Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #183

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

I can’t believe it is March already! What happened to February? For that matter, what happened to 2011?!

I did get a bit behind on the newsletter in February. Had a lot of things going on in the Diocese – two men’s conferences, a men’s breakfast, a number of talks within the Diocese, and much more. But, I am bound and determined to catch up…beginning with this one today.

Oh, one other thing – I am now on Twitter. I hope to soon begin regularly sending out twits…or is that tweets? My account is just @JohnMartignoni. I haven’t done much with the Bible Christian Society Facebook page, as I just have not figured out of what use it can be, but I have a friend who is going to tutor me in Twitter and he says I will come to appreciate it. That remains to be seen, but I am always open to giving it the old college try. So, follow me on Twitter!


In my last newsletter, I spoke about Kay Arthur’s book, “How to Study the Bible.” In chapter 4 of that book, she presents 7 principles for interpreting the Bible. I pointed out that there were several problems and contradictions in relation to Principle #4, which is: “Do not base your doctrine on an obscure passage of Scripture.” I received a number of emails in response to that newsletter and I am going to answer them in this issue.


Dear Fr. John, 

I have listened to Kay Arthur a number of times on the radio and have never heard her say anything that is attacking Catholic teaching, but I may have just missed it.  You need to take on this Protestant and her flawed doctrine of SS and please give a full response to her message.  I see that there are seven principles in her book, but you just mentioned one of them.  You’re not going to give her a free pass on these other principles, are you?  We need to have a strong response to this false teaching.   

God bless, 


My Response:
First of all, it is not "Fr." John.  Just plain ol’ John.  Or, Mr. John if you prefer.  I am not a priest, rather I am an ordinary lay person. 

Secondly, I do not want to give the impression that Kay Arthur has ever attacked the Catholic Church or is an anti-Catholic or any such thing.  I have no idea what she thinks about the Catholic Church and whether or not she has ever said anything negative about the Church. 

In regard to "[taking] on this Protestant and her flawed doctrine of [Sola Scriptura]," that is basically what I was doing in the last newsletter.  Taking on the doctrine, and her message that conveys that doctrine, as opposed to taking her on at a personal level. 

Now, as to giving her a "free pass" on the other 6 of her 7 principles, let me explain about that.  Here are the 7 principles of biblical interpreation that she mentions in her book:

1) Remember the context rules
2) Always seek the full counsel of the Word of God
3) Remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture
4) Do not base your doctrine on an obscure passage of Scripture
5) Interpret Scripture literally
6) Look for the author’s intended meaning of the passage
7) Check your conclusions by using reliable commentaries

Of those 7 principles, I agree with 5 of them – #1, 2, 3, 5, and 6.  My comments on principle #4 can be seen in the last newsletter.  My problem with #7 is this: I agree that one should have a good commentary to consult to help them have a better understanding of Scripture, but she is telling people to consult a good commentary to help them decide on what is and is not good doctrine.  Well, that begs the question: Are the writers of these commentaries infallible?  What authority do they have to set doctrine?  Does the Bible say to consult a "reliable commentary" to help you decide on doctrine?  Notice in not one of her principles does she say to consult the Church.  The Bible mentions the Church and the authority of the Church, never does it mention the authority of a "reliable commentary." So, why does she send people to a "reliable commentary" to help them determine their doctrine, and not to the Church?  That’s my problem with Principle #7.

Dear Sir:   

I thank you very much for this excellent lesson in identifying problems with Protestants’ preaching on the bible.  However, I feel very frustrated that you did not explain to us what exactly that passage meant.  I went to the USCCB bible to see if there was a note with that passage but there was not.   All you tell us is that "at least some early Christians were practicing baptism for the dead".  That does not explain the passage to me.  I am left wondering why some early Christians were doing a practice that is wrong. The way I read this is that these early Christians were doing something logical based on their knowledge that the dead are raised.  It also seems to indicate that people who do this will accomplish something.  

I would like a book and audio of the book giving a verse by verse Catholic understanding of each New Testament book. I understand we are to only accept the Magisterium’s teaching of what a bible verse means and that private interpretation is expressly prohibited in a New Testament epistle, but I do not find any complete accessible bible commentary that gives us what the Church teaches.  I also heard a Father Ken Baker, said to be a bible scholar, who was on a show with Mother Angelica many years ago, and for which show I have the audio tape, and he said that the Magisterium has only gone on records of telling us what two bible verse actually mean.   

I am not trying to be argumentative but Catholics are starving to understand the bible correctly and if the Magisterium has indeed interpreted the entire bible for us, why is that not made known and available to us.   I am trying hard on my own to understand the bible but I really am not doing very well.  

God bless you in the name of Jesus Christ Who is Truth   


My Response:
In regard to what that passage on baptism of the dead (1 Cor 15:29) means, see my response to the next email.

