J (Protestant Evangelical) Rebuts P's Answers
See P's Answers HERE
J's Rebuttal to P's Answer (1)
P says that the promises made to Israel have been abrogated or apply to the Christian church. He should tell us which of the promises allegedly made to the Roman Catholic Church can be abrogated. How does one read a passage like Zechariah 12-14 and view it as a reference to the church? The degree of allegorizing and speculation that would be required is absurd. Romans 11:28-29 distinguishes between unregenerate Jews and Christians, and it refers to the promises made to Israel being irrevocable. Such a passage doesn't make sense if we assume that there's no distinction between Israel and the church.
But even if we accept P's claim that the church is Israel, he still has a problem. God didn't fulfill His promises to Israel in the past the way P claims He must fulfill those promises in the present. According to P, the church can't be divided. But God commanded the division of Israel (1 Kings 11:31-33). According to P, the church has an unbroken succession of infallible teaching, including scripture interpretation. But Israel not only erred in its doctrines and scripture interpretations, but even lost scripture itself for a while (2 Kings 22:8-13). By the time Jesus was born, the religious leaders in Israel were so wrong, and their scripture interpretations were so unreliable, that Jesus called them hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, and sons of Satan. He condemned their doctrines as false (Matthew 16:12). Should we conclude, then, that the Roman Catholic Church can be divided (1 Kings 11:31-33), can lose the revelations it receives from God (2 Kings 22:8-13), is fallible in its teachings (Matthew 16:12), and is led by hypocritical sons of Satan who are whitewashed tombs?
What about what God said concerning governments, parents, and individual believers? Those who disobey the government are disobeying ministers of God and the ordinances of God (Romans 13:1-7). Should we conclude, using P's reasoning, that there must be an unbroken succession of infallible governments throughout history? Children are commanded to obey parents (Ephesians 6:1-3). Should we conclude, then, that if a parent tells a child to steal something from a store, the child must obey rather than relying on his own personal interpretation of God's commandment not to steal? After all, P tells us that we must avoid personal interpretation, that we must rely on authority figures to interpret for us. How about Hebrews 13:5 saying that God will always be with the individual believer? P claims that Jesus' promise to be with the disciples (Matthew 28:20) means that the church must be infallible. It logically follows, then, that Hebrews 13:5 is referring to the infallibility of the individual believer.
P seems to go to the Bible with a desire to find verification of the claims of Roman Catholicism. When he can't find any verification, he looks for something resembling verification. Thus, he cites passages like Matthew 28:20, Luke 10:16, and John 16:13 as evidence for the claims of the Catholic Church, since those passages sound like something vaguely similar to what the Catholic Church says about itself. But when we examine the text and context, we find that the passages aren't about the Roman Catholic denomination. Sometimes they aren't even about any church.
P tries to distinguish between the keys of Matthew 16:19 and the power of binding and loosing. Supposedly, only Peter had the keys, thus suggesting papal authority. But there are numerous keys in scripture that are unique to numerous individuals (Isaiah 22:22, Luke 11:52, Revelation 1:18, 3:7, 9:1, 20:1). Even if we assume that the keys of Matthew 16:19 were unique to Peter, how does the doctrine of the papacy logically follow? Uniqueness isn't necessarily equivalent to jurisdictional primacy, and the passage says nothing about successors or Roman bishops.
But are the keys unique to Peter? No, they aren't. When we examine the majority of passages in scripture that refer to keys, we find a pattern. The key is mentioned, then its function is mentioned. Isaiah 22:22 refers to a key, then refers to opening and shutting, which is the function of the key. Revelation 3:7 does the same thing. In Luke 11:52, a key is mentioned, then the function of opening a door is mentioned. Most likely, Matthew 16 is following the same pattern. The keys of the kingdom of Heaven are used to bind and loose what's bound and loosed in Heaven. Thus, when Matthew 18:18 refers to all of the disciples being able to bind and loose, the implication is that all of them have the keys.
Do we have any other scriptural examples of the function of the key being mentioned without the key being mentioned? Yes. In Revelation 20:1, we read about Satan being imprisoned with the use of a key. But when verse 7 refers to Satan being released, no key is mentioned. The implication is that just as Satan was imprisoned with a key, he was also released with that key. Similarly, Matthew 23:13 refers to the scribes and Pharisees not entering the kingdom of Heaven, which implies that they had the key that would let them do so if they wanted to.
It makes no sense for Matthew 18:18 to refer to the function of the keys if the keys aren't being used. If all of the apostles are foundation stones of the church (Ephesians 2:20), and all of the disciples have the keys of the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:18), then what does that tell us about the papal interpretation of Matthew 16?
