Saturday, May 30, 2009

Examine Iglesia Ni Cristo

I've added a new website, Examine Iglesia Ni Cristo, to my apologetics links. The main reason for this is that the Iglesia Ni Cristo is a popular religious cult in my home country, and are particularly dangerous since they deny the deity of Christ, claim themselves to be the only true church, and consider their founder to be a prophet of God. I hope that this website will be helpful to anybody who has to deal with them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Examining The Pagan Christ: Part Four

I'm not going to make this post very long. I will deal with a few more quotes from the fifth chapter, as well as some from the sixth.

Significantly, both Horus and Jesus were accompanied by twelve disciples, as were Mithras and Dionysus. After reading Massey and Kuhn, I discovered that this has a deeper spiritual meaning than appears at first sight. A vast flood of light is let in upon Gospel interpretation if it is understood that the twelve disciples of Jesus symbolized the twelve powers of spiritual light energy to be unfolded by man in twelve labours (or stages) of growth, all imaged by the twelve signs of the zodiac. [1]

Too bad the early Christians never accepted astrology/the zodiac. Also, all this talk of "spiritual light energy" makes no sense at all, and is completely foreign to the meaning of the scripture. It would make more sense to say that the there were twelve apostles (not disciples, there's a difference) because they correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Also, there is no evidence that Horus had twelve disciples. This is the problem when you are relying on spurious secondary sources. Next:

Egypt gave the twelve followers a more definitive name and function. The twelve were astronomical powers, rulers or "saviours of the treasure of light".[2]

See above. Next:

In the New Testament the angel of the Lord says to Joseph, "Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt." At the birth of Horus, the god That says to the mother, "Come, thou goddess Isis, hide thyself with thy child." She is told to take him to a secluded spot in the marshes of lower Egypt, called Kheb (or Khebt). Interestingly, the Sumerian sun god, Sargon, had to be hidden, like Moses, in a reed basket by a river also to avoid being killed. [3]

Another undocumented quote. Horus did not say the quote attributed to him above. Also, I have found three kings/emperors by the name of Sargon, but no sun god, and no mention of being hidden in a reed basket by a river. So I can safely say that we can discount that claim as well. Next:

Jesus, all four Gospels declare, was baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin John, who was dubbed "the baptizer". John as later beheaded by the tetrarch Herod Antipas (4 B.C.E. - 39 C.E.)--after Salome's famous dance--at the whim of his wife, Herodias, and his death signalled the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. Horus, as we have seen, was baptized in the River Eridanus (or Arutana) by the Egyptian John the Baptist, Anup, who was also later beheaded. Kuhn says that Horus in his baptism was "transformed from the word made flesh to the word made truth"--a change from the natural to the wholly spiritual.[4]

I'm not going to quote the rest of the section on Anup (whom Harpur identifies with Anubis). The difference is simply bogus: Anup was not a "baptizer", nor was he beheaded.

And one more:

Jesus' Nativity will always be associated with the ox and the ass because of the stable and the manger. But these two animals were also with the Egyptian Iusa, ages upon ages before. What this earthy feature of the birth story is really about, in the true esoteric sense, is the coming of the divine into the basic animal nature to create that wholly new reality--the human being (part animal, part divine). Significantly, both these animals are in a way asexual, or "crossovers", which suggests that ultimately Christ in us is a melding of the male and female principles. Indeed , the Christ of Revelation has the breasts of a woman! [5]

Wow, I never heard that interpretation before. I guess when you try to come up with "esoteric" approaches to the scriptures, you can get away with practically any eisegesis for it.

Now, Harpur mentions "Iusa" here, as well as elsewhere in the book. This is another farce: Ron Leprohan, of the University of Toronto, pointed out that while sa means 'son' in ancient Egyptian and iu means 'to come,' Kuhn and Harpur have the syntax all wrong. In any event, the name Iusa simply does not exist in Egyptian. The name 'Jesus' is Greek, derived from a universally recognized Semitic name (Jeshu'a) borne by many people in the first century. (link)

Finally, the female breasts part seems to be based on Revelation 1:13. The King James Version uses the word "paps" here, but modern translations simply put in "chest". So, it would appear that this claim by Mr. Harpur is based a misunderstanding of the KJV's text, and we can discard this claim.

End Notes
1. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 86.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid, p. 93.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid, p. 92.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Examining The Pagan Christ: Part Three

I've finished chapter five of Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ, and am now at the beginning of chapter six. So for this installment of my series dissecting his book, I will focus on the fifth chapter, which is where Mr. Harpur brings out all his alleged proofs for an Egyptian Christ. Unfortunately, I'm not that well versed in Egyptian mythology (though I do know the story behind some of them), so I do my best to present what limited information I have here.

Like the Christians many millennia later, the ancient Egyptians believed in one God who was self-created, self-existent, immortal, invisible, eternal, omniscient, almighty, and inscrutable; he was the maker of the heavens and the earth, sky and sea, men and women, animals, birds, fish and creeping things, trees and plants, and the incorporeal beings who were the messenger (angels) that fulfilled his wish and word. [1]

This is only part true. In reality, the Egyptians' conception of their gods has evolved quite a bit through the passing of the dynasties. Mr. Harpur is referring to a specific stage in the development of Egyptian mythology, which was around the time of the Middle Kingdom, and the religion was truly polytheistic during other stages in its history. Ancient Egypt only became truly monotheistic (actually, henotheistic might be more accurate) during the reign of the pharaoh Akhenaten during the 14th century BC, when he instituted the worship of only one deity, the sun god Aten. This was a short-lived development, however, as the traditional polytheistic religion was in fact reinstated 20 years after Akhenaten abolished it.

Osiris was divine, yet in the myth he became a human who lived on the earth, ate, drank, and suffered a cruel death, then triumphed over death through help of the gods (Horus) and attained everlasting life. Budge adds, "But what Osiris did, they could do, and what the gods did for Osiris they must also do for them.... They like him would rise again and inherit life everlasting." Horus was so closely associated with Osiris that at times they were virtually interchangeable We are reminded at this point of the Jesus of John's Gospel. He said "I and the Father are one". [2]

The main problem is that the Egyptians didn't believe in any sort of "incarnation". There just isn't any evidence that they had that sort of thing in their religion.

Now, the actual story is really a lot less edifying. Though variations of the story exist, the basic plot is the same: During a party, Osiris was tricked into lying down on a chest that was specially designed to fit him. At that point, the chest was nailed shut, trapping him in it. The chest floated in the Nile for a while until it found its way back to Egypt. Set then hacked the pieces of Osiris' body into pieces (The number of pieces varies between 14 and 16). Now, what happens next varies: Either Isis sewed/waxed the body parts back together, or they were buried, and Osiris descended into the underworld to become god of the dead. In any case, the stories are completely different from that of Jesus, save for a few minor similarities, such as one variation of the story where Osiris is called a "saviour of man". (link 1) (link 2) (link 3)

Oh, and one more thing: Budge wrote back 1934. Our knowledge on Egyptology has advanced in the seven decades since he published his works. Better get your facts updated.

The body was the vehicle for the divine spirit. Just as it was soaked in various medications and spices to preserve it, so too each individual is "steeped" in, or anointed with, soul energies that will endure to everlasting life. This is why the mummy was called a Karast or Krist (KRST): The concept of Christ iself comes from a root word meaning "to anoint." The Hebrew word Messiah stems from a similar root. [3]

It's been said before, but I'll repeat it here, just for good measure: KRST is the word for “burial” (“coffin” is written “KRSW”), but there is no evidence whatsoever to link this with the Greek title “Christos” or Hebrew “Mashiah”. (link)

The Egyptian Christ, manifeseted in the sign of Pisces, was fore-ordained to be Ichthys (the Greek word for "fish"), the fisherman, and to be accompanied by fishermen followers. Doctrinally, he was the "fisher of men." [4]

I wonder where Mr. Harpur got this. There is no evidence that Horus was ever called "fisher of men". See the previous link.

(Will be continued in part four.)

End Notes
1. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 68
2. Ibid, p. 70-71.
3. Ibid, p. 75.
4. Ibid, p. 88.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More Arguments from Al Islam

I was going through the homepage of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's official website when I stumbled across an interesting article entitled "Muhammad in the Bible". I didn't take very long for me to figure out that this was going to be another rehashing of common Islamic arguments based on eisegesis of certain scriptural texts, as some of the passages brought up in the article have been raised before by mainstream Muslims. Still, I think it would be fair to provide an examination of this article and its arguments. Excerpts from the article will be posted in italics.

We find that his coming was foretold in clear and precise terms not only by Jesus himself but by Moses and other Biblical prophets as well. In fact it seems from whatever words of Jesus are available to the world, that the bringing of glad tidings of a great coming prophet was one of the chief objects of his mission.

