Category Archives: Baptist

Eucharist symbolic?


-“Última_Cena”, by Leonardo DaVinci, 1490, tempera, gesso, 460 cm (180 in) × 880 cm (350 in), Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, is a seminarian in the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City. A former lawyer, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“There are a great many intelligent Protestant Christians, well-versed in Scripture, faithfully seeking to know and follow the will of God, who have concluded that Jesus’ words about the bread and wine of the Last Supper becoming his body and blood are merely symbolic.

What if they’re right?

At first, it seems like such a revelation would be a tragedy. Receiving the Eucharist is the most intimate encounter with Jesus Christ possible this side of eternity. Suddenly to discover that this intimacy was a sham, and that what we thought was God was actually just bread, would be disheartening, to put the matter mildly. Worse, it would mean that those hours spent in adoration were something approaching idolatry rather than proper worship of God.

But the true tragedy would be greater still—it would mean that the Church has been wrong about the Eucharist from the beginning. For the earliest Christians universally believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The well-respected early Church historian J.N.D. Kelly, a Protestant, has acknowledged that “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440).

Take, for example, the church at Smyrna, in modern-day Turkey. In the latter half of the first century, the apostle John had delivered a message directly from Jesus Christ to the Smyrnaeans, encouraging them in their faithfulness amidst their sufferings (Rev. 2:8-11). Shortly thereafter, a student of John’s, St. Ignatius of Antioch, wrote to this same local church on his way to be martyred in Rome early in the second century.

In his letter, Ignatius warns the Smyrnaeans to “keep aloof from” the heretical Gnostics “because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 7). Notice that Ignatius doesn’t feel the need to convince his readers of the truth of the Real Presence. For him, it’s enough to say that since the Gnostics reject the Real Presence we should not even “speak of them either in private or in public.”

And this is the way that Christians approached the Eucharist throughout the first few centuries of the Church. It was not just that a theologian here or there taught the Real Presence, but that it was the Christian position on the topic. In a series of lessons given to catechumens about to enter the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminded them that “you have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the Body and the Blood of Christ” (Catechetical Lecture 22). Cyril is comfortable assuming that even those not yet baptized know enough about Christianity to realize that Christians believe in the Real Presence.

Even more telling than the many Church Fathers teaching and preaching on the Real Presence of the Eucharist is the absence of Christian leaders either rejecting this Catholic position or teaching a contrary position.

If a Baptist pastor got up on Sunday and declared that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, you could expect that there would be angry letters denouncing him as a heretic, or at least seeking to correct him. That’s because Baptists don’t believe in the Real Presence.

The fact that we don’t see this sort of outcry in the early Church is compelling evidence that the early Christians didn’t believe what modern Baptists do about the Eucharist. Rather, they were united in belief about the Real Presence in the Eucharist at a time when Christians weren’t afraid to squabble with one another over relatively smaller matters.

So why is this important? Because it means that these Protestants aren’t just saying, “I think Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are meant to be merely symbolic,” but “I think that the entire Church misunderstood one of the most basic aspects of Christianity for centuries.” Call this the “everybody got the gospel wrong” position.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I will not leave you desolate” (John 14:18), a promise not to abandon the Church or to leave us as orphans. Specifically, Christ promised to preserve his Church by sending “the Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Spirit, to “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:17, 26). How is belief in this promise compatible with the idea that the whole Church lost the true meaning of the Last Supper, and that no Christians successfully followed his instructions to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24)?

To be sure, left to our own devices, you and I would get some aspects of the gospel wrong. That’s why there are so many competing Protestant denominations. But the solution to that is to turn to the Church and to have the humility to be guided, rather than trusting that our own reading of Scripture is superior to everyone else’s. This is the model laid out in Scripture itself. When the apostle Philip found an Ethiopian official reading the book of Isaiah, he asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” to which the man replied “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30-31). But the Protestant view undermines all of this by suggesting that the visible Church, and indeed all Christians everywhere, might be the ones in the wrong.

This isn’t just about rejecting the Church’s teaching authority, but about rejecting all of Christianity prior to a certain point in history. If you can simply throw out all of (say) pre-1517 history as heretical and off-the-mark, why not throw out all pre-2018 Christianity? What appears on the surface to be a question simply about the Eucharist or the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is really a question about whether we can trust Christ’s promise not to abandon us, leaving us to our own private theological interpretations.

What’s more, if everybody got the gospel wrong then, what makes us think that anybody has the gospel right now? If we could all be wrong on the literality of the Eucharist for centuries, why couldn’t we be wrong about the literality of the Resurrection or of any other aspect of Christian teaching? If all of Christianity can get the core message of Christianity wrong, then it seems that we simply can’t be trusted to get the basics of Christianity right. But holding that, of course, undermines our ability to trust Christianity itself.”

Love, Lord, give me faith,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura is unbiblical


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

During his four-year tour, he became involved in ministry with various Assemblies of God communities. Immediately after his tour of duty, Tim enrolled in Jimmy Swaggart Bible College and became a youth minister in an Assembly of God community. During his final year in the Marines, however, Tim met a Marine who really knew his faith and challenged Tim to study Catholicism from Catholic and historical sources. That encounter sparked a two-year search for the truth. Tim was determined to prove Catholicism wrong, but he ended up studying his way to the last place he thought he would ever end up: the Catholic Church!

He converted to Catholicism in 1988 and spent the following six years in formation for the priesthood, earning a degree in philosophy from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. He then studied theology on a graduate level at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for two years. Realizing that his calling was not to the priesthood, Tim left the seminary in 1994 and has been working in Catholic apologetics and evangelization ever since.

“Sola Scriptura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant. On a popular level, it simply meant, “If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!” And it seemed so simple. Unassailable. And yet, I do not recall ever hearing a detailed teaching explicating it. It was always a given. Unchallenged. Diving deeper into its meaning, especially when I was challenged to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism, I found there to be no book specifically on the topic and no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors.

Once I got past the superficial, I had to try to answer real questions like, what role does tradition play? How explicit does a doctrine have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? How many times does it have to be mentioned in Scripture before it would be dogmatic? Where does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How do we know what the canon of Scripture is using the principle of sola scriptura? Who is authorized to write Scripture in the first place? When was the canon closed? Or, the best question of all: where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible? These questions and more were left virtually unanswered or left to the varying opinions of various Bible teachers.

The Protestant Response

In answer to this last question, “Where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible?” most Protestants will immediately respond as I did, by simply citing II Tm. 3:16:

“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

“How can it get any plainer than that? Doesn’t that say the Bible is all we need?” Question answered.

