Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Gospel and Tradition

Recently in a discussion I had with a Roman Catholic, I was told that without the Roman Catholic Church, no one can understand the gospel. To be exact, I was told:

"You indicate that it all comes down to what the gospel is? I do not believe that anyone can answer that question from scripture alone. We need to study scripture within the Church who gave us the scripture. None of us can understand the Gospel on our own. It is not a matter of private interpretation. Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the Church in order that she may be kept from error in her teaching."

Yes, the interpretation of the Fathers and Councils of the Catholic Church are important. But the Fathers have contradicted themselves and Popes have been corrupt in the past. Alternately, the Holy Scriptures clearly present to us the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we can understand what the gospel is (i.e. how we are made righteous before God) through their writings. The Fathers and Councils simply are a confirmation that what they said was true. However, there are fathers who have erred, just in the same way the Jews of Old Testament erred. The Jews of the OT thought that their oral tradition was the only way for the Scriptures to be interpreted. But we learned from Jesus Christ Himself that this was not the case. My contention is that the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church (for that matter) today is making the same error.

Were the Apostles not clear concerning what the gospel is in the Scriptures? St. Paul wrote: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:6-9 - all quotes will be from the NKJV).

What Gospel was St. Paul talking about? The Galatians did not have years of "Tradition" but had the apostolic deposit. They also did not have a Pope. St. Peter who is not revealed in this letter to be greater than Paul was rebuked in the second chapter of Galatians for an error he made in Antioch. The Galatians had their church planter and Apostle, Paul. And he lays the gospel out clearly in the letter to the Galatians so that they would return to it!

Paul wrote: "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (Gal. 2:15-16).

The moral law shows us our sin, and was our tutor until the time of Jesus Christ. Now that he has come and has lived the perfect life in our place, died on the cross for our sin, and has risen from the dead, faith in His work and promises alone are what justify us. Trust in Christ alone, and not our works in our attempt to meet God's Law is what makes us righteous before God. Paul writes:

"I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain" (Gal. 2:21).

If we seek to establish our own righteousness and to do not submit to God's righteousness which comes by faith in Jesus Christ, we have lost the gospel and Christ has died for nothing!

Paul continues, "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain" (Gal. 3:1-4)?

Do you see the intensity in which St. Paul writes this letter? He does not even begin his letter with his usual thanksgiving for his church (compare Galatians 1 with Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4-5; Eph. 1:15-16; Phil. 1:3-5; 1 Thess. 1:2-3; 2 Thess. 1:3-4; Col. 1:3-4), and he may have even written this whole letter with his own hand or perhaps just the final 7 verses (compare Rom. 16:22, 1 Cor. 16:21, Col. 4:18, 2 Thess. 3:17 with Gal. 6:11-18). In the above quote Paul continues to point the Galatians back to the cross! The cross empties us of all control. On the cross Jesus takes up all of our sins. Our works are nothing since they are tainted and plagued by sin. Our works our futile in our attempt to satisfy God's Law. But rejoice, Christ has been crucified for me and you, and we are justified by faith in His Work alone, and not by our works! And this is not just a forgiveness of our past sins, but our future sins as well! If we would attempt to be made perfect by our flesh in the future then we would nullify the grace of God that was begun in us by the hearing of faith!

I will simply quote the rest of Galatains without my thoughts. See for yourself that the gospel was made clear through this letter to the Galatians and through the other Apostolic and Prophetic writings of the New Covenant.

"For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” [Deuteronomy 27:26] 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” [Habakkuk 2:4] 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” [Leviticus 18:5] 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” [Deuteronomy 21:23]), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:10-14).

"For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. 19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Gal. 3:18-25).

"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Gal. 4:4-7).

"You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4).

See with what long blog entries I write to you! The gospel was made clear in this letter so that the average Christian reader could understand it. Paul made it simple for us to understand. May we submit to this letter and not oral tradition that contradicts it!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Did the Apostles Agree?