We find that his coming was foretold in clear and precise terms not only by Jesus himself but by Moses and other Biblical prophets as well. In fact it seems from whatever words of Jesus are available to the world, that the bringing of glad tidings of a great coming prophet was one of the chief objects of his mission.

Again and again Jesus said that he was sent to the world only to give as much guidance as the people of his own time could bear. As for complete teaching which would stay forever with mankind, he said:

But the comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)

Only the prophet of Islam could have fulfilled this prophecy of Jesus. Muhammad was truly sent in his name because he bore testimony to his truth. The Holy Quran says:

The Messiah, son of Mary, was a messenger, "surely messengers like unto him had passed away before him" (The Holy Quran 5:76)

The Holy Quran reports that the angels told Mary:

Surely Allah gives you good news with a word from Him of whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, worthy of regard in this world and hereafter. (The Holy Quran 3:46)

Now when we take this prophecy point by point, it is unmistakably proven that it applies to none else but the Holy Prophet Muhammad. He came after Jesus. The Comforter was supposed to reprove the followers of Jesus. Obviously, he could not be a Christian or a Jew .The prophecy must relate to one who would belong to another people but should respect Jesus and promote reverence for him. The Holy Prophet was neither Jew nor a Christian.

Whoever came up with this argument should have taken a closer look at the passage he quoted. Jesus specifically states that the comforter is the Holy Ghost. The comforter is not a prophet, and it is certainly not Muhammad. In fact, we see the actual fulfillment of this passage in the Pentecost (Acts 2:1 ff), as well as in various other passages throughout the New Testament.

The Holy Prophet testified to the truth of Jesus as a divine and honored Teacher and Prophet, and declared them mistaken and misguided who thought him accursed. The Holy Quran described his teachings as "guidance and light ." Further elaborating the same prophecy, Jesus said:
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will sent him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. ... I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. How be it when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak.. and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:7-14)

This prophecy clearly lays down that:

1. The Comforter will come after the departure of Jesus.
2. When the Comforter comes, he will reprove the world of sin, truth and justice.
3. He will guide the world into all truth.
4. The book revealed to him will contain no human word.
5. He will foretell things to come.
6. He will glorify Jesus and clear him of all charges.

Considering that John gives perhaps one of the greatest testimonies to the deity of Christ, I really doubt that St. John would have accepted Muhammad's testimony, since Muhammad denies that Jesus is God. Also, one wonders how glorifying Jesus meant "clearing Him of all charges". John makes it clear that glorifying Jesus means proclaiming the truth about Him. This, my friends, is an excellent example of Islamic eisegesis of Biblical texts.

Thus says the Quran:

[The Jews] slew him not, nor crucified him, but he was made to appear to them like one crucified, and those who differ therein are certainly in a state of doubt about it: they have no definite knowledge thereof, but only follow a conjecture; and they did not convert this: conjecture into a certainty; on the contrary, Allah exalted him to Himself (The Holy Quran 4: 158)

And yet, John testifies that the exact opposite is true. Are you really sure that John's gospel is talking about Muhammad? Anyway, moving a few paragraphs down, we encounter this:

The prophecy said that "he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that he shall speak". This description can only apply to the Prophet Muhammad. The New and Old Testaments do not contain a single book in which man's word has not been mixed with God's. The Quran is nothing but the word of God from beginning to end. Not a word even of the Prophet is to be found in it.

When Peter appeared before the people of Jerusalem, his words were: "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you". John starts one of his conversations with "I, John, who am your brother". On the same lines we read the utterances of Philip, James and others in the Bible.

This is where we come across a fundamental difference between the Christian and Islamic ideas regarding divine revelation. According to Islam, the words of the Qur'an were dictated by God Himself. However, in Christianity, the words of the Bible, though penned down by ordinary human beings, are divinely inspired, or God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means that each individual human author's thoughts, concerns and writing styles are visible in the biblical text, although it still conveys what God intends it to convey, and by virtue of His divine inspiration is protected from error. The problem with the assertion made by Islam is that it attempts to impose the Islamic view of revelation onto the Christian worldview.

The fact is that before Jesus, Moses had also foretold of a great prophet in clear and precise words. When Moses went to Mount Horeb under the command of God he addressed the Israelites saying:

The Lord thy God will raise unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me, unto him ye shall hearken. (Deuteronomy 18:15)

And again, God's words to Moses:

I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass that, whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:18-19)

It is evident from these verses that Moses foretold a Law-giving Prophet who was to appear after him, and who was to be from among the brethren of Israel.That he was to be a Law-giver and not an ordinary Prophet is obvious from the words "like unto Moses", since Moses was also a Law-giver.

I'm not very good at exegeting the texts given above, but from what I understand, the "brethren" are supposed to be "from the midst of thee", that is to say, from the Jewish people. This pretty much disqualifies Muhammad, since he was never "from the midst of" the Jewish people. I think I should get somebody more well versed on this than me to explain the real meaning of the passage:

Moving on:

Was Jesus such a prophet? Was he a Law-giver? Did he bring a new Law into the world to replace an old one? The answer, in his own words:

Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto You, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled. (Matthew 5:17-18)

And the followers of Jesus went so far as to declare:

And the Law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law. (Galatians 3:12-13)

Jesus laid no claim to a new Law; his disciples regarded the Law as a curse. It was the Holy Quran which announced from the very outset that:

This is the (complete and perfect) Book, there is nothing of doubt in it. It is a guidance for the righteous. (The Holy Quran 2:3)

This is because Christianity proclaims a new covenant, one that is not of the law, but is of grace. Thus, this has everything to do with how the old covenant relates to the new. It is explained thus:

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
(Romans 3:27-31)

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
(Romans 7:1-6)

I don't have time to critique the rest of the article, but going through the first half of the article, we can already see the arguments unravel. Perhaps I can dissect the rest of the article in a future post, or perhaps I can leave it to someone else to take up the task. In any case, the link to the article is up there in the first paragraph of the post. Check it out for yourselves, and see what you think.

Oh, and finally, before I forget, Answering Islam has numerous articles answering claims about Muhammad being in the bible. Go there for further information.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Examining The Pagan Christ: Part Two

This is the second installment of my series critiquing Tom Harpur's "The Pagan Christ". I am currently at the beginning of the fifth chapter, and Mr. Harpur has already begun towing out all the alleged parallels between Christianity and other religions, and even takes the time to take jabs at quite a few of the early church fathers. I will provide here some rebuttals to various assertions made by Mr. Harpur in the 3rd and 4th chapters of his book.

This first paragraph is a citation from Oliver Wendell Holmes' introduction to "The Life of Asia", a biography of Buddha by Sir Edwin Arnold.

If one were told that many centuries ago a celestial ray shone into the body of a sleeping woman, as it seemed to her in her dream, that thereupon the advent of a wondrous child was predicted by the soothsayers; that angels appeared at this child's birth; that merchants came from afar bearing gifts to him; that an ancient saint recognized the babe as divine and fell at his feet to worship him; that in his eighth year the child confounded his teachers with the amount of knowledge, while still showing them true reverence; that he grew up full of compassionate tenderness to all that lived and suffered; that to help his fellow creatures he sacrificed every worldly prospect and enjoyment; that he went through the ordeal of a terrible temptation in which all the power and evil were let loose upon him, and came out conqueror of them all; that he preached holiness and practiced charity; that he gathered disciples and sent out apostles to spread his doctrine over many lands and peoples; that this "helper of the worlds" could claim a more than earthly lineage and a life that dated long before Abraham was---of whom would he/she think the wonderful tale was told? Would he/she not say that this must be another version of the story of the One who came upon our earth in a Syrian village during the reign of Augustus Caesar and died by violence during the reign of Tiberius? What would this person say if told that the narrative was between five and six centuries older than that of the Founder of Christianity? Such is the story of this person [the Buddha]. Such is the date assigned. The religion he taught is reckoned by many to be among the most widely prevalent of all beliefs.[1]

I don't know about you, but it seems a bit of a stretch to connect the story of a celestial ray shining on a sleeping woman and an angelic visit announcing to a wide awake young woman that she is to become pregnant through the Holy Spirit. There isn't even any mention of whether or not the mother was a virgin or not. Also, after having gone through the story of the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, I can find no references to angels appearing. The part about merchants from afar bearing gifts and of an ancient saint worshipping him are based on some rather broad generalities and superficial similarities. Here is the actual story:

In the first few days after his birth, many people came to the palace to see the new baby. One of these visitors was and old man named Asita. Asita was a hermit who lived by himself in the distant forests, and he was known to be a very holy person. The King and Queen were Surprised that Asita would leave his forest home and appear at their court, "We are very honored that you have come to visit us, O holy teacher," They said with great respect. "Please tell us the purpose of your journey and we shall serve you in any way we can."Asita answered them, "I thank you for your kind welcome. I have come a great distance to visit you because of the wonderful signs I have recently seen. They tell me that the son recently born to you will gain great spiritual knowledge for the benefit of all people. Since I have spent my entire life trying to gain such holy wisdom, I came here as quickly as possible to see him for myself."The King was very excited and hurried to where the baby Prince lay sleeping. He carefully picked up his son and brought him back to Asita... (link)

