Monday, September 15, 2014

Tertullian and the 'baptism of blood'

Earlier today, I noticed that Mr. Kauffman has published a 5th installment in his ongoing series, "THAT HE MIGHT PURIFY THE WATER" (link). In the combox of that thread, Mr. Kauffman denies that one the two baptisms (i.e. baptism of blood) mentioned in chapter 16 of De Baptismo has martyrdom in mind. Mr. Kauffman wrote:

When Tertullian says, “called by water, chosen by blood. … in order that they who believed in His blood might be bathed with the water” there simply is no justification for interpreting this to be a reference to a martyr’s death. The baptism of blood is clearly “belief in his blood,” and this stands in lieu of the fontal bathing when that has not been received.

Dr. Everett Ferguson understands chapter 16 differently than Mr. Kauffman; note the following:

An important modification to the normal necessity of water baptism applied to the times of persecution. Using Christ's comparison of his death with baptism (Luke 12:50), Tertullian says, "We have a second washing (lavacrum), it too a single one, that of blood" (Baptism 16.1). Appealing to 1 John 5:6 and the water and the blood that came from Jesus' side (John 19:34), he adds: "[The Lord] sent forth these two baptism from out of the would of his pierced side," one a washing in water and the other in blood. Blood shed in martyrdom "makes actual a washing which has not been received, and gives back again one that has been lost" by postbaptismal sin (16.1-2). (Baptism In The Early Church, p. 349)

Dr. Ferguson provides a footnote to this section (#46), wherein he writes:

46. Modesty 12 also describes martyrdom as "another baptism" to which Jesus referred in Luke 12:50, and interprets the water and the blood from Jesus' side as the materials of the two baptisms. Scorpiace 12.10 says, "Baptism washes away filth, but martyrdom makes stains truly white." (Ibid.)

Tertullian, in his Apology, penned the now famous phrase, "the blood of the Christians is seed" (chapter 50, English trans. by Thelwall, in ANF 3.55).

And just a bit later he states:

...who, after inquiry, does not embrace our doctrines ? and when he has embraced them, desires not to suffer that he may become partaker of the fulness of God's grace, that he may obtain from God complete forgiveness, by giving in exchange his blood For that secures the remission of all offences. (Ibid.) the baptism of blood, is NOT "a reference to a martyr’s death" ???  I think I will side with the esteemed patristic scholar, Dr. Everett, on this, rather than Mr. Kauffman's highly questionable interpretation.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers: Tertullian

In this ongoing series on baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers (using Mr. Kauffman's attempted rebuttals of Dr. Cross as an introduction of sorts), I am jumping from Justin Martyr to Tertullian (I will examine a few of the CFs between these two in upcoming posts), for the following reason: of all the early CFs who explore the issue of baptism in any depth, Tertullian is the only one who, on the surface, appears to create some difficulties for those who maintain that baptismal regeneration was a consensus teaching among the early Church Fathers.

Mr. Kauffman begins his rebuttal of Dr. Cross's assessment of Tertullian (link), with the following:

The citations that Called to Communion uses from Tertullian’s On Baptism here are too numerous to include, though we encourage our readers to examine them all. Better yet, to read Tertullian’s entire treatise, On Baptism. We have included only one citation, above, so our readers can at least get a taste of Tertullian’s writing, and Called to Communion‘s evidence from him.

On Baptism was written in response to the “viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, [which] has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism” (Tertullian, On Baptism, chapter 1). Tertullian spends 20 chapters defending the merits of baptism, its divine origin, the significance of the water, the power to sanctify, remit sins, grant life and secure eternal salvation. Here Called to Communion seems to have read Tertullian for what he plainly says as he implores Christians, with soaring rhetoric and impassioned reasoning, not to dispense with a command of Christ by stumbling into the Cainite heresy.

So far, so good. Mr. Kauffman has done a pretty good job of summarizing the content of Tertullian's treatise, De Baptismo (though he did leave out two important aspects of "the merits of baptism" included by Tertullian: rebirth, and the necessity of baptism for salvation).

[NOTE: For online texts and resources concerning Tertullian, I highly recommend THIS WEBSITE.]

He then writes:

But Tertullian says more than this, and we find that he knew very well that the power of regeneration emanates from the Cross, and that baptism, the baptism of the Cross, “stands in lieu of the fontal bathing”:

“These two baptisms He sent out from the wound in His pierced side, in order that they who believed in His blood might be bathed with the water; they who had been bathed in the water might likewise drink the blood. This is the baptism which both stands in lieu of the fontal bathing when that has not been received, and restores it when lost.” (Tertullian, On Baptism, Chapter 16)

Even here in On Baptism, Tertullian is tipping his hand, and showing that his own soaring rhetoric is hyperbolic, and he hints at his conviction (which he elsewhere states explicitly) that the water of the baptismal font is merely a signification of the actual baptism that takes place in the heart.

Rather than, "tipping his hand, and showing that his own soaring rhetoric is hyperbolic", Tertullian is here mentioning (without an in depth analysis) the Catholic concept of 'baptism of blood'; note the following:

Baptism of blood is the martyrdom of an unbaptized person that, because of the patient acceptance of a violent death or an attack leading to death, constitutes the confessing of the Christian faith or the practice of Christian virtue. Christ himself contended that martyrdom, like perfect love, contains justifying power (e.g. Mt 10:32, 10:39; Jn 12:25). Fathers of the Church, namely Tertullian and St. Cyprian, regarded martyrdom as a legitimate substitute for sacramental baptism. (Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, 1997, p. 47.)

