Apologetics for the Masses #261

Bible Christian Society


Who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and how do you know he was inspired by God?  And, is Scripture - all of Scripture - "easy" to understand?  More from a Church of Christ preacher...

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General Comments

EWTN just informed me that it's a "Go!" for taping more episodes of the "Blue Collar Apologetics" series!  Although, because of their heavy production schedule, I won't actually be taping until January, and so they probably will not air until next Spring sometime.  But, more are on their way, and that's in large part to your very kind and generous response to that series...thank you!  


This week I am going to respond to some more comments from Mr. Pat Donahue, a preacher of the Campbellite Church of Christ.  Mr. Donahue, in case you haven't already figured it out, really does not like the Catholic Church.  In fact, I would say he was pretty much obsessed with the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church is the #1 topic of the email newsletters he sends out.  Anyway, a couple of things that he has sent me lately - one in a response to one of my emails to him, and the other as just one of his regular emails - pertain to matters that go beyond just the Campbellite Church of Christ, but that can be applied to most of Protestantism.  So, I wanted to address them here.  The 1st topic below is in regard to a newsletter he recently sent out entitled, "The Bible is Understandable."  I'll give you the full newsletter first, and then my response to it.  The 2nd topic below is Mr. Donahue's recent response to the question: Who wrote the Gospel of Mark and how do you know he was inspired by God?  Again, his full response, and then my analysis and response.  I hope you enjoy...


Pat Donahue

The Catholic Church claims the Bible is not really understandable and that is why we need the Catholic Church and its Pope and clergy to interpret it for us correctly.  But notice the following passages which show the Bible is understandable as written …

Ephesians 3:3-4 - How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery … as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge …

Matthew 13:23 - the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it

II Corinthians 1:13 - For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand … (NASV)

Why then do some people not understand God’s word?  That is explained by verses like the following …

Matthew 13:15 - For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted …

It is strange we can’t understand the Bible even though we agree the author is the Almighty God, but we can understand the Pope who is only a man.  The Catholics must not think much of God’s ability to communicate.


John Martignoni

Sorry to say, Pat, but your opening statement is a blatant lie.  Can you give me a quote, from even a single magisterial document of the Church, where the Church "claims" that the Bible is "not really understandable"?  Just one official source, please.  And, no, a book written by a Catholic in the 1920's, that you quote out of context, does not qualify as an official source.  If you cannot find that official source which says such a thing, will you then send out another email to everyone on your list telling them that you were wrong in what you stated?  The answer is, no, you won't.  I hate to belabor this point, Pat, but that is why I do not consider you an honorable man.  Because you stated something about the Catholic Church, something for which you cannot produce a single official source to offer as evidence to back up your claim, yet you will not publicly recant that statement.  Does Jesus want his followers to lie about other people's beliefs?  I think not.

Again, nowhere does the Catholic Church claim that the Bible is "not really understandable."  Nowhere.  The Catholic Church does, however, say that there are things in the Bible which are difficult to understand.  You, however, are essentially making the claim that there is nothing in the Bible that folks cannot understand and, therefore, that no one ever needs anyone to teach them, or guide them, as to what this or that passage of Scripture is saying.  So, does the Bible agree with you, or with the Catholic Church on that?  Let's look and see.  2 Peter 3:15-16, "So, also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them [Paul's letters] hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures."  So, let's recap: Pat Donahue: The Bible is easily understood by anyone who can read.  Catholic Church: There are some things in the Bible that are difficult to understand.  The Bible: There are some things in Paul's letters, and other scriptures, which are hard to understand. 

So, the Bible tells us quite explicitly that there are things in Paul's letters, that are hard to understand, which some folks are twisting to their own destruction.  And, these are serious matters that are not being understood, why else would the Word of God say that not properly understanding those things is leading to these people's "destruction"?   And, not just Paul's letters, but Peter specifically mentions "other scriptures" that are also being twisted, which means there are things in other parts of the Bible that are hard to understand.  So, who am I to believe on this: Pat Donahue, or the Bible?  Pat, will you admit that there are things in the Bible that are difficult to understand, for which someone needs a teacher, or a guide, in order to be able to understand...yes or no?

And let's look at some other Scriptures as well.  Let's go to Acts 17 and talk about the Bereans. The Bereans are often held up as the model for all Sola Scriptura Christians, because they "searched" (v. 11, King James Version) the Scriptures daily to find out if what Paul was saying was actually in the Bible.  But that runs contrary to what you are saying about the Bible being easy to understand, Pat, because Paul was showing them that their scriptures, the Old Testament, showed that the Messiah, Jesus, had to suffer and rise from the dead (v. 3).  Well, these supposedly Sola Scriptura Bible scholars obviously had not come up with that meaning on their own, now had they?  They needed Paul to explain the Bible to them so they could come to understand what it really meant.  So, no need for teachers or guides when it comes to understanding the Bible, eh, Pat?  Everything in Scripture is easily understood, right?

