Archive for November, 2015

The Protestant contention with celibacy has always bothered me. Mainly because so many Protestants self-identify as “Bible” Christians and, yet, celibacy is well-rooted in the Bible. This post is a good starting point given by a Protestant.

Spiritual Friendship

Outside discussions about gay and lesbian people, I’ve found that most Protestants tend to have a very low view of celibacy. This manifests itself in a number of ways. For example, single seminary graduates often find that it can be difficult to become a pastor in an evangelical church without being married. Lack of marriage can be viewed with suspicion, as an indication that people are likely to fall to sexual sin. Some even argue that failure to marry is a sinful shirking of adult responsibility.

Solitary Tree

Underlying much of this attitude is the belief that for the vast majority of people, celibacy is either impossible or cannot be fulfilling. For example, many Protestants blame the Catholic sex abuse scandal on the requirement that priests remain unmarried, and this is taken as a cautionary tale against an expectation of celibacy. Many Protestants see celibate living as a needless source…

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An opportune post in more ways than one.

That Letter From Elijah

I don’t like the Old Testament.  All that violence!

It is a common objection.  Sometimes it is the worthy revulsion of a gentle soul; other times it is the ground of heresy.  Early on, the church had to deal with those who would edit out the uncomfortable parts of God’s Word, and with others who went so far as to posit “two gods,” with the Old Testament the work of a bad one.

In short, I would argue that the violence of the OT makes the Bible more credible.  It is not a string of pleasing fairy tales, but the history of God reclaiming a fallen race, working with us even in our ugliest behaviors.

Human change and progress is messy – we don’t reject medicine just because doctors used to “bleed patients of ill humors,” progressed to the marvels of neurosurgery, then regressed to the abortion racket.


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Note: The immediate question to be answered in this post (even if not fully) is whether or not Luther was right to add the word “alone” to Romans 3:28. This is separate from the ultimate question concerning Luther, Paul, and James which will not be answered in this post. 

Luther - alone

If anyone had told me a couple weeks ago that I would be writing even one post on Martin Luther let alone three or four, they would have received a look of great scepticism. I just don’t pay that much attention to Luther or Lutheranism. I prefer to stick with patristics, medievals, and current events/theology in the Catholic Church. However, when you know hardly anything about someone or their teaching, and you level an accusation that you simply take for granted, but have never investigated, then one little door opens another and another and another. I originally said that I can’t take Martin Luther seriously because he added a word to Scripture and called an inspired work of Scripture straw. Here. There was a problem though. These two accusations are something that I learned many years ago from Catholic Answers and other such groups. Now Catholic Answers is good for a quick reference and starting point but there is definitely something wanting there – a little too cookie cutter in their apologetical approach. This is problematic because it nurtures a danger of the thrust of one’s motivation being not a deeper knowledge of truth nor a more intimate relationship with Christ, but rather being able to win arguments. (For an example see this story from Karl Keating). Looking further into the issue of calling the Epistle of James an epistle of straw provided much more food for thought, which I wrote about here. In that post I stated that Luther’s real problem wasn’t reconciling Paul and James, but reconciling Luther and James. By adding the word “alone” to Romans 3:28, it is Luther himself who seemingly caused a problem between Paul and James. Now another door opens. Is it truly problematic that this word has been added? Does it really change what Paul wrote or does it accurately reflect Paul’s intended meaning?

When I first learned of Luther and his adding the word “alone” to Romans 3:28, it was not from Catholic Answers, but St. Joseph Seminar’s Beginning Apologetics series. (Before continuing my criticism, I must say that I am greatly indebted to both St. Joseph Seminar and Catholic Answers for giving me that initial spark. In particular, it is to St. Joseph Seminar that I am indebted to for first introducing me to the amazing beauty and audacity of the Eucharist which led me to a love for our Eucharistic Lord). What I learned was that Luther added the word “alone” to this Scripture verse so as to lend greater support to his own novel heretical teaching of sola fide, and that this addition made Romans 3:28 directly contradict James 2:24. (At this point, some non-Catholics will understandably take issue with my saying Luther’s teaching is novel and heretical, but that is another issue). While it is not implausible that Luther’s motivation for adding “alone” to Romans 3:28 was to lend stronger Scriptural support for his teaching, Protestant apologists are quick to point to three things in defense of Luther’s action (the first two coming directly from Luther):

  1. It conveys the sense of the text and is necessary for a clear and vigorous translation.
  2. Church Fathers such as St. Ambrose and St. Augustine said that faith alone makes one righteous. (On this note, Fr. Fitzmyer is much more helpful than Luther. See #4 here).
  3. Finally, three Catholic Bibles translate Romans 3:28 the same way:
    1. The Nuremberg Bible – German, published in 1483 (pre-Luther’s translation by 39 years)
    2. The Bible of Geneva – Italian, published in 1476 (even earlier) – and the Bible of Venice – also in Italian, published in 1538 (16 years after Luther’s translation).

