Dec 132012
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The Bible Made Me Do It! by Tim Staples

The practice of praying to the saints is one that seems to go quite a ways back in Church history. Protestantism has held from its inception that praying to the saints is not only worthless in that those who have departed from us don’t hear our prayers, but misdirected because our prayers should only be in communion with God through Jesus the Messiah.  Towards the end of Tim Staples’ talk he brings this topic up which will complete this series of posts.

What the Scriptures Say

Tim mentions this topic as a part of the close of his discussion when he was at this point coming to grips with adopting Catholicism.  At the 68:35 mark he says:

…My roommate was out and I remember just collapsing on my bed and I slid down to my knees and looked up to the ceiling and for the first time in my life, I prayed to a saint.  I knew intellectually praying to saints, of course, Hebrews 12:1, Matthew 17:1-3, Revelation chapter 5, Revelation chapter 6, it’s all over the New Testament.  I knew praying to saints was real.  But I’d never done it.  I knelt in exhaustion and I looked up to the ceiling and I said ‘Mary…’

The practice of praying to saints is largely understood as asking the departed to intercede for us as we would ask our fellow believer’s on earth to intercede for us.  This practice isn’t isolated to the Catholic tradition as a few other traditions make this a part of their framework as well.  The question I have most is a matter of what Scripture says and what Tim, and subsequently Catholic apologetics, bring up in its defense.

The first reference Tim states is Hebrews 12:1 which reads:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us1

The primary problem with using this verse to substantiate prayer to saints is that this verse doesn’t talk about praying to saints in any way.  Put in context it should be noted that the writer to the Hebrews is exhorting the believers to run the race of faith as their predecessors had already done, going back to Creation.  He concludes by illustrating them as a crowd of spectators at this point who would be cheering us on.  I doubt the author had any idea that this would somehow be interpreted as justification for praying to saints, especially in light of verse 2 which reads:

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

If this passage had anything to do with prayer then it would only exhort us to focus our prayers on Jesus, but my argument is that this passage has absolutely nothing to with prayer but instead has everything to do with looking to the greats of our faith who have passed on before us as examples and encouragement for ourselves, the ultimate of which is Jesus.  Paul Ellingworth, in his Hebrews commentary, writes:

V. 2 will apply explicitly to the readers what was doubtless implicit, but not expressed, in chap. 11, namely that the goal of their journeying, the fulfilment of their faith, was to be found in the person of Jesus.2

While Hebrews comes up short in light of exemplifying prayer to saints, Matthew 17:1-3 doesn’t do much better.  It reads:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

The transfiguration narrative has Peter, James and John accompanying Jesus up a mountain where He is transfigured before them and at that time Moses and Elijah appear.  The three disciples are obviously aware of this somehow as Peter then asks Jesus if he should go about putting up tents for them to stay in.  But where is prayer here?  At best this can only be used to substantiate that those who have passed before us are alive and in communion with Jesus to some degree.  But no Christian would argue this.

Some might turn to the passage in Luke where, in Luke 9:28, it states specifically that Jesus went up to pray.  But it never says that Jesus prayed to anyone but The Father.  Again, if we are looking to these passages to example or substantiate praying to the saints, this is another dead end.  But Tim did mention a couple chapters in Revelation.

I’m figuring Tim has his mind on Revelation 5:8 and Revelation 6:9-11. Revelation 8:3-4 is another often cited passage regarding the topic of prayer to saints.  Revelation 5:8 reads:

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

The saints here should be linked with the saints in Revelation 6:9-11 which reads:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

The question that should be asked here is who are the saints praying to? The answer is they are praying to God. The next question is why? Is it because they were petitioned to by their fellow man? I don’t think so, the text doesn’t allow for it.  Furthermore they are praying for themselves in that their blood would be avenged.

There is no example in these passages of Christians on earth praying to any other Christian who has departed.  What’s more is that of the several commentaries I read in regard to Revelation 5:8, 6:9-11, 8:3-4 they are all in agreement that these saints are not limited to those who have already been martyred but that this is figurative of the Christian body who have undergone and are presently going through persecution of various sorts.  For the final Scripture, Revelation 8:3-4 reads:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

While I don’t believe the idea of praying to saints is as grim as some make it out to be in that they suggest it has to do with conversing with the dead in the form of the occult, I do not find it a biblical practice by any stretch of the imagination.  Of all the passages Tim Staples cited in regard to knowing intellectually that praying to saints was real, not one actually addresses the topic in any meaningful sense so as to give us a picture that the practice is valid.  It would only make sense that Paul would not only mention but exhort such a practice if it were valid seeing as how he petitions Christians to pray for him in Colossians 4:3, he states that he continually prays for other Christians in Colossians 1:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1 and he petitions that Christians pray for all people in 1 Timothy 2:1-2.  Not once does he, or any other writer in the Bible, suggest we pray to other people in order that they pray for us.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. Ellingworth, P. (1993). The Epistle to the Hebrews: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (637). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Dec 062012
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series The Bible Made Me Do It! by Tim Staples

When you hear about the doctrine of The Immaculate Conception your initial reaction is to assume that it has something to do with the birth of Christ but this is not the case.  The Immaculate Conception is actually about the birth of Mary.  This doctrine holds that Mary was conceived without original sin and subsequently led a sinless life.  It is this idea that Tim Staples goes after Matt Dula with next.