Church fathers for hundreds of years not only weren't aware of the papal interpretation of the keys of Matthew 16, but even contradicted that interpretation. Origen, for example, said that all Christians possess the keys (Commentary on Matthew, 10-14). John Chrysostom said that the apostle John possessed the keys (Homilies on the Gospel of John, 1:2). Other church fathers also denied the papal interpretation in various ways.
J's Rebuttal to P's Answer (2)
The Catholic Church teaches the concept of development of doctrine. The issue in dispute is what type of and how much development would be consistent with Catholic teaching.
Did Pope Pius IX refer to some development in how belief in the Immaculate Conception was expressed? Yes. Somebody in one century might develop an illustration that wasn't used in the past, such as paralleling Mary with the ark of the covenant. But, whatever developments may have occurred with illustrations and terminology, for example, the Pope denied that the Christian church ever viewed Mary as being sinful for any part of her life. The Pope claims that the concept that Mary was sinless from conception onward was taught explicitly from the first century onward, and was a doctrine accepted across the Christian world.
But we know that those claims of the Pope are false. It's wrong, then, for Catholic apologists to quote the Pope referring to development in one area when his denial of development in another area is what's being criticized.
Comparisons to the development of Trinitarian doctrine and the canon of scripture are false. I don't make claims about Trinitarian doctrine and the canon that are comparable to the claims the Catholic Church has made about doctrines like the papacy and the Immaculate Conception. I haven't claimed that concepts like the two wills of Christ and the 27-book New Testament canon were always held and taught by the Christian church across the world. If I make different claims about my beliefs than Catholics make about their beliefs, it doesn't make sense to expect us to defend the same claims.
The way Trinitarian doctrine and the canon developed is different from the way doctrines like the papacy and the Immaculate Conception developed. Let me use an example to make my point. Let's say that a group was to begin teaching in the twentieth century that Joseph, Jesus' father, was sinless. They argue that since Jesus' earthly father is a type of His Heavenly father, then His earthly father should be sinless also. They argue that since Jesus would want to have the greatest possible earthly father, then it seems fitting that his father would be sinless. They argue from Old Testament typology that Joseph must be sinless, just as the Old Testament entities that prefigure him in some way were pure, spotless, etc. When people criticize the doctrine of the sinlessness of Joseph because it didn't arise until after the time of the apostles, the group teaching the doctrine responds by pointing out that their critics believe that Jesus has DNA. And the belief that Jesus has DNA didn't develop until the twentieth century. How can they object to the belief in the sinlessness of Joseph not developing until so late in church history when they hold a belief that didn't develop until so late?
What would be wrong with such an argument? Well, why do Christians believe that Jesus has DNA? Because of the first century doctrine that Jesus is a man (Hebrews 2:17). Jesus having DNA, Jesus having fingernails, Jesus having a human will, etc. are logical implications of the manhood of Christ. Regardless of when people recognize those implications, they're all derived from a first century doctrine. The same can't be said of the sinlessness of Joseph. Nothing that Jesus and the apostles taught logically leads to that doctrine as a probable or necessary conclusion.
If the Bible teaches concepts such as monotheism (Isaiah 43:10), the deity of the three Persons (John 1:1, Acts 5:3-9), and the co-existence of the three Persons (Matthew 3:16-17), such doctrines have logical implications that may be immediately understood or understood later in church history. Likewise, even though the Bible doesn't list the books belonging in its canon, the gathering together of books that have apostolic authority is a logical implication of what Jesus and the apostles taught.
But are doctrines like the papacy and the Immaculate Conception probable or necessary conclusions to what was taught by Jesus and the apostles? They can't be only possible conclusions, since believing in a Pauline papacy and an immaculate conception of Joseph would also be possible conclusions to apostolic teaching. What Catholics need to show is that doctrines like the papacy and the Immaculate Conception are probable or necessary conclusions. They've never done that, and they can't do it.
P can't validate a doctrine like privately confessing all sins to a priest by quoting some church fathers who advocated some type of confession of some sins. Nobody denies that some type of confession is Biblical, and that some type of confession was practiced by the church fathers. The issue is what type of confession was practiced. Contrary to the claims of the Catholic Church, private confession to a priest was not always a practice of the Christian church. The Protestant historian Philip Schaff explains:
Peter the Lombard did not make mediation of the priest a requirement, but declared that confession to God was sufficient. In his time [twelfth century], he says, there was no agreement on three aspects of penance: first, whether contrition for sin was not all that was necessary for its remission; second, whether confession to the priest was essential; and third, whether confession to a layman was insufficient. The opinions handed down from the Fathers, he asserts, were diverse, if not antagonistic. (The Master Christian Library [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], History of the Christian Church, Vol. 5, p. 574)
How, then, does one argue that privately confessing all sins to a priest is an apostolic doctrine always held by the Christian church? Even if Catholics were to argue that the Catholic Church isn't exercising its infallibility when it teaches how long a doctrine has been held, they still have a problem. There's no logical way to trace a doctrine like priestly confession back to the apostles. Church leaders are to maintain what the apostles taught, not add to it (2 Timothy 1:13-14, 2:2).
