart had been cleansed through faith, demonstrated by his reception of the Spirit (Acts 15:7-11). Peter says nothing of baptism in that context, and the reception of the Spirit that confirmed Cornelius’ justification occurred prior to his baptism. Besides, reception of the Spirit is normally associated with the beginning of the Christian life, so the description of what happened in Acts 10:44-46 would be sufficient to support my conclusion even if we didn’t have the further confirmation in Acts 11 and Acts 15.

Sometimes this is the case, and it is an “anomaly” from the usual sequence: which we see in Acts 2 and Acts 19:1-6 and among the original twelve disciples, who were first baptized and later filled with the Spirit, and St. Paul, whose sins were forgiven by baptism. Yet, baptism was still associated with it in the same passage. It wasn’t absent, let alone irrelevant. Whatever spiritual benefit accrued from having the Holy Spirit still needed to be supplemented by baptism, which the same Peter said was instrumental for forgiveness, salvation, and inclusion in the Church, the Body of Christ.

But the Holy Spirit could not have been the end-all and be-all of justification and salvation, since the disciples were healing and raising the dead and casting out demons even before they received Him (Mt 10:8; Lk 10:17). Even in the Old Testament, the prophet Micah said that he was “filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD” (Mic 3:8) and King David, the “man after” God’s “own heart” (1 Sam 13:14)  cried out to God after he had sinned, “Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me” (Ps 51:11). God said about the prophet Jeremiah: “before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet” (Jer 1:5).

Noah clearly had an extra measure of grace and “was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9). Enoch also “walked with God” (Gen 5:24) and the New Testament says that he “pleased God” (Heb 11:5), as one of the heroes of faith. Job was described as “blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). The extraordinary faith and obedience of Abraham and Joseph and the prophets is well known. God also expressed such an internal divine presence, I believe, in talking about transforming people’s hearts:

Deuteronomy 30:6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Jeremiah 24:7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

Jeremiah 31:33 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 32:40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

Ezekiel 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, (cf. 18:31: ” get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!”)

In this sense, selective, anomalous instances of people receiving the Holy Spirit before baptism are not much greater than (perhaps even lesser than) these instances of old covenant “heart renewal” so to speak.


Related Reading

Born Again: Baptism in the Early Fathers (Evangelical Catholic Apologetics)
Church Fathers on Baptism (Armchair Theologian; Lutheran site)
The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration (Bryan Cross, Called to Communion)


Photo credit: Vision of Cornelius the Centurion (1664), by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621-1674) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


April 21, 2020

James Swan and His Love of the Ridiculous Self-Published Books of David T. King and William Webster

My best-selling book (one of four) with Sophia Institute Press (2007). See book and purchase information.


James Swan is a Reformed Protestant anti-Catholic polemicist, who runs a website called (well, at least affectionately by myself and some of my readers) Boors All. I won’t tax the patience of readers with our past history. Suffice it to say that the man despises me. He plays games with my papers and books; for example, writing “book reviews” without mentioning that I am the author of the book.

His goal is always to put me down as someone not to be taken seriously, and as an utterly incompetent researcher (and he has also often classified me as mentally ill, just for the record). It’s all personal attack. I long ago tired of documenting in any systematic way his 1001 lies about myself personally or my research, but in this paper I would like to simply document one particular double standard that often occurs on his blog. Double standards often typify anti-Catholic treatments of Catholics.

In a recent paper Swan (words in blue below) noted one of my books, without mentioning my name as the author (pretty odd stuff):

As far as I can tell, the quote was taken from the self-published Lulu book, Martin Luther: Catholic Critical Analysis and Praise, page 44. . . . If the person using this quote actually checked the documentation given in this self-published book, he would’ve realized “Ibid., from: O’Connor, 15” was barely helpful as a reference. Even the “O’Connor, 15” part was wrong.

Well, folks, I must confess to an outrageous error that Swan managed to identify: I incorrectly listed a page 15 in my source, when in fact, the material in question was actually on page 20 (as in my original 1991 handwritten research notes: I just checked). I repent in dust and ashes and renounce my entire corpus of apologetics books, since this horrific, inexcusable error has destroyed my competence. It was a nice run, but it’s over now . . .

Seriously, though, I want to concentrate on Swan’s cynical practice of identifying my books as “self-published.” Never mind that I have six books “officially” published by three different Catholic publishers, with a fourth (100 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura) to be published soon by a fourth major Catholic publisher: Catholic Answers [note: the total as of April 2020 is twenty-two books with five Catholic publishers and two Protestant ones]. Several of my books, for that matter, are also carried in important theological and municipal libraries (including many Protestant ones). None of that matters in Swan’s mind. He only wants to note others of my books that I put out on my own, and never misses a chance to describe them as “self-published.”