The fact is: II Timothy 3—or any other text of Scripture—does not even hint at sola scriptura. It says Scripture is inspired and necessary to equip “the man of God,” but never does it say Scripture alone is all anyone needs. We’ll come back to this text in particular later. But in my experience as a Protestant, it was my attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism that led me to conclude: sola scriptura is 1) unreasonable 2) unbiblical and 3) unworkable.

Sola Scriptura is Unreasonable

When defending sola scriptura, the Protestant will predictably appeal to his sole authority—Scripture. This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of circular reasoning which betrays an essential problem with the doctrine itself. One cannot prove the inspiration of a text from the text itself. The Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Koran, and other books claim inspiration. This does not make them inspired. One must prove the point outside of the text itself to avoid the fallacy of circular reasoning.

Thus, the question remains: how do we know the various books of the Bible are inspired and therefore canonical? And remember: the Protestant must use the principle of sola scriptura in the process.

II Tim. 3:16 is not a valid response to the question. The problems are manifold. Beyond the fact of circular reasoning, for example, I would point out the fact that this verse says all Scripture is inspired tells us nothing of what the canon consists. Just recently, I was speaking with a Protestant inquirer about this issue and he saw my point. He then said words to the effect of, “I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth as Jesus said in Jn. 16:13. The Holy Spirit guided the early Christians and helped them to gather the canon of Scripture and declare it to be the inspired word of God. God would not leave us without his word to guide us.”

That answer is much more Catholic than Protestant! Yes, Jn. 16:13 does say the Spirit will lead the apostles—and by allusion, the Church—into all truth. But this verse has nothing to say about sola scriptura. Nor does it say a word about the nature or number of books in the canon. Catholics certainly agree that the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to canonize the Scriptures because the Catholic Church teaches that there is an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The obvious problem is my Protestant friend did not use sola scriptura as his guiding principle to arrive at his conclusion. How does, for example, Jn. 16:13 tell us that Hebrews was written by an apostolic writer and that it is inspired of God? We would ultimately have to rely on the infallibility of whoever “the Holy Spirit” is guiding to canonize the Bible so that they could not mishear what the Spirit was saying about which books of the Bible are truly inspired.

In order to put this argument of my friend into perspective, can you imagine if a Catholic made a similar claim to demonstrate, say, Mary to be the Mother of God? “We believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and guided the early Christians to declare this truth.” I can almost hear the response. “Show me in the Bible where Mary is the Mother of God! I don’t want to hear about God guiding the Church!” Wouldn’t the same question remain for the Protestant concerning the canon? “Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

The Protestant response at this point is often an attempt to use the same argument against the Catholic. “How do you know the Scriptures are inspired? Your reasoning is just as circular because you say the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so and then say the Scriptures are inspired and infallible because the Church says so!”

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular. We do not say “the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so, and the Scriptures are inspired because the infallible Church says so.” That would be a kind of circular reasoning. The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. The Church is infallible because Jesus said so.

Having said that, it is true that we know the Scriptures to be inspired because the Church has told us so. That is also an historical fact. However, this is not circular reasoning. When the Catholic approaches Scripture, he or she begins with the Bible as an historical document, not as inspired. As any reputable historian will tell you, the New Testament is the most accurate and verifiable historical document in all of ancient history. To deny the substance of the historical documents recorded therein would be absurd. However, one cannot deduce from this that they are inspired. There are many accurate historical documents that are not inspired. However, the Scriptures do give us accurate historical information whether one holds to their inspiration or not. Further, this testimony of the Bible is backed up by hundreds of works by early Christians and non-Christian writers like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and more. It is on this basis that we can say it is an historical fact that Jesus lived, died, and was reported to be resurrected from the dead by over 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these eyewitnesses went to their deaths testifying to the veracity of the Christ-event (see Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 21:18-19, 24-25, Acts 1:1-11, I Cr. 15:1-8).

Now, what do we find when we examine the historical record? Jesus Christ—as a matter of history–established a Church, not a book, to be the foundation of the Christian Faith (see Mt. 16:15-18; 18:15-18. Cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:10,20-21; 4:11-15; I Tm. 3:15; Hb. 13:7,17, etc.). He said of his Church, “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). The many books that comprise what we call the Bible never tell us crucial truths such as the fact that they are inspired, who can and cannot be the human authors of them, who authored them at all, or, as I said before, what the canon of Scripture is in the first place. And this is just to name a few examples. What is very clear historically is that Jesus established a kingdom with a hierarchy and authority to speak for him (see Lk. 20:29-32, Mt. 10:40, 28:18-20). It was members of this Kingdom—the Church—that would write the Scripture, preserve its many texts and eventually canonize it. The Scriptures cannot write or canonize themselves. To put it simply, reason clearly rejects sola scriptura as a self-refuting principle because one cannot determine what the “scriptura” is using the principle of sola scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical

Let us now consider the most common text used by Protestants to “prove” sola scriptura, II Tm. 3:16, which I quoted above:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The problem with using this text as such is threefold: 1. Strictly speaking, it does not speak of the New Testament at all. 2. It does not claim Scripture to be the sole rule of faith for Christians. 3. The Bible teaches oral Tradition to be on a par with and just as necessary as the written Tradition, or Scripture.

1. What’s Old is Not New

Let us examine the context of the passage by reading the two preceding verses:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood (italics added) you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, this passage does not refer to the New Testament at all. None of the New Testament books had been written when St. Timothy was a child! To claim this verse in order to authenticate a book, say, the book of Revelation, when it had most likely not even been written yet, is more than a stretch. That is going far beyond what the text actually claims.

2. The Trouble With Sola

As a Protestant, I was guilty of seeing more than one sola in Scripture that simply did not exist. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith. And we Catholics believe it. However, we do not believe in justification by faith alone because, among many other reasons, the Bible says, we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added). Analogously, when the Bible says Scripture is inspired and profitable for “the man of God,” to be “equipped for every good work,” we Catholics believe it. However, the text of II Tim. 3:16 never says Scripture alone. There is no sola to be found here either! Even if we granted II Tm. 3:16 was talking about all of Scripture, it never claims Scripture to be the sole rule of faith. A rule of faith, to be sure! But not the sole rule of faith.

James 1:4 illustrates clearly the problem with Protestant exegesis of II Tim. 3:16:

And let steadfastness (patience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we apply the same principle of exegesis to this text that the Protestant does to II Tm. 3:16 we would have to say that all we need is patience to be perfected. We don’t need faith, hope, charity, the Church, baptism, etc.

Of course, any Christian would immediately say this is absurd. And of course it is. But James’s emphasis on the central importance of patience is even stronger than St. Paul’s emphasis on Scripture. The key is to see that there is not a sola to be found in either text. Sola patientia would be just as much an error as is sola scriptura.

