Wednesday, June 27, 2018
30) And when Philip had run up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31) And he [the Ethiopian eunuch] said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
This is the story of God using Philip, who was sent by an angel to a lonely desert area to providentially share the gospel with an Ethiopian man (Acts 8:26-40).
Catholics will often use this passage to try to prove that we need an “infallible magisterium” in order to understand Scripture. They don’t believe that Scripture, by iself, is sufficient as a Rule of Faith because there is not enough perspicuity in the Bible (i.e., it is not always clear enough), and they’ll point to Protestants and their divisions as “proof” that Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) “doesn’t work.” According to Catholics, it takes more to understand the Bible than just reading it. It demands an “independent visible teaching authority that is guided by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, the Catholic Magisterium.
The Catholic View
An official Catholic document presented by the Pontifical Biblical Commission to Pope John Paul II (April 23, 1993), The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, uses this same Bible passage in an attempt to point out the difficulty of Scripture interpretation:
“According to the Acts of the Apostles, an Ethiopian of the first century found himself in the same situation with respect to a passage from the Book of Isaiah (Is. 53:7-8) and recognized that he had need of an interpreter (Acts 8:30-35).”
But not just any interpreter. This document goes on to say that “responsibility for authentically interpreting the word of God… has been entrusted solely to the living magisterium of the church…”
And there are many Catholic apologists who use this passage in the same way.
Speaking Like a Pope
Now, every Scripture passage has a purpose for being there. And it almost seems that Catholics believe that this particular passage mentioned above (Acts 8:26-40) exists solely to demonstrate a “need” for an infallible magisterium and no other reason. One would think that the eunuch’s question, “How could I, unless someone guides me?” was some sort of infallible “ex-cathedra” papal pronouncement, seeing the way Catholics tend to interpret this!
But first of all, is Philip even considered part of the magisterium? According to the Catholic Church, the infallible magisterium is confined to the popes and / or bishops of the Church, to which Philip did not belong. Philip wasn’t an apostle or bishop and therefore not part of the “apostolic succession of bishops.” He was simply a deacon (Acts 6:5). So what was Philip doing interpreting Scripture for the eunuch? Apparently, it didn’t take the magisterium to interpret here. So this passage has nothing to do with a magisterium.
Again, in this story, the eunuch didn’t appeal to a magisterium, and Philip never told him that one was needed, nor did the author of the book of Acts suggest that he needed an “official interpreter.” Yet Catholics tend to focus more on, and give more weight to, the eunuch’s question rather than Philip’s message of the gospel.
The purpose of this passage was certainly not to prove that we need an “infallible magisterium” with special authority to decode the Bible for us. That is simply reading a Catholic idea back into the text.
“But It’s Hard!”
At this point, the Catholic may say, “Well, maybe so, but it still shows that Scripture is hard to understand.”
No, the eunuch was simply asking about the person to whom Isaiah was referring, that’s all (v. 34). The eunuch’s question came up, not because the text itself was hard to understand, but because he simply was not yet aware of the fulfillment of the prophecy he was reading. He had not yet been fully presented with the facts of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. Anyone who was not from this region (like the eunuch) had no idea yet of Isaiah’s recently fulfilled prophecy (Isaiah 53:7-8). So of course, unfulfilled prophecy that focuses on a particular person can sometimes be an issue, but this doesn’t demand an infallible interpreter, because even an infallible interpreter could not have identified the Messiah until He actually arrived. It is also like the antichrist – we can understand many of the prophecies about him, but no one will know his actual identity until he arrives.
Furthermore, what the eunuch had available to him was limited. The book of Isaiah may have been the only Bible book he had in his possession. He didn’t have the luxury of the gospels and epistles of the New Testament which we have today. So, this Catholic argument stressing the Ethiopian eunuch’s question cannot be used against the clarity / perspicuity of the Scriptures as a whole.
We agree that some passages are harder to understand than others. We all need help sometimes in Bible interpretation. We don’t deny that. But what about the difficult passages? Do we just give up our study of them because it’s easier to rely on a supposed infallible magisterium? Of course not. We continue studying, because the Bible never speaks of an infallible, independent, human teaching authority in the post-apostolic church. It just doesn’t exist.
Is It Even a Good Idea?
But perhaps we should question whether a single human authority / institution / magisterium to answer all questions is even a healthy idea to start with. Not only is it not scriptural, but it is a bad idea, in general. Why? Because knowing the nature of man and the propensity for such a group to become proud and corrupt when given such absolute power over all questions, it may not be such a great idea, after all. Compounding that problem would be the tendency of those asking the questions to idolize the “magisterium,” practically guaranteeing the latter’s corruption. Furthermore, the dependence of “the laity” on this magisterium would certainly cause the laity to be less responsible in their studies, with far too much dependence on the magisterium. That’s just the nature of man.