The story goes on, but you will not see any references to merchants bearing gifts, or of the aforementioned old man "worshipping" the child. Only by distorting the actual stories and exaggerating the details can you come even close to painting the nativity story as a copy of this legend. The same goes for the rest of the alleged similarities presented in the aforementioned paragraph. Next:

The parallels in the birth and life of Lord Krishna, the Hindu Christ, are now well known. The Persian god Zoroaster was born in innocence and of a virgin birth, from a ray of divine reason (Logos). Eventually, he was suspended from wood or "from the tree"--the cross or tree of the later Calvary. There is also the story of Salivahana, a divine child born of a virgin in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He was the son of Tarshaca, a carpenter. His life was threatened in infancy by a tyrant who afterwards was killed by him. His story shows such close affinity to that of Jesus that it would be hard to deny a common source for both. [2]

On Krishna: Harpur does not mention what the parallels are. The closest I could find are some references to Krishna being born without sexual union, apparently from the Hindu text known as the Bhagavata Purana. However, it should be noted that this is not a universal belief of Hindus (though I may have to talk to a couple of Hindu acquaintances just to be sure),

On Zoroaster: He wasn't even a god, he was a prophet. The closest I could find to a parallel between Zoroaster's birth and that of Jesus is a reference to the glory of Ahuda Mazda descending from Heaven and entering the house of Zoroaster's mother. (link) While a few similarities in detail could be found here, the similarities are not incredibly great. Also, he wasn't suspended from a piece of wood or a tree. According to certain sources, he was murdered at the altar by Turanians during the storming of the city of Balkh.[3]

On Salivahana: There is very little evidence that such a figure exists, and virtually none to support the idea that he was either a divine child or that he was born of a virgin mother. Finally, one source by the name of "Captain F. Wilford" dates the stories of Salivahana to sometime around the seventh century after Christ. More info can be found on this here.

Well, that pretty much debunks the idea of Christ being copied from Eastern religious figures. Next:

Consider this: comparative religions studies reveal that almost every traditional faith the world over rests on a central story of the son of a heavenly king who goes down into a dark lower world, suffering, dying and rising again, before returning to his native upper world. Acted out in a moving, multi-faceted dramatic ritual, the story tells how this king/god wins a victory over his enemies, has a triumphant procession, and is enthroned on high Comparative religions scholars have made lists of thirty to fifty such avatars or saviour, including Osiris, Horus, Krishna, Bacchus, Orpheus, Hermes, Balder, Adonis, Hercules, Attis, Mithras, Tammuz of Syria, Thor (son of Odin), Beddru of Japan, Deva Tat of Siam, and many more. Kersey Graves, in his book The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviours, quotes a prophecy of the Persian divinity Zoroaster: A virgin should conceive and bear a son, and a star would appear blazing at midday to signalize the occurrence."[4]

Umm, no. Hinduism, Buddhism, the Egyptian and Greco-Roman mythologies, Zoroastrianism, etc. do not have these supposed elements in them. To tackle just some of the figures listed: Osiris was a fertility god who was chopped into pieces, thrown into a river, and pieced back together. Hercules was a demi-god who performed ten labours for a king as punishment for murder. I already tackled Krishna. Adonis was killed by a wild boar, and has not done anything characteristic of a saviour or king. Beddru doesn't even exist (some have speculated that this is just a variant of Buddha, but I already tackled him). If you don't believe me, read up on the mythologies for yourself.

Also, I would like to add that Kersey Graves' works are highly questionable. Even the folks behind the Secular Web and the anti-Christian documentary "The God Who Wasn't There" have advised against using his book as a source. That said, I don't know much of the supposed quotes that Harpur draws from him, but unless he can back up his claims with a more reliable source, I will treat these quotes with a high level of suspicion.

Next, we find Harpur slamming a few of the early church fathers, in particular Eusebius, the father of church history. He quotes from Charles Waite:

Charles B. Waite, in his History of the Christian Religion to the Year 200, tells how Eusebius, whose Ecclesiastical History is the principal source for the history of Christianity from the apostolic age until his own day, was a most conspicuous liar. What's almost equally bad is that Eusebius frequently made many sloppy mistakes. "No one has contributed more to Christian history, and no one is guilty of more errors." Waite charges. "The statements of this historian are made, not only carelessly and blunderingly, but in many instances in falsification of the facts of history. Not only the most unblushing falsehoods, but literary forgeries of the vilest character darken the pages of his... writing." I had heard not a word about any of this during any of this during my years of training for the Anglican priesthood.

Waite cites authorities who confirm this scandal by asserting that Eusebius had "a peculiar faculty for diverging from the truth." He was always ready to supply by fabrication what was wanting in the historical record. In other words, this great world religion actually rests on a foundation of falsehood and forgery. [5]

I will grant that Eusebius was not the most reliable of historians, and had clear biases (as is the case with many historians of all stripes). However, I think that Tom Harpur has greatly exaggerated the claims that are made against Eusebius and his honesty. See here for a fair treatment of this. And finally:

The greatest preacher of the early Church, John Chrysostom (the golden mouth), who lived from about 347 to 407 and was both bishop of Constantinople and a famous doctor of the Church, observed in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:19, "Great is the force of deceit, provided it is not excited by a treacherous intention." Few today can read this without some recoil and surprise. [6]

I shall note with interest that this quote has been attributed to other people. For example, Islamic apologist Abdullah Smith attributes this quote to St. Jerome in one of his articles against Christianity. (link) But does St. John Chrysostom actually say this? Fortunately, we have access to his writings, thanks to CCEL. Here is the actual homily on 1 Corinthians 9:19:

“For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more.”

Here again he introduces another high step in advance. For a great thing it is even not to receive, but this which he is about to mention is much more than that. What then is it that he says? “Not only have I not received,” saith he,” not only have I not used this right, but I have even made myself a slave, and in a slavery manifold and universal. For not in money alone, but, which was much more than money, in employments many and various have I made good this same rule: and I have made myself a slave when I was subject to none, having no necessity in any respect, (for this is the meaning of, “though I was free from all men;”) and not to any single person have I been a slave, but to the whole world.”

Wherefore also he subjoined, “I brought myself under bondage to all.” That is, “To preach the Gospel I was commanded, and to proclaim the things committed to my trust; but the contriving and devising numberless things beside, all that was of my own zeal. For I was only under obligation to invest the money, whereas I did every thing in order to get a return for it, attempting more than was commanded.” Thus doing as he did all things of free choice and zeal and love to Christ, he had an insatiable desire for the salvation of mankind. Wherefore also he used to overpass by a very great deal the lines marked out, in every way springing higher than the very heaven. (link)

Great is the force of deceit indeed, Mr. Harpur. I do not see the supposed quote where it is supposed to be. Anyway, I will continue reading this book, and then provide a continuation of my dissection in the next installment.

End Notes
1. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 31-32.
2. Ibid, p. 34.
3. Jackson, A. V. Williams. Zoroaster, the prophet of ancient Iran. New York, 1899.
4. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 37.
5. Ibid, p. 54.
6. Ibid, p. 58.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Vatican and "Faith Alone"

Recently, I have discovered (courtesy of one of Turretin Fan's recent posts) a couple of interesting quotes from some articles contained in the Vatican. It seems that the Pope now admits to the correctness of the phrase "Faith alone", even quoting from the Lutheran formula of Concord. It should be noted though that he seems to use the phrase in a way that is different from how Protestants use it, and inserts the Roman understanding of Justification into the phrase (at least, that's how it appears to me, as I read the documents). What is the purpose of these? I will let you all see for yourselves:

Against this cultural pressure, which not only threatened the Israelite identity but also the faith in the one God and in his promises, it was necessary to create a wall of distinction, a shield of defence to protect the precious heritage of the faith; this wall consisted precisely in the Judaic observances and prescriptions. Paul, who had learned these observances in their role of defending God's gift, of the inheritance of faith in one God alone, saw this identity threatened by the freedom of the Christians this is why he persecuted them. At the moment of his encounter with the Risen One he understood that with Christ's Resurrection the situation had changed radically. With Christ, the God of Israel, the one true God, became the God of all peoples. The wall as he says in his Letter to the Ephesians between Israel and the Gentiles, was no longer necessary: it is Christ who protects us from polytheism and all of its deviations; it is Christ who unites us with and in the one God; it is Christ who guarantees our true identity within the diversity of cultures. The wall is no longer necessary; our common identity within the diversity of cultures is Christ, and it is he who makes us just. Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther's phrase: "faith alone" is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5:14).
(From the General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI, 19 November 2008)

Justification takes place "by grace alone“ (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified „apart from works“ (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25). "Grace creates faith not only when faith begins in a person but as long as faith lasts“ (Thomas Aquinas, S. Th.II/II 4, 4 ad 3).The working of God’s grace does not exclude human action: God effects everything, the willing and the achievement, therefore, we are called to strive (cf. Phil 2:12 ff). "As soon as the Holy Spirit has initiated his work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and the holy sacraments, it is certain that we can and must cooperate by the power of the Holy Spirit...“ (The Formula of Concord, FC SD II,64f; BSLK 897,37ff).
(From the Annex to the Official Common Statement)

One can't help but be reminded of the supposed anathemas of the Council of Trent.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Examining The Pagan Christ: Part One

I have just gone through the first few chapters of Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ. Already I've started seeing quite a few interesting assertions made by Mr. Harpur. I would like to dissect his comments and provide my thoughts/responses to them.

