Does Scripture Commend Roman Practices? A response to Steve Kellmeyer

Steve Kellmeyer (Roman Catholic) has provided some comments in response to my post on Forbidding to Marry (link to my post).

Mr. Kellmeyer asks:

Didn’t Christ tell the apostles that eunuchs who made themselves so for the kingdom of God were blessed?

I answer: No, Christ did not tell them that. In the passage to which you are attempting to refer, Christ told the apostles that there are “eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” (Matthew 19:112) Nevertheless, he neither calls them “blessed” nor encourages folks to emulate them. He certainly does not suggest that it should be a requirement for bishops/elders, apostles, or deacons that they be self-made eunuchs. Thus, this passage would be essentially irrelevant to the question, even if it were more blessed to make oneself a eunuch (but compare what the early church thought of self-made eunuchs)

Mr. Kellmeyer continues:

Doesn’t Revelation have a those who refrained from intercourse with women sing a special song to the Lamb that only they can sing?

I answer: again, no. The passage to which you are referring. Revelation 14:1-5 refers to the 144,000. Here’s the passage:

Revelation 14:1-5
And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.

The part to which Mr. Kellmeyer was trying to refer says that these 144,000 “were not defiled with women.” It does mean “defiled,” that’s not a gloss on the Greek word ἐμολύνθησαν. The verse also clarifies that these 144,000 are “virgins.” So, if one is going to try to argue that this verse is speaking in favor of general celibacy, one must also take the position that marriage is an example of defilement. Such a position is plainly contrary to Scripture, which declares:

Hebrews 13:4 Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

The better understanding of this text is, of course, a figurative understanding. The 144,000 represent the elect. We saw them previously in chapter 7, when they were sealed in their foreheads. Notice that this appears again in the current passage where the men have “his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” One hopes that Mr. Kellmeyer would not take this literally, whether or not he would consider the beasts in the passage literal beasts.

The sense of the purity and virginity of these men has to do with their faithfulness to their betrothed, the lamb to whom they are to be married as the bride of Christ. Thus, they are depicted as not being fornicators who defile themselves, such as with the whore of Revelation 17.

Mr. Kellmeyer continues:

And isn’t it the case that the early Christians who were witnesses to the writing of Scripture, or taught by witnesses to the writing of Scripture, are in the best position to interpret that same Scripture?

I answer:

The Scripture is not only the New Testament, but Old and New together. Some of those who were taught by the Apostles had the same problems understanding the apostles that the apostles had understanding Jesus.

Mark 16:14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.

Nevertheless, even if we did accord a special place of prominence to those so-called apostolic fathers who were allegedly taught by the apostles themselves, or the second generation fathers who were allegedly taught by someone who was taught by an apostle, we find only a few of their writings extant, those that are extant existing with rather troubling textual transmission histories, and even then those mostly addressing issues that don’t have much to do with topic of mandatory celibacy of bishops/elders and deacons.

Mr. Kellmeyer concluded:

You know neither Scripture nor the power of God. You are quite wrong.

I answer:

I’ve demonstrated to the contrary. Mr. Kellmeyer’s rebuke is, of course, paraphrased from either Matthew 22 or Mark 12 (parallel passages) in which Jesus points out that there will be no marriage in heaven:

Matthew 22:29-30
Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.

One wonders if Mr. Kellmeyer appreciates the impact of this verse on his attempted literal interpretation of the book of Revelation. Recall:

Revelation 19:9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

Revelation 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

There is a marriage supper there, and a bride, but not after a corporal and carnal manner. Revelation is full of figurative language which should be understood as such, and should be understood consistently with other passages of Scripture, such as:

2 Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.


12 Responses to “Does Scripture Commend Roman Practices? A response to Steve Kellmeyer”

  1. steve Says:

    I'd add that if we regard marriage as a form of defilement, then Catholic clergy were defiled prior to the codification of mandatory celibacy.

