Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Things to Consider Before (or After) Converting to Catholicism

The original purpose of this blog was to expound on issues relating to Jews and Jesus. But for about the last 5 years, I've increased my focus on talking to Catholics and understanding issues regarding Catholicism.

To be blunt and with much honesty, I wanted to write a summary post I wanted to share to those who have "swum the Tiber" or are considering it. I would plead with you why this is a bad idea. There will be some links to detail some thoughts, but this is just a summary. I know most of the objections and counter-arguments and would be willing to get into them if anyone desires.

This isn't exhaustive. But I hope this post covers the top things I want you to consider.

1) The most important issue is the denial of justification by faith alone. 

According to Scripture, if you are trusting for your declaration of righteousness and acceptance with God based on any behavior you do, you will be condemned.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Galatians 3:10

If you want to add works to be declared righteous before God, you will be judged by your works. And by those works, you will be condemned. Why? Because God's standard is perfection. "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect."

You have two choices. Perfection and condemnation with works or grace and a declaration of righteousness apart from works.

1b) God wants to eliminate boasting.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. Romans 3:27

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Catholicism can't remove the grounds for boasting, so it should be rejected.

2) To be deep in history is to realize Newman was way off-base.

One of the more famous quotes you'll run across is by the late John Henry Newman. "To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." What I've found, on multiple issues, Catholicism does not do well when you compare it against actual history.

Familiar with the term "retcon"? In fiction, that's when later works is a literary device where later works break continuity with facts that are already established. The established facts are "adjusted, ignored, or contradicted".

In fiction, an example would be in the original Star Wars. Obi-Wan told Luke Skywalker that his father was killed by Darth Vader and then in Empire Strikes back we learn that Darth Vader was Luke's father. George Lucas came up with the story idea in between movies and the past movie is reinterpreted in light of the change.

I would recommend Timothy Kauffman's blog, which goes over many examples of Catholicism's innovations and claims that aren't grounded in the apostolic witness.

Which brings me to the main example I would give a prospective Catholic.

3) The office of the papacy is a historical fiction

It didn't exist in the first centuries of the church. Papal claims from Rome only held sway in Western Europe, where there wasn't another major seat of power.  And there wasn't a single head bishop at Rome until at least 150 AD or later.

If you can't establish the papacy historically, then Catholicism shouldn't even be in the running for viable options of what you should believe.

4) Apostolic succession arguments create a house of cards that can be easily toppled.

Many arguments I run into from Catholics boil down to this: We're the one true church. We have apostolic succession. So they have to be correct because they're the one, true church.

Many others have argued better against apostolic succession than I will here. (See here here here here here here and here and also here)

Apostolic succession relies on the papacy to be true, at least for trusting the Catholic Magisterium. So what we mentioned in 3) could also be mentioned against to argue against their conception of apostolic succession.

How I've seen apostolic succession is used in arguments is to short-circuit discussions of biblical and historical errors that Catholicism has produced. "We can't be wrong because we are descended from the apostles and are protected from errors."

But what if we reverse this and flip it on its head. We can see the errors. So if apostolic succession doesn't protect your church from error, now what? If honest as it applies to how they use apostolic succession, it means the "gates of hell" have prevailed against their church. Or maybe it just means their conception of the church was incorrect in the first place.

You need the church. But what the conception of what "the church" needs to be is an a priori theological assumption that's smuggled in. Keep this in mind when we discuss our last point.

5) Are you converting to a museum piece that no longer exists?

If you're conservative, you need to go in with eyes wide open even if you disagree with me on the above. Are you converting to a museum piece that no longer exists? Are you aware that pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II aren't the same theologically? See here for the most obvious example.

The conservative Catholics are, I hope unintentionally, engaging in a bait and switch. The bait is the idealized One True Church that leads people with the truth into salvation. The switch is the post-Vatican II church where the modernists are in charge.

6) Don't Trade a False Certainty Because You Can't Deal with a Messy Truth

But above everything else, from talking to conservative Catholics, I think the main impetus for swimming the Tiber comes from what I call the "existential freakout."

How do I know what's the correct interpretation of the Bible? There are so many denominations, which church should I join?

