Sunday, April 11, 2004

The Problem of Authority: Luther, Calvin, and Protestantism

Excerpt from my book, The Catholic Verses (2004); Chapter Five: "Bible and Tradition"; section one: "The Necessity of Authoritative Interpretation" (commentary on the biblical passages Nehemiah 8:8, Acts 8:27-31, and 2 Peter 1:20):


Catholics hold that Scripture is a fairly clear document and able to be understood by the average reader, but also that the Church is needed to provide a doctrinal norm (an overall framework) for determining proper biblical interpretation (specifically, for “vetoing” that interpretation which is erroneous because it leads to doctrinal error). Both Luther and Calvin underemphasize the guidance of the Church in understanding the Bible and assert the perspicuity, or clearness, and self-interpreting nature of Scripture, in terms of its overall teaching. Luther wrote:

. . . the contents of Scripture are as clear as can be . . . If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another . . . to many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due, not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness.

(The Bondage of the Will, II: “Review of Erasmus’ Preface”; ii: “Of the perspicuity of Scripture”; from Packer, 71-72)

The apostles promulgated an authoritative tradition, . . . and they didn’t tolerate dissension from it . . . Once again, we find that an important Protestant distinctive is not biblical. So how do they attempt to explain this discrepancy? John Calvin, in his Commentaries, makes the following argument, pertaining to 1 Peter 1:20:

But the Papists are doubly foolish, when they conclude from this passage, that no interpretation of a private man ought to be deemed authoritative. For they pervert what Peter says, that they may claim for their own councils the chief right of interpreting Scripture; but in this they act indeed childishly; for Peter calls interpretation private, not that of every individual, in order to prohibit each one to interpret; but he shews that whatever men bring of their own is profane . . . the faithful, inwardly illuminated by the Holy Spirit, acknowledge nothing but what God says in his word.

I would like to apply Calvin’s principle and reasoning and by so doing, demonstrate that it ultimately reduces to absurdity and the utmost impracticality. Calvin (like Luther) despised the sectarianism that proliferated as a result of Protestant principles of authority, such as private judgment and the perspicuity of Scripture.

But neither seemed to see the obvious causal connection between their new principles and the rapidly growing number of Protestant sects. Luther claimed authority to overthrow a host of traditions that had been held for 1500 years. On what basis did he do so? In order to probe that issue and get to the bottom of it, one might construct a hypothetical dialogue between Luther and a Catholic critic that would run something like the following:

Luther (L): The Catholic Church is incorrect in beliefs a, b, c, and d.
Catholic (C): Why do you say that?
L: Because what you teach is unbiblical.
C: What gives you the authority to determine such a thing?
L: My authority is the Word of God, to which my conscience is captive.
C: We grant your sincerity, but not everyone agrees with your interpretation of Holy Scripture. Why should we believe you over against Church Tradition?
L: Because God has appointed me as the restorer of the gospel.
C: How do you know that? Why should we believe it?
L: God's Word will make it manifest.
C: But what happens when your fellow Protestants disagree with you (e.g., Calvin, Zwingli, the Anabaptists)?
L: One must determine which view is more biblical.
C: How does one go about that, since your movement has no one leader, but rather, increasing numbers of sects who oppose each other on one or more grounds?
L: From now on I shall no longer do you the honor of allowing you—or even an angel from heaven—to judge my teaching or to examine it . . . Instead, I shall let myself be heard and, as St. Peter teaches, give an explanation and defense of my teaching to all the world -- I Pet. 3:15. I shall not have it judged by any man, not even by any angel. For since I am certain of it, I shall be your judge and even the angels’ judge through this teaching (as St. Paul says [I Cor. 6:3] ) so that whoever does not accept my teaching may not be saved — for it is God’s and not mine. Therefore, my judgment is also not mine but God’s.

