Archive for October, 2011

Who Killed Mohammed?

October 29, 2011

David Wood has a powerful new video:

The video makes a serious point, although it uses a lot of “pop culture” clips.  It’s the sort of video that would get David Wood in a lot of trouble in Muslim countries. Hopefully our Muslim friends, relatives, and neighbors will consider the serious point, notwithstanding the fact that the video is critical of Mohammed and his claim to be a prophet.


God’s Commands vs. Victor Reppert

October 27, 2011

Victor Reppert wrote:

No, I do not hold that YHWH commanded the slaughter of the Amalekites. I hold that either God didn’t do that, or there are unknown reasons why He did. 

1 Samuel 15:1-3 

Samuel also said unto Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, ‘I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.'”

There is absolutely no question that the Lord commanded the slaughter of the Amalekites.  Moreover, the explicitly stated reason for this slaughter is that they attacked Israel during the Exodus.  That does not mean that God did not have other reasons.

Victor continues:

I can see some reason why God might have commanded such a thing, so that in my view the case against it isn’t a slam dunk. So I would not call someone a moral monster who thought that God had given such a command, I think it morally possible that God might have done so, but on the other hand treating someone anyone as outside the pale of moral consideration strikes me as problematic and not in accordance with what I know about God in the New Testament. In other words, I don’t see how these actions could be justified without putting some limits on who is my neighbor, and the parable of the Good Samaritan says we can’t really draw such limits.

But Victor does not need to speculate.  God gives a reason.  The reason is retaliation for prior treachery.  Of course, the sucklings were not a part of that treachery, but the crime was performed by the nation and they are in a federal relationship with respect to the nation.  Absent God’s mercy, the judgment on the nation extends even to those who had no personal part in it.  Indeed, given the lapse of time between the Exodus and Saul, it seems unlikely that there were any alive in Amalek who had been in any personal way involved in the attack on Israel.  So, it is not only the sucklings who are receiving judgment from God for the sins of their fathers, but also the adults of Amalek as well.

One of Victor’s problems is that he is attempting to impose an external moral framework on the situation, instead of trying to extract a moral framework from the situation.  What God does is right.  That should be the premise.  Examples like the commanded destruction of the children of Amalek teach us about the heritability of guilt for sin. 

Victor continues:

I’m not committed to a theory of inspiration that would require me to defend such a thing. In another part of Deuteronomy, the Blessings and the Cursings, it indicates that people will get earthly blessings if they are obedient to the Covenant, and earthly cursings if they are not obedient. But you only have to look as far as Job and Ecclesiastes to see that that’s questionable even within the Bible.

There’s a double problem with Victor’s “theory of inspiration.”  This particular justification is not just part of Scripture, but is a part of Scripture reporting the verbatim words of God.  So, it is not as though the command or justification can be attributed to the narrator of the book. 

Victor’s skepticism does not extend simply to the unidentified narrator, but also to Samuel the seer himself and ultimately to the Lord.

I’m not so naive as to be oblivious to the fact that we know that this is the word of the Lord because Samuel tells us, and we know Samuel tells us because the author of 1 Samuel tells us.  Ultimately, we know that 1 Samuel is inspired because the Holy Spirit persuades us – we the sheep hear our master’s voice.  Nevertheless, my point is to observe the depth of Victor’s skepticism.  How can his “theory of inspiration” have any value if it permits him to doubt the most clearly articulated statements in the text?

Ultimately, Victor and I stand on two opposite camps.  I’m in the camp that – you know – believes what the Bible says and proceeds from there.  Victor is in another camp, one that should be scrupulously avoided.


Jesuit Historian Fitzmyer on the Perpetual Virginity

October 26, 2011

… one’s understanding of the doctrine of the continuous or perpetual virginity of Mary. Such church teaching was formulated by early Christians in the post-Apostolic era, making use of an interpretation of some passages in the New Testament that passed over others that were problematic, such as Jn. 1:45; 6:42; Lk. 4:22 (quoted above). The result was that that teaching was not universally accepted at first. Even though that teaching is thought sometimes to be implied in the second-century writing, Protevangelium Jacobi, it eventually became crystallized in the longstanding belief about Mary as aeiparthenos or semper virgo, “ever virgin,” in creeds from the fourth century on.

– Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., America Magazine, “Whose Name is This?” (November 18, 2002)

What is particularly interesting about the above is how candid Fitzmyer is that this doctrine is post-Apostolic.  Many apologists of Rome’s communion like to try to claim that Rome’s doctrines are apostolic in origin and part of an unwritten tradition.  Fitzmyer’s acknowledgment is the result, one supposes, of his view that there is no need for the doctrine to be Apostolic.  Thus, the quotation highlights a tension that exists between Rome’s historians and her apologists.


Tom Brown’s Response to David VanDrunen on Change and Rome

October 25, 2011

Rome’s Teaching Has Obviously Changed

Dr. VanDrunen recently made the unremarkable assertion:

For many years, the Roman Catholic Church taught that people could enjoy eternal life and escape everlasting damnation only by being received into its membership.  In recent generations, that teaching has changed.  Rome now embraces a very inclusive view that extends the hope of salvation to people of many different religions or even no religion at all, provided they sincerely follow the truth and goodness that they know in their own experience.

This is one of those statements that is obviously true.  The point of the statement is that there has been a massive paradigm shift in Rome’s external relations.  Mr. Tom Brown, of the Roman communion blog, “Called to Communion,” was bothered by this statement.  What bothered Tom Brown, though, was not the obvious paradigm shift, but Dr. VanDrunen’s statement characterizing Rome’s teaching as having “changed.”

“Change” in “Teaching” = Sky is Falling

You see, one of the things that some recent “converts” to Rome like to imagine is that Rome gives them certainty.  You can’t very well have certainty if Rome changes its teachings from time to time.  So, comments like VanDrunen’s are very much a fly in the ointment.

Salvation Outside the Church is compatible with No Salvation Outside the Church?

Tom Brown has a long row to hoe in order to persuade the reader that Rome’s teaching hasn’t changed.  Dr. VanDrunen naturally cited the Council of Florence (1438), and that council states the matter fairly explicitly (bold added by me):

It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

(Cantate Domino (1441))

Vatican II on the other hand wrote:

For they who without their own fault do not know of the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with sincere heart, and try, under the influence of grace, to carry out His will in practice, known to them through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation.

 (Lumen Gentium, II, 16)

It seems that the only ways this contradiction could be clearer is if Vatican II had explicitly said “Cantate Domino was wrong,” yet Mr. Brown tries to argue that the two positions are consistent.

But Mr. Brown’s argument amounts to just asserting that Vatican II is consistent with a thread of historical dogma going back to Justin Martyr.  Whether or not this is the case, it hardly makes the positions of Florence and Vatican II any less contradictory.  Indeed, had Florence itself taught both positions, Florence would have been internally inconsistent.

Mr. Brown needs to demonstrate how someone being saved while not living and remaining within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church is consistent with Florence.  His appeal to Pius IX (identified for him by VanDrunen) is not compelling.  Pius IX states (the bold, added by me, is the part that Mr. Brown quotes, whilst the normal print is the context he does not include):

7. Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching. There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.
8. Also well known is the Catholic teaching that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, to whom “the custody of the vineyard has been committed by the Savior.”[4] The words of Christ are clear enough: “If he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you a Gentile and a tax collector;”[5] “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me;”[6] “He who does not believe will be condemned;”[7] “He who does not believe is already condemned;”[8] “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”[9] The Apostle Paul says that such persons are “perverted and self-condemned;”[10] the Prince of the Apostles calls them “false teachers . . . who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master. . . bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”[11]

(Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, 7-8 (1863))

Tom Brown describes the bold part of that statement as “Here Blessed Pope Pius IX simply and skillfully articulates these two Catholic beliefs … .”  Perhaps the statement is simple and skillful, but it does not resolve the conflict between Florence and Vatican II.