J's Rebuttal to P's Answer (3)
P describes for us what he apparently considers the best argument for the Immaculate Conception:
This is a sufficient reason for the IC by itself: Mary is the Mother of God, so God would want the greatest mother of all (a holy and sinless Mother by the grace of God).
Wouldn't God also want the greatest earthly father, the greatest disciples, etc.? Should we assume, then, that all of those people were sinless? No.
P compares Mary to Eve, the ark of Noah, the ark of the covenant, etc., and he claims that such comparisons suggest that Mary was immaculately conceived. But the Biblical authors never made those comparisons, and the comparisons wouldn't prove that Mary was sinless anyway. The church father Tertullian, for example, refers to Mary as a New Eve and a sinner in the same document (On the Flesh of Christ, 7, 17). You can compare Mary to Eve without believing that Mary was sinless throughout her life.
P cites Proverbs 8, but doesn't tell us what portion of that passage allegedly refers to the immaculate conception of Mary. He cites Luke 1:28, but ignores the fact that the Apocryphal book Sirach (18:17) uses the same phrase in a context in which it would be absurd to see a reference to an immaculate conception. Even if we were to conclude, erroneously, that the term used in Luke 1:28 refers to sinlessness, how would P know that the sinlessness goes back to the time of conception and continues after Luke 1:28 until the time of Mary's death? P cites the phrase "blessed among women" in Luke 1:42, but nothing in that phrase logically leads to the conclusion that Mary was sinless throughout her life. The same phrase or something similar is used to refer to other people who P doesn't consider sinless (Genesis 30:13, Judges 5:24, 2 Esdras 10:16). Jesus referred to John the Baptist as the greatest human ever born (Matthew 11:11), but we don't conclude that he was sinless.
The sinlessness of Mary isn't a probable or necessary conclusion to apostolic teaching, so P turns to people who lived after the apostles:
The more compelling argument comes from the Fathers and early ecclesiastical writers who universally affirmed Mary's holiness and sinlessness (with few exceptions). The evidence for the doctrine of the IC (or Mary's personal sinlessness) in the Fathers and Doctors is not just good, but great.
P's claims above are a mixture of the false and the misleading. None of the church fathers in the earliest centuries referred to Mary being immaculately conceived. Irenaeus implied that Mary sinned after conception, and many church fathers didn't just imply it, but even stated it explicitly. The Anglican historian J.N.D. Kelly writes that "almost all Eastern theologians" viewed Mary as guilty of committing sin (Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978], p. 495). In addition to many people in the East, we can add Western names such as Tertullian and Hilary of Poitiers. The Protestant historian Philip Schaff counted seven different Roman bishops who denied the sinlessness of Mary.
Catholics often quote church fathers referring to Mary as "sinless", "spotless", "immaculate", etc. and imply that those church fathers believed that Mary was sinless from conception onward. Though some later church fathers did view Mary as sinless for a period of her life, we can't assume that they viewed her as immaculately conceived. Ambrose and Augustine, for example, believed that Mary became sinless after conception, but they denied that she was immaculately conceived. The church father Ephraem, who Catholics often erroneously cite as a supporter of the Immaculate Conception, referred to Mary being cleansed earlier in life and being guilty of doubting God on one occasion. Just because a church father uses a phrase like "spotless" or "immaculate" to describe Mary being sinless for part of her life, that doesn't prove that the church father viewed Mary as always sinless.