3. The Tradition of God is the Word of God

Not only is the Bible silent when it comes to sola scriptura, but Scripture is remarkably plain in teaching oral Tradition to be just as much the word of God as is Scripture. In what most scholars believe was the first book written in the New Testament, St. Paul said:

And we also thank God… that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… (I Thess. 2:13)

II Thess. 2:15 adds:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you have been taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

According to St. Paul, the spoken word from the apostles was just as much the word of God as was the later written word.

Sola Scriptura is Unworkable

When it comes to the tradition of Protestantism—sola scriptura—the silence of the text of Scripture is deafening. When it comes to the true authority of Scripture and Tradition, the Scriptures are clear. And when it comes to the teaching and governing authority of the Church, the biblical text is equally as clear:

If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone … But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you … If he refuses to listen … tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17)

According to Scripture, the Church—not the Bible alone—is the final court of appeal for the people of God in matters of faith and discipline. But isn’t it also telling that since the Reformation of just ca. 480 years ago—a reformation claiming sola scriptura as its formal principle—there are now over 33,000 denominations that have derived from it?

For 1,500 years, Christianity saw just a few enduring schisms (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Orthodox, and a very few others). Now in just 480 years we have this? I hardly think that when Jesus prophesied there would be “one shepherd and one fold” in Jn. 10:16, this is what he had in mind. It seems quite clear to me that not only is sola scriptura unreasonable and unbiblical, but it is unworkable. The proof is in the puddin’!”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Rosary: does the Bible really condemn repetitious prayer?

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that the rosary is a legitimate prayer when the Bible forbids repetitious prayer?

The rosary is a popular Catholic devotion that the Catechism endorses as a “form of piety” that expresses the “religious sense of the Christian people” (1674).  [It is a prayer form that developed for the illiterate, ordinary people as only clerics were taught to read and write.  Those same clerics were required to recite the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a formalized way of singing the Psalm twenty-four hours a day, praising God for time, which is a holy gift from God.  Since ordinary people could not read the books for this form of prayer, the rosary developed, so they could say the simple prayers they had memorized in imitation.] But for many Protestants, the rosary, with its repetition of the Hail Mary (Lk 1:46-55) prayer, contradicts Jesus’ command to “Use no vain repetitions as the heathens do” (Matt. 6:7; KJV). It would seem that the Catholic practice of praying the rosary is a direct violation of Jesus’ command.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. Jesus wasn’t condemning prayers that involve repetition, but rather the idea that the quantity of prayer determines its efficacy.

The Greek word translated “vain repetition” is battalogeō, which can mean to speak in a stammering way, saying the same words over and over again without thinking. But it can also mean “to use many words, to speak for a long time.” So it can connote either mindless repetition or quantity.

Which meaning does Jesus have in mind?

The context reveals that Jesus has the quantity of prayers in mind. For example, Jesus says in verse 7, “For they [the Gentiles] think that they will be heard for their many words,” as if their many words could wear down the gods in order to get what they wanted. This is the mentality of prayer that Jesus is telling his disciples to avoid—the mentality that sheer volume of words ensures that God hears us.

This explains why Jesus says in verse 8, “Don’t be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The implication is that it’s futile to think a bunch of words is needed for God to hear a prayer, because he already knows it.

So, Jesus is not concerned with repetition simply. He’s concerned with the idea that simply multiplying words makes prayers efficacious.

2. The rosary is not meant to gain favors from God due to the amount of prayers repeated.

According to the Catechism, the rosary is an “epitome of the whole gospel” (971). It is meant to focus our hearts and minds on the mysteries of Christ’s life, mysteries such as his conception in Mary’s womb at the Annunciation, his birth in Bethlehem, his baptism and preaching ministry, his glorious resurrection, and his ascension into heaven.

Meditating on these mysteries is meant to give us a deeper knowledge of Christ and draw us into a deeper communion with him, so that we can be more conformed to him. And we include Mary in that meditation because her soul “magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). The rosary, therefore, is a way to meditate on Christ in order to foster a greater love for him. The repetition of prayers serves that meditation—and that’s a biblical thing.

3. The Bible affirms prayers that involve repetition.

We can start with Jesus Himself. Notice that right after Jesus condemns the “vain repetitions” of the Gentiles, he commands the apostles, “Pray like this…Our Father who art in heaven.” Does Jesus intend for us to only say it once? Are we forbidden to repeat the Lord’s Prayer? Most Protestants have said it many times; perhaps they say it more than once a day.

Another example is Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father…remove this cup…not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Mark tells us that Jesus prayed this multiple times: “And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words” (14:39). Surely, Jesus wouldn’t be violating his own command not to pray with “vain repetitions.”

We also have an example from the “four living creatures” (angels) that John sees in heaven: “Day and night they never cease to sing, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). If any prayer involves repetition, it’s this one!

The Psalms even give us forms of prayer that involve repetition. Consider, for example, Psalm 136. Its refrain, “for his steadfast love endures forever,” occurs twenty-six times. Must we say that the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) who inspired the Psalmist to write this, is at odds with Jesus (the second person of the Trinity)?

Since the Bible affirms prayers that involve repetition, we can conclude that the repetition in the rosary does not violate Christ’s words.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Why should we think that a condemnation of useless repetition is a condemnation of any repetition? Couldn’t there be repetitious prayer that is heartfelt and helps us love God more?

[Editor: Ps 51:1]

AFTERTHOUGHT: One of the benefits of praying the rosary is that it protects us from focusing our prayer too much on what we want and need. Praying for our needs is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be the only thing we pray about. The rosary helps us to focus on what should be the first object of prayer: Jesus.

Love,
Matthew

The Protestant Challenge

Oral Torah


-by Karlo Broussard

Q. What is the Protestant challenge that you meet in your new book?

Karlo: In Mark 7:9-13, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for holding to traditions that entail a rejection of God’s commandment and make void God’s Word. Many Protestants claim several Catholic beliefs fall under this condemnation, because they think such beliefs contradict the Bible.

The challenge usually takes the form, “How can the Catholic Church teach X, when the Bible says Y?” For example, how can the Catholic Church teach that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth when the Bible says that Jesus had brothers (Matt. 13:55)? Or how can the Catholic Church teach that works have a role to play in our salvation when the Bible says in Romans 3:28 that “we are justified by faith and not by works of the law?”

It’s this sort of challenge that I meet in the book, covering fifty of the most common challenges that Protestants make.

Q. Is this challenge the only Protestant challenge? Or, are there other kinds of challenges? If so, how do they differ from this one?

Karlo: The challenge that I meet in my book is not the only challenge. Any Catholic who talks religion with Protestants has at some time been challenged with the question, “Where’s that in the Bible?”

