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Apologetics articles from old Alpha and Omega Site

The E Newsletter Begins Wednesday February 14

For over a year now we have had some wonderful ladies volunteering to scan, proofread and reformat work from the early days of Alpha and Omega Ministries. They have been pouring through a gold mine of tracts and information sheets that covered a wide variety of issues. Many are unaware that in the late 80’s and early 90’s we produced and mailed out a newsletter as well. Last week we announced the republishing of one such item which was our tract The Christian Message which has turned out to be quite a hit. How to reintroduce the tracts was an easy decision and I assure you that there is more where that came from, much more. But the information sheets were a different matter. They go much more into depth than a tract and need a different method of delivery. My first thought was to drop them on the website as posts and I can do that. But I wanted a more direct method of getting these gems to your doorstep and last month our good friend Mike O’Fallon brought an affordable mass mailing company to my attention. I suddenly realized that we could send a wide variety of publications directly to the inbox of folks who were genuinely interested in apologetics and I opened an account.

Many of you have already used the Newsletter Signup form and have been receiving the Dividing Line notices. Starting this coming Wednesday we will begin sending articles out to that mailing list. This will probably be a monthly newsletter because I don’t want to overwhelm anyone. I welcome your feedback on that matter via our Facebook page. If you haven’t signed up yet take a brief moment and click here and put your information in. I promise you, we will not abuse the privilege and if you decide that it isn’t for you it is easy to opt out. (Btw, the opt out actually works).

Please pray that this work of bringing forward these timeless gems will be blessed by the Lord.

Oh, just a little tease, the first Newsletter will be titled “Apologetics: Evangelism in the Secular World.”


A Rarely Discussed Vulgate Reading and the Importance of the Original Languages of the New Testament Illustrated, With Some Reflections on Rome’s Claims Appended (A Truly Puritan Style Title) – Vintage

In writing a brief exegetical article on Hebrews 10, I encountered a little-discussed mistranslation in the Vulgate text that not only illustrates the importance of studying the primary texts of Scripture (over against a secondary translation) but one which also speaks to the issue of the development of the dogmatic structure of Roman Catholicism over time.

The reading is found in Hebrews 10:12, but to get the context from the New American Standard Bible we provide verses 10-14:

Hebrews 10:10-14   10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;  12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,  13 waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.  14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

The writer is contrasting the repetitive nature of the old sacrifices with the singular, one-time, finished offering of Jesus Christ at Calvary.  In verse 11 he speaks of the priest standing and ministering and offering, all present tense actions, all meant to emphasize the on-going and never finished nature of their work.  This is contrasted with the one-time, singular offering for sins made by Christ in verse 12.  The author uses an aorist participle to express this singular action of atonement in contrast with the present-tense offering of the old priests, seemingly still going on at that time (i.e., at the time of the writing of the epistle prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70).  The present-tense can (and in this situation, does) emphasize on-going action, just as the aorist can (and in this situation, does) refer to a punctiliar, point-action in the past.  This is the means the author uses to make the sharp contrast.

It is just here that I encountered the brief mention of the reading of the Latin Vulgate at Hebrews 10:12 and how it completely misses the contrast that is so plainly presented in the original text.  Philip Hughes notes,

This is the clear significance of the aorist participle prosene,gkaj: it was after he had offered a single sacrifice that he sat down.  Accordingly, the present participle offerens in the Vulgate version is seriously misleading.  As F.F. Bruce remarks, R.A. Knox€s translation of the Vg, ‘he sits for ever at the right hand of God, offering for our sins a sacrifice that is never repeated,’ is a contradiction in terms.  This demonstrates the danger of a translation of a translation.[i]

I checked the Biblia Sacre Iuxta Vulgatam Verionem as published by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft in Stuttgart, which has a small amount of textual data included in the footnotes, but no variant was listed.  Then, later, in discussing the issue with some friends, I mentioned the Douay-Rheims translation should be consulted.  Its rendering truly illustrates the danger of using a translation of a translation of a translation:

Hebrews 10:12 But this man, offering one sacrifice for sins, for ever sitteth on the right hand of God,

What a horrific misrepresentation of the original intention of the author!  And to think this was the ‘official’ version of the Council of Trent!  Not only is the present tense ‘offering’ completely in error, but to even attempt to make sense out of the sentence the phrase ‘for ever,’ which is plainly in the context associated with the offering, is transposed so as to become associated with His being seated on the right hand of God!  The entire point of the author, that of contrasting the repeated sacrifices of the old priesthood to the singular, forever offering of Christ, is turned upside down, so that Christ ends up offering (present tense) a sacrifice for sins, just like the old priests!  A truly amazing example of one translational error leading to another.

Now, there truly is no difficulty in interpreting or even translating this passage.  The Vulgate reading is clearly in error.  But consider for a moment a situation that prevailed quite literally for centuries when Roman Catholicism reigned supreme in Europe.  Before men like Erasmus or John Colet or Johannes Reuchlin uttered the cry ‘ad fontes!’ (‘to the source!’) and sparked the renaissance of biblical studies in the original languages, the priest or theologian was, in the main, limited to the Vulgate.  It was during these centuries that Eucharistic theology underwent a massive change in light of the promulgation of the concept of transubstantiation, resulting in a physically-oriented emphasis upon the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice.  The person limited to the Latin as his only biblical source would surely not have the testimony of Hebrews 10:12 to enlighten their studies of this subject.  Surely, the Vulgate still testifies strongly to the singularity of the sacrifice of Christ in other passages, but this clear testimony is not to be found.  What impact did this have?  I do not know.  But it surely testifies to the danger of enshrining a translation as the final authority without reference to the original languages, something Rome attempted to do at the Council of Trent and in the aborted efforts of Pope Sixtus V.

This example reminds us of the nature of Rome’s dogmatic structure today.  So much of her modern dogmas developed on the untrustworthy foundation of forged documents, visions, dreams, and errors such as this example from the Vulgate.  Modern Roman Catholic scholars and historians recognize that such things as the Donation of Constantine or the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals were in fact frauds.  No one defends them as genuine today.  Yet, without those documents the modern Roman Papacy would not have come into existence.  The foundations are gone, but the edifice stands.  Likewise, one looks back at the central role played by such things as Gregory the Great’s incredulous acceptance of second-hand ‘visions,’ combined with the most outrageously inane allegorical interpretations, soaked in Pelagian error, without which the dogma of purgatory would not have gained the form it has today.  Then consider the outrageous stories circulated in the eleventh through thirteenth centuries concerning ‘eucharistic miracles,’ including stories of bees building altars to consecrated hosts placed within their hives, replete with ‘bee singing,’ all of which was vital to the development of the concept of transubstantiation.  Join this with the supremacy of a translation of a translation as the standard, and you are again left with the conclusion that what Rome presents to us today is very much like the facades found at Universal Studios in California: from a certain angle they look like real buildings.  But there is no reality to them.  But worse, Rome’s dogmas not only have no reality, they have no foundation.  They are left hanging in the air, the bases upon which they were formed have been washed away by the tides of truth, yet, the edifice stands, empty, yet, for those who want them to be, still looking enough like the real things to satisfy.

Some folks ask me why Rome’s pomp and circumstance has no attraction for me.  It surely has for others.  The liturgy is key to the conversion of many of those who were raised within non-liturgical traditions.  But it has no attraction for me for two reasons.  First, as noted above, I see Rome as a historical phantom, her vaunted 2000 year history the stuff of legend, not reality.  Newman’s oft-repeated phrase about going ‘deep in history’ is to me simply laughable.  The mental gymnastics his great mind had to go through to cobble together the development hypothesis so as to find a way around the facts of history is testimony to how far the mind can go to create a reason to believe something that is in fact untrue.  History is no friend to Rome’s pretensions, and the above examples are only multiplied the more I engage the study of history itself.

