Friday, March 31, 2017

When America Saved Europe From Islam

"Thomas Jefferson fought back, and ended Moslem piracy in Europe. It was the first time America saved Europe militarily, and no one seems to remember, least of all the Europeans. Although our people don’t remember, they do speak about it whenever they sing or hear the first words of the Marine Corps Anthem: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we will fight our country’s battles on the land and on the sea….” Why don’t we teach our children about the wars these words refer to?"

Patrick Michael Murphy, “How the West Was Lost,” p.203

Sola Scriptura And Divisions

  • Defining the issues:
           -Although this article is dedicated primarily to the Roman Catholic apologists who maintain that there are 33,000 (or more) Protestant denominations (in order to disqualify the principle of Sola Scriptura), the contents that are about to be presented hold true for all who tout the same argument around.  
           -There is a great deal of controversy between  the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and all of the Protestant churches due to the issue of "private interpretation". Private interpretation of Scripture is the concept of a person using his or her reasoning to make a judgment on a particular passage from the Bible. It is a more individualistic approach to determining what Scripture means.
           -Hierarchical structured churches always insist that we absolutely must have their leaders "infallibly interpret" the Scriptures in order to preserve absolute truth in doctrinal matters and thus aid in the prevention of division within the entire congregational body.
           -The claim that we need an infallible interpreter of Scripture is essentially the same as saying that the Bible is too difficult for the common people to understand. In other words, both arguments use the same logic in there premises in order to reach their conclusions. If Scripture is simple enough for us to comprehend without the need of an infallible interpreter, then why would we even need one in the first place?   
           -Consequently, the Church of Rome claims that Christians who rely on the Bible alone for the development of doctrine (instead of its Magisterium) will inevitably end up in a state of hopeless doctrinal confusion. In summary, one of the most common arguments raised against Sola Scriptura is that it unavoidably results in irreconcilable doctrinal contradictions and thus points to the need of an infallible teaching authority.
  • Scripture Is A Perspicuous Guide And Is Therefore In Need Of No Infallible Interpreter:
           -Scripture repeatedly implies and assures that its readers can understand its message (i.e. Deuteronomy 29:29; 2 Kings 22:8-13; Psalm 19:7-9; 119:97-105; 130; Matthew 22:29-32; Luke 1:1-4; 10:25-28; Acts 17:11-12; Ephesians 3:3-5; 2 Corinthians 1:13; 3:15-16; Colossians 4:16; 2 Peter 1:16-21; 2 Timothy 3:15).
           -With the exception of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, all of the New Testament epistles were written to Christians in general: Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philemon 1:1-2; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; James 1:1-2; Revelation 1:3-4.
           -Calls to read and obey Scripture demonstrates that we can understand it (Joshua 1:7-8; 23:6; 1 Kings 2:3-4; Matthew 12:3; 5; 19:4; 21:16; 42; 22:31; Luke 10:26; John 10:34; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 1 Timothy 4:13).
           -The common people understood the teachings of Jesus Christ without an "infallible interpreter" (i.e. Matthew 11:25; 13:51; Mark 12:37). In other words, there was never an infallible interpreter sitting next to Jesus when He was teaching in front of the crowds. Neither do we see one in any of the sermons documented in the Book of Acts. Furthermore, the New Testament epistles to the churches of the first century say nothing about submission to an alleged infallible teaching authority who makes spiritual teachings simple enough for the common people to understand.
           -Three relevant observations that we can gather from the New Testament against the belief that it is too difficult for us to understand is that Jesus Christ did not always explain His parables to those who were confused by His teachings, He made individuals interpret the Scriptures for themselves, and held them accountable when they interpreted them incorrectly. He neither demanded the people who heard His teachings to blindly submit to Him nor instructed His disciples to act in such a manner. Jesus usually attracted the poor, uneducated, and the common people. Anyone with a humble and prayerful heart can understand what God desires for mankind (salvation), apart from a complex church hierarchy.
  • Addressing Common Misrepresentations Of Sola Scriptura:
           -"What use is an infallible book without an infallible interpreter?":
               *The above question can be likened to asking, "What is the use of an infallible God without an infallible human mind to understand Him?" He does not expect us to understand Him infallibly because our minds are finite. However, we can have more than sufficient certainty behind the meaning of Scripture. Now, I am certainly not saying that we can interpret the Scriptures in any random way that we desire. We have the obligation to examine Scripture in its proper context, compare our interpretations of particular Scripture passages to what other passages say about the same topic, use our common sense, and use study aids such as defining the proper meaning of specific Hebrew/Greek words and commentaries. 
           -"By What Authority Do You Interpret Scripture?":
              *We might as well retort by asking, "By what authority do you obey Ten Commandments?" These things are completely irrelevant to the issue of our own "personal authority", but rather, are things God is expecting us to do. He wants us to obey Him. This in no way implies that no additional church authorities besides the Bible exist. They exist, but are subject to the infallible authority of Scripture. We do not need "special authority" to search the Scriptures and discern God's will.  
           -Scripture is clear enough for readers to at least get the basic message of the gospel. The misusing of Scripture is not the same as the insufficiency of Scripture.
  • Religious Division:
           -The cause of religious division among churches is not the fault or difficulty level of reading the Bible, but rather, is a result of our own inherent sinful desires. In other words, religious division forms as a result of people refusing to accept the clear teachings of Scripture and an intentional lack of devotional study of the sacred Christian texts. It is not the fault of the Bible that people misinterpret it, but their own.
           -The mere fact that divisions exist within the Protestant body neither proves that the Bible is too hard to understand nor that the principle of Sola Scriptura is false. Furthermore, the fact that divisions exist within Protestantism does not logically prove that the Church of Rome has the solution to the problems. Refuting an opponent's argument(s) in a debate does not guarantee the accuracy of your own. Both sides can be wrong.          
           -While it is true that contentions within the Body of Christ over significant doctrinal issues are unfortunate and painful, they may sometimes be necessary. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19). We are called to publicly expose false brethren and separate ourselves from those who propagate heretical doctrines (Galatians 2:4; Romans 16:17). Although Jesus Christ emphasized spiritual unity (John 17), He never supported organizational unity. In other words, it is wrong to merely set aside our doctrinal differences for the sake of unity because truth cannot be mixed with error. So true conservative Christians must separate themselves from the liberals and other apostates in order to preserve doctrinal purity. Unity does not guarantee truth or preservation of the truths revealed in the gospel.
        -The New Testament reveals to us that churches had significant divisions over doctrinal and moral issues such as the ones located in the ancient cities of Corinth, Galatia, and Colosse. These first century churches had the same problems that exist in our local congregations today. Instead of simply appealing to the allegedly infallible Papal authority of the Apostle Peter for a short, clear, inspired declaration to settle matters once for all, Paul reasoned directly from the Scriptures with these divided churches. Not only did he reason in such a manner, but he also gave them supplemental scriptural material to furnish the discerning ability of the entire church for future generations. If we stay within the boundaries of God's wisdom as revealed through the testimony of Holy Scripture, then we will have no reason to be bitterly divided against each other (1 Corinthians 4:6).        
      -If individual Christians worshiped together, assembled to peacefully resolve disputes on doctrine, studied Scripture more often, and stopped taking it out of context, then religious division on significant doctrinal matters would gradually fade away. There would finally be unity in the Truth. But people need to stop looking at Scripture through the lenses of their church traditions, and let themselves see the truth of Scripture through the lenses of their own reason. People need to seek and discover the truth for themselves because it will set them free from the bondage of sin (John 8:32). 
      -According to Scripture, Christians are permitted to uphold their own views on minor-doctrinal issues (i.e. Romans 14:1-12). It implicitly distinguishes between essential and non-essential doctrines.
  • Unity Does Not Prove Truth:
         -Even if we had all agreed to accept Papal authority, that would only eliminate doctrinal conflict in a circular, tautological sense. But that would still not reveal to us whether we should be in communion with the Roman Bishop (i.e. whether we are right or wrong in our decision making). It still does not build a case for Roman Catholicism.
  • A Hypocritical Double-Standard:
         -While it is true that there are divisions within Protestantism, Roman Catholics who raise this argument against Sola Scriptura fall into the category of being hypocritical because they have just as many, if not more, divisions within the realms of their own denomination, even though they scarcely choose to recognize that fact.
       -While the Church of Rome may appear to be fairly unified because of it is structured and organized manner under the headship of a worldly king called the pope, the unity in which Catholics appeal to is simply a delusion. It is simply a trick to deceive those who only look at things from a very superficial perspective, for there are significant theological differences among the Catholic laity, priests, scholars, theologians, and bishops. There are all sorts of societies, movements, and orders forming within the chambers of Roman Catholicism. Consider, for example, the existence of liberal and conservative Catholics. 
         -Many individual Roman Catholics are unlearned in regards to the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The vast majority flatly contradict many of the official teachings of the Catholic Church on issues such as abortion, artificial birth control, the death penalty, homosexuality, on whether priests should be married, letting females join the priesthood, stem-cell research, and much more. Roman Catholics are in a state of bitter division over additional issues such as creation/evolution, the material sufficiency of Scripture, charismatic occurrences, whether practicing Jews and Muslims can be saved without conversion, and whether Mary is the co-redemptrix. Catholic theologians are even divided over the interpretation of Vatican II documents! Although all of these significant divisions are hidden under the umbrella of Rome, the dramatic differences still exist and are still very severe in nature.        
         -In reality, comparing the unity of the Roman Catholic Church to Protestantism as a whole is like comparing apples to oranges. Catholicism is a group that is lead by an individual leader and occupies the same title all throughout its domain ("Roman Catholic"), whereas Protestantism is made up of individual churches with many different labels. Within Protestant Christianity, there is a general consensus as to what constitutes the essential doctrines of Christianity. Though it may shock some to hear this, there is a great sense of spiritual unity amongst all genuine Christians across all different denominations within the realm of orthodoxy. All genuine Christians accept the fundamental doctrines of the faith. We all have a sense of genuine love and fellowship toward each other. We are not lost and always contradicting each other, as Roman Catholic apologists foolishly claim. It is true that doctrinal differences exist within Protestantism, with some being heretical. Every church group has its own set of divisions.
         -If Sola Scriptura cannot be the correct method of determining truth because of religious division among churches who claim to use this method, then the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches' method of using tradition to determine truth must also be invalidated because they contradict each other, as well. 
  • Refuting The 30,000 Protestant Denominations Myth:
         -This argument is derived off a complete misinterpretation of the World Christian Encyclopedia (David A. Barrett; Oxford University Press, 1982).
         -Out of the cited figure of 20,780 denominations, only 8,196 are labeled as being Protestant. According to Barrett's figure, 223 Roman Catholic denominations exist.
         -The figure of 8,000 denominations is pretty misleading because David A. Barrett separates "distinct denominations" according to their jurisdiction, rather than differing doctrinal practices and beliefs. In reality, these individual "denominations" only have slightly different beliefs. 
         -Then, Barrett breaks the Protestant section down into 21 major traditions, and the Church of Rome is subdivided into 16 different traditions. The word "denomination" in this context is best defined to mean "tradition".
         -Interestingly, the National Catholic Register agrees with me when I say that the 33,000 Protestant denominations argument is utterly false. 
         -In conclusion, the argument that Sola Scriptura does not work because it results in a endless cycle of confusion is based on a completely unfair case of intentional intellectual dishonesty.  
  • An Argument That Backfires:
          -If the Roman Catholic apologist still wants to use this totally false argument against the biblical principle of Sola Scriptura, then we can point out the fact that the same Word Christian Encyclopedia ranks Roman Catholicism as being the fifth worst when persecuting martyrs (total of: 4,951,000):