You will find that the allegorical, spiritual, mythical approach to the Bible and to Christian faith--that is, the true, spiritual Christianity, before official Christianism took over--solves the enigmas of Scripture and the Christos story as nothing else can do. Bible stories come alive with amazing new freshness, believability, and power. Our own potential for Christhood, and for experiencing the indwelling spirit of God here and now, sounds forth in a clear and relevant message for everyone. Hope for a truly cosmic faith is kindled and fanned into full flame. There is a theological grounding given for a faith that resonates with our own "matter", the natural world. Our fresh (yet ancient, more universal) understanding of the Jesus theme opens up doors to other faiths that orthodox Christianity as it is now can never hope to pass through. [1]

This is incredibly subjective, but it highly seductive and resonates well with the new-age mindset of many people living here in the post-Christian west. People are tired and/or disappointed with mainstream/orthodox Christianity, so they cling to some alternative spirituality that sounds and feels good to them, with relevance taking precedence over truth. Also, what is with this talk about "our own potential for Christhood"? Mr. Harpur claims that this is the true Christian belief before "official Christianism" took over, yet I find no historical evidence for such a claim. (unless you count the Gnostic sects) Just read the writings of the apostolic fathers, or any credible book on church history, and you will understand what I mean. Next:

The principal determinant of those admitted to the meaning of the myths or initiated into the widely popular Mystery Religions, where they were dramatized and experienced, was genuine zeal for the divine. Commenting on this esoteric approach, the great second-century theologian Origen said that ordinary people see only the exterior symbol, symbol: "It's allowed by all who have any knolwedge of the scriptures that everything there is conveyed enigmatically, i.e., esoterically." Once the early Church turned to literalism and an exoteric, bottom-line rendering of the faith, Origen was condemned as a heretic and his books were banned. To read them was to risk instant excommunication. The Church forgot or ignored the fact that St. Paul himself used the esoteric allegorical approach. [2]

Unfortunately for Mr. Harpur, Origen's exegeses of the scriptures are far from the commonly accepted norm back in his day. Granted, Origen came from the Alexandrian school, which was known for emphasizing allegory (as opposed to other schools such as the Antiochene school, which emphasized the typological and literal). But, even by the standards of the Alexandrian school, Origen was quite wild with his interpretations, and stretched the meaning of the scriptures far beyond what the texts allowed for. Other exegetes were more careful than he was, and didn't go off on wild tangents when it came to interpreting the biblical texts. [3]

Also, in an attempt to justify his ideas regarding the interpretation of scripture, Mr. Harpur attempts to offer Galatians 4:24 as an example of Paul giving an allegorical interpretation of scripture. Mr. Harpur's argument here is flawed for two reasons: 1) Although Paul gave an allegory based on an old testament story, he never denied the historicity of that story, and 2) Elsewhere in his writings, Paul affirms that he believes that the stories regarding Christ, such as the resurrection, actually happened. The most obvious example of this would be in his first epistle to the Corinthians, where he writes:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
(1 Corinthians 15:12-20)

Why would Paul write this? Obviously he must have believed that Christ really did live and that He really did die and rise again. Paul is clear on this. Next:

The sacred scriptures are written in a language of myth and symbol and the Christian religion threw away and lost the very should of their meaning when it mistranslated this language in to alleged history instead of reading it as spiritual allegory. [4]

Now, this is one assertion that is refuted by the very texts themselves. I think we should take a look at what the writers of the gospels say about what they have written:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
(Luke 1:1-4)

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
(John 20:30-31)

As shown by the two passages I have highlighted above, the gospel writers did not intend the accounts they presented to be mere allegories or myths. They believed they were writing historical accounts, and that is how the early church recieved them (case in point: The Pauline quote that I had provided earlier). Once again, I would invite everybody, including Mr. Harpur, to take a closer look at the history books rather than relying on such sensationalist theories.

Interestingly, Tom Harpur also comments on C.S. Lewis' Miracles in this page, calling his work a "failure on philosophical and other grounds". He doesn't give much of a reason why, save for a comment on how C.S. Lewis treats as history what the author rejects as history. Next:

Few Christians are aware that Augustine himself received the Christian doctrine of the Trinity from the Pagan philosopher Politnus (c. 205-270 C.E.), who "fed his mind on the attributes of the Pagan divinities and was steeped in Hellenistic rational religion and esotericism." [5]

Wrong again, Mr. Harpur. Plotinus may have influenced a few of Saint Augustine's ideas, but his belief in the Trinity isn't one of them. Augustine got his belief in the trinity from the natural development of the Church's understanding of God's revelation. And contrary to what some skeptics want to believe, it is not due to Pagan influence. The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge has this to say on the Trinity:

There is no reason to seek for sources or types of the doctrine of the Trinity outside of Christianity or the Bible, though in the eighteenth century efforts were made to derive the Christian dogma from Plato, and later from Brahmanism or Parseeism, or later still, from a Babylonian triad. Even were the resemblance between the Christian Trinity and the pagan triads far greater than it is, there could be no serious question of borrowing. The development of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is historically clear, and its motives were equally well known, being almost exclusively due to Christological speculation. The formulation of the dogma was ruled by the necessity of establishing the absolute character of the Christian revelation, a process which required the closest association of the historic Christ with the life and essence of God. At the same time, Christian faith could tolerate neither any menace to monotheism nor any lowering of the person of the Redeemer to a mere function or transitory phenomenon of the Godhead. The Apostolic Fathers did not feel the relation of the Father and the Son to be a problem, since they either considered the Son simply as an instrument of the Father, or identified him with the Father and the Holy Ghost. The apologetes, on the other hand, who adopted for their basis the concept of the Logos for their interpretation of the person of Jesus, were indeed able to assign the Logos to a place within the revealing activity of God without impairing their monotheism, but could not make sure the concentration of revelation in Christ or his specific relation to the Father.[6]
There is also the quote from J.N.D Kelly that I quoted in a previous post, but bears repeating here:

Until the middle of the of the second century, when Hellenistic ideas began to come into the fore, Christian theology was taking shape in predominantly Judaistic moulds, and the categories of thought used by almost all Christian writers before the Apologists were largely Jewish. This explains why the teaching of the Apostolic Father, for example, while not strictly unorthodox, often strikes a strange note when judged by later standards. And it is certain that this ‘Judaeo-Christian’ theology continued to exercise a powerful influence well beyond the second century.

The two features of later Palestinian Judaism which call for mention here are its attitude to divine ‘hypostases’ and its heightened interest in angels. It is certain that the former, and by no means unlikely the latter, helped to create an atmosphere of thought propitious to the development of the Christian conception of God as three-personal. Students of the Old Testament are familiar with the growing tendency there visible to personify Wisdom and to assign it creative functions; and the readiness of New Testament writers like St. Paul to avail themselves of the idea in order to explain the status of Christ is also a commonplace. [7]

So we see that the historians themselves do not buy into the theory that Christianity was copied off of Pagan religions. And finally, I must deal with one last quote from the book:

Celsus, a famous Jewish philosopher with whom Origen waged a well-known, detailed debate, said; "The Christian religion contains nothing but what Christians hold in common with the heathen; nothing new." For this, Origen had no rebuttal. As well, Ammonius Saccas (c. 175-240), the great founder of Neoplatonism (born of Christian parents himself) and the teacher of Origen, stoutly maintained that Christianity and Paganism differend on no essential points.[8]

Okay, I will have to deal with several points here:

1. Celsus was a Pagan philosopher, not a Jewish one. I hear this mistake has been corrected in later editions of this book, but it remains in the copy that I hold in my hands.

2. Origen actually does have a rebuttal to Celsus. It's entitled "Contra Celsus" (go figure). You can view it for yourself here.

3. It is doubtful whether or not Ammonius Saccas actually taught Origen. It is believed, however, that he taught a Pagan platonist philosopher by the same name.

4. We have no extant writings of Ammonius Saccas available to us, so it is virtually impossible to verify the assertion that Mr. Harpur gives. Most of what we know about Ammonius Saccas comes from later writings, particularly from fragments from the writings of a Neoplatonist named Porphyry.

