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.
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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).
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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]

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Related Reading:
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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]

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(originally 3-20-17 on Facebook)

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

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January 18, 2016

Paul6

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

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(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 . . .

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August 19, 2015

PaulRembrandt2

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

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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.

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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”)

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III, 5:6-9 

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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:

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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]

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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.

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[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 . . .

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Photo credit: [public domain / PxFuel]

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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”)

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III, 5:10 

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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.

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(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]

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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.

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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]

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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.
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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!
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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.
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(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]

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December 6, 2019

Compilation of 236 articles of mine for the National Catholic Register (29 September 2016 to 21 January 2021): more than 826 pages’ worth (about 3 1/2 for each 1000-word article).

I consider this collection to be a virtual book, even though I don’t intend to make an actual published book out of it. But in terms of presenting the wide scope and broad range of Catholic and general apologetics arguments that can be brought to bear, it has strong similarities to, and the main components of books like my One-Minute Apologist (2007; which had 61 two-page chapters in a Summa-like format), Proving the Catholic Faith is Biblical (2015; 80 short chapters — usually 1000 words or less — covering many topics), and The Catholic Answer Bible (2002): forty apologetics inserts: each one page long.

These articles for National Catholic Register are all a standard length of 1000 words: give or take a very few. A thousand words usually run about 3 1/2 single-spaced pages, including spaces between paragraphs. It’s not very long at all. And it is a nice length (perhaps the ideal one?) to summarize the usual apologetics and exegetical / historical arguments involved in any given theological issue. I’ve gotten very comfortable this length of article, after doing this “gig” for over three years now, and two earlier ones that were similar (Seton Magazine and Michigan Catholic). I have found that most of the important points that need to be made, can fairly easily be presented within this length.

Adding up the average length of each article, this “book” would be well over 800 pages. It also essentially constitutes my “mature” opinions on each topic I tackle, since all of these were written (or revised) in the last four years or so. I keep learning things all the time (my thought is always developing), so in some cases, I would have slightly changed my mind (where permitted, in light of dogma), or added new arguments (that I’ve either seen, or came up with myself) not present in my earlier writings.

With these articles close at hand, categorized alphabetically by topic and conveniently linked, the reader has a quick and easy resource that may come in handy when the usual objections to the Catholic faith arise. Each article is easy to read (so I’ve been told many times), and can probably be completed in less than five minutes (if even that), and, I submit, contains enough substance and content to provide ample food for thought and further reflection or study. It’s my privilege to have been allowed to write and publish them in such a prestigious venue. Enjoy!

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Abortion

On Being a So-Called “Single-Issue” Pro-Lifer [1-25-18]

Do Democratic Presidents Cause Fewer Abortions to Occur? [2-28-18]

Apologetics and Evangelism

Apologetics Doesn’t Mean Being Sorry for Your Faith [6-6-17]

“The Harvest is Ready”: 14 Tips for Catholic Evangelism [7-12-17]

Swearing and Sharing the Faith Don’t Mix Very Well! [7-16-18]

Some Thoughts on Evangelism and Being “Hated by All” [7-20-18]

Apostolic Succession

Apostolic Succession as Seen in the Jerusalem Council [1-15-17]

Answers to Questions About Apostolic Succession [7-25-20]

Atheism

Atheists Seem to Have Almost a Childlike Faith in the Omnipotence of Atoms [10-16-16]

Baptism

What the New Testament’s Baptisms Teach Us About the Magisterium: Christians remain bound to Church doctrine through its development [1-29-17]

What the Bible Reveals About Infant Baptism [7-27-17]

Bible (and Catholicism)

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Charismatic (Catholic) Renewal 
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Church (Catholic): Authority of
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C. S. Lewis vs. St. Paul on Future Binding Church Authority [1-22-17]

The Analogy of an Infallible Bible to an Infallible Church [6-16-17]

Why Do Protestants Reject the Notion of “One True Church”? [6-22-17]

Catholicism is True and Denominationalism is Anti-Biblical [6-27-17]

Is the One True Church a Visible or Invisible Entity? [9-12-18]