[actual words of Luther: Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope and the Bishops Falsely So-Called, July 1522; LW, 39, 239-299; quote from 248-249]

C: But Martin, don't you see that when Calvin or Zwingli disagree with you, that they do so on the same grounds you claim for yourself, and that no one can figure out who is telling the truth unless there is a "court of final appeal"?
L: My truth is plain in the Bible.
C: That's what Zwingli says too.
L: He is damned and out of the Church because he denies what has always been taught by the Church: that the body and blood of Jesus are truly present after consecration. It pains me that Zwingli and his followers take offence at my saying that “what I write must be true.” Zwingli, Karlstadt, and the other heretics have in-deviled, through-deviled, over-deviled, corrupt hearts and lying mouths.
C: The truth is that which has always been held by the Church (just as you yourself argued with regard to the Real presence in the Eucharist). Why, then, do you deny other Catholic doctrines that have an equally long history?
L: Because they are unbiblical.
C: According to whom?
L: According to the Bible.
C: As interpreted by you?
L: Yes, because, like I said already, whoever does not accept my teaching may not be saved — for it is God’s and not mine. Do we not read in the Old Testament that God commonly raised up only one prophet at a time? I say not that I am a prophet, but I do say that the more you despise me and esteem yourselves, the more reason you have to fear that I may be a prophet. If I am not a prophet, yet for my own self I am certain that the Word of God is with me and not with you, for I have the Scriptures on my side, and you have only your own doctrine.

[closely based on actual words from Luther’s tract, An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull, 1521, in Jacobs, III, 13-14]

C: So we either accept your authority and word as the preeminent Bible expositor and deliverer of Christian truth of all time (and possibly a prophet), or so much the worse for us?
L: Yes, because God would have it so. You are obviously wrong and I must be right, because my teaching lines up with Scripture. You disagree with me not because of any lack of clarity in Scripture, but because of your own blindness and dullness.

And so on and so forth. It goes on and on like this, but the underlying assumptions of Luther are never proven; they are merely assumed. If a pope dared to proclaim such an unspeakably outrageous thing, Protestants would never accept it in a million years. But when Luther does it, it is accepted with blind faith that he is right and the Catholics are wrong, because "everyone knows" that Protestants are the "Bible people" and Catholics aren't! They follow crusty, dead traditions of men which were condemned by Jesus, and are like the Pharisees. Etc., etc.

That's what it always falls back on, because appeals to the Bible inescapably reduce to disputes over whose interpretation is correct. This is the circular nature of competing Protestant theologies. There is no way to choose between Calvin and Luther, except arbitrariness, irrational faith, or appeal to one's own judgment.

Calvin has no more authority than Luther did. They both simply proclaimed it and people followed them. At the same time they railed against the Catholic exercise of authority, which was self-consistent, and far easier to trace back through history, in an unbroken apostolic succession (precisely as the Church Fathers argued for their authority in proclaiming true doctrine over against heresy).

This was the inner logic and dynamic of Luther's new perspective, set forth at the Diet of Worms in 1521 (the famous confrontation where he cried, “here I stand!”).Yet few Protestants will admit that it is unreasonable or a circular argument, and far more objectionable and implausible than the Catholic stance in reaction to Luther. It sounds wonderful and noble and almost self-evidently true to choose (as Luther did at Worms) the "Bible and plain reason" rather than the "traditions of men." But of course that is a false dilemma and caricature of Luther's choice from the get-go.

It's a vicious logical circle for Protestants, any way one looks at it. This is what happens when “private interpretation” is championed, contrary to 2 Peter 1:20. It was already an unbiblical concept even before its fruit in history became evident.


Calvin, John, Calvin's Commentaries, 22 volumes, translated and edited by John Owen; originally printed for the Calvin Translation Society, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1853; reprinted by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI: 1979.

Jacobs, C.M., translator, Works of Martin Luther, Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Co. and the Castle Press, 1930; reprinted by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1982 , six volumes.

Luther, Martin, Luther's Works (LW), American edition, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (volumes 1-30) and Helmut T. Lehmann (volumes 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (volumes 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (volumes 31-55), 1955.