At the very least, I do think the above shows that while Luther was wrong he was not necessarily being frivolous with Scripture nor adding the word simply to make his position seem stronger (though the above doesn’t disprove that either). Given the gap between ourselves and the principal player – Luther – for the sake of argument I’ll give the benefit of the doubt while still explaining why the addition of “alone” is wrong.

The primary issue here has to do with #1 above. The second and third points are superfluous to the discussion – though they are definitely relevant to discussing whether or not Luther’s teaching was novel. That there are Church fathers prior to Luther who have said we are justified by faith alone does not mean that one should add a word which is not there. Those fathers and saints who have said this were writing in commentaries on Scripture and speaking in homilies. There is a difference between commenting and making your commentary the translation. The translations in German and Italian mentioned above while interesting do not in and of themselves justify the addition of “alone” to Romans 3:28. Nor does their existence necessarily mean that the Church thought it good and laudatory. Unfortunately, in this respect Protestant apologists seem to hold quick answer stumping to the same degree as some Catholic apologists. Protestant apologists whom I’ve found have provided no other details concerning these translations. The most I could find was from the Catholic Encyclopedia – here. Just as there are today, there were back then poor translations, good translations with a regrettable choice or two, good translations, and better translations. Those translations, especially the ones pre-Luther, most likely were not met with the same kind of scrutiny concerning Romans 3:28 because the teaching of sola fide was not being put forth and, therefore, there was no controversy surrounding it. (It is due to the existence of the Nuremberg Bible that I believe Luther should be given the benefit of the doubt concerning the accusation of his being flippant with his translation of Scripture).

In defense of his adding “alone” to Romans, Luther says,

I also know that in Rom. 3, the word “solum” is not present in either Greek or Latin text–the papists did not have to teach me that–it is fact! The letters s-o-l-a are not there. And these knotheads stare at them like cows at a new gate, while at the same time they do not recognize that it conveys the sense of the text–if the translation is to be clear and accurate, it belongs there. I wanted to speak German since it was German I had spoken in translation–not Latin or Greek.

But it is the nature of our language that in speaking about two things, one which is affirmed, the other denied, we use the word “solum” only along with the word “not” (nicht) or “no” (kein). For example, we say “the farmer brings only (allein) grain and no money”; or “No, I really have no money, but only (allein) grain”; “I have only eaten and not yet drunk”; “Did you write it only and not read it over?” There are a vast number of such everyday cases.

In all these phrases, this is a German usage, even though it is not the Latin or Greek usage. It is the nature of the German tongue to add “allein” in order that “nicht” or “kein” may be clearer and more complete. To be sure, I can also say “The farmer brings grain and no (kein) money”, but the words “kein money” do not sound as full and clear as if I were to say, “the farmer brings allein grain and kein money.” Here the word “allein” helps the word “kein” so much that it becomes a clear and complete German expression. (Here)

Luther says that a particularity of the German language requires the use of “alone” to convey the sense of the text and for “the translation to be clear and accurate.” In German (the German of his time) it is common – indeed, it is the nature of the language itself! – to say “alone” when speaking of two things and one is affirmed while the other is denied. He illustrates this with the following: “The farmer brings only grain [grain alone] and no money.” Here the speaker speaks of two things, denying one (money) and affirming the other (grain). Luther says that this is done because the addition of “allein” (only, alone) makes the “no” of “no money” clear and complete in German. He admits that not including “allein” is possible in such a statement, but that it makes the “no” or “not” less full and clear. So in accordance with German grammar and usage when he translated Romans 3:28 he added the word “allein” to correspond with and make clearer the “not” of “not by works of the Law” [my paraphrase].

There are, of course, some problems with Luther’s approach. First and foremost, Greek grammar and usage is different than German grammar and usage. When translating Scripture that grammar and usage (the Greek) must be taken into account. Surely, the Greeks have an equivalent for the words “alone” and “only”, and the German “allein”. This is a rather common word and, yet, St. Paul did not use it. If Paul truly means what Luther thinks he does then “alone” certainly would have made this clearer and provided much greater emphasis. But he didn’t.

