menu
May 3, 2019

Data from 16 Protestant Commentaries (1992-2016)

Links go right to the relevant passages in the commentaries / books. Very few commentaries appear to be certainly against his being dead. I didn’t include those, for brevity’s sake; but there weren’t many.
*****
Dead or Likely Dead
 
1) Jouette M. Bassler, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Abingdon Press: 2011).
 
2) Gordon D. Fee, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series) (Baker Books: 2011).
*
3) James B. Gould, Understanding Prayer for the Dead: Its Foundation in History and Logic (Wipf and Stock Publishers: 2016).
 
4) Murray J. Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ (InterVarsity Press: 2001).
 
 
Possibly Dead or Neutral Stance
 
1) Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2nd edition, 2014).
 
2) Raymond F. Collins, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press: 2002).
3) Africa Bible Commentary (Zondervan: 2010).
 
4 Samuel Ngewa, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Harper Collins: 2009).
 
5) R. Kent Hughes, Bryan Chapell, 1–2 Timothy and Titus (ESV Edition): To Guard the Deposit (Crossway: 2012).
 
6) Bruce B. Barton, David R. Veerman, Livingstone, Neil Wilson, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (Tyndale House Publishers, 1993).
 
7) Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Eerdmans: 2006).
 
8) George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles (Eerdmans: 1992).
 
9) I. Howard Marshall, Philip H. Towner, The Pastoral Epistles (Bloomsbury: 2004).
 
10) Linda Belleville, Jon C. Laansma, J. Ramsey Michaels, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews (Tyndale House Publishers, 2008).
 
11) Thomas Lea & Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) (Holman Reference: 1992).
 
[use “Look Inside” Amazon feature and search for “Onesiphorus”. See pp. 197-198]

***
Related Reading:
*

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

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

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

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

***

(originally 3-20-17 on Facebook)

Photo credit: An Elderly Man as Paul, probably 1659, by Rembrandt (1606-1669) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

January 18, 2016

Paul6

Apostle Paul (1633?), by Rembrandt (1606-1669) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

(7-14-09)

*****

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

2 Timothy 4:19 Greet Prisca and Aq’uila, and the household of Onesiph’orus.

I have written about this issue in the past; notably in my book, The Catholic Verses, pp. 169-174, and in A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, pp. 141-143.

1) Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) (Anglican): The Expositor’s Bible (edited by W. Robertson Nicoll), The Pastoral Epistles, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1891, pp. 324-326:

Certainly the balance of probability is decidedly in favour of the view that Onesiphorus was already dead when St. Paul wrote these words. . . . he here speaks of “the house of Onesiphorus” in connexion with the present, and of Onesiphorus himself only in connexion with the past. . . . it is not easy to explain this reference in two places to the household of Onesiphorus, if he himself was still alive. In all the other cases the individual and not the household is mentioned. . . . There is also the character of the Apostle’s prayer. Why does he confine his desires respecting the requital of Onesiphorus’ kindness to the day of judgment? . . . This again is thoroughly intelligible, if Onesiphorus is already dead.

. . . there seems to be equal absence of serious reason for doubting that the words in question constitute a prayer. . . .

Having thus concluded that, according to the more probable and reasonable view, the passage before us contains a prayer offered up by the Apostle on behalf of one who is dead, we seem to have obtained his sanction, and therefore the sanction of Scripture, for using similar prayers ourselves. . . .

This passage may be quoted as reasonable evidence that the death of a person does not extinguish our right or our duty to pray for him: but it ought not be quoted as authority for such prayers on behalf of the dead as are very different in kind from the one of which we have an example here. Many other kinds of intercession for the dead may be reasonable and allowable; but this passage proves no more than that some kinds of intercession for the dead are allowable; viz., those in which we pray that God will have mercy at the day of judgment on those who have done good to us and others, during their life upon earth.

2) James Maurice Wilson (1836-1931) (Anglican): Truths New and Old, Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1900, p. 141:

We have, therefore, the sanction of St. Paul for remembering inn our prayers, and interceding for, those who have now passed into the other world . . .

3) Sydney Charles Gayford (Anglican): The Future State, New York: Edwin S. Gorham, second edition, 1905, pp. 56-57:

. . . the most satisfactory explanation is that Onesiphorus was dead. . . .

And so we may hold with some confidence that we have in this passage the authority of an Apostle in praying for the welfare of the departed.

4) John Henry Bernard (1860-1927) (Anglican), The Pastoral Epistles, Cambridge University Press, 1899, p. 114:

On the whole then it seems probable that Onesiphorus was dead when St. Paul prayed on his behalf . . .

5) Donald Guthrie (1915-1992) (Anglican): The Tyndale New Testament CommentariesThe Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2nd edition, 1990, p. 148:

Since it is assumed by many scholars that Onesiphorus was by now dead, the question has been raised whether this sanctions prayer for the dead. Roman catholic theologians claim that it does. Spicq, for instance, sees here an example of prayer for the dead unique in the New Testament. Some Protestants agree with this judgment and cite the Jewish precedent of 2 Macc 12:43-45 . . .

6) William Barclay (1907-1978) (Presbyterian / Church of Scotland), The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 3rd edition, 2003, p. 175:

. . . there are many who feel that the implication is that Onesiphorus is dead. It is for his family that Paul first prays. Now, if he was dead, this passage shows us Paul praying for the dead, for it shows him praying that Onesiphorus may find mercy on the last day.

7) J. N. D. Kelly (1909-1997) (Anglican): A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, London: A&C; Black, 1963, p. 171:

On the assumption, which must be correct, that Onesiphorus was dead when the words were written, we have here an example, unique in the N.T., of Christian prayer for the departed. . . . the commendation of the dead man to the divine mercy. There is nothing surprising in Paul’s use of such a prayer, for intercession for the dead had been sanctioned in Pharisaic circles at any rate since the date of 2 Macc 12:43-45 (middle of first century B.C.?). Inscriptions in the Roman catacombs and elsewhere prove that the practice established itself among Christians from very early times.

8) John E. Sanders (evangelical / open theist): No Other Name, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1992, pp. 182-183:

Some scholars contend that 2 Timothy 1:16-18 contains a reference to praying for the dead; they contend that the person for whom Paul prays, Onesiphorus was dead.

Footnote 11: Among those commentators who understand Paul to be praying for the dead here are the following: W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1951), p. 159; Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, Vol. 3 (Chicago: Moody Pres, 1958), p. 376 . . . J. E. Huther, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to Timothy and Titus (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1871), p. 263.

9) Philip Schaff (1819-1893) (Reformed Protestant), The International Illustrated Commentary on the New Testament, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889, Vol. IV, The Catholic Epistles and Revelationp. 587:

On the assumption already mentioned as probable, this would, of course, be a prayer for the dead. The reference ot the great day of judgment falls in with this hypothesis. . . . From the controversial point of view, this may appear to favour the doctrine and practice of the Church of Rome . . .

10) Charles John Ellicott (1816-1905) (Anglican): A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, London: Cassell & Co., Vol. III, 1884, p. 223:

There is but little doubt that when St. Paul wrote this Epistle Onesiphorus’ death must have recently taken place . . .

The Apostle can never repay now . . . the kindness his dead friend showed him in his hour of need; so he prays that the Judge of quick and dead may remember it in the awful day of judgment. . . .

This passage is famous from its being generally quoted among the very rare statements of the New Testament which seem to bear upon the question of the Romish doctrine of praying for the dead. . . . we here in common with Roman Catholic interpreters and the majority of the later expositors of the Reformed Church, assume that Onesiphorus was dead when St. Paul wrote to Timothy, and that the words used had reference to St. Paul’s dead friend . . .

Stay in touch! Like Biblical Evidence for Catholicism on Facebook:

August 19, 2015

PaulRembrandt2

Paul the Apostle, by Rembrandt, c. 1657 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

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

Catholics pray for the souls in purgatory, in order to aid them in their journey through purgatory to heaven. In praying for the dead, it is very reasonable to contend that some sort of intermediate state is presupposed, because it would be futile to pray for those in hell (prayer can no longer help them) and unnecessary to pray for those in heaven (they have everything they need). This verse offers biblical support for this belief.

Protestant commentators have been hopelessly confused about the passage and cannot offer a coherent, unified testimony as to its meaning. Consulting their conflicting opinions makes for fascinating reading indeed.

The well-known evangelical Protestant work, The New Bible Commentary (3rd edition, 1970) takes the astounding position that Onesiphorus is probably dead (citing 2 Tim. 4:19), yet holds that Paul was praying for his conduct during life. The prominent Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary (1864) also holds that Paul was praying, but obviously not for a dead man because, after all, “nowhere has Paul prayers for the dead, which is fatal to the theory, . . . that he was dead.” This is circular reasoning: merely assuming what it claims is proven.

Greek scholar A. T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1930, Vol. IV, 615) concedes that Onesiphorus was dead, but desperately describes Paul’s prayer for him as a “wish” (essentially a distinction without a difference). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1939) makes the same (what can only be described as) rationalization, using the description, “pious wish” (Vol. IV, 2195). Famous Presbyterian commentators Matthew Henry (1662-1714) and Albert Barnes (1798-1870) casually assume that Onesiphorus was not dead, since Paul prayed for him – again making prior assumptions about what is possible in the first place, which amounts to eisegesis, or reading into Scripture notions that are not there. But John Calvin denied that he was dead.

The “game” and conundrum for all these commentaries is to refuse to accept both things together: a dead man, and someone praying for them. Thus, if they think he was dead, they deny that he was prayed for. And if they acknowledge prayer, they deny that he was dead.

But all is not lost. I have located several Anglican commentaries and a few others (thanks largely to Google Books!), that accept both factors together and state that Paul prayed for a dead man. The Anglican commentaries include Alfred Plummer (1841-1926), in The Expositor’s Bible, James Maurice Wilson (1836-1931), Sydney Charles Gayford (in 1905), John Henry Bernard (1860-1927), Charles John Ellicott (1816-1905), and J. N. D. Kelly (1909-1997), in A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (London: A&C Black, 1963, p. 171). The latter states:

On the assumption, which must be correct, that Onesiphorus was dead when the words were written, we have here an example, unique in the N.T., of Christian prayer for the departed. . . . the commendation of the dead man to the divine mercy. There is nothing surprising in Paul’s use of such a prayer, for intercession for the dead had been sanctioned in Pharisaic circles at any rate since the date of 2 Macc 12:43-45 (middle of first century B.C.?). Inscriptions in the Roman catacombs and elsewhere prove that the practice established itself among Christians from very early times.

William Barclay (liberal Presbyterian: 1907-1978) concurs in his Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. So does the well-known Reformed Protestant Church historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893) in The International Illustrated Commentary on the New Testament (1889, Vol. IV, 587). Other commentators who agree include W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament (1951) and the renowned Henry Alford, The Greek Testament (1958).

What are we to conclude from all this jumble of various Protestant opinions? I’m always happy to present the information and let readers make up their own minds, but I conclude (for whatever it is worth) that the passage is pretty straightforward. Therefore, when a commentator decides that Onesiphorus is not dead or that he was and wasn’t prayed for, it’s an example of eisegesis and letting denominational bias interfere with objective Bible commentary.

It’s always ironic to note such an occurrence among Protestants, since our separated brethren are very fond of frequently pointing out that they go by the Bible alone, as their only infallible source of authority and rule of faith. They will habitually claim that they merely let it speak for itself.

Yet when it comes to an issue like this, where the biblical text seems to run contrary to a tenet of Protestant denominational dogma (i.e., that prayer for the dead is impermissible), all of a sudden there is plenty of “explaining away” and denial of what seems to plainly be present in the passage.

Bias should never surprise us. It’s natural to the human mind, and we all (including Catholics) have it. We all bring prior traditions to our Bible commentary, too, no matter how much we may try to deny it. It’s not a matter of “whether,” but which tradition is present.