I had originally hoped to get into some of the Marian doctrines during the series of posts reviewing Dr. Scott Hahn’s lecture on The Virgin Mary Revealed Through Scripture.  Dr. Hahn didn’t discuss much by way of doctrine so, in the end, it wasn’t entirely relevant to those posts.  While Tim Staples addresses the Immaculate Conception directly, the discussion is rather light and therefore doesn’t get into it extensively.  Of course, many of these doctrines could easily take up a series of posts individually but, for the sake of this review, I’ve endeavored to limit the discussion to what Tim brings up in the audio.

The Loaded Question

While getting into this topic, Tim brings up several Scriptures: Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:8-9.  All of these deal with the issue that all have sinned.  This is what Tim brings up to Matt in his next argument regarding the Immaculate Conception.  At the 49:42 mark he says:

I even got a little boldness back, I said ‘Matt, you mean to tell me, you gonna tell me Mary is without sin?  How can the Bible make it any more plain?  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!’  And then, I’m thinking in my mind please don’t give me an answer! … And sure enough, Matt comes back and he says … ‘Okay Tim, yeah I understand what you’re saying there, all have sinned, yeah.  But let me ask you this, if you’re gonna say that all have sinned, if that verse means, in a literal, absolute sense, all have sinned … if you’re gonna take that in an absolute sense, we’ve got a problem here, Tim, cause, if it says all and then it says if any man says he has no sin, he is a liar and the truth’s not in him, was Jesus fully man?’ [Tim:] ‘Yeah…’ [Matt:] ‘But was He fully man or what was He, 50% … 25% man?’ [Tim:] ‘He was fully man.’ [Matt:] ‘Oh so Jesus sinned then, right?’ [Tim:] ‘No.’ [Matt:] ‘Oh so there are exceptions, then, aren’t there?'[Emphasis in recording]

What happened in this discussion is easy to miss.  When Matt asks if Jesus was fully man and Tim replies yes he actually fell into a trap.  Matt had asked a loaded question.  A loaded question is an informal fallacy which presumes information that may or may not be correct.  The way the question is worded will only allow for a particular answer, forcing the respondent to answer in a manner that admits the presupposition.  The classic example is the question ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet?’  The way the question is worded allows only for a yes or no response and either response admits guilt.

The way out of this is to either call the questioner out on the fallacy or answer the question in a manner that corrects the presuppositions.  The question ‘Was Jesus fully man?’ is invalid because Christian theology holds that Christ is fully God and fully man and never, at any time, one or the other.  This is called the Hypostatic Union, a theological term used to describe how the person of Jesus Christ subsists in two natures, man and the divine.  I’m sure Tim would never deny this as it is a doctrine held by Catholicism1, and yet without the clarification he is opening himself up to heresy.

I don’t fault Tim on this, nor do I think Matt realized what he was doing with the question.  You really have to pay close attention when involved in discussions like this and even at that many people aren’t quite sure how to handle it.  A good example, however, is in the movie My Cousin Vinny where D.A. Jim Trotter is determining whether Mona Lisa Vito is an acceptable witness by asking her a question in order to validate her expertise in the subject; the question happens to be a loaded question.  Mona Lisa Vito doesn’t attempt to answer, instead she calls the question bunk (edited here):

D.A. Jim Trotter: Now, uh, Ms. Vito, being an expert on general automotive knowledge, can you tell me… what would the correct ignition timing be on a 1955 Bel Air Chevrolet, with a 327 cubic-inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor?
Mona Lisa Vito: It’s a bunk question.
D.A. Jim Trotter: Does that mean that you can’t answer it?
Mona Lisa Vito: It’s a bunk question, it’s impossible to answer.
D.A. Jim Trotter: Impossible because you don’t know the answer!
Mona Lisa Vito: Nobody could answer that question!
D.A. Jim Trotter: Your Honor, I move to disqualify Ms. Vito as a “expert witness”!
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Can you answer the question?
Mona Lisa Vito: No, it is a trick question!
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Why is it a trick question?
Vinny Gambini: [to Bill] Watch this.
Mona Lisa Vito: ‘Cause Chevy didn’t make a 327 in ’55, the 327 didn’t come out till ’62. And it wasn’t offered in the Bel Air with a four-barrel carb till ’64. However, in 1964, the correct ignition timing would be four degrees before top-dead-center.
D.A. Jim Trotter: Well… um… she’s acceptable, Your Honor.
All Have Sinned