Mr. Kauffman sure seems to be either ignorant of the fact that Catholic dogma does not limit the means of salvation to sacramental baptism only, or he is purposefully being deceptive here. In fact, all of his arguments against Tertullian affirming baptismal regeneration proceed under the assumption that Catholicism teaches sacramental baptism is the only means by which one can be saved. Mr. Kauffman's remaining arguments are quite easily deflected if one keeps in mind that 'baptism of blood' and 'baptism of desire' are viable options for salvation within Catholic thought.

So, the question that needs to asked is not whether Tertullian believed that salvation can take place apart from sacramental baptism, but rather, whether or not Tertullian's teaching on sacramental baptism is best described as baptismal regeneration. An objective reading of Tertullian's take sacramental baptism clearly reveals that his view falls under the rubric of baptismal regeneration. Since even Mr. Kauffman himself affirms that Tertullian in his De Baptismo, "spends 20 chapters defending the merits of baptism, its divine origin, the significance of the water, the power to sanctify, remit sins, grant life and secure eternal salvation", to which one should add rebirth and the necessity of baptism for salvation, the affirmation that Tertullian taught the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is the only accurate conclusion that one can maintain.

The patristic scholar, Dr. Everett Ferguson, confirms this conclusion; note the following:

Tertullian summarizes the doctrine of baptism in listing the items that he found inexplicable if one accepted Marcion's teachings: remission of sins, deliverance from death, regeneration (regeneratio), and bestowal of the Holy Spirit (Against Marcion 1.28.2-3)...

Tertullian most often expresses the significance of baptism in terms of forgiveness or cleansing from sins...

Tertullian further associated baptism with regeneration and new birth...

These benefits attributed to baptism underscores its necessity. Tertullian declares that "it is prescribed that without baptism no person can obtain salvation" (Baptism 12.1.) This standing rule derives from the Lord's pronouncement in John 3:5, "Except one be borm of water he cannot have life." Shortly thereafter Tertullian quotes both Matthew 28:19 and John 3:5 (this time more fully and more accurately) in support of the necessity of baptism. (Baptism in the Early Church, 2009, pp. 346, 347, 349.)

Contra Mr. Kauffman's view that Tertullian did not teach baptismal regerneration, we see just the opposite. So far in our examination of Mr. Kauffman's rebuttals, we find that he is zero for two. In the next installment of this series, we will look at Irenaeus (the Lord willing).

Grace and peace,


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers: introduction and Justin Martyr

While watching the US Open over the weekend, I 'multi-tasked', looking in on some websites that I have not visited for awhile. A thread at Beggars All posted August 25th, 2014 by Ken Temple concerning baptismal regeneration (LINK) caught my eye. Ken linked to a couple of posts (there are now four) published on the blog, Out of His Mouth, which is owned and operated, "by a former Roman Catholic, Timothy F. Kauffman, with a passion for wielding the sword of truth in defense of the faith, and refuting the errors in which he himself was once enslaved."  Mr. Kauffman is now a conservative Calvinist, and is, "currently a member at Southwood Presbyterian Church (PCA)."

Mr. Kauffman's four-part series, "THAT HE MIGHT PURIFY THE WATER" (first; second; third; fourth), is an attempt to rebut a thread published by the Catholic apologist Dr. Bryan Cross (link), which took the position that the early Church Fathers believed in baptismal regeneration. Mr. Kauffman writes under the presuppositions that, "Roman Catholicism was formed out of a great apostasy that took place in the late 4th century", and, "Roman Catholicism constituted the falling away that Paul prophesied in 2 Thessalonians 2:3."

His position that "a great apostasy that took place in the late 4th century" seems to be unique within the Reformed tradition (at least I have not seen it before, though there may be a few others who embrace it), and I suspect that it is this premise which drives his attempt to "prove" that the pre-late 4th century Church Fathers did not teach baptismal regeneration. Clearly, Mr. Kauffman approaches the early Church Fathers with an anti-Catholic bias.

Before I begin my critical examination of Mr. Kauffman's interpretations of a number of early Church Fathers on baptism, I would first like to establish what baptismal regeneration means. Note the following:

baptismal regeneration The belief that salvation is conferred through baptism (see John 3:5 Titus 3:5). This view has been prominent in Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism. (Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, 1996, p. 26.)

Baptismal Regeneration. Twice in the NT a connection is made between water, or washing in water, and regeneration. In John 3:3 we are told that a man must be born of water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. And in Titus 3:5 we read that we are saved "by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." In view of these passages, of the inter-relationship of baptism with Christ's resurrection, and of the fact that it is the sacrament of initiation, it is inevitable that there should be some equation between baptism and regeneration. This equation is most strongly made in the phrase "baptismal regeneration." (G.W. Bromiley, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 1984, p. 119.)

The Catholic understanding of baptism is that it includes regeneration (i.e. born again/rebirth). The following selections from two respected Catholic sources should be sufficient to confirm this:

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word." (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, 1997, p. 312.)

Baptism is, therefore, the sacrament by which we are born again of water and the Holy Ghost, that is, by which we receive in a new and spiritual life, the dignity of adoption as sons of God and heirs of God's kingdom. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907, Vol. 2, p. 259.)