Catholics Accept All of the Church’s Dogmatic Teaching [9-18-18]

Orthodoxy: The ‘Equilibrium’ That Sets Us Free [3-29-19]

Were the Jerusalem Council Decrees Universally Binding? [12-4-19]

Church, Sinners in / Scandals

Were 50 Million People Really Killed in the Inquisition? [5-30-18]

The Sex Scandals Are Not a Reason to Reject Catholicism [8-24-18]

Some Nagging Questions About Scorsese’s Silence [2-19-17]

Are Abuse Scandals a Reason to Leave the Church? [3-31-19]

The Inquisition, as Medieval Catholics Would View It [7-31-19]

Confession and Absolution

Confession and Absolution Are Biblical [7-31-17]

Contraception

Bible vs. Contraception: Onan’s Sin and Punishment [5-30-17]

Luther and Calvin Opposed Contraception and “Fewer Children is Better” Thinking [9-13-17]

Contraception and “Anti-Procreation” vs. Scripture [6-6-18]

A Defense of Natural Family Planning [5-25-19]

Conversion, Catholic

Here’s What I Discovered That Made Me Become Catholic [9-29-16]

Why C. S. Lewis Never Became a Catholic [3-5-17]

Deuterocanonical Books (So-Called “Apocrypha”)

How to Defend the Deuterocanon (or ‘Apocrypha’) [3-12-17]

Divorce and Annulments

Annulments are Fundamentally Different from Divorce [4-6-17]

Doctrinal Development

Development of Catholic Doctrine: A Primer [1-5-18]

Ecumenism and Comparative Religion

Biblical Evidence for Ecumenism (“A Biblical Approach to Other Religions”) [8-9-17]

Ethics and Social Teaching, Catholic

Atheist “Refutes” Sermon on the Mount (Or Does He?) [7-23-17]

What Proverbs 31 Says About Alcohol [9-22-17]

Borders and the Bible [1-14-19]

What Does “Turn the Other Cheek” Mean? [7-20-19]

Biblical and Catholic Teaching on the Use of Alcohol [3-26-20]

Eucharist, Holy

Transubstantiation, John 6, Faith and Rebellion [12-3-17]

The Holy Eucharist and the Treachery of Judas [4-6-18]

Transubstantiation is No More Inscrutable Than Many Doctrines [9-26-18]

Why Are Non-Catholics Excluded from Holy Communion? [7-3-19]

The Host and Chalice Both Contain Christ’s Body and Blood [12-10-19]

Evil and Pain: Problem of

God, the Natural World and Pain [9-19-20]

Faith and Works / “Faith Alone” / Discipleship

Final Judgment is Not a Matter of “Faith Alone” At All [10-7-16]

How Are We Saved? Faith Alone? Or the Way Jesus Taught? [5-11-17]

“The Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves” [7-19-17]

“Personal Relationship with Jesus” — A Catholic Concept? [2-19-18]

Did Jesus Teach His Disciples to Hate Their Families? [8-17-19]

First John, Faith and Works, and Falling Away [11-24-19]

Lessons in Reconciliation from Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson [2-10-20]

Good Works and Men, God’s Grace, and Regeneration (vs. John Calvin) [8-6-20]

Fathers of the Church

Did St. Augustine Accept All Seven Sacraments? [11-15-17]

22 Reminders That St. Augustine Was 100% Catholic [4-23-20]

14 Proofs That St. Athanasius Was 100% Catholic [6-4-20]

God, Attributes of

Does God Punish to the Fourth Generation? [10-1-18]

If God Needs Nothing, Why Does He Ask For So Much? (Is God “Narcissistic” or “Love-Starved?) [8-22-19]

Does God Ever Actively Prevent Repentance? [9-1-19]

Who Caused Job to Suffer — God or Satan? [6-28-20]

The Bible Teaches That Other “Gods” are Imaginary [7-10-20]

Does God Have Any Need of Praise? [9-24-20]

God in Heaven and in His Temple: Biblical Difficulty? [12-10-20]

Heaven

Salvation and Immortality Are Not Just New Testament Ideas [9-23-19]