In the midst of this discussion the issue of the context surrounding the word all comes up.  Tim’s answer has wrongly created an exception to the rule that all have sinned and Matt corners him on it as indicated by the last question in the quote above.  It’s a matter of whether the statement that all have sinned is absolute and global in scale.  At the 51:25 mark Tim continues:

The word all is not meant to be interpreted as all in an absolute sense.  This is common in sacred Scripture.  For example, in Matthew chapter 3 verse 5, John the Baptist is baptizing in the river Jordan and what does it say?  All of Jordan and Judea and the surrounding countries came out to be baptized by John.  Do you think all of those countries came out there that day?  He couldn’t kerplunk ’em that fast.  … You see the word all … can mean a large number or a particular group and so forth and it’s used all over the Bible like that. … He got me thinking, are there more exceptions to Romans 3? … Of course there are, what about a baby in the womb?  Has he committed a personal sin? … No. How about the severely retarded, how much sinning have they done? None.  How about a 2 year old baby? None.  And so forth.  So there’s lots of exceptions then!

The question as to how the word all should be applied in this sense is certainly valid but the examples are poor.  Pointing to a child in the womb, a two year old baby or someone who is severely retarded and claiming that they are an exception isn’t entirely accurate since the issues Paul deals with in Romans 3 have to do with accountability, as Paul mentions in Romans 3:19.  In order to be accountable one must be able to understand or reason.  To state a 2 year old child doesn’t sin is incorrect – just ask any parent.  The question isn’t whether they are the exception to the rule and unable to sin, but rather, whether they have reached an ability to understand that they are accountable to God, that they are without excuse as Romans 1:18 states.  In that case, Paul makes it plainly clear in Romans 3 that all have sinned on a global scale, both Jew and Greek (any non-Jew in this context) and if he wasn’t clear enough, he quotes Psalm 14:1-3 which only puts greater emphasis in that there is none who does good, no not one.  As the Holman New Testament Commentary notes on Romans 3:23 states:

In light of Paul’s present tense fall short in 3:23, and in light of his just-concluded recitations of the actual sins of Jews and Gentiles, it seems that the all have sinned in 3:23 is a picture of mankind’s sinful characteristics. The 5:12 “all sinned,” on the other hand, seems to be a picture of mankind’s inherited character as a sinner. In other words, by 5:12 Paul will have said that as descendants of Adam, mankind is a sinner and proves it by sinning. All of which causes him to fall short of the glory of God.2

We sin because we are sinners.  That doesn’t change in either of the examples and so they aren’t exceptions.  What changes is our level of accountability which is going to be determined by our ability to understand our state before a holy and righteous God.  The idea of an age of accountability is one that is frequently debated amongst theologians but is only implied in Scripture.  People often ask what the ‘age of accountability’ is, but because Scripture never gives an affirmative answer, we shouldn’t attempt to either.  It is likely on an individual basis.

Hail, Full of Grace

All of this leads us to the idea that Mary was conceived without original sin and lived a sinless life.  The reasoning goes something like this: The Bible says all have sinned, but Jesus was fully-man and did not sin, therefore there are exceptions.  If there is one exception, there could be other exceptions which brings us to the possibility that Mary is an exception too.  But as I’ve already pointed out, Jesus wasn’t an exception because Jesus is fully God and fully man.  You cannot separate the two.

But if these premises were to hold, the next logical question is a matter of where we can find Mary’s sinless state in Scripture.  At the 52:35 Tim continues:

… [Quoting Matt] ‘Let’s turn to Luke chapter 1’.  We have an awesome, awesome verse.  And you know this story.  The angel Gabriel comes down to a 15 year old girl and says…?  Now the angel didn’t say ‘Hail Mary’ … he said ‘Hail, full of grace!’  Now listen, here’s what’s important.  When you look at that text … an angel is approaching a 15 year old girl.  Now in Scripture, when an angel comes into the presence of a human being, what happens?  Human beings have the tendency to do weird things.  … like fall on their faces, why?  Because an angel has a superior nature to ours.  If an angel, in fact, were to appear, right here, right now, remember this folks, apart from a particular grace of God, you and I could not discern whether it’s Jesus, an angel or the devil apart from grace, a particular grace that God gives us.  This is why St. Paul can say if I or an angel from Heaven preach to you any other Gospel, reject it.