He makes a big deal about that, as an indication that my work is of no significance whatever, because it is merely “self-published.” He also fails to see the highly amusing hyper-irony that every time he states this, it is on his own “self-published” and non-supervised blog [and to my knowledge has never had a book published by a publisher]. The man couldn’t get anything officially published to save his life, yet he mocks me as “self-published” when he knows full well that I have several books (six) published by real live publishers, with real live, breathing editors, managing boards of real people, etc. Here is a second example:

On page 122 of a self-published book, Martin Luther: Catholic Critical Analysis and Praise (2008), a Catholic apologist documents the quote as: . . . In the Catholic apologist’s case, his book on Luther is self-published, . . . (10-12-08)

He does the same to other authors: several of them Protestant, but not Calvinist, and so subject to his belittling (examples: one / two / three four / five). Oddly enough, however, Swan has an extremely high opinion of a three-volume work by anti-Catholic comrades William Webster and David T. King:

Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Volume I: A Biblical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura

Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Volume II: An Historical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura (Webster)

I say “oddly enough” because these were put out by “Christian Resources, Inc.” Ever heard of that outfit? I didn’t think so. I demonstrated in a  paper over two years ago that this “publisher” was run by Webster himself. It’s self-publishing, folks. Anyone can print their own book if they like and put it out. It’s easy to do today.

Knowing this, why is it, then, that when Swan exalts these works (as he often has and continues to do) he never ever ever (far as I can tell from searching his site) mentions that they are “self-published”? Why in the world would that be? Maybe you can write to him and ask. I can’t, because he has told me he blocks my e-mails, and I’m banned from his blog as well. Here are examples:

As a token of appreciation for your comments on this blog, i’d like to send you David King’s book: Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (Volume I) (9-7-06)

I cited this quote from David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground And Pillar Of Our Faith Volume 1 (WA: Christian Resources Inc, 2001), 224]. (10-23-06)

[two citations] (10-24-06)

As David King points out in his book Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, . . . (7-26-07)

For a detailed look at this argument see: David King, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (WA: Christian Resources inc, 2001) p.130-136. (7-31-07)

For an extended treatment of this quote by Basil, see William Webster, Holy Scripture, the Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (Battle Ground: Christian Resources, 2001), Vol. 2, pp. 142ff. (8-10-07)

For an excellent compilation of quotes of the Church fathers teaching on the primacy, sufficiency and ultimate authority of Scripture, get a copy of Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Vol III – The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura. (12-30-07)

I would also be interested in knowing if you’ve read Dr. White’s Roman Catholic Controversy, Webster/King’s Holy Scripture: The ground and Pillar of Our Faith (3 vols), and Svendsen’s Who is My Mother? If not, you really should get some of these books before making your final decision. (1-19-09)

For an excellent compilation of quotes of the Church fathers teaching on the primacy, sufficiency and ultimate authority of Scripture, get a copy of Holy Scripture:The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Vol III – The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura. (7-7-09)

Here’s reason number #986 why I keep the book Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Volume One on my desk. (4-5-10)

[three citations] (7-31-10)

You get the idea. Never a word about these volumes being self-published. They’re right up there next to the Bible in importance and near-inspired nature. The original page of the publisher, “Christian Resources” — where I documented that Webster was the director and founder is no longer online. But a current “Contact Info.” page leads right to Webster’s e-mail address. If there is any doubt that this is not a traditional publisher, but a glorified, slickly disguised self-publishing operation, the Book Printing page outlines how anyone can pay to get a book printed:

The price depends on the size of the book. As an example, the price for producing a paperback book, 80 pages in length, 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ in size would be approximately $4.50 per book. The customer would be responsible for shipping costs.

If you have interest in having a book printed please contact Bill Webster for an estimate

How Christian and democratic of William: anyone can get a book published at good ol’ Christian Resources. Even Swan could put out a book if he likes, filled with his relentlessly profound pearls of wisdom! Well, anyone but a Catholic, of course . . .

Through the marvel of Internet Archive, it was easy enough to establish that Webster runs this outfit:

Christian Resources is a non-profit teaching, apologetics and publishing ministry dealing with issues related to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Gospel, Church history and the Christian life. The ministry is dedicated to the teaching and proclamation of the Gospel, a biblical and historical defense of the teachings of the Reformation and the discipling of believers in their Christian walk.

The Director and Founder of Christian Resources is William Webster (home page, scanned on 9 February 2005; link now defunct)

Clicking on the category, “Books” on the same page above, we find the “hit” of this self-publishing juggernaut of Christian truth, the three-volume series I have been mentioning above.

Gotta love those incessant anti-Catholic ethical double standards . . .


Related Reading

“Podunk” & Self-Publishing Efforts of Leading Anti-Catholics: David T. King, William Webster, and Eric Svendsen [4-17-09]

David T. King and William Webster: Out-of-Context or Hyper-Selective Quotations from the Church Fathers on Christian Authority: Introduction to the Series [11-8-13]


(originally posted on 8-1-11)


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