But secondly, and more positively, I have tasted of divine truth, and there is nothing in Rome’s ostentatious claims that can begin to compare with the satisfaction that comes from the Spirit-blessed, obedient, heart-felt, mind and heart-capturing study of the text of Holy Writ. The joy that comes from worship wherein one desires to hear the Word of God so as to be obedient thereto, and the incredible satisfaction of the in-depth study of Scripture, is simply unknown within Rome, for she cannot allow that kind of freedom to exist (it is detrimental to her sacramentalism).  But when one understands the basis upon which one stands before God forgiven, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, saved by grace alone through faith alone, and when one understands the incredible richness of God’s gift of His Word, the light it sheds upon the path, the heights of revelation it places within our hands, such a person will not find the tedious writings of Popes and prelates satisfying.  No, Rome carries no attraction for me, for when the light of God’s Word shines upon her, she is seen as the human-centered, man-satisfying religion she is.

[i] Philip Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Eerdmans, 1977), p. 401.

New Lows in Poor Scholarship: Jeffrey L. Morrow Completely Misses the Historical Facts in a Recent Catholic Answers Article – Vintage

There was a time when Catholic Answers tried to put forward a serious face of scholarship.  They sought to utilize at least semi-scholarly sources (though even then without much serious effort to use them in context, see this example).  But over the past few years it seems the bottom of the barrel has come into clear view, and the pretense of scholarship has become glaring.

In what is arguably the worst example of this in quite some time Jeffrey Morrow’s article, “In the Crosshairs of the Canon: Protestants Find History Aimed Against Them,” Catholic Answers reaches new lows in utterly miserable misuse of historical facts, let alone egregiously poor writing.  I was especially bothered by this article, for it uses a genre of writing I have used myself: the imaginary dialogue.  But, unlike Mr. Morrow, when I have my imaginary opponents speak, I feel it necessary to grant to them 1) intelligence and 2) a real knowledge of their professed faith.  Instead of following this direction, Mr. Morrow presents us with three simply moronic Protestants who glibly trot down the path to papal slaughter without a second’s meaningful fight.  Strong words?  Then you haven’t read the article.  For example, after one of our brilliant Evangelicals answers the question, “How did we get the Bible” with the insightful response, “I got mine at Wal-Mart,” a seemingly more well-read participant, Steve, chimed in with, “Wasn’t the King James Version the first Bible?”  Ah yes, it’s going to be a scintillating conversation!  Then, after the brilliant convert to Catholicism (a former Evangelical himself, of course), gives a little background about the languages of the Bible (forgetting to mention the decree of Trent establishing Latin as the “official” language of sacred Scripture), he asks, “Okay, does anyone know what a canon is?”  Again the brainy Elizabeth is first to demonstrate her less-than stellar IQ with the response, “A cannon is a large gun that shoots cannonballs.”  Oh my, did this lady vote in Palm Beach County, perhaps?  But it only gets worse as our Evangelical friends bumble and stumble along, aghast at the brilliant eloquence and learning of our convert to Catholicism.

Aside from the inherent mockery of Evangelicals found in Morrow’s article, the simple fact of the matter is the “facts” he places in the mouth of “Paul” are anything but facts, and any prepared Protestant apologist would have turned the tables completely on “Paul” in any real conversation.

To demonstrate this, I here rewrite Mr. Morrow’s article, but with a tremendous infusion of facts and truth, resulting in a very different outcome.

Paul, a convert to Catholicism, sat down with John, Susan, and Bill to discuss the Bible.  Paul, having converted by reading the writings of Scott Hahn and Karl Keating, felt quite ready to handle anything that would come his way.  John, however, had also read Hahn and Keating, but he had also read Calvin and Turretin and Hodge and Salmon and Denny and Whitaker.  Paul began the discussion by asking if anyone knew how we had gotten the Bible.

“The work of the Holy Spirit over time” Bill said.

“Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘getting’ the Bible” John added.  “The Bible was given to us through the work of the Holy Spirit who, as Peter put it, carried men along as they spoke from God (2 Peter 1:21).  The inspiration of the Bible is a different topic than the transmission of the Bible over time, and the canon of Scripture is yet a third topic as well, related to both of the preceding concepts, but separate.”

“I’m glad to see you know what the canon is” Paul smiled.  “That’s a very important issue.  For example, the Roman Catholic canon is different from the Protestant canon, as it contains seven more Old Testament books, Tobit, Judith, First and Second Maccabbees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, as well as small portions of Ester and Daniel.  This represents the canon of the Septuagint….”

“Actually” John noted, “the manuscripts of the Septuagint that contain these books are Christian in origin, correct?  Have you read the tremendous work of Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church?  He deals with this issue in-depth with the most modern scholarly insights.”

“Well, no, I haven’t” Paul replied.  “But, be that as it may, the fact is the early Church decided which books belonged in the canon….”

“Which canon?” John interrupted.  “Old Testament or New?”

“Well, both” Paul replied.  “There was no consensus as to what books were in the Old Testament amongst the Jews until the Council of Jamnia….”

“That’s untrue” John asserted.  “As Beckwith proved, there was indeed a clear consensus on the Old Testament canon long before the time of the New Testament.  This is seen in noting the testimony of Josephus, the testimony of the Jewish writings themselves, and the issue of the books that were ‘laid up” in the Temple.  Further, there was no ‘Council of Jamnia.’  There was discussion concerning a couple of minor books amongst some Jewish leaders, but surely no ‘council’ in the sense of a formal meeting with voting, etc.  The canon of the Old Testament was clearly understood, and clearly functional, at the time of the Lord Jesus’ ministry in Palestine.  And what is also clear is that the canon used by Jesus and His apostles did not include the apocryphal books.”

“I am uncertain about those issues” Paul replied, “but I am certain that the choosing of the book of the Bible….”

“You mean the New Testament?” John interrupted. 

“OK, the New Testament….was a process undertaken by the early Church, which was thoroughly Catholic.”

“Catholic, or Roman Catholic?” John asked.

Paul looked surprised by the question.  “There is a difference?”

“Of course” John replied.  “Catholic simply means ‘universal,’ and it was a term used in the early Church to differentiate true believers from those outside.  ‘Roman Catholic’ carries far more ‘baggage’ than the mere term ‘Catholic.’  It includes, as it is used by modern Roman apologists, the idea of Papal authority, doctrines such as purgatory, indulgences, Marian dogmas, etc.  The early church was ‘catholic’ but it was surely not ‘Roman Catholic.’”

Paul looked flustered at this point.  “Well, I disagree.  The early Christians believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion….”

 “But not in transubstantiation, right?” John inserted.

“Well, they may not have used the term….”

“So why do you interpret their belief in a ‘real presence’ as being relevant to a Roman Catholic dogma defined a thousand years later?”

“Well, it’s one of the many evidences that the Roman Catholic Church has been the one true Church all along….”

“And if that were the case, Paul, it would follow that what the early Fathers believed regarding what you call the ‘real presence’ would fit with what Rome teaches today, which is manifestly not the case.  You will not find the early Fathers setting aside consecrated hosts, for example, in a tabernacle or monstrance for the express purpose of worshipping it, which is a natural and necessary result of a belief in transubstantiation.  So, whatever they meant by ‘real presence’ it surely was not what you as a Roman Catholic believe today.”

“That’s just not the case!” Paul retorted.  “Even Ignatius clearly believed in what I believe.  He said in Romans 7.3, “I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who was of the seed of David; and for a draught I desire His blood, which is love incorruptible.”

