Today our focus is going to be on another of John Martignoni’s newsletters. As you may remember, John Martignoni is a very popular and influential Catholic apologist who heads the “Bible Christian Society.” In his Newsletter #278, he talks about Korah’s rebellion in the Old Testament (Numbers 16:1-40). The newsletter can be found here:
“…Korah's Rebellion was a rebellion against authority - the authority of Moses and Aaron. It was a rebellion against the authority of those that God had placed in charge of His people.”
First of all, we want to say that Martignoni is correct in his understanding of the events of Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16. Korah was indeed guilty of rejecting the God-ordained authority of Moses and Aaron. Their (Old Testament) ministerial priesthood was absolutely legitimate. But according to Martignoni, the sin of Korah suggests that we should have a New Testament ministerial priesthood, as well. He points to the book of Jude, which looks back to the Old Testament and mentions the sin of Korah. Concerning this, Martignoni says:
“The interesting thing is, and this is something that we, as Catholics, need to bring up more often than we do, is that the essence of Korah's Rebellion also existed in New Testament times. We read in Jude 10-11 that there are men who ‘revile whatever they do not understand...’ and who ‘perish in Korah's rebellion’… Yet, what do we take away from Jude 10-11? There were people, in the New Testament era, perishing in Korah's Rebellion. What was Korah's Rebellion? It was a rebellion against having a separate priesthood...an ordained priesthood...a priesthood that is set apart, in certain ways, from the royal priesthood of believers. It's a rebellion against a priesthood that didn't include all of the people.”
Using Jude 10-11, Martignoni is insisting that 1) since Korah’s rebellion consisted specifically of a rejection of the Old Testament ministerial priesthood, and 2) since Jude applies Korah’s sin to some people in the New Testament, he then concludes that anyone rejecting a New Testament ministerial priesthood is also guilty of Korah’s sin of rebellion. Martignoni continues:
“So, if that's what Korah's Rebellion was about, then how could Korah's Rebellion be occurring in the New Testament era, unless there was an ordained priesthood? …This passage from Jude makes absolutely no sense unless there was, from the earliest moments of the Church, an ordained priesthood. You can't have Korah's Rebellion in 1st century Christianity if there was no ordained priesthood - if there was no distinction between the royal priesthood of all believers and the ordained priesthood.”
There are a number of Catholic apologists who use this same type of argument and try to promote the idea of a ministerial priesthood in the New Testament. But notice that Martignoni deals with no other verses in Jude except 10 and 11. But verses 10 and 11 alone are not sufficient to determine the context of Jude’s use of Korah’s rebellion here. We must look at the surrounding context to understand what Jude is saying.
Notice that there are other people, as well, who are mentioned in this context, and not just Korah:
- The ungodly people (v.4), who crept into the church and rejected God’s concept of grace and turned it into a license to sin
- The first generation of Jews (v.5), who were delivered out of Egypt but rejected God’s established covenant with them by their unbelief (Hebrews 3:16-19)
- The fallen angels (v.6), who rejected God’s authority and special plan, and chose to follow Lucifer, instead (2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 12:4)
- The men of Sodom and Gomorrah (v.7), who rejected God’s natural order of “men with women” and chose the perversion of homosexuality, instead (Genesis 19:4-5)
- Cain (v.11), who rejected God’s plan of an innocent life dying for the guilty when he offered a gift of vegetables / fruit (the work of his hands), instead (Genesis 4:3-5)
- Balaam (v.11), who rejected God’s special annointing on His people (the Jews), who were blessed by Him, but Balaam was willing to curse them for money (Numbers 22:5-21; 2 Peter 2:15)
- And Korah (v.11), who rejected God’s plan of an Old Testament ministerial priesthood (Numbers 16:3)
The sins of all the others mentioned here had NOTHING whatsoever to do with rejecting a ministerial priesthood – it was ONLY KORAH (and his followers) that did this. But the thing that all seven (mentioned above) were guilty of, is rejecting God’s intended plan. This is what they all had in common.
The details of Korah are unlike all the others in this chapter. To make Korah’s specific sin (i.e., rejecting a valid priesthood) the focus of Jude’s whole point, or to force the context of Korah onto the whole context of Jude is pure eisegesis (i.e., reading something into the context that is not there). The purpose of Jude’s message is NOT to condemn all those who reject a ministerial priesthood, as Martignoni is suggesting.
Following Martignoni’s logic here would be like accusing everyone mentioned in Jude of being sodomites / homosexuals, just because Sodom and Gomorah happen to be mentioned (v.7). Or it would be like accusing all those mentioned in Jude of rejecting God even after seeing Him face to face (as these angels had), just because the fallen angels are mentioned (v.6). No, each person’s sin was somewhat different, but again, the common thread between them all is that each one was guilty of some type of rejection of God’s intended order.
Once again, Jude’s book is not an appeal to the church to go back to an Old Testament-type ministerial priesthood (Hebrews 10:18). Jude was simply warning us to contend for the faith and to be careful of rejecting God’s plans, and he gives us different examples of rejection.
Catholic apologists like Martignoni try really hard to find a ministerial priesthood in the New Testament. But there is no biblical evidence for such a thing. Actually, the scriptural evidence points to one that has been discontinued in the New Testament church (e.g., Matthew 27:50-51; Hebrews 9:12, 28; 10:10-12, 14, 18). See these articles:
Although John Martignoni correctly understands the facts of Numbers 16 (the story of Korah’s rebellion), he is misapplying what Jude said about it, and is promoting a false teaching. There IS no ministerial priesthood within the pages of the New Testament, but only the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:1) and the universal priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5).