Archive for December, 2015

James 2:24 Debate with William Albrecht

December 21, 2015

Roman Catholics shouldn’t cite James 2:24, because it doesn’t mean what they think it means. Last Saturday I conducted a debate with William Albrecht (Roman Catholic) on the topic of the meaning of James 2:24. (link to mp3) I hope you enjoy it, particularly the cross-examination section. With all due respect to Mr. Albrecht, I think you will share my lack of satisfaction with the answers he provided. I even had the opportunity to ask him an additional (related) question during the “audience question” portion of the debate, so hopefully you will find the entire recording useful!

The following are some of my notes for the debate, much of which you will hear me present during my affirmative presentation:

James 2:24 is often referenced by Roman Catholic apologists whenever the topic of Sola Fide or Justification by Faith Alone comes up. They keep on citing this verse, but it does not mean what they think it means. Thus, they shouldn’t cite it for at least the following reasons:
1. Context of Book
2. Immediate Context
3. Distinction between James and RC Justification

1) Context of Book

The book of James is primarily wisdom literature. It’s not exactly the same as Proverbs, but like Proverbs it has a focus on the same kind of practical wisdom: how to live a godly life. The opening passage (James 1:2-8) lays out the major themes of the book:

a) Trials when applied to faith produce patience.
b) If you lack wisdom ask in faith
c) Contrasted presented to a wavering, double-minded man

None of these themes bring up the kind of theological discussions we see in Romans or Galatians, where Paul provides the theological framework for Sola Fide.

2) Immediate Context

James 2:24 is part of a longer passage that stretches from verse 14 to verse 26. The opening line of the passage is this “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?”

James then compares such a statement to another statement: the statement to a hungry and naked person “be warmed and filled.” It sounds like a nice blessing, but it’s obviously insincere if it’s not accompanied by you actually helping them out, assuming you can.

James says that such an insincere profession of faith is “dead” because it is alone, like the dead blessing he just provided.

James then compares the profession of faith to the demonstration of faith. “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works”

James then notes that it’s good to believe that God exists – but insists that even this level of true belief can be the wrong kind if it leads merely to trembling, like the devils, not to right action.

James then provides two examples of works demonstrating faith:

1) James argues that Abraham’s faith was justified by works, when he offered up Isaac.
2) James argues that Rahab’s faith was justified when she aided the spies.

James then concludes by again reiterating that faith without works is dead.

The part I’ve skipped over (vs. 24) falls right between those two illustrations. In that context, James’ point should be clear – man is not justified by a faith that doesn’t bear fruit in works but by one that does.

3) Conflict with RC Dogma on Justification

Although sometimes Roman Catholics say they believe in Justification by Faith and Works, their system doesn’t provide a good match for what James is saying, at all. Even if James were speaking theologically and not practically, the examples James provides do not provide examples either of RC initial justification or RC subsequent justification.

Keep in mind that in RC theology initial justification is by infusion of faith, hope, and charity in baptism. Subsequent justification is work-based in a sense, but it is by simply avoiding mortal sin.

Immediate Context of James’ Faith/Works Pericope

December 14, 2015

James discusses the relationship of faith and works in a pericope with well-defined boundaries: the passage starts at James 2:14 and ends at James 2:26.

We can see this from the signal, “my brethren,” which James uses repeatedly throughout the book in various forms to set off various pericopes. James uses it once in verse 14 and then again at verse 1 of chapter 3 (the verse after James 2:26).

We can also see this from the subject matter of the pericope. Within the pericope, James mentions faith or believe (or some form thereof) about a dozen times, whereas James’ only mentions faith a few times outside the pericope.

Nevertheless, while the pericope is an entity to itself, it also has a context within James as a whole (Wisdom literature with a central theme of demonstrated faith) and an immediate context.

The immediate context of Faith/Works pericope is the preceding respect-of-persons pericope (James 2:1-13) and the following tongue-bridling pericope (James 3:1-10). The respect-of-persons pericope generally deals with the importance of not discriminating against poor people in favor of rich people. By contrast, the tongue-bridling pericope deals with the importance of controlling one’s tongue, as being the most difficult to control and dangerous part of the body. Nevertheless, they both have some common threads.

The respect-of-persons argument argues for the seriousness of the sin of discriminating against the poor by arguing that a violation of any aspect of the law is a violation of the law as a whole: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10) Accordingly, James counsels that we should speak and act as those who will be judged by what James calls “the law of liberty,” (James 2:12) warning that “he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” James 2:13). Similarly, the tongue-bridling pericope begins by confessing that we have many offenses (“in many things we offend all” James 3:2), focusing on offenses of the tongue, which James says no man can tame (James 3:8).

Thus, both passages deal with the sinfulness of men and the inadequacy of men to keep the law. The references to tongue-bridling and the law of liberty actually hearken back to James 2:22-27, which states:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

In other words, the bridling of the tongue is part of the obedience to the law of liberty, as is care for the needy.

When it comes to the Faith/Works pericope, we will see care of the poor as an example, which tends to tie that pericope together with the pericopes before and after it, since care of the poor is part of obedience to that law of liberty.

Not So Much Mystery, as Error

December 10, 2015

Per Cardinal Koch (link to report), the RCC affirms salvation through an explicit or even implicit faith in Christ and says that Jews can be saved without explicitly confessing Christ:
“While affirming salvation through an explicit or even implicit faith in Christ, the Church does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel.” (17)
“That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.” (36)
It would be better to characterize that as a real contradiction and consequently an error, not a divine mystery.

Interestingly enough, the report acknowledged the fact that this view is a departure from tradition:

On the part of many of the Church Fathers the so-called replacement theory or supersessionism steadily gained favour until in the Middle Ages it represented the standard theological foundation of the relationship with Judaism: the promises and commitments of God would no longer apply to Israel because it had not recognised Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, but had been transferred to the Church of Jesus Christ which was now the true ‘new Israel’, the new chosen people of God.

(17)

The same section goes on to admit the novelty of the Vatican II position:

Arising from the same soil, Judaism and Christianity in the centuries after their separation became involved in a theological antagonism which was only to be defused at the Second Vatican Council. With its Declaration “Nostra aetate” (No.4) the Church unequivocally professes, within a new theological framework, the Jewish roots of Christianity.

It should be interesting to listen to the various attempts to deal with this from various “conservative” RC groups.

Possible ideas:

1) It’s only a report by a commission, it’s not a papal encyclical. Therefore, even though it’s on the Vatican website, it’s not “really official.”
2) The old standby, “well, this isn’t ex cathedra.”

Should We Pray to Michael the Archangel?

December 4, 2015

Pope Francis tweeted: “Let us ask the help of Saint Michael the Archangel to defend us from the snares of the devil.” (source)
Paul, Apostle of Jesus, wrote: “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,” (Colossians 2:18)

And yes, that’s what asking Michael the Archangel for help is – an example of worshipping of angels. We are nowhere encouraged to trust in angels for deliverance. Instead, our trust is to be in God. We should ask God for deliverance, not Michael the Archangel.

In case you think there is some ambiguity in the tweet, and that the pontiff could be just asking God to send Michael – consider these more complete remarks (from two and a half years earlier), “In consecrating Vatican City State to St. Michael the Archangel, I ask him to defend us from the evil one and banish him.” (link)

Michael wasn’t the only worshiped creature at that particular consecreation:

We also consecrate Vatican City State in St. Joseph, guardian of Jesus, the guardian of the Holy Family. May his presence make us stronger and more courageous in making space for God in our lives to always defeat evil with good. We ask Him to protect, take care of us, so that a life of grace grows stronger in each of us every day.

(same source)

Early Father Worshiping with Icons?

December 3, 2015

I was listening to a recent panel discussion with William Albrecht and David Withun and a caller called in and asked if they could name any father before the 300s that used images in the church. Albrecht pointed to Tertullian, in his work on Modesty. In that work he makes reference to the image of a shepherd on a chalice. Even this reference (which is the best they could muster) falls short.

Tertullian’s reference to an image on a chalice is part of a very flowery discusssion, not of his own practices, but of those of a different sect (one that, according to him, tolerated adultery). His words: “to which, perchance, that Shepherd, will play the patron whom you depict upon your (sacramental) chalice” (note the “your”).

By “Shepherd,” there, Tertullian is referring to the Shepherd in the book called the Shepherd of Hermas, a non-canonical early writing.

Contrasting with that, Tertullian describes himself by saying: “I, however, imbibe the Scriptures of that Shepherd who cannot be broken.”

You can break a cup, but you can’t break the Scriptures.

(Augustine was mentioned in the talk, but he was against the practice that was budding in his day.)

James as Wisdom Literature

December 1, 2015

It’s important to recognize that James is unlike most of Paul’s epistles. James, while a letter (James 1:1), is a book of wisdom in the category of the books of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes.

The prologue (James 1:2-8) introduces wisdom in exactly the way wisdom literature would: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Notice the characteristics of identifying the practical need and the practical mechanism to resolve the need. Notice as well the method of argumentation supporting the practical instruction. It can be illustrated in this form (James 1:5):

Need | If any of you lack wisdom,
Technique | let him ask of God,
Argument 1 | [God] giveth to all men liberally, and
Argument 2 | [God] upbraideth not; and
Solution | it shall be given him.

We see James use this form or similar forms throughout the book. For example, in the very next maxim, James writes (James 1:6-8):
Technique | But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.
Argument 3 | For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Result | For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
Argument 4 | A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

The remainder of the book tends to address the same issues at the prologue, though in greater depth, with the same wisdom-genre emphasis on holy living.

James 1:9-15 is a discourse on the temptation issue mentioned in James 1:2-3.
James 1:16-18 is a discourse on the God’s gift issue mentioned in James 1:5.

James 1:19-4:12 are discourses on holy living with frequent returns to the issue of double-mindededness. James 2:14-26 provides a special case with respect to faith, that we will discuss in more detail in another post, Lord Willing.

James 4:13-17 and 5:1-6 are two calls of condemnation on the presumptuous rich.

James 5:7-8 and 9 are two encouragements to the brethren to holy living in view of the Lord’s imminent return.

James 5:10-11 is an exhortation to endure trials/temptations harkening back to the James 1:2-3 and James 1:9-15 points.

James 5:12-18 are more encouragements to holy living.

Finally, James 5:19-20 is particularly an encouragement to assist other brethren in holy living.


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