Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #152

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

I had a good time this past Sunday talking apologetics to the good folks at St. Paul’s in Athens, AL. Thanks to Fr. Charley and everyone who attended. Good priest, good people.


This week will be a continuation of the response I started in last week’s issue (see Issue #151 on the “Newsletter” page of www.biblechristiansociety.com) to a list of “Arguments Catholics Shouldn’t Use” when evangelizing Protestants, that three Catholic apologists came up with a year or so ago. I heard from one of them this week and this is what he said in response to my comments:

ALL IN ALL, I think we largely agree on these points. So it’s good to make it clear all of us Catholics are not really at odds here, but we might have some nuanced points of difference.”

And, I would agree with his assessment based on the other things he stated in his newsletter. I’ll put some more of his comments in the newsletter next week when I hone in specifically on the issue of how many Protestant denominations there are.

And I’m going to focus on that particular question next week in response to what a Protestant said on his website about my comments on this point in the last newsletter. I said that, based on my observations, I believe there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of de facto Protestant denominations. Well, this particular Protestant took issue with me and so next week I’m going to dissect his comments and point out the weaknesses of his arguments, or simply his lack of argument.

Below are items #8 – #18 from “Arguments Catholics Shouldn’t Use” and my responses to each of them.


Ben Douglass
David Palm
Nick E.
May 1, Anno Domini MMIX


8. Citing 2 Peter 1:20-21 against the Protestant principle of private interpretation of Scripture. St. Peter explains, in the preceding verses, that the Apostles did not invent their claims about the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, but saw it first hand when He revealed it to them in the Transfiguration. He then exhorts his readers to heed the "prophetic word." He continues, "No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men borne by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." In context, the "interpretation" which St. Peter refers to is on the part of the prophet, not the reader. That is, St. Peter’s point is that no prophet made up his own prophecies. The prophets spoke what they received from God to speak, just as the Apostles spoke what they received from God to speak on Mount Tabor. Hence, their words rest on divine and not human authority. 2 Peter 1:20-21 perhaps admits of a legitimate secondary application against private judgment, but this will not be convincing to an astute Protestant.

My Response: I disagree. 
First of all, one should never rely on a single verse to build your case, or to “be convincing” to a Protestant (whether they are “astute” or not), if you can at all avoid it. So, to rely on 2 Ptr 1:20-21 as a sort of trump card verse for proving the private interpretation of Scripture to be wrong, is not a good thing.  However, I believe this particular verse does indeed make a strong addition to your case, especially when you join it to 2 Ptr 3:16, about the ignorant and unstable who twist the Scriptures to their own destruction. How is it that the ignorant and unstable twist the Scriptures to their own destruction?  By incorrectly interpreting them via private interpretation. 

Also, to say that the context of this verse is all about private interpretation on the part of the prophet, but not the reader of the prophecy, seems to me to be a private interpretation of prophecy that misses the mark. To say that God is telling us that no prophet can privately interpret a prophecy that has been given to him, but that that has no implication whatsoever in regard to the private interpretation of that prophecy by those who forever after read that prophecy, doesn’t really make sense to me.  An “astute Protestant” is going to argue that God is telling us that a prophet cannot privately interpret a prophecy given to him by God, but after the prophecy is written down in Scripture then private interpretation of that prophecy is fair game for one and all who read it?  That doesn’t seem to me to be a very astute argument for a Protestant to make. 

Two quotes about these verses from a couple of Catholic commentaries:

1) Haydock’s Commentary: “The Scriptures cannot be properly expounded by private spirit or fancy, but by the same spirit wherewith they were written, which is resident in the Church…every part of the holy Scriptures is delivered to us by the divine spirit of God, wherewith the men were inspired who wrote them; therefore they are to be interpreted but by the spirit of God, which he left, and promised to his Church to guide her in all truth…”

2) Orchard’s 1951/1953 Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture: “It is of prime importance to know that prophecy of Scripture is not subject to private interpretation by every individual, as the false teachers assume it is…”

9. Attacking the textual integrity of the Bible. The manuscript tradition is sufficiently robust that it is possible to reconstruct, to a moral certainty, the original reading of the vast majority of the New Testament. Instances where the original text is indeterminate, although they are significant, are far between and are not determinative of any major theological debate.

My Response: I agree.
10. Compromising biblical inerrancy in order to score points against Protestantism. For instance, Protestants will often allege that the books of Maccabees cannot be inspired Scripture because they contain contradictory accounts of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes. And unfortunately, sometimes Catholics, instead of defending the books of Maccabees by harmonizing their data, will retort that by that standard the books of Samuel and Chronicles cannot be inspired Scripture either since they contain contradictory accounts of the death of Saul. This defense is thoroughly inadmissible: it invalidates the authentic Catholic standard regarding the necessary characteristics of Scripture (one of which is inerrancy) just as well as Protestant standard.