[It is important to keep in mind that those who embrace baptismal regeneration (in one form or another—e.g. Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox churches, Lutherans, many Anglicans, and some Reformed folk), adamantly maintain that it is means of grace (e.g. Augustine and Martin Luther—see THIS THREAD), and not a 'work', sometimes referring to baptism as "baptismal grace".]

Time to move onto Mr. Kauffman's musings; in his first post, he examines Ignatius, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepard of Hermas and Justin Martyr. The first three only briefly mention/allude to baptism, so I am going to focus on Justin Martyr.

After quoting from Dr. Cross's section on Justin Martyr, Mr. Kauffman writes:

We marvel that Called to Communion offers this as evidence for Baptismal Regeneration. Justin Martyr sees the baptism as a public “dedication” made by those who already “had been made new through Christ.” Again, the rebirth—i.e., “had been made new”—was “through Christ,” and the water baptism was a “dedication” that followed the renewal. That Justin Martyr is not speaking of regeneration by the act of baptism, but rather that those who are regenerated are baptized, is plainly evident in his closing sentence:

“And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61)

This is one the most skewed, twisted, error-ridden, misreading of a Church Father I have yet to encounter. Mr. Kaufffman places "illumination" (Gr. phōtismos) BEFORE baptism; Justin does the exact opposite, equating "illumination" with "this washing" (i.e. baptism - see also 1 Apology 65.1). The one who is "illumined", "is washed" (Gr. louetai ), present tense, not "will be washed", future tense. Mr. Kauffman also places "the rebirth" before baptism; but Justin equates "the rebirth" (and "remission of sins") with "the washing" (i.e. baptism): "eis anagennēsin loutron" (1 Apology 66.1 - Migne PG, Tomus 6, p. 428).

My read of Justin is exactly the same as the one foremost authorities on NT and early patristic baptism, Dr. Everett Ferguson, who wrote:

Justin identifies the conversion baptism as the time when one is made new (61.1). His preferred way of describing this experience of newness is shown by the repeated use of the words "regeneration" (rebirth) and "be regenerated" (born again). He draws the comparison of this new generation with physical generation inasmuch as both involve moisture (water of baptism and the moist seed of sexual union) is evident from Justin, Hermas and others that John 3:3-5 reflected language in widespread use in the early decades of the church as referring to baptism. (Baptism In The Early Church, pp. 240, 241.)

Dr. Ferguson then goes on to demonstrate that "illumination" was "a technical term for baptism" in Justin's thought (p. 241). He ends his treatment on Justin with: "Baptism meant especially a forgiveness of sins, a regeneration, and an enlightenment." (Page 244.)

Shall end here for now, noting that I am not aware of ANY patristic scholar who has interpreted Justin's take on baptism as Mr. Kauffman has, suggesting to me that his polemical reading is seriously flawed. In my next thread (the Lord willing), I will examine Tertullian's view on baptism.

Grace and peace,


P.S. I will resume my musings on Mormonism after some reflections on baptismal regeneration in the early Church Fathers.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Is Mormonism Christian ?

Is Mormonism Christian ? Putting aside for now the premise that those who attempt to answer this question should first define how they understand what the term Christian means and whether or not they believe that the term Christian demands more than one meaning, it has been my experience (via articles, books, message boards and personal conversations) that many who have answered this question have done so with little clarification and consistency. For instance, the majority of Evangelicals who have answered this question have done so with a resounding NO, maintaining that the term Christian has only one meaning: someone who has been "born again"; and for one to be "born again" one must accept "the Gospel" and "the doctrine of the Trinity" as understood within the confines of conservative Evangelicalism—i.e. "the Gospel" = justification by faith alone (in Christ's atoning sacrifice and bodily resurrection), through imputation alone (imputation of 'Christ's righteousness' to the believer forensically speaking); "the doctrine of the Trinity" = one 'being' who is God existing in three 'persons'. Since Mormonism rejects "the Gospel" and "the doctrine of the Trinity", those who believe in Mormonism cannot be "born again"; as such, Mormonism cannot be "Christian".

Now, this view is problematic for some important reasons: first, the Evangelical understanding "the Gospel" was non-existent until the 16th century, meaning that if the Evangelical presuppositions are correct, there were virtually no Christians, to our knowledge, between 100 A.D. and 1517 A.D.; second, faithful members of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Mennonite churches are not Christian, because they reject the conservative Evangelical understanding of "the Gospel"; third, some modern Evangelical scholars have raised serious doubts about the "justification by faith alone, through imputation alone" construct; and fourth, the accepted Evangelical understanding of "the doctrine of the Trinity" did not exist until Augustine of Hippo formulated it in the late 4th century/early 5th century, and a large number of Evangelical scholars are now calling into question this so-called "Latin/Western" development.

Having called into question the validity of the underlying presuppositions of the conservative, Evangelical worldview, which have precipitated a negative answer to the question at hand, I shall now turn to the Catholic paradigm. Back on June 5, 2001 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that baptisms performed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were not valid (see THIS THREAD for germane information on this topic).

In the document, "The Question of the Validity of Baptism Conferred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", Fr. Ladaria wrote:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given a negative response to a "Dubium"regarding the validity of Baptism conferred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,more commonly known as the Mormons. Given that this decision changes the past practice of not questioning the validity of such Baptism, it seems appropriate to explain the reasons that have led to this decision and to the resulting change of practice.