Who can rescue us from this mess we find ourselves? Rome comes riding in as a white knight to rescue the day.

You'll see this expressed in various ways. From the side of Catholic apologists, they'll say things like "without an infallible interpreter how can we know what the Bible really says?"

I have a few things to say about this. First, just because life is messy epistemologically doesn't mean "Rome" is the correct answer. Secondly, if you can't trust yourself to figure things out, why can you trust yourself to figure out Rome is the one true church? And why do you trust yourself to trust to figure out Christianity is true in the first place? Islam could be true or Buhdism or Jainism or something else for all you know.

Third, if you need an infallible interpreter for the infallible Scriptures, why don't you need an infallible interpreter for the infallible interpreter ad infinitum? You are always the last step in the epistemological chain.

There is the divergence between how we wish things were versus how they were. It would be nice if there was a church that explained everything. That doesn't make it true.

Side note: these type of arguments rely on skepticism. You can't figure things out on your own. We're here for you. This is how they have been used historically. But this is also how skepticism was unleashed on the world.


So why should you either not make this decision or reconsider a decision you already made?

Catholicism is not faithful to Scripture nor history and it makes errors that would be fatal for your standing before God if you embraced them.

God bless you.

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Saturday, April 06, 2019

Athanasius on Penal Substitutionary Atonement

7. And having declared that he would become man, afterwards the Psalter also points to his passibility in the flesh. Perceiving, then that there would be a plot on the part of the Jews, it sings in Psalm 2, Wherefore did the heathen rage, and the nations imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers gathered themselves together against the Lord and against his Anoited. In the twenty-first it tells the manner of death from the Savior's own lips: ... you have brought me down to the dust of death. For many dogs have surrounded me; the assembly of the wicked has attacked me from all sides. They pierced my hands and feet. They counted all my bones. They divided my garments among themselves, and cast lots upon my raiment. When it speaks of the piercing of the hands and feet, what else than a cross does it signify? After teaching all these things, it adds that the Lord not for his own sake, but for ours. And it says again through his own lips in Psalm 87, Your wrath was pressed heavily upon me, and in Psalm 68, Then I restored which I did not take away. For although he was not himself obligated to give account for any crime, he died - but he suffered on our behalf, and he took on himself the wrath directed on us on account of the transgression, as it says in Isaiah, He took on our weaknesses. This is evident also when we say in Psalm 137, The Lord will recompense them on my behalf, and the Spirit says in the seventy-first, and he will save the children of the needy, and shall bring low the false accuser... for he has delivered the poor from the oppressor; and the laborer, who had no helper.

Athanasius, "A Letter to Marcellinus", The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus, Paulist Press, 1980, Page 105.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

What do Conservative Catholics, Bart Ehrman, and King James Onlyists Have in Common?

So while interacting with some King James Onlyists, it occurred to me that there are similarities between Catholic groups and King James Onlyists. How so?

In the majority of the evangelical world, people look at the texts of the Old and New Testament from various sources and make determinations of what best represents the original text. As new texts become known, sometimes this results in some changes, usually minor at this point.

For hundreds of years, most of the English speaking world relied on the King James Version. Modern versions, based on textual evidence, omit some of the verses present in the King James Version.

Well, needless to say, this creates a bit of an existential (or maybe better said an epistemological) freakout among some. The KJVO people will ask us if God has preserved His Word. How can we trust God's Word? We should trust the King James Version as God's preserved Word.

It's not the point of this post to present a rebuttal of this, but the reality is that God has preserved His Word among the various texts. It does take the work of textual criticism to work through this and get to a faithful representation of the original text.

. Now, the conservative Catholics (here on "Catholics" because I'm really referring to the Catholic apologists, like-minded folks who follow them, and those who tend to convert from the Protestant world) have a concern. When Protestants tell them to go to the Scriptures, they tend to have their existential crisis (again maybe it's an epistemological crisis) because there's a lot of interpretations out there. How can I know what the right one is?

The church of Rome comes riding in on a white horse rescuing them from the situation. Rome will tell them what to believe.

The parallels between the two groups should be apparent know: the basis of the faith is messier than one would like and it causes angst.