The Magisterium has not interpreted the entire Bible for us.  The Magisterium has given us the teachings of Jesus Christ, and it is within the parameters of those teachings that we are free to interpret the Bible.  In other words, if we read the Bible and come up with some interpretation of the Bibole that is contrary to Catholic teaching, then we know that we have a bad interpretation of the Bible.  Any interpretation of Scripture that is contrary to the teaching of the Church is, simply put, wrong.  How do we know what the Church teaches?  Look in the Catechism.  In fact, the Catechism is the only "official" book that comes close to giving a verse-by-verse Catholic explanation of each New Testament book.  It does not, however, go through the New Testament verse-by-verse.  What it does do, though, is give you is a 32-page index of scriptural citations.  You can read, for example, 2 Thessalonians 1:10, and then go to the index of scriptural citations, and you will see that the Catechism cites that verse in Paragraph #1041.  You can then go to Paragraph #1041 in the Catechism and read it to get a sense of how the Church views what that passage is saying.  

For a verse-by-verse "Catholic" explanation of the New Testament, I recommend a good Catholic scriptural commentary.  A new one that has recently come out is from Ignatius Press and is done by Dr. Scott Hahn.  I’m sure you can find it online.  Other good Catholic commentaries that I personally use are: 1) The Navarre Bible and Commentary – it comes in a number of volumes and they can all be found online at www.amazon.com for a good price (for used copies).  If you have a Catholic bookstore nearby, you can get it there. 2) A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, by Dom Orchard.  3) Haydock Bible Commentary – this is a commentary on the Douay-Rheims Bible and there is a link to an online version of this commentary on the home page of our website (www.biblechristiansociety.com).

So, if you have a Bible, and a Catechism, and one of the forementioned commentaries, you will be well on your way to an ever-growing understanding of Scripture.

Hi John, thank you for another excellent newsletter. Of course you are killing us with suspense, now we need to be told how the Church interprets correctly what Pope Kay rejects under her improper hermeneutic regarding baptisms for the dead, and the Church’s reasons for her interpretation… 

My Response:
Okay, here we go.  Again, the Church does not go through the Bible and give a verse-by-verse interpretation of each and every passage.  The Church teaches us that the Sacrament of Baptism is for the living, not for the dead, because the Church teaches that the state of your soul at the moment of your death, is the state of your soul for all of eternity (either in a state of grace and headed to Heaven, or not in a state of grace and headed to Hell).  So, if one’s eternal destiny is set at the moment of their death, then baptism of the dead is completely pointless. 

The Church teaches that when you die, you immediately face your particular judgment (Heb 9:27).  So, again, if you are judged at the moment of your death, how could baptism of the dead be of any use to you after you’ve already been judged?  All of which means, that reading this verse within the parameters of Church teaching, we see that one cannot interpret this verse as being a recommendation for the practice of baptism of the dead – as the Mormons do indeed interpret it.  

Okay, we know it doesn’t mean we should baptize on behalf of the dead.  We know this because the Church does not teach baptism of the dead.  But, if it doesn’t mean to baptize on behalf of the dead, then what does it mean?  Well, we don’t really know.  There are a few different possibilities posited by the Fathers of the Church.  First, some thought the verse was talking about a metaphorical baptism.  That to be baptized for the dead meant to mortify oneself and to engage in works of penance and self-denial. 

St. John Chrysostom interpreted this verse to mean that those who receive Baptism have hope that they, and all the dead, will rise again.  Others thought the verse was referring to those who call for Baptism when they are dying.  In essence, referring to those who are dying, as "the dead."  Still others thought that there may have been some among the Corinthians who thought along the lines of the Mormons today – that they could baptize, by proxy, those who had died without baptism, thereby giving them access to Heaven. 

Personally, what makes sense to me is that there were some folks who, being new Christians, and accepting fully that Baptism was necessary for salvation, became concerned for loved ones who had died before Christianity had been introduced into the area – before they had had a chance to be baptized.  So, out of concern for their dearly departed, and believing in the Church’s teaching on Baptism as necessary for salvation, and not being fully or properly catechized, they concocted a "scheme" of baptizing their dead friends and relatives by proxy.  Baptism for the dead, so to speak.  I think Paul mentions this as just one example of his point that if the dead don’t rise, then everything we are about as Christians, is pointless.  He goes on to say that if the dead don’t rise, then basically everything he has done is pointless.  Why bother, if the dead don’t rise? 

Two arguments against that last interpretation are: 1) Why would Paul cite a practice that he knew was not in line with the faith; and 2) Why didn’t he condemn the practice if that’s what they were actually doing?  My response in both cases would be that he was focused on the necessity of the reality of the Resurrection, not on condemning a particular practice.  Also, it could be that Paul had already spoken to those he is addressing in his letter about this practice and they knew it was not something that they should be doing, so he had no need to condemn it because he may have already done so at a previous time.  I mean, from the context, it is obvious that he knew the people he was addressing were familiar with the practice.  How could he know that unless he had spoken with them about it previously?  Just my thoughts…

So, Kay Arthur was right…it is an obscure passage.  Does that admission cause my comments in the previous newsletter to be null and void?  Absolutely not.  Notice the difference between how she deals with that verse and how I, as a Catholic deal with it.  She basically has to skip the verse…she has to ignore it.  It cannot be used to formulate "your doctrine" because we can’t understand it.  It is obvious that the verse doesn’t mean we should baptize for the dead but, since we don’t know what it really means, we need to skip it.