My Response: I disagree. 
I disagree because I do not think it is “compromising biblical inerrancy” to point out the fallacy in someone else’s premise.  By using someone else’s argument about a supposed inconsistency in the “apocrypha,” to show them that using their same logic produces supposed inconsistencies in other parts of Scripture, is a perfectly legitimate form of argumentation.  You are not “compromising” biblical inerrancy, you are compromising their logic.  Now, one should also make every effort to harmonize seemingly contradictory accounts of Scripture, but one should also be aware, as St. Augustine recognized, that there are parts of Scripture that can be difficult to harmonize one with the other.

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

My Response: I agree. 
Although, I love jumping to James 2:24, and even more to James 2:26, as a jumping off point for my arguments on this topic. But it is a beginning of the argument, not the end.  There are many more verses one needs to use to “build the case,” plus one does indeed need to give a Catholic interpretation to the verses the Protestants are misinterpreting.

12. Descending into arguments over whether we should give priority to Jesus or St. Paul as our teacher of the doctrine of justification. Granted, some Protestants err in claiming that Jesus left it to St. Paul to teach the Church the theology of salvation. However, it is no sound rebuttal, but simply the photographic negative of the Protestant error, to boast that Catholics give primacy to the Gospels.

My Response: I agree.

13. If you wish to cite Acts 7:51 against the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace, be forewarned that there exists a cogent rebuttal. St. Stephen tells the Sanhedrin, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose [Gk., antipiptete] the Holy Spirit." Literally, they fall against, meaning they fight against or oppose, the work of the Holy Spirit. Those who quote this passage against the doctrine of irresistible grace assume that this means they are resisting and hence rendering ineffectual that which the Holy Spirit is trying to work in their own souls. I.e., the Holy Spirit is working on converting them, but they are resisting Him. However, in context this passage more probably means simply that they are fighting against and opposing the work which the Holy Spirit is accomplishing in others, by killing the prophets in attempts to silence the word which God is speaking through them and persecuting the saints who hear it. "Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?" (Acts 7:52) The devil resists the Holy Spirit in the same sense.

My Response: I disagree. 
First of all, I have never used this verse against Calvinists.  Second, as I mentioned above, I try to never use one verse to “prove” something.  It’s all about building the case.  Having said that, though, whenever I see the words used above, “…in context this passage more probably means,” or any such similar words, I use them as a springboard to letting any Protestant who disagrees with my interpretation of Scripture know that my interpretation of each and any verse is as valid as their interpretation of that verse, at least, when we play by their rules of individual interpretation of Scripture. 

So, if I did use Acts 7:51 against a Calvinist and I interpreted it as meaning they fight against what the Holy Spirit is trying to accomplish in them, which is a possible interpretation – they could be fighting against the work of the Holy Spirit in others as well as the work of the Holy Spirit in themselves – and the Calvinist said, “No, in context this passage more probably means that they are fighting against and opposing the work which the Holy Spirit is accomplishing in others,” then I would ask them:

“This passage MORE PROBABLY means? So, you are really saying that in your fallible private OPINION this verse means what you THINK it means, right?” In other words, I would make sure that they understand that their interpretation of that verse, or any verse for that matter, is seen by me for exactly what it is – a fallible, non-authoritative, man-made, private interpretation – and that their fallible, non-authoritative, man-made private interpretation does not hold much sway with me, no matter how infallibly they try to pronounce it.  And I would continue by asking them if my interpretation of that verse “could be” right.  And I would point out to them that unless they claim their interpretation to be infallible, then they have to admit that my interpretation could be right.  And if my interpretation could be right, then theirs “could be” wrong.  The point of which is to draw them into a “dialogue” on authority, which is where I believe all theological dialogue should start, and to point out to them that they have no authority whatsoever to tell me that their interpretation is right and mine is wrong.

So, while this verse may not be a “home run” as an argument against Calvinists, I don’t think one is necessarily making a mistake by using it and I don’t think the “cogent rebuttal” offered above is all that remarkable, especially since it affords the opportunity to move the whole debate to the issue of authority.  By the way, one of my favorite verses that I use to argue against the Calvinists is Luke 7:30.

14. Similarly, if you wish to cite Matthew 23:37 against the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace, be forewarned that there exists a cogent rebuttal. Jesus says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" Before one could validly apply this text against irresistible grace, one would have to prove the identity of the ones whom Jesus willed to gather together and the ones who would not. For if they are different people, then, as above, all this text means is that the wicked are opposed to God’s saving action in others. And in fact, context indicates that they are different people. "Jerusalem" refers to the Jewish leadership, the scribes and Pharisees (cf. Matt 23:13, 31, 34-35), whereas "your children" refers to innocent Jews suffering underneath them.

My Response: I disagree. 
Most of what I said for point #13 can apply here as well.  Plus, I don’t think one has to “prove the identity” of anyone.  I don’t think one should try to “prove” anything with Scripture, rather one should just build the case.  And, I see no reason why this verse cannot be used as part of the case you are building as, again, it can be used to launch into a debate on the issue of authority and private interpretation, etc., just like Acts 7:51 above can be.  Again, I have never used this verse when talking to a Calvinist, and I doubt I ever would…as I doubt I would ever use Acts 7:51…but the point that I am allowed, by the Protestant’s system of theology, to interpret Scripture for myself as I see fit and that I see fit to interpret these verses in a way they disagree with, can maybe get some folks thinking that this whole private interpretation thing has some holes in it. 

15. Citing Ephesians 2:10 against justification by faith alone. This passage, even rightly interpreted, contains nothing inconsistent with Protestant theology. Having been saved by grace through faith, we ought to do the good works which God prepared beforehand for His children to do. This statement does not require that these good works should themselves be salvific, but is consistent with the supposition that these works are merely the necessary outgrowth of a salvation already completed. In order to establish that good works are salvific, the Catholic must look elsewhere.

My Response: I disagree. 
The question is: What happens if we do not do the works that God thinks we “ought to do” in Ephesians 2:10? This passage, when combined with Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven,” provides a very effective argument against justification by faith alone.  If God has these works prepared for you beforehand that you should walk in them (Eph 2:10), then that means it is His will that you do them.  But, according to Matthew 7:21, if you do not do His will, then you don’t get into the Kingdom of Heaven.  So, saved or not, if you do not do the works referred to in Eph 2:10, you don’t get into the Kingdom of Heaven.  So, is it necessary to do these works in order to be saved?

16. Making hay about Martin Luther adding the word "alone" to Romans 3:28. While the word is indeed absent from the Greek text, Luther was not the first to regard it as a justifiable gloss. That it is not in fact justifiable makes Luther’s addition an exegetical error, but this is not the same thing as a blatant perversion.

My Response: I disagree.  
Many Protestants try to make big hay out of the fact that Catholics “added” the deuterocanon to the Bible at the Council of Trent (as they wrongly believe), and they take great pleasure in quoting from the Book of Revelation that anyone who adds to or takes away from “this book” – which they take to mean the entire Bible – will be dealt with severely.  So, I see absolutely nothing wrong using their own argument against them by pointing out that their hero Martin Luther added to “this book” and I also use the opportunity to point out to them that Catholics did indeed add to “this book,” and that we call that addition the “New Testament.” I also point out that Martin Luther took away the deuterocanon from “this book.” And, that he referred to a part of “this book” as an “epistle of straw.” In other words, I find this particular tact of great use for opening the door to a number of catechetical moments.  Finally, I would not call the deliberate addition of words to Scripture, for the purpose of providing scriptural back up for your own personal interpretation of Scripture, an “exegetical error.”  His misinterpretation of Scripture is indeed an exegetical error, but to deliberately add a word to the pages of the Bible and call it inspired Scripture goes beyond a mere “exegetical error.” 

17. Never ask, if a Protestant believes his salvation is eternally secure, what motivation he has to do good and avoid evil. The answer is obvious (and embarrassing to the Catholic who asked the question): the love of God. The love of God is sufficient motivation to pursue holiness with all vigor, absent any considerations of self interest. The most that a Catholic can argue in this respect is that Catholic theology, which furnishes men with both the baser motive of self interest and the loftier motive of the love of God, is superior in the practical order. For, in many cases, the baser motive will effectually turn a man from evil to good whereas the loftier motive, even though it should have, did not.

My Response: I disagree. 
I quite often ask once saved always saved believers what motivation they have to avoid sinning.  And, when they respond, “Out of love for God,” it gives me the opportunity to ask: “But, it really isn’t necessary to love God in order to be saved, is it?”  And I follow up by saying, “In fact, since love has nothing to do with our salvation, we can be saved whether or not we love God or our fellow man, can we not?  And, since we don’t have to love God in order to be saved, then we really don’t have an ultimate necessary motivation for avoiding sin, do we?  After all, it doesn’t affect our salvation if we sin, does it?”

18. Do no otherwise than reference ancient documents for what they are. If a document is of probable authenticity (i.e., its author is probably the person it is attributed to), reference it as probably authentic. If it is of possible authenticity, reference it as possibly authentic. If it is spurious, reference it as spurious, and use it simply to document the beliefs of an anonymous ancient Christian author.

My Response: I agree.

There are so many good arguments for Catholicism that the religion will do just fine without the arguments on this list.

My Response:
The religion will indeed do just fine without the arguments on the list, as it will do just fine without any number of other arguments, but I see no reason to exclude most of the arguments on this list.  I believe most of them can be wielded in such a way as to plant seeds with Protestants.  Seeds that the Holy Spirit can then nurture and hopefully bring to fruition.

In Conclusion

Again, my “disagreements” could very well result from looking at different sides of the same coin. I imagine I will hear back from Nick after this issue as well and will let you know what he has to say.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little intellectual exercise and, as mentioned earlier, I will focus the next issue solely on the question of how many Protestant denominations there are and take to task a Protestant apologist on that question.

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Apologetics for the Masses