What is interesting to me is the assumption that the King James Version and Rome are the actual answers to the perceived problems. There are differences between earlier and later versions of the King James. The Geneva Bible preceded the King James. If we can't trust our own intellectual faculties with Scripture, why can we trust them in picking Rome as the one true church? How can we trust our faculties for figuring out what Rome is telling us? (as the Francis pontificate proceeds I wonder how much of this argument we'll keep seeing) Are we going to ignore the fact that people have been disagreeing over things for the vast majority of Christain history? Or that pre and post-Vatican II don't match?

So I think I see a similar type of logic in play with Bart Ehrman.

Bart Ehrman has a deconversion story where he gets to higher level education and learns about textual variants and loses his faith. Taking his comments at face value, it seems Ehrman held to similar presuppositions as King James Onlyists, encountered problems, and then lost his faith.

None of this is necessary. We have to realize the transmission of the text of Scripture and church history are messier than what we would like them to be. And we need to realize that there are no shortcuts to interpreting Scripture for yourself. There aren't shortcuts and you can't outsource the process to someone else. You can, but the responsibility for what Scripture demands of you still remains.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

the Limits of Orthodox Theology Reviews - in Chronological Order

So it looks like I do sporadic posts around this time of year. If I had to guess, it is because I have time off from work. Or maybe the New Year reminds me I need to be productive.

Anyway, I wanted to start reviewing a new book that I felt was important. And as my last multi-year book review of Marc Shapiro's the Limits of Orthodox Theology isn't in chronological order at the tags, I wanted to post the links to that series in chronological order.

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Thursday, December 31, 2015

an Appeal to the Messianic Community about Catholic Evangelism

So as many of you have heard at this point, the Vatican has come out against Jewish evangelism. At least organized Jewish evangelism, while giving vague language regarding individuals sharing the gospel. This shouldn't be a surprise. Today's Roman Catholic Church is not the Roman Catholic Church of 1950, let alone the Roman Catholic Church of 1050. Since Vatican II, Rome has held to an increasingly inclusivist position.

I wanted to write this short post as a former Roman Catholic who has spent years involved in Jewish evangelism with many close friends in the Messianic Jewish community. I'm fairly certain most of my brothers and sisters in the Messianic Jewish world will view it through the lense of their own concerns for Jewish evangelism. I understand that completely and understand that the largest Christian body repudiating giving the gospel to Jews does not send them a good message.

Let me plead with all my Jewish and Gentile friends involved in Jewish missions, Messianic congregations, and evangelism in general. Let this be a reminder to evangelize Roman Catholics.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Council of Trent condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is a fatal error. While there are Roman Catholics who ignore this teaching, those who hold this teaching do not hold to the gospel.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Galatians 3:10
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:4
Those who rely on works for a declaration of righteousness before God are under a curse because our works (anyone's works) cannot measure up to the standard of God's righteousness.

This is why Rome's teaching is wrong and endangers the souls of its followers.

So as we are concerned about getting the gospel to the Jews, let's remember that the gospel is for Gentiles as well. And in America, especially around me, the largest group we need to reach with the gospel are Roman Catholics.

The papacy is allegedly the successor to Peter, who was the apostle to the circumcision. (Galatians 2:8) This irony should not be lost on us.

The apostle Paul also warned the churches at Rome regarding unbelief and arrogance towards the Jews:
Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. Romans 11:19-23
So let us not be proud, but fear.

Jews need the gospel; Catholics need the gospel; I need the gospel.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Zechariah the son of Barachiah, Some Textual Criticism, a Prophecy, and the Old Testament Canon

In the middle of a discussion regarding with a Roman Catholic about the extent of the canon, I had referenced that Jesus' mention of all blood of the prophets from Abel to Zechariah showed that Jesus believed the Old Testament canon was the traditional Jewish canon. The canon wasn't in flux and it did not include the Apocrypha.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Matthew 23:29-36

To this, I got the following reply.