“Think about what you just quoted, Paul” John replied.  “There is nothing about transubstantiation in those words.  When you realize the background of Ignatius’ writings, and his battle against gnosticism, as well as Jesus’ words in John 6 about Him being the bread of heaven, the words of Ignatius make perfect sense without reading into them any kind of Aristotelian dogma of accidents and substance, etc. and etc.  Besides, if you really think this is such a universal belief, please explain the following four citations to me:

“The sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, which we receive, is a divine thing, because by it we are made partakers of the divine-nature.  Yet the substance or nature of the bread and wine does not cease.  And assuredly the image and the similitude of the body and blood of Christ are celebrated in the performance of the mysteries.” Gelasius,  bishop of Rome, in Jacques Paul Migne, Patrologiae Latinae, Tractatus de duabis naturis Adversus Eutychen et Nestorium 14.

“The mystical emblems of the body and blood of Christ continue in their original essence and form, they are visible and tangible as they were before [the consecration]; but the contemplation of the spirit and of  faith sees in them that which they have become, and they are adored also as that which they are to believers.”  (Theodoret, Dialogue ii, Opera ed. Hal. tom. iv p. 126).

In other words, in respect of His divine presence we always have Christ; in respect of His presence in the flesh it was rightly said to the disciples, ‘Me you will not have always.’  In this respect the Church enjoyed His presence only for a few days: now it possesses Him by faith, without seeing Him with the eyes….He left the world by a bodily withdrawal, He proceeded  to the Father by His ascension man, but He forsook not the world in the ruling activity of His presence.

     The Lord Jesus, in the discourse which He addressed to His disciples after the supper, when Himself in immediate proximity to His passion, and, as it were, on the eve of departure, and of depriving them of His bodily presence while continuing His spiritual presence to all His disciples till the very end of the world….”  (Augustine, John: Tractates 50, 92, 102, and 118).

Who is the bread of the Kingdom of God, but He who says, “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven?”  Do not get your mouth ready, but your heart.  On this occasion it was that the parable of this supper was set forth.  Lo, we believe in Christ, we receive Him with faith.  In receiving Him we know what to think of.  We receive but little, and are nourished in the heart.  It is not then what is seen, but what is believed, that feeds us.  Therefore we too have not sought for that outward sense.

     This is then to eat the meat, not that which perishes, but that which endures unto eternal life.  To what purpose do you make ready teeth and stomach?  Believe, and you have eaten already.  (Augustine John: Tractate 25:12).

Paul blinked and asked, “You carry stuff like that around?”

“Yeah,” John beamed, “I have a Palm Tungsten T, and its loaded with all sorts of fun stuff.”

“Well, I’ll have to look into those quotations, especially the one from Gelasius.  But, let’s lay that issue aside for a moment.  They believed what we believe about baptism, surely you believe that.”

“Most who addressed the subject surely believed baptism was a part of their salvation, that is certain.  Some did not address it, and a small few, such as Clement of Rome and Mathetes in his letter to Diognetius, clearly taught a belief in justification by faith without works of human merit, which would hardly be consistent with the modern view of baptism in Roman Catholicism.”

Paul pressed on, “Well, they surely believed in the authority of bishops and priests, especially the Bishop of Rome, the pope, who was looked to as a supreme authority by all the churches spread across the known world.”

“I imagine you actually believe that, Paul, but you couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Not only did it take quite some time for the unbiblical concept of a priesthood to develop (it is absent from many of the earliest Christian writings, let alone the New Testament), but the distinction of elder and bishop, likewise an unbiblical one, took time in many quarters as well.  But it is especially misleading to engage in the kind of anachronism you just did regarding the Papacy.  It is simply impossible to substantiate that kind of assertion from a fair reading of the historical records.  There is so much evidence contradicting what you just said it is hard to even know where to begin….”  [For a summary, see] 

Susan finally piped up and joined in, “OK, so you disagree over the nature of the early church.  Let’s get back to the subject at hand if we could.”

“The subject of the nature, and authority, of the Church, is very much related to Roman Catholic claims regarding the canon and the Bible, Susan” John pointed out.

“Yes,” Paul agreed, “especially since it was the bishops of the Catholic Church like Augustine and Athanasius who decided the extent of the canon.”

“Tell me, Paul,” John replied, “Did either Augustine or Athanasius ever say anything like, ‘We as bishops are determining the books of Scripture’?”

Paul pursed his lips.  “Well, not off the top of my head.”

“When Athanasius wrote his 39th Festal Letter in 369, had any allegedly infallible ‘councils’ met to ‘determine’ the canon?”

“No, the Council of Rome, though was only a little over a decade later.”

“Many scholars today recognize the alleged ‘Council of Rome’ did not even take place, and is an anachronistic interpolation of Gelasius’ listing.  Be that as it may, here is what Athanasius said in that letter:

3. In proceeding to make mention of these things, I shall adopt, to commend my undertaking, the pattern of Luke the Evangelist, saying on my own account: ‘Forasmuch as some have taken in hand,’ to reduce into order for themselves the books termed apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture, concerning which we have been fully persuaded, as they who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, delivered to the fathers; it seemed good to me also, having been urged thereto by true brethren, and having learned from the beginning, to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine; to the end that any one who has fallen into error may condemn those who have led him astray; and that he who has continued steadfast in purity may again rejoice, having these things brought to his remembrance.

4. There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

5. Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.

“Well, two things.  First, Athanasius says this had been handed on to him, establishing the need of tradition, and second, he does include Baruch, and he doesn’t include Esther” Paul quickly claimed.

“Quite true, Paul.  Athanasius gives the same canon listing of the Old Testament we find earlier in Cyril of Jerusalem, who likewise said it had been passed on to him, and by Melito of Sardis, who wrote long before, at the end of the second century.  If you want to make this some kind of ‘tradition,’ you instantly have a problem: it contradicts what your own Church has defined as ‘tradition’ regarding the canon!  Athanasius, and Cyril, and Melito, are witnesses to the fact that the decision of the Council of Trent does not command the weight of history.  In fact, Paul, I would assert that the early Church Fathers who knew the most about Old Testament backgrounds were least likely to hold to the Apocryphal books, and those who knew the least were most likely to do so, depending on the manuscripts of the Septuagint that they were familiar with.  It is no wonder that Origen, who learned Hebrew, Melito of Sardis, who inquired into Palestine on the issue, and Jerome, who likewise learned Hebrew, all understood the issue and rejected the Apocryphal books.”

“But none of those men were infallible, John.”

“Of course not, Paul, and that is your problem.  You can’t point to any single man who was.  So how this collection of fallible men all of a sudden becomes ‘infallible’ when it becomes the ‘universal faith of the church’ or the ‘consensus of the Fathers’ is hard to understand.  In fact, take a wild guess who said the following:

I am but showing how Romanists reconcile their abstract reverence for Antiquity with their Romanism,–with their creed, and their notion of the Church’s infallibility in declaring it; how small their success is, and how great their unfairness, is another question. Whatever judgment we form either of their conduct or its issue, such is the fact, that they extol the Fathers as a whole, and disparage them individually; they call them one by one Doctors of the Church, yet they explain away one by one their arguments, judgments, and testimony. They refuse to combine their separate and coincident statements; they take each by himself, and settle with the first before they go to the next. And thus their boasted reliance on the Fathers comes, at length, to this,–to identify Catholicity with the decrees of Councils, and to admit those Councils only which the Pope has confirmed.”

“Well, whoever it was was not very nice, calling us Romanists!” Paul retorted.

“Actually, the term was common in the nineteenth century, but what about what it says?  Every time we Protestants show you this Father or that who disagreed with what you now claim we must believe, they are dismissed as “individually fallible.”  The result is that ancient “catholicity” is, for you, nothing more than what the modern Roman Church demands it to be.”

“That’s not the case at all.  Who was it, then, that you were quoting?  Some anti-Catholic writer from the last century?”

“No, actually, that was John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), pp. 70-71.”