So, it is better to have some divisions within the church of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:19) than to have a corrupt “magisterium” with a weak and dependent “laity.”
So, how do we handle hard Bible passages? Remember, a necessary component of Scripture reading and understanding is our relationship with our spiritual Father. Growth in this relationship is usually gradual and the child must be ever learning. But it is indeed a growth process. He won’t learn everything overnight – not even the most important lessons. It takes time to piece it all together. God does not demand that we know the answers to all the hard questions immediately.
Scripture Interprets Scripture
Interestingly, those claiming that Scripture is hard to understand are actually relying on the clarity of certain Scriptures (like Acts 8) to try and prove their point. But why not use this same principle in a positive way, i.e., use the simpler and clearer teachings of the Bible as a foundation, as a basis to help us understand the more difficult passages. Surely, God’s Word is consistent with itself, so if studied diligently, it will eventually lead to an understanding of the whole.
And just as in an earthly parent-child relationship, the parent teaches the child by building on basics, from the simpler things to the more complex, to learn and grow in the principles of life, and then to learn to apply those to the harder things in life. In the same way, hard-to-understand Bible passages are interpreted in the light of the more easily understood passages on the same topic. In this way, God gradually helps us to see how the Bible message unfolds. Remember, Scripture is called divine revelation (Romans 16:25-26) for a reason: because it is something that is intended to be revealed. Even if it sometimes seems hidden, it is meant to be understood.
Catholics claim the Bible is an “insufficient” source because some of it is misunderstood, but why is it that no one jumps to the same conclusion when people didn’t understand the things that Jesus Christ, Himself, sometimes spoke when He was here? Would anyone dare to say that He, too, is an insufficient source?
This is a subtle attack on the role of Scripture as a sufficiently clear Rule of Faith. It is also an attack on the ability of God to make His will known to men of all walks of life. Sure, teachers in the church have their place, but the Protestant position has never been (or at least, should never be) that we don’t need teachers in the church. It is that we don’t need a single infallible magisterium to answer all questions.
The Bottom Line for Catholics
After reading this wonderful story of God’s love and providence (Acts 8:26-40), where He sends a willing vessel (Philip) out of his way to miraculously meet and share the gospel with a hungry soul (the Ethiopian eunuch), opens his heart to prophecy, and gets him saved and baptized, and then sends the eunuch off rejoicing to share this same gospel message with his own people in his own land – and this message is further verified by a miracle that transports Philip away to another city called Azotus (Ashdod), some thirty miles away… and yet, after reading all of this, many Catholics can only seem to summarize this passage with the idea that Scripture is not sufficient.
Really? Does any sane person think that THAT’S what this story is all about? This is exactly the type of thing that the scribes and Pharisees (Jesus’ enemies) would have done. Instead of rejoicing when the man with the withered hand was healed, they got angry that Jesus worked on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11). They worried about the ritual washing of hands, pots and pans, but rejected the commandments of God (Matthew 15:1-6; Mark 7:1-9). They would strain out a gnat, yet swallow a camel (Matthew 23:24). They neglected the important things while focusing on the trivial. Catholics are doing the same thing with the Ethiopian eunuch story. Like the Pharisees, Catholics miss the point of the passage in order to focus on something that the passage is not even teaching. This is twisting the Scriptures.
Although this may not apply to all Catholics, but many of them seem to be more excited about weakening the authority of Scripture than they are about the eternal salvation of the eunuch, or the spread of the gospel to his people. It’s almost as if they feel like they have an obligation to weaken the role of God-inspired Sacred Scripture at every turn.
There is something seriously wrong with this picture. It is an abuse of the simple and encouraging story of an Ethiopian eunuch, and it is an attack on Scripture, itself.
See these links for more information on Scripture and its interpretation:
Monday, May 28, 2018
Catholics believe that their church is the “one true church” and that it always has been. Protestants challenge that concept for many good reasons (which we will not go into here). Catholics may respond, “But if we weren’t always the one true church, then who was the true church since the time of the apostles? What group was there that could always claim to be following the truth? Where were these true Christians (who were not Catholic) before the Reformation in the sixteenth century?”
Someone answered that question this way: “Where was your face before you washed it?” In other words, your face was there all the time, but it’s just that it got to the point of being unrecognizably dirty. Or, it is like a ship that was once smooth, sleek, and fast-moving, but where is that ship now? It is still there - it always remained - but is now weighed down and hopelessly encrusted with barnacles; it is now hidden, and unable to do what it was meant to do.