//The Zechariah that was murdered in the temple is Zechariah, son of Berechiah (Matthew 23:35). But the Zechariah that you try and use to close to canon was not murdered at the alter, but stoned in the court, NOT between the Alters. Not to mention the Zechariah that was stoned was Zechariah the son of Jehoiada.....//

Actually, there is no witness outside of this to say that Zechariah ben Berechiah was murdered in the Temple, although that is a solution some have proposed. A number of Jewish anti-missionaries have picked up on this reference and have claimed this is an example of where the New Testament has erred. However, I think as I explain a few things we will see this is a reference to Zechariah ben Jehoiada.

One other explanation have offered is that this is a textual error that has crept into Matthew's text. There is some evidence for this. Some Greek manuscripts reference "Zechariah ben Jehoiada" instead, but this is a minority reading. Jerome references the Nazarenes had a Hebrew text of Matthew that read "Jehoiada". A later Hebrew writing of Matthew, Shem Tob, reads something like "Zechariah etc.". If this preserves an earlier reading it could mean the "etc." was later filled out by scribes. Not that I am a textual critical expert, but I think the majority reading is correct, but at the same time the minority reading may shed some light on why the person in question in the text of Matthew is Zechariah ben Jehoiada of 2 Chronicles.

The context and description in Matthew matches what we know of Zechariah ben Jehoiada. 1) murdered by Jews 2) occurred in the court of the Temple (according to the Palestinian Talmud in the priestly court which would make sense since ben Jehoiada was a priest, and not in one of the less holy courts). 3) linked with Abel because the blood is crying out (2 Chron. 24:22)

As it was written down in the Talmuds, the Midrashim, and the Targums the death of Zechariah ben Jehoiada held a firm hold on the national conscience. According to the Palestinian Talmud this happened on a sabbath on the Day of Atonement besides being in the priestly court, so that would make sense. The Babylonian Talmud has Zechariah ben Jehoiada being avenged by Nebuchanezzar. Now this would be even greater evidence that Zechariah ben Jehoiada is referenced because in Matthew 23 Jesus says all of the blood of the prophets will fall on this generation. And we know in roughly 40 years the Temple was also destroyed by the Romans. I would say this is prophecy of the Temple's destruction, given the parallel and the destruction of the Temple that is predicted elsewhere in the gospels.

Alright, so why would Matthew write "ben Berechiah"?

I'm going to quote from one of my sources. "In rabbinical haggadah different characters from Scripture who are linked by a similarity of name or of other characteristics are often said to be the same person." "Adopted as one of their methods that of calling different personages by one and the same name if they found them akin in any feature of their characters or activities or if they found a similarity between any of their actions."

This practice can be found in the Haggadic Midrashim, Babylonian Talmud, and back to the Jerusalem Talmud, Halakic Midrashim, and to the Mishnah. You can even see the practice in non rabbinical works like pseudo-Philo. Or in the second book of Esdras. Older still, you can see the practice in the tile prefix to Psalm 34. Ashish king of the Philistines (1 Sam. 21:10-22:1) is referenced as Abimelech the Philistine king (Gen. 20-21, 26). This might also explain why Jesus says "Abiathar" instead of "Ahimelech" in Mark 2:26.

The Targum on Lamentations 2:20 also talks about killing Zechariah ben Iddo in the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. "ben Iddo" is coming from Zechariah 1:1. But the details follow the traditions for Zechariah ben Jehoiada that I referenced earlier. So this Targum shows the conflation of Zechariah ben Berechiah with Zechariah ben Jehoiada in terms of name usage, just like Jesus did.

So even after all of this, if you don't want this to be a reference to the scope of the canon, you have two more problems. The last prophet murdered before Jesus was John the Baptist. If you ignore and bypass John the Baptist, the last chronologically from the canon would be Uriah ben Shemaiah. (Jeremiah 26:20-23)

I used Roger Beckwith's "the Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church" and Dr. Michael Brown's "Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus volume 4" if you would like to read more on this topic.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Good Video on Oral Torah (or Lack Thereof)

I have one argument I would add against the existence of an Oral Torah.
8 And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9 And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. 11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. 12 And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king's servant, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” 2 Kings 22:8-13

Israel forgot about the contents of the written Torah. It was discovered in the Temple and the message caused a reaction in the king.

What does this text show us? If they forgot about what was in the written Torah, I'm going to assume they forgot the Oral Torah. And you don't have a written text with the Oral Torah to recover that knowledge.