Don’t think that you, a Christian, can avoid the teaching of the historic Christian faith by saying “but that’s just what conservative Christians think.” Christianity is conservative.
It was a year or two ago, and I was having a conversation with a young Christian with an impressive degree of unearned confidence (and let’s be honest, many of us have been that guy at some stage). We had talked briefly about universalism, a view he holds and I do not. Due to the generally unproductive nature of the exchange, I didn’t commit many of the details to memory. I had little hope of a fruitful conversation, I’ll admit, due to his (somewhat justified) reputation among his social media peers for disagreeableness and dismissiveness, along with extraordinary disdain for those he dubs “conservatives.” A couple of comments did, however, stand out to me. They raise an issue that I have often thought about in other contexts.
Souls are on the way out. Not just in our culture or in science, where some Christians may suspect “naturalism” as the culprit, but souls are on the way out of our Bibles. This is because of the ways in which our translations are getting better at conveying what was originally intended. In the King James Version of the Bible, translated in 1611 and the mainstay for Protestants until the 20th century, the English word “soul” appears 537 times. The New American Bible (1986) features the word 171 times, the NIV (1984) features it just 139 times, the NRSV (1989) features it 252 times, but that includes the Deuterocanonical books, and even the ESV (2001), which hearkens back to older more literal translations, features the word just 281 times. The difference is not because of any difference in the manuscripts that these versions are using but because of a better understanding of what the Hebrew and Greek words actually mean. Continue reading “Where did all the souls go?”→
Some time ago I began a series on the notorious biblical passages that form part of the historical discussion about women in positions of leadership in the church. I expressed some reservations there about wading into the subject, because I don’t think many people are interested in what people who disagree with them have to say about this. So I included there some cautions about how I’m going to approach the subject, and specifically about the sorts of objections I’m not interested in. If you plan to read on, and especially if you plan to comment, it might be best to read that post first.
Then I began the series, starting with a look at a word St Paul uses to describe the relationship between men and women, while he is discussing men’s and women’s roles in the churches in Corinth and Ephesus. That word, which he applies to men, is kephalē (κεφαλή), and literally means “head.” In that blog post, I observed that kephalē in the New Testament does not mean “source,” which some say was Paul’s intended meaning, but rather it is used to mean a literal head, or else, when it is used metaphorically, it refers to “preeminence, priority, authority or superiority in some broad sense encompassing shades of these meanings.” That is what the raw data in the New Testament shows us.
This time I will turn to the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament widely used in early Christianity. You can check the observations I make by seeing for yourself how the word is used there. In the resource I have used for this analysis, kephalē occurs a few hundred times. I have read each of these instances (in English, confirming that kephalē is the word I am observing where this is not clear). I know, doing the groundwork is dry and boring. But you have to do it in order to have any right to tell people what the evidence shows. The approach I am taking here is observing how kephalē is used and describing these “groups” of meaning. Continue reading “Kephalē in the Septuagint”→
Conditional immortality as a view of human persons, although biblical, comes with an emotional price. I wanted to share some thoughts about fear and doubt, and the roles they play in how we respond to what Scripture teaches about human nature, death, and destiny.
I’ve started listing to Pints with Aquinas very recently. So recently that I only just listened to episode four today. But you’ve had a few too many pints with Aquinas if you think the host’s argument for purgatory is a good one.
The podcast is well made and easy to listen to, and Matt Fradd presents it well. His dedication not only to his audience but to Christ is evident, and his passion is contagious. But I don’t know how long I’ll be listening. Time will tell. In today’s episode (ie the one I listened to today), I rolled my eyes as Matt repeated as fact the chestnut that all of the books used in the Catholic Bible were accepted by Christians until the Reformation, when Protestants started throwing out books that contradicted their theology. Nobody faithfully representing history in an informed manner would say this, as I’ve shown in the past. Is the podcast going to turn out to just be another bad Catholic apologetics ministry? I hope not. As I said, time will tell. The podcast might turn out to be my all-time favourite! Continue reading “A bad argument for purgatory”→
There is a way of using the Bible to support your theology that really just amounts to doing everything in your power to avoid what the Bible has to say so that you can escape from the ravages of Scripture with your precious doctrine still intact.
Without naming names, over the last year I have had several conversations about the doctrine of hell with people who advocate the doctrine of eternal torment, where they argued in a manner very much like John in the following conversations (right down to the same phraseology, eg “equally likely as an interpretation” and “use Scripture to interpret Scripture”):
Karen: Hi John. Have you read passage A? It seems to pretty clearly deny the doctrine of eternal torment. It says that one day the lost will be destroyed. They will die and be gone. Don’t you agree?