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Gnosticism And The Gnostic Jesus

                                                     By Douglas Groothuis

From the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1990, page 8. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

Popular opinion often comes from obscure sources. Many conceptions about Jesus now current and credible in New Age circles are rooted in a movement of spiritual protest which, until recently, was the concern only of the specialized scholar or the occultist. This ancient movement -- Gnosticism -- provides much of the form and color for the New Age portrait of Jesus as the illumined Illuminator: one who serves as a cosmic catalyst for others' awakening.

Many essentially Gnostic notions received wide attention through the sagacious persona of the recently deceased Joseph Campbell in the television series and best-selling book, The Power of Myth. For example, in discussing the idea that "God was in Christ," Campbell affirmed that "the basic Gnostic and Buddhist idea is that that is true of you and me as well." Jesus is an enlightened example who "realized in himself that he and what he called the Father were one, and he lived out of that knowledge of the Christhood of his nature." According to Campbell, anyone can likewise live out his or her Christ nature.[1]

Gnosticism has come to mean just about anything. Calling someone a Gnostic can make the person either blush, beam, or fume. Whether used as an epithet for heresy or spiritual snobbery, or as a compliment for spiritual knowledge and esotericism, Gnosticism remains a cornucopia of controversy.

This is doubly so when Gnosticism is brought into a discussion of Jesus of Nazareth. Begin to speak of "Christian Gnostics" and some will exclaim, "No way! That is a contradiction in terms. Heresy is not orthodoxy." Others will affirm, "No contradiction. Orthodoxy is the heresy. The Gnostics were edged out of mainstream Christianity for political purposes by the end of the third century." Speak of the Gnostic Christ or the Gnostic gospels, and an ancient debate is moved to the theological front burner.

Gnosticism as a philosophy refers to a related body of teachings that stress the acquisition of "gnosis," or inner knowledge. The knowledge sought is not strictly intellectual, but mystical; not merely a detached knowledge of or about something, but a knowing by acquaintance or participation. This gnosis is the inner and esoteric mystical knowledge of ultimate reality. It discloses the spark of divinity within, thought to be obscured by ignorance, convention, and mere exoteric religiosity.

This knowledge is not considered to be the possession of the masses but of the Gnostics, the Knowers, who are privy to its benefits. While the orthodox "many" exult in the exoteric religious trappings which stress dogmatic belief and prescribed behavior, the Gnostic "few" pierce through the surface to the esoteric spiritual knowledge of God. The Gnostics claim the Orthodox mistake the shell for the core; the Orthodox claim the Gnostics dive past the true core into a nonexistent one of their own esoteric invention.

To adjudicate this ancient acrimony requires that we examine Gnosticism's perennial allure, expose its philosophical foundations, size up its historical claims, and square off the Gnostic Jesus with the figure who sustains the New Testament.



Glossary

aeons: Emanations of Being from the unknowable, ultimate metaphysical principle or pleroma (see pleroma).

Apostolic rule of faith: The essential teachings of the apostles that served as the authoritative standard for orthodox doctrine before the canonization of the New Testament.