I maintain that Catholics are as free as anyone else (if not more so) to simply let the Bible speak for itself. If it indeed teaches prayer for the dead in this passage, we accept that, as part of God’s inspired revelation. It corresponds to Catholic doctrinal / dogmatic teaching, tying into purgatory. In my experience of over 24 years of Catholic apologetics, the Bible always does that. This may be little-known and frequently denied by Protestants, but it’s true, and I’ve shown it with many examples in my own work, such as this present one.

***

May 29, 2021

Dorfpastor replied in the combox of my paper, Prayers to Saints & for the Dead: Six Biblical Proofs [6-8-18]. His words will be in blue.

*****

First, I’d like to make a general statement. My critic starts with the accusation that what I did was “an attempt to legitimate an unbiblical doctrine.” Okay; if such a grandiose claim is made, then I would expect quite a bit of exegetical reasoning, other Bible passages introduced, Bible commentary, maybe delving into the Greek words, questioning my interpretations, showing how I quoted out of context. In other words it would be a meaty, in-depth biblical discussion.

Instead, what I got was six short bullet points: none longer than three sentences, and most only one or two. This is apparently regarded as a sufficient refutation of my extensive biblical argumentation. Most of my supporting arguments for the passages are utterly ignored, so that I have to repeat them now.

This is the problem, I’ve found, with much of Protestant counter-Catholic argumentation (believe me I know, having engaged in hundreds of debates). These sorts of “repluies” never get to the depth that they have to get to, in order to 1) refute the Catholic view, and 2) offer a more plausible biblical alternative. They don’t even directly address most of the biblical arguments we set forth.

My impression, reading the bible is complete different:

#1: if a parable or not, it is a conversation between two persons, both in the spiritual world after death.

Okay, here we go. I already dealt with the anticipated objection. Yet he makes it anyway, seemingly unaware that I did so, or else he would have offered counter-arguments to my supporting arguments. This is answered by what I already wrote (in green, with my added comments now):

1) Jesus couldn’t possibly teach doctrinal error by means of the story. And there are several, according to Protestant theology.

2) Abraham’s refusal to answer the prayer does not prove that he shouldn’t have been prayed to in the first place. Prayers can be refused. He never said, “You can’t pray to me!!!!! Pray only to God!” Protestants say we can’t pray to anyone but God. We can’t ask dead people to intercede to God for us. Jesus goes against both of those things by endorsing this story. He can’t teach falsehood in it. The rich man makes a petitionary prayer to Abraham, not God, in order to get a request. He doesn’t even ask him to go to God. He thinks that Abraham can himself answer it.

If indeed it were true that no one could ever pray to a creature rather than God, then Jesus couldn’t possibly have told this story. And Abraham would have certainly rebuked the rich man and would have told him to pray to God alone; and would have chided him for going to him instead of God. It’s irrelevant to the issue that the rich man was dead, because it remains wrong to pray to someone (alive or dead) other than God, in Protestantism. It wouldn’t suddenly become right (with an essential change of principle) just because he died. Therefore, the rich man would have violated that.

3) Abraham didn’t say, “I don’t have the power to send Lazarus and it’s blasphemous for you to think so.” He said, rather, that if he did send him, it wouldn’t make any difference as to the result Abraham hoped for. Thus, Abraham is presupposing that he has the power to answer a prayer request, but simply chooses not to, and explains to the rich man why.

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

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

#2: Samuel complains of having asked him. So an argument rather against…

Not at all. He doesn’t complain about being petitioned because (as Protestants would have it) no one should petition anyone but God. Rather, he questions the reasoning behind Saul’s action, by noting that God had already rejected Saul; therefore, why would he go to Samuel (as if Samuel the prophet of God would differ from God’s expressed will)? So Samuel says: “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy?” (1 Sam 28:16). It’s a totally different thing from objecting to the prayer itself.

Far from refusing to answer the petition because no creature should ever do so, Samuel does answer, with three more sentences, but it’s a negative reply and a refusal: one that Saul doesn’t want to hear:

1 Samuel 28:17-19 (RSV) “The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, David. [18] Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD, and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Am’alek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. [19] Moreover the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines; and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”

#3: a misunderstanding of Jesus’ acclamation at the cross.

As with all the others, I dealt with the objection before it was made (then my argument was totally ignored).

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

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

#4: a wish of Paul, communicated to Timothy, it has nothing to do with a prayer directed to people who are already dead. Onesiphorus is more obviously still alive. Paul points to the fact of reward.

If it’s so obvious that Onesiphorus was still alive, then how odd that in a survey of 16 Protestant commentaries on the passage, I found that five of them held that he was “dead or likely dead” and eleven thought he was “possibly dead” or took a neutral stance. In a second paper surveying Protestant commentaries, I found 13 more who said that he was dead.

Again, these are Protestants and scholarly exegetes, not Catholics. If it’s true that he was dead, as these 18 Protestant Bible commentators believe, then this is explicit biblical evidence for prayer for the dead (case closed)!

#5: really 1 Corinthians 15:29 a difficult passage. Who seems to have the clear solution? But very risky to develop a doctrine of praying to Saints just by one bible verse.

It’s only one of six. Protestants offer no good interpretation of this odd verse. I offered (in a link) a plausible interpretation that makes perfect sense.

#6: In assurance by the Holy Spirit Peter and Jesus commanded a dead person to raise up (similarly to the command when Peter asked the lame man to stand on his feet, Acts 3:6.

Since my argument was completely ignored again, I repeat it for the convenience of readers:

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

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

This is absolutely and undeniably prayer for the dead, and right from the examples of Peter and Jesus. Our critic completely ignores the two prayers and goes right to the command. We can’t be too careful to ignore what goes against our argument! But in speaking to the two dead people, Peter and Jesus also violate Protestant teachings of men, which say that no one can attempt to communicate with a dead person: which is collapsed into the sinful category of necromancy or sorcery. Therefore, peter and Jesus committed those sins, if we believe Protestant theology.

Me: I’ll stick with a sinless Jesus (Who is God and can’t possibly sin), thank you. He prayed for the dead and talked to the dead. So did St. Peter. Therefore, it’s permissible for any Christian to do so, too. It’s really not complicated, but for Protestants coming along and denying / rejecting plain biblical teaching.

***

Photo credit: The Raising of Tabitha (early 1790s), by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

Summary: A Protestant rejected my six biblical arguments for prayers to saints and for the dead but offered little argumentation. So I took the opportunity to strengthen my arguments all the more.

***

February 23, 2021

— Includes a Discussion of the Proper Definition of Sola Scriptura

Matt Hedges is a Reformed Protestant apologist. He took issue with my paper, St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) vs. Sola Scriptura as the Rule of Faith (8-1-03), in his counter-reply: St. John Chrysostom and Sola Scriptura (2-22-21). His words will be in blue:

*****

He presents for his readers two of my citations of St. John Chrysostom:

“So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours.” Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken. (On Second Thessalonians, Homily IV)

Not by letters alone did Paul instruct his disciple in his duty, but before by words also which he shows, both in many other passages, as where he says, “whether by word or our Epistle” (2 Thess. ii. 15.), and especially here. Let us not therefore suppose that anything relating to doctrine was spoken imperfectly. For many things he delivered to him without writing. Of these therefore he reminds him, when he says, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me.” (Homily III on 2 Timothy – on 2 Tim 1:13-18)

If one thinks these quotes somehow “debunk” Sola Scriptura, it is quite clear that they did not grasp a clear definition of what Sola Scriptura actually is!

Sola Scriptura simply says that everything that is needed for salvation is contained in the written Word.

I fully agree that one must have a firm grasp of the definition of anything, in order to refute it (or defend it). Unfortunately, Matt falls short in this respect — thus immediately putting himself in a very precarious position in our little debate. The “definition” he provides is actually the definition of “material sufficiency of Scripture.” The latter is defined as follows:

The actual definition of sola Scriptura, as held by historic Protestantism is: “Holy Scripture is the only final and infallible and binding authority for the Christian.” Expanding upon that, the converse is also true: “No Church or council or tradition or single figure in Christianity (be he the pope or anyone else) can lay claim to this level of sublime authority in Christianity”.

Hence, Joel Beeke, whom Matt himself cites, notes in a different article:

Sola Scriptura at its heart was an assertion of the sufficiency of the Bible for the faith and practice of the church. In the Smalcald Articles, Luther wrote, “The Word of God—and no one else, not even an angel—should establish articles of faith” (Part 2, Art. 2, Sec. 15). The Geneva Confession (1536/37) declares in its first article, “For the rule of our faith and religion, we wish to follow the Scripture alone, without mixing with it any other thing which might be fabricated by the interpretation of men apart from the Word of God; and we do not pretend to receive any other doctrine for our spiritual government than that which is taught us by the same Word, without addition or reduction, according to the command of our Lord.” . . . 

As God’s Word, the Bible is the only book characterized by infallibility and inerrancy. Every word of every sentence is there by God’s determination (2 Tim. 3:16–17). As the Word of God, the Scripture is pure truth without any assertions of error (Prov. 30:5). Thus, Luther said, quoting Augustine, “I have learned to hold only the Holy Scripture inerrant” (What Luther Says: An Anthology, ed. Ewald M. Plass [St. Louis: Concordia, 1959], 1:87). . . . 

This authority is not dependent upon the testimony of mere men, or the judgment of the church, but arises from the certainty produced by the Spirit who bears witness to the Word (1 Thess. 1:5). . . . 

The Reformation brought a renewed emphasis upon the Bible’s sufficiency as special revelation in opposition to Roman Catholic claims to supplement the Bible with additional revelation passed down in tradition. Calvin said, “All our wisdom is contained in the Scriptures, and neither ought we to learn, nor teachers to draw their instructions, from any other source” (Commentary on 2 Tim. 4:1). The Westminster Confession of Faith (1.6) offers a helpful summary of the doctrine: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.” . . . 

[T]he sola of sola Scriptura means that the Bible alone is the fountain and touchstone for all authoritative teaching and tradition. . . . 

Nor is it right to appeal to the decisions of the church’s synods and councils as if they were as authoritative as Scripture. In Roman Catholicism, much is made of the decrees of the “Ecumenical Councils” of the ancient church, as though the authority of such assemblies were infallible and absolute. The Westminster divine did not reject the decisions of these bodies outright, but sounded a warning: “All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore, they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as an help in both” (21.4). . . . 

[T]he Bible does contain all things that God willed to function as the rule of faith and obedience for His people. (“The Sufficiency of the Bible Contra Rome”, Reformation21, 10-5-17)

Beeke has done a very good job of definition and clarification. There are plenty of Protestants who don’t understand the subtleties involved here, just as (unfortunately) even more Catholics do not. I’m not among them. I fully accept that this is the definition of sola Scriptura, a thing I used to firmly believe but now (upon much further study) reject as unbiblical, and this is the definition I have used in my three books on the topic (one / two / three). In the first, I cited in the Introduction James R. White and Keith A. Mathison (both Reformed), providing the same essential definition of sola Scriptura. I also cited the late Protestant apologist Norman Geisler (not Reformed) who agreed.

Beeke also correctly defines and clarifies biblical [material] “sufficiency”:

Biblical Sufficiency Defined
The doctrine of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures teaches that “the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary” for saving faith and the Christian life is revealed in the Bible. Therefore, the preaching, teaching, and counseling ministries of God’s church are the ministry of the Word of God. There is no need or warrant to base our doctrine or directives on anything else, even if enshrined in church tradition.

Most Catholics (including myself) agree with the notion of material sufficiency of Scripture. It’s not identical to sola Scriptura, but rather, one of several premises behind it that many (if not most or nearly all) non-Protestant Christians also accept. As Matt put it: “everything that is needed for salvation is contained in the written Word.” Yes! Absolutely! I would only add John MacArthur’s further elaboration, cited by Matt: “all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture” [my italics]. I believed that as a Protestant and do now as a Catholic, these past thirty years. So this is not at issue.

At least half of my fifty books use a methodology whereby I set out to prove Catholic doctrines by recourse to the Bible only (which was oftentimes the method of the Church fathers, without denying the authority of Church, councils, and tradition, or apostolic succession). What we dispute is the formal sufficiency of Scripture as the rule of faith in Christianity, which is basically the same as sola Scriptura: that is, that an authoritative, infallible Church and tradition are ruled out, and only Scripture functions as the final authority. No one ever believed that in the first 1500 years of Christianity.