  2. Viisaus Says:

    I would advice you guys to get your hands on an interesting new scholarly book "Icons and power: the Mother of God in Byzantium" (2006) by Bissera V. Pentcheva. I think you might find many juicy citations from it in your debates against RCs and EOs.Pentcheva is not a Protestant writer, but she describes how the imperial Roman ideology led, from 5th century onwards, to the exaltation of Virgin Mary as the functional successor of pagan tutelary deities like Victoria and Tyche.Here's one particularly interesting detail she notes: like with female deities of war, Mary's supposed power flows from her perpetual virginity. (It is just this virginal civic-goddess ideal that the Book of Revelation attacks and inverts in the depiction of the "harlot on seven hills".Even English Protestants still felt the power of this psychological archetype when they exalted their "virgin queen" Elizabeth I – they at least subconsciously attributed her victorious regal power to her virginity.)And so, if Mary would have had ordinary childbirths and been just a decent Jewish housewife, she would have been unable to act as tutelary victory goddess. This is a hidden motivation why Roman and Byzantine theologians were and are so adamant about her perpetual virginity. And of course PV is the cornerstone of the whole celibatical RC/EO ideal.Icons and Power by B.V. Pentcheva, pp. 63-64"The texts discussing Mary's participation in battle always attribute her supernatural power to her paradoxical virginal motherhood. …"The virgin warrior Athena offers a classical example. She was worshipped as a goddess of war, among many other functions; her temples in the Roman period were sometimes built next to military garrisons. …"Along with Athena, the virgin-warrior tradition was also transmitted through the image of the Amazons. They were believed to have partaken in battle only in the period in which they maintained their purity. …"If a Vestal lost her virginity during her term in office, her misdeed was believed to incur a misfortune in war. The purity of the vestals thus safeguarded the city. The images of Athena, the Vestals, and Amazons also informed the representations and powers of Victoria and Roma, the main civic deities defining the Roman theory of empire. All these pagan goddesses presented the model of virginity as source of power. Like the power of these ancient goddesses, the militancy of Mary was perceived to issue forth from her perpetual virginity. …"The passages offer a shocking representation of the Virgin in battle. She engages in hand-to-hand combat with the enemies, killing the barbarians in order to protect her peope. Her active belligerence, linked to her perpetual virginity, echoes qualities of the virgin warrior Athena. Her purity as a power of in battle is emulated by the soldiers, who observed chastity before battle.The seventh-century writers constructed an image of the Theotokos by employing existing literary models of Athena in war."PS:It is to be noted that this Marian takeover of the civic functions of pagan goddesses (that were fading away and needed replacement) began only about four hundred years after Christ's death. John Henry Newman himself confessed that still in the time of Augustine it was unknown:"Dr. Newman himself, disclaiming the doctrine that the Invocation of the Virgin is necessary to salvation, says (Letter to Pusey, p. III): 'If it were so, there would be grave reasons for doubting of the salvation of St. Chrysostom or St. Athanasius, or of the primitive martyrs. Nay, I should like to know whether St. Augustine, in all his voluminous writings, invokes her once.'"

  3. Viisaus Says:

    An added remark: many Protestant writers, when examining the origins of Mariolatry (which is definitely partly due to pagan influences, although some amateurish Protestants like Alexander Hislop overstate their case recklessly) concentrate almost entirely on FERTILITY goddesses like Cybele or Isis, that are clearly depicted as mother-figures.Pencheva's book made me realize that they had neglected the other major category of female deities, the virginal victory-goddesses like Artemis and Athena.Sociologically speaking, it seems that fertility goddesses were adored especially by peasant populations, while "more civilized" pagans who lived in cities worshipped more their tutelary virgin-protectors. To put it a bit crudely, the "non-penetration" of such goddesses corresponded in popular mind with non-penetration of city walls or kingdom borders. They symbolize the purity or essence of the community that enemy hordes cannot violate.And in RC/EO worldview, Mary's ever-virginity symbolizes the infallibility of the church – like Mary could never be "violated" by sex, so the church can never collectively err or fall.As Mary is seen as BOTH mother and still-virgin, she is thus able to combine the functions of both fertility and virginity goddesses and is adored by country- and city-dwellers alike.

  4. Turretinfan Says:

    Viisaus:That seems just a little glib. I think it's easier to see the perpetual virginity as an outworking of asceticism and a gradual elevation of Mary rather than a wholly syncretic explanation, though it cannot be doubted that there is pagan influence in the process.-TurretinFan

  5. Viisaus Says:

    Didn't I write:"which is definitely PARTLY due to pagan influences"In other words, of course there was genuinely Christian and even Biblical part in Mary's exaltation also. I am not denying that.But it was the pagan-leftover influences – both from "below" with peasant-fertility aspects and from "above" with imperial-virginity aspects – that drove the glorification of Mary off the edge of soberness and into ever wilder forms from 5th century onwards.Read Pencheva's book, she doesn't propose any simplistic Hislopian scheme either.

  6. natamllc Says:

    TF or Steve,when did that codification happen?

  7. Turretinfan Says:

    I am speaking off the cuff here (a dangerous thing, I know) but I think I recall that the mandatory celibacy for priests rule was really put into full force around the 11th century or so.