Demiurge: According to the Gnostics (as opposed to Plato and others who had a more positive assessment), an inferior deity who ignorantly and incompetently fashioned the debased physical world.

esotericism: The teaching that spiritual liberation is found in a secret or hidden knowledge (sometimes called gnosis) not available in traditional orthodoxy or exotericism.

exotericism: A pejorative term used by esotericists to describe the mere outer or popular understanding of spiritual truth which is supposedly inferior to the esoteric essence.

gnosis: The Greek word for "knowledge" used by the Gnostics to mean knowledge gained not through intellectual discovery but through personal experience or acquaintance which initiates one into esoteric mysteries. The experience of gnosis reveals to the initiated the divine spark within. "Gnosis" has a very different meaning in the New Testament which excludes esotericism and self-deification.

Pleroma: The Greek word for "fulness" used by the Gnostics to mean the highest principle of Being where dwells the unknown and unknowable God. Used in the New Testament to refer to "fulness in Christ" (Col. 2:10) who is the known revelation of God in the flesh.



MODERN GNOSTICISM

Gnosticism is experiencing something of a revival, despite its status within church history as a vanquished Christian heresy. The magazine Gnosis, which bills itself as a "journal of western inner traditions," began publication in 1985 with a circulation of 2,500. As of September 1990, it sported a circulation of 11,000. Gnosis regularly runs articles on Gnosticism and Gnostic themes such as "Valentinus: A Gnostic for All Seasons."

Some have created institutional forms of this ancient religion. In Palo Alto, California, priestess Bishop Rosamonde Miller officiates the weekly gatherings of Ecclesia Gnostica Myteriorum (Church of Gnostic Mysteries), as she has done for the last eleven years. The chapel holds forty to sixty participants each Sunday and includes Gnostic readings in its liturgy. Miller says she knows of twelve organizationally unrelated Gnostic churches throughout the world.[2] Stephan Hoeller, a frequent contributor to Gnosis, who since 1967 has been a bishop of Ecclesia Gnostica in Los Angeles, notes that "Gnostic churches...have sprung up in recent years in increasing numbers."[3] He refers to an established tradition of "wandering bishops" who retain allegiance to the symbolic and ritual form of orthodox Christianity while reinterpreting its essential content.[4]

Of course, these exotic-sounding enclaves of the esoteric are minuscule when compared to historic Christian denominations. But the real challenge of Gnosticism is not so much organizational as intellectual. Gnosticism in its various forms has often appealed to the alienated intellectuals who yearn for spiritual experience outside the bounds of the ordinary.

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, a constant source of inspiration for the New Age, did much to introduce Gnosticism to the modern world by viewing it as a kind of proto-depth psychology, a key to psychological interpretation. According to Stephan Hoeller, author of The Gnostic Jung, "it was Jung's contention that Christianity and Western culture have suffered grievously because of the repression of the Gnostic approach to religion, and it was his hope that in time this approach would be reincorporated in our culture, our Western spirituality."[5]

In his Psychological Types, Jung praised "the intellectual content of Gnosis" as "vastly superior" to the orthodox church. He also affirmed that, "in light of our present mental development [Gnosticism] has not lost but considerably gained in value."[6]

A variety of esoteric groups have roots in Gnostic soil. Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, who founded Theosophy in 1875, viewed the Gnostics as precursors of modern occult movements and hailed them for preserving an inner teaching lost to orthodoxy. Theosophy and its various spin-offs -- such as Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophy, Alice Bailey's Arcane School, Guy and Edna Ballard's I Am movement, and Elizabeth Clare Prophet's Church Universal and Triumphant -- all draw water from this same well; so do various other esoteric groups, such as the Rosicrucians. These groups share an emphasis on esoteric teaching, the hidden divinity of humanity, and contact with nonmaterial higher beings called masters or adepts.

A four-part documentary called "The Gnostics" was released in mid-1989 and shown in one-day screenings across the country along with a lecture by the producer. This ambitious series charted the history of Gnosticism through dramatizations and interviews with world-renowned scholars on Gnosticism such as Gilles Quispel, Hans Jonas, and Elaine Pagels.

A review of the series in a New Age-oriented journal noted: "The series takes us to the Nag Hammadi find where we learn the beginnings of the discovery of texts called the Gnostic Gospels that were written around the same time as the gospels of the New Testament but which were purposely left out."[7] The review refers to one of the most sensational and significant archaeological finds of the twentieth century; a discovery seen by some as overthrowing the orthodox view of Jesus and Christianity forever.

GOLD IN THE JAR

In December 1945, while digging for soil to fertilize crops, an Arab peasant named Muhammad 'Ali found a red earthenware jar near Nag Hammadi, a city in upper Egypt. His fear of uncorking an evil spirit or jin was shortly overcome by the hope of finding gold within. What was found has been for hundreds of scholars far more precious than gold. Inside the jar were thirteen leather-bound papyrus books (codices), dating from approximately A.D. 350. Although several of the texts were burned or thrown out, fifty-two texts were eventually recovered through many years of intrigue involving illegal sales, violence, smuggling, and academic rivalry.

Some of the texts were first published singly or in small collections, but the complete collection was not made available in a popular format in English until 1977. It was released as The Nag Hammadi Library and was reissued in revised form in 1988.

Although many of these documents had been referred to and denounced in the writings of early church theologians such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, most of the texts themselves had been thought to be extinct. Now many of them have come to light. As Elaine Pagels put it in her best-selling book, The Gnostic Gospels, "Now for the first time, we have the opportunity to find out about the earliest Christian heresy; for the first time, the heretics can speak for themselves."[8]

Pagels's book, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, arguably did more than any other effort to ingratiate the Gnostics to modern Americans. She made them accessible and even likeable. Her scholarly expertise coupled with her ability to relate an ancient religion to contemporary concerns made for a compelling combination in the minds of many. Her central thesis was simple: Gnosticism should be considered at least as legitimate as orthodox Christianity because the "heresy" was simply a competing strain of early Christianity. Yet, we find that the Nag Hammadi texts present a Jesus at extreme odds with the one found in the Gospels. Before contrasting the Gnostic and biblical renditions of Jesus, however, we need a short briefing on gnosis.

THE GNOSTIC MESSAGE

Gnosticism in general and the Nag Hammadi texts in particular present a spectrum of beliefs, although a central philosophical core is roughly discernible, which Gnosticism scholar Kurt Rudolph calls "the central myth."[9] Gnosticism teaches that something is desperately wrong with the universe and then delineates the means to explain and rectify the situation.

The universe, as presently constituted, is not good, nor was it created by an all-good God. Rather, a lesser god, or demiurge (as he is sometimes called), fashioned the world in ignorance. The Gospel of Philip says that "the world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire."[10] The origin of the demiurge or offending creator is variously explained, but the upshot is that some precosmic disruption in the chain of beings emanating from the unknowable Father-God resulted in the "fall out" of a substandard deity with less than impeccable credentials. The result was a material cosmos soaked with ignorance, pain, decay, and death -- a botched job, to be sure. This deity, nevertheless, despotically demands worship and even pretentiously proclaims his supremacy as the one true God.

This creator-god is not the ultimate reality, but rather a degeneration of the unknown and unknowable fullness of Being (or pleroma). Yet, human beings -- or at least some of them -- are in the position potentially to transcend their imposed limitations, even if the cosmic deck is stacked against them. Locked within the material shell of the human race is the spark of this highest spiritual reality which (as one Gnostic theory held) the inept creator accidently infused into humanity at the creation -- on the order of a drunken jeweler who accidently mixes gold dust into junk metal. Simply put, spirit is good and desirable; matter is evil and detestable.