That Paul didn’t include “alone” is very important, and it is strange that Luther would seem to have missed this (the importance of it that is). He stated that “allein” is used when speaking about two things and one has been denied. He says this is done to emphasize what has been denied, to make clearer the “no” or “not”. However, this is not the only thing that the word “allein” does. It also affirms the other to the exclusion of anything else. Let’s use Luther’s example: “The farmer brings only grain and no money.” The word “no” already clearly states that the farmer didn’t bring money. The word “only” emphasizes this point, but it also means that the farmer didn’t bring anything other than grain. Had the word “only” not been included in this statement, it would be possible that there were other things brought by the farmer in addition to grain, while money was still not one of those things. St. Paul said that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” In regards to justification, Paul is speaking of the Law of Moses. Teachers often speak of one part of an issue, but not the issue in it’s entirety – in this case justification. By not including “alone” it is possible that Paul was focusing on a particular point within the broader issue of justification. Since we do not read a particular verse, passage, book, or testament of Scripture in isolation, when we look to James as well as the Gospels and other writings by Paul we see that there is more to justification than just faith versus works of the Law. Had Paul written “alone” in Romans he would have necessarily excluded all other possibilities in addition to the Law and in doing so would have directly contradicted James who said, “You see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith.” In this case though, “works” does not refer to the Law of Moses. James is here referring to the Law of Grace (for example, the Sermon on the Mount).  By not including “alone”, room is given by St. Paul (and the Holy Spirit!) for the works of the Law of Grace. Luther, however, not being inspired of the Holy Spirit decided to add “alone” to Romans 3:28 and pit Paul and James against one another while holding James suspect regarding its canonicity.

In addition to the above, Luther also states:

So much for translating and the nature of language. However, I was not depending upon or following the nature of the languages alone when I inserted the word solum in Romans 3. The text itself, and Saint Paul’s meaning, urgently require and demand it. For in that passage he is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine, namely, that we are justified by faith in Christ without any works of the Law. Paul excludes all works so completely as to say that the works of the Law, though it is God’s law and word, do not aid us in justification. Using Abraham as an example, he argues that Abraham was so justified without works that even the highest work, which had been commanded by God, over and above all others, namely circumcision, did not aid him in justification. Rather, Abraham was justified without circumcision and without any works, but by faith, as he says in Chapter 4: “If Abraham were justified by works, he may boast, but not before God.” So, when all works are so completely rejected — which must mean faith alone justifies — whoever would speak plainly and clearly about this rejection of works will have to say “Faith alone justifies and not works.” The matter itself and the nature of language requires it. [emphasis mine; linked above – “See #4 here”]

He says that the text itself and Paul’s meaning “urgently require and demand it” and that if one is to “speak plainly and clearly” they “will have to say ‘Faith alone'”. This requires looking at the text of Romans in greater depth, which is a whole other post in itself; and, unfortunately, means that our ultimate question – Does the addition of “alone” accurately reflect St. Paul’s intended meaning? – will for the moment have to go unanswered. For now let it suffice to say that if “alone” truly is urgently required and demanded by the text and must be said in order to speak plainly and clearly then Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit would have written it himself.

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Dim and Dimmer

A good challenge for all of us.

That Letter From Elijah

The folks who wrote the Bible could see stars. Sure, there must have been cloudy nights and Mt. Vesuvius erupting and other occasional disruptions, but they didn’t have all night city light glare to muck up the sky.

So when the Apostle Paul sat in jail he could still imagine the brightness of the night sky and write an uplifting letter to one of the Greek churches (click on the picture to enlarge it):


The divisions among Christians are like the garish, wasteful excess of city lights that obscure the stars. Our divisions reflect centuries – centuries – of tightly clutched complaints and arguments; of church corruption and nominal members living no differently from the dying, decaying mess around them.

When Elijah called the devotees of a false god to come up Mt. Carmel and have it out, he also called the rest of Israel – supposedly God’s own people…

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In the previous post I asked Protestants to please consider that Martin Luther called the Epistle of James, which is a divinely inspired writing, an “epistle of straw”. That Luther said this seems to be common knowledge among those who care – Catholic, Protestant, whoever. Often times though what is accepted as common knowledge is not known in its proper context nor is it as simple as we typically think. Since I did not know the context for this little quote from Luther, I decided to do a quick internet search. Over at The Calvinist International there is a post with the quote in context.

In a word St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. (LW 35:362)

The above was stated in Luther’s preface to his translation of the New Testament. In the preface specifically to the epistle, he also says that the author “wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task” and, therefore, “cannot include him among the chief books” (emphasis mine; cherry-picking of quotations follows that used in the article linked above).