P asks why I see passages like Mark 3:20-35 and Luke 2:48-50 as evidence that Mary was a sinner. Eric Svendsen explains the significance of some of these passages in a book P claims to have read, so why would he act as though he doesn't understand why the passages are being cited? Why should P need an explanation of the significance of Jesus saying that His household didn't honor Him (Mark 6:4)? Is he going to claim that Mary failing to honor Jesus as she should have wasn't a sin? Mark 3:21 refers to Jesus' kinsmen going out to take custody of Him, thinking He was insane. Verse 31 tells us that Mary and Jesus' brothers arrived, implying that they were the kinsmen who went out in verse 21. Jesus responds by suggesting that His disciples are closer to Him than His biological family (Mark 3:34-35), which makes sense if His biological family was questioning His sanity. In John 2:4, Jesus responds to Mary with a phrase ("What do I have to do with you?") that's equivalent to a rebuke. It's used elsewhere in the New Testament when the demons want to distance themselves from Jesus (Matthew 8:29, Mark 1:24, 5:7, Luke 4:34, 8:28). In Luke 2, Mary suggests that Jesus had mistreated her (verse 48), Jesus tells her that she should have known better (verse 49), and Luke tells us that Mary didn't understand the simple response Jesus gave her (verse 50). To suggest that God has mistreated you, as Mary does in Luke 2:48, is a sin. In Luke 1:47, Mary refers to her need for a Savior, with the close context referring to the mercy of God (Luke 1:50). When Zacharias speaks later in the chapter, he refers to God being a Savior by saving people who have sinned (Luke 1:77). The Catholic claim that God was Mary's Savior by keeping her from ever sinning is speculative, unprecedented, and highly unlikely.
J's Rebuttal to P's Answer (4)
P has cited some Biblical passages that don't say anything about an assumption of Mary. Some of the passages aren't even about Mary. And we're supposed to believe that the Assumption is Biblical in a way comparable to Trinitarian doctrine?
P has again compared Mary to the ark of the covenant, which is a speculative and unverifiable argument. Why should we believe that there is a New Testament parallel to the ark? And if there is, why couldn't Israel, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, or some other entity fulfill that parallel? P just arbitrarily selects which aspects of the ark he wants to parallel to Mary and which aspects he doesn't. We know that the ark contained the rod of Aaron, for example, but Mary never carried the rod of Aaron. To the contrary, Hebrews 7:11-15 tells us that Jesus' priesthood is from Melchizedek, not Aaron. Since Israel carried both the word of God and the rod of Aaron, Israel would be a better parallel for the ark than Mary.
But what if we were to view Mary as the ark anyway? Would Psalm 132:8 then prove that Mary was bodily assumed to Heaven? No. The resting place mentioned in verse 8 is identified for us in verses 13-14, and it's not Heaven. Even if it was Heaven, who denies that Mary went to Heaven? Nothing in the passage supports a bodily assumption, even if we speculate that the ark is Mary and that the resting place is Heaven.
P also cites Revelation 12, which probably is the passage most often cited in favor of the doctrine. But Revelation 12:1 alludes to Genesis 37:9, which suggests that the woman is Israel, not Mary. The events described in Revelation 12:6-17 did not occur in Mary's life. Some Catholics speculate that the dragon is Satan working through Herod, and that the flight to the wilderness is Mary's flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). But the woman in Revelation 12 goes to the wilderness after Jesus leaves the earth (Revelation 12:5). And the setting of the latter part of Revelation 12 seems to be the end times, not the time of Herod. This is indicated by Satan's time being short (Revelation 12:12) and the references to Daniel's seventieth week in his seventy weeks prophecy. Compare Daniel 7:25 to Revelation 12:14, for example. Matthew 2 refers to Herod seeking to kill a child. Revelation 12 refers to a dragon trying to kill a woman. How can Herod seeking to kill a child around 5 B.C. be the fulfillment of a dragon seeking to kill a woman in the end times? Even if we were to view the woman as Mary, there's no reference in the passage to any bodily assumption to Heaven.
If pain in childbirth is a result of sin (Genesis 3:16), and the woman in Revelation 12:2 is Mary, should we conclude that Mary was a sinner? Does Revelation 12:17 prove that the perpetual virginity of Mary is a false doctrine?
P cites a few passages from Song of Solomon and Psalm 44:10-14. None of those passages refer to Mary, much less do they refer to her being bodily assumed into Heaven at the end of her life. We're told by Catholics that Mary is the wife of Christ in the Song of Solomon and the daughter of Christ in Psalm 44. She's also an ark, a ladder, a bush, etc. These arbitrary, speculative scripture interpretations do more to prove the absence of evidence for the Assumption doctrine than they do to prove that there's evidence for it.
Like other Marian speculations advocated by Catholic apologists, the Assumption of Mary first appears in an apocryphal, heretical document (http://www.christiantruth.com/assumption.html). The document postdates the apostles by hundreds of years, and it was condemned as heretical by numerous Roman bishops. The fourth century church father Epiphanius, who lived near where Mary lived, denied that any tradition had been passed down regarding the end of Mary's life.