If this spark is fanned into a flame, it can liberate humans from the maddening matrix of matter and the demands of its obtuse originator. What has devolved from perfection can ultimately evolve back intoperfection through a process of self-discovery.

Into this basic structure enters the idea of Jesus as a Redeemer of those ensconced in materiality. He comes as one descended from the spiritual realm with a message of self-redemption. The body of Gnostic literature, which is wider than the Nag Hammadi texts, presents various views of this Redeemer figure. There are, in fact, differing schools of Gnosticism with differing Christologies. Nevertheless, a basic image emerges.

The Christ comes from the higher levels of intermediary beings (called aeons) not as a sacrifice for sin but as a Revealer, an emissary from error-free environs. He is not the personal agent of the creator-god revealed in the Old Testament. (That metaphysically disheveled deity is what got the universe into such a royal mess in the first place.) Rather, Jesus has descended from a more exalted level to be a catalyst for igniting the gnosis latent within the ignorant. He gives a metaphysical assist to underachieving deities (i.e., humans) rather than granting ethical restoration to God's erring creatures through the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

NAG HAMMADI UNVEILED

By inspecting a few of the Nag Hammadi texts, we encounter Gnosticism in Christian guise: Jesus dispenses gnosis to awaken those trapped in ignorance; the body is a prison, and the spirit alone is good; and salvation comes by discovering the "kingdom of God" within the self.
One of the first Nag Hammadi texts to be extricated out of Egypt and translated into Western tongues was the Gospel of Thomas, comprised of one hundred and fourteen alleged sayings of Jesus. Although scholars do not believe it was actually written by the apostle Thomas, it has received the lion's share of scholarly attention. The sayings of Jesus are given minimal narrative setting, are not thematically arranged, and have a cryptic, epigrammatic bite to them. Although Thomas does not articulate every aspect of a full-blown Gnostic system, some of the teachings attributed to Jesus fit the Gnostic pattern. (Other sayings closely parallel or duplicate material found in the synoptic Gospels.)

The text begins: "These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. And he said, 'Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.'"[11] Already we find the emphasis on secret knowledge (gnosis) as redemptive.

JESUS AND GNOSIS

Unlike the canonical gospels, Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection are not narrated and neither do any of the hundred and fourteen sayings in the Gospel of Thomas directly refer to these events. Thomas's Jesus is a dispenser of wisdom, not the crucified and resurrected Lord.
Jesus speaks of the kingdom: "The kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty."[12]

Other Gnostic documents center on the same theme. In the Book of Thomas the Contender, Jesus speaks "secret words" concerning self-knowledge: "For he who has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time already achieved knowledge of the depth of the all."[13]

Pagels observes that many of the Gnostics "shared certain affinities with contemporary methods of exploring the self through psychotherapeutic techniques."[14] This includes the premises that, first, many people are unconscious of their true condition and, second, "that the psyche bears within itself the potential for liberation or destruction."[15]

Gilles Quispel notes that for Valentinus, a Gnostic teacher of the second century, Christ is "the Paraclete from the Unknown who reveals...the discovery of the Self -- the divine spark within you."[16]

The heart of the human problem for the Gnostic is ignorance, sometimes called "sleep," "intoxication," or "blindness." But Jesus redeems man from such ignorance. Stephan Hoeller says that in the Valentinian system "there is no need whatsoever for guilt, for repentance from so-called sin, neither is there a need for a blind belief in vicarious salvation by way of the death of Jesus."[17] Rather, Jesus is savior in the sense of being a "spiritual maker of wholeness" who cures us of our sickness of ignorance.[18]

Gnosticism on Crucifixion and Resurrection

Those Gnostic texts that discuss Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection display a variety of views that, nevertheless, reveal some common themes.

James is consoled by Jesus in the First Apocalypse of James: "Never have I suffered in any way, nor have I been distressed. And this people has done me no harm."[19]

In the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, Jesus says, "I did not die in reality, but in appearance." Those "in error and blindness....saw me; they punished me. It was another, their father, who drank the gall and vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. I was rejoicing in the height over all....And I was laughing at their ignorance."[20]

John Dart has discerned that the Gnostic stories of Jesus mocking his executors reverse the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke where the soldiers and chief priests (Mark 15:20) mock Jesus.[21] In the biblical Gospels, Jesus does not deride or mock His tormentors; on the contrary, while suffering from the cross, He asks the Father to forgive those who nailed Him there.

In the teaching of Valentinus and followers, the death of Jesus is movingly recounted, yet without the New Testament significance. Although the Gospel of Truth says that "his death is life for many," it views this life-giving in terms of imparting the gnosis, not removing sin.[22] Pagels says that rather than viewing Christ's death as a sacrificial offering to atone for guilt and sin, the Gospel of Truth "sees the crucifixion as the occasion for discovering the divine self within."[23]

A resurrection is enthusiastically affirmed in the Treatise on the Resurrection: "Do not think the resurrection is an illusion. It is no illusion, but it is truth! Indeed, it is more fitting to say that the world is an illusion rather than the resurrection."[24] Yet, the nature of the post-resurrection appearances differs from the biblical accounts. Jesus is disclosed through spiritual visions rather than physical circumstances.

The resurrected Jesus for the Gnostics is the spiritual Revealer who imparts secret wisdom to the selected few. The tone and content of Luke's account of Jesus' resurrection appearances is a great distance from Gnostic accounts: "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3).

By now it should be apparent that the biblical Jesus has little in common with the Gnostic Jesus. He is viewed as a Redeemer in both cases, yet his nature as a Redeemer and the way of redemption diverge at crucial points. We shall now examine some of these points.

DID CHRIST REALLY SUFFER AND DIE?

As in much modern New Age teaching, the Gnostics tended to divide Jesus from the Christ. For Valentinus, Christ descended on Jesus at his baptism and left before his death on the cross. Much of the burden of the treatise Against Heresies, written by the early Christian theologian Irenaeus, was to affirm that Jesus was, is, and always will be, the Christ. He says: "The Gospel...knew no other son of man but Him who was of Mary, who also suffered; and no Christ who flew away from Jesus before the passion; but Him who was born it knew as Jesus Christ the Son of God, and that this same suffered and rose again."[25]

Irenaeus goes on to quote John's affirmation that "Jesus is the Christ" (John 20:31) against the notion that Jesus and Christ were "formed of two different substances," as the Gnostics taught.[26]
In dealing with the idea that Christ did not suffer on the cross for sin, Irenaeus argues that Christ never would have exhorted His disciples to take up the cross if He in fact was not to suffer on it Himself, but fly away from it.[27]

For Irenaeus (a disciple of Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of the apostle John), the suffering of Jesus the Christ was paramount. It was indispensable to the apostolic "rule of faith" that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross to bring salvation to His people. In Irenaeus's mind, there was no divine spark in the human heart to rekindle; self-knowledge was not equal to God-knowledge. Rather, humans were stuck in sin and required a radical rescue operation. Because "it was not possible that the man...who had been destroyed through disobedience, could reform himself," the Son brought salvation by "descending from the Father, becoming incarnate, stooping low, even to death, and consummating the arranged plan of our salvation."[28]

This harmonizes with the words of Polycarp: "Let us then continually persevere in our hope and the earnest of our righteousness, which Jesus Christ, "who bore our sins in His own body on the tree" [1 Pet. 2:24], "who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth" [1 Pet. 2:22], but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him."[29]

Polycarp's mentor, the apostle John, said: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16); and "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (4:10).