It is interesting to note how Pius IX suddenly finds Scripture to be perspicuous when it comes to the authority of the church and the result of rejecting that authority.  Nevertheless, Pius IX has staked out a position different from that of Florence.  Florence enunciates a position that being within the fold of the church is necessary.  Pius IX suggests that rejecting church authority is lethal.  However, Pius IX finds room for people who don’t embrace unity with the church.

While Tom Brown’s line of argument that argues that there is a long history of teachings that there can be salvation outside the church is not a meaningful answer to the problem of the conflict between Florence and Vatican II, he does pose an interesting comment:

As explained by St. Augustine and maintained through to the present by the Catholic Church, unbaptized martyrs who shed their blood for the sake of Christ are saved nonetheless, receiving the fruits of Baptism.  Baptism of blood is an extraordinary method of fulfilling the soteriological prerequisite of being ‘inside the Church’ when Baptism is impossible.

 Mr. Brown, however, does not explain how this alleged teaching of Augustine is consistent with “no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”  That reference to shedding blood for the name of Christ appears on its face to be a reference to undergoing martyrdom.

Does Mr. Brown resolve this further apparent conflict that he has introduced?  No, he does not.  Instead he jumps on to the issue of baptism of desire.  Of course, baptism of desire (whether or not it conflicts with Florence – and it certainly appears to) is not what Vatican II is talking about.  In Vatican II, the person does not know about the church.

Mr. Brown raises the point that Trent endorsed baptism by desire.  He quotes Trent as saying (bold added by me):

This translation [from the state of birth to the state of Grace] however cannot, since promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the washing of regeneration or its desire, as it is written: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

 (See, Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 4)

False Accusation of Ambiguity

Mr. Brown argues as follows:

For VanDrunen, Catholic doctrine “has indeed changed,” and he believes this change refutes modern Catholic appeals to the “unchanging character” of the Catholic Church.  The fallacy of his logic is in his amphibolous use of the term ‘change.’  By using the term ‘change’ ambiguously, VanDrunen leads the reader to the false conclusion that the Catholic Church has contradicted herself. 

Mr. Brown has not established that there is harmony between Florence and Vatican II.  The former says that there is no salvation outside the church, the latter says there is.  Moreover, Mr. Brown has not established that VanDrunen has used the term “change” in an ambiguous way.  So, Mr. Brown has not harmonized the councils, nor has he shown any error in VanDrunen’s account.

Development Hypothesis

Mr. Brown sets forth a sort of development hypothesis on this point:

However, by distinguishing between change as organic development and change as contradicting what was previously held, the conclusion that the Catholic Church has contradicted herself no longer follows.  In other words, if Catholic doctrine has changed by developing, this change does not lead to the conclusion that the Vatican II teaching (regarding the possibility of salvation for those not in full communion with the Church) contradicts what was previously held.

The problem is that Vatican II does contradict Florence.  It is not merely a problem that Rome’s doctrine has changed (which it certainly has) but that it is has changed from “no salvation outside the church” to “salvation outside the church.”

Mr. Brown continues:

This notion that Christian doctrines have developed should be no surprise.  Major theological and religious doctrines have developed, such as the Trinity, the nature and canon of Sacred Scripture, or the two natures of Christ. 

The canon of Scripture is not a doctrine per se, though Rome has made acceptance of a particular erroneous canon a matter of faith.  The canon changed because God inspired more books.  There have been different periods of recognition of the canon, but that issue of canon recognition is not a doctrinal development.

The discussion of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ has greatly increased over the years, but the doctrines themselves have not changed.  The Scriptures themselves teach the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. 

Mr. Brown continues:

While Reformed believers implicitly accept the notion of doctrinal development in those instances, they reject modern developments out of hand.  But this acceptance of primitive developments while rejecting modern developments is ad hoc.  There is no principled reason to accept development of Trinitarian doctrine while simultaneously denying the possibility of development on extra Ecclesiam after centuries of careful study and reflection.

Up front, Mr. Brown is wrong.  We don’t explicitly or implicitly accept the idea that there has been “doctrinal development” in the sense that we now hold to things that our forefathers in the faith didn’t.  We may use technical terms we didn’t before (like the term “trinity”) but the doctrines are the same.