I’m not entirely sure of how this is being reasoned.  Catholic interpretations allow for a lot of eisegesis in Luke 1:28.  The greeting of Χαῖρε (chaire, hail, in this sense) can be used to link back to Zephaniah 3:14 and Zechariah 9:9 where the use of χαίρω (chairo, rejoice) is used in the LXX.  In those arguments Mary becomes a fulfillment, or a type of the daughter of Zion or Jerusalem.3  While I do see merit in that reasoning the focus should never be taken away from the prophecy that Mary was to give birth to the Messiah.

The question is one of worthiness on Mary’s part.  There is no indication that Mary was highly favored or full of grace based on anything she did or didn’t do or that she can subsequently bestow grace and there is simply no reason to suggest that this greeting indicates she was sinless.  Tim’s points about humans doing weird things when angels appear and that only by a particular grace that God gives us would we be able to discern that it is even an angel seems to stem from the Vulgate translation of the verse.  Noted in the New International Greek Testament Commentary, Marshall writes:

The Vulgate rendering, gratia plena, is open to misinterpretation by suggesting that grace is a substance with which one may be filled, and hence that Mary is a bestower of grace. S. Lyonnet* saw a connection between this verse and Jdg. 5:24 where Jael is described as ‘most blessed’ (εὐλογηθείη; cf. Ps. 45:2 (44:3); Dn. 9:23), but this is far fetched. … The greeting conveys the message ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ. This is an OT greeting (Jdg. 6:12; Ru. 2:14), meant as a statement rather than a wish (ἐστίν is to be supplied). It prepares the recipient for divine service with the assurance ‘The Lord will help you’ (H. Gressmann). It does not, therefore, indicate the moment of conception (as in Sib. 8:459–472, in NTA II, 740), a thought excluded by the future tenses in 1:35.4

At any rate, the idea that humans do strange things when greeted by angels is not absolute in Scripture.  In Genesis 18 Abraham was greeted by two angels and God Himself.  His reaction was one of giving immediate respect and honor.  I do not deny that we wouldn’t be able to discern an angelic being apart from God’s help but this has nothing to do with our sinful state.  We know some specific sins of Abraham since the chapters cataloging his life tell us about them.


Because of the faulty reasoning used to come to the conclusion that there are exceptions to the teaching of Scripture that all have sinned we can dismiss the notion that there are exceptions.  I don’t believe we can rely on that in any meaningful sense to then point to Mary and say she could be an exception.  Even if it were the case there is simply no good biblical basis for determining that Mary was unstained by original sin and subsequently led a sinless life.  To get to that conclusion from reading Luke 1:28 is nothing but eisegesis and seems to be based on somewhat poor translational choices instead of the greater catalog of biblical and extra-biblical material.

  1. See the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Hypostatic Union.
  2. Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Vol. 6: Romans. Holman New Testament Commentary (107). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  3. Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (65). Exeter: Paternoster Press.
  4. Same as footnote 3.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Nov 292012
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The Bible Made Me Do It! by Tim Staples

The topic of justification is certainly one of the more heated items of discussion in Christendom and for good reason.  For the Christian, the issue of how the sinner can be justified before a holy God is the crux of all humanity.  In the Salvation page, I attempt to show the problem of sin with Christianity’s proposed solution as the only logically valid option.  Part of what makes Christianity unique is the insistence that man cannot bridge the chasm between he and God but rather, God must come to man.

The question of whether we are justified by works or faith would almost seem to create a false dilemma, but in reality, if we are not justified by faith alone then some form of works must be required for Salvation and so the options stand.  It is the doctrine of Sola Fide, or by faith alone, that Tim Staples brings up next in his presentation and as his debate with Matt Dula shows, he was ill prepared.

By Grace Through Faith

At the 43:00 mark Tim is coming off the heals of the previous accusation and mentioning the fact that Matt would always have an answer and was getting through but it wouldn’t stop Tim.  He introduces the next topic for discussion:

…And I would go to something more important, in fact like, most important.  What about justification, right?  Salvation?  Okay, maybe the Catholics got lucky on this or that but hey, Salvation baby, the Bible says, and it doesn’t get any more plain than this in Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8 and 9, right?  For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, less any man should boast.  … Now let’s hear a come back on this one Matt.  Salvation, justification is by faith alone, by grace through faith.  It has nothing to do with works and what do these Catholics teach?  Justification by faith and works.  Heresy!  Heresy! [Emphasis in recording]

Tim is certainly right here but this isn’t the only example.  Paul explains numerous times in his Epistle to the Romans that justification cannot be of works.  Romans 3:20 reads:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.1

Romans 3:28 reads:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

And Romans 4:16:

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…

It would seem a pretty open and shut case but the problem arises in Matt’s response.  At the 46:09 mark Tim continues:

Well, Matthew says, alright, let’s check out James chapter 2 … verse 19 … he says: You believe there is one God you do well, the devil also believes and trembles!  But wilt thou know, oh vain man, that faith without works is dead!  And he’d go down to verse 24, he says something very important, I remember Matt making me read this, where it says You see how that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.  And then Matthew closed my Bible he looked at me and he said ‘Tim, I want you to look me in the eye and I want you to be honest with me, you believe in Sola Scriptura, right?’  And I said ‘absolutely, Jack, Bible alone’ … ‘You believe in the Bible alone? Okay, well I want you to look me dead in the eye and I want you to tell me that you’re gonna read this verse, you’re gonna read where the Bible says we’re justified by works and not by faith alone … Close your Bible and say well, gee, we must be justified by faith alone – cause the Bible says we’re justified not by faith alone!  Can you honestly tell me that, Tim?’  And of course I came back with the response ‘Well, you know, works, if you’re truly born again … works are going to be coming out…’ and I gave the Protestant line.

While Tim gave part of a Protestant answer the conversation really shouldn’t have ended there because Tim could have just as well gone back to Romans 3:20 or Romans 3:28 and turned it around on Matthew asking him the same question.  And I wonder what Matt’s response would have been.

Harmony of Scripture

Whenever Scripture confronts us with what seems to be a contradiction we are left with a few options.  We can accept the contradiction and claim we can’t know it, we can use it as an excuse to abandon the faith, or we can attempt to harmonize it and prove it’s not a contradiction at all.  The first option leaves us open to the second.  It creates a slippery slope.  It doesn’t seem to take many of these for most people to give up.  The third option may be difficult at times but is certainly the most fruitful. Christianity has stood the test of time and this conundrum is no exception.

At the start, there are some simple questions that should arise if we are to believe that justification, that is right standing before a holy God, is a mixture of faith and works, such as: What works?  How do we know that particular works will justify us?  What is the ratio of faith and works?  Who decides what works and how is it decided?  What are the implications to faith if works are also required?

These are valid questions that must be asked.  A discussion often goes on in Evangelical Christianity as to whether one must be baptized to be saved.  I often ask, if that is so, is that what you would plead when standing before God?  We need to think about what that would look like.  Would you exclaim that you put your trust in Christ’s work for salvation and you were baptized?  You see, the moment you put that and in place, you have taken something away from Christ’s completed work.

John MacArthur notes in his commentary on James that Martin Luther struggled with this passage and even went so far as to call the Epistle of James an ‘epistle of straw’.2   I’m not sure whether Luther saw the problems in the questions above or was simply that adamant in his opposition to Catholic doctrine but the unfortunate thing for Luther was that he was unable to harmonize what James was saying with the doctrine of Sola Fide.  He’s not alone in that problem even today.  Peter Davids writes his commentary on James 2:24:

James immediately moves to a concluding statement in his argument that sums up the results of the two scriptures previously considered. In so doing he comes closer than anywhere else in the epistles to directly contradicting Paul. Because of this possible conflict, 2:24 must be viewed as a crux interpretum, not only for James, but for NT theology in general.[Emphasis in original]3

To call it a crux interpretum doesn’t seem to give us much hope.  The term, meaning crossroad of interpreters, is used to suggest a text is difficult even to the point of impossible to interpret.  I hold that while it may be difficult the answer lies in the very passage being debated.

We have to remember that the difficult verses, specifically James 2:17, 19-20, 24 do not stand alone.  They have an overarching theme and when put in context demonstrate what James is taking issue with.  The entire chapter is full of discussion regarding how we should live – outward signs, not only for each other but for the unbelievers as well.  James deals with showing partiality, breaking the royal law – specifically, any outward sign that demonstrates love of neighbor (James 2:8), being merciful and then gives examples of such.  James 2:15-16 discusses sending someone off who is in need without giving them what they need and he asks ‘what good is that?’  Only then does James say that faith without works is dead.  At that point James gives what I think is his entire point, he says in verse 18:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Who is James showing his faith to and what happens when you show your faith?  The answer is that while justification by faith pertains to one’s standing before a holy and righteous God, justification by works pertains to a person’s standing before other men.  James has already said that Salvation is God’s gift in James 1:17-18.  If he’s contradicting Paul, he’s also contradicting himself.