In the same way, true believers in the early church have always been there, but through no fault of their own, their pure gospel message became gradually distorted until unrecognizable when the false teachings of Catholicism encrusted around it. The Catholic Church, who was dominating the “church scene” before the Reformation, had, for the most part, lost the ability to recognize the simple truth of the gospel.
Ok, so who exactly were the true believers in the early church? Catholics claim that there is no record of any group in the early church that had the fullness of truth (other than the Catholic Church, of course). But Catholics are forgetting the “remnant principle.” What is the remnant principle? The following is an example of it:
The time was the ninth century B.C., during the reign of King Ahab in Israel. The idolatry and other sins of the Jewish people abounded. The prophet Elijah was disgusted with the Jews and their Baal worship, and he complained to God that he was the only person left who was serving God. He truly felt all alone. But the Lord God surprised Elijah when He told him:
“Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. (1 Kings 19:18)
This is a biblical principle. Throughout history God has always reserved for Himself a remnant, a group that is dedicated to serving God in the midst of an ungodly majority. For example, Noah and his family were the remnant in the days of the great flood (Genesis 6). And Lot and his family were the remnant during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). These remnant groups not only represent the true believers in the Old Testament, but they are also a symbol of the true church in the New Testament (Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-30).
Someone may object, “But why is there only a remnant saved? Aren’t most people going to Heaven?” Unfortunately, that is not the case. Being part of the biggest church around is not a guarantee that it holds the truth. It is not always safe being in the majority. In fact, it can be downright dangerous! Jesus, Himself, said:
Enter ye in at the strait [narrow] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
A big church does not necessarily produce the truth. That goes for Protestants and Orthodox, as well. But Catholicism was never the true expression of the church because of its many false teachings. Rather, it is something that gradually “morphed” into the monstrosity that it is today (Matthew 13:31-32). But while this giant grew in influence (both spiritually and politically), the true church was in the background. God knew those true believers even if the Catholic Church didn’t.
This was similar to Elijah’s situation. God had a remnant, but they just weren’t well known. You would think that Elijah would have known about the 7,000 believers. After all, wasn’t he one of the greatest prophets of God in the Old Testament? So, if the great prophet, Elijah (who was supernaturally in direct communion with God) was unaware of the existence of the “true church” in his day, it is certainly possible that the Catholic Church was unaware of the existence of true believers back in the early church.
Of course, some will say that Catholics were the true believers. No, sorry, but the Catholic Church is disqualified from the title of “true church” because of its false teachings. Nor does it automatically get to have the title because of its size or influence. And just because there aren’t any records of similar “big” or “influential” churches back then, that does not make the Catholic Church the true church by default.
We have to remember, the term “true church” means those who are truly saved and serving God, and are biblically faithful. It is made up of individuals whose hearts are right with God. It is not just referring to a particular denomination, organization, or group.
Again, God always has a remnant of true believers, whether we know them or not. The records we have of the early church are certainly not complete. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a record of every single believing group that ever existed over the centuries. We have a God who promised that the true church would endure (Matthew 16:18). A lack of records does not override or negate the biblical concept of the remnant principle. So, to say that a true remnant didn’t exist because we have no record of it is foolish, arrogant, and unbiblical.
“We have always been the ONLY group to have the fullness of truth.”
“Therefore, we HAVE to have been the one true church all along. If we weren’t, then there was NO church, and the gates of Hell have prevailed (Matthew 16:18), but Jesus would not let that happen.”
But if there was always a remnant of true believers, then this Catholic premise is wrong in the first place. So, since there was a remnant, Jesus was right – we don’t have to worry that the gates of Hell have prevailed – because the true church has always existed, even if only in the form of a remnant, at times.
But Catholics will still insist that they must be the one true church, since their church has been refuting heresies for centuries. That may be, but what good is refuting all those heresies, while still embracing today the Judaizer heresy of adding to Jesus’ work on the cross (Acts 15:1, 5), directly contradicting the nature of the atonement and the very gospel, itself?
For anyone who still thinks that the Catholic Church should be considered the “one true church,” please feel free to read the articles on this blog, which we believe refute this idea and demonstrate the unbiblical nature of many of the Catholic Church’s teachings.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Many people are intrigued by the idea of time travel. If there could only be a machine that would be able to bring us back into the past and hear, personally, Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address, or to experience how things were in the days of Christopher Columbus, or to go back to the time of Moses when the Red Sea was parted! Or it could bring us into the future to marvel at the technological advances of mankind. This idea, of course, has been used in a number of science fiction movies and television shows.