That is all I have to say on the book for now. I will post more on Tom Harpur and his book as I go further into his writings.

End Notes
1. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 4
2. Ibid, p. 19
3. Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines, 5th Edition. 2000. p. 69-75.
4. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 20
5. Ibid, p. 28.
6. "Trinity, Doctrine of the". New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. XII: Trench - Zwingli. p. 19.
7. Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines, 5th Edition. 2000. p. 6-7.
8. Harpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ. 2004. p. 29

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Answering Jehovah's Witnesses

I wrote this as a tract for a person at my church who had an encounter with Jehovah's Witnesses recently. Now, I was informed that Jehovah's Witnesses generally don't accept non-Watchtower material such as book and tracts, so it is unlikely that any of them will accept a copy of this tract. However, I think this may be useful anyway in furnishing a response against them.

The Biblical Picture
Answering the claims of Jehovah’s Witnesses

There are a lot of religious groups that claim to understand the Bible a lot better than others. As a Jehovah’s Witness, you have probably been taught a lot of things regarding the Bible, about God, who He is, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc. What I want to know is, are you really sure that what you’ve been taught is correct? Let us take a look at what the bible teaches, and examine the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses in light of God’s word.


This is where you got the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. You have been taught that Jehovah is the personal name of God, based on the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHVH, and this is the name that appears in the New World Translation of the Bible, as well as a select few other translations. However, the fact is that “Jehovah” first entered into usage sometime during the Middle Ages. Also since the Jews omitted vowels from God’s name, we don’t really know for certain whether “Jehovah” is the correct spelling of the name. Even the Watchtower admits to this. So, it does not make that much sense to attach so much importance to the name “Jehovah”.

Granted, translating YHVH as Jehovah may be acceptable in the Old Testament, but it is completely inexcusable to insert it in the New Testament. But this is exactly what is done in the New World Translation, where the name “Jehovah” is inserted instead of “Lord” in various passages. Now, if you ever spent time to study the original Greek text of the New Testament, you would discover that the original Greek word that is used there is “Kurios”, which means Lord. This is how every translation renders it. The New World Translation changes this by translating the word as “Jehovah”. To show just one example of this, here is Acts 1:24 where the text differs between the NWT and another translation:

And they prayed and said: “You, O Jehovah [Kurie], who know the hearts of all, designate which one of these two men you have chosen. (NWT)

And they prayed and said, “You,
Lord [Kurie], who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen. (NASB)

Not only is this change completely unjustified, it is also terribly inconsistent, as the word Kurios is translated in the NWT as Jehovah in some places, but Lord in others. Here are just two examples from the text of the New World Translation:

…and when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord [Kuriou] Jesus. (Luke 24:3, NWT)

It is therefore necessary that of the men that assembled with us during all the time in which the
Lord [Kurios] Jesus went in and out among us. (Acts 1:21, NWT)

Why the inconsistency? It is obvious why: If you are to be consistent in translating Kurios as Jehovah, you would have to translate the above passages as “Jehovah Jesus”, thus implying that Jesus is God. This is what we will examine next.

Jesus Christ

As a Jehovah’s Witness, you have been taught that Jesus is the first creature to be created by God, that he is one of his special “spirit creatures”, and that he is not God. But does the Bible
really teach this? Look at the scriptures more closely, and you will see that this idea cannot account for what the text says regarding who Christ is.

One passage that you were probably taught to memorize is John 14:28, where Jesus says:

YOU heard that I said to YOU, I am going away and I am coming [back] to YOU. If YOU loved me, YOU would rejoice that I am going my way to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am. (NWT)

You were most likely taught that this passage teaches that Jesus is different from God, based on the latter clause of that verse, yet this ignores the full meaning of the passage. Why does Jesus refer to the Father as being greater than He is? It is because He is rebuking the disciples for being selfish. He told them that He would be returning to the Father, and if they truly loved Him (rather than acting selfishly), this would case them to rejoice. This is the key to understanding what “greater” means. It does not mean the Father is by nature “better”, but is positionally greater than the Son, being in Heaven while the Son remained on earth in bodily form.

Now, take a look at the flip side to the passage: Jesus was going to return the right hand of the Father. This position of glorification is one that is only fit for deity. No mere creature, no matter how great and exalted he may be, is fit to be in such a position. Taking this into account, we see that John 14:28 actually
implies Christ’s deity.

Another passage that you may have been taught that supposedly denies the divinity of Christ would be John 17:3, where it says:
This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ. (NWT)

The Watchtower teaches that Jesus is making a clear distinction between Himself and His heavenly father here. However, this too is inaccurate. Three things need to be pointed out here. First, the purpose of Jesus saying “the only true God” is to affirm monotheism. Second, just because the Father and the Son have difference in role/function, doesn’t mean there one or the other is inferior by nature. And finally, you must read that passage in its entire context. Why? See the verses that follow it:
I have glorified you on the earth, having finished the work you have given me to do. So now you, Father, glorify me alongside yourself with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was. (John 17:4-5, NWT)

Here we see that Jesus Christ shares in the glory of the Father, even before the World came into existence. Now, how can a mere creature ever share the glory of God? Jesus would have to be God Himself in order for that to be possible.

These two passages aside, there are many places where Jesus is addressed as God. The New World Translation obscures some of these, but the translation keeps at least one of these intact:
In answer Thomas said to him: “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him: “Because you have seen me have you believed? Happy are those who do not see and yet believe.” (John 20:28-29, NWT)

You might argue that Thomas is merely using a figure of speech, but one thing should be noted here is that the Greek word for “said to him” is “auto”, which indicates that Thomas is directly addressing Jesus as “my Lord and my God”. Also, due to fact that they were in a Jewish culture, to use a figure of speech like that would have been considered highly blasphemous. Thus, the only possible conclusion that we can get from here is that Thomas regarded Jesus as Lord.

Also, take note of the following two passages:

Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith, held in equal privilege with ours, by the righteousness of our God and [the] Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:1, NWT)
…while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus… (Titus 2:13, NWT)

Note the brackets on the word “the” in these two passages. The article is not present in the original Greek text, and is inserted there by the NWT translators. This insertion is made in order to circumvent a grammatical rule formulated by biblical scholar Granville Sharp, which states that when the Greek word “kai” (meaning “and”) is used to connect two nouns, and the article “ho” (meaning “the”) is used for only one of them, it indicates that the two nouns refer to the same object/person. So here, we see that the original Greek text testifies to Jesus being God, and that the NWT inserts an article there in an attempt to cover up this fact. Now, let us see how the passage reads in a different translation:

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1, NASB)
...looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus... (Titus 2:13, NASB)

Finally, there are various passages in the NWT where it says people “give obeisance” to Jesus (Matthew 2:8-11,28:9, Luke 24:52, John 9:38). The Greek word translated into obeisance here is proskuneo. Interestingly, the word proskuneo is translated as obeisance when in reference to Jesus, but is translated as worship when in reference to the Father (Matthew 4:10, Luke 4:8, John 4:20-24). Why the inconsistent translation? The answer is this: The Watchtower is committed a priori to denying Christ’s deity, even to the point of deliberately using two different English words for the same Greek word.

So here we can see that the Bible does indeed testify that Jesus is God. To say otherwise would be to mutilate the text, and only by accepting Christ’s deity can we do justice to the words of scripture.

The Holy Spirit

As a Jehovah’s Witness, you have been taught that the Holy Spirit is not a person, but a mere active force. This can again be seen in the NWT where the article “the” is omitted from “the Holy Spirit”, even when the Greek texts contain them. Here are some examples:

…she was found to be pregnant by holy spirit... (Matthew 1:18, NWT)

That one will baptize YOU people with holy spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3:11, NWT)

… he will be filled with holy spirit right from his mother’s womb… (Luke 1:15, NWT)

The NWT also has an altered rendering of Genesis 1:2:

Now the earth proved to be formless and waste and there was darkness upon the surface of [the] watery deep; and God’s active force was moving to and fro over the surface of the waters. (Genesis 1:2, NWT)

The intention of the Watchtower is clear: They have removed the article and edited the text of Genesis 1:2 so that they can deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit. You may also believe that the Holy Spirit is an active force, but I would like you to answer the following questions for yourself:

Would Jesus make it an unforgivable sin to blaspheme against a mere active force? (Mark 3:29, Luke 12:10)

Can a mere active force be considered a helper? (John 15:26, 16:13-14)

Can a mere active force speak? (Acts 8:29, 21:11 Galatians 4:6)

Can a mere active force act as an intercessor? (Romans 8:26-27)

Can a mere active force be insulted? (Hebrews 10:29)

Can a mere active force be grieved? (Ephesians 4:30)

As you can see, the Bible does not treat the Holy Spirit as a mere force or object, but as a person, who is capable of speaking, acting, being insulted and grieved.