Note that, "this decision changes the past practice of not questioning the validity of such Baptism", which means that prior to June 5, 2001, LDS baptisms were valid in the eyes of the RCC.

With this in mind, the four articles which were published in the respected Catholic journal First Things, that dealt with the subject of Mormonism and Christianity, should give one cause for reflection (first; second; third; fourth).

The first article, "Is Mormonism Christian ?", by Richard John Neuhaus, was published in March 2000, which means that LDS baptisms at that time were considered valid by the Catholic Church, but Neuhaus answers the question with an emphatic NO. Note the following:

...Mormonism is inexplicable apart from Christianity and the peculiar permutations of Protestant Christianity in nineteenth-century America. It may in this sense be viewed as a Christian derivative. It might be called a Christian heresy, except heresy is typically a deviation within the story of the Great Tradition that Mormonism rejects tout court. Or Mormonism may be viewed as a Christian apostasy.

The second, is a dialogue between Bruce D. Porter, who "is a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" and Gerald R. McDermott, who "is Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College", and was published in October 2008.  McDermott, ends his contribution with:

In sum, then, Mormon beliefs diverge widely from historic Christian orthodoxy. The Book of Mormon, which is Mormonism’s principal source for its claim to new revelation and a new prophet, lacks credibility. And the Jesus proclaimed by Joseph Smith and his followers is different in significant ways from the Jesus of the New Testament: Smith’s Jesus is a God distinct from God the Father; he was once merely a man and not God; he is of the same species as human beings; and his being and acts are limited by coeternal matter and laws.

The intent of this essay is not to say that individual Mormons will be barred from sitting with Abraham and the saints at the marriage supper of the Lamb. We are saved by a merciful Trinity, not by our theology. But the distinguished scholar of Mormonism Jan Shipps was only partly right when she wrote that Mormonism is a departure from the existing Christian tradition as much as early Christianity was a departure from Judaism. For if Christianity is a shoot grafted onto the olive tree of Judaism, Mormonism as it stands cannot be successfully grafted onto either.

The third, "Mormonism Obsessed With Christ", by Stephen H. Webb, was published in February 2012, well after the Catholic Church's negative decision concerning the validity of LDS baptisms; and yet, the stance taken by Webb is less hostile than that of Neuhaus.

And the fourth, "Mormons and Christianity: Asking the Right Questions", by Howard P. Kainz, is interesting; note the following:

Evidently, the more we know about Mormonism, the more we can see that we have been asking the wrong question . From the Mormon point of view, the question to be asked is not, “Are Mormons Christian?” but, in view of the alleged apostasy in early Christianity after the death of the Apostles, a more appropriate question would be: “Are any non-Mormons Christian?”

Posing this question changes the criteria by which we can evaluate Mormon claims, and helps put some of the more exaggerated fears of orthodox Christians into perspective. Yes, Catholics and Protestants are viewed by Mormons as practicing an incomplete Christianity (at best). This offers justification, for instance, for the Mormon practice of “baptizing the dead,” in order to bring them into communion with Jesus Christ and the Latter-day Saints. But this paradigm also means that Christians need not fear that a Mormon in the White House would not align himself with Christianity; the only reasonable fear would be that a biased Mormon occupant would look down on them as less than Christian. But fortunately Mormons, in spite of their desire to convert the world, are not noted for extreme intolerance or for an inability to work with other persuasions for the common good.
(Bold emphasis in the original.)

It seems to me that 'the Catholic answer' to the question is a bit difficult discern; perhaps it would be better to say that there are 'Catholic answers' to the question. The change in the Catholic assessment of LDS baptism back in 2001 is certainly an important one for the Catholic who attempts to address the question, and yet, one should keep in mind that the 2001 decision is not an infallible/irreformable one. This, to which we can add that the document written by Fr. Ladaria is not completely accurate, raises some concerns for me.

So, what should be the answer ? IMO, the answer is a complex one and cannot be answered without a significant number of qualifications. For those who have already formulated a response, I would like to suggest that you take serious look at the Christianity of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, as represented by the writings Church Fathers of that period, and then consistently apply the presuppositions you used to evaluate Mormonism, asking the same question of them—I think you will find that your presuppositions are a 'doubled-edged sword'—your answer should be same for both. I am sure that this view will be unsettling to many, but I cannot help but maintain that I am being consistent with my evaluation.

Looking forward to a spirited and respectful discussion...

Grace and peace,


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mormonism - a renewed interest

I have been studying Mormonism since 1987. Like anything else I study in depth, I try to acquire the necessary resources to do so in a scholarly fashion. My Mormon related resources have expanded to over 1,800 non-digital books; collections of the Ensign, BYU Studies, Dialogue, and Sunstone journals/magazines; most of what F.A.R.M.S and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute have produced; and a very large, uncounted digital collection. Anyway, my study of Mormonism has been anything but superficial.

However, it has been a good 4+ years since I last did any sustained research into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and this primarily due to my focus on the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in the early Church—but I will more than likely jump back into my Mormon studies with a renewed interest (for a number of reasons).

Last month, I got involved in thread at the Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board, under the title: What's Up With The Trinity. A new set of LDS missionaries had dropped by earlier that day, and we got into a discussion about the Trinity. That evening, I checked in on MDDB, and the above thread caught my eye. I did not get involved in the thread until the 3rd day, with my 1st comment being #63 (LINK). The thread ended up with 336 comments, involving Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons and even a Muslim, covering a fairly wide range of aspects concerning the doctrine of the Trinity.