Here Comes the Past
While time travel is not a reality, it seems that the Catholic Church claims to enjoy some sort of time travel concept. “How absurd,” you may respond, “to say that Catholics believe any such thing!” But consider the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. According to the Catholic Catechism (CCC #1104, #1375, #1413, #1566), the past is not just brought to mind, but actually “made present” when the communion bread and wine are consecrated by the priest. That is, during the mass, the event of Jesus Christ giving His flesh and blood on the cross is “mysteriously” made present… today… now. According to the Catholic Church, Calvary (that event which happened 2000 years ago) is actually somehow transported across time, to this present moment for the one who partakes of Catholic communion. This is a foundational claim of the Catholic Church.
Catholics believe this mainly because they think that Jesus was speaking literally when He said, “This is My body… this is My blood” (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20) when breaking bread and pouring out wine at the Last Supper. He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). The Greek word Jesus used here for “remembrance” is “anamnesis,” and Catholics claim that anamnesis actually means “to make present,” to “re-present,” or “memorial sacrifice.”
The Catholic Church uses much flowery and philosophical language to describe this “time travel” event. Now, participating in communion is indeed a biblical concept, but rather than using a biblical explanation of what’s happening, they have to resort to the fancy, high-sounding philosophy of Aristotle (e.g., “substance” and “accidents”) to explain why there is a supposed change in the bread and wine.
But the truth is, this is not what the Greek word “anamnesis” really means. The “Online Etymology Dictionary” defines anamnesis this way:
“Recollection, remembrance, reminiscence,” 1650s, from Greek anamnesis “a calling to mind, remembrance,” noun of action from stem of anamimneskein “remember, remind (someone) of (something), make mention of,” from ana “back” (see ana-) + mimneskesthai “to recall, cause to remember,” related to mnemnon “mindful,” mneme “memory;” from PIE root “men-“ (1) “to think.” In Platonic philosophy, “recollection of a prior life.”
This source says absolutely nothing about “re-presenting” or “making present,” or that it is any kind of “sacrifice.” Other reliable sources tell us the same thing as the previous source:
“A recalling, remembrance, memory.”
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:
“A remembering, recollection; to call Me (affectionately) to remembrance (Luke 22:19).”
NAS Exhaustive Concordance:
As for as we can tell, it is only Catholic, Orthodox, or quasi-Catholic groups that claim that anamnesis means “to make present.”
There are two Bible verses where Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” and they are Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:25. But even many Catholic Bible versions like the New American Bible, the Douay Rheims Bible, the Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition, and the New Jerusalem Bible, all translate the word anamnesis in these two verses as either “remembrance,” “memorial,” “memory,” or “commemoration.” None of these translate the term as “memorial sacrifice” or “Calvary made present,” or “re-presenting Christ.”
No doubt, they certainly would have been happy to translate it that way if they could have, but, in this particular case, these Catholic Bible versions proved to be true to the original Greek.
“One and the Same?”
According to the Catholic Church, the priest’s offering of the Eucharist supposedly “transcends time” (CCC #1085). It is not another offering of Jesus Christ to God, but is “one and the same” offering as Calvary (CCC #1367). Therefore, it is bringing the past into the “now.” Again, this is the stuff of which time machine stories are made. This is an incredibly bold claim… and it is also ridiculous and unscriptural. It is true that the effects of Jesus’ work on the cross are eternal, perhaps displayed permanently in a Heavenly scene to remind us forever (Revelation 5:6), but nowhere in the Bible is there an event that is literally brought forward on earth from the past.
The event of Calvary is no more actually “made present” today in communion than the death angel was once again “made present” every time the Jews celebrated the past event of Passover (Exodus 12:21-25). But it IS something “made present” mentally, something remembered. Once again, “Do this in remembrance of Me” speaks of using one’s mental faculties, not some supernatural time travel experience whereby a past event is literally made present.
Catholics may object and say that they never claimed that the event of Calvary is literally made present in the Eucharist. They seem to go out of their way to avoid using that specific term concerning Calvary’s “presence,” but at the same time, they will insist that the bread and wine turn into His literal body and blood. Furthermore, CCC #1104 says that this ritual supposedly does not just recall Calvary, but ACTUALIZES this event. So, there seem to be some mixed signals here.
More Than You Bargained For!
Furthermore, when describing the mass, they say things like, “the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” in the Eucharist. In that moment, Christ is present in the “fullest sense,” and He is “wholly and entirely present” (CCC #1374).
And of course, this is all a great mystery where He is somehow “sacramentally” made present (however that’s supposed to work). Once again, the Catholic Church is engaging in word games.