Packer, J.I. and O.R. Johnston, translators, The Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther (1525), Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1957; reprinted in 1995.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Dialogue on John Calvin's Mystical Eucharist (vs. Josh, Michael S. Horton, and John Calvin)

I urge Catholics especially to read this dialogue carefully, in order to better understand Calvin's view, and that of our esteemed Reformed brothers in Christ, and how a Catholic might respond. I'm learning a lot, and I thank Josh for an excellent exchange. Alastair Roberts has said he will join in, too, in a few more days. Josh's words will be in green, Michael S. Horton's in red, and John Calvin's in blue.

* * * * *

Hi Josh,

Calvin . . . affirmed with Rome and Wittenberg that Jesus is fully and really present in the Eucharist (in His whole Person), and that He is received through the bread and wine by those who eat in faith (eating is the means of reception, but an eating in faith); He denied that the Body of Christ was locally enclosed within the elements, or that the elements were converted into the historical body of Jesus; and thought this to be unnecessary because of the work of the Spirit (a real miracle!).

This makes little sense to me. Either Jesus' body and blood are substantially present or not. If they are, then they are really there! You can't deny that the elements are transformed (Catholic view) or joined by the true body and blood (Lutheranism) and still hold that there is substantial or "real" presence. Why? Because this is an internal contradiction. Calvin is saying that Jesus is simultaneously there and not there. Even God is bound to that sort of elementary logical distinction. God can't be and not be at the same time. And He can't be "here" and "not here" at the same time.

So you appeal to "a real miracle!"? That won't do, because miracles are not irrational. The supernatural is not irrational; it simply transcends natural laws governing matter or is outside of it (as spirit, since science and naturalism deals with matter). It will do no good to simply say, "it is above our understanding, and so we will construct irrational scenarios and not try to make them coherent. It's a mystery . . . "

The bottom line is my original criticism about this "mystical view" of Calvin: if Jesus is really there it seems that he must adopt either a Catholic or Lutheran position. If He isn't really (substantially?) there, then the Calvinist Eucharist is scarcely distinguishable fro the omnipresence of God or Zwinglianism. So God is there but is not "really" or "substantially" there. So what? How is that particularly special or unique? It still appears to me to be a "mystical Zwinglianism." I don't understand how saying Jesus is "mystically" (but not substantially) present is logically distinguishable from pure Zwinglian symbolism, or how this is a miracle at all, because Jesus is already "mystically present" at all times and even lives within us. What sense does it make to say that "He is always here spiritually and now He is here 'in Spirit 'more" than He was"? Spirits have no spatial or quantitative qualities. It reminds me of the Jehovah's Witness "invisible" return of Jesus in 1914. No one saw anything, but it really happened!

Against Zwingli and the Baptists, He maintained that the Eucharist, while partly consisting in signs (the elements), consisted of signs that pointed to and were means of receiving the reality.

That may be, but I don't see the logical distinction. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the position. Certainly you would agree that it is not all that easy to understand, no?

Simple contrast with transub.: no conversion of element into body and blood; no local or enclosed presence.

That's what I am saying: if you take away these things, the distinctiveness and "sacramentality" of the miracle is abolished, thus you deprive the rite of its very essence. Unless something physical is there, it can't be a sacrament, by definition, because a sacrament is the conveying of grace by physical means.

Affirmations with transub.: Real presence; body and blood truly received by those who eat in faith; body and blood objectively offered to all; sacrament means of receiving Christ.

But not substantially? Not body, blood, soul, and divinity? Again, if it is indeed a substantial presence, I don't see any rational explanations besides transubstantiation and consubstantiation (though I am quite open to further suggestions). If it isn't substantial, it reduces to symbolism, because (at least in my analysis, for what it's worth), why should we receive a spiritual presence that we already have through omnipresence and the indwelling? So it strikes me as betwixt and between; neither fish nor fowl.

Thanks for your thoughts, and I hope I have not been offensive. I'm just being open and honest and frankly sharing my theological opinion. No disrespect at all is intended.

* * *

In his article, "Mysteries of God and Means of Grace" , Michael S. Horton touches upon the themes which concern me in this discussion (with my interjections):

From the Reformed perspective, the "already" and "not-yet" of redemptive history bars us from a realized eschatology of Christ's physical presence on earth before the eschaton, marking our difference with Rome and Lutherans . . . While Calvinists ask Lutherans how Christ can be physically present at every altar and still be said in any sense to have a human body

That's simple: it is a miraculous sacramental substantial presence, not literally His human body, which would be a crass cannibalistic view.

Lutherans ask Calvinists how they can honestly say that they are really feeding on the true body and blood of Christ in heaven, without identifying this with a physical mode of eating . . .


. . . Although the signs (bread and wine) remain what they are, and Christ is received by faith and not by the mouth, the thing signified (Christ and his benefits) is so united to these earthly elements by Word and Spirit that I can raise my eyes to heaven and receive the food and drink of eternal life.

This is subject to my criticisms above. This seems like merely abstract playing with words rather than a real miracle.

Reformed people are sometimes unfairly regarded by Lutherans as holding that Christ is only spiritually present in the Supper. But in fact, the confessional Reformed position is that Christ is physically present in the Supper, at the right hand of God in his ascended body.

This is nonsensical, as I wrote last time. It's a self-contradiction:
1. Jesus is physically present in the Supper.

2. But He is physically present at the right hand of God.

3. We are physically present with Christ in the Supper.

4. But we are physically present with Christ at the right hand of God.

Contradictions: 1 vs. 2, 3 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3, and 1 vs. 4.
Why take this view but oppose the view that Jesus is sacramentally present in the Supper? God can perform miracles but He can't transcend the laws of logic. If we want to restrict ourselves solely to the literal post-Resurrection body of Christ, then we can't say that is "physically present" in the Supper while simultaneously at the right hand of God, because that is a contradiction, as much as it would be a contradiction to say that Jesus was physically present in Jerusalem during His crucifixion, but simultaneously at the Sea of Galilee.

But the Catholic view is not contradictory because the miracle of transubstantiation is an additional mode of presence of Jesus that is physical in a way approximating spiritual omnipresence (similar in a sense to His post-Resurrection body when He appeared to His disciples and seemed to walk through walls). We are not with Jesus in heaven yet but He is sacramentally and eucharistically with us, by the miracle of the transformation of the elements. In other words, one has to posit the additional miracle of transubstantiation (or at least consubstantiation) in order to have the physical presence.

Who are we to pull Christ down or, by an act of will, climb up to him? This is Paul's rhetorical question in Romans 10.

Indeed, but He (being God) can choose to make Himself present to us: body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Eucharist.

For Christ is brought near to us by the preached Word, he says, although Paul surely did not believe that he was brought bodily to us in the sermon.

Then why talk of "physical presence" when it is not really literally what the Reformed believe? A "spiritual presence" is indistinguishable from a symbolic presence. It is the physicality which makes this sacrament miraculous.

Instead, the Reformed maintain that the Holy Spirit, in this Sacrament, raises us to Christ where, mysteriously, we feed on his true body and blood.

If you can believe that we are actually transported to heaven to meet Jesus there, why is it so difficult to believe that He can substantially be present here under the appearances of bread and wine? Both scenarios involve something which transcends our senses, and must be believed on faith. But I think one involves a logical contradiction and the other does not.

It is not a spiritual or symbolic presence of Christ, as if he were only spirit and no longer flesh, but the manner of eating is spiritual rather than physical. This is a key difference from the caricature. It is the mode, not the substance, that is spiritual.

We say it is the accidents which are spiritual and not what they appear to be. So Reformed say, "He is truly here physically, but you are not physically eating His body." Catholics say, "He is truly here physically, and you are physically eating His body, even though it appears to be merely bread and wine." I do see a certain symmetry between the two views because both are saying that you have to deny the evidence of your senses and believe that something miraculous is taking place. The difference is that we cannot yet be in heaven with Jesus because we are not yet glorified bodies and spirits as He is. He can make Himself physically present with us because He is God and can do anything. We can't literally be with Jesus in heaven until we die and go there or unless we have some miraculous experience like Paul, being taken up to the third heaven.

Sure, we must all admit that God could conceivably perform a miracle like that, too, but I see no reason to believe that He in fact does, because there is no indication in Scripture that such a thing occurs at every Eucharist. Thus, I would say that the Reformed view fails the tests both of Scripture and patristic belief.