Over at Alpha and Omega Ministries, James Swan has a piece explaining the greater historical and textual context of Luther’s statement that James “is really an epistle of straw.” The piece is apologetic in nature. In it Mr. Swan gives a defense of Luther against what he sees as an unjust use of the “epistle of straw” quote by those who scrutinize Luther. I very much appreciate what Mr. Swan has written. Luther made his comment that James was an “epistle of straw” in 1522, five years after posting his 95 theses. This is relatively early in Luther’s protestations since he would die 24 years later. In later editions of his translation of the New Testament this statement was excluded. Luther, himself, was the one to do this. I was glad to hear that Luther made this comment relatively early in his career and seemed to step it back later. However, I do not think that the exclusion of his comment from later editions is a simple case of retraction as Mr. Swan implies. While there were others who questioned the canonicity of James, it was simply not acceptable to treat with such disparity a book that was so widely accepted and had been for so long. Speaking in such a way of a book that many believed to be inspired would only hurt Luther’s cause.

Mr. Swan admits that “Luther does appear to have held lifelong doubts about the canonicity of James,” but says that these were more objectively rooted than in simply having a problem with the content of James. He points to Eusebius and St. Jerome both disputing the authenticity of the book and that even Catholic contemporaries of Luther such as Erasmus and Cardinal Cajetan questioned its canonicity. He goes so far as to say that a Catholic taking issue with Luther is hypocritical because of his shared opinion with Erasmus and Cajetan, and that the canon of Scripture for the Catholic Church was not infallibly decreed until the Council of Trent (see Swan’s quotation from the New Catholic Encyclopedia). The problem here is that it isn’t the question of canonicity with which there is an issue. It’s a question of Luther’s attitude toward the book. He also apparently called into question the canonicity of Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelations. Did he speak of them in the same manner as he did James? Did he call them straw? If he didn’t treat these other books in the same way as he did James then it begs the question: Why James? It’s one thing to believe a book is not canonical; it is another to say it is “straw”, “has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it,” and that the author was “unequaled to the task.” (Mr. Swan also says that Luther’s praise of the book should not be ignored; however, I would respond that his praises do not outweigh such criticism as found here).

Contra Swan, it appears that Luther’s primary problem with James is not its questioned canonicity by some such as St. Jerome, or its not being authored by either apostle with the name “James” (which is wholly irrelevant), but rather its content. It is undeniable that Luther did find the content of James problematic, not in regards to Paul’s doctrine, but for Luther’s doctrine. Luther said that he would give his doctor’s beret to anyone who could reconcile Paul and James. If the reconciliation of Paul (rather Luther’s interpretation of Paul) and James was a great enough feat to earn Luther’s own doctor’s beret then it must have truly been a problem for Luther. Though Luther apparently reconciled the two for himself, can we really downplay the issue of content in James when this posed such a problem for Luther? This especially when it is Luther who created this problem for himself by his novel understanding of justification through faith alone, a problem compounded Scripturally when he added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28.

One must also wonder though if the content of the Epistle of James was not only a problem doctrinally for Luther, but also morally. Luther does praise the moral value of James and its “vigorously [promulgating] the law of God.” However, Luther seemed to have suffered from scrupulosity before his rejection of the true faith (see Gerald R. McDermott’s The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide for Luther’s struggles as a monk). At The Calvinist International linked above, Jordan Ballor wonders about this pointing to Luther’s “big mouth” and James’s rebuke of those with “wagging tongues.” Mr. Ballor gives an excerpt from James 3 as an example of James’s rebuke. In this passage James says to his audience that not many of them should become teachers because they “will be judged more strictly.” He then goes on to speak of falling short in speech, how the tongue can be a small fire setting “a huge forest ablaze,” and can “[defile] the whole body.” Even more challenging than James 3 is James 1:26 – “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain.” Luther certainly took pride is his being a doctor of Holy Scripture and vigorously defended his doctrine and, therefore, his religion. Considering his struggles with scrupulosity and the bitterness of his tongue these words from James would certainly be difficult to hear. For a small sample of Luther’s bitter tongue there are these little gems. (Actually, some of them are pretty good, but in charity I cannot use them).

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Martin Luther

Over at First Things a 2014 post by Timothy George on Reformation Day has been reposted. Understandably, I, being a Catholic, had completely forgotten that such a day exists. In his post Mr. George states: 

It was not Luther’s intention to divide the Church, much less to start a brand new church. To the end of his life, he considered himself to be a faithful and obedient servant of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Though Luther renounced his monastic vows and married a former nun, Katarina von Bora, he never forgot that he had received a doctorate in Holy Scripture. His vocation was to teach the written Word of God and to point men and women to the Lord of Scripture, Jesus Christ.

Leaving aside the fact that Luther’s actions did divide the Church (you will know a tree by its fruits and the path to hell is paved with good intentions), there is something else stated here that is laughable: “he never forgot that he had received a doctorate in Holy Scripture. His vocation was to teach the written Word of God.” WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A MAN WHO ADDED A WORD TO SCRIPTURE AND CALLED ONE OF THE INSPIRED WRITINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT STRAW!!!!! Please my Protestant brethren, before you go singing the praises of Luther let that sink in.

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