“Well he surely changed his tune later on!” Paul exclaimed.

“Yes, he did, but he never successfully refuted his own previously made arguments.  His development hypothesis is not an argument, it’s an excuse.”

“I disagree, but before discussing that, you mentioned Jerome.  Jerome included the deuterocanonicals in the Vulgate translation, and he simply noted that he knew the Jews did not include them in their canon.  It’s obvious he did accept them.”

“That’s interesting,” John replied, opening another file on his Tungsten T, “since more than a thousand years later, Cardinal Cajetan….”

“That the same Cajetan that interviewed Luther?”

“Yes, the general of the Dominican order who examined Luther in October of 1518.  He wrote a book, a commentary on the Old Testament, in which he wrote,

Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament.  For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St. Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed among the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus.  Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned canonical.  For the words as well as of councils and of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome.  Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith.  Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorized in the canon of the bible for that purpose.  By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clear through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.  (Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament; cited in William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture (Cambridge: University Press, 1849, 48.)

John continued as he switched to another file, “Now as to your claim that Jerome embraced the apocryphal book, you have again been misled.  Yes, he learned that the Jews rejected these books when he learned Hebrew.  However, the way you put it it sounded like you were saying he was simply mentioning that the Jews rejected them and he didn’t.  That’s just not the case.  Listen to his own words which he wrote in his prologue to ‘the three books of Solomon’:

There circulates also the ‘all-virtuous’ Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sira, together with a similar work, the pseudopigraph entitled the Wisdom of Solomon.  The former of these I have also found in Hebrew, entitled not ‘Ecclesiasticus’, as among the Latins, but ‘Parables”. … The latter is nowhere found among the Hebrews: its very style smacks of Greek eloquence, and several ancient writers affirm it to be the work of Philo the Jew.  Therefore as the church indeed reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical books, so let it also read these two volumes for the edification of the people but not for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.

As you will note, Paul, Jerome specifically excludes these books from the canon, and relegates them, like Cajetan, to those that are to be read for edification but not for dogma.

“I’m now completely lost” Susan opined.

“Sorry,” John said, “but I think Paul here understands why these issues are important.”

“Yes” Paul answered.  “But I’ve been told by a number of men I truly trust that the Bible of the early Church was apostolic tradition.  You need to realize the earliest Church fathers, like Clement and Ignatius, were disciples of the apostles themselves.  What Jesus taught was faithfully passed by the apostles to their own disciples.  This was in accordance with what Paul commanded Timothy while planting a church: ‘And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach other also.’  This is found in the second verse of the second chapter of the second book of Timothy.”

“Known to the rest of us as 2 Timothy 2:2” John chuckled.   “But again, you couldn’t be farther from the mark, Paul.  The Bible of the early Church, as I would think you must know, included far more than some wonderfully nebulous concept of ‘apostolic tradition.’  All one has to do is read a few pages of the New Testament to find that the “Bible” was alive and well in the hands of the Apostles, and hence the early Church.  We know that Paul’s letters were considered Scripture during the lifetime of Peter (2 Peter 3:15-16), and Paul quoted Luke as Scripture as well (1 Timothy 5:18).  That means you had New Testament Scripture functioning as such in the apostolic period itself.  Next, I note in passing that if you mean ‘Clement of Rome’ with that reference to ‘Clement’ that we actually do not know who wrote the epistle of “Clement of Rome to the Corinthians,” and the letter itself speaks in the plural, not the singular, as there was, at the time, a plurality of elders ruling the church in Rome, not a single bishop.  Finally, Paul’s words to Timothy are not supportive of some concept of “oral tradition passed down outside Scripture” as they are so often misused by Roman Catholic apologists.  In fact, Tertullian refuted your own use of this verse when he wrote,

But here is, as we have said, the same madness, in their allowing indeed that the apostles were ignorant of nothing, and preached not any (doctrines) which contradicted one another, but at the same time insisting that they did not reveal all to all men, for that they proclaimed some openly and to all the world, whilst they disclosed others (only) in secret and to a few, because Paul addressed even this expression to Timothy: “O Timothy, guard that which is entrusted to thee;” and again: “That good thing which was committed unto thee keep.” What is this deposit? Is it so secret as to be supposed to characterize a new doctrine? or is it a part of that charge of which he says, “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy?” and also of that precept of which he says, “I charge thee in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Jesus Christ who witnessed a good confession under Pontius Pilate, that thou keep this commandment?” Now, what is (this) commandment and what is (this) charge? From the preceding and the succeeding contexts, it will be manifest that there is no mysterious hint darkly suggested in this expression about (some) far-fetched doctrine, but that a warning is rather given against receiving any other (doctrine) than that which Timothy had heard from himself, as I take it publicly: “Before many witnesses” is his phrase. Now, if they refuse to allow that the church is meant by these “many witnesses,” it matters nothing, since nothing could have been secret which was produced “before many witnesses.” Nor, again, must the circumstance of his having wished him to “commit these things to faithful men, who should be able to teach others also,” be construed into a proof of there being some occult gospel. For, when he says “these things,” he refers to the things of which he is writing at the moment. In reference, however, to occult subjects, he would have called them, as being absent, those things, not these things, to one who had a joint knowledge of them with himself.

Paul looked unhappy.  “How can I fight a Palm Tungsten T that seemingly has no limitations upon memory?”

John chuckled.  “This isn’t the first time I’ve been over this ground.”

“I can see that” Paul replied.  “But it amazes me that, despite your study of these things, you continue to hold to the Protestant position.  Let’s cut to the quick, then” Paul decided, moving to the “big gun” that would surely demonstrate the need of the Roman Catholic position.

“Praise be” Bill finally muttered.  “Yes, let’s” Susan added.

Paul prepared to deliver what he himself had believed to be an unanswerable argument.  “The simple reason sola scriptura doesn’t work is because without the Catholic Church’s decision regarding the canon you don’t have a reliable Bible.”

“Really?” John asked, sitting back.  “And when exactly did that take place?

“Well, you have the councils of Hippo and Carthage….”

“Those were not ecumenical councils, correct?”

“Well, no, they are not reckoned as such” Paul replied.

“And you are saying we must have an infallible decision to have a reliable Bible, so, are local councils infallible?”

“No, they are not.”

“OK, so the first infallible reckoning of the canon was when?”

“Well, that would be Trent, 1556.”

“1546, actually, April.”

“No, 1556, it’s right here in the November, 2000 issue of This Rock magazine.”

“There were no meetings of the Council of Trent between 1552 and 1562, Paul.  It was April, 1546.  This Rock just needs a better copy editor, that’s all.”

“Oh, well, whatever.”

“So,” John continued, “no one had a reliable Bible until April of 1546?”

“Well, they had Apostolic tradition” Paul replied uncertainly.

“I repeat.  It is your position that in April of 1546 the world, for the first time, had a reliable Bible?  The greatest theological battles had already been fought against Arianism and the like without a reliable Bible?  Of what use, then, really is the Bible, if, in fact, the Church got along without a ‘reliable’ Bible for three-fourths of its existence?”

“That sounds really strange, Paul” Susan added.

“Well, at least we have a reliable canon of the Bible!” Paul replied, getting a bit desperate.  “That’s more than you can say!”

“Actually, Paul, you don’t” John said, leaning forward in his chair.  “All you have done is move the canon question back one step and hidden your action by covering the track with a little dust and obfuscation.  You say you know the canon, and we don’t, because a group of men representing Roman Catholicism met at Trent in 1546.  You submit yourself to their decisions.  Yet, I have to ask, why do you believe they have the authority to determine the canon?  Why are they the only true holders of the title ‘Christ’s true Church’?”