The Gnostic Jesus is predominantly a dispenser of cosmic wisdom who discourses on abstruse themes like the spirit's fall into matter. Jesus Christ certainly taught theology, but he dealt with the problem of pain and suffering in a far different way. He suffered for us, rather than escaping the cross or lecturing on the vanity of the body.

THE MATTER OF THE RESURRECTION

For Gnosticism, the inherent problem of humanity derives from the misuse of power by the ignorant creator and the resulting entrapment of souls in matter. The Gnostic Jesus alerts us to this and helps rekindle the divine spark within. In the biblical teaching, the problem is ethical; humans have sinned against a good Creator and are guilty before the throne of the universe.

For Gnosticism, the world is bad, but the soul -- when freed from its entrapments -- is good. For Christianity, the world was created good (Gen. 1), but humans have fallen from innocence and purity through disobedience (Gen. 3; Rom. 3). Yet, the message of the gospel is that the One who can rightly prosecute His creatures as guilty and worthy of punishment has deigned to visit them in the person of His only Son -- not just to write up a firsthand damage report, but to rectify the situation through the Cross and the Resurrection.

In light of these differences, the significance of Jesus' literal and physical resurrection should be clear. For the Gnostic who abhors matter and seeks release from its grim grip, the physical resurrection of Jesus would be anticlimactic, if not absurd. A material resurrection would be counterproductive and only recapitulate the original problem.

Jesus displays a positive attitude toward the Creation throughout the Gospels. In telling His followers not to worry He says, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them" (Matt. 2:26). And, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father" (Matt. 10:29). These and many other examples presuppose the goodness of the material world and declare care by a benevolent Creator. Gnostic dualism is precluded.

If Jesus recommends fasting and physical self-denial on occasion, it is not because matter is unworthy of attention or an incorrigible roadblock to spiritual growth, but because moral and spiritual resolve may be strengthened through periodic abstinence (Matt. 6:16-18; 9:14-15). Jesus fasts in the desert and feasts with His disciples. The created world is good, but the human heart is corrupt and inclines to selfishly misuse a good creation. Therefore, it is sometimes wise to deny what is good without in order to inspect and mortify what is bad within.

If Jesus is the Christ who comes to restore God's creation, He must come as one of its own, a bona fide man. Although Gnostic teachings show some diversity on this subject, they tend toward docetism -- the doctrine that the descent of the Christ was spiritual and not material, despite any appearance of materiality. It was even claimed that Jesus left no footprints behind him when he walked on the sand.

From a biblical view, materiality is not the problem, but disharmony with the Maker. Adam and Eve were both material and in harmony with their good Maker before they succumbed to the Serpent's temptation. Yet, in biblical reasoning, if Jesus is to conquer sin and death for humanity, He must rise from the dead in a physical body, albeit a transformed one. A mere spiritual apparition would mean an abdication of material responsibility. As Norman Geisler has noted, "Humans sin and die in material bodies and they must be redeemed in the same physical bodies. Any other kind of deliverance would be an admission of defeat....If redemption does not restore God's physical creation, including our material bodies, then God's original purpose in creating a material world would be frustrated."[30]

For this reason, at Pentecost the apostle Peter preached Jesus of Nazareth as "a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs" (Acts 2:22) who, though put to death by being nailed to the cross, "God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (v. 24). Peter then quotes Psalm 16:10 which speaks of God not letting His "Holy One see decay" (v. 27). Peter says of David, the psalm's author, "Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave nor did his body see decay. God raised Jesus to life" (vv. 31, 32).

The apostle Paul confesses that if the resurrection of Jesus is not a historical fact, Christianity is a vanity of vanities (1 Cor. 15:14-19). And, while he speaks of Jesus' (and the believers') resurrected condition as a "spiritual body," this does not mean nonphysical or ethereal; rather, it refers to a body totally free from the results of sin and the Fall. It is a spirit-driven body, untouched by any of the entropies of evil. Because Jesus was resurrected bodily, those who know Him as Lord can anticipate their own resurrected bodies.

JESUS, JUDAISM, AND GNOSIS

The Gnostic Jesus is also divided from the Jesus of the Gospels over his relationship to Judaism. For Gnostics, the God of the Old Testament is somewhat of a cosmic clown, neither ultimate nor good. In fact, many Gnostic documents invert the meaning of Old Testament stories in order to ridicule him. For instance, the serpent and Eve are heroic figures who oppose the dull deity in the Hypostasis of the Archons (the Reality of the Rulers) and in On the Origin of the World.[31]

In the Apocryphon of John, Jesus says he encouraged Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,[32] thus putting Jesus diametrically at odds with the meaning of the Genesis account where this action is seen as the essence of sin (Gen. 3). The same anti-Jewish element is found in the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas where the disciples say to Jesus, "Twenty-four prophets spoke in Israel, and all of them spoke in you." To which Jesus replies, "You have omitted the one living in your presence and have spoken (only) of the dead."[33] Jesus thus dismisses all the prophets as merely "dead." For the Gnostics, the Creator must be separated from the Redeemer.

The Jesus found in the New Testament quotes the prophets, claims to fulfill their prophecies, and consistently argues according to the Old Testament revelation, despite the fact that He exudes an authority equal to it. Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt. 5:17). He corrects the Sadducees' misunderstanding of the afterlife by saying, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures..." (Mark 12:24). To other critics He again appeals to the Old Testament: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me" (John 5:39).

When Jesus appeared after His death and burial to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, He commented on their slowness of heart "to believe all that the prophets have spoken." He asked, "Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter into glory?" Luke then records, "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:25-27).

For both Jesus and the Old Testament, the supreme Creator is the Father of all living. They are one and the same.

GOD: UNKNOWABLE OR KNOWABLE?

Many Gnostic treatises speak of the ultimate reality or godhead as beyond conceptual apprehension. Any hope of contacting this reality -- a spark of which is lodged within the Gnostic -- must be filtered through numerous intermediary beings of a lesser stature than the godhead itself.

In the Gospel of the Egyptians, the ultimate reality is said to be the "unrevealable, unmarked, ageless, unproclaimable Father." Three powers are said to emanate from Him: "They are the Father, the Mother, (and) the Son, from the living silence."[34] The text speaks of giving praise to "the great invisible Spirit" who is "the silence of silent silence."[35] In the Sophia of Jesus Christ, Jesus is asked by Matthew, "Lord...teach us the truth," to which Jesus says, "He Who Is is ineffable." Although Jesus seems to indicate that he reveals the ineffable, he says concerning the ultimate, "He is unnameable....he is ever incomprehensible."[36]

At this point the divide between the New Testament and the Gnostic documents couldn't be deeper or wider. Although the biblical Jesus had the pedagogical tact not to proclaim indiscriminately, "I am God! I am God!" the entire contour of His ministry points to Him as God in the flesh. He says, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). The prologue to John's gospel says that "in the beginning was the Word (Logos)" and that "the Word was with God and was God" (John 1:1). John did not say, "In the beginning was the silence of the silent silence" or "the ineffable."

Incarnation means tangible and intelligible revelation from God to humanity. The Creator's truth and life are communicated spiritually through the medium of matter. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The Word that became flesh "has made Him [the Father] known" (v. 19). John's first epistle tells us: "The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard..." (1 John 1:2-3).