Then there is the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 (verses 26-39).  He had no problems at all understanding the Bible, did he?  Nope.  None whatsoever.  That's why when Philip ran up to him and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" the eunuch replied, "Oh, absolutely.  Everyone knows the Bible is 'understandable as written.'  No problemo here."  Is that what he said, Pat?  I don't think so.  The Word of God has the Ethiopian eunuch replying to the question of whether or not he can undertand the passage of Scripture that he was reading, by saying: "How can I, unless someone guides me?"  So Philip got up in the chariot and explained the Scripture to this man.  Why would the Ethiopian say that, if what you claim is true, Pat?  Is the Bible telling us that we sometimes need a guide to properly understand Scripture...yes or no?

And let's look back into the Old Testament for further evidence to back up the teaching of the Church that there are some things in the Bible that are difficult to understand, and for which a guide is needed in order to understand. Nehemiah 8:1-8, "And all the people [of Israel] gathered as one man into the square...and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses [Scripture] which the Lord had given to Israel.  And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding...And he read from it...from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law...Also, Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places.  And they read from the book, from the law of God, claearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading."  What's going on here?  An assembly of the people of Israel - all those who could "understand" - was called.  The Scripture was read to them.  So, did they get it without any problems?  Did they understand everything that was read to them clear as a bell?  I mean, the Bible says that these were the people who could "understand."  That's the same word as in those passages you cite, Pat.  Those passages that you have infallibly declared as showing that the meaning of each and every verse of the Bible is easy to understand.  But, do these people who can understand, actually understand everything on their own?  Absolutely not!  Even though the Bible says it is the ones who could understand who were listening to the reading of Scripture all morning, they did not get it until the Levites "helped" them to understand.  The Levites explained the "sense" of the Scriptures to them.  The King James Bible, in verse 8, even says that it was the Levites giving the sense of the Scriptures to the people that "caused them to understand the reading."  So, they were capable of understanding, but they did not actually understand until they had someone explain it to them.  How does this example fit with your claim that the Bible is easily understood?

There is nothing in the 3 verses you cite, Pat, the ones that speak of "understanding" the Scriptures, that says the people reading them came to a full and complete understanding of the Scriptures all on their own.  The passage from Nehemiah completely refutes your "infallible" interpretation of those verses.  Scripture explicitly states that it was those "who could understand" that were called to the assembly to hear the Word of God.  So, they could understand, but they didn't understand.  At least, not until someone explained it to them.  Furthermore, if everyone who reads the Bible can understand it on their own without need of a guide - forgetting for a moment the example of the aforementioned Israelites, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the Bereans - then why does the Bible say, "And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers...?"  Why do we need teachers in the Church if the Word of God is easily understood by everyone who can read it?  Do we need Math teachers in the Church?  Science teachers?  No, we need those who will teach us about the Word of God.  Now, you might say, "Well, we need teachers for the children."  But, I will counter by saying where does it state in the Scripture that children were reading the Bible?  I mean, when it comes to infant Baptism, you say that nowhere does the Bible specifically mention children being baptized, so that means we shouldn't baptize infants.  So, I ask you, where in the Bible does it specifically say that children were reading the Word of God and needed teachers to help them with their understanding of what they were reading?  In every example I just gave, it was the adults who needed the teachers, who needed a guide, to understand Scripture.  Scripture is very clear on that.

Finally, regarding your rather pathetic comment at the end: "The Catholics must not think much of God’s ability to communicate," let me ask you a question: Is there anything in the Bible, or about the Bible, that you are ignorant of? 



Okay, folks, here is another example of how "loose" Mr. Donahue is with the facts.  Right in his very 1st sentence he falsely accuses the Church of teaching something that it does not teach.  I mean, how much investigation would it have taken for him to understand that the Church doesn't teach that the Bible "is not really understandable?"  Not very much.  At least, if he were actually interested in presenting Church teachings as the Church presents them, which he's not.  So, when someone presents some outrageous statement like this to you about what the Catholic Church claims, believes, teaches, practices, etc., the very first thing to do is to ask, "Where exactly does the Catholic Church make that claim?"  Or, "Where exactly does the Church teach that?"  And make them give you a magisterial document - an official teaching document of the Church.  Notice that on this claim, Mr. Donahue apparently couldn't even find a book from the 1920's (see the previous two newsletters) to rip a sentence from that would back up his claim.  Make the other guy put up, or shut up. 