Much of Catholic apologetics, especially since its revival in the late eighties, has centered on answering that question, offering positive arguments for the biblical basis of Catholic doctrine. But, since Catholics don’t operate on the principle of sola scriptura, we don’t believe that every Christian truth has to be explicitly found in Scripture. We also appeal to truths revealed by God and preserved outside of the Bible in Sacred Tradition.

For example, Protestants may ask, “Where is Mary’s bodily assumption in the Bible?” But a Catholic can simply reply, “I don’t need to justify it with Scripture, since I can accept it on the basis that it’s a part of Sacred Tradition as infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII” (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950).

Of course, a Protestant is not going to find the above response persuasive (and it would open up other debates about Christian teaching authority). But at least he can’t charge a Catholic with incoherence in his belief.

The kind of Protestant challenge that I address, however, does charge a Catholic with incoherence. And this is the kind of challenge that a Catholic must meet, because whatever the Church teaches, even if derived principally from Sacred Tradition and not the Bible, can’t contradict the Bible. Scripture and Tradition are two streams of revelation that flow from the same source, God.

Our task as Catholics, therefore, is to show that Catholic teaching doesn’t contradict those Bible passages that some Protestants think pose a threat to it. The purpose of this book is to help the reader fulfill this task.

Q. What are some of the main Catholic beliefs that our Protestant friends challenge us on that you show don’t contradict the Bible?

Karlo: I examine fifty challenges that cover a variety of beliefs concerning Church authority, Scripture and Tradition, salvation, the sacraments, Mary and the saints, eschatology (study of the last things), and Catholic life and practice.

So, for example, with regard to Church authority, I defend the Catholic belief that Jesus established his Church with a hierarchy with Peter at the head. With regard to Scripture and Tradition, I defend the Catholic belief that a Christian must accept and honor “both Scripture and Tradition” (CCC 82), because the Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone” (82).

On the topic of salvation, I meet challenges to the Catholic belief that salvation and justification are not one-time events of the past but have different stages, and that good works play an essential role when it comes to the ongoing and final stages.

The sacraments that I defend include Baptism, the Eucharist, Confession, the Priesthood, and Marriage.

The challenged beliefs about Mary are the familiar ones: her perpetual virginity, her sinlessness, and her Queenship. The main belief about the saints that I deal with is the intercession of the saints.

With regard to eschatology, I tackle challenges that deal with Purgatory and the Catholic view of the end times in relation to Protestant views on the Rapture and the millennium in Revelation.

Finally, I meet challenges made against the Catholic practices of clerical celibacy, abstinence from meat on Fridays during Lent, calling priests father, praying the rosary, moderate use of wine, and Catholic statues.

Q. Can you explain a little bit about what the reader should expect when they read each chapter?

Karlo: Each chapter begins with a brief statement of the Catholic belief, usually derived from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Then, the Protestant challenge to the belief is explained.

The section where I meet the challenge usually consists of two to three ways in which one can show the Catholic belief doesn’t contradict the Bible. Also, some of the responses require that I give positive biblical evidence for the belief. And this, of course, equips the reader with what’s needed to answer the other Protestant challenge, “Where’s that in the Bible?”

After learning how to meet the challenge, the reader is given a “Catholic Counter,” which is a brief question that a Catholic can ask a Protestant as a sort of counter challenge. We can’t always be on the defensive. We have to learn to challenge our Protestant friends’ beliefs as well.

Q. What is the ultimate goal for this book? In other words, what do you hope it will accomplish for the person who reads it?

Karlo: My hope is that the reader will become more efficient in their conversations with Protestants. Also, I hope the book will strengthen the reader’s own faith, helping him or her know that in embracing Catholic teaching he or she is not “making void the word of God through [his or her] tradition” (Mark 7:13).

Love,
Matthew

Revelation 22:18-19

“Catholic Bibles are bigger than Protestant ones. The Catechism teaches that the canon of Scripture includes “forty-six books for the Old Testament (forty-five if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and twenty-seven for the New” (120). Although Protestants agree with Catholics on the books that make up the New Testament, there are seven books in the Catholic Old Testament canon that they reject: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. They also reject portions of the books of Daniel and Esther. Catholics refer to these seven books as the deuterocanonical (second-canon) books and Protestants call them the Apocrypha.

You may run across a Protestant who rejects the deuterocanonical books because he thinks the Catholic Church added these books, in violation of John’s prohibition to add to the Bible:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19).

John says not to add to Scripture, yet the Catholic Church literally added seven whole books and more!

Reply:

1. If we granted for argument’s sake that John here is referring to the entire canon of Scripture, then Protestants would be guilty for removing the deuterocanonicals.

If we suppose that John is talking about the biblical canon (the list of all the books that make up the Bible) in Revelation 22:18-19, then the challenge becomes a two-edged sword. A Protestant may argue that the Catholic Church added books to the Bible, but a Catholic can just as easily argue that the Protestant community took some books away.

The seven books found in the Catholic Old Testament that are not found in the Protestant Old Testament were widely held as Scripture all throughout Christian history, and it was not until the Protestant Reformation that their canonicity was called into question and rejected on a major scale.

Prior to the Reformation, some individuals did question the canonicity of these books, but for the most part Christians as a whole accepted them. Numerous fourth and fifth-century Church councils authoritatively declared them to be inspired: the Synod of Rome (A.D. 382), Council of Hippo (393), Third Council of Carthage (397), and Sixth Council of Carthage (419). Protestant scholar J.N.D. Kelly affirms the major consensus on these books in the early Church: “For the great majority, however, the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.”

Such historical evidence makes this challenge difficult for a Protestant. If Revelation 22:18-19 refers to the canon, then the prohibition of “taking away” from it is just as strong as the prohibition of adding to it. So how can Protestants reject seven books from the Bible when Revelation 22:18-19 forbids it?
2. This passage is not even discussing the canon of Scripture but merely the book of Revelation.

These verses, however, don’t even refer to the entire Bible. The Greek word use here for book, biblion, can mean “small book” or “scroll.” In the ancient world, it was impossible to fit the entire Bible on a single scroll. The books of the Bible were originally individual compositions, such as an individual scroll, and the biblical canon as we know it was a collection of individual scrolls, a library of books. That’s why they’re called the “books” (plural) of the Bible. These books would not be put into a single volume until centuries later.

Therefore, it makes most sense to read the phrase “book of this prophecy” as referring to the scroll in which John is recording his prophecy, namely, the book of Revelation. As such, John’s instruction not to add or remove anything refers to the book he was writing—Revelation—and not the future canon of Scripture (which wouldn’t be authoritatively settled for centuries after).

A similar instruction is given is Deuteronomy 4:2, where Moses says, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” Moses wasn’t referring to the whole Old Testament canon; otherwise we would have to side with the Sadducees and reject every Old Testament book outside the Pentateuch. He was merely prohibiting adding or taking away from the “statutes and the ordinances” that constitute the Mosaic Law.