So now that we’re on the same page as to definitions (or should be), I proceed. In light of the above, the quotations of Beeke and John MacArthur produced by Matt, preceded by: “This common Roman Catholic misunderstanding has been addressed multiple times” are non sequiturs in our discussion. Joel Beeke writes about tradition as a useful but not infallible or final authority in Protestantism (yep; already knew that, and believed it when I was an evangelical Protestant). Matt echoes this aspect by writing: ” ‘tradition’ is not a dirty word (to use Dave’s own language) as long as it is not elevated to or above the authority of the Bible.” This is included in the definition of sola Scriptura: rightly understood.

But John MacArthur repeats the same error that Matt parrots: a false equivalency of material sufficiency with sola Scriptura. Both Matt and Pastor MacArthur (whose books I used to read and radio talks I enjoyed) need to read Beeke more closely and work out their internal confusion on this matter. Matt also cites the Westminster Confession of Faith, but concerning a different aspect of sola Scriptura: perspicuity (clearness) of Scripture. That’s a different discussion and not related to what St. John Chrysostom has to say about tradition, so I bypass it, too.

Not all of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles are contained in the Bible (John 21:25).  That is all that Chrysostom is saying here. This is not an issue at all for those who are committed to Sola Scriptura

Well, this is untrue, as I will now show. What St. John Chrysostom in the first quotation above is in conflict with the correct definition of sola Scriptura and causes massive self-contradiction for the Protestant if he or she attempts to “co-opt” it. The second one, I grant, is not “definitive” enough in and of itself (I grant) to prove that he denied sola Scriptura, but the first one is, because of the clause: “let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther” (my bolding and italics).

In saying this, the great Church father (who was also very pro-papal and pro-Rome, but I digress) proves that he thought (very much like St. Augustine, who thought this about, e.g., infant baptism) that tradition was sufficient in and of itself as an indicator of true, orthodox doctrine, precisely because he says no one need seek any more to verify it. If he had believed in sola Scriptura, he would have had to qualify with “provided it is verified by Sacred Scripture” or some such. It would have to be shown as qualitatively inferior to Scripture, according to sola Scriptura. Thus it contradicts Matt’s own statement: ” ‘tradition’ is not a dirty word . . . as long as it is not elevated to or above the authority of the Bible” (my italics and bolding).

By saying “seek no farther” Chrysostom makes tradition authoritative, binding, and sufficient (in effect, infallible) in a way that is utterly anathema to sola Scriptura and Protestantism. Matt says he doesn’t contradict sola Scriptura, but he clearly does. He also contradicts many statements made by Joel Beeke in his excellent clarification of the nature of sola Scriptura:

The Word of God—and no one else, not even an angel—should establish articles of faith (Martin Luther)

[W]e do not pretend to receive any other doctrine . . . than that which is taught us by the same Word (Geneva Confession)

[T]he Bible is the only book characterized by infallibility and inerrancy. (Beeke)

I have learned to hold only the Holy Scripture inerrant (Martin Luther)

All our wisdom is contained in the Scriptures, and neither ought we to learn, nor teachers to draw their instructions, from any other source (John Calvin)

[T]he Bible alone is the fountain and touchstone for all authoritative teaching and tradition (Beeke)

All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore, they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice (Westminster Confession)

[T]he Bible does contain all things that God willed to function as the rule of faith (Beeke)

All of that expressly contradicts St. John Chrysostom’s “It is a tradition, seek no farther”. Therefore, Matt’s argument collapses through the weight and burden of its own vicious incoherence and internal contradictoriness.

Conclusion: St. John Chrysostom rejected sola Scriptura and held to the Catholic rule of faith: the “three-legged stool” of Bible-Tradition-Church: all harmonious with each other and all protected by the Holy Spirit as infallible and therefore capable of producing binding “decrees” for all Christian believers, just as the infallible Jerusalem Council did (see Acts 16:4).

***

Matt made a “Counter-Counter Response”. In this, the gist of his argument was to claim that the “tradition” St. John Chrysostom referred to in the passage I highlighted was only practice and not doctrine. This was his way of trying to escape my argument. He contended:

This quote is insufficient to argue against Sola Scriptura, since it never mentions any sort of infallible magisterium that we must have for interpreting Scripture, much less defining new articles of faith . . . 

This is completely irrelevant to our discussion: being an entirely distinct topic. All we have to do to prove that St. John Chrysostom rejected sola Scriptura is to show that he accepted any teaching not itself the Bible as authoritative and binding for the believer. He did so in saying that if one had “the tradition of the Church” which is “also worthy of credit” on any given topic, they need “seek no farther.” That defeats sola Scriptura because it doesn’t say that such a tradition must immediately be weighed by Scripture (though I would argue that the Catholic and patristic view holds tradition, Church, and Scripture in self-consistent harmony with each other).

Another thing . . . is what Chrysostom means by “tradition” in the first place. Take a look at his commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (which also uses the word “tradition”):

Ver. 6. Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly and not after the tradition which they received of us.

That is, it is not we that say these things, but Christ, for that is the meaning of in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; equivalent to through Christ. Showing the fearfulness of the message, he says, through Christ. Christ therefore commanded us in no case to be idle. That you withdraw yourselves, he says, from every brother. Tell me not of the rich, tell me not of the poor, tell me not of the holy. This is disorder. That walks, he says, that is, lives. And not after the tradition which they received from me. Tradition, he says, which is through works. And this he always calls properly tradition. (On Second Thessalonians, Homily 5, source)

Here, Chrysostom clearly views “tradition” as being a part of the way in which one lives, rather than some sort of new doctrine (like the Bodily Assumption of Mary, as I mentioned above). Thus, the very idea of “tradition” at all in this quote from Chrysostom is primarily with the Apostle Paul. . . . 

I am not in any way “contradicting” Sola Scriptura and neither is Chrysostom. I have shown from his commentary on 2 Thess. 3:6 that he views “tradition” more in the sense of a way of life rather than ongoing, infallible, tradition in the way that Roman Catholics think of it today (whether or not this is the meaning of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is another issue somewhat). Either that, or Chrysostom is too ambiguous on the meaning of “tradition” for either me or Dave to get anywhere in this discussion. 
*
The traditions, which Chrysostom speaks of as being “worthy of credit”, are the oral discourses of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians, not some infallible magisterium. . . . 
*
So, based off of Chrysostom’s comment on 2 Thessalonians 3:6, “tradition” simply refers to one’s way of living, rather than to doctrine. Or, it is indeed referring to doctrine. But the point remains that this isn’t referring to anything other than the teaching of Paul in Thessalonica,
*
I spent some time trying to find something else in St. John Chrysostom relating to the rule of faith and authority and found nothing; only to discover what I think is a solid reply to this line of argument, right under my nose: in the other citation that I produced and that Matt replied to:
Not by letters alone did Paul instruct his disciple in his duty, but before by words also which he shows, both in many other passages, as where he says, “whether by word or our Epistle” (2 Thess. ii. 15.), and especially here. Let us not therefore suppose that anything relating to doctrine was spoken imperfectly. For many things he delivered to him without writing. Of these therefore he reminds him, when he says, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me.” (Homily III on 2 Timothy – on 2 Tim 1:13-18)
Note two things in particular here: the corresponding relationship of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (which the other citation was a comment upon) and the reference to “anything relating to doctrine.” This shows that he regarded 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (by direct reference: no speculation on our part) as dealing with doctrine and not just practice. And that is the key unlocking the question of what sort of tradition he was referring to in the other citation under examination. To me that settles the argument: St. John Chrysostom did not believe in sola Scriptura. Further contextual factors strengthen this conclusion.
*
First, let’s dispose of Matt’s attempted connection to 2 Thessalonians 3:6 as his own “key” to interpreting what Chrysostom is referring to in 2:15. It’s true that it’s only eight verses later than 2:15, but Paul makes a break in the subject matter. The original New Testament didn’t have chapters or verses. Chapters for the New Testament were first created in 1205 and not used in Bibles until the 16th century. Verse numbers began in 1551 (1571 in the Old Testament). St. Paul seems to be writing either a “sub-letter” or a portion of a larger one in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 (the whole chapter) through to 3:1-5, where he wraps up his thoughts.

*

Then he starts on another topic in 3:6, commanding that the recipients of his letter “keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (RSV, as I use throughout). This topic (Catholic Bible exegetes would readily agree, I think) does indeed have to do with behavior, as Matt argues. His only mistake is arguing that in 2:15 the same sort of “tradition” referred to (i.e., behavior, not doctrine). 3:6 forward is clearly all about behavior. 3:7 has “imitate us” and “we were not idle when we were with you.” 3:8 is about Paul paying for food, toiling and laboring so as not to be a “burden.” 3:9 is about Paul and his companion(s) providing “in our conduct an example to imitate.” 3:10 is the famous injunction that if anyone doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat. 3:11 refers to laziness. 3:12 is about earning a proper living, 3:13 about “well-doing.” So this is all behavior. No one disagrees.

This is not the case in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and its context.  It’s talking about doctrine, as St. John Chrysostom alludes to. In 2:10 Paul says that “they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” This is doctrine; not behavior. In 2:11 the non-elect “believe what is false.” In 2:12 they “did not believe the truth.” In 2:13 the elect are “saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” 2:14 mentions “our gospel.” Then we have the verse in question: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”

*

Now, when St. John Chrysostom refers back to this passage as dealing with “doctrine”, he is commenting on 2 Timothy 1:13-18, which is about doctrine and oral tradition. In 1:13-14 Paul is talking about the deposit of faith, which was passed on both orally and in writing:

Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; [14] guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

Then he moves onto another topic: people who “turned away” form him, and a good man Onesiphorus, who appears to be dead: whom he prays for (along with his household). I’ve written about that many times. Chrysostom (right after the quotation I produced from him) writes about the deposit of faith (or “apostles’ teaching”: Acts 2:42) — which is, of course, primarily doctrinal and theological — in relation to this passage:

After the manner of artists, I have impressed on you the image of virtue, fixing in your soul a sort of rule, and model, and outline of all things pleasing to God. These things then hold fast, and whether you are meditating any matter of faith or love, or of a sound mind, form from hence your ideas of them. It will not be necessary to have recourse to others for examples, when all has been deposited within yourself.

That good thing which was committed unto you keep,— how?— by the Holy Ghost which dwells in us. For it is not in the power of a human soul, when instructed with things so great, to be sufficient for the keeping of them. And why? Because there are many robbers, and thick darkness, and the devil still at hand to plot against us; and we know not what is the hour, what the occasion for him to set upon us. How then, he means, shall we be sufficient for the keeping of them? By the Holy Ghost; that is if we have the Spirit with us, if we do not expel grace, He will stand by us. For, Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. Psalm 127:1 This is our wall, this our castle, this our refuge. If therefore It dwells in us, and is Itself our guard, what need of the commandment? That we may hold It fast, may keep It, and not banish It by our evil deeds.

We need to take a step back and first inquire about the meaning of “tradition” in 2 Thessalonians 2:15. I find Gordon D. Fee’s comments on this passage helpful here:

That Paul intends the “traditions” in this case to refer to his own teaching is made certain by his twofold reference to its source: “whether by word of mouth,” thus referring to his own teaching when he was among them, “or by letter,” now referring to our 1 Thessalonians.” (Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New TestamentThe First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians

If Dave provides a counter-counter reply to this article (and I am somewhat certain that he will) , I would be interested in knowing if he agrees with what Gordon D. Fee says here. . . . 