The word justification (δικαιόω, dikaio’o) in Scripture doesn’t always mean justification before God which is the topic that gets so much attention.  John MacArthur notes in his commentary on James:

It’s important to understand that the Greek verb dikaio o (justified) has two general meanings.  The first pertains to acquittal, that is, to declaring and treating a person as righteous.  That is its meaning in relationship to salvation and is the sense in which Paul almost always uses the term.  He declares, for example, that we are “justified as a gift by [God’s] grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24) … The second meaning of dikaio o pertains to vindication, or proof of righteousness.  It is used in that sense a number of times in the New Testament, in relation to God as well as men.  Paul says, “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged'” (Rom. 3:4).4

The context, in this case, certainly sheds light on what James is saying and the usage that should be employed for the word justification.  Taking a few verses out of the chapter in order to show that justification before God is a mixture of faith and works is to ignore the vast majority of the New Testament’s teaching on the subject.  Not only was Tim caught off guard at the thought of the contradiction, Matt didn’t do anything to resolve it.  Both of them should have set out to harmonize the passage with Paul’s teaching but instead they concluded with a poor understanding of what James was trying to convey.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. MacArthur, John. 1998. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (136). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers
  3. Davids, P. H. (1982). The Epistle of James: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (130). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  4. Same as footnote 2, page 137.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Nov 212012
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Bible Made Me Do It! by Tim Staples

Much of Tim Staple’s talk on his conversion to Catholicism centers around discussions he had with a friend of his, Matt Dula, while stationed at Quantico in the Marines.  At that point Tim had been involved in apologetics as a response to questions that were surfacing in his own mind.  At the 27:11 mark he is noting that as he had been growing up, he was needing to own his faith.  He states:

But now I’m becoming a man and I realize, I’ve got to know in my heart.  … I want to challenge you to do the same thing.  I want to challenge you to ask yourself the question ‘Why are you Baptist?  Why are you Calvary Chapel?  Why?’  Especially considering if you’re Calvary Chapel that church has only been around since 1965.  See, I started thinking about things like this.  So I realized, wait a second now, how can this be the true church if they’ve only been around since 1965?  Where was the true church before then?  Or if you’re Lutheran.  They’ve been around for 460 years, well who was the true church before then?  And so, I started thinking … I started thinking about things like this.  I need to know why I believe what I believe and I got involved in apologetics.
The True Church

This idea of a true church in the manner that Tim is bringing up is the result of faulty reasoning.  When corrected, it can avoid a lot of the frustrations within the Christian body.  While the topic of what the church is is beyond the scope of this discussion, it is important to realize what the church is not.  The church is not a corporate body or entity on earth that one is to give allegiance to in order to be a member of.  The word church comes from the Greek ἐκκλησία (ecclesia) which means the called out ones.  The true church1 is the body of Christ, that is, anyone who holds to trust in Jesus Christ and His finished work on their behalf along with a few essential doctrines which the Bible clearly states must be in agreement.  This goes beyond tradition or denomination in the same manner that it goes beyond race.  For Tim to bring up Calvary Chapel or the Lutheran denominations in this manner is demonstrating faulty presuppositions, that there is a true church in this regard and that these church traditions esteem themselves to be the true church which is certainly not the case.  I am not aware of any Calvary Chapel or Lutheran denomination that claims to be the true church.  Some may claim they have completely correct doctrine but that is a different matter and few and far between.

I brought this up because I believe that the spirit behind this notion of a true church is much the same that Jesus is addressing in Matthew 23:9 where Jesus states we are to call no man father on earth because we have one father in Heaven.  This is the first point that Tim mentions he gave to Matt in their discussions regarding Christianity and Catholicism.  Tim was lodging it against Matt in that Catholic tradition addresses the priest as father.

Call No Man Father

At the 39:23 mark Tim is getting into the discussions that he and Matt had and states:

I remember one of the first arguments I used when I met Matthew was old faithful, you know, when I first met Matt one of the first things I said to him ‘Oh so you say you’re a Christian…‘, I remember saying this, I said ‘Oh Christian, hmm, well aren’t Christians…‘ I was so obnoxious, ‘aren’t Christians supposed to do what the Christ says?  Isn’t that what Christian means? Christ like?  Or little Christ?  Well does not the Christ say, in Matthew 23 verse 9, call no man on this earth father, for you have one father and he is in Heaven.‘  And I said, ‘Well Matt, there you have the Christ, right in the word of God saying call no man on this earth father, and what do you Catholics call your priest but father!  You’re directly contradicting the Christ!  How can you call yourself a Christian now?

These are the sorts of arguments that really don’t do anything other than demonstrate poor reasoning.  It takes an extremely literal approach at the text and then applies that meaning to everyone in all circumstances.  This is something militant atheism is so versed at doing – completely ignoring the context and spirit of the topic and lodging it against the opposition, most likely in an attempt to silence any further discussion.  Christians should not be so naive.  In reality, it illustrates that the accuser doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about, as Tim’s friend, Matt Dula, will demonstrate.