Hell, Satan, and Demons

Screwtape on the Neutralization of Effective Apologetics and Divine Callings [2-5-17]

How to Annihilate Three Skeptical Fallacies Regarding Hell [6-10-17]

Satan is Highly Intelligent—and an Arrogant Idiot   [11-27-17]

Is Abortion a Biblical Metaphor for Hell? [10-20-18]

7 Takes on Satan’s Persecutions and the Balanced Christian Life [11-24-18]

Universalism is Annihilated by the Book of Revelation [6-23-19]

The Bible Teaches that Hell is Eternal [4-16-20]

Holy Places and Items

The Biblical Understanding of Holy Places and Things [4-11-17]

Biblical Proofs and Evidence for Relics [3-13-20]

Homosexuality

History of the False Ideas Leading to Same-Sex “Marriage” [11-2-16]

How Did Jesus View Active Homosexuality? [9-16-19]

Icons, Images, and Statues

Worshiping God Through Images is Entirely Biblical [12-23-16]

How Protestant Nativity Scenes Proclaim Catholic Doctrine [12-17-17]

Crucifixes: Devotional Aids or Wicked Idols? [1-15-20]

Was Moses’ Bronze Serpent an Idolatrous “Graven Image?” [2-17-20]

Golden Calf Idolatry vs. Carved Cherubim on Ark of the Covenant [1-7-21]

Indulgences

The Biblical Roots and History of Indulgences [5-25-18]

Jesus

50 Biblical Proofs That Jesus is God [2-12-17]

Did Jesus Descend to Hell, Sheol, or Paradise After His Death? [4-17-17]

Visiting Golgotha in Jerusalem is a Sublime Experience [3-21-18]

Are the Two Genealogies of Christ Contradictory? [1-5-19]

Did Jesus Use “Socratic Method” in His Teaching? [4-29-19]

Can the Prayers of Jesus Go Unanswered? [6-10-19]

Why Jesus Opposed the Moneychangers in the Temple [9-26-19]

Jesus’ Agony in Gethsemane: Was it “Anxiety”? [10-29-19]

On Whether Jesus’ “Brothers” Were “Unbelievers” [6-11-20]

Did Jesus Heal and Preach to Only Jews? No! [7-19-20]

The Bible is Clear — Jesus is True God and True Man [9-12-20]

9 Ways Jesus Tells Us He is God in the Synoptic Gospels [10-28-20]

Liberalism, Theological (Modernism / Dissent / Heterodoxy)

Silent Night: A “Progressive” and “Enlightened” Reinterpretation [12-21-17]

Liturgy, Formal / Rosary

Ritualistic, Formal Worship is a Good and Biblical Practice [12-4-16]

The Rosary: ‘Vain Repetition’ or Biblical Prayer? [3-16-18]

Luther, Martin

50 Reasons Why Martin Luther Was Excommunicated [11-23-16]

Luther’s Disgust Over Protestant Sectarianism and Radical Heresies [9-8-17]

10 Remarkably “Catholic” Beliefs of Martin Luther [10-6-17]

Luther Favored Death, Not Religious Freedom, For ‘Heretics’ [10-25-17]

Mary, Apparitions of

Biblical Evidence for Marian Apparitions [5-21-17]

Mary, Bodily Assumption of

Biblical Arguments in Support of Mary’s Assumption [8-15-18]

Mary, General

Did Mary Know That Jesus Was God? [4-29-18]

The Exalted Blessed Virgin Mary and Theosis [11-28-18]

Martin Luther’s Exceptionally “Catholic” Devotion to Mary [4-16-19]

St. John Henry Newman’s High Mariology [10-18-19]

Mary, Immaculate Conception of

Martin Luther’s “Immaculate Purification” View of Mary [12-31-16]

Scripture, Through an Angel, Reveals That Mary Was Sinless [4-30-17]

Was Mary’s Immaculate Conception Absolutely Necessary? [12-8-17]

“All Have Sinned” vs. a Sinless, Immaculate Mary? [12-11-17]

Amazing Parallels Between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant [2-13-18]

Biblical Support for Mary’s Immaculate Conception [10-29-18]