607 B.C. and 1914 A.D.

As a Jehovah’s Witness, you were taught that “the appointed time of the nations”, which lasted for 2,520 years, ran out, and Jesus became King of God’s kingdom (which just makes one wonder how Jesus Christ can be the King of God’s Kingdom without admitting that He is God). According to the Watchtower Society, “if we measure back that many years from 1914, we come to the ancient date of 607 B.C.”, which, according to them, was “marked for the overthrow of the earthly ‘throne of Jehovah’ and for the destruction of the throne city of Jerusalem and its sanctuary and for the total desolation of the land of the kingdom of Judah."

The main problem with this is that the date that the Watchtower has given in its magazine articles and books is wrong. If you are to check any reliable article, book, encyclopedia or website on biblical archaeology and ancient history, you will discover that the correct date of the destruction of Jerusalem is actually 586 B.C,
not 607 B.C.

We see here that the Watchtower has propagated a glaring historical error, and if they got the date of the destruction of Jerusalem wrong, one can only conclude that they got the date of Jesus’ enthronement wrong as well. This is significant, as the Bible warns of false prophets. In Deuteronomy, it states:

You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22, NASB)

The Implications

All of these things go to show that what you have been taught as a Jehovah’s Witness does not come from the Bible, but in fact contradicts scripture and cannot be reconciled with it without mangling the text and meaning of the scriptures. I would urge you to seriously re-think your position on these matters, as to remain in error would have serious consequences. Kindly go through the words of Jesus, and understand who He really is, what He came for and what message He is trying to relay to us, for it is of vital importance to the salvation of your very soul:

“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (John 8:24, NASB)

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6, NASB)

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9, NASB)

  • New American Standard Bible (1995 Update). Lockman Foundation. 1995.
  • New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (1984 Edition). Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1984.
  • Sharp, Granville. Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article in the Greek Text of the New Testament. 1798.
  • What Does the Bible Really Teach? Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. 2005.
  • White, James Robert. The Forgotten Trinity. Bethany House Publishers, 1998.
  • Your Will. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. 1958.

Friday, May 15, 2009

John Piper, Jehovah's Witnesses and Pagan Christs

Some time ago, pastor John Piper of Desiring God preached a sermon regarding Obama's stance on abortion and his passing of the "Freedom of Choice Act". There is this very interesting video from Desiring God on youtube containing a snippet of that sermon. Here is that video:

I share John Piper's sentiments regarding this significant moral issue. While I do not hate President Obama, I do disagree with his stance on abortion (as well as various other issues), and I am disappointed that he does not have as much concern for the value and dignity of life as he ought to have.

In other news, somebody at my church was recently confronted by some Jehovah's Witnesses, who passed on a booklet to her entitled "What Does the Bible Really Teach?", in the hopes of converting her. Right now, I have that booklet in my possession, and I need to write a tract responding to the claims presented by the Jehovah's Witnesses so that the person at my church will be able to give a respond to them. I will post a copy of the response here once it is done.

And finally, I just borrowed a book from a public library today. It's "The Pagan Christ" by Tom Harpur. The author is a former Anglican priest who has apostatized and now promotes the hypothesis (yes, I say hypothesis, because that's all that I can call it) that mainstream Christian beliefs regarding Jesus Christ have been copied off of Pagan mythologies. While this view is not accepted by most respectable scholars (folks like Schaff, Kelly, Burridge, Gould, etc.), the theory is nevertheless very popular among the Christian faith's detractors, and I think it would be very helpful if I were to go through this book and critically dissect its contents. As with the Jehovah's Witnesses tract, I will post my comments and rebuttals here on my blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jimmy Swaggart: How NOT to Argue With Rome

Sometime last year, I borrowed a copy of Jimmy Swaggart's "Catholicism and Christianity" from a friend of mine. Now, Jimmy is no favorite of mine, I think his teaching leaves a lot to be desired. This would apply to his arguments against Roman Catholicism. While he does raise a few valid points, a large number of his points are incredibly spurious. I will highlight a few of these spurious arguments, so others would not fall into the trap of using them, especially against a seasoned Roman apologist.

1. Mystery religion type conspiracies - In my opinion, this has got to be one of the worst possible arguments one can make against Rome, yet Swaggart makes strong use of this when arguing against Roman Catholicism. The claim that many of the Roman Catholic doctrines were borrowed from Babylonian and Greco-Roman mystery religions is highly questionable, and I know of very few (if any) credible historians who will support this thesis. Also, keep in mind that this is the same tactic used by Atheists, Muslims and other detractors of Christianity to try and discredit the Christian faith as a whole (case in point: Tom Harpur's "The Pagan Christ").

2. Highlighting the clergy sex abuse scandals - While the scandals are a relevant issue concerning the Roman Catholic Church's disciplines regarding clerical celibacy, it is simply not something that you should use as a polemical device in arguing against Rome. I will have to agree with Turretin Fan here that "it should be something you should bring up with reluctance, and something that you should place in perspective".

3. Association with ancient heresies - Mr. Swaggart attempts to associate the modern Evangelical movement with various ancient movements such as the Montanists, Paulicians, Albigensians, etc. Unfortunately, this is another bad mistake on his part. Has it not occurred to Mr. Swaggart that the movements that he lists are mostly heretical and/or Gnostic sects who teach beliefs that most of us wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole? And besides, any connection that could be made would be extremely spurious, at best.

On the other hand, Mr. Swaggart does list one early church father (I forgot who, but it must've been either Hippolytus or Cyprian of Carthage) who he thinks represents Evangelicalism. Now, there might be some truth to this, but sadly, Swaggart does not give enough facts to give a cogent argument.

4. Dates on doctrines - Mr. Swaggart makes another major mistake in trying to come up with solid dates for when various Roman Catholic doctrines and practices were formulated. Once again, I think Turretin Fan said it best when he makes the following statements:

Yes, doctrines within Roman Catholicism are not static and modern Catholicism's beliefs do not much resemble the beliefs taught in the Bible or believed in the early church. Nevertheless, be careful about trying to assign dates to particular doctrines.

For example, it is frequent to see on various websites a list of doctrines and dates. The dates are when the doctrine was supposedly invented. The idea is to press home to the Roman Catholic the fact that his church has made up a lot of stuff as it went along.

There are usually a few problems with these lists. Sometimes the lists are actually not what you think they are. For example, sometimes the lists are when the doctrines were defined not when they were innovated. That's an important difference. For example, in the case of transubstantiation, we may have a doctrine that is innovated in perhaps the 11th century and then defined in the 12th century (don't rely on those dates, please - they are very approximate and just intended to illustrate the general point).

A more dramatic example is the Apocrypha. The dogmatic definition that requires Roman Catholics to accept the Apocrypha comes from Trent in the 16th century, but one can find many older writers (perhaps even a millennium before) who seemingly accept the Apocrypha as inspired.

It's important to remember that a lot of things in Catholicism were the result of a gradual development over a long period of time. As such, pinning specific dates on doctrines is liable to error and can place one in an embarrassing position.

5. Using the petros/petra argument - Here, it is clear that Jimmy does not know the first thing about Koine Greek. Simply pointing out the difference between petros and petra in Matthew 16:18 without providing a proper exegesis and good grammatical arguments does not make the argument stand very well at all. You have to take Roman Catholic apologists' counter-arguments into account when arguing the meaning of Matthew 16:18, and be sure that you can provide proper responses to these arguments when stating your case (as has been done here).

6. Questioning whether Peter was ever in Rome - So was the apostle Peter ever really in Rome? Apologists on both sides of the fence have made arguments for and against this, but I think that quite a few Protestant apologists have missed the point in this matter. Swaggart tries to point out that Peter is writing "in Babylon" (1 Peter 5:13), but as has been pointed out many times before, "Babylon" was commonly used back then as a code word for Rome.

Taking this into account, it is quite probable that Peter really did visit Rome, and that it is also quite probable that he really did die in Rome. When he moved there and how much time he spent there before dying, I don't know. Traditionally, it is believed that he was bishop there between twenty to twenty five years, though more modern historians have placed the date at around five years (link), but that is an irrelevant matter. Now, there is a huge leap between saying that Peter died in Rome, and saying that Peter instituted the Papacy (perhaps I should dedicate a future post to this), and that should be kept in mind when trying to tackle the history behind Peter and Rome.

7. Simplifying church history - Quite frankly, it is rather embarassing when Mr. Swaggart says "all the early church fathers were Evangelical and Pentecostal". I think this is the flip side to some (not all) Roman apologists' attempts at painting the early church fathers as Roman Catholics. If you're going to argue patristics, study the fathers' quotes, find out what they really believed, and present them as accurately as possible. To quote Dr. James White, "Allow the early church fathers be the early church fathers".