To start, we should look at the greater context.  Matthew 23 is the chapter of woe’s against the scribes and Pharisees which represent a counter balance to the Beattitudes from chapter 5.  Verse 9 is really a part of the introduction that Jesus gives leading up to the woe’s and subsequent lament over Jerusalem.  Matthew 23:1-12 reads:

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”2

The main thing that should be noted here is the conjunction in verse 8: But you are not to be called…  Jesus is introducing a contrast after pointing out the problems with the scribes and the Pharisees motives.  The explanations to what Jesus is meaning in Matthew 23:8-10 can be found in the examples he gives from Matthew 23:1-7.  Further he illustrates the spirit of the discussion in Matthew 23:11-12.  The problems are actually very simple.  The scribes and Pharisees do all their deeds to be seen by others.  They love the place of honor, the best seats and special greetings.  They love being called rabbi.  Their intentions have nothing to do with actually being a rabbi, a father or a teacher.  Rather, it is all a matter of self-righteousness.  Jesus is instructing us to not fall victim to the same selfish motives.  Incidentally, Tim’s argument is a good example of what the scribes and Pharisees did.  They recognized the letter of the law but completely ignored the spirit in which it was given.

Matt Dula proceeds to correct Tim as Tim continues:

He said ‘Well Tim, you know, that’s interesting but have you considered Luke 16:24?‘  And I went, wait a second, you know, I’m thinking in my mind, hold it now, isn’t there a canon law against, like, lay people reading the Bible or something?  You know, what’s up with this, this dude here, Matthew, quoting Luke 16:24!  You see, Matthew proclaimed the power of the Holy Spirit, wow!  And the story, of course, in Luke 16:24, it’s talking about Abraham’s bosom, right?  … And the story’s not so important for us now, but what did Jesus call Abraham?  He called him Father Abraham.  And Matt’s like, ‘Well, what’s up Tim?  Is Jesus confused?‘  And I’m going ‘uh…’ He says ‘Is Jesus confused because here’s Jesus calling Abraham Father Abraham‘.  And you know, he didn’t stop there, but Matthew proceeded to pummel me with Scripture.  He goes to Roman’s chapter 4 verses 1 through 18, 7 times Abraham is called Father Abraham by Saint Paul.  Acts chapter 7 verses 1 and 2, Saint Stephen calls the elders to whom he is speaking Father and Abraham Father 2 times.  1 John chapter 2 verse 13, John the apostle, speaking to the elders at Ephesus, calls them Fathers.  I’m going, oh my goodness.  I’ve read these things a million times… where?  Where was that?  1 Corinthians chapter 4, verses 14 and 15, Saint Paul says, listen to this one, You have 10,000 instructors in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have not many fathers.  I am your father for I have begotten you through the Gospel.  So by that time I was ticked.

Matt Dula gives us a good example here of using the totality of Scripture before we jump to presumptive conclusions about a particular verse.  Craig Blomberg puts it so well in The New American Commentary:

As with many of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, texts elsewhere in the New Testament make it clear that he is not promulgating absolute commands. People are properly called teachers in Acts 13:1; 1 Tim 2:7; and Heb 5:12. Paul will even refer to a spiritual gift that enables some people to be so identified (Eph 4:11; 1 Cor 12:28–29; cf. Jas 3:1). It remains appropriate to call a biological parent one’s father, and even one’s spiritual parent may be addressed with this term (1 Cor 4:15; cf. also 1 John 2:13; Acts 22:1). So the point of vv. 8–12 must be that such titles are not to be used to confer privilege or status.[Emphasis mine.]3

The Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible is also very forthcoming:

To construe these injunctions into a condemnation of every title by which Church rulers may be distinguished from the flock which they rule, is virtually to condemn that rule itself; and accordingly the same persons do both—but against the whole strain of the New Testament and sound Christian judgment. But when we have guarded ourselves against these extremes, let us see to it that we retain the full spirit of this warning against that itch for ecclesiastical superiority which has been the bane and the scandal of Christ’s ministers in every age.[Emphasis mine.]4

It really is foolish to be so haphazard in our handling of the text.  If there are verses that seem to illustrate something that goes against instruction elsewhere, then we need to make sure we properly understand both the instruction and the verses that seem to contradict it.  Harmonizing Scripture in this manner is often a fruitful endeavor and will lead to a more well reasoned understanding of the topic at hand.  To that end, Blomberg continues:

There is thus nothing inherently wrong with the Roman Catholic use of “Father” for priests or with the Protestant “Reverend” for ministers or even with the academic “Doctor” for people with certain degrees. But one wonders how often these titles are used without implying unbiblical ideas about a greater worth or value of the individuals to whom they are assigned. One similarly wonders for how long the recipients of such forms of address can resist an unbiblical pride from all the plaudits.5

Calling a priest father is a morally neutral form of respect towards an elder of the church.  But as Blomberg pointed out, it doesn’t come without warning.  James 3:1 reads: Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  In Matthew 23:9, Jesus is speaking to the motives and desires of the heart, using the scribes and Pharisees as an example of what not to do.