And, keep asking questions.  After every point I made above when answering his questions, I turned it into a question.  Ask questions and keep asking questions.  And ask the same questions over and over again until you get an answer.  And do not respond to any new questions of theirs until they answer the questions you already have out on the table.  And if they don't answer your questions, then take off your sandals and shake the dust from them.

The Scripture verses I used here can be used with pretty much any Sola Scriptura believer.  Yes, there are many, many things in the Bible that are easy to understand.  But, as the Bible very clearly and directly tells us, there are some things in the Bible that are difficult to understand, for which we need guides, or teachers, to explain their proper "sense."  And don't let anyone tell you that, "Well, yes, there are some things that are difficult to understand, but those things are not 'essential' to your salvation."  First question, "Where in the Bible does it say that?"  It doesn't.  Second question, if the things that are difficult to understand are not essential to your salvation, then why does Peter say that folks are twisting those things to their own destruction?  Or, one might say, to their own damnation.  Sounds fairly essential to me.  Furthermore, would you call the book of God's law, the Book of Moses (the Pentateuch), which was being read to the Israelites in Nehemiah, as being non-essential?  All of these things point to the fact that a belief in Sola Scriptura - each person reading the Bible on their own, to decide for themselves, without answering to any authority other than themselves, what is true and false Christian doctrine and practice - is a belief in something that is contrary to Scripture.

One last point here: Mr. Donahue never actually claimed that each and every passage of the Bible was easy to understand, as I stated in a few places.  However, that is the direct implication of his statement about the Church claiming the Bible is "not really understandable."  If every passage of the Bible is not easy to understand, then that means some passages of the Bible are difficult to understand.  If some passages of the Bible are difficult to understand, then that would point to the need for someone to help you correctly interpret those passages.  If there is a need for someone to help you correctly interpret some passages of the Bible, then that would mean the Church was right in stating there is a need for the Pope and the Magisterium to aid people in correctly interpreting the Bible. If the Church was right about the Pope and the Magisterium, then Mr. Donahue's claim is completely bogus.  So, the essence of his claim is that each and every passage of the Bible is easy to understand.


John Martignoni

(Now, to finish my comments on this first part.)

Sorry, Pat, but once again your infallible interpretation of Scripture, and your infallible interpretation of Catholic teaching, have proven to be just a bit off the mark.  Well, okay, way off the mark.  And speaking of Mark, let's look at how you answered my question about Mark's Gospel.  This is what I said to you: "I asked you, to give me book, chapter, and verse - from the Bible - that tells me the Gospel of Mark was written by someone named Mark, and that this Mark was indeed inspired by the Holy Spirit in writing that Gospel.  The first time I asked you that question, you replied, 'It doesn't matter who wrote Mark.'  Really?!  The 2nd time I asked you that question, you replied that we know that Mark wrote Mark and was inspired by the Holy Spirit 'because of the witness of the early Christians.'  When I pointed out to you that 'the witness of the early Christians' is what folks call 'tradition,' you had no response.  So, Pat, since you believe that 'Scripture is our Sole authority in religion,' then using that sole authority, please tell me who wrote the Gospel of Mark and how you know whether or not he was inspired by the Holy Spirit?"


Pat Donahue

We do not know for sure who wrote the book of Mark (because the text does not say), and it doesn't really matter.  The miracles that were performed in the first century confirmed which books were inspired (Heb 2:3-4), and that doesn’t need to keep being reconfirmed (Mark 16:20), and certainly didn’t need rubber stamping by the Catholic Church many centuries later.


John Martignoni

First of all, how does miracles being performed, "confirm which books were inspired"?  Did it go something like this: "Look, Peter performed a miracle, that must mean the writer of the Gospel of Mark was inspired by God!"  Or, "Hey, Paul raised someone from the dead, that must mean Mark was inspired!"  Furthermore, how does the early Christians seeing miracles performed, confirm for you, personally, that the writer of Mark was inspired?  How exactly does that work?

Also, first it didn't matter who wrote Mark, then it mattered and you knew that Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark and was inspired by God because of the "witness of the early Christians," and now it doesn't matter again.  But, regardless of your flip-flopping, you still haven't given me book, chapter, and verse as to how you know the person who wrote the Gospel of Mark was inspired by God when he was writing that Gospel?  Sorry, Pat, but Heb 2:3-4 doesn't cut it.  Let's look at those verses.  In fact, let's go back a couple of verses to get the full context.  Hebrews 2:1-4, "Therefore we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  For if the message declared by angels was valid and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?  It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His own will."  