Though I had wanted to bring this thread to the attention of my readers towards the end of July, I got a bit side-tracked with the Trent related threads here at AF , summer guests and outdoor projects. But as the old saying goes, 'better late than never'.

In the month of September, I hope to build upon some of the issues raised in the above thread, as well as other topics, as I renew and ramp up my studies into Mormonism (the Lord willing)...

Grace and peace,


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Trent, semi-Pelagianism and Berkouwer: are R.C. Sproul's misrepresentations cases of dishonesty or just shoddy scholarship

In a recent thread here at AF (LINK), I took issue (yet once again) with a renewed assertion by Ken Temple that the decrees of the Council of Trent concerning justification and salvation are essentially "semi-Pelagian". To support this charge, Ken relies heavily on the polemics of R.C. Sproul, as expressed in his published works, Faith Alone and Willing to Believe (see THIS THREAD for some critical reflections). Ken invokes Sproul's use Herman Bavinck, who wrote, "although semi-Pelagianism had been condemned by Rome, it reappeared in a ‘roundabout way", and adds the following from G. C. Berkouwer (via Sproul):

Between Orange and Trent lies a long process of development, namely, scholasticism, with its elaboration of the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works, and the Roman system of penitence...

For a fuller context of the above quotes, I now turn to Sproul's, Faith Alone—wherein after quoting chapter 5 of Trent's sixth session—we read:

Here Rome makes it clear that fallen man cannot convert himself or even move himself to justice in God's sight without the aid of grace. Again Pelagiansim is repudiated.

This predisposing grace, however, is rejectable. It is not in itself effectual. Its effectiveness depends on the fallen person's assent and cooperation. This sounds very much like semi-Pelagianism, which had been condemned at Orange. Earlier in the fifth session, which treated original sin, Trent affirmed some aspects of the decrees of Orange.

Rome has repeatedly been accused of condemning semi-Pelagianism at Orange but embracing it anew at Trent. Herman Bavinck held that "although semi-Pelagianism had been condemned by Rome, it reappeared in a 'roundabout way'". G. C. Berkouwer observed:

"Between Orange and Trent lies a long process of development, namely, scholasticism, with its elaboration of the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works, and the Roman system of penitence...Hence the situation became much more complicated for Rome in Trent than when, in 529, semi-Pelagianism had to be condemned for its "weakening" of grace...Trent had to ward off the Reformers' attack without derograting from the decrees of Orange...The gratia praeveniens had to be taught without relapsing into the sola fide of the Reformers. That is why the Orange texts are repeated in Trent, especially in the decree on justification."

The Council of Trent to steer a course on the razor's edge between semi-Pelagianism and Reformed thought. It is arguable that they cut themselves on that razor. At issue was the residual power of man's weakened, fallen will. Rome tried to argue that the will is weaker than semi-Pelagianism allowed, but not as weak as the Reformer's insisted. Berkouwer concludes: "At Trent there was no concern with the threat to grace as there was at Orange. But Trent is concerned with the natural freedom of the will. The latter, it is true, has been weakened by sin (Orange, Valence, Trent) but not at all extinguished."

...To avoid the Reformation and Augustinian view of the enslaved will, Rome speaks of the power of fallen man to assent and cooperate with prevenient grace. That grace is not effectual without the sinner's response. (Sproul, Faith Alone, pp. 140-141.)

Now, the above has certainly given Ken the impression Sproul believes that Trent is semi-Pelagian, and that Sproul believes he has support from Bavinck and Berkouwer on this issue. But what one will fail to uncover in Sproul's writings is a clear, definitive description of what semi-Pelagianism actually is. The nearest I have been able to find is in his book, Willing to Believe, wherein he seems to identify any system of soteriology that does not embrace "monergistic regeneration" as a form of semi-Pelagianism (see pp. 20-29, 69-84). As such, he is convinced that the vast majority of modern Evangelicals  embrace semi-Pelagianism, and that in official Roman Catholic doctrine, we have the, "triumph of semi-Pelagianism over Augustinianism" (p. 84).

The major error in Sproul's assessments lies in the fact that he has incorrectly described/understood what actually constitutes semi-Pelagianism. This fact comes as shock to me, for a number of the scholars he has quoted (e.g. Berkouwer, Harnack, Schaff), in his two referenced books above, do define the distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism—i.e. the rejection of the belief that preceding/prevenient grace (gratia praeveniens) is necessary for one to accept the Gospel.  Sproul has substituted this distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism with the notion that it is the rejection of "monergistic regeneration" that makes one's theology semi-Pelagian—to do so is either a case of dishonesty or very shoddy scholarship.

Before moving on to Sproul's misrepresentation/misunderstanding of Berkouwer, I would like to provide a few scholarly selections that identify the distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism:

SEMI-PELAGIANISM. The doctrines on human nature upheld in the 4th and 5th cents. by a group of theologians who, while not denying the necessity of *Grace for salvation, maintained that the first steps towards the Christian life were ordinarily taken by the human will and Grace supervened only later. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. 1974, 1985 reprint, p. 1258.)

SEMI-PELAGIANISM. Doctrines, upheld during the period from 427 to 529, that rejected the extreme views of Pelagius and of Augustine in regards to the priority of divine grace and human will in the initial work of salvation...