Since we now know that John was not giving instructions concerning the biblical canon, but instructions governing the book of Revelation (don’t add to the prophetic text of Revelation and don’t take away from it), it becomes clear that Revelation 22:18-19 doesn’t undermine the Catholic canon, regardless of whether the Catholic Church added books to the biblical canon or Protestants subtracted from it. Of course, we must not add to or subtract from the canon of Scripture. But that is not what John is talking about in this passage.

Reply: How could John be referring to the entire biblical canon in Revelation 22:18-19 when the canon wouldn’t be settled for another several hundred years?

Consider: Your Protestant friend might argue that because the New Testament doesn’t quote any of the deuterocanonical books we have good reason to exclude them from the canon of Scripture. This is common among some Protestants. But this logic would demand that we also exclude from the canon Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Judges, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, Nahum, Joshua, Obadiah, and Zephaniah, since the New Testament doesn’t quote any of these. I don’t think your Protestant friend wants to make his biblical canon any smaller!”

Love,
Matthew

Tell me brother, are you saved?


-by Jimmy Akin, a former Presbyterian, Jimmy is a convert to the Faith and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.

“There are many books on the subject of salvation, and many of them share certain characteristics:
1. They focus exclusively on the subject of eternal salvation.
2. They focus in particular on the doctrine of justification.
3. They often ignore, in the interests of systematic theology, the way in which the Bible uses language.
4. They are often written in a polemical, hostile style.
5. Due to the authors’ unfamiliarity with the way other groups of Christians express themselves, they mistakenly criticize views on which there is no disagreement in substance.

The Drama of Salvation is different.

While it does discuss the subject of eternal salvation, it also seeks to show that the concept of salvation in the Bible is much broader than that.

While it discusses the doctrine of justification, it also gives attention to other biblical themes relating to salvation.

While it addresses concerns of systematic theology, it focuses significantly on the way the Bible talks about salvation—the kind of language Scripture uses when addressing it.

While it takes a very definite position on many matters, it is not meant to be polemical or hostile toward those with other beliefs.

Finally, while this book is critical of positions I believe to be in error, it takes great care to understand the ways in which different groups of Christians express themselves.

Tragically, Protestants and Catholics often talk past each other, failing to perceive the ways that the other uses words and phrases. I hope that this book will help both Catholics and Protestants “translate” the theological language of one group into the language of the other so that individuals on both sides can better understand what their partners in dialogue or controversy actually mean, not just what they say.

Often the two groups are led astray by terminology. They often perceive themselves to be in disagreement when actually they are not—or, at least, when the disagreement is not as sharp as they think.

This is precisely the kind of situation that St. Paul was addressing when he warned about quarreling over words. He instructed St. Timothy to charge his flock “before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Tim. 2:14).

Similarly, Paul said that a person who is quarrelsome about words is “puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:4–5).

Contemporary Christians of all persuasions need to take Paul’s words to heart. My hope is that this book will help bring about a greater understanding of how Scripture treats the subject of salvation and how different groups of Christians understand it.
Something is desperately wrong with the world. We all sense it. With all of the wars, crimes, hatreds, and cruelties the world contains, something is definitely wrong. Mankind’s catalogue of sin and vice is endless, and there seem to be new moral challenges every day.

What’s worse, the problem is not just in the world. It is within us. Each of us has done wrong in our lives. Sometimes we have done things that are very wrong. If we are lucky, we have enough conscience and courage to face our own misdeeds. But too often, we rationalize them away or we ignore them and pretend that they don’t exist.

The fact that we realize there is something wrong with the world—and with ourselves—raises a set of questions: What will happen as a result of all the bad things that take place in the world? Will the innocent always suffer? Will the guilty always triumph? Will matters ever be put right? Is there justice in the world? And if there is, can that justice be tempered with mercy?

Religions and philosophies propose different answers to these questions. From the Christian point of view, there is ultimate justice. In the last day, God will judge the living and the dead. He will eventually right every wrong. He will console and compensate those who have suffered innocently. He will punish those who have done wrong. And He will be merciful to those who have sought His grace and forgiveness.

From the Christian point of view, all human beings will have one of two destinies: to be spiritually united with God in heaven or to be spiritually separated from God in hell. The former promises an eternity of happiness, the latter an eternity of anguish.

Obviously, one destiny is preferable to the other. The question is how to make sure you have the preferable one—or, to put it another way, how to make sure that you’re saved.

Salvation is one of many terms the Bible uses to describe the way God works in our lives to deal with the effects of sin. The basic image is one of rescue. To save someone is to rescue him, as when a fireman saves someone from a burning building, or one soldier saves another on the battlefield. Any time someone is saved, he is rescued from a perilous situation.

From what are we being rescued when God saves us? This can be understood in different ways. In one sense, we are being rescued from being eternally lost. That state, though, is a result of our sins, and so we can also think about salvation as being rescued from our sins. Sin entered the world through the agency of the devil, and so we can think of salvation in terms of being rescued from the powers of darkness as well.

In addition to conceiving of salvation as rescue from one state, it can also be understood as rescue to another, better state. In this sense, God can be understood as saving us from hell to heaven, from sin to holiness, and from the devil to God himself.

None of these understandings are exclusive. They are all compatible.

In addition to the concept of salvation, the Bible uses other images to describe the way God deals with sin in our lives. These include justification (being made righteous), sanctification (being made holy), and forgiveness (releasing of spiritual debt). All of these describe different aspects of what God does in our lives to deal with our sins.

These concepts are what this book is about. In the coming chapters, we will look at them and the rich and, at times, surprising ways that Scripture employs them. We will also look at the controversy that surrounds them. Unfortunately, not all Christians understand these concepts in the same way. The disagreement is particularly strong in the Protestant community, which is sharply divided on several points.

To set the stage for that discussion, we will begin by looking—in broad outlines—at the view that was common prior to the Protestant Reformation and that is still common among Catholics, Orthodox, and members of other historic churches.

It is a view that is rooted in the Bible.”

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 9 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

“To wrap up this short series, I hope to describe as simply and clearly as I can the essential line thought that led me, as a Baptist minister, to embrace the Catholic teaching of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Step One: The Witness of the Fathers

As I explained in Part I, the first step was reading the early Church Fathers and finding myself faced with descriptions of the Eucharist that were totally different than I was familiar with and that I would have ever thought to use.

Jesus had said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54) and the early Church seemed to take this literally.

For Christians living in the earliest centuries of Christian history, the Eucharist was a meal of remembrance of Christ’s death, as I would have said as a Baptist, but it was more than that. It was supernatural food, a miraculous meal in which simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. It was, to quote St. Ignatius of Antioch, an early bishop and disciple of St. John, the “medicine of immortality.”