There are many other points I could raise here, but pointing these spurious arguments out should suffice, so that others who are attempting to converse with Rome's apologists will avoid making embarassing and unscholarly errors. Turretin Fan covers some of these arguments plus several others that one should be careful in using in his list of landmines to avoid regarding Roman Catholic apologetics.

I don't want to be disrespectful to Mr. Swaggart (strange and erroneous as his ideas may be), but he simply does not make much of a meaningful argument against Roman Catholicism at all. While he may raise a few valid points here and there, I think one will have to look elsewhere for good information. I believe there are good, solid arguments that one can make when arguing against Roman apologists. Look for them, and avoid the ones in Mr. Swaggart's book.

A final word of advice: Always be careful with what you say in your argumentation. Check your sources, and make sure you're not falling for any misrepresentations and false data. It's like what the apostle Paul said in his letter to the Colossians:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Note on Faith and Works

I was going through the Youtube account of an old acquaintance of mine. He had converted to Roman Catholicism some time back (after having gone through all sorts of other positions previously), and is now on fire for his newfound allegiance, posting several apologetic videos defending his faith and critiquing other worldviews (especially protestantism). One video I want to address in particular is his critique of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide.

Now, I would like to be rather blunt when making my examination: He isn't really putting anything new on the table, but is merely repeating all the standard proof-texts Roman Catholics use against the Protestant position. Also, he badly mischaracterizes Protestants by saying that they "hate works and traditions"*. While he would like to think that he has successfully refuted the "anti-biblical heresy" of Sola Fide, the video just misrepresents the position, and I will explain:

First off, neither the reformers nor Protestants up to the present day advocate the sort of antinomianism that is being assumed in the argument. In fact, Martin Luther wrote an entire treatise explaining the importance of good works. John Calvin also devotes chapters 11-18 of his Institutes to explaining the meaning of justification by faith. I think that if one is going to critique a certain belief, one ought to know what the formulation of the belief is first in order to make sure that you're not attacking a straw man.

Second, to merely throw out James 2:24 without provide a proper exegesis for the text is simply not a good way of attacking Sola Fide. In fact, if you've seen my past post regarding arguments Roman Catholics should not use, this is listed as number #11 on the list:

Do not jump to James 2:24 in order to counter every Protestant proof-text for justification by faith alone. Given that Catholic theology is true, it ought to be able to account for every text of Scripture on its own terms and in its own context. Hence, there is no escaping the duty to do exegesis, even of, especially of, Romans. It will not satisfy any Protestant to object to his proof-text that "it can't mean that because then it would contradict this other passage over here." The Protestant will have his own understanding of that other passage over there as well. Again, there is no escaping the duty to read the Protestant proof-texts closely and carefully and to furnish justified interpretations which are consistent with Catholic dogma. (link)

The exegesis of James 2 has been explained time and time again. If you insist on using that passage in arguing against the Protestant position, then please, take into account the exegesis provided by Protestant theologians/scholars as you do (this will be the explanation that is given in the paragraph below).

Third, it must be explained that good works are not something that is done in addition to faith, but rather something that flows from faith, that is to say, is produced by faith and is proof that it is a living faith, not a false, dead faith. Saint Paul said it best when he said that it is believing that results in righteousness (Romans 10:10), and that it is actually God who is at work in us (Philippians 2:13). Taking all of this into consideration, it may be shown that all of the passages which speak of the importance of works do not refute the position that salvation is attained by grace alone through faith alone. Even Rome agrees with the Protestants that good works are the fruit of justification, not something that is added to attain it. This is explained in the joint Catholic-Lutheran declaration on justification, where it says in paragraphs 37-39:

We confess together that good works - a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love - follow justification and are its fruits. When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit. Since Christians struggle against sin their entire lives, this consequence of justification is also for them an obligation they must fulfill. Thus both Jesus and the apostolic Scriptures admonish Christians to bring forth the works of love.

According to Catholic understanding, good works, made possible by grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, contribute to growth in grace, so that the righteousness that comes from God is preserved and communion with Christ is deepened. When Catholics affirm the "meritorious" character of good works, they wish to say that, according to the biblical witness, a reward in heaven is promised to these works. Their intention is to emphasize the responsibility of persons for their actions, not to contest the character of those works as gifts, or far less to deny that justification always remains the unmerited gift of grace.

The concept of a preservation of grace and a growth in grace and faith is also held by Lutherans. They do emphasize that righteousness as acceptance by God and sharing in the righteousness of Christ is always complete. At the same time, they state that there can be growth in its effects in Christian living. When they view the good works of Christians as the fruits and signs of justification and not as one's own "merits", they nevertheless also understand eternal life in accord with the New Testament as unmerited "reward" in the sense of the fulfillment of God's promise to the believer. (link)

So in conclusion, I see nothing in the video posted above that refutes the Protestant position of Sola Fide. I would heartily agree that the scriptures show that good works are important. But this does not necessitate that we must add good works to our faith, for good works flow naturally out of living, saving faith.

*-This is something that applies equally to all sides of a debate. Of course there have been numerous times in the past when less knowledgeable Protestants have misrepresented Roman Catholic doctrines. However, this does not justify Roman Catholics doing the same when critiquing their Protestant counterparts.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Saint Augustine - Confessions

I just bought a paperback copy of Saint Augustine's Confessions. It's the Penguin Classics translation by a Roman Catholic writer by the name of R.S. Pine-Coffin, to be more precise. It's a fascinating read, and I just think that the prose is quite beautiful. I'm still halfway through book one at the moment, but it already gives you a fascinating insight into Augustine's thoughts and how he walked with God. To anyone here who is interested in Christian classics, I recommend reading this. It's a very edifying read.

"Who will grant me to rest content in you? To whom shall I turn for the gift of your coming into my heart and filling it to the brim, so that I may forget all the wrong I have done and embrace you alone, my only source of good?"
(Book 1, Chapter 5)

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Response to Ahmadiyya Completed

I just finished writing up my response to Mirza Tahir Ahmad's Christianity: A Journey from Facts to Fiction. If anyone is interested in seeing my rebuttal and providing a review for it, you can download the file here. If that doesn't work, just send me a message and I will provide you with a copy of the file via e-mail.

UPDATE (June 17, 2009)
I found a website that will host the .pdf file, so that it could be viewed more easily. So for anybody who wants to see the document, go to this link to check it out.

Friday, May 08, 2009

A Defense of Scripture Alone

(Nearly three weeks ago, I had gotten into a debate on MSN with a friend of mine who is an ardent Roman Catholic. Our debate focused mainly on apostolic tradition and the sufficiency of scripture. At the time, I was not adequately prepared to answer every single question that had been posed to me by my colleague. Thus, I have been taking the time doing research and coming up with this response. Though this is by no means an exhaustive defense of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, it is my hope that it will sufficiently deal with the matters that had been presented previously.)

One argument pressed by Roman Catholic apologists against Protestants is based on the canon of scripture. As the argument goes, scripture alone is not sufficient to establish the canon of books that should be included in the bible. Now, how solid is the argument, and how are we to respond to it? We shall see soon enough.

One thing that should be remembered is that Jesus and the apostles frequently appealed to the Old Testament as God-breathed scripture. We can find examples of them appealing to scripture constantly throughout the gospels and epistles, implying that they themselves accepted them as God-breathed. Here, we run into a problem for those who hold to the longer Alexandrian canon immediately: Remember that Jesus was raised in Palestine, and thus must have quoted from the Palestinian canon. The Palestinian Jews accepted the shorter canon which comprised only 22 books. Jesus, having lived in Palestine, most likely relied on this very same canon.

“But wait! The writers of the New Testament quoted the Septuagint (LXX), so they must have accepted the Alexandrian canon.” One may make this argument, but certain things need to be pointed out:

First, the main reasons why the NT writers quote the LXX are twofold: One is that it is written in Greek, which made it more accessible to the Greek-speaking Hellenistic Christians. The other is that the LXX brought out the Christological elements of the OT better than the Hebrew. In any case, this does not mean that the NT writers accepted the Alexandrian canon as authoritative. Second, it should be remembered that the NT writers did not even always quote from the LXX. While they do so several times, they also quote from the original Hebrew text, transliterated into Greek, of course. And third, when Jesus confronts the Aramaic-speaking, Hebrew-reading scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law, what scripture does Jesus speak to them in? Obviously, He would not be quoting the LXX to them, but would instead be relying on the very same scriptures that His fellow Jews would be using. To quote from Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict:

"There is no evidence whatsoever of any dispute between Him and the Jews as to the canonicity of any Old Testament book." (Young, AOT, 62) [1]

In all of this, it is also important to remember that the books of the Old Testament were inspired because of God, not because of any Jewish council or consensus of rabbis. The Jewish people merely recognize the books that God had inspired for them. As has been Evidence That Demands a Verdict:

The fact is that "no human authority and no council of rabbis ever made an [Old Testament] book authoritative," explains Bible scholar David Ewert. "These books were inspired by God and had the stamp of authority on them from the beginning. Through long usage in the Jewish community their authority was recognized, and in due time they were added to the collection of canonical books." (Ewert, ATMT, 72) [2]

And finally, it is Jesus Himself who makes recognition of the Old Testament, as shown in Luke's gospel:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
(Luke 24:44)

This aside, we must now address the question of the New Testament. One interesting thing to note is that this early on, Paul’s epistles are already regarded as scripture. This can be seen in Peter’s second epistle, where he states:

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
(2 Peter 3:16)

What’s more, Paul seems to have been aware of the gospel of Luke, and quotes it as scripture. In his first epistle to Timothy, he makes the following quote:

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
(1 Timothy 5:17-18)

The second scripture quoted above is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament. A quick search of the Bible shall reveal what scripture Paul is referring to:

And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.
(Luke 10:7)

So here, we can see that both Paul’s epistles and the gospel of Luke were already deemed scripture almost from the very beginning of the history of Christianity.