I have heard in conversations with some Christians that without Tradition, one cannot interpret Scripture. People as such have asserted that the oral word of God is what counts, not the written word which is subject to many different interpretations. Further, since Peter, Paul, James, and John all have differing doctrines of salvation, one definitely needs Tradition to interpret Scripture. While I believe that Tradition is helpful in determining doctrine and interpreting Scripture, what happens when Tradition is clearly anti-Scripture? The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church claim that we are not saved by God’s free grace alone through faith alone in the work of Christ alone. They claim that justification is not a declaration but a process. My contention is that there is an Apostolic consensus in Scripture: a person is declared righteous by God’s underserved grace through faith in Christ and not by works of any sort. The Scriptural quotations are so clear they are of no need of exposition:

"This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses....36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:32, 36-39).

"To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43).

"Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38, 39).

"For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:22-28).

"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” [Gen. 15:6] 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 “ Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin" [Ps. 32:1-2] (Rom. 4:5-8).

"Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed" (Rom. 4:16).

"It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification" (Rom. 4:24-25).

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:1-2).

"Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life" (Rom. 5:18).

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).

"If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword....38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:31-35, 38-39).

"If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:9-10).

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:8, 9).

"...that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Phil. 3:8-9).

"But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7).

"who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began" (2 Tim. 1:9).

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5).

"Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:22-23).

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" (James 1:17-18).

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13).

"He who believes in Him is not condemned" (John 3:18).

"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24).

"And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40).

"And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand" (John 10:28-29).

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live" (John 11:25).

"I write to you, little children,
Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake" (1 John 2:12).

"Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1).

"And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God" (1 John 5:11-13).

This is the unanimous consensus of Jesus and His Apostles! We are justified, adopted, and made righteous before God by Christ's free grace through faith. We do not receive this gift by our works, but by faith! The Gospel is clear in the Scriptures!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Jehovah's Witnesses

I am briefly responding to Jehovah's Witness (JW) tracts found here:

The Jehovah’s Witness tract claims that Jesus never claimed to be God. Further it states that Jesus was a created spirit being as angels are. And finally, it states that if Jesus were God then he could not have died.

Did Jesus claim to be God? Or was he a created spirit being? The answer is that Jesus claimed to be God not only verbally, but also by his actions and works. If he was only a created spirit being, then how did he have the authority to forgive sins? Indeed, Jesus did forgive sins, and this particular fact was conveniently left out of the JW tract. The Jews recognized this blasphemy when Jesus forgave the sin of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-11) and the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50). They knew that he was acting as if he were God. Indeed, it was for blasphemy that the council of chief priests, elders, and scribes condemned Jesus as deserving death (Mark 14:64).

If Jesus was not God, then how could he in good conscience receive worship? God said in Exodus 34:14, “You shall worship no other god.” In spite of this, Jesus received worship. Angels or created spirit beings who receive worship are evil and should be rejected completely. The Apostle John attempted to worship an angel of God when he saw a vision of the marriage supper of the Lamb. But the angel said, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant…” (Rev. 19:10). If Jesus was a created spirit being or a god (as the JW New World Translation (NWT) states in John 1:1) then worshipping him is in conflict with Exodus 34:14 which forbids the worship of other gods. But he did receive worship by the wise men (Matt. 2:11), the disciples (Matt. 14:33; 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52), the blind man (John 9:38), and the angels themselves (Heb. 1:6)! Hebrews 1:6 says, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” If Jesus was an angel or a created spirit, then how can angels be commanded to worship him? The 1950, 1961, and 1970 editions of the NWT translate the Greek word proskuneo in Hebrews 1:6 correctly as “worship.” In 1971 they realized that Hebrews 1:6 was not consistent with their theology. So they changed “worship” to the obscure noun, “obeisance.” Obeisance means respect, homage, or courtesy and would be acceptable for a created spirit to receive. They inserted obeisance for all the gospel narratives which describe Jesus as being worshipped. If JW’s are convinced on the basis of the original Greek that their testimony is true, then why do they need to alter Scripture to coincide with their position?