The following quotation from St. Justin Martyr is fairly typical of what one finds in the writings of the early Church Fathers.

For not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus (First Apology 66).

During the past week, I’ve pulled four of five important historians of Christian doctrine off the shelf and looked again at what they have to say on this subject, only to have my own impressions confirmed.

According to one of the most prominent, J.N.D. Kelly:

Eucharistic teaching, it should be said at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e. the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 440).

Even those historians who personally reject the doctrine of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist tend to admit that this indeed was the view of the Church from as far back as we can tell. Of course they take this as an illustration of how quickly the Church departed from what they perceive to be the “clear teaching” of the New Testament.

Step Two: The Examination of Scripture

The next step for me was to leave the writings of the early Church to re-examine the writings of the Apostles themselves. After all, the writings of the Fathers are not inspired. Only Scripture is inspired.

Now, I’d read the New Testament passages that touch on the Lord’s Supper many times. What I was eager to do now was read them again in the light of what I had seen in the early Church.

I wondered, would the Apostles contradict the early Church’s view of the Eucharist? Would the things they say about the Lord’s Supper support the teaching of the early Church, and possibly even be illuminated by it? Would I see things in Scripture I hadn’t noticed before?

What I found was that this was indeed the case.

First, there was nothing whatsoever in the New Testament that was not entirely consistent with the faith and teaching of the early Church, nothing that excluded or contradicted it.

But beyond this, there certain Old and New Testament biblical themes and passages that seemed positively illuminated when read in the light of the early Church’s faith and teaching (see Parts II, III and IV of this series).

I did not come away thinking I could, from the New Testament alone, somehow “prove” the doctrine of the Real Presence, or demonstrate its truth “beyond a shadow of doubt.” There simply is no passage where a “doctrine” of the Eucharist is spelled out in so many words.

But this only served to confirm something I had been coming to think for some time: that the New Testament was not written to function alone.

After all, Christian doctrine was something the Apostles taught the churches they founded, over a period of time, by word of mouth and face-to-face. St. Paul speaks, for instance, of having spent a year and six months in Corinth and three years in Ephesus teaching the believers there “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 18:11 and 20:27).

When the Apostles later wrote letters to those churches, the letters that comprise a good part of our New Testaments, with rare exceptions they were writing to those who already knew the doctrines of the faith and needed specific encouragement or correction or some issue resolved. When the churches read those letters, they read them, and understood them, in the light of what they had already been taught and already knew.

It wasn’t entirely surprising to me, then, to find that the passages in the New Testament that talk about the Lord’s Supper might need to be read and understood in the light of the early Church’s teaching.

Step Three: Relating Scripture and Tradition

All of this led to me thinking more deeply about the relationship of Scripture (the teaching of the Apostles as it was written down) to what Catholics refer to as “Tradition” (the teaching of the Apostles as it was known and preserved in the churches they founded).

As a general principle, it seemed reasonable to me to think that the teaching of the Apostles would be reflected in the faith and practice of the early Church, more than reasonable to think that when one found unanimous consent among the early Church Fathers on a particular issue, what the early Church believed would be a very good indicator of what the Apostles had taught. This made sense to me.

Given that we know all about the debates that took place in the early Church over issues both great and small (e.g. the correct day for celebrating Easter), it did not seem reasonable to me to imagine that when it came to the Eucharist, the very center of Christian worship, the Apostles would teach one thing and Church turn around and immediately teach another and there be no record of a debate on the issue.

This did not make sense.

And yet, here I was staring at quotations spread over the first three centuries of Christian history, quotations from the most prominent bishops, apologists and theologians of the Church at that time. I’m looking at quotations from every corner of the Roman Empire: from Syria (Ignatius), from Rome (Justin Martyr), from the south of France (Irenaeus), from Egypt (Clement and Origin), from Carthage and Hippo in North Africa (Tertullian and Augustine), from Milan (Ambrose).

Three centuries of witness from every corner of the Christian world supporting the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and no record of any dispute? Not even one priest or bishop rising up to say, “this is not what we received from the Apostles!”?

Having been an evangelical Protestant for many years, there was the ingrained tendency in me to think:

Listen, Ken, everything God wants us to know is recorded in the New Testament and laid out clearly enough to be understood. You need to look again at the passages, examine the exegetical arguments and decide on the basis of Scripture alone which view you think best reflects the data. That’s how these things are determined. It doesn’t really matter what the early Church thought.

At the same time, thoughts that were new to this evangelical Protestant were beginning to insinuate themselves:

But Ken, Luther examined the data and came out in one place, Calvin examined the data and came out in another. And then there were the Baptists who examined the data and hold a view of the Lord’s Supper that differs from both Luther and Calvin. What if the New Testament wasn’t meant to function “alone”?

What if the very reason sincere and prayerful students of Scripture can “examine the data” for years, decades and centuries and not agree on the nature of the Eucharist is that the writings of the Apostles need to be read and understood in the light of that teaching preserved and handed down within the Church?

Step Four: Tradition in the Early Church

The final step for me was coming to see that this is exactly the view the early Church had of the correct relationship between the inspired Scripture and the faith and teaching of the Church.

In his book Against Heresies, the first serious work of biblical theology that we possess, St. Irenaeus describes the Apostles as having deposited their teaching in the Church as a rich man deposits his money in a bank. Because of this, when there are disputes about the correct teaching, Christians, he says, can come to the Church to draw from her the truth.

As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith [from the apostles], although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth…. When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the truth, which is easily obtained from the Church. For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the truth; and everyone whoever wishes draws from her the drink of life (Against Heresies I:10:2 and 3:4:1, c. 189 A.D.)

What can I say but that this was a way of looking at things that was beginning to make more and more sense to this Evangelical.

I had treated the New Testament as though it were a stand-alone manual of Christian doctrine. The early Christians did not think of the New Testament in this way.

I had treated the faith and practice of the early Church as though it were essentially worthless when it comes to deciding what to believe as a Christian or how to understand the New Testament. None of the early Church Fathers thought in this way. None of them.

I was beginning now to think that my understanding of the nature of both the New Testament and Tradition, and how the two should be related to one another, was simply incorrect. I was beginning to think that the Catholic Church’s view of these matters was not only more historical, but more biblical.

Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And sacred Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God, which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.

Although this sounds like another quotation from the early Church Fathers, it’s actually from Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 8 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

What Jesus Says and Does

So what am I talking about?

Well, so far Jesus has revealed himself to be the bread of life sent down from the Father in heaven. Those who “come” to him and “believe” in him will never hunger or thirst but will have eternal life, because Jesus will raise them up on the last day.