Irenaeus encountered these Gnostic invocations of the ineffable. He quotes a Valentinian Gnostic teacher who explained the "primary Tetrad" (fourfold emanation from ultimate reality): "There is a certain Proarch who existed before all things, surpassing all thought, speech, and nomenclature" whom he called "Monotes" (unity). Along with this power there is another power called Hentotes (oneness) who, along with Monotes produced "an intelligent, unbegotten, and undivided being, which beginning language terms 'Monad.'" Another entity called Hen (One) rounds out the primal union.[37] Irenaeus satirically responds with his own suggested Tetrad which also proceeds from "a certain Proarch":
    But along with it there exists a power which I term Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced...a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon.[38]
Irenaeus's point is well taken. If spiritual realities surpass our ability to name or even think about them, then any name under the sun (or within the Tetrad) is just as appropriate -- or inappropriate -- as any other, and we are free to affirm with Irenaeus that "these powers of the Gourd, Utter Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus."[39]

Whenever a Gnostic writer -- ancient or modern -- simultaneously asserts that a spiritual entity or principle is utterly unknown and unnameable and begins to give it names and ascribe to it characteristics, we should hark back to Irenaeus. If something is ineffable, it is necessarily unthinkable, unreportable, and unapproachable.

ANCIENT GNOSTICISM AND MODERN THOUGHT

Modern day Gnostics, Neo-Gnostics, or Gnostic sympathizers should be aware of some Gnostic elements which decidedly clash with modern tastes. First, although Pagels, like Jung, has shown the Gnostics in a positive psychological light, the Gnostic outlook is just as much theological and cosmological as it is psychological. The Gnostic message is all of a piece, and the psychology should not be artificially divorced from the overall world view. In other words, Gnosticism should not be reduced to psychology -- as if we know better what a Basilides or a Valentinus really meant than they did.

The Gnostic documents do not present their system as a crypto-psychology (with various cosmic forces representing psychic functions), but as a religious and theological explanation of the origin and operation of the universe. Those who want to adopt consistently Gnostic attitudes and assumptions should keep in mind what the Gnostic texts -- to which they appeal for authority and credibility -- actually say.

Second, the Gnostic rejection of matter as illusory, evil, or, at most, second-best, is at odds with many New Age sentiments regarding the value of nature and the need for an ecological awareness and ethic. Trying to find an ecological concern in the Gnostic corpus is on the order of harvesting wheat in Antarctica. For the Gnostics, as Gnostic scholar Pheme Perkins puts it, "most of the cosmos that we know is a carefully constructed plot to keep humanity from returning to its true divine home."[40]

Third, Pagels and others to the contrary, the Gnostic attitude toward women was not proto-feminist. Gnostic groups did sometimes allow for women's participation in religious activities and several of the emanational beings were seen as feminine. Nevertheless, even though Ms. Magazine gave The Gnostic Gospels a glowing review[41], women fare far worse in Gnosticism than many think. The concluding saying from the Gospel of Thomas, for example, has less than a feminist ring:
    Simon Peter said to them, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life." Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."[42]
The issue of the role of women in Gnostic theology and community cannot be adequately addressed here, but it should be noted that the Jesus of the Gospels never spoke of making the female into the male -- no doubt because Jesus did not perceive the female to be inferior to the male. Going against social customs, He gathered women followers, and revealed to an outcast Samaritan woman that He was the Messiah -- which scandalized His own disciples (John 4:1-39). The Gospels also record women as the first witnesses to Jesus' resurrection (Matt. 28:1-10) -- and this in a society where women were not considered qualified to be legal witnesses.

Fourth, despite an emphasis on reincarnation, several Gnostic documents speak of the damnation of those who are incorrigibly non-Gnostic[43], particularly apostates from Gnostic groups.[44] If one chafes at the Jesus of the Gospels warning of "eternal destruction," chafings are likewise readily available from Gnostic doomsayers.

Concerning the Gnostic-Orthodox controversy, biblical scholar F. F. Bruce is so bold as to say that "there is no reason why the student of the conflict should shrink from making a value judgment: the Gnostic schools lost because they deserved to lose."[45] The Gnostics lost once, but do they deserve to lose again? We will seek to answer this in Part Two as we consider the historic reliability of the Gnostic (Nag Hammadi) texts versus that of the New Testament.

NOTES

1 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, ed. Betty Sue Flowers (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 210.
2 Don Lattin, "Rediscovery of Gnostic Christianity," San Francisco Chronicle, 1 April 1989, A-4-5.
3 Stephan A. Hoeller, "Wandering Bishops," Gnosis, Summer 1989, 24.
Ibid.
5 "The Gnostic Jung: An Interview with Stephan Hoeller," The Quest, Summer 1989, 85.
6 C. G. Jung, Psychological Types (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 11.
7 "Gnosticism," Critique, June-Sept. 1989, 66.
8 Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979), xxxv.
9 Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987), 57f.
10 James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 154.
11 Robinson, 126.
12 F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 112-13.
13 Bentley Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1987), 403.
14 Pagels, 124.
15 Ibid., 126.
16 Christopher Farmer, "An Interview with Gilles Quispel," Gnosis, Summer 1989, 28.
17 Stephan A. Hoeller, "Valentinus: A Gnostic for All Seasons," Gnosis, Fall/Winter 1985, 24.
18 Ibid., 25.
19 Robinson, 265.
20 Ibid., 365.
21 John Dart, The Jesus of History and Heresy (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 97.
22 Robinson, 41.
23 Pagels, 95.
24 Robinson, 56.
25 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.16.5.
26 Ibid.
27 Ibid., 3.18.5.
28 Ibid., 3.18.2.
29 "The Epistle of Polycarp," ch. 8, in The Apostolic Fathers, ed. A. Cleveland Coxe (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 35.
30 Norman L. Geisler, "I Believe...In the Resurrection of the Flesh," Christian Research Journal, Summer 1989, 21-22.
31 See Dart, 60-74.
32 Robinson, 117.
33 Ibid., 132.
34 Ibid., 209.
35 Ibid., 210.
36 Ibid., 224-25.
37 Irenaeus, 1.11.3.
38 Ibid., 1.11.4.
39 Ibid.
40 Pheme Perkins, "Popularizing the Past," Commonweal, November 1979, 634.
41 Kenneth Pitchford, "The Good News About God," Ms. Magazine, April 1980, 32-35.
42 Robinson, 138.
43 See The Book of Thomas the Contender, in Robinson, 205.
44 See Layton, 17.
45 F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 277.


End of document, CRJ0040A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Gnosticism And The Gnostic Jesus"
release A, March 21, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.
Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Modern Society Downfall

Image result for we live in a society where people are more offended by swear words than they are by famine, evironmental destruction , and warefare


Refuting The Atheistic/Naturalistic "God Of The Gaps" Argument


  • Atheists and naturalists define the existence of a deity as merely being an explanation for things science has not yet answered. In other words, they commonly lay the charge against theists that they are assuming without proof the necessity of God's existence in all areas that science alone has not been able to explain. But does the "God of the gaps" argument hold any sort of validity under scrutiny?
  • Christians are not pointing to the existence of a deity to seal up any sort of missing or incomplete scientific information. In other words, we are not simply saying, "Oh, God did it." Neither are we making arguments based on mere ignorance.
  • When we develop arguments in favor of the existence of God, we are making inferences from the best observations gathered by science and from the principles of elementary logic to substantiate our beliefs. In the end, all of our collected evidences point to the existence of a external, much greater reality. These logical proofs for the existence of God point beyond the scope of the natural world.   
  • The validity of each logical premise in these arguments is based on the validity of each scientific or logical fact. For instance, the universe does indeed have a fine tuning and a first cause. These many theistic arguments do not simply appeal to God as a means to provide an explanation, but rather, are logical deductions that are unpacked to get there intended point across.
  • If the premises of such arguments are true, then their conclusions automatically follow. This is true, regardless of how people feel or react to the validity of the presented deductive arguments. 
  • It is very illogical to completely deny the existence of a transcendent, supernatural realm when you do not have any evidence to base your beliefs on. A true scientist must always be willing to admit to the possibility of anything, for they are supposed to be dedicated to seeking answers. They are supposed to be all about "evidence". Atheistic scientists are indeed being very biased. They are raising a double standard (they cannot in any way disprove the existence of external deity). Atheistic scientists are thus poorly doing their job.  
  • In my opinion, the arguments presented for the existence of God are by far stronger than any possible negations or anti-theistic arguments. 