“I’m glad you asked” Paul replied.  “You are right that I know the Bible is the Word of God because the Church tells me so.  And I know the Church can tell me because when we study history we find the Bible trustworthy.  We can know what Jesus did and said.  He told his apostles he would send them the Spirit to lead them into all truth.  Jesus’ Resurrection, which is the only adequate explanation for his empty tomb, proved his divinity.  So we can trust what he told his disciples.  Jesus hands Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, a symbol of not only authority but of dynastic succession.  So the Holy Spirit leads the offices of the apostles and their successors, the bishops, into all truth.  The Church, as 1 Timothy 3:15 informs us, is the pillar and bulwark of the truth.’  So when the episcopal successors of the apostles of the apostles were exercising their offices in the form of ecumenical councils, the Holy Spirit kept them free from error.  This goes for not only when they determined which books belonged in Scripture, but also when they determined Jesus was fully man and fully God, as well as the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and all of the other Catholic dogmas.”

John smiled.  “I’m glad all the cards are now on the table, for this will help everyone to see the true nature of the claims of Roman Catholicism.  I would like to note two major things.  First, the argument you present is challengeable at many levels.  You say Jesus gave Peter the keys, yet, in Matthew 16, the original Greek text uses the future tense, and the only other place in Scripture that could show us this happening is Matthew 18:18, yet there, Peter receives this authority alongside the other Apostles.  The idea of “dynastic succession” is easily challenged, especially if you are using Isaiah 22:22 as your basis.  Yes, the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, but that doesn’t make her infallible, nor does it make her the truth itself.  A pillar and foundation support something else: in this case, the truth.  So the argument you present is by no means itself certain, hence, how can an uncertain, easily challengeable argument provide you with the certainty you say we do not have?

“But secondly, and more importantly, is the obvious inconsistency in  your entire position.  You say that we Protestants must have an infallible definition of the canon by some ecclesiastical body or the Bible cannot ‘function’ for us, it becomes ‘unreliable.’  Yet, when we ask you about your ultimate authority, the Church, you ‘prove’ its authority by an extended and questionable historical argument.  When Protestants point to the historical development of the canon, you say that is insufficient ground.  Yet, you point to a much less clear, far more arguable historical presentation to substantiate your own ultimate authority.  How can it be ‘OK’ for you to appeal to such an argument in defense of the Church, when it is not for me when I point to the passive, historical development of the canon over time?  An argument that is so obviously self-contradictory cannot possibly be true.”

Now at this point I could present a number of responses that have been offered by Roman Catholic controversialists, but they all share the same circularity: the decision to embrace Rome as the final authority in all things is a fallible decision.  It can produce no more certainty than any other human decision.  The use of the argument that we must have Rome to have a Bible is internally self-contradictory and hence utterly illogical, no matter how often it is presented.  It is the classic “shell game,” where the real question is hidden from view in the hopes that the person who is being scammed will not notice. Sadly, those who are being scammed are evangelical Protestants who are embracing Rome’s claims to authority, like the “Paul” of Morrow’s article and our re-write.

James White, December 1, 2000, rev. 2/4/2003

Regarding Robert Sungenis’ “Debate Challenge” – Vintage

While traveling in New York I have been informed that CAI and Robert Sungenis simply must have the last word, which always includes some kind of allegation that it is everyone else who just doesn’t get it rather than Robert “Alone” Sungenis.  Now Sungenis is accusing me of dishonesty based upon a very brief private message session with a 14-year old Catholic kid!  It is rather ironic: a young kid, with whom I have talked off and on in our chat channel for a few months, pops in and asks a question.  I give him a very brief response since I was in the middle of other projects and I had already addressed the issue on The Dividing Line.  This then becomes the basis of accusations of dishonesty on Sungenis’ part.  Disappearing 23 year old “historical assistants” and 14 year old chat moles….what is next?  Perhaps Mr. Sungenis will begin to promote the idea that the Donation of Constantine really was genuine, that on the basis of an epiphany to a 12-year old in AOL Instant Messenger perhaps?  We shall let Mr. Sungenis have the last word, since we can’t possibly imagine how he can self-destruct any more fully than this, but we are certain he will do his best.

Recently an article appeared on the main page of Catholic Apologetics International (CAI), the “apostolate” of Robert Sungenis.  It read:

Challenge to James White to Debate:
Recently, CAI challenged James White to a debate on the topic of Predestination. Unfortunately, Dr. White has not responded to our invitation. Thus, we make this public notice. For those in contact with Dr. White and who would like to see such a debate take place, please contact us at

The “challenge” referenced was actually contained in an e-mail from Jacob Michael, who is no longer with CAI.  He suggested a three-way debate with Dave Hunt.  Now given that we have not been successful in getting Mr. Hunt to agree to debate even one-on-one, and may not be successful in arranging such an encounter, it was grossly premature to even suggest a three-way debate.  Further, this e-mail arrived during the “MrX” fiasco.  I ignored it, knowing that the near future was going to be focused upon the false accusations being presented by CAI, not about any future debates.  Sungenis simply replied to Jacob Michael’s e-mail with an acknowledgement.  Again, given how close we were to exposing the falsehoods being posted by CAI regarding the MrX debacle, I barely gave it a second thought.

I have often commented that it would be useful, in a sense, to have such a debate, just to show Arminian evangelicals that their arguments against the sovereignty of God’s grace are identical to those used by Rome.  I have pointed out the direct parallel to Dave Hunt.  Such a debate would not really be a three-way debate, but two against one! Be that as it may, I have never been in a position to speak for Dave Hunt, let alone arrange such a debate.  Our first priority is to arrange the one-on-one debate with Mr. Hunt relevant to his book, and the upcoming publication from Multnomah wherein he and I debate Calvinism.  It would be foolish to speak of anything beyond that as far as debates are concerned.

But beyond all of this the main issue comes down to credibility.  That is something CAI is lacking.  Over the recent months CAI has purposefully removed itself from the mainstream of Catholic apologetics.  Not only has Sungenis embraced a traditionalistic stance, but his writings on geocentrism, combined with his comments on Israel and the Jews, along with the appearance of a litany of articles criticizing such notables as Scott Hahn, Karl Keating, Tim Staples, and (irony of ironies), Art Sippo, have made it clear that CAI is off on its own when it comes to the apologetic realm.  In fact, we have received criticism for “seeking out” the “fringe element” by debating Sungenis and Matatics.  It should be noted that in reference to the Salt Lake City debates, we did not seek these men out: those sponsoring the debates sought out these individuals due to their former Protestant confessions.  We simply agreed to present the truth in that context.  [Further, I did write to Mr. Matatics in reference to an appearance he made on the grounds of a liberal Baptist University and challenged him to return there for a debate so that the students could hear both sides.]  But we are fully aware that neither Sungenis nor Matatics any longer represent mainstream Roman Catholic apologetics as both have embraced forms of traditionalism.

On April 29th, 2003, we aired a Dividing Line webcast featuring David King, William Webster, and Rich Pierce.  During this program we documented the errors in the accusations leveled in an article posted on the CAI website.  During that program I made the direct statement that we would no longer be engaging in debates with Robert Sungenis as a result not only of the slanderous article posted on the website, but also due to the previously mentioned marginalization of Sungenis as a representative of Roman Catholicism.  The combination of these events, along with the response by Sungenis in e-mails sent to Eric Svendsen, made it clear that there was no reason to engage in further debates and, in so doing, help prop up (through the production of new materials) an “apostolate” that was dwindling very quickly.  Despite the “apology” that was posted, we have seen no reason to change that course.