Beginning around verse 48, however, Jesus begins to use language he hasn’t to this point. He identifies the living bread with his “flesh” and says that one must “eat” this bread to live forever.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (vs. 51).

Now, those listening pick up on this shift in expression and immediately begin to dispute among themselves: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (vs. 52).

And what’s our Lord’s response? Does he explain that what he means by this is that they must “come to him” and “believe in him”? No. Instead, Jesus intensifies his language. He begins to insist—in the most literalistic and graphic of terms—that his listeners must “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood” if they would have life.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him . . . He who eats me will live because of me . . . He who eats this bread will live for ever” (vs. 53-58).

Jesus even switches from the more usual Greek verb for “eating” to use a word that means “to chew” or “to gnaw.” He repeats this particular verb four times in verses 54 through 58.

The repetition of this idea that his followers must eat, chew, gnaw upon his flesh and drink his blood is striking. It turns that not only are the Jews in general offended and scandalized, so are his disciples. It sounds to them as though Jesus is commanding some form of cannibalism and the exact reverse of the Mosaic laws forbidding the eating of flesh with the blood.

“Many of his disciples when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (vs. 60). “After this,” we read, “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (vs. 66).

And what does Jesus do? Again, does he explain that he has only been speaking “figuratively”? No. He lets them leave.

He even asks the twelve, “Will you also go away?” To which Peter famously responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 67-69).

I had to admit it: This does not make sense—if all that Jesus meant was that his disciples must “come” to him and “believe” in him.

After all, Jesus’ disciples had already “come” to him and “believed” in him. And yet he allows “many” of them to draw back and “no longer” walk with him. He lets them go. In other words, this was the end of the road for a good number of his disciples.

Even the twelve, those who would become his Apostles, are on the verge of leaving, and it appears as though Jesus would have let them go as well!

It appears as though Jesus would have let everyone go! And all he had to do was say, “Hey, I’m only speaking figuratively”?

Didn’t make sense. Whatever Jesus is saying here, he must be saying something more than that to receive eternal life we need to come to him and believe in him. He must be saying something more than this.

Baptists, Presbyterians and other Evangelicals all say that the figurative interpretation explains the passage.

Catholics say that in John chapter 6 Jesus is pointing forward to when, after suffering on the cross and ascending to heaven, he will give his body and blood as supernatural food and drink in the Eucharist; that this passage is pointing forward to the greatest miraculous meal of all, the feeding of the multitudes par excellence.

What other options are there? Assuming Jesus wasn’t teaching cannibalism, what options are there beyond his words being purely figurative and them indicating some means by which his disciples will have his glorified flesh and blood to eat and drink, some version of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

At this point, there were several lines of thought converging in my head and moving me in direction of the Real Presence.”

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 7 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

“In our last post we looked at the pattern of miraculous meals in Scripture. This is a theme that recurs throughout the Old Testament and continues into the New Testament as well.

In their wilderness wanderings, the Lord supplied the children of Israel with supernatural food and drink, sending manna from heaven every morning and causing water to spring up from a rock to satisfy their hunger and thirst (Exodus 1-17).

During a time of drought and famine in Israel, the Lord sent ravens to miraculously feed Elijah and sending Elijah to miraculously feed a poor widow and her son (1 Kings 17:8-16).

Elijah’s successor Elisha miraculously multiplied a few loaves to feed a hundred hungry disciples (2 Kings 4:42-44) and pulled supernatural strings to cause a widow’s “one little jar of oil” to somehow fill to overflowing as many large vessels as she could find (2 Kings 4:1-7).

According to the Apostle John, the first “sign” our Lord performed, manifesting his glory and causing his disciples to believe in him, was to turn water into wine (John 2:1-11).

And then, the final example recorded in all four Gospels, the high point of this biblical pattern, the greatest of all miraculous meals, when Jesus takes a few loaves and fish and multiplies them to feed thousands and thousands of men, women and children.

Or was it? Was the feeding of the multitudes the greatest of all miraculous meals, the high point in the development of this biblical pattern and theme?

The Catholic scholars I was reading insisted that it wasn’t. They said that the feeding of the multitudes was simply the greatest type, the greatest shadow, pointing forward to the culmination and fulfillment of the all miraculous meals of Scripture: The Eucharist.

Of course as a Baptist it would not have crossed my mind to think of the Lord’s Supper as being prefigured by the manna, the water from the rock, the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, the feeding of the multitudes. At that time, I didn’t think of the Lord’s Supper as a meal in which a miracle of any kind was taking place.

The Bread of Life Discourse

There’s no doubt that John 6:22-69 is one of the most important New Testament passages that Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans point to when presenting a biblical case for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Biblical scholars typically refer to this passage as the “Bread of Life Discourse.”

It just so happens to immediately follow John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. Amazed at the miraculous meal Jesus has provided, the crowds want to take him by force and make him king. He withdrew to the hills alone, but word spreads of his location and the next day the crowds return, hungry and hoping that whatever he did the day before, he will do it again (John 6:14-24).

Jesus knows their hearts and encourages them to think about something more important than mere food and drink. “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you…” Jesus calls them to “believe” in him (vs. 25-29).

The response of the people is clever:

Fine. You want us to believe in you? You mention signs. OK, what sign will you perform so that we can believe in you? When our forefathers were starving in the wilderness, Moses was kind enough to give them bread from heaven. How about something along those lines?

But our Lord’s response is even more clever:

You just wait! The bread my Father is going to provide will make the manna look like the stalest of stale loaves! “The bread of God,” Jesus says, “is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (vs. 32-33).

The crowds are not sure what he’s saying, but they’re ready to listen: “Lord, give us this bread always” (vs. 34).

At this point, Jesus speaks the words no other religious figure in the history of the world has ever spoken or ever would have dared to speak: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

Believe and Receive

Now, as a Baptist, here is how I would have answered the Catholic who wished to argue that this passage in some way is looking forward to the Eucharist:

Yes, Jesus is the bread of life that the Father has sent from heaven to give life to the world. Yes, Jesus is the true manna.

However, notice what Jesus says here in verse 35: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” And recall how he answered when the people asked him, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” His answer? “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent” (vs. 29). And then what Jesus goes on to say in verse 40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” And verse 47: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”

In other words, Jesus is speaking figuratively. All he means to say by calling himself the bread of life is that the Father has sent him to bring life to the world. To possess that life, we must see the Son, come to him and believe in him. That’s it.

This is exactly what I would have said. And if the Bread of Life Discourse ended with verse 29, or 35, or 40, or 47, this interpretation might seem to explain Jesus’ words and make perfect sense of them.

The problem is that the passage doesn’t end with these verses.

Instead, Jesus continues on to say many things. What Catholic apologists were pointing out (and I was listening with greater care at this point) is that when one listens carefully to what Jesus says in verses 48 – 69, and watches what Jesus does, the figurative interpretation begins to makes less and less sense.