Refuting Atheism: "Who Created God? Where Did God Come From?"


  • A very common question raised by atheists in response to logical theistic arguments for the existence of God is, "If God is the creator of the universe, then who created God? Where did He come from?" So let's provide them with a concrete answer.
  • Quite simply, the response to this question is that God has no beginning or end. In other words, He is eternal. We know beyond any shadow of a doubt that something cannot create itself from nothing. It is impossible for nothing to create something.
  • Skeptics may object to this response by claiming that the universe itself is eternal. In other words, they try to remove God from the equation by substituting Him with matter, time, and space as being infinite. However, you cannot reach infinity by using finite instances or materials. In other words, it is impossible to have an infinite number of finite things. So the universe cannot be in itself eternal because it consists of finite particles. Hence, there must be an infinite outside Source, that is, an all-knowing and all-powerful Creator who has existed for all eternity.
  • See these articles:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Eucharist: Paul’s Teaching In 1st Corinthians

Question: St Paul teaches the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He states that the cup of blessing is the participation in the blood of Christ and the bread we break is the participation in the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:16). What must the cup and the bread be to make possible this participation in the blood and body of Christ? The most obvious and logical answer is that the bread and cup of wine must really be the body and blood of Christ. St Paul also said that whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord; and any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself (See 1 Corinthians 11:27, 29). How can eating mere bread and wine unworthily be so serious? Paul’s comments make sense only if bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ.

Answer: It is important to read these two passages in their entirety (see Appendix) so that we may understand Paul’s words in their context.

In chapter 10, Paul corrects the behaviour of some Christians in Corinth who had been participating in pagan temple banquets (8:10). He demonstrates that these social gatherings had a profound religious significance. He appeals, first of all, to the Eucharist, reminding them that partaking of the bread and wine signified their communion (or sharing) in Christ’s body and blood. Moreover, their sharing of the one life-source produces a unity among them; they are one bread, one body. He then gives a further illustration from the sacrifices offered by the Israelites. The victim was divided between God (represented by the altar) and the person who offered it (Leviticus 3 and 7); this sharing was understood to create a bond between them. In the same way, taking part in the pagan temple banquets created a “common-union” between the pagans and the demons they unwittingly worshipped. Hence Christians should not take part in those pagan feasts; otherwise they would be “participants with demons”!

The communion between the Israelites and God was true. That does not mean that the victim was transubstantiated, does it? Similarly the communion of the pagans with demons was also real, and yet there is no suggestion there was a “change in substance” of their offerings. Even so, there need not be a change in substance of the bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ for the communion of Christians with their Saviour and with one another to be genuine and real.

During the Lord’s Supper, we “break the bread” and we partake of “one loaf” (10:16, 17) -- and not of a human body, as Catholic theology would have it. Your conclusion that the eucharistic elements must “really” be the body and blood of Christ is neither obvious nor logical; rather you import the idea of transubstantion which is completely foreign to the context.

In 1 Corinthians 11, the apostle deals with a different problem. He rebukes the Corinthians for their selfish and inconsiderate conduct during their church meetings. “When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (11:20, 21).

This sheds light on what Paul means when he says that some were eating and drinking “without recognizing (discerning) the body of the Lord” (10:29). Their problem was not a failure to understand that the bread and wine represented the body and blood of Christ. Rather, they failed to understand and respect the unity of all Christians in the church, the body of Christ. A Catholic commentary concurs: “discerning the body: This is the criterion by which believers must judge themselves. They must evaluate the authenticity of their relationships to other members of the body of Christ, a theme already known to the Corinthians (6:15) and mentioned in 10:17.” So, “not discerning the body” has to do with the unity of the church rather than the nature of the eucharistic elements themselves or transubstantiation. [1]

Some Corinthian Christians were eating in an “unworthy manner” because their selfish behaviour was a contradiction of the unity of the church, the body, brought forth by the bodily sacrifice and the shed blood of Christ represented by the eucharistic bread and cup.

“How can eating mere bread and wine unworthily,” you ask, “be so serious?” Surely you understand why the man who tramples on the nation’s flag is, in fact, dishonouring the country even though the flag is “mere” piece of cloth. Similarly, the profanation of the sacred symbols of Christ’s body and blood is a sin against Christ Himself even though the bread remains “bread” as Paul calls it (v 27).

Appendix
1 Corinthians 10:14-22
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. 18 Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? 19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.

[1] (Murphy-O’Connor J. The First Letter to the Corinthians, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Roland E. Murphy (Bangalore: Theological Publications in India, 2000), p 810).

Some commentators, both Catholic and Christian, interpret 1 Corinthians 11:29 as a reference to the physical body of Christ. Still, it would be difficult to make this verse a proof of transubstantiation since it can be reasonably understood in a different way (i.e. "the church" -- as we have seen). Moreover, even if it is a reference to the physical body of Christ, it is still not a proof of transubstantiation -- why does it have to be understood in the Aristotelian categories of "accidents" and "substance" rather than the usual biblical symbolic language? In other words, "not discerning the body" could be understood "not discerning the body represented by the bread" rather than "not discerning the body in what appears to be bread but which is in substance the physical body of Christ". [back]

Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi
www.justforcatholics.org
Used by permission
Thank you for your partnership in the proclamation of the gospel!
Joseph Mizzi, 2000 - 2014

The Difference Between “Natural Talents” and “Spiritual Gifts”

Following is an excerpt from Cold Case Christianity:

If we accept the premise that an all-powerful God is the creator of all matter and life, it is reasonable to conclude our abilities must ultimately come from the God who created everything in the first place.

Everyone has some sort of innate talent. You may not think that you are particularly talented, but if you take a closer look at yourself, you’ll discover there is some ability you possess in more abundance than others. Sure, there may be someone out there who is even better at this particular ability, but that’s not the point; you also have an increased ability in this area relative to your other skills and aptitudes. Maybe you’re a better athlete than musician, or maybe you’re a better artist than mathematician. You know where you are talented and where you are not. But how do you know if this particular ability you’re considering is a “natural talent” or a “spiritual gift”? Well, maybe we should start by looking at what the Bible has to say about spiritual gifts. Paul describes spiritual gifts in three places:

1 Corinthians 12:7-11
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

Romans 12:3-8
For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Ephesians 4:10-12
He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;

Now some Christians look at these verses and wonder if the “gift list” described here is exhaustive. Are these the only abilities that are actually “spiritual gifts”? Are there any more? Well, considering the fact Paul wrote these three letters to three different groups of believers and did not routinely repeat the same list of gifts, it’s probably safe to assume there are additional spiritual gifts unlisted here. So the question is: “What are the differences between natural talents and spiritual gifts, and how might we recognize a spiritual gift when we see one?” Theologians might disagree with each other when talking about talents and gifts, but there are a number of seemingly obvious differences:

Talents Are Inherited / Gifts Are Received
This is perhaps the biggest and most important difference. Natural talents are those abilities inherited from one’s parents and nurtured in the context of one’s family. We all know people who are talented and come from a long line of family members who share the same talent (consider, for example, the Matthews family in the NFL). If one member of such a family does not possess this shared talent, they typically will say something like, “I didn’t get the (insert talent here) gene”. Natural talents are just that: “natural”! They can be attributed to the natural genetic material existing within all of us, passed down from generation to generation. Spiritual gifts, on the other hand, come directly from the Spirit of God; that’s why they are called “gifts” in the first place! The “Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” Natural talents are imparted at our natural birth; spiritual gifts are given when we are born again.