Catholic apologists often claim that doctrines like the Assumption of Mary developed in the same way that Trinitarian doctrine developed. Pope Pius XII taught that the Assumption of Mary is a Biblical doctrine approved by Christian worship in the most ancient times. He threatens anybody who opposes the doctrine with loss of salvation. The truth is that the Assumption doctrine did not develop as Trinitarian doctrine developed, the doctrine isn't Biblical, it was not approved by ancient Christian worship, and opposing it does nothing to take away anybody's salvation.
J's Rebuttal to P's Answer (5)
P says that none of the passages I cited are inconsistent with Purgatory. So when David goes to Heaven just after arranging to have somebody murdered, a person he had promised not to kill, that's consistent with the doctrine of Purgatory? Paul expecting to go to Heaven if he died, even though he knew he wasn't yet fully sanctified, is consistent with Purgatory? When passages like Isaiah 57 and 2 Corinthians 5 refer to all the redeemed going to Heaven upon death, that's consistent with Purgatory? Is it just a coincidence that Lazarus in Luke 16, the thief on the cross in Luke 23, all of the believers in Revelation 7, etc. are portrayed as going to Heaven without any mention of Purgatory? Though the large majority of believers allegedly go to Purgatory, the many people in these numerous passages happen to be exceptions to the rule? And there just happens to be no scriptural example of anybody going to Purgatory, even though the large majority of believers allegedly go there?
P cites a passage from 2 Maccabees as evidence for Jewish belief in the concept of Purgatory. But other documents contradict the concept of Purgatory, so P's arbitrary decision to go by 2 Maccabees rather than the other documents that contradict it is unconvincing. Jesus told us that many of the beliefs and practices within Judaism were false (Matthew 16:12), so how does P know that what occurred in 2 Maccabees is approved by God? Besides, the people who died in that passage died as a result of committing idolatry, which I would think Catholics would consider a mortal sin. How could the people be in Purgatory, then?
P cites the suffering of Christians in this life as evidence of Purgatory. But since this life isn't Purgatory, and I've documented that Christians don't undergo anything like Purgatory when this life ends, how is mentioning suffering in this life relevant?
It's true that the Christian's sanctification must be completed before he enters Heaven, but scripture suggests that this transformation will occur "in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Corinthians 15:52) by the power of God (Philippians 3:21), not through suffering in Purgatory. (The passages I just cited are about Christ's second coming, but the principle of being transformed without any Purgatory is what I'm referring to.) P might speculate that Purgatory is occurring in these passages without being mentioned, but what does such a speculation prove? The doctrine of Purgatory isn't just a claim that people are changed. It's a claim that people are changed through suffering outside of Heaven in a way that makes atonement for their sins. The fact that people are changed in preparation for Heaven doesn't prove that they're changed through Purgatory.
P argues that people can have things like joy and peace while suffering in Purgatory. But the passages I've cited don't mention joy and suffering, peace and punishment, etc. They only mention the positive. P's speculation that the negative aspects of Purgatory are present also, but just aren't mentioned, is unverifiable and absurd.
P cites support for praying for the dead in some of the church fathers. But the evidence is inconsistent. Different church fathers affirm or deny different aspects of the doctrine of Purgatory. Some of the earliest references to prayers for the dead are requests for the pleasures of the deceased to be increased. Such prayers suggest that the people are in Heaven, not Purgatory. The church father Papias, who lived in the late first and early second centuries, denies the doctrine of Purgatory by referring to all believers going to some region of Heaven, not Purgatory, at the end of this life (Fragments, 5). Similarly, other early sources, such as Clement of Rome and Polycarp, repeatedly refer to deceased Christians being in Heaven. Apparently, they had no concept of Purgatory. They seem to have assumed that any deceased believer would be in Heaven, just as evangelicals believe.
P cites 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 as evidence of Purgatory, but the fire tests works. It doesn't sanctify believers. The words "so as" in verse 15 ought to tell P that a figure of speech is being used, not a reference to actually passing through a fire. The imagery Paul is using seems to be that of a person barely escaping from a burning house. He's conveying the concept of close escape, not the concept of suffering in Purgatory. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990), a Roman Catholic commentary that some of the foremost Catholic scholars in the world composed (Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, etc.), says about 1 Corinthians 3:
"There is no reference to purgatory" (p. 802).
In response to my comments on David being in Heaven, P tells us that David repented of his sins in Psalm 51. Didn't P read the passage I mentioned? I cited 1 Kings 2:1-10, which occurred after Psalm 51. David dies just after breaking his promise to Shimei by arranging to have him murdered. Citing Psalm 51 in an attempt to reconcile 1 Kings 2 with Roman Catholic teaching is erroneous. David's sins had been atoned for by the suffering of Christ (Hebrews 9-10), not by a combination between Christ's suffering and David's.
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