  8. Viisaus Says:

    It was Gregory VII (1073-85), the same guy who started the grand-scale papal power-politics with his defiance of Holy Roman Emperor (the Canossa affair) who finally put an end to married priesthood in the West:"Gregory VII. did not introduce the celibacy of the priesthood into the church, for even in antiquity it was enjoined by numerous laws. He was not even the first pope to renew the injunction in the 11th century, for legislation on the question begins as early as in the reign of Leo IX. But he took up the struggle with greater energy and persistence than his predecessors. In 1074 he published an encyclical, requiring all to renounce their obedience to those bishops who showed indulgence to their clergy in the matter of celibacy. In the following year he commanded the laity to accept no official ministrations from married priests and to rise against all such. He further deprived these clerics of their revenues. Wherever these enactments were proclaimed they encountered tenacious opposition, and violent scenes were not infrequent, as the custom of marriage was widely diffused throughout the contemporary priesthood." cynical commentators have seen a connection: the pope needed to turn all priests into absolutely loyal, international-minded supporting cadre before he could successfully defy local the secular powers:"No member of the clergy was ever excommunicated for having sex, but thousands have been put out of the priesthood for the scandal of getting married. Why then the strict insistence upon celibacy, even to the present day, if it really doesn't mean abstinence from sex? It is because the rule of celibacy has a very practical and lucrative result for the Church: It leaves priests and especially bishops and popes without families to whom to bequeath property and thereby impoverish the Church. The clergy must have no heirs.Pope Gregory VII, bemoaning the difficulty in stamping out marriage among priests, declared: "The Church cannot escape from the clutches of the laity unless priests first escape from the clutches of their wives." Here is another vital reason for celibacy: to create a priesthood without the encumbrance (and loving loyalties) of wives and children. Thus fornication and adultery, though forbidden in theory, were preferable to a marriage relationship. Nineteenth-century historian R.W. Thompson explains:"It was considered absolutely necessary to the perfect working of the papal system that there should organize a compact body of ecclesiastics, destitute of all those generous sympathies which grow alone out of the family relation, that they might be the better fitted to do the work of the popes." (R.W. Thompson, The Papacy and the Civil Power, New York, 1876, p. 443).

  9. Turretinfan Says:

    That was who I had in mind. The power-mongering Gregory VII (11th Century). I posted a German biography of him (link) some time ago on this blog. It is a bit biased, of course, but it tells a side of the story you're unlikely to hear from Roman Catholic historians.-TurretinFan

  10. natamllc Says:

    The stories all point to the same sin, "works" righteousness.I can no more denounce my sinful nature as I can being born a sinner!We ought not make light of the realities before us as I see and discern the Book of Revelation to not skip a beat as the beat goes on, day by day.But, as we see the day draw near, we ought to look up as Our King is coming, and, ironically, to take for Himself a Bride!Celibacy anyone? :)

  11. Coram Deo Says:

    Greetings TF!This is just a bit off topic, but maybe not completely given the title of the post. I was recently reading an exchange on a Reformed blog about J.I. Packer's involvement with ECT which invoked Charles Hodge, alleging that he defended RCC baptism.The key points of the exchange are as follows:Point: "To those so eager to condemn Dr Packer for signing ECT, I put the question was Charles Hodge wrong in 1845 when he defended “Romish” baptisms and went on to affirm that while the RCC is not a true church, it is a real church. Hodge was able to cite Turretin and other Reformed worthies in support of his position."Counterpoint: "There’s a seismic difference between affirming the historic anti-Donatist position of the validity of Trinitarian baptisms administered by lapsed priests/ministers and denying the material question of the Reformation. What ECT did was to deny the material question of the Reformation by intentionally equivocating on the essential terms of the dispute. Packer knew better."My questions to you:Are you familiar with historic anti-Donatists, and if so would you mind to expound just a bit, or else possibly recommend some solid resources for review?What's your view on ECT, particularly with respect to Packer's involvement and as a corollary his general trustworthiness as an evangelical thinker?And lastly what undercurrents, trends, and/or confluences of events do you think ultimately led to the ECT? Clearly it didn't "just happen", something conceived it and gave birth to it. From whence came ECT? In Christ,CD

  12. Turretinfan Says:

    Augustine is the leading anti-Donatist. are others as well, like Optatus of Milevis. ECT is a betrayal of the gospel. It shows either a lack of familiarity with Romanism, a lack of familiarity with the gospel, or something more sinister. If Packer indeed signed it, I would take anything he writes with an enormous grain of salt.The ECT is the result of a concerted outreach by Rome following (and flowing out of) Vatican II. It aligns well with the loss of clarity of the gospel message found in our own times.

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