But no, being exposed to the “whole Christ” in the “fullest sense” would be describing our state in HEAVEN. That level of exposure to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, could only happen when we are in our glorified bodies and then able to endure His absolute fullness and glory! Otherwise, like the apostle John, we could not even stand before Him:
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me…
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead… (Revelation 1:12, 17)
This is what happens when a mere human sees “the whole Christ” in the “fullest sense.” Even John, probably His closest friend, fell as a dead man in Jesus’ “fullest” presence. John was utterly stunned and unable to even look at Jesus. He was overwhelmed by the majesty of the Son of God. If the Eucharist was all that Catholics say it is, no man would be able to stand before it.
A Dose of Reality
The Catholic concept of Calvary “made present” is a false teaching to make Catholics believe that they have more to offer than other churches do. But their “fullness of truth” is a lie. Their priesthood is false, and they cannot do what they claim to do in the mass. Their priests are not able to “bring Christ down” from His throne in Heaven, to be “offered up again,” where He must “bow His head in humble obedience to the priest’s command,” as one very popular Catholic book describes. This is utter blasphemy. And that source is quoted in this article:
According to the Catholic Catechism (CCC #1566), when celebrating the Eucharist, it is “From this unique sacrifice [that] their whole priestly ministry draws its strength.” Well, since the foundation of “this unique sacrifice” is based on time travel and other unbiblical concepts, it is therefore false and crumbles beneath the weight of its own outrageous claims.
But why is this ritual the ultimate experience for Catholics? Why do they think that physically eating and drinking “Jesus” is the greatest form of worship? Why the focus on the bread and wine, rather than on His actual work and suffering on the cross? There’s something fishy about this. Jesus said that He wanted believers to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23), not by physically eating Him.
It’s Not About Time Travel
Jesus said nothing whatsoever about communion being anything more than a holy memorial. Sure, this is indeed a solemn and wonderful event, during which emotions may be high, and where a deeper appreciation for Calvary and a deeper love for God may be present, along with sorrow for one’s sins.
But getting the benefits of Calvary is not time travel. It does not require God to actually transfer an event from the past to the present time. God does not have to actually “make Calvary present” for us to have its benefits. Its benefits are simply received by faith. The only “mystery” involved is that He would still love us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). In communion, He is making Calvary real to the hearts of undeserving souls, and making us deeply aware of the magnitude of what happened at the cross.
Again, the Catholic version of the simple ritual of holy communion amounts to an actual claim of time travel. This is very important. Since it is not possible and not biblical to “time travel” and transport the past into the future, therefore, it is NOT POSSIBLE that the mass and Calvary are “one and the same,” or “one single sacrifice.”
Sometimes they are accused of sacrificing Jesus again, but the Catholic Church strongly insists that they are not, but rather, that they are re-presenting that one-time, once-for-all sacrifice of Calvary. Well, that might sound good, but that’s not what’s happening. Only Jesus, Himself, was able to make this offer (Calvary), and He will NOT do it again. No one can offer Him as a sacrifice. And no one can re-offer Him. No one can present Him as a sacrifice and no one can re-present Him. He cannot be “presented anew.”
One last time: It is impossible for Him to be offered up again, since 1) Only HE, HIMSELF, could make the offer, not man; and 2) He said it would be ONCE FOR ALL (Hebrews 7:26-27; 9:12, 26-28; 10:10-12). This “Eucharistic sacrifice” is not Jesus. It is a REPLACEMENT of Him. Catholics, please let that sink in.
The ritual of communion (partaking of the bread and wine) is to point to the gospel message and to emphasize what Jesus did on the cross, and not to point to the elements (bread and wine) themselves (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). That would be missing the point. If you want His “maximum presence” on earth, do what Jesus said to do:
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
That’s how he is present on earth after His ascension to Heaven. He would be with us spiritually.
“But,” the Catholic may object, “don’t you think that God is certainly able to bring something back from the past? He has all power. He transcends time. Why would you Protestants think that this is impossible with God?”
But this is not about God’s power or ability. Yes, God transcends time, and yes, He could do this if He wanted to, but the question is not “CAN God do this?” The question is, “What is God really saying here concerning communion?” And Jesus gives us the answer all along, right there in the context:
“Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19)
That’s it, folks. He simply wants us to ever be mindful of the incredible work that He did on the cross. The event of Calvary is the apex of all human history. He paid the penalty for OUR sins there. And for those people who embrace this truth, and trust in this work alone, and are humble enough to surrender to His will, He gives eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
See also these articles on the Eucharist: