Monday, April 22, 2013

Debate on the Office of New Testament Priest: Part 1

Recently, I have been posting here my debate with Russell on calling priests "father." After I posted Part 4, he said that he did not want to continue the debate (you can read his comment on that post for the reasons why), so I suggested we pick up again an earlier debate of ours on the presence of ministerial priests in the bible.

This debate began in the comment section of my post, "Does the Bible Say Anything about Having Priests in the Church?". The last word was his, so he said I was welcome to respond, but he wasn't sure how much time he would be able to devote to it. I'll be posting here what has transpired so far, and if this goes anywhere, I'll share that too.

Russel began the debate with the following remarks. His words will be indented and italicized.

I just read your article “Does the Bible Say Anything about Having Priests in the Church?”, and I’d like to comment, if I may.

You said yes to the question, but while we are able to find Jewish and pagan priests in the New Testament, we don’t see any Christian “ministerial” priests to mediate between God and man (as we saw in the Old Testament). I agree with you concerning the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ and the “universal priesthood” of all believers, but a ministerial office of “priest” seems to be strangely absent. If that priesthood were valid for today, one would think that such a critical position should be evident in the New Testament. But it isn’t. The apostle Paul mentions the functions and offices of the New Testament church in chapters 3 and 5 of I Timothy, and Titus chapter 1. He also gives specific instructions for ministry, church order, gifts and service in I Corinthians chapters 11-14, and in Ephesians chapter 4, and yet, there is not a single mention of an office of “priest”. I think there’s a reason for that.

You mentioned New Testament “elders” (Greek, “presbuteros”) as though they were equivalent to modern-day priests, but the New Testament ALREADY has a word for priest, (Greek, “hiereus”), and the two words are never used interchangeably. While it is true that our modern word “priest” is a DERIVATIVE of the word “presbuteros”, it does not mean that they are the same. The modern word “Presbyterian” is ALSO a derivative of “presbuteros”, but I don’t think you would try to say that the New Testament “elders” were Presbyterians. So, this in no way proves that elders were priests.

Thanks for taking the time to hear me out. I am looking forward to your response.

Since this was taking place in the comments section, I didn't bother w/ a point-by-point rebuttal. Instead, I simply said:

Thank you for your comment. I appreciate any correspondence that is charitably and articulately presented, as yours was.

Regarding your presbuteros argument, note that the very reason why English speakers refer to the ordained ministry with a word that is derived from presbuteros is because these ministers serve the same function as the presbyters did. There is a clear hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons in the NT, and while, in the beginning, these three offices performed some of the same functions, they were clearly distinct from the rest of the Church. In fact, they held positions of authority in the Church, and we are instructed to respect and abide by that authority.

Also, the fact that hiereus and presbuteros are not used interchangeably is to me a non-issue. Hiereus refers to the priests of the Old Covenant. A separate word, presbuteros is used to refer to the priests of the New. While I believe that the New Covenant priesthood certainly parallels the Old Covenant one, there is still distinctiveness and uniqueness to the New Covenant priesthood that warrants the use of a different word.

For the Scriptural evidence in support of what I have said here, I highly suggest the following articles:

He responded with the following comment:

Hello again Nicholas,

Thanks for your kind remarks and for the three links you provided on the priesthood. I did read them, but I have to say that I still disagree with those articles, mainly because they still do not sufficiently address the core issues which I had shared in my previous response… namely, 1) that the ministerial priesthood is a glaring omission in the New Testament, and 2) the fact that “elder” does not equal “priest”.

You indicated that the very reason that “elder” and “priest” mean the same thing was because today’s priests serve the “same function” as the early presbyters did. But one could argue that many of today’s Protestant pastors / ministers ALSO serve the same function as the New Testament elders did, because they also preach the gospel and administer communion, baptism, etc. So this proves nothing. Another thing… if Catholic priests (especially those of the Latin rite) are the same as New Testament “elders,” then why are they not allowed (required?) to be the “husband of [but] one wife” (Titus 1:5)? I know that there are exceptions in the RCC, but Paul is speaking of the NORM for elders, here. And the norm is to be married. (I am not debating the virtues of celibacy here, but my point is simply that, according to Titus, a Roman Catholic priest cannot be a biblical “elder”).

You said that “hiereus” refers to the priests of the Old Covenant. It certainly does, but not just to the Old Testament priests. It ALSO refers to the New Testament universal priesthood of believers (Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). I think that this is further evidence that the priesthood has changed from a “ministerial” form (OT) to a “universal” form (NT). You also considered the fact that the terms “presbuteros” and “hiereus” were never used interchangeably, as a “non-issue”, but if one is asserting the existence of a ministerial priesthood (IN SPITE OF any clear biblical evidence), it certainly must be an issue. Furthermore, assuming that presbuteros is the “new” term for priest is simply begging the question.

The main function of a ministerial priest is to offer sacrifices (repeatedly) to God in order to atone for sin. But Hebrews 10:18 tells us that the price has already been paid and there is “NO MORE offering [sacrifice] for sin”. Therefore, no more atoning sacrifices are needed. We now have a PERFECT atonement to embrace, once for all. No ministerial priests are needed now to offer sacrifice to God. Their “job” is cancelled out, and all believers have access to God, since the veil is rent (Matthew 27:51).

Thanks again, and looking forward to your response.

In my next post I will respond to this with a point-by-point rebuttal.

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

On Calling Priests "Father": Part 4

Here is Part 4 in my debate with Russell on calling priests "father." Also see Parts One, Two, and Three. His words will be indented and italicized.

Hi Nicholas,

Ok, concerning your argument that “King” is a spiritual title, this is still extremely weak and not convincing at all.
Care to explain why? The title of "King" takes on it's spiritual nature once you realize the importance of the covenant relationship between God and man and consider that the Davidic King was the mediator of this covenant.

The King is God's annointed one (cf. 1 Sam 16:13; 1 Ki 1:39). The security and prosperity of the people depended upon the fidelity of the King to God. When the King was a good and faithful servant of God, then this compelled the people to be good and faithful. King Solomon was the one who built God's holy temple and provided for the worship of His people. King David and his descendants are types of the coming Messiah! The Davidic King was a man of great spiritual influence. I don't see how there's any way around that.

You said that I didn’t address the fact that Jesus told a parable where servants refer to their owner as “Master” (Matthew 25:14-30). Again, this is not a SPIRITUAL title, but a worldly, secular one. It is about a physical slave and his physical master.
I stand corrected.

As for as the rich man referring to Abraham as ‘Father Abraham’ (Luke 16:24, 30), neither is this a spiritual title, but it is an “ancestral” or genealogical title. Abraham was the “father,” the ancestor, of all Jews.
According to Paul, Abraham was more than a mere ancestor:
"What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? [...] He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. [...] That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants--not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all" (Rom 4:1, 12-13, 16).
Abraham could not be "the father of us all" if by "Father" we mean only a geneological relationship. Abraham's is a spiritual fatherhood, just as Sarah's is a spiritual motherhood (cf. 1 Pet 3:5-6). This means that Lk 16:24, 30 very much applies to our debate and is very damaging to your position.

And as for as Paul addressing the crowd as “brethren and fathers” in Acts 7:2 (not 7:22), I don’t think you can prove that he’s using it as a personal spiritual title here, as it is used in Matthew 23.
Thank you for correcting my citation. I really don't see how Acts 7:2 would not apply. The members of the council are called "fathers" by Stephen. He didn't say, "You who hold a position of fatherhood among us," he said "fathers." "Brethren and fathers, hear me." He called them fathers, even though Jesus said, "Call no man father". There's no way around it, unless you would say that Paul is the biological son of a room full of people.

You just said:

“I never said that it was ok to have a formal title as long as the person is deserving. As you rightly conclude, that would not square with Catholic practice.”

Then it appears that you’re not squaring with Catholic practice, because you also said:

1) “Instead, He is speaking out against those who seek the position of father for the honor that it brings and who, once having the position, DON'T LIVE IT HUMBLY AND AUTHENTICALLY."

2) “He is using hyperbole in order to emphasize the Fatherhood of God above the fatherhood of any man and TO HIGHLIGHT THE UNWORTHINESS OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES TO RECEIVE THE TITLES their position affords them.”

3) “Jesus' issue was with people who seek certain positions because of the title that it affords them, or WHO DO NOT LIVE UP TO THE TITLE THAT THEY HAVE RECEIVED. That interpretation is really the only way to reconcile Mt 23 with the biblical data.”

4) “Do you really think Jesus is concerned with titles, or is He concerned with the fact that the scribes and pharisees "LOVE" such titles AND DON'T LIVE UP THE THEM?”

5) “Jesus' whole point is that the scribes and Pharisees exhibit a dastardly conduct that should not be imitated AND THEY DO NOT LIVE UP TO THE HONOR THAT THEY RECEIVE.”

6) “1. The Pharisees DO NOT DESERVE THE HONOR THAT THEY RECEIVE. -- Consequently, respect their authority but do not abide by their example.”

7) “Jesus does not want to do away with this honor,HE WANTS THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES TO LIVE UP TO IT."

8) “Or, could it be more likely that He did this so as to expose their failure to be the fathers, rabbis, and teachers THAT THEY SHOULD BE?”

9) “Instead of getting rid of the title, perhaps IT WOULD BE BETTER TO MAKE SURE THAT ONLY THE BEST MEN RECEIVE IT. This is what the Church strives to do.”

10) “Do you really think that Jesus went through such great lengths to catalogue their many sins so as to do away with titles? Or, could it be more likely that He did this so as to expose THEIR FAILURE TO BE THE FATHERS, RABBIS, AND TEACHERS THAT THEY SHOULD BE?” [All Emphasis mine]

These are all direct quotes from you. But in all of these things (these 10 examples) you are implying that IT IS INDEED ok to have these formal spiritual titles “as long as the person is deserving.” On the one hand, you denounced this idea, but on the other hand, you continue to use this concept in our dialogue, as though you actually accept it.
You are very thorough here. I appreciate that. I also think you have missed my point. Jesus' purpose with Mt 23:8-10, as with much of the chapter as a whole, is to denounce the Pharisees, not to denounce titles. That's all I'm trying to say with the words that you quoted.

The Pharisees didn't deserve the honor they received. That doesn't mean "do away with the honor." I specifically said, "But even when wretched men become priests, they still remain fathers through the exercise of their priestly ministry." I'm not contradicting myself. I know what my words mean. Let me be clear: I think the title is important and justified whether the person receiving it deserves the title or not. That's the whole reason why I bothered to explain the title's catechetical value. The implication you think is there is simply not there. I hope you will take my word for it and move on to some other line of argumentation.

As I said before, this “as-long-as-the-person-is-deserving” argument is faulty, since NO ONE is deserving of these titles, except Jesus / God. You have yet to show me that you agree with Jesus on this. In fact, I don’t think that you do.
Well, I did say, "God is the ultimate Father, Rabbi, and Master", and again, "In a sense, I agree with you. No one is a Father like God is a Father." I just don't think Jesus means what you think He means. If Abraham deserved to be called "Father" (Lk 16:24, 30), and John the Baptist deserved to be called "Rabbi" (Jn 3:36), then it follows from this that these titles are not exclusively the Lords, they are just preeminently His.

This is how it works with many of God's titles. God and Peter were both called "Rock" (Hab 1:12; Mt 16:18). In case you think Peter's new name means "Stone", God was called that too (cf. Gen 49:24, NASB). In 1 Cor. 3:11, Jesus is called the only foundation of the Church, and yet in Eph. 2:20, the apostles and prophets are called the foundation of the Church. In 1 Peter 2:25, Jesus is called the Shepherd of the flock, but in Acts 20:28 (NASB), the apostles are called the shepherds of the flock. In 1 Tim 6:15, Jesus is called the King of Kings, yet so was Ar-ta-xerx'es (cf. Ezra 7:12) and Nebuchadrez'zar (cf. Ezek 26:7). Even Jesus and the king of Babylon are both called the "morning star" (Isaiah 14:12; Rev 22:16, NASB).

My position has the advantage of being consistent with how titles for God are used throughout Scripture. Yours does not.

You summed up Matthew 23 in only two points: That the Pharisees don’t deserve the honor they were being given; and that God is the ultimate Father / Rabbi / Master. And you said that this was pretty much all that this chapter is teaching, and that we Protestants take it too far to suggest that Jesus wants us to avoid titles.

But I respectfully disagree. There are certainly OTHER points that Jesus was making, as well. I think that what Jesus said (concerning our topic) is very plain and simple (“…call no man ‘Father’”), and that the context supports this. But Jesus gave us several things that He wants us to do or not do in this chapter, for example ...

…observe the Law that they preached (v. 3)
…act toward each other as BROTHERS (v. 8)
…be a servant to others, no matter your role in the church (v. 11)
…be humble; let God exalt you (v. 12)

…do what the Pharisees (and scribes) did (v. 3)
…load heavy burdens on people (v. 4)
…do your works just to be seen of men (v. 5)
…love the special attention of men (v. 6)
…love the special greetings of men (v. 7)
…be called “Father” / “Teacher” / “Rabbi” / “Master” (v. 8, 9, 10)
…etc., etc.

So, your two points are valid, but they are not the only lessons to learn in this chapter.
Well, obviously. I wasn't trying to exhaust the meaning of the whole chapter. All I meant was, as far as Mt 23:8-10 is concerned, this is what the context tells us.

The “title command” should not be ignored. By the way, Jesus was not just denying personal spiritual titles to the undeserving Pharisees, but to all men (v. 8-10). All these “do’s and don’ts” are given to every believer. Nothing in here suggests hyperbole (exaggeration). These are all straightforward commands. So, we can’t just pick some of these commands to obey and ignore the others.
First of all, I'm not ignoring anything. You think Catholics have never read this chapter before? We have. We even heard it proclaimed during Mass on Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent. We don't hide from Scripture and we don't ignore it. We just don't think it means what you think it means.

Secondly, you said that vs. 8-10 are in no way hyperbolic. But, if, as you say, Jesus was only referring to spiritual fathers (not biological fathers or ancestors), then doesn't that mean He was speaking hyperbolically? The only way to derive your meaning for Jesus' words is to say that He was not speaking literally. After all, Jesus didn't say, "Don't call spiritual leaders 'father'". He said, "Call NO MAN father", as you have repeatedly emphasized. So, we either take Him literally, in which case he was referring to every instance in which someone is called "father", or we understand that he was using exaggerated language and really only intended to refer to spiritual leaders. See what I mean? You can't have it both ways. The only way to come to your conclusion is to affirm that He was speaking hyperbolically.

The difference between you and I is not in how we understand the nature of Jesus' words, it's in how we understand their meaning. We are both forced to declare that Jesus was using extreme language. You explain this language by saying, "But Jesus wasn't referring to all positions of fatherhood, just spiritual positions of fatherhood." I explain it by saying, "But Jesus wasn't getting rid of titles for persons in positions of fatherhood, spiritual or otherwise. He was simply speaking strongly against any position of fatherhood that would set itself in opposition to God's fatherhood.

When I said that it is not “disrespect” to avoid what the Ultimate Teacher said to avoid (i.e., calling someone “Father”), you responded:

“You're obviously begging the question here. This argument only holds if Jesus actually spoke against using spiritual titles. But, you haven't proven that yet.”

Nicholas, the burden of proof is not on me. I’m just taking what He said at face value and demonstrating that the context agrees with this simple interpretation. I would say that it is you who is begging the question, because you’re the one assuming that He really didn’t mean what He plainly said, so the burden is on you to prove that.
First of all, as I understand it, the burden of proof in a debate lies either with the instigator or with the person who challenges the status quo. In either scenario, the burden is on you. Since you came to my blog, where calling priests "father" is assumed to be true, and asserted a contrary belief, you are the instigator. Since the majority of Christians -- and from the earliest days of Christianity -- have been in the practice of calling bishops and priests "father", you are the one challenging the status quo.

Secondly, you don't seem to know what "begging the question" means. You said I was begging the question because I am the one "assuming that He really didn't mean what He plainly said." But, just because I disagree with you that doesn't mean I'm the one engaged in a logical fallacy. Begging the question is when an argument you use to defend your conclusion assumes that your conclusion is true. You are the one at fault here. Look at your line of reasoning:

1. Jesus told us to respect the role of teacher
2. Jesus spoke against using titles
3. Therefore, it is not disrespect to refrain from addressing them with titles

See what's wrong here? #3 rests on #2 being true, but you haven't proven #2 yet. That's the whole reason why we're engaged in this debate. For more on this, see "Fallacy: Begging the Question".

That said, I would like to add that, since it was the common practice of the Jews to refer to the scribes and Pharisees as "fathers," to suddenly refuse to do so would indeed be disrespectful.

You seem to be saying that His words here fall under some type of “exception” in this context. I invite you to demonstrate how that follows.
On the contrary, I admit no exception here. Instead, I see Jesus' words in Mt 23 as being perfectly consistent with His typical use of hyperbolic language and with the way in which Scripture shows man sharing in the titles and roles (or functions) of God. As Paul says, "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Eph 3:14-15). It is because God is father that we have fathers on earth.

Finally, you appealed to a set of beliefs that was supposedly “ancient practice” which was always believed in the church throughout its history. But “being around for a long” time doesn’t prove that something is right. Many practices in the history of the church have certainly been questionable, including some long-time practices.
This is about more than a practice simply being around for a long time. This is about Jesus supposedly allowing all of Christendom to confuse and betray one of His explicit commands for over 1500 years. This is about every great defender of the faith against heresy somehow remaining silent about a supposedly rampant disregard for Jesus' teaching.

In the early Church, when someone came around with a novel doctrine, something different from what the Church had always said and done, they were labeled a heretic and dismissed from fellowship in the Church community. Yet you would have me accept your novelty, your aberration, and abandon 2000 years of Church history. I realize that, for you, the bible is the final authority, but you also acknowledge that "there are indeed other legitimate authorities, or rules of faith, in the church. For example, church leaders, theologians, the writings of the early church fathers, Bible commentaries, traditions, creeds, councils, catechisms, etc." (source). These are legitimate authorities, at least look at them.

There are only two possible reasons for why Christian tradition does not square with your interpretation of Mt 23:
  1. Jesus allowed error and false practice to creep into His Church, uncorrected and unabated, and infect all of Christendom for over 1500 years, or
  2. Your interpretation of Scripture is incorrect.
Seriously, which one do you think is more likely?

Nicholas, what would really make your case is if we could find in the New Testament some genuine cases of the faithful using the titles “Father Paul,” “Father John,” or “Holy Father Peter.” But we see none of these.
I look forward to your rebuttal of the examples I have provided in this post.

In fact, the honest reader will admit that we don’t even see a ministerial “priesthood” in the New Testament. (But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.) See here for more on that:
When I looked up my blog post from back in '09 on the ministerial priesthood in order to share the link with my readers, I was surprised to find some comments from you on that post too. It seems you've had your eye on me for a while now. We started a short exchange in the combox, but for whatever reason I never responded to your last comment. Maybe once we find some conclusion to our current debate, we can pick that one back up again.

Yes, I agree that it does all boil down to authority. Perhaps someday we can discuss that also.
I see you posted the first part in a series on Sola Scriptura on your blog. Will the next installment be arriving shortly? It is helpful for me in gaining insight on how you approach that debate. If you would like to see how I approach it, see my previous debates:
  • Is Scripture Self-Interpreting? Parts One -- Two -- Three
  • Debate with "eve" on Sola Scriptura: Parts One -- Two
  • Debate with "Ricky" on Sola Scriptura: Parts One -- Two -- Three -- Four
That should help both you and the reader a great deal.

Nicholas, I still stand by everything I said, and I will just say, let’s let the reader decide which side is more reasonable.

Thanks for the discussion.

Also, for anyone interested, here is an article that I did on calling a man “Father” about a year ago:

In His Name,
Like you, I am thus far unconvinced. This is how most debates on the internet turn out, I'm afraid. I pray that the silent reader, who is watching this debate unfold and still trying to make up his mind, will be convinced by the truth of the Catholic practice. If anyone has any questions or comments, you know where to leave them.

Pax Christi,

PS: This is the last installment in our debate.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

On Calling Priests "Father": Part 3

On Holy Thursday, when we commemorate the institution of the ministerial priesthood, it seemed fitting that I should pick up again my debate with Russell on calling priests "father" and respond to his latest comment. Also see Part 1 and Part 2. His words will be indented and italicized.

I had said that “King” is not a spiritual title, and you said:

“Regarding your second point, I think the title of ‘King’ -- at least as it applies to the Davidic kings -- is very much a spiritual title.”

But many other kings, even UNGODLY ones, in both the Old and the New Testament, were also called “King” as a title (for example, “King Nebuchadnezzar,” or “King Herod,” etc.). So, this is a very weak argument. If “King” is a SPIRITUAL title, why would the writers of Scripture give such an honor to those kings who were spiritually UNdeserving?
I should not have made my point so tentatively before. That is my fault. All I meant to affirm is that "King" is a spiritual title when it is applied to the Davidic Kings. That much is true, and it follows from this that we have a spiritual title being used quite extensively in Scripture. Also, you didn't address the fact that Jesus told a parable where servants refer to their owner as "Master" (cf. Mt 25:14-30).

I found some other passages too. In another parable, Jesus had the rich man refer to Abraham as "Father Abraham" (Lk 16:24, 30). Paul addressed the high priest and the council of elders by saying, "Hear me, brethren and fathers!" (Acts 7:22). Paul isn't just describing a position. He actually called them fathers, even though Jesus said, "call no man father."

And concerning whether one is “deserving” of a title or not, let’s address this common Catholic argument (surrounding Matthew 23) that it’s ok to have these formal spiritual titles “as long as the person is deserving.” Some of your own comments suggest that you believe this.

But Jesus didn’t say, “Whoever humbles himself gets to be called ‘Father.’” If Matthew 23 is about “deserving” a title, Jesus would have used some sort of “give honor to whom honor is due” expression in the context. But He doesn’t. But He does tell us, quite clearly, who is worthy of such a title – “… NO man…” (23:9). There is far more reason to believe that this context is about the FORBIDDING of titles than some human DESERVING them. So, the “as long as the person is deserving” argument is bogus.

By the way, how do you know that a priest you have never seen before is deserving of the title “Father”? There could always be some deep, dark, continual sin in his life that no one but God knows about. Yet, Catholics do not hesitate to call almost any priest by that spiritual title.
I never said that it was ok to have a formal title as long as the person is deserving. As you rightly conclude, that would not square with Catholic practice. Let me be clear on this. I think there are two lessons we should derive from Mt 23:

1. The Pharisees do not deserve the honor they receive.
-- Consequently, respect their authority but do not abide by their example.
2. God is the ultimate Father, Rabbi, and Master

That's as far as I think we should go with it. Protestants go too far when they say that this chapter is evidence that Jesus wanted to do away with spiritual titles.

You mentioned that Jesus, in anger, was saying that we have only ONE “Teacher,” ONE “Father,” and ONE “Master,” when we actually have many teachers / fathers / masters to teach and guide us. That may be true, but the point is that there is only One who is DESERVING of these titles, and that One is God / Jesus. Again, no hyperbole, no exaggeration. There is no connection or similarity between “straining a gnat / swallowing a camel” and “call no man Father,” as you implied. It seems that claiming hyperbole may be just an excuse to continue with an unbiblical (and anti-biblical) practice. This is an excellent example of voiding Christ’s command for the sake of your own traditions (Matthew 15:3, 6).
In a sense, I agree with you. No one is a Father like God is a Father. But, that doesn't mean we can't have a share in His work, or that we shouldn't call a thing what it is, or that we should fail to respect the noble office a person has been given. Jesus told the people to practice and observe whatever the scribes and Pharisees told them to do. Why? Because they sit on Moses seat. The honor is given because of the position that is held. Jesus does not want to do away with this honor, He wants the scribes and Pharisees to live up to it. Do you really think that Jesus went through such great lengths to catalogue their many sins so as to do away with titles? Or, could it be more likely that He did this so as to expose their failure to be the fathers, rabbis, and teachers that they should be?

When I mentioned that Jesus said to give no human a spiritual title, you implied that the context of Matthew 23 denies this. You said:

“’The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you’ (vs. 2-3). Jesus’ wants the people to continue to respect the authority of the scribes and Pharisees. Using titles such as ‘father’, ‘rabbi’, and ‘master’ is how you show this respect for someone in a position of authority. Yet, by your interpretation, Jesus told the people to respect their authority one minute, then disrespect it the next. That makes no sense.”

Nicholas, Matthew 23:2-3 is more about respect for the Law that they were obligated to preach, than for the Pharisees themselves. Respect for the role of “teacher” is fine, but you’re assuming that one way to do this is by giving them spiritual titles. But Jesus speaks directly against this very practice. It is not “disrespect” to avoid what the Ultimate Teacher says to avoid.
You're obviously begging the question here. This argument only holds if Jesus actually spoke against using spiritual titles. But, you haven't proven that yet.

You emphasized that Jesus is concerned with THEIR DISPOSITION. I certainly agree! And these personal, spiritual, exalting titles CONTRIBUTE GREATLY to this problem! If using these titles were discontinued, we wouldn’t have as many ego problems in many churches. Jesus knew what He was talking about. He said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) But I’m sure it’s hard to have the mind of a servant when people you don’t even know are feeding your ego with flattering titles like “Father” or “Reverend.” God knows the selfish tendencies of man and how quickly this can go to his head.
Having a spiritual title does not necessarily lead to ego problems. Surely you know that. In some cases, it probably does, but not in every case or even most cases. To call a priest "father" has catechetical value for people. It reminds them that God has called this man to be a father and has truly made him one through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He exercises this role in his ministry. The priest fathers many spiritual children in the Sacrament of Baptism. He creates them anew in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He protects them from sin and temptation with his blessing. He feeds them with the Eucharist. To make children, to create, to protect, to feed -- these are all fatherly duties. And so it is with good reason that we call priests "father."

The title is for the priest's benefit insofar as it reminds him of what his identity is and what God has called him to do and to be in His Church. Instead of getting rid of the title, perhaps it would be better to make sure that only the best men receive it. This is what the Church strives to do. But even when wretched men become priests, they still remain fathers through the exercise of their priestly ministry.

You said:

“I humbly submit that your bias against Catholicism is causing you to misinterpret this passage.”

Nicholas, thank you for being respectful (and I believe you have good intentions), but, with all due respect, I can say the same thing in reverse. I believe that your Catholic bias, i.e., your will to serve the Catholic Church at any cost, is misdirected and will not let you accept the simple interpretation of this passage in its context.
Everyone brings biases and preconceived notions to the text. This is unavoidable. The task then is to decide which preconceived set of beliefs is the proper one. How about the set of beliefs that Christians have always had? How about the set of beliefs of the people out of which the Scriptures came? That seems like the proper context to me. It is ancient Christian practice to at least call bishops "father." For thousands of years, if you were a Christian, that's simply what you did. It was only after the Protestant reformers abandoned the ministerial priesthood altogether that anyone had the notion that Jesus was somehow against this title. Your bias is the abberation, not mine ... unless you would have us believe that Jesus allowed all of Christendom to confuse and betray one of His explicit commands for over 1500 years.

If it was wrong of Christians to call a bishop, or the pope, or one of the ancient teachers of the faith "father," then the great leaders and theologians of the Church that fought so ardently and even gave their lives to eradicate heresy would have squashed that bug a long time ago. You have separated your self from the Church of the Apostles and from the Church that emerged from the apostolic period. That is why you misinterpret this text as you do.

And with that, things boil down, as they always do, to authority. But let us leave that debate for another day (at least as long as we are able). It is Holy Week and I am very busy!

Peace of Christ to you,

PS: From here you may proceed to Part Four.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Collection of Biographies, News, and Analysis of Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis

Now that the whole world knows who is the new successor of St. Peter, there will be a rush to find out more about this man, where his priorities lie, the nature of his theological and political views, etc. As such, I have compiled the following links to biographies and analysis of Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis I.

I will update this post regularly as new material appears online. If you know of any that I should add to the list, please leave a comment.

UPDATE (3/17/2013): I have decided to organize these articles by when they were written so that the reader can see how the commentary on Pope Francis has developed over time. Also, please note that while this compilation is extensive, it is by no means exhaustive. I am sure that there are some great articles that I have missed. Thirdly, I will only be chronicling the first week of his papacy. It would be too much of a burden to keep this up after that. Finally, the inclusion of an article to this list does not necessarily indicate an endorsement on my part.

Before his election:

Wed., Mar. 13 (the day of his election):

Thurs., Mar. 14:

Fri., Mar. 15:

Sat., Mar. 16:

Sun., Mar. 17:

Mon., Mar. 18:

Tues., Mar. 19:

Wed., Mar. 20:

I will update each day with new links as I find the time. This is still a work in progress.

UPDATE (4/3/2013): If I happen to come across one, I'll add it, but I don't plan on actively seeking any more links to add to this collection. Of course, if you know of one that I should add, you are free to leave a comment and I will add it (unless I don't like it for some reason).

Pax Christi,

Thursday, March 07, 2013

On Calling Priests "Father": Part 2

Russel responded to my previous post. As before, his words will be indented and italicized.
Hi Nicholas,

You asked if the followers of John the Baptist were wrong in calling him (i.e., John) “Rabbi / Teacher.” I would have to say yes they were, according to Jesus, but they probably did this in ignorance, since Jesus addressed this topic AFTER John the Baptist’s death (Matthew 14:1-12).

Concerning the title “King,” this is not a SPIRITUAL title, which is what Jesus was addressing in Matthew 23.

You said:

“Jesus’ issue was with people who seek certain positions because of the title that it affords them, or who do not live up to the title that they have received.”

That is partly true, but Jesus didn’t say, “Call only those with the RIGHT ATTITUDE “Father,” or only those who DESERVE it “Rabbi.” He said to give those spiritual titles to NO HUMAN (Matthew 23:8-10).

Russell ... thank you for your response. Your debate style is much like mine, calm and thorough. I appreciate that.

Regarding your first point, I think that if it was wrong of them to address John the way they did, then John himself would have objected to it. He is after all the model of humility. "His sandals I am not worthy to carry" (Mt 3:11) or "to stoop down and untie" (Mk 1:7). "He must increase, I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).

I guess you'll say that John was ignorant of Jesus' teaching as well. While I find it hard to believe that John would not have intuited the wrongness of these titles if indeed they were wrong, since neither of us can really know the mind of the baptist on this point, let us consider this particular argument a draw.

Regarding your second point, I think the title of "King" -- at least as it applies to the Davidic kings -- is very much a spiritual title. The Davidic king was God's anointed steward of His people, and the mediator of God's covenant relationship with them. The new Davidic king was the great hope of all of Israel. So, perhaps the references to Herod, Agrippa, and Aretas don't apply, but the ones to Saul, David, Solomon, and Adonijah do.

Regarding your final point, you say that we are to give spiritual titles to "NO HUMAN". I really think you're missing the point. Read everything in Mt 23 that is before and after the passage in question. "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you" (vs. 2-3). Jesus' wants the people to continue to respect the authority of the scribes and Pharisees. Using titles such as "father", "rabbi", and "master" is how you show this respect for someone in a position of authority. Yet, by your interpretation, Jesus told the people to respect their authority one minute, then disrespect it the next. That makes no sense.

Continuing on, look at what Jesus says about them:
  • "they preach but do not practice" (vs. 3)
  • "they bind heavy burdens" (vs. 4)
  • "they do all their deeds to be seen by men" (vs. 5)
  • "they love the place of honor" and "the best seats" (vs. 6) "and salutations in the marketplaces" (vs. 7)

Look at this. Do you really think Jesus is concerned with titles, or is He concerned with the fact that the scribes and pharisees "LOVE" such titles and don't live up to them? Jesus is taking great pains to show how prideful and negligent the scribes and pharisees are. He continues:
  • "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (vs. 11-12)

See? Jesus is concerned with THEIR DISPOSITION. Continuing on, we see that the scribes and Pharisees:
  • "shut the kingdom of heaven against men" (vs. 13)
  • make proselytes a child of hell (cf. vs. 15)
  • make false distinctions between oaths (cf. vs. 16-22)
  • "have neglected the weightier matters of the law" (vs. 23)
  • "are full of extortion and rapacity" (vs. 25)
  • "are like whitewashed tombs" (vs. 27), "full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (vs. 28)
  • fill up the measure of God's wrath against their fathers for murdering the prophets (vs. 29-36)

Jesus issues 7 woes against them in this chapter for being the "hypocrites" and "blind guides" that they are. You have to understand vs. 8-10 in light of this context. Jesus' whole point is that the scribes and Pharisees exhibit a dastardly conduct that should not be imitated and they do not live up to the honor that they receive. God alone is the great and perfect Father, Rabbi, and Master. We can only fulfill these positions in a derivative sense.

Finally, think about it, Jesus is pissed off and fed up. He is angry, filled with righteous indignation. It makes perfect sense that He would use hyperbolic language. "You have ONE teacher" (vs. 8), "you have ONE father" (vs. 9), "you have ONE master" (vs. 10) ... yet obviously we have all had more teachers and fathers and masters than simply God. Thus, Jesus is NOT speaking literally, He is using exaggerated language. Verse 24 from this same chapter ("You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!") is obviously hyperbolic. Verses 8-10 are said in the same vein.

Like I said before, the Catholic interpretation is the only one that squares with the context of the passage and the greater body of Scripture. I humbly submit that your bias against Catholicism is causing you to misinterpret this passage. If you will simply put that aside, even just for a moment, I think you will see that what I am saying about this passage is true.

Pax Christi,

PS: From here you may proceed to Part Three.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Debate with "Russell" on Calling Priests "Father"

Someone named "Russell" who is the author of the "Answering Catholic Claims" blog recently left a comment on my post about Mt 23:8-10 and calling priests "father". Here is his comment and my response. His words will be indented and italicized.
I agree with a lot of things you said, but I still don’t agree with your final conclusion.

Now, there is nothing wrong with calling a human “a” spiritual father / teacher / rabbi, etc., but to call them “Father,” “Teacher,” or “Rabbi” directly as a spiritual title is wrong (and this would include the use of the Protestant title “Reverend,” as well). These are forbidden as formal religious TITLES OF HONOR. If all Christians are “brothers” in Christ (Matthew 23:8), then there should be no elevated religious titles among Christians.

Matthew 23 is not against “biological,” “spiritual,” or “ancestral” fathers, since they are recognized as legitimate roles elsewhere in Scripture. And since Jesus does not condemn the role of pastor, you could refer to a man as “a pastor” or “the pastor,” but the term should not be used as a formal, personal, spiritual title. Although we all have different functions in the church, where some are certainly (and rightfully) leaders, Jesus clearly forbids the self-exalting titles that men often want to use.

By the way, there is no reason to believe that Jesus was using hyperbole here, in view of the context. For example, He wasn’t exaggerating when He said, “You are all brothers”, and He wasn’t exaggerating when he described the antics of the scribes and Pharisees.

Russell ... thank you for your comment. I see what you mean. The examples I provided describe a position, not a title that was being used. I wonder though: were the people wrong when they called John the Baptist "Rabbi" (Jn 3:36) and "Teacher" (Lk 3:12)? What about "King"? That title is used quite extensively in Scripture. See, for example:
  • "King Saul": 1 Sam 18:6
  • "King David": 2 Sam 3:31; 5:3; 6:12, 16; 7:18; 8:8, 10-11; 9:5; 13:21; 16:5-6; 17:17, 21; 19:11, 16; 20:21; 1 Ki 1:1, 13, 28, 31-32, 37-38, 43, 47
  • "King Solomon": 1 Ki 1:34, 39, 51, 53; 2:17, 19, 22-23, 25, 29, 45; 4:1, 27; 5:13; 6:2; 7:13-14, 40
  • "King Adonijah": 1 Ki 1:25
  • "King Herod": Mk 6:14
  • "King Agrippa": Acts 25:24, 26; 26:2, 19, 27
  • "King Aretas": 2 Cor 11:32

Jesus even told a parable where servants refer to their owner as "Master" (cf. Mt 25:14-30). What we see from all of this is that there is nothing wrong with using titles to refer to a person's position among the people. Jesus' issue was with people who seek certain positions because of the title that it affords them, or who do not live up to the title that they have received.

That interpretation is really the only way to reconcile Mt 23 with the biblical data. Otherwise, you would have to accuse Samuel (the author of 1 Sam 1-25), Nathan and Gad (the authors of 2 Sam; cf. 1 Chron 29:29-30), Jeremiah (the author of 1 Kings), Mark, Paul, and the disciples of John the Baptist with all doing something that displeases God.

Pax Christi,

PS: From here you may proceed to Part Two.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A Comprehensive and Biblical Defense of the Marian Doctrines

Scripture says very little about Mary, the mother of Jesus, compared to the other great figures in the formative years of the Church, yet Catholics believe that she is the greatest woman who ever lived. Let's take a closer look at the Scriptural evidence and see if perhaps more is said about Mary than what first meets the eye.

FIRST DOCTRINE: Mary, Mother of God

There are five doctrines about Mary. The first one proclaims that Mary is the Mother of God. The logic here is simple: If Mary is the mother of Jesus and Jesus is God, then Mary is the Mother of God. In giving Mary this title, the Church follows in the example of Elizabeth, who exclaimed upon seeing Mary, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43).

Note that this doctrine says more about Jesus than it does about Mary. If Jesus is not God, then Mary is not the Mother of God. By affirming this doctrine, the Church affirms the divinity of Jesus. At the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, the Church officially referred to Mary as the theotokos (Gk. “God-bearer”), not to exalt Mary but to combat the heresies of the day that denied that Jesus was truly God.

SECOND DOCTRINE: Mary, Immaculately Conceived

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception declares that God preserved Mary from the stain of original sin at the moment she was conceived within the womb of her mother. It also declares that Mary remained sinless her entire life. The first indication of this comes from Luke’s gospel:
"And he came to her and said, 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!'" (Lk 1:28, RSV-CE)
To really grasp the full depth of meaning in this passage, we have to look at the original Greek language in which it was written. The Greek word translated as "full of grace" is kecharitomene. This is a difficult word to translate. For one, in the entire New Testament and the entire Greek Old Testament, it only appears once: right here in Luke 1:28. Clearly, something extremely unique is being described here.

Secondly, the construction of the word is peculiar. Without getting too bogged down by Greek grammar, looking closely at the voice and the verb tense of kecharitomene, one finds that this word literally means, "You who were and continue to be full of and completed in grace." Blass and DeBrunner's Greek Grammar of the New Testament states: "It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace."

How remarkable! Mary wasn't just given grace like we receive grace. She was filled with grace, completed in grace, perfected in grace, and this fullness of grace persisted, it continued up to and through the present. Sin and grace are opposed (cf. Rom 5:20-21), and grace saves us from sin (cf. Eph 2:5, 8). Where there is fullness of grace there is no room for sin.

Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant

Another indication of Mary’s sinlessness comes by way of the comparison between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was the vessel that contained the word of God on the stone tablets, the manna from heaven, and the rod of Aaron the great High Priest (cf. Heb 9:4).

These were the holiest of all Jewish relics and represented the very presence of God to the Jewish people. As such, the container or "ark" that held them had to be made of the purest, most perfect materials. The Ark itself was considered so holy that no one was allowed to even touch it, lest they die (cf. 2 Sam 6:7; 1 Chron 13:9-10).

We see in Scripture that there are many parallels between Mary and the Ark (compare Lk 1:35, 39, 41, 43, 56 with Exo 40:35 and 2 Sam 6:2, 9, 11, 16) but space permits us to only address one. We already know what the Ark was built to contain. What was Mary built to contain, but Jesus Christ? And Who is He but the new Word of God (cf. Jn 1:1), the Manna from Heaven (cf. Jn 6:51), and the great High Priest (cf. Heb 5:4-5)?

This means that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, and just as the contents of the previous Ark demanded a perfectly pure vessel, so did Christ, not as a matter of strict necessity (God could have received His human flesh from any woman) but because His holiness demanded it. By preserving Mary from sin, God prepared her to be the pure Ark of the New Covenant.