Pat, did I somewhere miss in these verses where it says the author of the Gospel of Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit?  Is there an extra verse in your Bible that mentions that?  I mean, you do realize, Pat, that these verses are not talking about the written Scriptures, right?  It's talking about what we have "heard," not what we have "read'.  And the message (Old Testament law) was "declared" by angels ("spoken" in the KJV) - not written - and "declared" by the Lord ("spoken" in the KJV) - not written - and "attested to" by those who "heard" Him - not "written" by those who "read" what He wrote.  It's all about the spoken word, not the written word.  I know context is not your strong suit, Pat, but are you really going to claim that this passage tells us that the writer of the Gospel of Mark was inspired by God?  You don't even know who the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is or that he was even inspired by God.  At least, you don't know that from the Bible.  Please tell me where the Bible says that the Letter to the Hebrews is inspired Scripture?  Give me book, chapter, and verse.  And if you can't, then who told you?  I have to say, of all of the poor scriptural interpretations that I have seen and heard come from you over the years, this has got to be the most bizarre.  You are trying to use a passage from a book - a book for which you have no scriptural evidence that it is inspired - that is talking about the spoken word which the writer "heard" - to prove that the author of the Gospel of Mark was inspired when he put his Gospel down in writing. You really do need to read and re-read that verse I mentioned earlier from 2 Peter about folks twisting the Scriptures to their own destruction. 

Do you really think - going back to your contention that every verse of the Bible is easy to understand - that someone who just picked up the Bible and started reading it, when they came to Hebrews 2:3-4, would think to themselves, "Oh, these verses clearly show that the writer of the Gospel of Mark was inspired by God.  That's plain as day!" 

Furthermore, you have stated in the past that you can know someone was inspired in writing Scripture if they were either an Apostle or if they performed miracles.  First question, where does the Bible say that, or did you come up with those requirements from some extra-biblical authority?  Secondly, where does it say, anywhere, in the Bible, that Mark was an Apostle or that he ever performed a miracle?  You state things as being infallibly true, but when questioned on your statements, you cannot back them up with even the most meager of evidence.  Pat, you are really grasping at straws here.  Will your pride make you hang on to your beliefs in spite of the overwhelming evidence - from Scripture, from tradition, and from common sense - against those beliefs?  Again, I will ask, where in the Bible does it say that the writer of the Gospel of Mark, and the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, were inspired by God when writing those books?  Give me book, chapter, and verse, Pat.  If you cannot give me book, chapter, and verse, then tell me by what authority you claim those authors to have been inspired?  Which early Christians witnessed to it?  Who told you, Pat...who told you?



Okay, folks, I want you to realize how easy it is, with just this basic question about Mark, to get Sola Scriptura believers to tie themselves into knots.  In our first debate on Sola Scriptura, when I asked Mr. Donahue this question, he said it didn't really matter, as he is saying here - in other words, he had no answer to the question.  In our 2nd debate on this same topic a few months later, he thought he had an answer by saying that we know Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark and that he was inspired by God because of the "witness of the early Christians."  In other words, he could not answer the question from Scripture, so he had to go outside of Scripture to come up with an answer.  A pretty strange thing to do for a Sola Scriptura believer, don't you think?  When I pointed out to him that the Catholic Church calls "the witness of the early Christians," Tradition, well, he pretty much had no response to that.  Now, he has come full circle.  Although I know he will try to say he hasn't changed his answer, he actually has.  From: "It doesn't matter," to: "The witness of the early Christians," back to: "It doesn't matter."  He'll say that he is basically saying what it says in Hebrews 2.  But, as I've shown above, Hebrews 2 is talking about what had been "heard," and not about what had been written.  He is so far out into left field on this that it is mind-boggling.  I keep thinking that there is nothing out there that can surprise me any more when it comes to apologetics, but then something like this comes along.  But, that just goes to show you how willing Sola Scriptura folks are to twist the Scriptures - and twist them violently - to keep from having to admit they are wrong. 

So, ask that simple question of any Sola Scriptura believer and see what kind of answers you get.  Who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and how do you know he was inspired by God?  Ask them for book, chapter, and verse. And if they can't give it to you, which they can't, then point out to them that there is some authority - and some tradition - outside of the Bible that they are relying upon in order to have their Bible in the first place.  And, guess who that authority is?


Well, Mr. Donahue has sent a response to my last email to him (see Issue #260), but I haven't read it yet.  It's been sitting in my inbox for a few days now.  On the one hand, I want to just delete it because I know it is going to be more of the same garbage.  But, on the other hand, I never want to give up hope that maybe...just maybe...the Holy Spirit will cause the scales to fall from the eyes of someone like this.  Plus, if nothing else, there may be something in it that can be turned into a catecheticaI moment for the newsletter.  So, I'll probably read it over the weekend - maybe after I've had a beer (or two).  If there is anything interesting in it, I'll share it with you.  If not, we'll move on to some other folks who have been clamoring for my attention. 

In the meantime, I hope all of you have a blessed week!


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Apologetics for the Masses