Update: 5/24/03

We can only assume Mr. Sungenis does not have time to look over the above article, for on his website he has posted a “response” that does not cite this article, but seemingly is based upon someone’s second-hand accounting of comments made on The Dividing Line.  As a result, Sungenis’ rather rambling response completely misses the point made above: that his marginalization of himself was capped off by his behavior in the “MrX” debacle.  This fact does not appear in his reply, rendering it rather useless.  He goes on and on about points that are utterly irrelevant.  He would know this if he would check his sources rather than depend on what he “hears through the grapevine.”  He writes in his article:

In the end, however, James White is fooling only those who want to be fooled. As it stands, the challenge to debate him on his views of Predestination will remain open. We hope that White will be honest and courageous enough to accept the invitation and cease giving false excuses.

Well, perhaps Mr. Sungenis should again check his facts.  This article was linked from our main page.  He could have accessed it if he was interested in accuracy.  Recent events have demonstrated a deep problem with the accuracy of Mr. Sungenis’ statements and research, and here is just another example.  He also said in his article, “The proof is in the putting.”  Yes, well, I admit I’m not much of a golfer.  Oh, you meant “pudding” Mr. Sungenis?  Indeed it is. As my article notes, I would welcome a debate on the subject from a Roman Catholic apologist who has not marginalized himself and destroyed his credibility with such actions as the MrX debacle and now this second-hand knee-jerk reaction.  Such would be most useful in demonstrating the compelling biblical truth of God-honoring monergism.  Perhaps Mr. Sungenis will go back and listen to the Dividing Line where I made my announcement concerning him, as noted above?  Probably not.  Who has time to invest in that kind of research when you are so busy perfecting your putting?

Hebrews and the Atonement of Christ – Vintage

Thoughts Prompted by the Reprise of the Topic of the Atonement in Debate Against Robert Sungenis

[For a response to CAI’s “challenge to debate,” click here]  (updated on 5/31/03)

[The following article uses the BibleWorks Greek font, available at:  Also, Dr. White preached on Hebrews 10 in the morning and evening services at the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church.  You can listen to the AM Sermon here, the PM Sermon here.]

I did not expect that Robert Sungenis would use the same approach he had taken in 1999 in our debate on Long Island when we again addressed the issue of the Mass as a “propitiatory sacrifice” in a debate on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Saturday, April 5th.  So when he again began quoting from The Fatal Flaw, a thirteen year old book that has been out of print for a decade, all to attempt to make me defend myself against the assertion that my views are very “Catholic,” I had to suppress a smile.  As the debate was substantially shorter than the 1999 version, it was, at the very least, a bit more focused.  I was cross-examined on the issue of the perseverance of the saints (just as in 1999).  I asked questions on the subject of the debate, that being the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice.  Toward the end of the brief time, I hit upon what proved to be the most useful line of questioning, that of seeking to get Mr. Sungenis to deal with the direct details of the text of Hebrews 10:10-14.

The Lord at times uses the strangest things to get His truth through our dull minds and our confusing traditions.  In my case, pressing the issue of the exegesis of this particular text clarified my own thinking in a way that previous encounters had not.  Hopefully sharing these thoughts with others will edify others as the vital truth of this tremendous passage is considered.

Hebrews in Context

            For many the book of Hebrews is a strange, somewhat difficult book.  The reason why it is not at the top of the “favorites” list for most modern Christian readers is easy to discover: it requires a deep familiarity with the context and content of the Old Testament.  And since many in our modern day are rather canonically challenged, viewing the last twenty seven books of the Bible as significantly more “inspired” than the first thirty nine, Hebrews has suffered as a result.

Just as one must understand Paul’s purpose in writing Romans, so too one must keep in mind the purpose of the writer to the Hebrews.  The single factor that has given rise to errant interpretations of this wonderful epistle is that of ignoring the overall purpose and argument of the letter.  When the intention of the original writer is allowed to give consistency to the letter as a whole, much light is shed on the difficult passages of the book.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is an apologetic argumentation for the supremacy of the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ.  It is addressed to Hebrew believers gathered in the context of the Church.  Since it is addressed to the gathered church, it contains both promises and warnings, for those who stand before God’s people must announce both, as we have not been given the ability to see into the hearts of men so as to be able to identify true saving faith.  The promises will ring true in the hearts where they are joined with the divine work of the Spirit in saving faith: the warnings are used by God both in the exhortation of the saved as well as the judgment of the hypocritical.  The central thesis of the argument is easily discerned: since Christ is the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Old Testament, there is nothing to “go back to.”  Those who were being pressured by family and culture to return to the temple or the synagogue are warned, through numerous forms of argumentation, that there is no “going back.”  Everything in the “old way” is shown to have been done away with, fulfilled, in Christ.  There are no more priests, no more sacrifices, no means of purification outside of the finished, once-for-all sacrifice of Christ.

Each section of the epistle builds upon this theme in various ways.  Beginning in chapter seven the writer moves into the demonstration of the superiority of Christ’s work as High Priest, and this moves into His work of atonement or sacrifice.  When we keep in mind the “big picture” we will always ask, “How does this passage move forward the author’s argument?”  And if we interpret it in such a way that it does not assist the argument, then we know we have lost our way.

The Specific Text

Hebrews 10:1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; 6 IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. 7 “THEN I SAID, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.'” 8 After saying above, “SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them” (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, “BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second.

The writer begins this section with a discussion, through verse four, of the repetitive nature of the old sacrifices.  The Law (of Moses) was, by nature, a shadow, a mere picture of what would come in Christ.  Therefore, the annual sacrifices, which are offered “continually year by year,”[i] could not “make perfect” those who draw near to worship through them.  This is then evidenced by the fact that if they did perfect those for whom they were made, they would not have to be offered repeatedly.  The worshippers, being perfected by the offerings, would no longer have had consciousness of sins.  Why?  It is important to note what the text says.  “Having once been cleansed (a[pax kekaqarisme,nouj).”  The perfection to which the author refers has to do with cleansing.  The removal of the stain of sin therefore removes the guilt, which is related to the conscience.  Perfect offerings remove guilt, imperfect ones do not.  Since, however, these offerings are repeated over and over and over again, they end up functioning as an avna,mnhsij “anamnesis,” a reminder or remembrance (as it is translated in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25) of sins.  The repetition of a sacrifice demonstrates its inherent inability to perfect anyone for whom it is offered.

The fact that the High Priest had to enter the holy place each year functioned, in God’s economy, to point the people to a greater fulfillment.  Remember, it was this very lesser sacrifice to which the Hebrew Christians were being drawn by the pressures of family and culture.  Hence, to demonstrate that what they were being drawn back to was actually a mere foreshadowing of what they had now come to see as the fulfilled and final sacrifice was a devastating apologetic argument, a firm basis upon which to exhort the gathered church to continuation in their profession of faith.

The writer then asserts the reality that the sacrifice of bulls and goats cannot avfairei/n a`marti,aj, “take away sins.”  He has, previously, said that Christ “put away sin” (9:26), so the contrast is strong.  Christ’s death, by nature, has a power the blood of goats and bulls does not.  And therefore the person who goes back to the “old way” goes back to a system that simply cannot provide a means to take away sins, because to “go back” would involve the open and public denial of the satisfaction found in Christ’s atoning sacrifice (the point of 10:26-27)!

Verses 5 through 9 form a biblical argument drawn from Psalm 40:6-8 (as found in the LXX).  The argument is fairly simple, for the writer sees in this passage the same contrast that he has just drawn in the first four verses.  Specifically, he contrasts the sacrifices and burnt offerings, which he points out were offered in accordance with the law, with the coming of the one who does God’s “will.”  He concludes that He (Christ) takes away the first (the offerings and sacrifices) “in order to” (i[na, purpose clause) establish the second, which would be the “will” of God accomplished in the death of Christ. 

10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, 13 waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

This leads us to the heart of our study, verses 10 through 14.  We need to see that verses 10 and 14 function as “bookends” in a sense, with 11-13 providing us with another Old Testament proof-text.  By wrapping these two verses around the primary Messianic text from the Old Testament (Psalm 110:1), he creates one of the strongest assertions concerning the singular offering of Christ upon the cross in all of Scripture.