Well, if she doesn’t know what it really means, then how does she know it doesn’t mean we should baptize on behalf of the dead?  How does she know it’s not talking about a doctrinal matter?  She knows that because of the TRADITION of the Church.  She knows that because of the authority of the Church.  But, nowhere does she mention Sacred Tradition or the authority of the Church as things to take into account when developing "your doctrine." She believes in getting your doctrine from the Bible, yet she has come to the Bible with her doctrine already in place.  That’s just not straight up.

When a Catholic comes to 1 Cor 15:29, what do we do?  Do we have to ignore the verse?  Do we need to be afraid of it?  Does it cause us any problems.  No.  We know, without relying on our own level of scriptural understanding, that this verse does not make the argument for baptism of the dead.  We know that because the Church tells us so.  The Church was given her teaching before Paul wrote this letter.  So, the letter contains the teaching of the Church, but the Church did not have to wait until the letter was written in order to have her doctrine.  The early Christians did not "base [their] doctrine" on the Letter to the Corinthians, because the Letter to the Corinthians had not yet been written.  So, to not perfectly understand a particular verse or passage of Scripture, does not cause us the problems that it causes a believer in Sola Scriptura. 


I have a read a number of your messages over time, even though it is made difficult by the condescending tone they usually take.  My conclusion – You, sir, are all about straw man argumentation. I don’t believe that you would last for a minute in a fair debate or discussion with Kay Arthur or any other semi-literate Christian of the Protestant persuasion.     

I am Director of the local Right to Life chapter. I work closely with several Catholic people. I grew up Catholic. I don’t have a problem with Catholics. I love them – especially for all their pro-life passion. But nobody needs to uphold their own faith by so publicly and so unfairly demeaning another’s. However, if you wanted to do that in a fair debate setting, that would be OK.   This format just makes you look like a bully.     


My Response:
So, I’m a bully because I point out the errors of someone’s teaching on the Bible?!  So be it.  Let me make clear, though, that I am not, as Steve claims, demeaning Kay Arthur’s faith.  Again, I have no personal animus against her whatsoever.  I am, however, attacking the errors in her teaching.  I would be more than happy to debate Kay Arthur here in this newsletter if Steve wants to arrange it.  As anyone who has read this newsletter for any length of time knows, I give those who disagree with me more than their fair shake.  I dare say that I have given even those who hate and despise the Catholic Church way more time and attention in front of a Catholic audience – without editing any of their comments – than I would ever receive in front of an audience of their fellow churchmen. 

Regarding being "all about straw man argumentation," I would simply say, "Give me a specific example?" I often get accused of things by folks who, for some reason, never ever give me a specific example of what they accuse me of.  If I made a straw man argument in my last newsletter, Steve, then point it out to me and give me your counter-reasoning.  It’s easy to make an accusation, it’s much more difficult to back it up with a reasoned argument. 

It is not "unfair" to attack someone’s arguments, especially when those arguments are representative of mainstream Sola Scriptura thinking among Protestants.  This was not an argument against Kay Arthur, this was an argument against a particular Protestant dogma. 

Now, for a different perspective from Steve’s, read the following email, and notice what he says about "obscure passages" – very interesting:

Nice one, John.  My Pentecostal mother loves Kay Arthur.  She was a household name for me growing up!  And her recommendations for interpreting Scripture aren’t just "Kay’s ideas", but standard hermeneutical advice for Protestants.  It’s what they taught me at Bible College!

I love your point about "Your doctrine".  That was the first issue that really stuck out to me.  "Don’t use obscure passages to determine your doctrine."  How about simply, "Don’t determine your doctrine!"  That’s (thankfully) not our job!  And what a burden it takes off of me knowing that I don’t have to try to reinvent my religion every time I open Scripture!  I can simply let it speak.

Also, regarding pre-conceived biases informing our understanding of obscure passages, those same biases, in Protestantism, actually create obscure passages!  When I was a Protestant, there were many texts of Scripture that I had trouble understanding, precisely because I had difficulty reconciling them with my beliefs. And I have a Diploma in Biblical Studies!  But when I became a Catholic, suddenly those very head-scratchers made absolutely perfect sense!  I had been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  Turns out, the peg didn’t need changing—the hole did!

God bless


My Response:

’Nuff said…

In Conclusion

I hope you have a great week. I’m hoping to have the next newsletter out this coming Friday.

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Apologetics for the Masses