Nevertheless, it may be argued that this still does not give an inerrant canon of the entire New Testament. This must be conceded. However, is an inerrant canon absolutely necessary? I would contend that it is not so, and for this cause, I shall appeal to the facts of church history as my witness.

Now, it should already be known that the NT canon was left unsettled for a long time. For the Roman Catholic Church, it was only finalized at the Council of Trent in 1546. For the Eastern Orthodox Church, it was only finalized at the Council of Jerusalem in 1672. (link 1) (link 2)

What this means is that for 15 centuries, the NT canon had been left unsettled, and that this had been the case for all the branches of Christendom, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic. This did not seem to bother the early church, though. It has been well documented that many of the early church fathers quoted the NT books as scripture.

In the 2nd century, Irenaeus, for example, lists all of the four gospels, and quotes from most of the NT books, excluding Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John and Jude. In the 3rd century, Origen lists the same books, but adds Hebrews to his list of books that he accepts into the canon. (link 1) (link 2) (link 3)

Nevertheless, it is Athanasius who provides the oldest complete canon of the New Testament we have that is still available today in his 39th festal letter (written in 367 AD).

In his list, he lists 22 books of the Old Testament (which is virtually identical to the Jewish canon except for the omission of Esther), and lists the extra books of the LXX (plus Esther) as non-canonical books, which he nevertheless deems suitable for reading. Plus, he lists every book of the New Testament, the oldest surviving list to do so. (link)

Remember that throughout history, the early church fathers have appealed to scripture to support their views. Yet these early church fathers had neither pope nor council to provide them with any infallible canons. Why is this so? The answer is very simple: They did not need an infallible canon. We can find innumerable examples of Christians from the early centuries quoting the books that we now refer to as scriptures. They did not need a council or a pope telling them whether or not these books were scripture. Of course, here the inevitable objection must be laid out: “What about Sacred Tradition? The fathers made use of that, had they not?” Of course, this argument does not work so well. Bear in mind that the early church fathers had diverse views, some views even contradicting what Rome today teaches (so much for unanimous consent).

But how are we to apply this to the canon? Rome claims apostolic tradition as the source of its canon, as seen in paragraph 120 from the Roman Catholic Catechism:

It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books. This complete list is called the canon of Scripture. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and 27 for the New. (link)

Unfortunately for Rome, one cannot make a case that there is some sort of infallible extra-biblical tradition that can authoritatively define what the canon is, as is evident from the gradual development of the canon as we have it today.

(A quick note: I am not denying that tradition actually exists at all. There is tradition, no doubt, but I simply do not consider these extra-biblical traditions to be inspired or inerrant as the scriptures are.)

But, even if we suppose that extra-biblical tradition (infallible or not) really defines the canon, it would still not justify Rome’s claims. Whenever an early church father lists a canon of scripture, they tended to come closer to the shorter canon (although it is not exactly the same, sometimes they dropped Esther).

Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter lists 22 books from the shorter Jewish canon (minus Esther), and specifically mentions that the extra books are non-canonical (with the notable exception of Baruch). Interestingly, in this same text, Athanasius states the following regarding the scriptures:

These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these The Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me. (link)

Melito of Sardis in Eusebius’ Church History gives the same list, which he says he had “learned accurately”. (link)

Victorinus’ commentary on the Apocalypse of John (known today as the book of Revelation) mentions that the Old Testament has only 24 books. (link)

Rufinus specifically denies that the extra books are canonical, instead stating that they are “ecclesiastical”, and “read in the Churches, but not appealed to for the confirmation of doctrine”. Interestingly enough, Rufinus states that “these are the traditions which the Fathers have handed down to us”, in reference to the shorter canon of scripture. Thus, whatever sacred tradition may exist, it is not on the side of Rome, at least not on the issue of the canon. (link)

And finally, there’s Jerome, probably the most famous example of an early church father rejecting the extra books as non-canonical. [3]

“But wait, there are early church fathers who do list the deuterocanonicals as scripture!” That may be so, but this still does not support Rome’s case. Even where the fathers list books from the LXX, one is hard pressed to find a canon that is identical to Rome’s.

For example, the apostolic constitutions list Judith, three (NOT two) of the Maccabees, and the wisdom of Sirach, but leaves out the rest of the extra books. (link)

Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lecture on the Ten Points of Doctrine only lists Baruch, and leaves out all the other extra books. (link)

The canon that is provided by Rome is supposedly first given by the Council of Rome in 382. But what is this council? The New Catholic Encyclopedia only makes one brief reference to it (and gives the date as 374 rather than 382 as per other sources). Unfortunately, no formal account remains of its proceedings. The alleged “Damasine List” which lists the same canon that was promulgated under Trent is really nothing more than a theory advanced by a Jesuit priest named Faustino Arevalo, who supposed that a certain document appended to the “Gelasian Decretal” (which came out a century after the supposed date of the Council of Rome) was actually from the aforementioned Council. (link 1) (link 2)

Even granting that Arevalo was somehow correct in his judgment, the fact remains that the Council of Rome was only a local synod, and whatever decrees were promulgated there would only have taken effect within its own province. Other provinces have drawn up canons of scripture as well, and some of these are dissimilar to Rome’s. Why all this inconsistency? Well, the thing is that we don’t really have an infallible canon. We have infallible books, yes, but we have, as theologian R.C. Sproul once put it, a “fallible collection of infallible books”.[4] I believe that the respectable biblical scholar Dr. Bruce Metzger said it best when he made the following statement in The Case for Christ:

When the pronouncement was made about the canon, it merely ratified what the general sensitivity of the church had already determined. You see, the canon is a list of authoritative books more than it is an authoritative list of books. These documents didn’t derive their authority from being selected; each one was authoritative before anyone gathered them together. The early church merely listened and sensed that these were authoritative accounts.

For someone now to say that the canon emerged only after councils and synods made these pronouncements would be like saying, ‘Let’s get several academies of musicians to make a pronouncement that the music of Bach and Beethoven is wonderful.’ I would say, ‘Thank you for nothing! We knew that before the pronouncement was made.’ We know it because of sensitivity to what is good music and what is not. The same with the canon. [5]

Finally, when Athanasius confronts the Arian heretics and refutes their doctrines, what does he appeal to? Scripture, of course. Scripture was sufficient for him, and scripture was clear enough for him to be able to make his points based off of it. He did not need a council or a pope to tell him which books were scripture, neither did he need to appeal to any extrabiblical tradition. (link)

All of this proves that the Roman Catholic claim that we need Rome’s infallible decrees to know what the contents of the biblical canon are is patently false. The canon given by Rome is not based on “apostolic tradition” like it claims it is. Furthermore, the early church fathers never needed an infallible decree for them to be able to make use of scripture. So, what was good enough for them ought to be good enough for us. I believe there should be no inconsistency or illogic if I were to agree with what saints Theodoret and Ambrose have said before:

“I shall yield to scripture alone.” (link)

“For how can we adopt those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?” (link)

End Notes
1. McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 27.
2. Ibid. p. 26
3. St. Jerome. Prefaces to the Books of the Vulgate Old Testament.
4. Sproul, R.C. Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine. 2005. p.40-43.
5 . Strobel, Lee. The Case For Christ. 1998. p. 68.

(Special thanks to Matt Gumm for providing me with pages 26-28 from Evidence That Demands a Verdict.)

My Roman colleague has written his response, and has posted it here. My friend has requested everyone to refrain from posting on his blog, to prevent people spamming him "like nutties". If anyone has any comments to make, just make them here on my blog instead. Thanks.

UPDATE 2 (May 26, 2009)
Though it is a bit tempting to post a counter-response (in fact, I was asked if I wanted to, but I was undecided on the matter at the time), I don't think I have adequate resources at the moment. For now, all I can do is post a few blog posts and web articles that can explain further and perhaps give answers to some of the arguments raised by my colleague. They will be listed below.