It just doesn’t deal seriously with the whole of the passage.”

Love,
Matthew

A Baptist minister discovers the Eucharist: Part 6 of 9


-by Ken Hensley

Miraculous Meals in the Old Testament

Now this whole concept was new to me.

It shouldn’t have been. After all, miraculous meals are a recurring theme in the Bible. Again and again, in both the Old and New Testaments, we find stories in which God’s people are fed through some supernatural means.

There’s the manna from heaven (Exodus 16) and water from the rock (Exodus 17). There’s the time when the Lord sent ravens to feed Elijah as he hiding in the wilderness (1 Kings 17).

And then there are a number of stories in which a small amount of food is miraculously multiplied to feed God’s people.

In 1 Kings 17, for instance, the prophet Elijah visits the home of a poor widow and her son. He says to her, “Make me something to eat!” She responds, “As the Lord lives, all I have is a little meal in my jar and a little oil in my vessel. I’m gathering some sticks right now to make something for me and my son before we die!”

Elijah instructs her to first make a cake and bring it to him and then to feed herself and her son, adding: “For thus says the Lord the God of Israel, ‘The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the vessel of oil shall not fail, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’”

And it happened. Her little jar of meal and vessel of oil miraculously continued to produce until it was no longer needed.

In 2 Kings chapter 4 we find a similar account. This time it’s Elisha the prophet meeting a woman who explains that her husband has died, that she’s in tremendous debt, and that her two children are about to be sold as slaves to pay the debt. She informs Elisha that all she has to her name is “one little jar of oil.”

Elisha immediately instructs her to “Go and borrow empty vessels from all your neighbors. Find as many as you can and bring them here!” He then tells her to fill the vessels from her “one little jar.” Miraculously, the oil doesn’t stop flowing until she has filled every vessel to overflowing and run out of vessels to fill.

Later on in that same chapter of 2 Kings, another miraculous multiplication of food takes place.

In this case Elisha is sitting with one hundred of his disciples and they’re hungry. One of his servants has some loaves of barley and a few ears of grain. Here’s the passage:

And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” But his servant said, “How am I to set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” So he set it before them. And they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord (2 Kings 4:42-44).

This is a recurring theme in the Old Testament and a theme that continues right on into the New Testament.

Miracle Meals in the New Testament

It’s hard to read the account of the woman who borrowed all the vessels from her neighbors and filled them to overflowing from her “one little jar” without being reminded of a similar miracle that would take place centuries later, this time at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, when Jesus would command the servants to bring six stone water jars each containing twenty or thirty gallons and “fill the jars with water” so that he might transform the water into wine.

It’s hard to read the account of Elisha multiplying the barley loaves and ears of grain to feed one hundred hungry disciples without thinking about the time Jesus took a few loaves and fish and multiplied them to feed thousands of men, women and children who had come to listen to him speak and had become hungry.

In fact, the parallels between these Old and New Testament stories are clear and fascinating.

Elijah has compassion on the poor starving widow and Elisha on his famished disciples. Likewise, when Jesus sees the crowds he says, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat; and I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matt 15:32)

Elisha’s servant objects when the prophet suggests that he feed the men: “How am I to set this before a hundred men?” (2 Kings 4:43). Likewise, the disciples object when Jesus suggests that they feed the multitude: “Where are we to get bread enough in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” (Matt 15:33).

In the end, Elijah and Elisha take whatever small amount the people have and miraculously multiply it to meet the need. Jesus does the same: “’How many loaves do you have?’ Jesus asked. ‘Seven,’ they replied, ‘and a few small fish’ (Matt 15:34).

And commanding the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied (Matt 15:35-37).

When our Lord changed water into wine and miraculously multiplied loaves and fish to feed the crowds, I’m convinced that he was consciously reenacting the miraculous meals of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus was saying, “One greater than these has come!”

But was he also looking forward when he performed these miracles? Was the feeding of the multitudes the end of this Scriptural pattern of miraculous meals, or was there more to come? This is something St. Paul’s association of the Eucharist with supernatural food and drink made me wonder about. It’s something the early Church’s beliefs about the Eucharist made me wonder about. If anything was clear, it was that the early Church viewed the Eucharist as a miraculous meal.

The Last Supper

As an Evangelical Protestant, when I thought about the Last Supper, two things primarily came to mind: the Passover and the institution of the New Covenant.

By choosing to share this Last Supper during the celebration of the Passover meal, Jesus was surely revealing himself to be the true Passover Lamb, whose death would free his people from their sins. “This is my body which is broken for you.”

But he was also announcing the institution of the New Covenant. In Exodus 24 Moses sprinkled blood on the altar on Mt. Sinai and instituted the Old Covenant with these words: “This is the blood of the covenant.” When Jesus raised the chalice at the Last Supper and said, “This is my blood of the covenant,” he was deliberately echoing Moses’ words. Jesus was announcing the institution of the New Covenant—this time in his own blood.

The Last Supper was patterned after these sacrificial meals. This much is clear.

But there seems to be more, here. The Last Supper also seems to be patterned after Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes.

In the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, whether in Matthew, Mark or Luke, the actions of Jesus are described in a very specific manner. As the disciples are reclining at table (Luke 22:14), Jesus “takes” bread, he “blesses” it, he “breaks” it, and he “gives” it to his disciples (See Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19).

Fine. So what? Well, it turns out that in every account of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes—again, whether looking at Matthew, Mark or Luke—Jesus’ actions are described in exactly the same way—in fact, using the very same words.

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied (Matt 14:19-20)

Here’s the point: It appears that Gospel authors have for some reason consciously patterned their description of the Last Supper in terms of Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes. The two events are being connected. Even the crowds being commanded to sit down on the grass is echoed in the disciplines reclining at the table.

Whether the feeding of the multitudes is seen as somehow looking forward to the Last Supper, or the Last Supper is seen as somehow looking backward to the feeding of the multitudes, the two are connected in the minds of the Gospel writers.

Conclusion

Certainly, at this point, there were more questions than answers for this Baptist minister.

But the questions were provocative: Why did the Apostles draw this connection between the Last Supper and the feeding of the multitudes? Did they conceive of the Last Supper as some kind of meal in which a miracle was taking place?

And what about the Eucharist, to which the Last Supper points? From the earliest centuries of Christian history, the Eucharist was treated as the center of Christian worship and, essentially, as theNew Testament fulfillment of the miracle of the manna, the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, our Lord’s multiplication of the loaves and the fish. Is there truth to this? Is something happening in the Eucharist that is like what happened when Jesus fed the multitudes?

Is the Eucharist a miraculous meal?”

Love,
Matthew