Moreover, there’s a severe non-analogy between the doctrine of the Trinity developing a technical vocabulary and Rome’s position changing from “no salvation outside the church” to “some salvation outside the church.”  There’s simply no reasonable comparison between the two.

We don’t agree with Nicaea, for example, because Nicaea said it, just as we don’t disagree with Ariminum  because they said it.  Instead, we agree with the former and not the latter because the former teaches what Scripture teaches.  The Word of God is our ultimate standard, not the traditions of men.  

A Strange Conclusion

Mr. Brown concludes with: “The authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church are not contradictory on this matter, but carefully elucidate Sacred Scripture and our understanding of God’s mercy and justice.” Carefully elucidate?  Scripture is briefly cited in a few of Mr. Brown’s quotations, but hardly elucidated.  What Scripture does the error of invincible ignorance “elucidate”?  One couldn’t know either from the documents themselves or from Mr. Brown’s paper.

In short, Mr. Brown’s conclusion, like most of the rest of his paper, should be rejected.  Dr. VanDrunen was right to point out the paradigm shift between Florence and Vatican II, and Dr. VanDrunen is right to describe that as a “change” in teaching, even though Vatican II lacks the same authority as Florence (since there were no dogmatic definitions in Vatican II).

It is surprising, indeed, that Mr. Brown did not attempt to evade the problem of change by simply appealing to the fact that Vatican II does not claim to be an infallible document.  Instead, Mr. Brown falsely charged Dr. VanDrunen with fallacy and ambiguity, when Dr. VanDrunen simply provided an accurate historical assessment.


UPDATE: It seems there is no intuitive way to find Dr. VanDrunen’s original article.  Here is a link that Steve Hays provided recently on Triablogue (link).

Matthew 5 and Sexual Sin

October 25, 2011

Matthew 5:27-32 
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

One of Rome’s laymen e-apologists recently tried to argue that “if thy right hand offend thee” refers to acts associated with sexuality.  I hope that my readers can discern what this layman has in mind without my spelling it out.  (link, caution – discussion is more explicit there)

There are reasons not to accept this theory.  For example, in a similar passage, Christ says:

Matthew 18:8  Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.

It seems that Christ is simply listing important body parts. 

Moreover, there is no particular reason that the use of the hand must be as this apologist suggests, but may instead refer to the act of grabbing or hailing the woman in order to act on or further the lust described.

Nevertheless, let’s assume that our Roman acquaintance is on to something in Matthew 5, for the sake of the argument.

Suppose that the reference to the right hand relates to sexual desire with respect to a woman.  But is it any woman?  No, it is to a woman that is not one’s wife.  The same goes for the eye that looks on the woman.

Is there anything wrong with a man looking on his wife to desire her sexually?  Surely not, notwithstanding the error of ascetics and those influenced by them.  Indeed, we are taught in Scripture:

Proverbs 5:18-19 
Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.

So then it is not the sexual desire itself that is condemned, nor the looking or touching that is condemned, but the lust directed at one who is not one’s wife that is condemned.  But this does not fit contemporary Rome’s argument on this topic.  It is not a blanket condemnation of non-procreative acts, but merely a call to abstain not only from adultery in the act but also adultery in the heart.

May God preserve us from temptations to adultery in the heart and in the act!


James White vs. Abdullah Kunde – Can God Become a Man?

October 18, 2011

One person has provided a summary of the debate that recently took place in Australia between Dr. James White and Abdullah Kunde.  (link to summary)  The topic of the debate was, “Can God Become a Man?”  It’s not a transcript of the debate, but there is a lot of detail provided.

– TurretinFan

Trinitarian Universalism Debate

October 17, 2011

I recently engaged in a debate with Jason Pratt who heavily emphasized that he is a Trinitarian, and who considers himself an “Evangelical Universalist.”  I argued from five passages that judgment is coming, that it will be eternal, and that some people will experience it.  Chris Date moderated the debate and has hosted the debate in the form of three podcasts:

Resolved: Some people will not be saved from their sins according to the following passages and their contexts: 2 Thess. 1:9, Matt. 25:41/46, Matt. 18:8, Romans 9:22 and Jude 1:6.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Chris Date’s own podcast pages can be found here (first, second, third), which also contains links to the “raw” audio and other information.


Defining "Church"

October 17, 2011

John Bugay’s recent post, “Whatever else the “definition of the word church” contains, it must be purged of Roman conceptions of Rome ” led me to consider this question: Suppose you were to ask one of the apostles to define the term “the church.”  Would that definition have any reference to Rome or her bishop?

If not, isn’t Rome’s concept of “the church” at odds with that of the apostles?

Read the New Testament for yourself.  Learn what the apostles believed and taught about “the church.”  You won’t find any reference to the papacy, and certainly not to Roman papacy amongst those pages.


Response to Fred Butler – John MacArthur and the Second Commandment

October 15, 2011

My friend Fred Butler has recently responded to my other friend Matthew Lankford’s video, which was titled: “The Idolatry of John MacArthur.”

Fred writes:

I was recently alerted to a video by a fellow named Matthew Lankford.  You only need to concern yourself with the first 7 or 8 minutes:

What’s interesting is that the remaining minutes of the video are John MacArthur himself speaking.  That’s the part you needn’t be concerned with, according to my friend Fred Butler.  That misses the point of Mr. Lankford’s video.  Lankford was calling MacArthur to be consistent with his own teachings and providing a lengthy excerpt of good material from MacArthur.

The Idolatry of John MacArthur

Oh my.  You gotta love these Puritan lynch mobs.

I get that “Idolatry” sounds harsh, particularly since some forms of idolatry involve worshiping false gods.  But considering that the video is an exhortation to repentance and consistency, “lynch mobs” seems more than a little over the top.  I’m sure it’s just meant to be a humorous remark, but it seems to represent a view that Mr. Lankford’s is extremely hostile, which was certainly not Mr. Lankford’s intent.  Again, I think Mr. Butler’s response may be visceral, rather than intellectual.  I’m not sure he got the full point of the video.

It’s hard to figure out where to begin.

ok …

I will say that I can sympathize a bit with Matthew’s consternation with regards to pictures of Jesus.  As I have argued elsewhere, I don’t believe pictures of Jesus are even close to being the idolatry Matthew condemns in his video and that he is misapplying the second commandment.

They are exactly what Mr. Lankford condemns in his video.  Let’s be clear about this.  Mr. Butler may disagree with the historic Reformed position on images of Jesus (which I think is what he’s trying to say), but Mr. Lankford’s objection is to MacArthur promoting the making and use of images of Jesus.

That stated, however, I am not particularly fond of all the modern displays of Jesus, because I don’t believe they capture accurately what He looked like.  IOW, I don’t think Jesus looked anything like Kenny Loggins or Dan Haggerty.  Nor do I like sacrilegious Precious Moments-like figurines that cheapen who Jesus truly is and what He did. 

Mr. Lankford focused mostly on the theological/moral objections to images of Jesus.  There are also practical/pragmatic/utilitarian objections.  I’m sure Mr. Butler and Mr. Lankford would agree on those points.  I appreciate that Mr. Butler has chosen to emphasize this common ground.

Before offering a response, it may be helpful to read what John has actually said about images of Jesus in Christian artwork.  The more comprehensive comment linked by Matthew is from a Q&A session done, from what I can gather, in 1980:

That’s always good.  It is good to put material in context.

MacArthur (per Butler) said:

The text, “thou shalt not make any carved image” is based upon the prior verse: “thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” “Thou shalt not make thee any carved image or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above or in the earth beneath.” The assumption is that you’re not to worship the stars, the sun, the birds, the animals, man, any other thing. But once God invaded the world in a human form, He gave substance or image, didn’t He? And that’s exactly what Hebrews 1 says, that He is the express, what?…image of God. God…God gave us an icon. And I hate to use that sense, but God gave us an image. God gave us a model and a pattern. So I don’t think that it is outside…I don’t think it violates this intent to make an image which is constituted as another god. You could never make an image of a spirit being. Right? So He couldn’t be talking about an image of Himself. I mean, not essentially. But there was a case where they did this. You know, in the golden calf incident, I don’t know if you’ve thought this through, but if you read the text, in the wilderness when the people made the golden calf, you remember Moses was up on the mountain getting the law and the people were down with Aaron making the golden calf. They made the golden calf as a representative of the true God. It was not a pagan idol. It was…it was the representation of their own God. They were still, in some sense, monotheistic. They were trying to represent God, and that’s what the text indicates, in that calf. And at that point, God judged them. The only proper manifestation that God has ever permitted of His Person is in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

This is mostly correct, but a few corrections are needed.  MacArthur has forgotten about the various Old Testament epiphanies.  People could have made images of those epiphanies, even though they could not make an image of a pure spirit.  For example, God appeared to Abraham, to Joshua, and so on.  Those epiphanies were visible and could have been used as the model for an artistic representation.  When I say “could have” I don’t mean “without violating the second commandment,” but rather “technologically possible.”

Thus, the Incarnation did not change anything in that regard.  Jesus was the image of God, but not in the sense that his human body was a likeness of the invisible spirit of God.  And while Jesus was visible, he was not made by man – he was incarnate by the will of God.  We living humans are all said to be “made in the image of God” in a different but related sense.  That sense has nothing to do with what we look like.

MacArthur writes: “God gave us an icon. And I hate to use that sense, but God gave us an image. God gave us a model and a pattern.”  God gave us Jesus himself, but not to serve as a model for paintings and statues.  The New Testament did not contain any pictures in the originals.  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  The New Testament passes on to us God’s self-revelation in Jesus.

MacArthur (per Butler) continued: 

Now, there’s one other thing that I might just mention. God has used a lot of symbols of His Person. In the Old Testament I can think of one major thing was a serpent on the rod, which, in a sense, pictured Christ. And there’s much language imagery as well. Every lamb that was slain was, in a sense, prefiguring Christ. But I think you’re safe in saying that since God has revealed Himself, this is the bottom line, God has revealed Himself in the image of man, the man Christ Jesus, that God allows us that one representation. I don’t have a problem with that. He allows us that one representation so that we see God in human dimension.

No doubt there is a sense in which those things were representations of God.  But they were not purported likenesses.  They were types and shadows.  We have such representations today too!  “This is my body,” and ‘This is the blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.”  As the Iconoclastic council of 754 indicated, those are the only authorized icons of Christ.  Those are our representations, but they are not likenesses.  Jesus doesn’t look like a loaf of bread, and while his blood might somewhat resemble wine, we can easily tell the difference, particularly in terms of taste.

MacArthur (per Butler) continued: 

Now, having said that, let me say this. We do not have in our house a picture of Jesus of any kind because I don’t think any of them look like Him, probably, and I would rather have Him be who He really is than me to assume that He is someone He’s not. That’s just a personal thing. So what we do is, without having a picture of Jesus, we still encourage our children to read many, many Christian books and all of them have pictures of Jesus, but all of them have pictured Him differently. And I think you’re pretty safe if you approach it that way. If you get some great big head of Christ slammed in the middle of your house, I’m not against that. That’s okay if you like that but I perceive Christ in my own mind and I’m very comfortable with that and I’ve never yet seen the picture that looks like what I believe He is. So that’s just a personal preference. But I really don’t think the spirit of Deuteronomy 5:8 is broken when we have representation of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

That, of course, represents the crux of the disagreement between us.  It is not merely a matter of personal preference.  There’s nothing in the New Testament that tells us that we can or should make imagined likenesses or Christ, any more than the Old Testament permitted imagined likenesses of the theophanies.  In that regard, as noted above, the Incarnation changed nothing.

The letter of Deutoronomy 5:8 is broken when we have such a representation.  Appeal to the “spirit” of the law can be useful.  For example, I don’t think for a second it was contrary to the spirit of the law for the disciples to remember what Jesus looked like.  Then, it wasn’t really contrary to the letter either.  Those memories were made by Jesus.  But our images are not God-made.  They are man-made.  The same goes for reflections of Jesus in mirrors and bodies of water.  (The same goes for the images in the memory of the theophanies, as well as the reflections of those theophanies in mirrors or water.)  Those images that Jesus himself made, either before, during, or after the Incarnation and whether through an apparition, true human body, or vision are all permitted.

A wise person once suggested to me that “sometimes the spirit of the law is that the letter of the law be obeyed.”  In general, that is the case.  You need to provide some good justification for violating the letter of the law if you want to say that you are still within the spirit of the law.

In fact, the word imagery of the New Testament paints for us marvelous pictures of Christ. And you can never, I don’t know about you, you can never, I can say for myself, I can never really read an account in the Gospels of Christ without vivid imagery of His Person; can you? I mean, when I see Him, for example, reach down and touch a leper, if that was just God doing that, I don’t know that I could even focus on that. When you think of God, do you think of something? Do you think of a form or a shape? I don’t. I don’t think of…I don’t know that I think of anything. But when I think of Christ, immediately I have this image of the robe and His hands and you know… So I really think that the spirit of the person who simply has in his mind or perceives Christ in human form is not in violation of that.

There’s no physical description of Christ’s appearance in the gospels.  We’re not told whether he was thin or fat, short or tall, bald or bushy-haired.  We’re not told how handsome he was, though Isaiah’s prophecy suggested “no beauty that we should desire him.” We are told what he did and said, but not what he looked like.  Thus, while the NT may point marvelous pictures of Christ, the NT does not paint representations or likeness of Christ.

That’s the end of the quotation from MacArthur.  Butler continues:

Now.  Returning to the video, I believe there are a couple of glaring problems I see with what Matthew thinks is idolatry.

Not just problems, but “glaring” problems.  Let’s check them out.

First, the second commandment prohibits idolatry as it relates to the worship of God the Father, the only true God.  As John pointed out in his response, the prohibition builds upon the first commandment that forbids the worship of any other gods.  Idols were considered the home of the so-called deity, or it had attributed to it some supernatural power that governed the people in a superstitious manner. Thus, an idol represents a god that is worshiped at the center of a pagan, socio-religious worldview.

The second commandment prohibits idolatry as it relates to the worship of all three persons of the Trinity.  I’m not sure why Mr. Butler singles out the Father, but the commandment does not.  Is Christ worshiped at the center of Butler’s worldview?  I trust He is.  So, idols (such as the rather insultingly effeminate one – which raises a third commandment issue – found on Butler’s blog post) of Christ are purported representations of the God who is worshiped at the center of our worldview.  Thus far, no glaring error on Mr. Lankford’s part.

So at the outset, his objection to John’s views of images in artwork is misplaced and exegetically unsound.

a) Mr. Butler hasn’t identified a basis upon which Mr. Lankford’s objection could be said to be misplaced; and
b) Mr. Butler hasn’t done a lick of exegesis, much less show that any argument by Lankford is exegetically unsound.

Second. The main problem with Matthew’s view of idolatry, is that if we work his conclusion to its logical end, he would be setting up God to be violating His own commandment when God the Son became incarnate.

This argument supposes that the commandment that we refrain from making images of God also prohibits God from making images of God.  But why should “thou shalt not make unto thee” prohibit God from making unto us?

Think about it: Jesus was a man – God becoming flesh.  He was seen by thousands of people.  He spoke and taught.  As the apostle John says in the opening of his first epistle, “That which was from the beginning, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hand have handled, concerning the Word of life.”  I believe John is speaking literally here.  This isn’t his flowery words describing a really strong spiritual experience.  He truly saw, heard, and touched the Lord of Glory, because He was in the “image of a man.”

Who knows what Butler is quoting with “image of a man.” Jesus was both God and man.  He was not merely the image of a man.  But Jesus’ physical appearance is not what revealed the Father to us.  It is the Word and Spirit that revealed the Father, not the flesh as such.

After all, even after the Incarnation, Paul reviles the pagan Romans in this way:

Romans 1:23  And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Butler seems to be guilty of doing that by his argument, and worse he seems to be accusing God of doing that too!  But God did not send Jesus into the world to serve as a model for icons and statues.  That is not how Jesus revealed himself to us.  It is the words which Jesus spoke that profit us.

Now generally, one of the arguments thrown out is that God did not inspire the NT writers to describe Christ’s physical appearance.  Perhaps God did; but Jesus was still a real, historical man who lived in space and time, just like Justin Martyr, John Calvin, and Abraham Lincoln. He was “veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,” as the classic Christmas carol goes.

And we have very little to go on as far as what Jesus looked like.  We know he was male and Jewish and probably not very handsome.  That’s about it.

More to the point, so what?  The theophanies were real appearances of God that took place in time and space as well.  There’s nothing that makes us revisit the second commandment, just because Jesus was truly man.

Additionally, Jesus received worship on numerous occasions, the most notable example is Thomas in John 20:28 who exclaimed, “My Lord and My God.”  These people were worshiping a visible, flesh and blood person.  Obviously it was not idolatry, because Jesus was God in the flesh, but He was still real, sinewy, sweaty flesh.

Again, so what?  They were worshiping Jesus himself, not a representation of him.  There’s no record of Paul carrying around a painting of Jesus in his pocket.  Instead, the one authorized representation of Jesus is not a likeness, but is instead the elements of the Lord’s Supper: the bread of which it was said “this is my body” and the cup of which it was said, “this is the blood” etc.

Matthew takes a cheap shot at John by saying he naively embraces a Roman Catholic view of images that allows them to worship Mary and the saints.   Honestly, is that what John is advocating?  Even though no physical description of Jesus exists that is not a violation of the second commandment nor does it forbid Christians from representing Jesus in artwork or passion plays because, once again, He was a real, historical man and those representations do not have anything supernatural attributed to them.

Of course, the second commandment does not require that we attribute supernatural attributes to the idols themselves.  Only the most gullible of the pagans would do this.  Our Romanist friends are the same way – only the most gullible of them attribute supernatural attributes to their images.   The question is whether you claim that your picture is a picture of one person of the Trinity.  But surely Butler cannot deny that is his intent in having such pictures.

Now.  Where I would say the second commandment is violated is with some art work like “The Creation of Man” as depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Not only do you have the image of God the Father, but He reclines on what looks to be a flying sea shell with a topless woman and a bunch of corpulent children.  And, I don’t think God look anything like John Brown. 

On the one hand, I certainly agree that the “Incarnation” argument suggested by Butler and MacArthur (and long ago by John of Damascus) cannot be legitimately extended to defend pictures purporting to be of the father.  Moreover, there are third commandment issues that arise when God is irreverently portrayed.  Nevertheless, that point of agreement (welcome as it is) of course does not address the underlying problem of having images of the second person of the Trinity.

Such pictures are forbidden by the terms of the second commandment and not authorized by Jesus, the apostles, or anyone else who could authorize them in the New Testament.  It’s not merely a matter of every picture of Christ being untrue (since it is a false representation) but is a matter of failing to heed the commandments of God.  God does not wish us to show him religious reverence and honor (what we generally call “worship”) through the use of images. And it is only and exactly Jesus’ religious significance as God that motivates the making and using of these images.  So, these images violate both the letter and the spirit of the commandment.  We ought to abstain from them.  I hope Butler and MacArthur will be encouraged to join the Reformed in this regard.

I’d like to conclude by pointing out that there is a range of seriousness of violations of the second commandment.  While the error of MacArthur is within that range, it’s not at the same place as the Romanists with their open adoration of the bread and devotion to the images.  While we think this is an important issue worth pressing, it does not mean that we can’t see the difference between Ratzinger and MacArthur.  We can.  Finally, we are calling MacArthur to be consistent.  We worship an unseen God, and we ought to do so without the use of images.  MacArthur seems to realize that in some of his materials, as Mr. Lankford has quoted at length.


P.S. As noted above, Mr. Butler posted an idol as the graphic for his post.  You’ve been warned, but should you wish to go to his post, you can find it here.

Answering Skeptics’ Questions

October 13, 2011

Steve Hays provided concise and useful responses to 22 (he didn’t select the number, I’m not sure the significance of that number to the questioner) questions from skeptics.  They are posted courtesy of


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