Cassian taught that though a sickness is inherited through Adam's sin, human free will has not been entirely obliterated. Divine grace is indispensable for salvation, but does not necessarily need to precede a free human choice, because, despite the weakness of human volition, the will takes the initiative toward God. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984, p. 1000.)

In opposition to both systems [Pelagianism and Augustinianism]  he [John Cassian] taught that the divine image and human freedom were not annihilated, but only weakened, by the fall; in other words, that man is sick, but not dead, that he cannot indeed help himself, but that he can desire the help of a physician, and either accept or refuse it when offered, and that he must cooperate with the grace of God in his salvation. The question, which of the two factors has the initiative, he answers, altogether empirically, to this effect: that sometimes, and indeed usually, the human will, as in the cases of the Prodigal Son, Zacchaeus, the Penitent Thief, and Cornelius, determines itself to conversion; sometimes grace anticipates it, and, as with Matthew and Paul, draws the resisting will—yet, even in this case, without constraint—to God. Here, therefore, the gratia praeveniens is manifestly overlooked. 

These are essentially Semi-Pelagian principles, though capable of various modification and applications. The church, even the Roman church, has rightly emphasized the necessity of prevenient grace... (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 1910, 1981 reprint, 3.861, 862.)

The preeminent Christian doctrinal/historical scholar of the latter-half of the 20th century, Jaroslav Pelikan, 'puts-the-icing-on the-cake' (so to speak). He begins his section on Semi-Pelagianism with:

The opposition to Augustine earned this position the title "Semi-Pelagian" in the sixteenth century, but already in the fifth century the partisans of Augustine were calling it "the remnants of the Pelagian heresy [Pelagianae pravitatis reliquiae]." The term is used to cover a group of theologians from the fifth and sixth centuries, the most prominent of whom were John Cassian, Vincent of Lérins, and Fautus of Riez. (The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), p. 319.)

After presenting the doctrines that the adherents of "Pelagianae pravitatis reliquiae" agreed upon with Augustine and the catholic tradition, Pelikan then delineates where they departed:

Even while asserting that without divine assistance none of these virtues could attain perfection, Augustine's critics still insisted that "it cannot be doubted that there are by nature some  seeds of goodness in every soul implanted by the kindness of the Creator." This did not detract from the glory of redemption. If is was said "that one should not pay attention to what is good by nature because before the coming of Christ, the Gentiles obviously did not attain to salvation," the reply was the axiom: "Anyone who denies that nature is to be proclaimed in its good qualities, simply does not know that the Author of nature is the same as the Author of grace," and that therefore "since the Creator is the same as the Restorer, one and the same is celebrated when we praise either work." Praising the free will of man meant praising its Creator and did not detract from his grace.

This was evident from the Bible itself, where "the bounty of God is actually shaped according to the capacity of man's faith." Sometimes, for example in the conversion of Paul or of Matthew, divine grace had preceded any desire or good will on the part of man. But in other instances, for example in the account of Zacchaeus or of the thief on the cross, the free will of man had taken some initiative. By the goodness of the Creator there still remained the capacity to initiate the will for salvation. (Ibid., pp. 323, 324)

He then moves on to the synod of Orange (529) and its clear, direct condemnation of the teaching that "there still remained the capacity [in fallen mankind] to initiate the will for salvation": response to the argument that there was a diversity of operations by which in some cases men took the initiative and in others God took the initiative, the synod condemned as "alien to the true faith" anyone who taught that "some have come to the grace of baptism by mercy, but others by free will." Citing the specific biblical examples that had been used in support of this teaching, Caesarius affirmed that the conversion of Zacchaeus and of the thief on the cross had also been "not achievements of nature, but gifts from the generosity of divine grace." The "beginning of faith" was always due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (Ibid., p. 328)

So, the question for me is: why did Sproul substitute the distinguishing feature of semi-Pelagianism—the belief that "there still remained the capacity [in fallen mankind] to initiate the will for salvation"—with the notion that it is the rejection of "monergistic regeneration" that makes one's theology semi-Pelagian ? What makes this substitution even more baffling is the fact Sproul informs his readers that it was the Synod of Orange in 529 which, "condemned the system of semi-Pelagianism"; and yet, one will look in vain to find ANY reference to "monergistic regeneration" in the decrees of that synod.

Time to move onto Sproul's use of Berkouwer. Does Berkouwer side with Sproul's view that Trent, and subsequent Catholic theology, had adopted semi-Pelagianism ? Sproul's surrounding context of the two quotes from Berkouwer in Faith Alone gives the reader the strong impression that he believed this. However, a deeper, more extensive reading of Berkouwer reveals that Berkouwer did not believe Trent, and subsequent Catholic theology, had embraced semi-Pelagianism. Berkouwer discusses this issue at length in two of his important works that have been translated into English: The Conflict with Rome (English 1958) and Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election (English 1960).