The traditions, which Chrysostom speaks of as being “worthy of credit”, are the oral discourses of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians, not some infallible magisterium. Gordon D. Fee, a New Testament scholar, agrees with me on this point in his commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:15. 
*
. . . the point remains that this isn’t referring to anything other than the teaching of Paul in Thessalonica, which Gordon Fee agrees with me upon.
*
I think that there is no unquestionable information in the actual text that would require us to believe that Paul is referring only to his teachings to the Thessalonians, as opposed to his entire “gospel” or “tradition” or “deposit of faith” that he passes on to all who follow his teachings. I’d like to see what arguments Dr. Fee provides (if any) for making such a conclusion. In a sense, I agree, what they received from Paul was both his two letters and his oral preaching, and they wouldn’t necessarily know about any other of his letters. But that doesn’t make his message somehow unique to them and essentially different from what he delivers to all who listen to him. And what they learned from him is partly — indeed likely mostly — oral (2 Thess 2:15; cf. 1 Thess 2:9, 13).
*

In St. Paul’s epistles (I noted in my first book in 1996), tradition, gospel, and word of God are synonymous concepts. They’re all predominantly oral, not written, and are referred to as being “delivered” and “received”:

1 Corinthians 11:2  . . . maintain the traditions . .  . . even as I have delivered them to you.

2 Thessalonians 2:15  . . . hold to the traditions . . . .  taught . . . by word of mouth or by letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:6  . . . the tradition that you received from us.

1 Corinthians 15:1  . . . the gospel, which you received . . .

Galatians 1:9  . . . the gospel . . . which you received.

1 Thessalonians 2:9  . . . we preached to you the gospel of God.

1 Thessalonians 2:13  . . . you received the word of God, which you heard from us, . . . (cf. Acts 8:14)

In RSV, Paul uses the terminology “my gospel” in writing to the Romans (2:16; 16:25) and also to Timothy (2 Tim 2:8). He uses “our gospel” in writing to the Corinthians (2 Cor 4:3) and the Thessalonians (1 Thess 1:5; 2 Thess 2:14). He uses “the gospel” many times. He also uses a term like, for example, “the faith” (referring to the apostolic deposit: i.e., Christianity) many times, as he also does by using the term “the truth” in many instances. He also uses terms like “the commandment” (1 Tim 6:14) and “the doctrine” (Rom 16:17; 1 Tim 4:6; Titus 2:10) and “teaching” (Rom 6:17; 1 Tim 4:16; 6:1) and “message” (1 Cor 2:4; 2 Cor 5:19; 2 Tim 4:15, 17) and “covenant” (2 Cor 3:6). It all amounts to the same thing. These terms (with “tradition” and “word of God”) are essentially interchangeable. They certainly don’t refer to one particular message he delivered to only one local church / congregation.

***

Matt made another counter-reply. I didn’t think it accomplished anything and so wrote in his combox: “There’s nowhere else to go with this. I thought I hit a grand slam and you think I proved absolutely nothing. LOL We’re pretty much talking past each other. So, time to move on from this one.”

*

Summary: Matt Hedges: a Reformed Protestant apologist , attempts to show that St. John Chrysostom believed in sola Scriptura. But beyond that falsehood, he didn’t even get the definition right in the first place.

***

February 17, 2021

Dr. Lydia McGrew is a traditional Anglican philosopher. I am very fond of her and her work. I posted a little quotation from St. John Henry  Newman (as an Anglican) about prayer for the dead and tagged her on Facebook. She showed up and we got into a great discussion (always the case with her). Her words will be in blue.

*****

Anglican Newman on St. Paul’s Prayer for the Dead (Onesiphorus)
[W]hat does St Paul mean when he says of Onesiphorus ’The Lord grant him to find mercy of the Lord in that day?’ [2 Tim 1:16-18; cf. 4:19] Did his prayer go for nothing? To say that he prayed that Onesiphorus might so conduct himself on earth as to receive mercy at the Judgment seems a refinement; not to say that from the run of the passage Onesiphorus seems to be dead when St Paul wrote.
Letters & Diaries, vol. 10; To Anthony John Hanmer, 16 March 1844
*
I’m not convinced he was dead.
*
That’s one way to get out of it. See:
*
*
Also, prayers for the dead are not the same as prayers to the dead.
*
Yep.
*
At this point I lean towards accommodating some type of prayers for the dead, though carefully kept in check so that they don’t assume knowledge we don’t have (about how or whether they are effective). I have much bigger hesitations about prayers to the dead.
*
Fair enough, given your overall position.
*
Was Peter praying for the dead with regard to Tabitha? If not, what was he praying for in 9:40?:
*
Acts 9:36-37, 40 (RSV) Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. [37] In those days she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. . . . [40] But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.
*
And did Jesus pray for a dead man, Lazarus? If not, what was He praying for in 11:41?:
*
John 11:41-44 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. [42] I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” [43] When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Laz’arus, come out.” [44] The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
*
Elijah and Elisha also prayed for the dead before they were raised; therefore, they prayed for the dead, and it is recorded in Scripture:
*
Elijah: 1 Kings 17:17-24 (17:21: “Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.”).
*
Elisha: 2 Kings 4:18-37 (4:33: “So he went in and shut the door upon the two of them, and prayed to the LORD.”).
*
They’re all certainly talking to / addressing dead people, which many Protestants tell us the Bible and Christianity absolutely forbid.
*
I don’t think you’re helping your case with situations where a prophet (or God Incarnate) prays for the resurrection of a dead person. Those are not the situation we are in and are not what is usually meant by prayers for the dead. What is meant by that is prayer for his state in the afterlife. I’m not, as I said, entirely closed to epistemically modest prayers for his state in the afterlife, but I think those should be kept sharply distinct from an apostle’s prayer asking God to enable him to raise someone from the dead to ordinary life here on earth–a literal miracle.
*
Sure there is a difference, but I never denied that there was. So what were Jesus and Peter praying for when they prayed? What is it if it wasn’t prayer for a dead person: to rise from the dead? And that is undeniably a species of prayer for the dead: just a special, very rare kind.
*
Those are not the situation we are in
*
Jesus rather matter-of-factly refers to raising people from the dead:
*
Matthew 10:8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.
*
One may argue that these were His first disciples, and that He specifically gave them “authority” (10:1), but the rest of the chapter is usually applied to the Christian believer in general.
*
*
I just think that’s a red herring. It isn’t even what Protestants and Catholics are debating when they differ about prayers for the dead. By the way, it’s very interesting to me that neither Protestant nor Catholic doctrine provides for an afterlife that is metaphysically indeterminate as far as whether or not the person is eventually going to go to heaven. In both systems, that is determined at the time of death. But let’s admit that the places where we are most inclined (psychologically) to pray for someone dead are the places where we are worried about whether he was saved, died in a state of grace, etc.
*
In fact, the Pauline prayer you quote above seems to be a prayer about Onesiphorus’s ultimate spiritual destiny. If it’s legitimate and effective to pray for someone to be ultimately saved after that person has died, both Protestant and Catholic theologies are going to have to come up with an explanation for this–perhaps the prayer’s affecting some timeless reality or something. Or else introduce a literally metaphysically ambiguous state after death, which neither system now has.
*
Interesting point (I’ll have to think more about that). You still don’t tell me what Jesus and Peter were praying for and how it is not “prayer for the dead.” Special cases (granted). Nevertheless, it’s still a legitimate consideration and related to the overall question at hand. There are always rare or special cases with regard to anything.
*
It’s just an ambiguity on the term. I do not at all see that it provides evidence for the effectiveness of prayers for the dead in the relevant sense that Catholics and Protestants debate over. It isn’t something you would pray for everyone, for example, whereas if prayers for the dead in the relevant sense are legit, one could pray them for everyone, or at least for all Christian dead, at a minimum. Prayers for a resurrection also have a completely clear meaning, which prayers for the dead in the relevant sense don’t have. And so forth.
*
I guess I would posit one of two scenarios in Paul’s prayer for Onesiphorus (“may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day”):
*
1) By “mercy” he might mean “less ‘time’ in purgatory”; whereby God would extend mercy with regard to the degree of temporal punishment for sins; i.e., Onesiphorus would get to heaven in an easier fashion.
*
2) Or it is a retroactive prayer regarding Onesiphorus’ salvation: applied backwards in time (from our perspective), but able to be prayed because God is outside of time and can apply our prayers to the past.
*
But they did pray for the dead, right? In this case, they prayed that they would be raised, which is a species of prayer for the dead. I am not denying that it is a special case. I’m not claiming for the argument more than it delivers.
*
I think it’s irrelevant to the question of whether or not there is such a thing as an effective prayer for someone’s better state in the afterlife. A prayer for a resurrection is a prayer for an event in this world–either as a sign to others, or to send a person back here because he’s needed here, or both.
*
So by this response you keep making I will assume that you grant that it is a species of prayer for the dead, but a very rare one, so that it has no analogy or relevance to “run-of-the-mill” / “normative” [in some Christian traditions] prayers for the dead in purgatory.
*
I say it proves what it proves. It’s an example of one particular type of prayer for dead people, and we have four examples in Holy Scripture: Elijah, Elisha, St. Peter, and Jesus.
*
Intercessory requests made to dead people are of course taught by Jesus in his story (not parable!) of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16). Abraham is prayed to and asked to grant two requests. His answer was “no” in both cases, but he never rebuked the rich man for praying to him or asking him to intercede to God.
*
In other words, a refusal to grant a prayer request is conceptually distinct from a denial that the request ought to be made at all to a [dead] creature, as opposed to God.
*
Therefore, the practice is proper, and (rather explicitly and undeniably) taught by Jesus Himself.
*
King Saul also made a petitionary request of Samuel (though he summoned him in a sinful way: through a medium). Nevertheless, it really was Samuel, and Saul did make a petition: “I am in great distress; for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do” (1 Samuel 28:15).
*
Again, Samuel didn’t say, “why are you asking me; don’t you know you can only ask God for things and not dead human beings?” Instead, Samuel said: “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy?” (1 Sam 28:16). In other words, in effect he says, “why are you praying at all: whether to me as an intermediary, or to God, since you have rebelled against God and He has turned from you also?”
*
None of this shows that we must never communicate with at all, or ask the intercession of, notable dead people like Samuel or Abraham. All it shows is that they turned down the requests (but because they were against God’s will, rather than due to a supposed prohibition against such a thing ever happening at all).
*
Related Reading
*
*
***
*
Photo credit: Tabitha is raised from the dead by Peter’s prayer (1712), by Jan Luyken (1649-1712 ) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication]
*
***
January 15, 2021

This is an installment of a series of replies (see the Introduction and Master List) to much of Book IV (Of the Holy Catholic Church) — and some portions of Books I-III — of Institutes of the Christian Religion, by early Protestant leader John Calvin (1509-1564). I utilize the public domain translation of Henry Beveridge, dated 1846, from the 1559 edition in Latin; available online. Calvin’s words will be in blue. All biblical citations (in my portions) will be from RSV unless otherwise noted.

Related reading from yours truly:

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

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

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

*****

III, 5:6-9 

***

6. Their purgatory cannot now give us much trouble, since with this axe we have struck it, thrown it down, and overturned it from its very foundations. I cannot agree with some who think that we ought to dissemble in this matter, and make no mention of purgatory, from which (as they say) fierce contests arise, and very little edification can be obtained. I myself would think it right to disregard their follies did they not tend to serious consequences. But since purgatory has been reared on many, and is daily propped up by new blasphemies; since it produces many grievous offences, assuredly it is not to be connived at, however it might have been disguised for a time, that without any authority from the word of God, it was devised by prying audacious rashness, that credit was procured for it by fictitious revelations, the wiles of Satan, and that certain passages of Scripture were ignorantly wrested to its support. Although the Lord bears not that human presumption should thus force its way to the hidden recesses of his judgments; although he has issued a strict prohibition against neglecting his voice, and making inquiry at the dead (Deut. xviii. 11), and permits not his word to be so erroneously contaminated.

Praying for the souls in purgatory is not at all the same as necromancy, or sorcery, or occult, etc.:

Invocation of the Saints = Necromancy? [10-18-08]

Secondly, if God had supposedly forbidden all contact with the dead whatsoever, how is it that the prophet Samuel actually appeared and talked to Saul, and prophesied of his coming doom (1 Sam 28:3-25)? Why would God allow that? Since God can’t contradict Himself, this must necessarily be an error on Calvin’s part, and an example of his novel and anti-traditional theology “ignorantly wrested.”

