Today, we are briefly addressing some more comments from the world of Catholic apologist, John Martignoni. He was recently writing to his Bible Christian Society audience, and he said something very interesting. His comments can be found here:
In his comments, Martignoni claims some unique insight concerning a passage in the book of James:
My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
And then Martignoni writes immediately after this:
“Did you catch that? Most people who read this passage do not stop to think about what it is really saying. If you do something to bring a sinner back from the error of his way, you will save YOUR soul from death and will cover a multitude of YOUR sins. What an awesome promise God has given us in Scripture! Zeal for the souls of others will cover a multitude of our sins and save our soul from death!” (Emphasis in original)
Martignoni acts as though he has discovered some deep revelation that few have ever seen before. But, at this point, we feel the need to ask Martignoni some questions that he, himself, often asks those with whom he debates. For example, we would ask him: John, is your interpretation of this passage of Scripture infallible? Is the Holy Spirit guiding you when you interpret this? Or is this your own private interpretation? Since you have already admitted previously that you are not infallible, then the Holy Spirit might not be guiding you, and you could be wrong, couldn’t you? And lastly, is your interpretation what the Catholic Church officially teaches?
We’re pretty sure that this passage has not been infallibly defined by the Catholic Church, nor do we believe that Martignoni’s interpretation is official Catholic teaching. If anyone claims that it is, then please show us where.
These questions from John are not actually a problem for Protestants at all, but we wanted to turn the tables on John, since he very often asks these same things of his opponents when they quote the Bible. But his own questions come back to haunt him. Those same questions that he uses in an attempt to frustrate or neutralize Protestants now have the same effect on him. John seems to think that for any interpretation to carry any weight, it must be infallible. But he cannot demonstrate that his interpretation is infallible, so (according to his own logic) why should anyone accept John’s interpretation?
We think that John will have to admit that his interpretation of James 5:19-20 is indeed private interpretation, and it is fallible. And further, it is not official Catholic doctrine. Although, we will give him credit for admitting that he is not infallible.
As to the actual meaning of the passage above, we’d have to say, sorry, John Martignoni, your interpretation is NOT what the passage is actually saying. We believe that this passage is easy enough to understand by itself. But we will try to make it even easier. For the sake of simplicity and to keep track of things, let’s apply names to both of the characters in this scenario (James 5:19-20). Let’s call the one who wanders from the truth, Bill. And we can call the one sharing the gospel, Tom. Tom is the one who rescues the sinner (Bill) from the error of his way.
Ok, so one of these guys is saved and one is not. We must understand that Tom is not saving his own soul, since he is already saved - he is not the one who has lost his way. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be sharing the gospel. If Tom is not saved, he would not be capable of effectively bringing Bill back from the error of his way. It would be “the blind leading the blind” (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39). So, no… Tom did not save his own soul by bringing Bill back from error. “Winning” souls is a job for those who are already “won over.” So Bill is the one whose soul is saved from death and whose multitude of sins are covered, because HE was the one who strayed. Pretty straightforward.
Now, of course, God wants Christians to win souls (Proverbs 11:30; Mark 16:15; Jude 23), but engaging in this activity does not save the one who does it. So, how does one enter into a right relationship with God? Salvation does not come by dipping a person in water, memorizing certain prayers or Scripture verses, helping your neighbor, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, etc., etc. These are all good things for which we can get Heavenly rewards, but they don’t accomplish justification / salvation. It is only by the humble acceptance of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ that one is saved, because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). Justification / salvation is accomplished by simply embracing the truth of the gospel message by surrendering your own life to God and believing / trusting in the work that His Son accomplished on the cross, and that alone. It is in realizing that you stand utterly lacking and spiritually bankrupt before a holy and perfect God. Then will God give you the desire and ability to do true good works that He has planned for you to do.
So, what about John Martignoni’s interpretation of James 5:19-20? Is this just another attempt to promote a “works-based salvation”? We believe it is.