Sproul quotes Berkouwer three times in his Faith Alone (pp. 140, 141), all of which are from The Conflict with Rome (pp. 80, 82, 84). Two of those three quotes are directly related to the topic at hand (the third deals with Calvin) and are provided in their entirety above. If one limits their reading of Berkouwer concerning semi-Pelagianism and Catholicism to what Sproul has provided, a severely flawed impression is difficult to avoid. However, if one reads Berkouwer's full contributions on this issue as found in The Conflict with Rome (pp. 76-112) and Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election (pp. 28-52) a much different impression emerges. One will find Berkouwer's clearest assessment on whether or not the Roman Catholic Church teaches semi-Pelagianism in the following selection:

The Council of Orange (529) condemned not only Pelagianism but also semi-Pelagianism, a condemnation to which the Roman Catholic Church still adheres for the reason that even semi-Pelagianism thinks too depreciatively of the necessity of God's grace. To be sure, semi-Pelagianism rejected Pelagianism and did not teach an inviolate ibberum arbitrium, but it still maintained a belief in free will — although a weakened free will (infirmitas liberi arbitrii). It taught that man retains his free will, but because it has been weakened by sin it is in need of God's helping grace, so that a cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom is necessary. Rome rejects this doctrine because she does not think the necessity of grace is sufficiently confessed by it. (Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election, p. 30 - bold emphasis mine.)

I don't think that Berkouwer could be much clearer on what his position concerning semi-Pelgainism and the RCC is. (Anyone who thinks Berkouwer maintained that the RCC is semi-Pelagian after reading the above is in dire need of some help.)

Before ending this somewhat lengthy post, I would like to point out one more significant difference between Sproul and Berkouwer. Note the following from Sproul's pen:

A theologian friend of mine says frequently that in church history there have been only three basic types of theology. There have been a multitude of theological schools with subtle nuances, but in the final analysis there are only three kinds of theology: what we call Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, and Augustinianism. Virtually every church in Western church history, and Eastern church history as well, has fallen into one of those three categories. (Saved from What ?, p. 46.)

It was after reading the above that I came to understand why Sproul labels Arminian, Lutheran and Catholic theologies as semi-Pelagianism, for in his worldview, "there are only three kinds of theology".

But, Berkouwer does not agree with Sproul on this matter. Berkouwer's view adds a fourth kind of theology: synergism. In Studies in Dogmatics - Divine Election, he makes a clear distinction between Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, synergism and monergism, and places the Arminian, Lutheran and Catholic theologies into the synergistic category.

I shall end here, feeling fairly confident that I established some significant flaws in a number of Sproul's assessments.

Grace and peace,


P.S. I think it is prudent that I let my Calvinistic readers know that this thread is not a critique of monergism and/or an endorsement of synergism (in any form).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"God-breathed", theopneustos

I accepted B. B. Warfield's interpretation of theopneustos (θεόπνευστος) after my first reading (circa 1982) of his essay, "GOD-INSPIRED SCRIPTURE" (The Works of Benjamin B.Warfield, 1927/1981, Vol. 1, pp. 229-280; The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, edited by Samuel G. Craig, 1948, pp. 245-296; original in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, v. XI, pp. 89-130; online version HERE). Warfield's interpretation is repeated throughout this contribution, and concludes, with the following:

What is θεόπνευστος is "God-breathed," produced by the creative breath of the Almighty. (p.296)

Warfield reiterates this interpretation in, "Inspiration", an article which first appeared in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Vol. 3, pp. 1473-1483), and subsequently reprinted in The Works of Benjamin B.Warfield (1927/1981, Vol. 1, pp. 77-112), wherein we read:

For the Greek word in this passage [2 Tim.3:16] — θεόπνευστος, theópneustos — very distinctly does not mean "inspired of God."... What it says of Scripture is, not that it is “breathed into by God” or is the product of the Divine “inbreathing” into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, “God-breathed,” the product of the creative breath of God. (pp. 78, 79)

Now, before I introduce the online article/essay which prompted this thread, I would like to point out that in addition to Warfield's interpretation/understanding of the term theópneustos, I also adopted his view that this "'God-breathed'...product of the creative breath of God" was limited only to the original autographs (i.e. sola autographa) and did not extend to any copies (i.e. apograha). I took it for granted that this was the 'classical' view of the conservative, Reformed paradigm. However, it seems that I was mistaken on this point, for Dr. Theodore P. Letis, in his scholarly essay, "B.B. Warfield, Common-Sense Philosophy and Biblical Criticism", argues that Warfield was the first conservative, Reformed scholar to adopt the notion that theópneustos pertains only to the autographa. Note the following:

Benjamin Brickinridge Warfield (1851-1921), Professor at Princeton Seminary from 1887-1921, was the most astute and critically aware N. T. scholar at Princeton during his tenure. While he also retained the old scholastic view of verbal inspiration, he did so, keenly aware of this "weapon" in New England.

A good deal of Warfield's early academic career, therefore, was spent mastering the discipline of N.T. criticism so as to tame and neutralize this threat. How he went about his task helps to explain three developments at Princeton in his lifetime and his lasting influence on the current evangelical view of Scripture: 1) why he gave a distinctive emphasis to the autographic inerrancy theory; 2) how text criticism came to be viewed by evangelicals in the twentieth century as a safe, neutral realm that can only support the evangelical cause and never harm it; 3) how Warfield contributed to the climate that was more tolerable toward genuine biblical criticism at Princeton at a time when such criticism was perceived to be threatening in the extreme.

Warfield's first step in this process was to distance himself the Protestant scholastic approach to text critical matters, while retaining the scholastic view of verbal contrast to Charles Hodge's view, which we shall treat below, Warfield began by depreciating the established text (what was called the textus receptus—the "received text") which had hitherto been the locus of the verbal inspiration view. For Warfield, the scholastics had stumbled when their reverence for the Word of God, perversely but not unnaturally exercised, erected the standard or received text into the norm of a true text. [These are Warfield's own words; see note below.]