Let us grant, however, that all this might have been tolerated for a time as a thing of no great moment;

Purgatory having been believed by the Christian Church for the “time” of 1500 years till Calvin arbitrarily and groundlessly decided it was unChristian . . .

yet when the expiation of sins is sought elsewhere than in the blood of Christ, and satisfaction is transferred to others, silence were most perilous.

Of course, nothing in the doctrine of purgatory denies, or is contrary to the blood of Christ (since, in the first place, all who are there are already saved and will go to heaven in due course). Calvin simply falsely assumes it is, offering no biblical proof to the contrary.

We are bound, therefore, to raise our voice to its highest pitch, and cry aloud that purgatory is a deadly device of Satan; that it makes void the cross of Christ; that it offers intolerable insult to the divine mercy; that it undermines and overthrows our faith.

Calvin can rant and raise his voice all he likes. It’ll do no good unless he overthrows the considerable testimony of Scripture to purgatory.

For what is this purgatory but the satisfaction for sin paid after death by the souls of the dead? Hence when this idea of satisfaction is refuted, purgatory itself is forthwith completely overturned. But if it is perfectly clear, from what was lately said, that the blood of Christ is the only satisfaction, expiation, and cleansing for the sins of believers, what remains but to hold that purgatory is mere blasphemy, horrid blasphemy against Christ? I say nothing of the sacrilege by which it is daily defended, the offences which it begets in religion, and the other innumerable evils which we see teeming forth from that fountain of impiety.

It would be blasphemous if it were indeed not taught in Scripture, but the Bible has plenty of examples of sinners being cleansed, purged, purified, etc., of sin. I myself found fifty of these:

50 Bible Passages on Purgatory & Analogous Processes [2009]

25 Bible Passages on Purgatory [1996]

One of Calvin’s big heroes, St. Augustine, believed in penance, prayer for the dead, and purgatory along with all the other Church fathers:

In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance . . . (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15, 8:16)

[A] man is detained temporally in punishment even when by his guilt he is no longer held liable to eternal damnation. (Homilies on John, 124, 5)

For some of the dead, indeed, the prayer of the Church or of pious individuals is heard; but it is for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not spend their life so wickedly that they can be judged unworthy of such compassion, nor so well that they can be considered to have no need of it. (The City of God, XXI, 24, 2; NPNF 1, Vol. II)

The man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and after this life he will have either purgatorial fire or eternal punishment. (Genesis Defended Against the Manicheans, 2, 20, 30)

As also, after the resurrection, there will be some of the dead to whom, after they have endured the pains proper to the spirits of the dead, mercy shall be accorded, and acquittal from the punishment of the eternal fire. For were there not some whose sins, though not remitted in this life, shall be remitted in that which is to come, it could not be truly said, “They shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, neither in that which is to come.” (The City of God, XXI, 24, 2; NPNF 1, Vol. II)

Does Calvin therefore conclude that he was a blasphemer, guilty of sacrilege? He’ll never say that, and this is part and parcel of the incoherence of his position. It’s historically and biblically ludicrous.

7. Those passages of Scripture on which it is their wont falsely and iniquitously to fasten, it may be worth while to wrench out of their hands. When the Lord declares that the sin against the Holy Ghost will not be forgiven either in this world or the world to come, he thereby intimates (they say) that there is a remission of certain sins hereafter. But who sees not that the Lord there speaks of the guilt of sin? But if this is so, what has it to do with their purgatory, seeing they deny not that the guilt of those sins, the punishment of which is there expiated, is forgiven in the present life?

But that text also makes clear that forgiveness for sin is also possible after we die, and this is the whole point. What sense does that make in Protestant theology, where all such processes are confined to this life? Forgiveness that occurs in the afterlife is the essence of purgatory, in the sense that satisfaction for this remaining sin is made through penitential suffering.

Lest, however, they should still object, we shall give a plainer solution. Since it was the Lord’s intention to cut off all hope of pardon from this flagitious wickedness, he did not consider it enough to say, that it would never be forgiven, but in the way of amplification, employed a division by which he included both the judgment which every man’s conscience pronounces in the present life, and the final judgment which will be publicly pronounced at the resurrection; as if he had said, Beware of this malignant rebellion, as you would of instant destruction; for he who of set purpose endeavours to extinguish the offered light of the Spirit, shall not obtain pardon either in this life, which has been given to sinners for conversion, or on the last day when the angels of God shall separate the sheep from the goats, and the heavenly kingdom shall be purged of all that offends.

The problem here is that Calvin attempts to collapse the passage into a question of damnation or salvation, rather than forgiveness of sins, which it clearly has to do with (see Mt 12:31-32). He pretty much has to, given his theology, or else change that theology. When Jesus says, “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (12:32), it’s clear that He doesn’t mean salvation, because one can lose that before death; thus saying they can also lose it after death would be redundant, as both Catholics and Protestants believe that we are judged for what we do in this life.

If committing this unforgivable sin were a synonym for damnation, then Jesus would say so plainly, and simply say, “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will be lost forever” or some such. But He’s not saying that. St. Francis de Sales observed in The Catholic Controversy:

If sins can be pardoned in the “age to come” (the afterlife), again, in the nature of things, this must be in purgatory. We would laugh at a man who said that he would not marry in this world or the next (as if he could in the next — see Mark 12:25). If this sin cannot be forgiven after death, it follows that there are others which can be. Accordingly, this interpretation was held by St. Augustine, [City of God, 21:24] St. Gregory the Great, [Dialogues, 4,39] Bede, [Commentary on Mark 3] and St. Bernard, [Homily 66 in Cant.] among others.

Thus, this forgiveness after death refers to the reception of forgiveness through penitential suffering in purgatory, as St. Augustine taught above.

The next passage they produce is the parable in Matthew: “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing” (Matth. v. 25, 26). If in this passage the judge means God, the adversary the devil, the officer an angel, and the prison purgatory, I give in at once. But if every man sees that Christ there intended to show to how many perils and evils those expose themselves who obstinately insist on their utmost right, instead of being satisfied with what is fair and equitable, that he might thereby the more strongly exhort his followers to concord, where, I ask, are we to find their purgatory?

St. Francis de Sales again offers the reply, in the same work:

Origen, St. Cyprian, St. Hilary, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine say that the way which is meant in the whilst thou art in the way [while you are going with him to court] is no other than the passage of the present life: the adversary [accuser] will be our own conscience, . . . as St. Ambrose expounds, and Bede, St. Augustine, St. Gregory [the Great], and St. Bernard. Lastly, the judge is without doubt Our Lord . . . The prison, again, is . . . the place of punishment in the other world, in which, as in a large jail, there are many buildings; one for those who are damned, which is as it were for criminals, the other for those in Purgatory, which is as it were for debt. The farthing, [penny] . . . are little sins and infirmities, as the farthing is the smallest money one can owe.

Now let us consider a little where this repayment . . . is to be made. And we find from most ancient Fathers that it is in Purgatory: Tertullian [The Soul, 100, 10], Cyprian [Epistle 4, 2], Origen [Homily 35 on Luke 12], . . . St. Ambrose [Commentary on Luke 12], St. Jerome [Commentary on Matthew 5] . . . Who sees not that in St. Luke the comparison is drawn, not from a murderer or some criminal, who can have no hope of escape, but from a debtor who is thrown into prison till payment, and when this is made is at once let out? This then is the meaning of Our Lord, that whilst we are in this world we should try by penitence and its fruits to pay, according to the power which we have by the blood of the Redeemer, the penalty to which our sins have subjected us; since if we wait till death we shall not have such good terms in Purgatory, when we shall be treated with severity of justice. [

8. They seek an argument in the passage in which Paul declares, that all things shall bow the knee to Christ, “things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Phil. ii. 10). They take it for granted, that by “things under the earth” cannot be meant those who are doomed to eternal damnation, and that the only remaining conclusion is, that they must be souls suffering in purgatory. They would not reason very ill if, by the bending of the knee, the Apostle designated true worship; but since he simply says that Christ has received a dominion to which all creatures are subject, what prevents us from understanding those “under the earth” to mean the devils, who shall certainly be sisted before the judgment-seat of God, there to recognise their Judge with fear and trembling? In this way Paul himself elsewhere interprets the same prophecy: “We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom. xiv. 10, 11). But we cannot in this way interpret what is said in the Apocalypse: “Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever” (Rev. v. 13). This I readily admit; but what kinds of creatures do they suppose are here enumerated? It is absolutely certain, that both irrational and inanimate creatures are comprehended. All, then, which is affirmed is, that every part of the universe, from the highest pinnacle of heaven to the very centre of the earth, each in its own way proclaims the glory of the Creator.

The Catholic Apologetics Info. page (“Purgatory – Biblical and Patristic Insight”) rebuts this:

If God refuses to receive prayer, praise and worship from the unrepentant sinner (as shown in :Psalm 66:18, Proverbs 1:28-30, Isaiah 1:15, 59:2, Jeremiah 6:20, Amos 5:21-24, Micah 3:4, Malachi 1:10, John 9:31, Hebrews 10:38), why would He permit the damned to undertake this practice? Furthermore, if God does not compel human beings to follow Him and to enjoy His presence for eternity contrary to their free will, then it seems that He would not – as far as we can tell from Scripture – compel them to praise Him, as this would be meaningless, if not repulsive.

Therefore, under the earth must refer to purgatory. Revelation 5:13 especially makes sense under this interpretation, as the praise spoken there does not in any way appear forced, but rather, heartfelt and seemingly spontaneous (which would not be at all expected of persons eternally consigned to hell – see Matthew 8:29, Luke 4:34, 8:28, James 2:19).

To the passage which they produce from the history of the Maccabees (1 Maccab. xii. 43),

He really means 2 Maccabees 12:43.

I will not deign to reply, lest I should seem to include that work among the canonical books. But Augustine holds it to be canonical. First, with what degree of confidence? “The Jews,” says he, “do not hold the book of the Maccabees as they do the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, to which the Lord bears testimony as to his own witnesses, saying, Ought not all things which are written in the Law, and the Psalms, and the Prophets, concerning me be fulfilled? (Luke xxiv. 44.) But it has been received by the Church not uselessly, if it be read or heard with soberness.” Jerome, however, unhesitatingly affirms, that it is of no authority in establishing doctrine; and from the ancient little book, De Expositione Symboli, which bears the name of Cyprian, it is plain that it was in no estimation in the ancient Church.

It’s not true that the ancient Church rejected it as canonical:

Pope Damasus I‘s Council of Rome in 382, if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical with the list given at Trent including the two books of Maccabees. Origen of Alexandria (A.D. 253),[19] Augustine of Hippo (c. 397 AD),[20] Pope Innocent I (405 AD),[21][22] Synod of Hippo (393 AD),[23] the Council of Carthage (397 AD),[24] the Council of Carthage (419 AD),[25] the Apostolic Canons,[26] the Council of Florence (1442 AD)[27] and the Council of Trent (1546 AD)[28] listed the first two books of Maccabees as canonical. (Wikipedia, “2 Maccabees”)

The synods of Hippo and Carthage are the same councils that Protestants cite as regards the New Testament canon. But they also include the deuterocanon. St. Augustine holds the book to be part of the “canon of Scripture” and “the Old Testament” (On Christian Doctrine, Book II, Chapter 8, section 13: “The Canonical Books”; NPNF 1, Vol. II). Martin Luther thought that the teaching of purgatory was “quite plain” in the book.

And why do I here contend in vain? As if the author himself did not sufficiently show what degree of deference is to be paid him, when in the end he asks pardon for anything less properly expressed (2 Maccab. xv. 38). He who confesses that his writings stand in need of pardon, certainly proclaims that they are not oracles of the Holy Spirit.