The “will” that is referred to in verse 10 is the “will of God” Christ came to accomplish noted in verse 9.  The cross was not an after-thought for the Father, it was, in fact, the will of the Father for the Son (Matthew 16:21).  By means of this will, then, something has happened, something has been accomplished.  And what is it?  “We have been sanctified.”  It is vital to “hear” this term in the context of Hebrews itself.  The writer is speaking within the context of sacrifice and tabernacle, offering and cleansing, and we should not, as a result, immediately import a systematized meaning into the text.  That is, many will think of the idea of “progressive sanctification,” whereby we are conformed to the image of Christ and our fleshly lusts mortified.  But this is surely not the intention of the writer, nor is that the meaning of the term as it is used in Hebrews.  To sanctify something, within the context of the tabernacle and sacrifice, is to set it aside as holy unto God.[ii]  We note (and will return to) two other important aspects of interpreting this term: as it is used here it is the immediate result of the sacrificial offering of the body of physical body of Jesus Christ, and this is a once-for-all, singular event (expressed by evfa,pax, ephapax).  These considerations are important for this is something that has been accomplished by the death of Christ.

The specific construction the apostle uses is that of a periphrastic construction.  For many the introduction of such a grammatical phrase causes the eyes to move south for friendlier territory, but I urge you to press on.  The phrase is h`giasme,noi evsme.n, hagiasmenoi esmen.  One of the key elements in grasping the tremendous message of Hebrews ten is to hear it not in the modern parlance but in the ancient context, as the author intended.  He spoke, and wrote, in a particular fashion, and just as we speak in phrases that carry meaning, so did he.  Often those who are only marginally trained in the original languages will focus solely upon a single word, or the tense of a particular term, and ignore its syntactical relationship to other words.  The phrase the author uses to describe the result of Christ’s work carries a particular meaning.  Periphrastics combine the ever-expressive Greek participle with a finite verbal form (normally of eimi).  The result is an enhanced or emphasized “tense meaning.”  In this case, when you combine a perfect participle with a present tense form of eimi, the result is a perfect tense periphrastic construction.

While some grammarians today do not see the periphrastic as containing an added emphasis, many do.  In this case, the periphrastic would emphasize the completedness of the action (which makes perfect sense in light of the argument the author is presenting).  The writer is then emphasizing the fact that the “will” fulfilled or accomplished by Christ in His offering of His own body upon Calvary has sanctified us as a completed action in the past.  This is not a conditional statement.  It is not a provisional statement.  It is not a theoretical statement.  It is a statement of fact, placed firmly in the past with perfective emphasis.  “We have been sanctified.”  We have been made holy, we have been set apart unto God.  This must be kept in mind when we read verse 14 and its description of those who are sanctified.

This completed act of sanctification is through (dia.) the offering of the physical body of Jesus Christ.  That offering is the means of the action (dia with the genitive expressing means).  What Christ does is the means of the result: our being sanctified.  There is a direct correlation.  This might also seem to be a simplistic observation, but for many the work of Christ exists solely in history and does not, in and of itself, do anything.  It creates a theoretical possibility in the minds of many, so that through some other instrumentality the work of salvation takes place.  But the writer to the Hebrews short-circuits this humanly-oriented concept by insisting upon the direct results of the work of Christ.

The term “offering” (th/j prosfora/j) is a technical term used of “offerings” in the preceding quotation of Psalm 40:6 (39:7 LXX).  There was divine sacrificial intention in the cross.  This may strike the reader as yet another “obvious” statement, but in today’s post-modern theological climate, it is not.  For many today the death of Christ was something He stumbled into, and the Christian faith is little more than His disillusioned followers doing their best to make something good come out of an aborted attempt to renew Judaism.  But the Scriptures know nothing of this.  Christ gave Himself as an offering and that for a purpose.

What was offered?  “the body of Jesus Christ” (tou/ sw,matoj VIhsou/ Cristou/).  His was a physical offering.  He gave his physical body.  This was a true sacrifice.  He gave His flesh.  Again the importance is clear, for the contrast between the old sacrifices and the one sacrifice of the New Covenant would not be meaningful if the sacrifice offered was less than that of the Old Covenant.  The life that was given was true life, the body given a true body.

“Once for all” (evfa,pax) is a temporal adverb as we noted above.  The term marks the strong contrast between the repetitive sacrifices of the Old Covenant and the one time, never to be repeated, singular sacrifice of the New.  The repetition of the term both in its unemphasized form (Hebrews 9:26, 28) and in this emphasized form (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10) is central to the writer’s argument at this point in light of the repetitious nature of the old sacrifices.  Repeated sacrifices are imperfect: perfection comes through that which is offered once for all time.

Verses 11 through 13 form a parentheses, repeating in another fashion the argument already enunciated regarding the Old Covenant and its repetitious sacrifices.  Passages such as this strongly argue that Hebrews was written prior to the destruction of the temple.  “Every priest stands daily ministering” is a poignant observation of the on-going temple worship.  The same sacrifices are offered over and over and over again, all in accordance with God’s law.  The writer will contrast the standing priest (e[sthken) whose work is never done with the seated Savior whose work is finished and accomplished.  He likewise makes sure the on-going, repetitive nature of the old sacrifices is seen (kaqV h`me,ran leitourgw/n) by including “daily” and using the present tense of the participle “ministering.”  He piles terms upon terms to make sure we see the entirety of the long line of priests, offering sacrifices that can never take away sins.  How can the congregants go back to a system such as this, when they have come to understand the singularity of the finished sacrifice of Christ?  These repetitive sacrifices lack the power or ability to take away sins (ouvde,pote du,nantai).

In verse 12 we have the very purposeful “but He” in contrast to “every priest.”  It is literally “this one” (ou-toj).  Christ “offered,” past tense (prosene,gkaj) one sacrifice for sins forever, this over against the regular offering of the priests of the Old Covenant. [For an excursus on a fascinating mistranslation by the Latin Vulgate at this point, click here].  On going in contrast to completed, never ending over against finished.  And the contrast is made complete in stating that Christ sat down at the right hand of God, fulfilling, in verse 13, the great Messianic Psalm, 110.  He does not go in and out, as the old priests, but he waits, rests, His work as High Priest confined now to the passive presentation of His finished work in His own body: indeed, He is the Lamb “standing, as if slain” in the vision of John (Revelation 5:6) before the throne.  His work of intercession is not a further work that adds to His sacrifice: His people are united to Him in His death, and His death avails for them.  As the risen Victor He is seated at the right hand of the Father, His ever-present resurrected body still bearing the marks of the sacrifice, “pleading effectual prayers” in the words of the hymn writer, the constant testimony to the finished work accomplished on Calvary.

As we noted, verse 14 is closely related to verse 10.  Both verses speak of the offering of Christ.  Both emphasize the singularity of the event, verse 10 by using “once for all” and verse 14 using “one [offering].”  Verse 10 tells us the offering of the body of Jesus Christ “sanctifies” as a perfective action; verse 14 says it “perfects” or “completes,” this time using the perfect tense verb, tetelei,wken. The intriguing difference between the verbs is the use of “sanctified.”  In verse 10 it is the result of the “will” of God fulfilled through the offering of the body of Christ.  “We have been sanctified.”  But in verse 14 it becomes the identifier of the objects of the action of making perfect, “those who are sanctified.”  So the question becomes, how can the offering of Christ be the means of creating  the group who are sanctified and also be the means of perfecting that same group.