Mary and Jesus

Did Jesus Denigrate Calling Mary “Blessed?” [12-24-19]

“Who is My Mother?” — Jesus and the “Familial Church” [1-21-20]

Mary Mediatrix

Mary Mediatrix: Close Biblical Analogies [8-14-17]

Mary, Mother of God (Theotokos)

How to Correct Some Misunderstandings About Mary [2-20-19]

Mary, Perpetual Virginity of

Biblical Evidence for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary [4-13-18]

More Biblical Evidence for Mary’s Perpetual Virginity [4-25-18]

Perpetual Virginity of Mary: “Holy Ground” [5-8-18]

Jesus’ “Brothers” Always “Hanging Around”: Siblings? [5-11-18]

Biblical and Patristic Evidence for Mary’s “In Partu” Virginity [11-14-19]

The Early Protestants Believed in Mary’s Perpetual Virginity [11-19-19]

Mary, Queen Mother

Mary is Queen Mother and Queen of Heaven [6-6-19]

Is Our Lady the Woman of Revelation 12? [11-27-19]

Mary, Veneration of

St. Louis de Montfort’s Marian Devotion: Idolatry or Christocentric? [12-18-16]

The Blessed Virgin Mary is Our Role Model [4-20-17]

Did the Angel Gabriel Venerate Mary When He Said “Hail?” [3-14-19]

50 Biblical Reasons to Honor Jesus Through Mary [7-24-19]

Mass, Sacrifice of

Is Jesus “Re-Sacrificed” at Every Mass? [8-19-17]

Why is Melchizedek So Important? [1-15-18]

Time-Transcending Mass and the Hebrew “Remember” [8-3-18]

Reasons for the Sunday Mass Obligation [11-14-18]

Intriguing Biblical Analogies to Eucharistic Adoration [2-13-19]

The Absurdity of Claiming That the Mass is Idolatrous [6-17-19]

Miracles

Biblical and Historical Evidences for Raising the Dead [2-8-19]

Reflections on Joshua and “the Sun Stood Still” [10-22-20]

Papacy and Petrine Primacy

50 Biblical Indications of Petrine Primacy and the Papacy [11-20-16]

Papal Succession: Biblical and Logical Arguments [5-26-17]

I Hope the Pope Will Provide Some Much-Needed Clarity (Re: Answering the Dubia) [9-30-17]

Top 20 Biblical Evidences for the Primacy of St. Peter [1-8-18]

Does Paul’s Rebuke of Peter Disprove Papal Infallibility? [3-31-18]

A Brief History of Papal Infallibility [5-21-18]

Protestant Objections to Papal Infallibility [2-29-20]

Is Peter’s Primacy Disproved by His Personality? [11-30-20]

Penance / Mortification / Asceticism / Lent / Monasticism

Where are Lenten Practices in the Bible? [2-23-19]

Bodily Mortification is Quite Scriptural [2-28-19]

More Biblical Support for Bodily Mortification [3-5-19]

Why God Loves Monasticism So Much [3-5-20]

Prayer 

Biblical Prayer is Conditional, Not Solely Based on Faith [10-9-18]

Priests

Was the Apostle Paul a Priest? [4-2-17]

“Call No Man Father” vs. Priests Addressed as “Father”? [8-9-18]

The Biblical Basis for the Priesthood [11-2-18] *

Purgatory and Prayer for the Dead

50 Biblical Indications That Purgatory is Real [10-24-16]

Does Matthew 12:32 Suggest or Disprove Purgatory? [2-26-17]

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

25 Descriptive and Clear Bible Passages About Purgatory [5-7-17]

Reflections on Interceding for the Lost Souls [6-26-18]

Jesus, Peter, Elijah and Elisha All Prayed for the Dead [2-23-20]

Sacramentalism

Biblical Evidence for Sacramentalism [8-29-17]

Sacraments and Our Moral Responsibility [1-7-20]

Saints

The Holy Collaboration of Mother Teresa and Malcom Muggeridge [6-20-18]

Saints and Angels, Invocation of

Why Would Anyone Pray to Saints Rather Than to God? [1-8-17]