2 Maccabees 15:38 (RSV) If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do.

The problem with this argument of Calvin’s is that it proves too much, because it would also apply to Moses:

Exodus 4:10-12 But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” [11] Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? [12] Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

God allowed Aaron to speak for Moses (4:13-16), but we notice that Aaron didn’t write the first five books of the Bible, as Moses did (Ex 17:14; 34:27; Dt 31:1, 9). So if God chose him to do that, we can be sure that His guiding inspiration was sufficient to overcome Moses’ lack of eloquence and self-confidence. And so by analogy, could it very well be also for the author of 2 Maccabees.

We may add, that the piety of Judas is commended for no other reason than for having a firm hope of the final resurrection, in sending his oblation for the dead to Jerusalem. For the writer of the history does not represent what he did as furnishing the price of redemption, but merely that they might be partakers of eternal life, with the other saints who had fallen for their country and religion. The act, indeed, was not free from superstition and misguided zeal; but it is mere fatuity to extend the legal sacrifice to us, seeing we are assured that the sacrifices then in use ceased on the advent of Christ.

Why, then, does Paul pray for the dead Onesiphorus? Why does he refer to people being baptized for the dead (i.e., doing penance for them)? Nothing changed in that respect from the Old Testament.

9. But, it seems, they find in Paul an invincible support, which cannot be so easily overthrown. His words are, “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. iii. 12—15). What fire (they ask) can that be but the fire of purgatory, by which the defilements of sin are wiped away, in order that we may enter pure into the kingdom of God? But most of the Fathers give it a different meaning—viz. the tribulation or cross by which the Lord tries his people, that they may not rest satisfied with the defilements of the flesh. This is much more probable than the fiction of a purgatory. I do not, however, agree with them, for I think I see a much surer and clearer meaning to the passage. But, before I produce it, I wish they would answer me, whether they think the Apostle and all the saints have to pass through this purgatorial fire? I am aware they will say, no; for it were too absurd to hold that purification is required by those whose superfluous merits they dream of as applicable to all the members of the Church. But this the Apostle affirms; for he says, not that the works of certain persons, but the works of all will be tried. And this is not my argument, but that of Augustine, who thus impugns that interpretation. And (what makes the thing more absurd) he says, not that they will pass through fire for certain works, but that even if they should have edified the Church with the greatest fidelity, they will receive their reward after their works shall have been tried by fire. First, we see that the Apostle used a metaphor when he gave the names of wood, hay, and stubble, to doctrines of man’s device. The ground of the metaphor is obvious—viz. that as wood when it is put into the fire is consumed and destroyed, so neither will those doctrines be able to endure when they come to be tried. Moreover, every one sees that the trial is made by the Spirit of God. Therefore, in following out the thread of the metaphor, and adapting its parts properly to each other, he gave the name of fire to the examination of the Holy Spirit. For just as silver and gold, the nearer they are brought to the fire, give stronger proof of their genuineness and purity, so the Lord’s truth, the more thoroughly it is submitted to spiritual examination, has its authority the better confirmed. As hay, wood, and stubble, when the fire is applied to them, are suddenly consumed, so the inventions of man, not founded on the word of God, cannot stand the trial of the Holy Spirit, but forthwith give way and perish. In fine, if spurious doctrines are compared to wood, hay, and stubble, because, like wood, hay, and stubble, they are burned by fire and fitted for destruction, though the actual destruction is only completed by the Spirit of the Lord, it follows that the Spirit is that fire by which they will be proved. This proof Paul calls the day of the Lord; using a term common in Scripture. For the day of the Lord is said to take place whenever he in some way manifests his presence to men, his face being specially said to shine when his truth is manifested. It has now been proved, that Paul has no idea of any other fire than the trial of the Holy Spirit. But how are those who suffer the loss of their works saved by fire? This it will not be difficult to understand, if we consider of what kind of persons he speaks. For he designates them builders of the Church, who, retaining the proper foundation, build different materials upon it; that is, who, not abandoning the principal and necessary articles of faith, err in minor and less perilous matters, mingling their own fictions with the word of God. Such, I say, must suffer the loss of their work by the destruction of their fictions. They themselves, however, are saved, yet so as by fire; that is, not that their ignorance and delusions are approved by the Lord, but they are purified from them by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. All those, accordingly, who have tainted the golden purity of the divine word with the pollution of purgatory, must necessarily suffer the loss of their work.

I have dealt with this specific passage:

Purgatory: Refutation of James White (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) [3-3-07]

Purification or purgation by fire (or similar terms like “burning” and “refined” is a common scriptural motif:

Psalm 66:12 (RSV) . . . we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place. (cf. 12:6)

Isaiah 4:4 When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.

Isaiah 48:10 Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.

Zechariah 13:1, 9 On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness. . . . [9] And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested . . .

Malachi 3:2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:

1 Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

***

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

***

November 8, 2020

Luke Wayne has been a writer and researcher for the large Protestant online forum CARM since January of 2016. He is an elder at the Mission Church in South Jordan, Utah and holds a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College and a Masters in Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I’m responding to his article, “Purgatory and 2 Maccabees 12:39-45” (1-30-17). Luke’s words will be in blue.

*****

[P]urgatory teaches that people who die while in God’s grace but who are not sufficiently purified of their sinfulness to enter God’s presence must undergo a time of purification through temporary suffering in the torments of purgatory. . . . Such a doctrine would seem to imply that Christ’s sufferings were insufficient to sanctify the believer, . . . 

I don’t see how it nullifies the sufficiency of Christ’s work for us, seeing that we all have to be sinless to enter heaven:

Revelation 21:27 (RSV) But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

The Bible is full of the motif of being purified, purged, and washed clean (the central notion of purgatory). I have found 50 such passages. Protestants also agree with Bible passages having to do with the judgment seat of Christ, which is for the believers or the saved / elect only, and the idea of the works of those who are saved being tested by fire:

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. [12] Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — [13] each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. [14] If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. [15] If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.

Romans 14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God;

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

Ephesians 6:8 knowing that whatever good any one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.

So it seems to me that Catholics and Protestants can fully, wholeheartedly agree that one will be literally without sin (not just declared to be) when they enter heaven. We only differ as to whether a process takes place to accomplish this, or whether it is more or less instantaneous. In any event, neither Catholic nor Protestant eschatological doctrine in this regard takes away from Christ’s redemptive, salvific, justifying work on the cross on our behalf, in the slightest.

Unfortunately for the Roman Catholic apologist, however, the passage in 2 Maccabees doesn’t say anything about purgatory, nor does it in any way imply the Roman Catholic dogma.

Luke’s (rather clever but fallacious) argument is that this passage (even if it is granted to be part of Scripture: which the Protestant doesn’t grant) doesn’t even affirm the Catholic notion of purgatory in the first place. He notes that the passage implies that each dead soldier was guilty of idolatry:

2 Maccabees 12:39-42a On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. [40] Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. [41] So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; [42] and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. . . .

Luke develops his argument based on the ostensible serious sins committed in this instance, and alleged Catholic internal inconsistencies:

Purgatory is only for those who have died in God’s grace. If someone dies while guilty of a mortal sin for which they have made no absolution, they die outside of God’s grace and under His wrath. . . . They will be justly punished in hell.

It’s what he then concludes, that doesn’t necessarily logically follow, according to the Bible, logic, and Catholic teaching:

Roman Catholic teaching regards willful idolatry committed in full knowledge of God’s moral law to be a mortal sin.

“Full knowledge” is the key phrase here. Whether they were condemned to hell or not would depend on whether all these soldiers had “full knowledge” of their evil.

The passage is clear that these were not ignorant pagans. They were Jews who knew that what they were doing was forbidden by God’s law. These men died in unrepentant, willful idolatry and active devotion to false gods.

We can’t know that for sure. If we know anything from the long, sordid history of the ancient Jews, as recorded in the Old Testament, we know that they often descended into periods of disobedience to God’s law, and the Mosaic law. Yes, it was often willful disobedience. But must it be thought to be so in every single case? No; we simply can’t know that. And the Old Testament frequently refers to lack of “knowledge”:

Hosea 4:1, 6 . . . There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; . . . [6] My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; . . .

Psalm 82:5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; . . .

Isaiah 5:13 Therefore my people go into exile for want of knowledge; . . .

Isaiah 45:20 . . . They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, . . .

Isaiah 56:10 His watchmen are blind, they are all without knowledge; . . .

Jeremiah 10:14 Every man is stupid and without knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols; for his images are false, and there is no breath in them. (cf. 14:18; 51:17)

In the New Testament also, it’s plainly taught that we are judged (and are “culpable”) based on the extent of our knowledge: which is part and parcel and directly related to the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin:

Luke 12:47-48 And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. [48] But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.

Luke 23:34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” . . .

John 9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

John 19:11 . . . he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.

1 Timothy 1:13 . . . I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,

Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.

All of this would apply to these dead men who had idols on their bodies. Some may have been ignorant of what the Law taught. This was a massive problem throughout Jewish history. Some may not have accepted idolatry with a full consent of their will (which is a Catholic requirement for mortal sin to be subjectively present, as well as objectively. Failing those things, they may not have been condemned to hell at all, and would be exactly the sort of person who is saved “only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15), and is thus fit to be prayed for after death, according to the Catholic biblical rationale for such prayers. But they cannot all be said to be damned, which would preclude prayers; and this is Luke’s argument, which is now shown, I believe, to be fallacious and unbiblical.

It’s completely in accord with Jewish practice, that these men should have been prayed for, just as Moses prayed for his people and even made atonement for them, even in cases of very serious sin and rebellion indeed, including the sin of idolatry (Ex 32:30-32; Num 14:19-23; 16:46-48; 25:1-13). After all, St. Paul prayed for a dead man, too:

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

And the Bible refers to what I believe is fasting and other penitential works on behalf of the dead:

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

Luke contends that the dead soldiers were all damned because of this passage:

2 Maccabees 12:42b . . . And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen.

He neglects to differentiate between judgment and the individual salvific fate of each person. For example, when King Saul was judged by God for his sins, by losing a battle and being brought to a place where he decided to kill himself, his son Jonathan, who was righteous and a soulmate of David, was also killed. He was being loyal to his father. But the extent of sin of these two men was vastly different. We know that when entire countries are judged, it doesn’t follow that there are no righteous people in them. Thus, the prophet Jeremiah was also part of the judgment on Israel, when Babylon conquered it in the 6th century BC: even though he had warned them for some 60 years of the impending invasion.

Therefore, in this instance, the Bible is making a general statement: idolatry is bad and will bring judgment. It doesn’t follow that each individual was culpable and fully guilty, subjectively, for the sin of idolatry in its fullest, willful sense. This being the case, they can be prayed for. And God can apply prayers backwards in time, because He is outside of time (something that many Protestants agree with). Therefore, the prayers for these men cold be conceptualized as being applied to then before they died: that each would repent of idolatry. In this case, it would not be “prayer for the dead” per se, but prayer for dead men, before they died.

It still remains for Luke to explain how the survivors were “praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out.” They must have believed that forgiveness was in some sense still available to these men, and it could have been on the basis which I have explained: either differential culpability or “retroactive prayer.” For the Old Testament Jews believed that a condemned, damned man was beyond prayer, just as Christians do:

Job 7:9 As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up;

Psalm 89:48 . . . Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? (cf. 49:14; Prov 30:16)

Isaiah 14:11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are the bed beneath you, and worms are your covering.

Isaiah 38:18 . . . I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years.

The rest of the passage under consideration is fully in accord with the above understanding, but doesn’t make sense under Luke’s assumption that all the men were damned:

2 Maccabees 12:43-45 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. [44] For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. [45] But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. [note the similarity with 1 Corinthians 15:29 above]

Luke contends that the men do this because “of the expectation of a future resurrection. It is not because these men were presently confined to the sufferings of purgatory and hoping for release.” He’s right about the first clause (it means they weren’t regarded as damned), but wrong about the second. They would not have understood purgatory, as the afterlife at that time was only dimly understood or defined. But the hopes of a resurrection, leading to prayer on their behalf, is consistent with the notion of a middle state: not damnation nor ultimate salvation. And this is consistent with purgatory and also the scenario of a divided Hades / Sheol which was taught by Jesus in Luke 16. It’s not consistent with all the men being damned, because then it would make no sense to pray or atone for them at all.