Talents Are Possessed by the Saved and Unsaved / Gifts Are Possessed by the Saved
Everyone, whether they are a believer or a non-believer, has some sort of talent, but only believers have spiritual gifts. The Spirit of God resides in each and every believer, and “God has allotted to each a measure of faith,” and an ability transcending our natural talents. Because the Spirit of God is the source for spiritual gifts, we shouldn’t be surprised those who have God’s Spirit residing in them (those who are saved), would have more than natural talent; believers also have gifts of the Spirit:

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Talents Are Developed and Expected / Gifts Are Matured and Surprising
Let’s say you are a talented leader and you then become a Christian. If God decides to use you in some role of leadership, you just may find your talent is greatly multiplied when God also gives you the spiritual gift of leadership. You may now discover your leadership skills are above and beyond anything you were capable of doing prior to being saved. God has a tendency to surprise us in this way. We can all develop our natural talents with hard work and perseverance; we practice and train and along the way we can achieve the expected results. Spiritual gifts, on the other hand, are increased as we mature in our relationship with God:

Ephesians 4:14-16
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

When we have been gifted by God to accomplish something, we should expect the unexpected. As we mature in our relationship with God, he will surprise us by gifting us beyond our natural talent.

Talents Can Be Used Selfishly / Gifts Are Used to Serve God’s Purposes
The Bible clearly tells us that spiritual gifts are given to us for a specific reason. While we may find ourselves using our natural talent to serve our own selfish interests and desires, spiritual gifts have been given to us by God “for the common good” and to the glory of God; they are given to us so we can give them back to God as we serve His purpose of building the family of believers. Spiritual gifts are given to us so all of us can perform “the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ”. That’s why all of us are gifted in some way by God. We’re not supposed to sit and watch the pastor do the work, we are supposed to get out and use the gifts God has given us.

Natural talents are the result of our genetic inheritance and the training resulting from our family environment. They are possessed by both believers and non-believers, and they can be used to serve God or serve ourselves. Spiritual gifts are given to us by the Spirit of God once we have been saved. They blossom as we mature in our faith and they are used to glorify God as we serve others and build the family of God.

Say No To Lust And Adultery

  • Defining The Issues:
          -We live in a society that has been entrenched with sexual sin--from the songs that we hear on the radio, to commercials and shows broadcasted on TV. Forms of sexual promiscuity can be found just about anywhere in society these days. Why is sexual temptation such a big deal? Why is lust, fornication, and adultery morally wrong? What measures can we as Christians take to prevent ourselves and others from falling into a state of sexual temptation?
  • A Straightforward Confrontation: 
          -Lust for another person is clearly based on selfish motives, for we cannot be made into the "property". It gives men the totally wrong implication that woman are merely "baby making machines". Females are not simply "tools" that are used for the sake of self-pleasure. Not only is it wrong to deny human dignity, but engaging in sexual activity with random people reduces our nature to being on the same level as the wild animals. If we were truly programmed to function on the basis of mere instinct, like animals do, then we would have no recognition for morals. Neither would it be possible for us to have personal values. But we do have such traits due to our advanced intellect, reasoning capacities, and free will.
          -Marriage is supposed to be the life-long, romantic commitment and companionship to a partner of the opposite sex. Adultery is wrong for obvious reasons: it is lying and unfair. The lives of many people and long-term relationships have come to a tragic end simply because of a single act of adultery. So matters like these are not something to take lightly.
          -If fornication and adultery are morally permissible, then why even bother with getting married in the first place?
          -Pornography is very addictive. In other words, the brains of people who continually watch it end up getting stimulated to the point that they end up getting engrossed in the films. As a result, the brains of the people involved must watch the same films repeatedly and/or get even deeper into watching more disgusting films because they are seeking to be in the same stimulated mental state. That is addiction--being enslaved to a master of sin. Pornography negatively affects a person's psychological health in the same sense that illegal drugs such as heroin, bath salts, methamphetamine, amphetamines, and cocaine do! People end up becoming enslaved to this film monster. It has ruined many lives. Not only does the pornography industry completely disregard the value of the human body and deteriorate our overall quality of life, it earns for itself millions of dollars annually. The people who are bold enough to run such businesses are incredibly careless of the needs of other people. Why not shut down the pornography industry to donate the amassed money to infinitely more important aspects of life such as the starving and homeless people of this world or to helping millions escape religious persecution in other countries?  If the answer to this question is to maintain the strength of the economy, then why not find better alternatives? Why not spend as much effort on working to do what is morally right?  
  • Jesus Christ specifically taught that having a mental sexual desire for another person is equivalent to actually committing adultery/fornication (Matthew 5:28-29). This teaching of the Lord is certainly not anything new (Proverbs 6:25-26; Job 31:1). Lust itself is a form of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). A soul can be punished for eternity in hell because of this sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
  • We are not to focus on finding ways to indulge our own sinful lusts (Romans 13:14). Sexual temptations are waging war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11). We will either choose to rebel against (and conquer) sin or continually engage in sin (and let it conquer us). The Apostle Paul instructed us to keep ourselves pure (1 Timothy 5:22).
  • The Apostle Paul instructed women to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9). And Jesus Himself warned against being a stumbling block to others (Matthew 18:6).
  •  Measures That Should Be Taken (Speaking In A General Sense):
          -Eliminate the source: the best way to get rid of any temptation is to get eliminate the source; you first need to identify with certainty the source(s) of your sexual temptation(s); then, find ways to permanently remove/avoid temptations (to the best of your ability).           
          -Prayer: acknowledge God's infinite lordship; beg the Lord for forgiveness; pray for those who are ensnared by sexual sin.
          -Study: read the Bible and meditate upon the moral principles taught within; spend some quality time studying Scripture or memorizing specific verses (Psalm 119:10-11).
          -Find wholesome Christian people: though a difficult task, you should try to find a group of true Christians who can help you steer out of the direction of sexual temptation; you need to carefully examine professing Christians (rather than blindly accepting their mere profession by mouth) because Satan can also use other people as a means to drag you back down; might have to cut off contact with people who live immoral lifestyles (unless they are your co-workers, etc.--then you can do nothing about that situation).
          -Find some good Christian music to distract you from sinful thinking; take brakes from the TV and video games (or cut them out of your life for good); spend much valuable time doing godly things.
  • Yes, You Can Overcome The Struggles Presented By Sexual Temptation:
          -We are fully capable of being victorious over our spiritual weaknesses such as lust, just as Joseph in the Old Testament refused to sleep with his master's wife (Genesis 39:6-21). He was not even married during that time!