What difference does it make if the Bible teaches we are physical creatures, rather than dual body-soul beings? How does that impact on anything else we believe as Christians? From gender identity to mental health more generally, to salvation, the way we view human nature has a profound impact.
Did Jesus say that believers would never ever die, indicating that even when their bodies die, they will live on with him in glory? You might have heard that, but what if he meant something different, promising that we would be spared the fate of disappearing into death forever?
I get some resistance to the biblical concept that human beings are frail and mortal, “dust of the earth,” that we return to the dust when we die, and that there’s no heavenly life to be had while our bodies lay in the grave awaiting the resurrection of the dead. Sometimes people even pit Bible verses against this biblical idea. One verse at a time, I think we can see that these objections fail, and the overall clear biblical portrait of human nature and death remains intact.
One of those objections comes from a particular interpretation of Jesus’ saying after raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Never die. That gives pause to some people when they consider my view that immortality is received at the resurrection and that the dead are really dead in the grave, not living on as immortal souls. They wonder if this claim by Jesus must mean that if we live and believe in him now, we cannot lie dead in the grave without our souls living on in glory, because we will “never die.” It’s a good question to ponder, but there’s already a reasonable response to this worry, quite apart from the observation I’ll make soon. Jesus is here talking about those who live the new life that he has just referred to: Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live – that is, via the resurrection. So when Jesus goes on to say “whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” he’s talking about the life of immortality after the resurrection. Continue reading ““You will never die”: What did Jesus mean?”→
You can only believe in purgatory if you hold a substance dualist view of human beings.
Purgatory is a place that exists according Roman Catholic Theology, and a number of people who are not Roman Catholic believe in it, too. In Catholic theology, it is a place where you go after death if you are not yet ready for heaven, so that you can receive punishments for the venial sins (the less serious sins, as opposed to mortal sins) that have not yet been dealt with in this life. As Thomas Aquinas put it,
[I]f the debt of punishment is not paid in full after the stain of sin has been washed away by contrition, nor again are venial sins always removed when mortal sins are remitted, and if justice demands that sin be set in order by due punishment, it follows that one who after contrition for his fault and after being absolved, dies before making due satisfaction, is punished after this life. Wherefore those who deny Purgatory speak against the justice of God: for which reason such a statement is erroneous and contrary to faith.
Outside of this historical Catholic understanding of purgatory, others have suggested, not that people need to be punished, but rather that they simply need to be fully sanctified (made holy) before reaching their final state in heaven. Jerry Walls defends this view in his book Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation. In public conversations, Dr Walls has remarked that while no doubt the sinful human desire is to have total transformation all at once, the reality is that sanctification is a process that takes time, hence purgatory.
I do not believe in purgatory, but I will not here argue that purgatory does not exist. Instead, I will just make one observation: To believe in purgatory presupposes mind-body substance dualism. Continue reading “Purgatory requires dualism”→
Calvin did not accept the Marian doctrines. Without wanting to sound too rancorous, I have to say that anti-Protestant polemics can be the worst.
I’m sorry. I know that’s a very one-sided thing to say, but I encounter anti-Protestant polemics more than anti-Catholic polemics, because I’m not Roman Catholic. Sometimes the phenomenon goes by the name “Catholic apologetics,” as though it’s really a pro-Catholic thing, but that’s not how some of these warriors-for-Rome present themselves. They’re about claiming scalps in arguments.
I love some Catholic theologians and philosophers – and Catholic people in general. So I’m not going to refer to these people as just “Catholic scholars.” It would be unfair to Catholic scholars in general to lump them all together, which is why I keep open a category for anti-Protestant polemics, separate from Catholic scholarship. It’s a let-down for me, because some of the finest work in philosophical theology today has been produced by Roman Catholic Scholars (think Brian Leftow, Brian Davies, Edward Feser – EDIT: My mistake, Brian Leftow is not Catholic. He’s Anglican. But he sure writes like the best Catholic philosophers), so to turn from such fine minds and work to online blunt-axe-swinging warriors is a bit like swallowing the cheapest bourbon and cola money can buy after sampling a fine port.
That somewhat frustrated preamble aside, here’s what moved me to write this post. The other day I saw yet another anti-Protestant polemicist make the familiar claim: “Most Protestants would be surprised to learn that all the early Reformers accepted the Marian doctrines.” That’s not a direct quote, but it’s close (the part about all the early Reformers was central to the claim), and I’ve seen the claim made numerous times.