Judas wanted these men to share in the reward of the righteous on the day of resurrection. He was not considering the present reality of their death and any suffering their souls might currently be enduring. His focus was the future hope of their physical life.

Exactly! In precisely the same manner and spirit, Catholics pray for immaterial souls to be delivered to purgatory, and to heaven, where they will receive resurrected, glorified bodies.

It reports the act of a general who loved his men and believed in the resurrection of the dead, and so he offered atoning sacrifices at the temple in hopes that God might accept them, forgive these men, and grant them eternal life and reward instead of a future of suffering.

Indeed; just as Catholics pray for the dead, like Paul did (2 Tim 1:16-18), and do penance for them (1 Cor 15:29). It’s simply the continuation of praying for each other on earth.

His hope was not to shorten their stay in some form of purgatory but rather to mediate their release from sin, death, and hell.

I see no difference between “that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Mac 12:45) and Catholics praying for the deliverance of a soul from purgatory. In both instances the time of suffering is shortened. No essential difference whatsoever . . .

***

Photo credit: [public domain / PxFuel]

***

August 20, 2020

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

Related reading from yours truly:

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

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

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

*****

III, 5:10 

***

When, therefore, my opponents object, that it has been the practice for thirteen hundred years to offer prayers for the dead, I, in return, ask them, by what word of God, by what revelation, by what example it was done? For here not only are passages of Scripture wanting, but in the examples of all the saints of whom we read, nothing of the kind is seen. We have numerous, and sometimes long narratives, of their mourning and sepulchral rites, but not one word is said of prayers. But the more important the matter was, the more they ought to have dwelt upon it. . . .

We ought not to indulge our love so far as to set up a perverse mode of prayer in the Church. Surely every person possessed of the least prudence easily perceives, that whatever we meet with on this subject in ancient writers, was in deference to public custom and the ignorance of the vulgar. I admit they were themselves also carried away into error, the usual effect of rash credulity being to destroy the judgment. Meanwhile the passages themselves show, that when they recommended prayer for the dead it was with hesitation. Augustine relates in his Confessions, that his mother, Monica, earnestly entreated to be remembered when the solemn rites at the altar were performed; doubtless an old woman’s wish, which her son did not bring to the test of Scripture, but from natural affection wished others to approve. His book, De Cura pro Mortals Agenda, On showing Care for the Dead, is so full of doubt, that its coldness may well extinguish the heat of a foolish zeal. Should any one, in pretending to be a patron of the dead, deal merely in probabilities, the only effect will be to make those indifferent who were formerly solicitous.

The only support of this dogma is, that as a custom of praying for the dead prevailed, the duty ought not to be despised. But granting that ancient ecclesiastical writers deemed it a pious thing to assist the dead, the rule which can never deceive is always to be observed—viz. that we must not introduce anything of our own into our prayers, but must keep all our wishes in subordination to the word of God, because it belongs to Him to prescribe what he wishes us to ask. Now, since the whole Law and Gospel do not contain one syllable which countenances the right of praying for the dead, it is a profanation of prayer to go one step farther than God enjoins. . . . I say nothing of those grosser superstitions by which they have fascinated the minds of the simple; and yet they are innumerable, and most of them so monstrous, that they cannot cover them with any cloak of decency. (III, 5:10)

Yet again, Calvin seems to have missed the portions of Scripture that his theology predisposes him to oppose. Catholics do not overlook them, and actually attempt to provide some sort of explanation:

1 Corinthians 15:29-31 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? [30] Why am I in peril every hour? [31] I protest, brethren, by my pride in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!

One Catholic interpretation of this fascinating passage holds that “baptized” is used not for the sacrament, but to denote redemptive suffering on behalf of the dead (analogous to prayer on their behalf) , along the lines of “baptism” used in this sense in other passages:

Mark 10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

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

The sense, in other words, is that if the dead don’t rise again, why should anyone suffer and mortify themselves for them, or pray for them? 15:30-31 backs up this interpretation, because Paul links his own suffering to the preceding verse. It’s also backed up by a very similar deuterocanonical passage:

2 Maccabees 12:40-45 Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. [41] So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; [42] and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. [43] He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. [44] For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. [45] But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

Seeing how Protestant commentators grapple with the notion of “baptism for the dead” is a very interesting endeavor indeed. Calvin, desperate to avoid any hint of any sort of assistance for the dead in purgatory, seizes on a rather improbable scenario: hardly suggested by the reading.

He argues in his Commentaries that the passage refers to those who are about to die; thus the baptism is related to their own death “inasmuch as it could not be of any service to them in this world.” Readers may judge whether that makes more sense than what I have suggested.

But if this Bible passage is rejected as any sort of indication of prayer for the dead, there is an even clearer one from St. Paul, where he is literally praying for a dead person, who is named:

2 Timothy 1:16-18 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiph’orus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, [17] but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me — [18] may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day — and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.

Once again, as we would suspect, Protestant commentators are all over the ballpark with this; wishing to avoid any conclusion that it is prayer for the dead. The way they try to evade it is to claim either that Onesiphorus wasn’t dead (Calvin and, e.g., Presbyterian exegetes Albert Barnes and Matthew Henry and Baptist A. T. Robertson), or that Paul wasn’t praying (Robertson), with more taking the first option.

These views simply aren’t coherent or believable. It’s much more sensible to hold with Catholics that Paul is praying for a dead man. Everything in the text suggests it.

Now if Calvin and his followers still want to deny that the Bible ever teaches prayer for the dead, there are yet more verses in the New Testament that are crystal-clear and undeniable. Jesus and Peter and Elijah prayed for dead people: to be raised. This is prayer for the dead, and can’t be considered anything but that. They prayed for a positive impact on the lives of people who were dead: to come back to earthly life.

These are unusual circumstances, but still count as biblical examples that Calvin vehemently denied existed. We’re informed that the disciples also raised people from the dead (Mt 11:5; Lk 7:22) and that Jesus told them that they would and should do so (Mt 10:8).

Moreover, there are many recorded instances throughout history, including reports from St. Irenaeus, Pope St. Gregory the Great, and St. Augustine (City of God, Book XXII, ch. 8), and actual raisings said to be performed by St. Hilary, St. Ambrose, St. Martin of Tours, St. Benedict, St. Bernard, St. Malachy, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Elizabeth, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Dominic, St. Philip Neri, St. Patrick, St. Francis Xavier, and many others.

In the first passage below, Jesus not only prays for Lazarus, but in a sense, to him as well, by commanding him (a dead person). The same occurred when He raised Jairus’ daughter and the son of the widow of Nain. In commanding them to rise, He was simultaneously praying for them.

Likewise, when Peter raised Tabitha, the text specifically notes that he “prayed” and then commanded her. Calvin in his Commentaries, stated that Peter “speaketh unto a corpse”: the dreaded “communication with the dead”). Lastly, the prophet Elijah clearly prayed (successfully) for a child to be raised.

John 11:41-44 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. [42] I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” [43] When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Laz’arus, come out.” [44] The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. . . .

Mark 5:39-42 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” [40] And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. [41] Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Tal’itha cu’mi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” [42] And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

Luke 7:14-15 And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” [15] And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.

Acts 9:40-41 But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body he said,Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. [41] And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented her alive.

1 Kings 17:18-23 And she said to Eli’jah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” [19] And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her bosom, and carried him up into the upper chamber, where he lodged, and laid him upon his own bed. [20] And he cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, hast thou brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?” [21] Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.” [22] And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Eli’jah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. [23] And Eli’jah took the child, and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother; and Eli’jah said, “See, your son lives.”

That brings the total to seven passages about, or describing prayer for the dead, and another very clear one in the deuterocanon: that Calvin (wrongly) rejects as not canonical. In fact, indirectly, Jesus even commanded His disciples to pray for the dead (“Heal the sick, raise the dead, . . .”: Mt 10:8). We’ve seen the models above, of how one raises another from the dead. They include prayer, and also talking to the dead person.

All of this is quite anathema and unthinkable to Calvin and most Protestants, but there it is, right in front of us, in Holy Scripture. Are we to follow the forbidden mere traditions of men, that go contrary to Scripture, or God’s inspired, infallible Word (as the Catholic Church has done in this instance)? The choice is very easy.

***

(originally 2012)

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

***

January 9, 2020

+ a discussion on apologetics methodology and effectiveness

This was a post and exchange originally posted at Facebook. Words of Catholic William C. Michael will be in blue.

*****

All four raised the dead, and prayed for them before they were raised; therefore, they prayed for the dead, and it is recorded in Scripture. It’s inescapable logic.

1) Elijah: 1 Kings 17:17-24 (17:21: “Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.”).

2) Elisha: 2 Kings 4:18-37 (4:33: “So he went in and shut the door upon the two of them, and prayed to the LORD.”).

3) Jesus: raising of Lazarus: John 11:41-42 (11:41: “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.”).

4) St. Peter: raising of Tabitha: Acts 9:36-41 (9:40: “Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed.”)

In all these instances, a prayer for the dead person is recorded (Elijah’s being the most specific and undeniable). Jesus also “prayed” (or at least talked) to the dead, when He cried, “Lazarus, come out” (Jn 11:43), and to the dead son of the widow of Nain: “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Lk 7:14). St. Peter did the same, saying, “Tabitha, rise” (Acts 9:40).

Run this by the next Protestant who claims that there is no prayer for the dead in the Bible. You can also point out that St. Paul prayed for the dead man Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16-18). All of a sudden, supposed “total absence” becomes a myth and a joke.

They may say, “well, that is a special case, when someone is being raised from the dead.” It is a special case, granted, but these are nevertheless cases of praying for the dead. It can’t be denied. So if someone claims this “never” happens in the Bible, or that it has no scriptural warrant, they are wrong. No one can possibly claim otherwise.

Prayer for the dead is even more explicit in 2 Maccabees: a portion of Scripture that Protestants have thrown out on inadequate grounds:

2 Maccabees 12:39-45 On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. [40] Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. [41] So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; [42] and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. [43] He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. [44] For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. [45] But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

And 1 Corinthians 15:29: “baptized on behalf of the dead,” means, I think, “doing penance on behalf of the dead”: according to the exegesis of St. Francis de Sales, and taking into account the striking similarity to 2 Maccabees 12:44.

No Protestant would agree that in calling Lazarus up from among the dead that Jesus was “praying to Lazarus”. Give me a break. Catholics, after all, aren’t raising the dead when they pray to the saints.

All the same, if Catholics were raising the dead, Protestants wouldn’t be arguing. To try and compare raising the dead by apostles, prophets and Our Lord with ordinary Catholic prayers for the dead is ridiculous. I’m a Protestant convert to Catholicism and I know that the issue is the multiplying of devotions and prayers, especially when basics aren’t covered…like reading the Bible or helping our neighbors.

Jesus and Peter both prayed for and to dead persons, as I explained:

Jesus also “prayed” (or at least talked) to the dead, when He cried, “Lazarus, come out” (Jn 11:43), and to the dead son of the widow of Nain: “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Lk 7:14). St. Peter did the same, saying, “Tabitha, rise” (Acts 9:40).

This was invocation of (or, in a very loose sense, “prayer to”) the dead, insofar as they talked to a dead man. My point (already plainly stated) is that “if someone claims this ‘never’ happens in the Bible, or that it has no scriptural warrant, they are wrong.”

You have to grasp what exactly I am arguing. Your criticism of my argument being “ridiculous” is a non sequitur because I’m not comparing it to “ordinary Catholic prayers for the dead” (Paul praying for Onesiphorus and the 2 Maccabees passage are much more that). What I’m saying is that this eliminates the absolute prohibition among some Protestants of either prayers for the dead, or invocation of the saints, or any communication whatsoever with the dead. If Jesus and Peter talked to dead men, then obviously there is a proper sense in which that can and should be done.

