Catholic apologist, speaker and author Steve Ray has written an article about the debate between Catholics and Protestants on the topic of faith and the role of works in salvation. The article is titled, “St. Paul did not Write to Us!” and it can be found here:
In the article, Steve Ray mentions that when arguments about salvation come up:
“Protestants quickly accuse Catholics of teaching a salvation based on works and Catholics quickly point out that Protestants have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction by refusing to accept human cooperation and obedience as necessary to the process.”
This is pretty much an accurate account of what normally happens. Catholics emphasize the role of works (faith plus works) and Protestants emphasize “faith alone,” or faith apart from the merit of works in order to be justified / saved.
Ray mentions the fact that Protestants usually go to the books of Romans and Galatians in the Bible to prove their point (and we would say, rightly so, because this is where justification is defined). But according to Ray:
“But there is a huge problem here. Paul did not write these letters to us and he knew nothing of the Catholic-Protestant debate. The huge problem we have is the problem of anachronism.”
He goes on to define “anachronism,” which means:
“1. the representation of an event, person, or thing in a historical context in which it could not have occurred or existed; 2. a person or thing that belongs or seems to belong to another time.”
For example, saying that Moses looked at his wristwatch to see what time it was… or saying that the apostle John got in his Ford pickup to go to the market… these would be anachronisms, since wristwatches and Fords didn’t exist during their day.
So, Steve Ray’s main points here are 1) Paul did not write specifically to us, 2) Paul didn’t know anything of a “Catholic-Protestant” debate back in his day, and 3) Applying Paul’s teaching in Romans and Galatians to the present day Catholic-Protestant debate is out of touch with reality in the sense that it is anachronistic.
But first of all, Ray’s point that “Paul didn’t write to us” is actually untrue and Ray is simply using this as a diversion. Now, of course, we all know that Paul was not purposely writing SPECIFICALLY to us in the twenty-first century. But the title of Ray’s article and his opening comments seem to suggest that Paul’s writings don’t apply to us today in any way.
But with this kind of reasoning, why should we obey any of the Ten Commandments today? Would Ray say that since these also were not specifically written to us, but to Old Testament Jews, therefore, they are not to be observed by modern Christians? He obviously wouldn’t say that! So why does Ray even bring up this point? Why use this deceptive title? Again, this is simply a diversion that he uses to try and weaken or disregard the biblical evidence found in Romans and Galatians against Catholic teaching.
But in a real sense, Paul did indeed write to us through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s words were infallible and God-breathed because they were Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-17). And ALL Scripture was written to us, indirectly, and ALL Scripture has some application for us today. Paul’s words were not only directed to the people of his own day, but to all generations in the future, as well. The principles within Scripture are always there, for every generation, to guide us into the truth.
Furthermore, the fact that Paul had never heard of a “Catholic-Protestant debate” is irrelevant. But Paul was certainly very familiar with the substance of that debate. It is not just about “Jew versus Gentile.” It is the argument of the Judaizers, which was “faith plus works = salvation.” But Paul specifically dealt with this same problem in both the Roman church (Romans 3:19 thru 5:21) and the Galatian church (epistle to the Galatians) in his day. So today we are still wrestling with the same issues as they did back then. Yet, Ray tries to spin this in such a way as to accuse Protestants of anachronism.
But the fact is, Ray contradicts himself and admits at the end of the article that there is not really a problem after all, since he confesses that:
“… even though Paul didn’t specifically write his letters to us, if we study the cultural climate in which they were written, and stay faithful to the tradition in which they were passed on to us, the Holy Spirit (the primary author of the letters) will help us apply the principles and truth of those letters to our current situation.” (Emphasis added)
Notice the bold print. Ray now admits that the Holy Spirit is able to help us apply these same biblical principles to our situation today. But this is what we already said earlier. So, where is the anachronism now? First, he says that the principles in Romans and Galatians are anachronistic (don’t apply today), and now he’s saying that they do apply today (with the Holy Spirit’s help). But if it applies today, then it is not an anachronism. Steve Ray is backpedaling and admitting that there IS no “huge problem” here. What starts off as his main complaint is now dismissed as no problem at all! Confusion indeed.
But perhaps he would say that the biblical principles would only apply within the context of “Catholic Tradition,” but there is nothing in Tradition that can offset the clear message of unearned salvation in the inspired books of Romans and Galatians.
No, the real “huge problem” is that Catholics often ignore context in those sections of Romans and Galatians that actually deal with the specific doctrine of justification, and they try to add their works to their faith in order to earn salvation, as we have demonstrated elsewhere on this blog. But, tragically, in combining their own works with Jesus’ work on the cross, Catholics are telling Jesus that His work and suffering was just not enough, thus bringing upon themselves the same curse that the first-century Judaizers brought upon their own selves (Galatians 1:8-9; 3:10-11; 5:1-4). See this link:
See also these other related articles: