Archive for the ‘Mediator’ Category

What’s the Big Deal About Priests?

June 3, 2014

Garry Wills, in Why Priests, provides some interesting thoughts on the significance of the Roman Catholic priesthood (Chapter 2, p. 20):

The most striking thing about priests, in the later history of Christianity, is their supposed ability to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. “From this unique sacrifice their whole priestly ministry draws its strength” (C 1566). Nothing else about their actions is on that scale–the fact that they can routinely work an astounding miracle. Jesus becomes present in every bit of bread and every bit of wine that is consecrated, and only one thing can make it happen–the words of a priest impersonating Jesus at the Last Supper and saying, “This is MY [i.e., Jesus’ though the priest is speaking] body . . . This is the cup of MY blood.”
The only person on earth who can do this is a priest, and he can do it all by himself, with no congregation present (in what is called a private Mass). A congregation of believers, no matter how large or how pious, cannot do this if no priest is present. The people of God cannot approach God directly, in this rite central to many Christians, but only through a designated agent. As Thomas Aquinas put it: “A priest, it was earlier said, is established as the mediator between God and the people. A person who stands in need of a mediator with God cannot approach him on his own” (ST 3.22 a4r).

This does, of course, lead to the “Protestant” objection that there is only one mediator, Christ.  This becomes even more clearly in a quotation Garry Wills provides from an RC “saint” (p. 25):

In the twelfth century, Saint Norbert, the founder of the Premonstratensian order of priests, wrote of the priest’s re-enactment of the Incarnation, “Priest you are not, because you are God.”[Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast (University of California Press, 1987), p. 57]

Garry Wills also draws a distinction between the traditional splendor of the papacy and the austerity of the original apostles (pp. 28 and 32):

Until recently the pope used to enter Saint Peter’s on a sedia gestatoria, a throne borne on the shoulders of twelve footman while two attendants used the flabellum, a large ceremonial fan made of white ostrich feathers. Despite suspension of its use, the sedia has not been formally renounced.
All this fuss and finery far outdoes what Jesus condemned in the Pharisees. “Everything they do is done to impress people. They enlarge their tefillins and lengthen their tassels” (Mt 23.5-6).

Of course I have known humble and hardworking priests, men who shamed me by their devotion to others. But there are enough of the other kind to make one appreciate the words of Jesus when he told his Followers not to strive for pre-eminence (Mk 9.33-37). Or when he sent his disciples out to preach the Gospel, saying, “Provide yourselves no gold or silver or copper in your belts, or traveler’s pouch, or a second pair of tunics or sandals” (Mt 10.9-10). Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Palace cannot claim true descent from that pair of sandals and that single tunic.

The current bishop of Rome is less interested in finery than many of his predecessors, but his “succession” is from them.  He has not condemned their moral heresy, nor does he refuse to be called “Holy Father” or “Vicar of Christ.”


Paradigm Puzzle for Jason Stellman

April 25, 2013

Jason Stellman has claimed that one of his attractions to the Roman religion was that allegedly the Biblical authors said things that someone with a Reformed paradigm would not say. Actually, he’s being anachronistic. There are certain things Reformed pastors wouldn’t say, because of heresies that have arisen since the time of the apostles (such as papalism) and because of misinterpretations of Biblical passages, such as those related to perseverance.

I’m persuaded that Stellman will perceive particular passages to be puzzling for his present paradigm.  For example, I’m sure Stellman realizes that in Roman Catholicism the Eucharist is central. For example:

Eucharist and Priests: The Eucharist is central to the ministry of priests and it is by means of the Eucharist that “they are in communion with Christ the head, and leading others into this communion” (Ad Gentes, 39). The missionary activity of the Church is about the extension of communion through the building up, day by day of the body of Christ.


This should be obvious as well from the title of the blog of Stellman’s pals, “Called to Communion.” But what is the central aspect of the ministry of Christian elders? Check out the description in Acts:

Acts 6:2-4
Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

The word and prayer are the central aspects.

And again, in 1 Timothy:

1 Timothy 5:17
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

Here the emphasis is on word and doctrine, as well as on administrative ability.

And again, in Titus 1:

Titus 1:1-9
Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; but hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour; to Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

Notice again the emphasis on the word and doctrine, as well as the emphasis on moral rectitude.

And again in 1 Timothy:

1 Timothy 3:1-7
This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Again, teaching aptitude and administrative ability (together with exemplary moral status) are the focus.

In fact, while the Lord’s supper (and Baptism) are important, they are not closely linked with the roles of bishops/elders in Scripture. While typically these sacraments are administered by elders in Reformed churches, this is not because the Scriptures require it. It is a matter of order in the church, rather than a matter of absolute necessity. For example, Philip (one of the proto-deacons) baptized the Ethiopian eunuch.

In Roman Catholicism, the priests/bishops must administer the Eucharist, because they are priests. That is not the paradigm of the New Testament. The elders/bishops are never referred to as priests. Indeed, in the New Testament properly the only priest is the Lord Jesus Christ. In a sense, we are all priests, but properly it is only the Lord. He is the only mediator between God and man, which necessarily excludes a priestly class.

But Stellman claims that the Roman Catholic paradigm better explains the New Testament. I’m not persuaded.


There is One Mediator and Only One Mediator

October 16, 2008

In a recent blog post (link), Dave Armstrong (a lay advocate of Catholicism) has made the remarkable argument that “there is one mediator” in 1 Timothy 2:5 does not rule out what Dave calls “mini-mediators.” Dave doesn’t comment on whether “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD,” rules out mini-Jehovahs or whether “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, ” rules out mini-Lords, mini-faiths, and mini-baptisms.

Naturally, he also doesn’t comment on whether “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble,” rules out mini-Gods. I suppose that he might be excused from these oversights with respect to other uses of “one” in Scripture except that the verse in question does not say only “there is one mediator” but also “there is one God” – in fact the quotation, “There is one mediator,” requires one to omit “One God, and” in the usual translation of the text:

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

Dave also doesn’t comment on the fact that the term “mediator” is only ever used of Jesus in the New Testament (see post-script below for more discussion on this). That’s true whether we speak of the English word for mediator in KJV, the Latin word for mediator in the Vulgate, or the Greek word for mediator in the original. Instead of dealing with these troubling details, Dave waves his hand and claims that Scriptures teach the concept of mini-mediators. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to guess that Dave cannot find the term “mini-mediator” in Scripture either. Instead, he declares that:

1) When Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9:22 of “by all means sav[ing] some” – that means Paul is a “mini-mediator”;

2) When Paul speaks in 1 Timothy 4:16 of “sav[ing] both yourself and your hearers” – that means Timothy is going to be a “mini-mediator”;

3) When Paul speaks in Philippians 2:12-13 of “work[ing] out your own salvation” – that means the Philippians are going to be “mini-mediators”;

4) When Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 4:15 of “all things [being] for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God” – that means that Paul is a “mini-mediator”;

5) When Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:2 of “the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward” – that means Paul is a “mini-mediator”;

6) When Paul speaks in Ephesians 4:29 of the words from the Ephesians mouths “minister[ing] grace unto the hearers” – that means the Ephesians will be “mini-mediators”;

7) When Peter speaks in 1 Peter 4:8-10 of “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” – that means that the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia are going to be “mini-mediators”;

8) When John speaks in Revelation 1:4-5 of “the seven spirits who are before his throne” – that means that angels are going to be “mini-mediators”;

9) Whenever Paul or anyone else uses the phrase “grace to you” or the like – that means that the person using the phrase is acting as a “mini-mediator.”

There a number of significant problems with Dave’s methodology. For one thing, Dave more or less simply assumes in each case that the activity involved is somehow a “mini” form of what Christ does as mediator. Another problem is that in order for Dave’s overall argument to work, Dave essentially has to reduce Jesus’ mediatorial role to that of being a grace conduit, with God (the Father) being the source and believers (or all men – one is not really sure whether Dave applies a “prevenient grace” concept here) being the recipients. There are other problems to be sure. For example, the idea that the “seven spirits who are before [God’s] throne” are consequently to be implicated in mediation is particularly far-fetched. But the two I’ve identified above may be viewed as the primary problems.

What is the cause of Dave’s problems in this regard? Dave simply doesn’t seem to understand the role of the mediator. The mediator is not simply a grace conduit. The mediator is the person who reconciles two. As Scripture says,

Galatians 3:20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

The mediator stands between two parties and reconciles them together. Thus, for example, the LXX uses this same word for mediator in Job 9:33, where the text says:

Job 9:33 Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, [that] might lay his hand upon us both. (KJV)

Job 9:33 “There is no umpire between us, Who may lay his hand upon us both. (NASB)

Jesus is that one person who reconciles God and man. Jesus does that job and does it completely, leaving no room for a “mini-mediator.” Part of that role, moreover, is the role of being the sole object of faith. That’s how Galatians connects Jesus’ role as mediator to the relation between God and man:

Galatians 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

It is by faith in the mediator that we obtain the blessing. There is no mention in Scripture of salvation by faith in any lesser or “mini” mediator – but only by faith in Christ. There is no salvation by faith in the church, in the saints, or in Mary: there is only one mediator: Jesus Christ. The same point is being made in 1 Timothy 2, in which what is well pleasing to God is that men believe on his son – the one mediator between God and man.

But an even stronger point is made in the Epistle to the Hebrews. In chapter 8, Christ is portrayed as performing the mediatorial role by serving as the high priest of the “better covenant” – by which it is meant that he is the one who offers up the sacrifice to God. After all, it is the sacrifice that reconciles us to God. Hebrews 12 makes the same connection, but more loosely.

It is, however, in Hebrews 9 that we find the clear exposition of what it means for Christ to be the mediator:

Hebrews 9:15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Christ’s role as mediator is a priestly role. He is the sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and he is the priest that offers the sacrifice. He is the Lamb and the one who offers the Lamb. He offers it specifically for “they which are called,” and do so that they will receive the promise of heaven. Christ mediates the new covenant. He is the one mediator of it.

Paul explicitly disclaims any such role:

1 Corinthians 1:13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Furthermore, though he Paul would like to take on such a role, he implicitly acknowledges that he cannot:

Romans 9:3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

Similarly, Moses’ attempt to be the mediator between God and Israel was rejected by God:

Exodus 32:31-33
31And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. 32Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. 33And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.

Furthermore, the epistle to the Hebrews explains that such a role is an impossibility:

Hebrews 10:9-14
9Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

Notice the key here: by one offering Christ has once for all sanctified and perfected us. There is no room for mini-mediators, because this mediator has done it all. It is finished. There is nothing left to mediate: God’s wrath against us is appeased in Christ, and consequently we have no need of a further mediator, whether “mini-” or “co-” as some advocates of Catholicism have attempted to suggest.

This is the understanding of Christ’s mediatorial role that is missing from Dave’s post – that leads to his confused claims that somehow these instrumental means whereby men are saved (such as the preaching of the Gospel in items (1), (2), and (4)-(7) above) are the role of the mediator.

Instead, Dave’s concept of mediation is asking God for more grace for people (in an interesting, but largely irrelevant tangent, Dave seems to be under the misapprehension that the Protestant Reformed position on the definition of “grace” is the main view out there). Of course, that is not what Jesus does as mediator of the new covenant, as we have discussed above.

The actions of believers in wishing grace of God on others, or in seeking to bring that about by preaching the gospel or by repentance, faith, and new obedience are in an entirely different category. The mediating of Christ is done: He has sat down at the right hand of God:

Hebrews 1:13 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?

As it is sung:

Psalm 110

A Psalm of David

1 The Lord did say unto my Lord,
Sit thou at my right hand,
Until I make thy foes a stool,
whereon thy feet may stand.

2 The Lord shall out of Zion send
the rod of thy great pow’r:
In midst of all thine enemies
be thou the governor.

3 A willing people in thy day
of pow’r shall come to thee,
In holy beauties from morn’s womb;
thy youth like dew shall be.

4 The Lord himself hath made an oath,
and will repent him never,
Of th’ order of Melchisedec
thou art a priest for ever.

5 The glorious and mighty Lord,
that sits at thy right hand,
Shall, in his day of wrath, strike through
kings that do him withstand.

6 He shall among the heathen judge,
he shall with bodies dead
The places fill: o’er many lands
he wound shall ev’ry head.

7 The brook that runneth in the way
with drink shall him supply;
And, for this cause, in triumph he
shall lift his head on high.

No, Jesus is not simply the central distribution point of “grace” (the view of grace in Catholicism, of course, being different from that in Biblical theology) as Dave seems to think (“Jesus is ultimately the mediator of grace. It all comes through Him. But He also clearly uses human beings to distribute the grace, as these passages establish beyond any doubt.”) but Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life:

John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

What’s being described there is not Jesus’ role as example (though he is an example) or his role as preacher (though he is a preacher) but instead Jesus’ role the one who obtains a heavenly place for his people.

John 14:1-4
1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.

The persevering reader who has made it this far may be interested in reading more about the implications of Jesus’ having prepared mansions for us, which I’ve discussed in a previous article (link).

Perhaps someone will ask – do not we ourselves intercede to God for our fellow believers and for the lost? In doing so, are we not in some sense mediators? I cannot think of a better response than that given by Charles Hodge (link to selection from Hodge). The short answer is – no, we are not. We simply intercede in the sense of praying for the person. We are not mediators – we do not reconcile God to man.

In summary, recall that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 We are not mini-mediators, but spokesmen: declaring the good news so that men who were spiritually dead may live. 1 Peter 4:6


P.S. One kind reader has noted that some people believe that the term for mediator in English, Latin, and Greek is used in Galatians 3:19-20 and refers in that place to Moses. While I would disagree that the term used there refers to Moses, it is mostly a moot point, since (if it refers to Moses) it would relate to Moses’ role as law-giver. Furthermore, if it were the case that the mediator in verses 19-20 were Moses, the context (“herefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” vs. 24) would lead us to recognize that Moses foreshadowed Christ (cf. Acts 3:22 For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.) the one mediator of the New Covenant. Nevertheless, since verse 19 refers to “angels” (plural), it seems better to refer the term “mediator” in verse 19 either directly to the promised Messaiah or to the Messiah as portrayed by the Old Testament priesthood.

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