Before we address this question, one other issue should be noted.  Some translations have “those who are being sanctified” in verse 14, translating the present tense of the substantival participle.  Now, one possible view of the present in this case, if we are to see any emphasis upon the tense at all, is that those who are being sanctified would refer not to a process of on-going sanctification in an individual’s life (contra v. 10), but to the fact that those thusly sanctified experience that setting apart over a period of time (indeed, to this point, over the course of nearly 2,000 years).  Hence this would refer to the on-going application to each generation of believers of the one, finished action of the cross.

While this is a possible view, I do not think it is necessary to understand it in this way.  The participle “those who are sanctified” should be understood in light of the emphasis that has already been made regarding the perfective result of the work of Christ: “we have been sanctified,” and hence, we are sanctified.  Hence it is a simple statement of fact: this singular offering perfects those who are sanctified.  It is not the author’s intention for the participle to add a further statement about the nature of sanctification, as that has already been stated in verse 10.  So the NASB’s translation correctly identifies the function of the participle with the rendering, “those who are sanctified.”

And so we return to the main question: how can the offering of Christ be the means of creating the group who are sanctified and also be the means of perfecting that same group?  The answer would seem to be found in considering that the second statement is simply an expansion of the first: the one sacrifice sets apart as holy in a perfective manner, it is a small step to the fuller statement that it perfects those who are sanctified.  The second statement would amplify the first: those who have been set apart are perfected in their standing. 

Sungenis’ Comments Refuted

Robert Sungenis has written a book titled Not By Bread Alone.  It is a defense of his understanding of the Roman Catholic eucharistic sacrifice (I say “his understanding” because Mr. Sungenis often takes unique positions, and has recently embraced a radical form of traditionalism that is not representative of the mainstream of Roman Catholic apologists).  Hebrews 10 is mentioned in many places, but the only attempt to actually interact with the text is found on page 105.  Here we find the following:

Although some opponents may interpret the clause in Hebrews 10:14 (“…made perfect forever those who are being made holy”) as suggesting that the salvation of the Christian is complete and totally secure with no possibility of falling away, this is not what the verse is teaching.  We can see this by the way the word “perfect” is used in the book of Hebrews.  According to Hebrews 10:1-2, the individual’s “perfection” refers to having his sins completely forgiven in order that the conscience may be free of guilt, something which the Old Covenant law could not provide (cf., 7:19; 9:9)  Thus, the individual stands “perfect” because his past sins have been completely forgiven, not because he has reached a perfect state which eliminates the possibility of losing his state of grace.  It follows, then, that the use of “perfect” here does not mean that the individual cannot retard the sanctification process, or that his eternal perfection is a foregone conclusion (cf., Hebrews 11:40; 12:23).  The verbal form chosen for “being sanctified” is a Greek participle of continuing action, which specifies the process of sanctification, a process by which we are continually forgiven of our sins, albeit now it is a complete or “perfect” forgiveness for the sins we have confessed.  In other words, Christ did not make a blanket forgiveness of sin but has perfected the process by which sin is forgiven when it is confessed.  Thus no more sacrifice is needed for past sins, but this does not mean we cannot forsake the process by refusing to repent of our future sins.

Just a few comments are in order here:

1)  The actual exegetical issues of verse 14 (its relationship to the immediately preceding text, the relevance of the periphrastic in verse ten to defining the arthrous substantival participle in verse 14, the meaning of “sanctify” in Hebrews vs. its meaning in systematic theology, etc.) are not even mentioned in the comments.

2)  Sungenis does not understand the theocentric confession of the perfection of Christ’s work.  All he “hears” is the resultant concept of the perseverance of the saints.  This has been the main focus of his “defense” of the Mass as a sacrifice in our debates.  But such is to attempt to refute the argument by disagreeing with one of its results rather than dealing with its substance.  Yes, if Christ’s work is perfect then He is able to save completely and perfectly without fail.  But since the focus of the text is on the result of Christ’s singular sacrifice, why not deal with the direct assertion of the text?

3)  While looking at the general use of telei,ow in Hebrews is important to proper exegesis, assuming it has the same meaning in every passage is improper.  On this same page Sungenis makes a similar error, connecting Hebrews 5:9 to 10:14 solely on the basis of the similar verb (or so one assumes: the basis is left hanging).

4)  Perfection does indeed refer to the complete forgiveness of sins.  But Sungenis’ entire thesis is that this refers solely to past sins, leaving us with a perfection with a timetable: it only lasts as long as it takes to walk outside the church and encounter the real world.  Then one sins and has to make use of the “system” to obtain forgiveness of these sins.

5)  Whether one can lose “the state of grace” is not the point of the text: the point is what Christ’s offering accomplishes over against the old sacrifices.  And if Christ’s sacrifice has the half-life of the time it takes for man’s heart to find a way to sin, how can this be considered an argument in favor of the New Covenant?  “The Old Covenant could not perfect you by forgiving all your past sins, which the New Covenant can….but, it only lasts for a little while, at which point you are again reduced to a repetitive, non-perfecting sacrifice (i.e., the Mass).”  This is a compelling apologetic?

6)  Sungenis does not even make reference to the function of the participle in verse 14, but simply assumes a verbal emphasis (fitting for a circumstantial participle, but not one functioning substantivally).  The clear connection to verse 10 is ignored, and the ideas of a “process” of sanctification (contra the completed tense of the periphrastic in verse 10) along with confession (!) leap into the text, obviously derived not from exegesis, but from Roman tradition.

7)  The result of this eisegetical stab in the dark is seen clearly with the assertion, “Christ did not make a blanket forgiveness of sin but has perfected the process by which sin is forgiven when it is confessed.”  Process?  Where does this come from?  Surely not from the text!  Again we see the entire apologetic argument of the writer to the Hebrews being shredded in service of Roman tradition.  Where does the text say Christ perfected a “process”?  It says His offering perfected US (v. 10)! 

Sungenis follows up these comments with a reference to Hebrews 10:29.  He asserts this passage teaches one can fall away from sanctification.  He does not show any familiarity with the question of who it is who is sanctified by the blood of the covenant in this passage.  The great Puritan scholar, John Owen, wrote concerning who is the one “sanctified” in Hebrews 10:29:

But the design of the apostle in the context leads plainly to another application of these words. It is Christ himself that is spoken of, who was sanctified and dedicated unto God to be an eternal high priest, by the blood of the covenant which he offered unto God, as I have showed before. The priests of old were dedicated and sanctified unto their office by another, and the sacrifices which he offered for them; they could not sanctify themselves: so were Aaron and his sons sanctified by Moses, antecedently unto their offering any sacrifice themselves. But no outward act of men or angels could unto this purpose pass on the Son of God. He was to be the priest himself, the sacrificer himself, — to dedicate, consecrate, and sanctify himself, by his own sacrifice, in concurrence with the actings of God the Father in his suffering. See John 17:19; Hebrews 2:10, 5:7, 9, 9:11, 12. That precious blood of Christ, wherein or whereby he was sanctified, and dedicated unto God as the eternal high priest of the church, this they esteemed “an unholy thing;” that is, such as would have no such effect as to consecrate him unto God and his office.  (John Owen, Commentary on Hebrews, vol. 22, p. 676)

[i] eivj to. dihneke.j is an idiomatic phrase meaning “continually, without interruption.”  It appears four times in Hebrews, each bearing significance to the current discussion: Hebrews 7:3, 10:1, 10:12, 10:14.

[ii] It is interesting to note that being “made holy” is not one of the things listed in Hebrews 6:4-5 in reference to those who were in the fellowship but about whom the writer did not have confidence regarding salvation (v. 9).  This would indicate that for the writer, to be made holy is indicative of true salvation.  It is also significant to note that while the term “righteous” appears in Hebrews as a noun/adjective, the verbal form dikaiovw does not appear (i.e., “to justify”).  These two considerations would seem to indicate that for the writer to the Hebrews, being made holy occupies a similar place of centrality as indicative of the fullness of salvation as being made righteous does in the Pauline corpus.