Warfield was the first from Princeton to break so decisively with the old text standard. He did so with the confidence that a far better text was then emerging.

Nevertheless, to abandon this standard meant he would be abandoning the text thought to be verbally inspired by the Divines who produced the Westminster Confession of Faith. In order to save, therefore, his verbal view of inspiration—the last vestige of Francis Turretin's influence—he was forced to now relegate inspiration to the inscrutable autographs of the biblical records...

The true test for determining if one is an heir of the Reformed scholastics is found in the role the Westminster Confession plays in locating final Scriptural authority. Archibald Alexander (1772-1851), Charles Hodge (1797-1878), and the Southern Presbyterian, Robert Dabney, (1820-1890) were genuine heirs of Turretin. They focused authority in present, extant, copies of the biblical texts (apographa), with all the accompanying textual phenomenon, as "providentially preserved" and sanctioned edition (Westminster Confession  Faith, 1:8).

Warfield, on the other hand, was the first professor at Princeton to allow his Common-Sense Philosophy the role of reconstructing the text according to the canons of German Criticism. (The Ecclesiastical Text, 1997, pp. 4, 5.)

[Note: "Reverence for the Word of God, perversely but not unnaturally exercised, erected the standard or received text into the norm of a true text;" (Warfield, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, p. 216).]

The rest of Letis's essay builds a very strong case for the view that no conservative, Reformed scholar prior to Warfield questioned authoritative, normative status of the textus receptus as the "God-breathed" Word of God.

Though it sure seems that Warfield's view has become the new 'standard' for most conservative, Reformed folk (and the Evangelical paradigm as a whole)—replacing the Reformed scholastic view—opposition to this theological novem has continued in Reformed circles (and, interestingly enough, many Independent Baptists) to our day.

With the above, somewhat lengthy, introduction in place, I would now like to move on to the online article/essay which prompted this post. Just yesterday, while engaged in some unrelated online research, I happened upon the treatment, " Thoughts On the Word Theopneustos, “given by inspiration of God” in 2 Timothy 3:16, and the Question of the Inspiration of the Authorized Version" (LINK), by Dr. Thomas D. Ross (A PDF version, which I recommend, is available HERE). 

Dr. Ross's contribution opens with the following:

Scripture teaches that the words of Scripture are inspired by God, and thus the entirety of the canonical Scriptures are inspired, 2 Timothy 3:16. God did not inspire people like Moses, Jeremiah, or Matthew; rather, the words that He gave to mankind through them are inspired. Since “inspired” means “God breathed,” and Matthew 4:4 states, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” believers are to live by inspired words. Since the present tense verb “proceedeth” in Matthew 4:4 represents continuing action, as is also found in other very closely related uses of the verb, the breath of God, that is, inspiration, remains in the words of the copies of the autographs, and men are to live by every word of those inspired copies. The fact is that neither 2 Timothy 3:16 nor Matthew 4:4 actually refer to inspiration as a process, rather than a product. (Page 1, PDF version.)

Dr. Ross immediately follows the above with five propositions:

1.) Accurate copies of the Greek and Hebrew words are inspired, since inspiration, in 2 Timothy 3:16, refers to a product. Paul instructs Timothy that the product of the written Scripture itself is both “inspired/God-breathed” and “profitable.” Neither “God-breathed” nor “profitable,” in 2 Timothy 3:16, refer to the process of the giving of the autographs. Both adjectives describe the noun “Scripture” and attribute a quality to it.

2.) Anything that we can properly call “God’s Word” is inspired, because, by definition, if God breathes out some words, He has inspired those words. “All Scripture is inspired,” 2 Timothy 3:16. The verse equates what is “Scripture” with what is “inspired.” The two categories are identical—if something is “Scripture,” then it is “inspired.” Had the verse referred to the process of revealing Scripture it would have stated, “All Scripture was given by inspiration of God.” Since 2 Timothy 3:16 refers to the product of that process, inspired words, it states, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” The breath of God is an inherent quality of all that is Scripture, all that is the Word of God.

3.) Scripture shows us that accurately translated words are still Scripture. 1 Timothy 5:18, for example, refers to both the untranslated gospel of Luke (10:7) and the translated book of Deuteronomy (25:4) as “Scripture.” Indeed, 1 Timothy 5:18 is the only other reference to Scripture (graphe) in Paul’s epistles to Timothy, so it is natural for one to consider 2 Timothy 3:16 in light of this previous reference. The same Paul who tells Timothy that everything that is Scripture is inspired calls both the untranslated and accurately translated Word of God Scripture.

4.) Therefore, accurate translations are Scripture.

5.) Since accurate translations are Scripture, they are inspired, since all Scripture is inspired. All Scripture has the breath of God upon it. (Ibid., pp. 1, 2.)

Dr. Ross concludes with:

Scripture teaches that inspiration is a quality that pertains to all that is appropriately called Scripture. Since original language copies are properly considered Scripture, they are properly termed inspired. Since, in a derived sense, the Bible, when accurately translated, is still properly termed Scripture, the Word accurately translated is, in a derived sense, properly termed inspired. Therefore, it is proper to call the King James Version inspired, because it is an accurate translation of the Greek and Hebrew autographs dictated once and for all by the Holy Ghost. (Ibid., p. 6)

Dr. Letis and Dr. Ross have given this beachbum some serious 'food -for-thought'. I would love to hear from those who may share my interest in this subject...

Grace and peace,