I’m not claiming everything here is a one-to-one direct analogy. There can be partial analogies and connections or common ground in biblical proofs, and arguments on several aspects or on multi-levels. If someone wrongly assumes what I would claim for one of my arguments, the analysis is gonna be way off-base.

Analogical arguments in particular are massively misunderstood by many people (I know, because I love that kind of argument), because folks are largely unfamiliar with that mode of arguing. Virtually no analogy is perfect (corresponding in all respects). Most are partial, so one must, accordingly, understand what the analogy applies to and thus how much it proves or is effective as an argument.

I do understand what you’re saying, Dave, (and appreciate it), and I thought of this same line of argument a few years back, but the more I messed with it, the less meaningful I found it. It impresses Catholics (like me), but it really doesn’t affect Protestants who are happy to remain Protestants.

As for prayers for the dead…Protestants reject prayers for the dead that some aspect of their salvation might be completed after their death. That’s the whole issue for them. It’s “purgation” after death that they reject, and it’s purgation that we pray for! As for 2 Maccabees, they were living under the Old Covenant, where sacrifices were the norm, so I can’t see why a Protestant would think that Christians living after the Cross would continue any such thing, and could easily explain away that passage–if they were even willing to hear it at all. The prayer for Onesiphorous, is vague, “Lord grant him mercy on Judgment Day”, and I’m not sure Protestants would have any problem absorbing it into their system.

I’m not holding on to Protestant positions, I’m simply explaining them…I wasn’t converted to Protestantism by arguments like these, and I know my friends/colleagues wouldn’t be either.

Neither was I. But that is perfectly irrelevant as to whether it is true or not. One must distinguish between 1) what is true, and 2) what “works” in a pragmatic sense, in persuading folks. It’s still worth it to present true and valid arguments, whether they “work” or not: at a minimum, they help to strengthen the faith of Catholics, by showing biblical support for our views.

To suggest that because the Maccabees, living 100+ years before the Gospel, offered Jewish sacrifices for the Jewish dead supports Catholics who offer Masses and prayers for the souls of Christian dead is, as I said, ridiculous–especially when we consider what the Protestants think salvation means, i.e., freedom from the guilt and punishment of all sin through repose in the suffering and death of Jesus.

It’s not a “novel interpretation.” It proves what it proves, as far as it goes. Again, if things I am not trying to prove are superimposed onto my argument, then the whole thing goes awry. Whether Protestants accept the argument or not (i.e., as I conceive it), is irrelevant. It remains true, and what it establishes is undeniable.

It’s not “ridiculous” at all! It supports the basic notion that prayers for the dead are acceptable. All doctrines develop: and they do from the Old Testament to the New Testament. So prayer for the dead developed into also almsgiving and penance for the dead and Masses for the dead. You may understand my argument (though I still have doubts), but you don’t seem to understand development of doctrine, and arguments that have to do with that.

I didn’t think that apologetics were intended to persuade people who are already persuaded.

They’re not. That would be meaningless. Apologetics is intended to persuade, yet in fact it usually doesn’t. And persuasion ultimately is the work of the Holy Spirit, not apologists or any other persons. It is more devoted to the removal of obstacles or roadblocks that people have. That can apply to Catholics as well as Protestants. People believe all manner of false things. Lastly, it is intended to bolster the confidence and intellectual capacity of Catholics to understand and defend their faith more effectively, and to synthesize faith and reason.

What’s the point of telling Catholics that purgatory and prayers for the dead is true?

I’m not telling them it is simply true, but that it has biblical support. This piece deals with the Protestant objection that it is entirely unbiblical: that nothing is in the Bible at all about it; also the claim sometimes made that God never sanctions communication between the departed and the living. My paper blows both those false ideas out of the water. Whatever you think of it: like it or no, it does those things, and that was the intent. I have no illusions that Protestants will rush to become Catholics simply by reading this.

Again, it comes down to the nature of the argument and what I think it proves. You seem to misunderstand this all down the line. I can tell by your comments that you still don’t grasp what I was trying to do with this, and what I think it proves. That’s okay. It allows me to clarify further, and that’s always good. I appreciate the opportunity, because if you think this, others may also.

Catholics already believe that–and not because these Bible verses say so. These arguments don’t address Protestant opposition at all. 

They do. I just explained how. They don’t address the issue comprehensively, but in a limited aspect: dealing with a key hostile premise. Please let me explain further:

1) A belief that no communication whatsoever between the dead and the living is permitted (and that all of that is identical to forbidden necromancy, seances, etc.) obviously precludes from the outset prayers for the dead and invocation of the dead: asking for their prayers.

2) A belief that such things are not seen in the Bible at all would preclude their practice for Protestants, who think that every doctrine or practice must have express or explicit biblical sanction, and (in large part) for Catholics, most of whom who believe that all Catholic doctrines have at least some biblical evidence in their favor, or that they are at least harmonious with what is in Scripture.

3) My paper simultaneously takes out #1 and #2 as objections.

4) Therefore, a root premise of the communion of saints is established as true and permissible (biblically).

5) #4 is an altogether worthy and useful end.

6) Therefore the paper is a helpful aid in both apologetics towards non-Catholics and an aid to confidence among Catholics: who are so often accused of being “unbiblical” or “anti-biblical.”

These are corollary doctrines which are inferred from an already existent Catholic conviction. They are not “proofs” but circular arguments.

Not at all. You just don’t get this.

Do you honestly think that a Protestant will embrace that idea that what is done under the Old Covenant means that its “acceptability” is proven for life under the New Covenant? Divorce is “acceptable” under the Old Covenant…and not acceptable under the New. Therefore, Jewish precedence isn’t Christian proof.

That’s a rabbit trail and gets into development. The new covenant develops from the old. Protestants cite the OT in favor of their doctrines just as we do. Maccabees and its evidence for prayers for the dead is rejected not because it is in the OT, but because they think it is not in the OT. They threw out the seven books that we retain, and that the early Church accepted.

I think I do understand development of doctrine, but think that this is working backwards…when we’re using Old Covenant acts (and that a single instance in a deuterocanonical book which doesn’t say much anyway to support what Catholics do) to prove New Covenant practices, how is that “development of doctrine”? 

I didn’t claim that it entirely proved the whole thing. It shows prayers for the dead: the basic practice. It was practiced by the Jews and wasn’t condemned in the text; therefore God approved of it. This is of the utmost significance. If it were wrong, the text would have indicated that, and it would be significant: if not as Scripture, then as historical reference to what the Jews believed was right or wrong practice. But Maccabees is Scripture; therefore inspired and infallible. It was thrown out on inadequate grounds.

I believe in development of doctrine, which is why I don’t think Catholics need to prove that doctrines and practices that owe their existence to the development of doctrine need to be “proven” from the Bible. They can be proven from Catholic tradition to people who first come to believe in the Catholic Church, without which mystery being embraced (which is part of the Creed for this reason) will keep men from embracing 100 other doctrines.

That’s another way to do it also. But it’s always good to appeal to the Bible as much as possible. That’s not just a Protestant thing. The apostles and fathers did it all the time. There is no necessity of accepting sola Scriptura in order to massively cite the Bible. That is another fallacy. Protestants don’t “own” the Bible. I don’t become a Protestant in my essential methodology simply because I cite the Bible a lot. All the fathers did that . . .

Thanks, but appeals to Maccabees make no sense. It’s like appealing the epistles of Paul to persuade Jews. Speaking of persuasion, saying “persuasion is not our job but the Holy Spirit’s” is dividing things that can’t be divided. Scripture rightly says, “and Paul reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, bringing in the name of the Lord Jesus; and he persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.”

I didn’t say, “persuasion is not our job but the Holy Spirit’s”. That is your paraphrase of what I wrote, leaving out a key word. What I actually wrote was: “And persuasion ultimately is the work of the Holy Spirit, not apologists or any other persons.”

That’s “both/and” and not “either/or” and is standard apologetics understanding. I could easily produce a hundred quotes to that effect. I have devoted my life these past 32 years to trying to persuade folks of the truth of Christianity and of Catholicism in particular. But I’m just a tool of the Holy Spirit. If He uses me, great. But often, He won’t. In any event, the results are not in my hands. We proclaim truth as best we can discern it. The results of the proclamation / and/or defense lie with God and the free will decision of the hearer.

There’s nowhere else to go with this . . . it’s just going round and round . . . I’ve said about all I can say about it. If you disagree, you do.

Plus, outside of 2 Maccabees, there is nothing in the OT suggesting that Jews were to pray or make offerings for the dead.

I think I found at least one other: Fasting for the Dead in the Old Testament (Not Unlike Praying).

The problem is that appealing to 2 Maccabees and saying, “this will get ’em”. 

I didn’t say that! I didn’t “promise” anything, for heaven’s sake. That was the whole point of noting that persuasion is ultimately the job of the Holy Spirit. It all comes down to individual response. I wish you would stop misrepresenting what I am arguing (and turning it into some simplistic, silly thing: hence, your reference to it as “ridiculous” more than once). It gets very wearisome. Again, you confuse:

1) trying to persuade by means of one passage, or claiming that it will in fact (massively) persuade.

with

2) simply presenting a biblical proof or indication, irregardless of how effective it is to persuade.

Truth is truth, whether 100 billion people believe it, or none do. I present what I believe is true. Whether someone accepts it is not ultimately up to me. Jesus presented all truth and He was perfect, too, and lots of people rejected Him and His message, didn’t they? We should expect no less. In fact, He predicted that we would be hated for His name’s sake. I’ve attempted to do my best to defend one concept or idea in this instance.

Run this by the next Protestant who claims that there is no prayer for the dead in the Bible.

To me, that seemed that you were saying (and I think you were) that this argument will “get ’em”.

Yes, I did. I was referring specifically to the instances of prayers for the raising of the dead, which are undeniably prayers for the dead (!!!). How could they be otherwise? Therefore, in this sense, at least, such a thing is “biblical.”

I made no claim as to whether this would persuade them or not. Again, you think in terms of pragmatic results; I am thinking in terms of proclaiming truth, which has its own inherent power, whether people accept or reject it. Nor was I referring to Maccabees there . . .

I don’t think a Protestant will listen to Maccabees.

Of course they won’t, but it’s because they threw it out of the Bible on dopey grounds. It’s still the Bible, historically speaking, and so I appeal to it, because I don’t grant their hostile premises. I defend the deuterocanon elsewhere. Separate argument . . .

the other appeals to OT passages about burial rites and mourning suggest nothing about praying souls through purgatory.

I don’t claim that my other argument is a strong argument. But it’s a possibility. I didn’t mention purgatory, but it’s implicit, I think, in the notion of prayer for the dead.

Therefore, if you’re stuck with only Maccabees, you’re stuck with an argument that isn’t going to interest any Protestants.

But I’m not. We also have the other OT and NT evidence that I presented. 1 Corinthians 15:29 is a strong argument: rightly understood.

Lastly, prayer for the dead is not at all unknown in Protestant circles. Luther acknowledged a minimalistic sense of it. Lutheran confessions include it (and they practice it); same with Anglicanism. I was at an Anglican funeral service for my grandmother, where the priest prayed for her.

Among the Reformed and Baptists, it’s a different story (as so often). But that’s not the whole of Protestantism, by any means. Thus, to say that “Protestants” as a whole reject it is untrue. Two of the initial forms of Protestantism continued to accept it as a valid practice. And they must do so (presumably) for some reason.

The Protestants who decided to become less sacramental, sacerdotal, and traditional (with no legitimate basis; only Calvin’s or someone else’s whim and fancy) rejected it.

Related Reading:

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

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

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

“Catholicism Refuted” (?): “Father” / Purgatory / Statues / Confession (Pt. III) [12-11-04]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Anglican Newman on Prayer for the Dead (1838): It was as well-attested in the early Church as the Canon of Scripture [10-11-19]

***

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: apologistdave@gmail.com). 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.
*
***

(originally posted on 6-9-13 on Facebook; slightly revised on 1-9-20)

Photo credit: Elisha Raising the Shunammite’s Son (1766), by Benjamin West (1738-1820) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***




Browse Our Archives