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

Angelic Intercession is Totally Biblical [7-1-18]

Why the Bible Says the Prayers of Holy People Are More Powerful [3-19-19]

The Saints in Heaven are Quite Aware of Events on Earth (featuring a defense of patron saints) [3-21-20]

Prayer to Abraham and Dead People in Scripture [6-20-20]

What Christ’s Words on the Cross Tell Us About Elijah and the Saints [8-2-20]

How Can a Saint Hear the Prayers of Millions at Once? [10-7-20]

Origen and the Intercession of Saints [11-19-20]

Saints and Angels, Veneration of

The Veneration of Angels and Men is Biblical [8-24-17]

Biblical Evidence for Veneration of Saints and Images [10-23-18]

Salvation and Justification / Grace

“Why Desire Salvation?”: Reply to a Non-Christian Inquirer [7-7-17]

Biblical Evidence for Salvation as a Process [8-4-17] 

Biblical Evidence for Catholic Justification [11-2-17]

Is Grace Alone (Sola Gratia) Also Catholic Teaching? [2-5-18]

‘Doers of the Law’ Are Justified, Says St. Paul [5-22-19]

Jesus on Salvation: Works, Merit and Sacrifice [7-28-19]

The Bible is Clear: ‘Eternal Security’ is a Manmade Doctrine [8-17-20]

Eternal Security vs. the Bible [8-23-20]

Science

The Bible and Mythical Animals [10-9-19]

The Bible is Not “Anti-Scientific,” as Skeptics Claim [10-23-19]

Galileo and Fellow Astronomers’ Erroneous Scientific Beliefs [4-30-20]

Modern Science is Built on a Christian Foundation [5-6-20]

The ‘Enlightenment’ Inquisition Against Great Scientists [5-13-20]

Embarrassing Errors of Historical Science [5-20-20]

Scientism — the Myth of Science as the Sum of Knowledge [5-28-20]

Creation Ex Nihilo is in the Bible [10-1-20]

Medieval Christian Medicine Was the Forerunner of Modern Medicine [11-13-20]

Quantum Mechanics and the “Upholding” Power of God [11-24-20]

Sexuality

Sex and Catholics: Our Views Briefly Explained [2-2-18]

More Proof That ‘Heresy Begins Below the Belt’ (Even for Young C. S. Lewis) [8-30-20]

Sin: Mortal and Venial

What the Bible Says on Degrees of Sin and Mortal Sin [7-6-18]

“Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” — Quite Biblical! [1-29-20]

Sola Scriptura (“Bible Alone” Rule of Faith in Protestantism)

10-Point Biblical Refutation of Sola Scriptura [12-11-16]

3 Effective Biblical Refutations of Sola Scriptura [11-12-17]

The Clearness, or “Perspicuity,” of Sacred Scripture [11-16-17]

Here’s Proof That Not Every Protestant Doctrine is Biblical [3-6-18]

The Bereans and Searching the Scriptures: Sola Scriptura? [5-5-19]

In the Bible, “Word of God” Usually Means Oral Proclamation [12-17-19]

Suffering / Redemptive Suffering

Suffering With Christ is a Biblical Teaching [3-27-18]

The Bible Says Your Suffering Can Help Save Others [1-31-19]

Biblical Hope and Encouragement in Your Times of Suffering [4-22-19]

Tradition (Apostolic / Sacred)

Tradition is Not a Dirty Word — It’s a Great Gift [4-24-17]

Trinity, Holy

50 Biblical Evidences for the Holy Trinity [11-14-16]

Wealth / Capitalism / Catholic Social Teaching

Who Must Renounce All Possessions to Follow Jesus? [1-21-21]

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Last updated on 21 January 2021.

 

October 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not Exist: If you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and three children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.

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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 2500 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 start receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers. 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). May God abundantly bless you.

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December 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

50 Bible Passages on Purgatory & Analogous Processes

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

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

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

Jesus:

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

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

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

John the Baptist:

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

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

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

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

Then how does that exclude “afflictions and penances”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is plenty of analogy:

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

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

Thus, K. Stauffer observed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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