The example argument that Tim Staples lodged against Matt Dula should serve as an illustration of mishandling Scripture.  To do so disparages not only yourself, if you get caught as Tim did, but ultimately the Scriptures themselves since most people, it seems, will not actually bother to validate what they have been told.  Furthermore, when we hear these sorts of accusations thrown at us, it is our duty to verify them.  We really have no reason to fear their outcome.  Christianity has stood through them before.

  1. The CARM article Which Church is the One True Church? is a great response to the assumption that there is a true church in the sense that Tim is suggesting here.
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (342–343). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Mt 23:9). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  5. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (343). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Nov 152012
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Bible Made Me Do It! by Tim Staples

The Bible Made Me Do It!The Bible Made Me Do It! is a lecture by Tim Staples that is distributed by Lighthouse Catholic Media.  This discussion primarily deals with Tim Staples testimony after he rededicated his life to Christ in his late teens.  His testimony goes into some detail about conversations and debates that he would get into with a friend of his in the Marines, Matt Dula, while stationed in Quantico, VA.  As Tim tells the story, he found himself unable to argue much of what Matt had been showing him in Scripture and eventually converted to Catholicism.  The description of this talk reads:

Tim Staples was raised Baptist and served as an Assembly of God Youth Minister. He used his extensive biblical knowledge to attack the Catholic Church but when he was challenged on his beliefs, a two-year search for truth led him right to Catholicism. Now he uses that same incredible gift to defend the Faith and help others to embrace the beauty and richness of Catholicism.

In the presentation, Tim talks a lot about the discussions and arguments that he and Matt would find themselves in during their time at Quantico.  In the process, Tim would lodge points of disagreement at Matt and wait for Matt to respond.  To Tim’s surprise, Matt was almost always able to give an answer, and if he wasn’t, he was still able to get an answer and present it to Tim at a later time.

Since most of the talk is centered on Tim’s testimony there isn’t a lot of content to evaluate.  However, in the midst of telling his story about the discussions between Matt and himself, Tim gives out three topics that Matt was able to address which this series will deal with.  Those topics are calling the priest father, justification through faith alone and the doctrine of the immaculate conception which teaches that Mary was sinless from birth.  A fourth item will be looked at that Tim briefly mentions which is praying to the saints.


Tim spends a great deal of time in this talk exhorting his listeners to learn and teach their faith to their children and he brings up some great points along the way.  Granted, Tim is primarily concerned with Catholicism, but it certainly applies to us in the Evangelical community as well.  At the 15:46 mark1 he states:

Folks, it is so crucial for us, I want you to be encouraged tonight, moms and dads, you don’t know how important it is, we don’t appreciate how important it is to teach our children the Catholic faith.  Man, pump it into them.  Mom, dad, you are the primary catechist.  Not father, not the DRE, you are.  You need to teach them, get them involved, they need to experience our Lord when they are children.  Proverbs tells us, train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart.

This is one of those things that cannot be over stated.  Here in the United States, Christians seem surprised by the direction the culture has taken over the last few generations, but we really have no valid reason to be.  We have given our children over to the state and allowed special interest groups to determine what they can and cannot learn.  As a society, we are more concerned with how well our children will do in life by way of career than we are by way of spiritual and moral maturity.  It is to our own demise.

What’s worse is thinking that our local church will have any sort of impact.  For those who do attend church regularly, do you really think that having your children there for a few hours on a weekend can compete with 30-35 hours throughout the week at a public or private school?  I can tell you from experience, it cannot.  Even if your kids are involved in some sort of youth group, they are still largely surrounded by influences you’d rather them not have.

What most parents don’t seem to realize is that it isn’t just a matter of what your kids are learning in the classroom but what they are learning from their peers.  If the ratio of student to teacher is somewhere around 20-1, they really aren’t getting much adult interaction and you can’t control what goes on in the homes of their peers that is brought back to school with them.  When both parents work full time and children are out of the home full time, how much time do the exhausted parents and children end up spending together at the end of the day?  We really should think more realistically about this.

Tim spends time discussing this because he had fallen away as a teenager.  While his story takes him back to the church, it is not the norm.2  We have got to quit fooling ourselves into thinking that our family is somehow going to be the exception when we do the same thing that everyone else is doing.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 reads:

4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.3

The primary teacher for our kids are their parents; Scripture couldn’t be any clearer.  This means that we, as parents, need to be studying as well.  Theology and apologetics go hand in hand and are the most important topics for establishing a proper worldview.  Everything else is secondary.

  1. I originally received this talk on a CD but since it was damaged, I am working off of the audio available at this link.
  2. An excellent book that details what is happening with kids today who are raised in church is called Already Gone by Ken Ham, Britt Beemer and Todd Hillard.
  3. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


© 2011-2018 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.