(The New World Translation (NT 1950; OT 1961) contains many instances where deliberate alterations were made to coincide with Jehovah’s Witness positions. Of the four members of the translation committee, only one, Fred Franz, studied Greek for two years, although he did not receive a degree having dropped out of the University of Cincinnati. None had studied Hebrew, and one member of the committee was the third President of the movement, Nathan Knorr.)

The tract states that since Elijah and Elisha resurrected people from the dead, Jesus’ miracle of resurrecting others does not indicate that he was God. But were Elijah and Elisha able to raise the dead by simply speaking? Elijah and Elisha pleaded and prayed to God that the dead would be raised. But Jesus simply walked up to the bier and said, “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Luke 7:14). And the dead man sat up and began to speak. Further, while Elijah and Elisha raised the dead like Jesus, were they able to walk on water, and calm storms?

The tract also states that Habakkuk 1:12 says, “O my God, my Holy One, you do not die.” However, this is another alteration. The Hebrew verb namooth, is 1st person plural. The correct translation is, “O my God, my Holy One, we shall not die.”

Further, Philippians 2:1-11 is used in the tract to distinguish Yahweh from Jesus. However, it is on the basis of this very passage that Jesus is identified with Yahweh as described in Isaiah 40-55, including the suffering servant description in Isaiah 53 (See Bauckham, Richard. God Crucified (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 47-77). In Isaiah 45:23 Yahweh said, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” But Paul says, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). Isaiah 45:23 is also quoted by Paul in Romans 14:11 where he goes on to state, “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Further, Paul equates Jesus with God at judgment in 2 Corinthians stating, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). Further, it is Jesus himself who said, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). If Jesus is not God, then why are we to appear before his throne and be judged by him?

The tract is right when it said that God raised Jesus from the dead. But its conclusion that Jesus could not be God is incorrect. In Psalm 110:1, David writes, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” In this passage Yahweh is called Lord and the future Messiah is called Lord. Further evidence that this passage was in reference to the future Messiah is when Jesus said, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power” (Matt. 26:64). It was after the resurrection that Jesus was seated at the right hand of God as Paul (Eph. 1:20) and the writer of Hebrew state (Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). When describing the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his subsequent exaltation Paul writes, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26), and it is through the perfect life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection of the Son that we are saved from death and are given eternal life. How can Jesus give us eternal life through his works if he was not the one true God, Savior, and Redeemer?

The tract says that since God is one, He cannot exist in three persons. Is this true? First, Peter refers to God as the Holy Spirit in Acts 5:3-4 saying, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit….You have not lied to men but to God.” Second, Jesus tells us to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19) which has significance for our salvation. The tract mentions that since the three names are spoken together does not indicate three eternal persons of the Trinity. Here, the tract misses the significance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit active in the saving work of baptism. If God saves through baptism (1 Pet. 3:21; Titus 3:5), then what good is it to baptize in the name of a created spirit, and a force that is subordinate to God? It is God that saves us through baptism, which is why we are baptized in God’s name. And finally, if the JW’s are so convinced that the Holy Spirit is not God why do they have to alter Scriptural references that speak of the Holy Spirit? Genesis 1:2 which contains rookh Elohim is altered in the NWT as “God’s active force” instead of the literal rendering, “Spirit of God” to avoid a Trinitarian understanding of the Spirit. Many other alterations are made in the New Testament as well in order to exclude the Holy Spirit from the divine identity (Rom. 15:19; Eph. 2:22; 3:5; Titus 3:5; James 2:26; 2 Peter 1:21).

In conclusion, it is through Jesus’ acts and works that we see a man do and claim things that are only befitting of Yahweh. Jesus is equated with the divine identity described in the Old Testament, and it is through Jesus that we are saved from death. The salvation that Yahweh gives through baptism in the Trinitarian name is a salvation that only Yahweh can give. May all human beings not only do obeisance to him, but let all human beings and angels worship Jesus forever.