THIRD DOCTRINE: Mary, Perpetual Virgin

Catholics believe that Mary remained a virgin her entire life. This may seem odd at first, considering that there are many Scripture passages that refer to the “brothers” of Jesus (cf. Mt 12:46; 13:55-56; Mk 3:31; Lk 8:19; Jn 7:1-10; Acts 1:14; Gal 1:19). It is not necessary, however, to believe that these “brothers” were actually His siblings.

The Greek word for “brother” in these verses is adelphos. This word can mean “sibling,” but it is also used in Scripture to refer to those of the same nationality, any man or neighbor, persons with like interests, distant descendants of the same parents, persons united by a common calling, mankind, the disciples, and all believers.

Considering the broad meaning of the word, we can just as easily say that these “brothers” of Jesus were related to Him in some other way. Scripture tells us that at least four of them – James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas – were actually Jesus’ cousins, since their mother was Mary’s sister (cf. Mt 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mk 15:47; Jn 19:25).

Also, note that it was Jewish custom for the eldest son to care for his mother once his father died. When the eldest son died, this responsibility fell on the next son, and so on. Yet, Jesus gave His mother to the Apostle John, not to any of His "brothers" (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

It appears from these peculiar details that Jesus was in fact the only son of Joseph and Mary. And, since the Jews considered it a serious sin to prevent the marital act from bearing fruit (cf. Gen 1:22; 9:1; 38:8-10), we can rightly infer from the lack of other children that Mary remained a virgin.

FOURTH DOCTRINE: Mary, Assumed Into Heaven

Typically, when a human being dies, his body is buried or cremated and his soul receives its eternal reward. It is only once Jesus comes again that this soul will receive its body back and experience heaven or hell as a completed human being.

But, in the case of Mary, the Church teaches that, having completed the course of her earthly life, she was assumed (or raised) body and soul into heavenly glory. In other words, Mary didn’t have to wait for the Resurrection of the Body. She has her body, now, in heaven.

The concept of persons being assumed, body and soul, into their eternal reward is not foreign to Scripture. Enoch (cf. Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5) and Elijah (cf. 2 Ki 2:11-12) experienced this. Paul said that a third man may have as well (cf. 2 Cor 12:2-4). The "two witnesses" in the last days (Rev 11:1-12) also were taken up bodily to heaven. Thus, there is precedent for what we believe happened to Mary.

Our first indication that Mary was assumed into heaven comes from the Revelation of John the Apostle. John looked up, expecting to see the Ark, and what did he see? A woman clothed with the sun (cf. Rev 11:19-12:1). We have already seen how Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. That this woman is Mary is further confirmed later in chapter 12, where we see the woman giving birth to a son who will rule the nations with a rod of iron (vs. 5). This son is obviously Jesus, therefore the woman is Mary, whom John has seen, body and soul, in heaven. “Arise, O LORD, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might” (Ps 132:8).

Beyond this, the assumption of Mary follows from who Christ is. During the reign of David and his descendants, the queen of the kingdom was actually the mother of the king, not his wife (cf. 1 Ki 2:19; 15:13; 2 Ki 10:13; Ps 45:9; Jer 13:18; 29:2). As soon as the king was crowned, the queen was likewise crowned, and she was seated on a throne right beside him (cf. 1 Ki 2:19).

Now, who is Jesus? He is the new king of David (cf. Mk 11:10; Lk 1:32). It makes perfect sense that from the moment He ascended into heaven and took up His throne, Jesus would assume Mary into heaven and install her as His queen mother. In the Davidic kingdom, there is no king without a queen.

FIFTH DOCTRINE: Mary, Mediatrix of God's Grace

The final Marian doctrine of the Church declares that Mary is the “Mediatrix” of God's grace. By this we mean that Mary cooperated in an extraordinary way in the saving mission of Christ, who alone is the unique mediator between God and man.

It may seem peculiar at first to think of a human being working with God to bring us grace, but Scripture says that all Christians are called to contribute to this vital work. It bears repeating: Jesus alone is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. Yet, it is also true that He wishes to involve us in His work.

For example, St. Paul said, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor 9:22). He considered himself a steward of God’s grace that was given to him for others (Eph 3:2; cf. Rom 11:13-14; 1 Cor 7:16; 1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 2:10; Jas 5:20; 1 Pet 3:1; 4:10; Jude 1:22-23). We are "God’s fellow workers" (1 Cor 3:9), “working together with Him” (2 Cor 6:1).

Now, Mary played her part just as Paul did, but her cooperation was and is uniquely exemplary. Why? Consider her amazing life. Mary’s “yes” to God was the occasion for the Son to enter human history and take on our human nature. She gave Him the flesh that He nailed to the Cross for our salvation. And, since she was sinless, she was able to stand at the foot of the Cross and unite her will and her suffering perfectly with the will and the suffering of her Son. No other human being can claim to do what Mary did.

This was undoubtedly rewarded with a tremendous outpouring of grace for the benefit of the Church. How do we know this? Because we see from Scripture that whenever someone suffers for the sake of the Church, the Church is rewarded with an application of the grace of the Cross.

St. Paul said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and … for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). Paul is showing us that the Church benefits whenever we unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ on the Cross. This is what he did (cf. 2 Cor 1:6; 4:8-15; Phil 2:17; 3:10; Col 1:24), this is what he encouraged others to do, and this is what Mary did.

Since Mary was sinless, she was able to do it perfectly, and so we honor her role in salvation history with the title “Mediatrix.”


These five doctrines, and the Scripture passages that support them, point to Mary as uniquely blessed by the fruit of her womb. If God had not chosen her to be His mother, then none of her other unique qualities would have existed. He made her the most extraordinary woman who has ever lived, and it is with good reason that “all generations will call her blessed” (Lk 1:48).

Pax Christi,
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