It is not that Christ is only present in the Supper according to his divine omnipresence, but that he is truly and really present according to both natures (even physically present) in the Supper, but not in the bread.

This makes no sense, and is contradictory:
1. Jesus is physically present in the Supper.

2. Jesus is not physically present in the bread and wine.

3. But the Supper and the bread and wine are synonymous.

4. Therefore, it follows that Jesus is somehow physically present and not physically present at the same time, which is a contradiction and impossible.
So as far as I can tell, it is a less biblical position, far less in harmony with the patristic position, and logically contradictory as well. Three strikes and you're out . . .

Dr. Horton has certainly not explained how this can be, to my satisfaction. I still await cogent explanations for what I see as clear contradictions.

Historically, the Reformed have emphasized this line in the ancient liturgy of the Eucharist, the so-called sursum corda. It is the invitation to be lifted mystically into the presence of our faithful heavenly Shepherd.

This is yet another contradiction. If you want to stress the literal human body of Jesus in heaven (and the counter-charge is that we are somehow minimizing this in our view, and obliterating Chalcedonian Christology), and want to make the Eucharist dependent on, or limited by that, then it is strange to make Jesus "physical" in the Eucharist (but not in the bread) and to hold that "the Holy Spirit, in this Sacrament, raises us to Christ where, mysteriously, we feed on his true body and blood." It's this constant irrational shifting between "mystical" and "physical" which is the problem. The last quote implied a literal feeding on Christ, but He is in heaven, etc. . . . But now we are told that it is a "mystical" presence. So which is it? And how is any of this less difficult to believe than transubstantiation?

And even though he is ascended, to return physically in glory at the end of the age, he invites us now to come boldly into his Most Holy Place through his body and blood, the Temple's torn curtain.

I see little (if any) indication in either Scripture or the history of doctrine prior to Calvin and Zwingli that we somehow meet Jesus in heaven ("physically") during the Eucharist before we actually arrive there after death.

* * *

Hi Josh,

Thanks again for your comments. This is fascinating stuff. I had never heard before the notion that we actually go up to heaven when receiving the Eucharist. It's intriguing and interesting, but I don't believe it! And the reason I don't is because I don't find it in Scripture and I continue to find it illogical and contradictory.

Transubstantiation is not self-contradictory. It is a difficult concept, unusual, a profound miracle which requires exceptional faith, but involves no logical inconsistency. God can do any miracle He so chooses. He can transform the bread and wine into His Body and Blood. That makes sense to me because if God could become a Man He can make Himself substantially present in consecrated elements that were formerly bread and wine.

But the view you describe strikes me as quite incoherent. God became a Man, and He is omnipresent. But neither men nor heaven are omnipresent nor able to be transformed in a second. Jesus has a real body in heaven, and heaven is a place. We will go there one day if we are among the elect, or we will go to hell.

So why should we believe that we literally visit heaven when we receive the Eucharist? This sounds more like "beam me up Scotty" than biblical Christianity! Are you saying that we cease to be in the location we are worshiping in when we receive communion? We are then in heaven with the literal body of Jesus? How long do we stay there? How do we know when we have returned? Since heaven is distinct from the earth, we can't be here and there at the same time. So your position means we must leave the earth during communion. Apparently it has to be literal because you are saying we truly receive Jesus' body substantially, and you (following Calvin) restrict His literal body to heaven.

This requires a transformation of physics to the extent that a contradiction is involved. Why should I believe I am in heaven during this time when there is no outward evidence of it whatsoever? I suspect the comeback would be, "What's the essential difference? Why should we believe bread and wine have become transformed into body and blood?" It is true that transubstantiation goes beyond the senses too, but it involves God becoming bodily present to us here on earth. We know that is both plausible and entirely possible because of the Incarnation. Even before the Incarnation God appeared as a man, in theophanies.

But in the Calvinist view as you describe it, it is not God who miraculously appears; rather it is heaven and earth and man which are involved. Since heaven and earth are distinguishable, we can't say we are in both at the same time. Men are not like God. We have no attributes like omnipresence or bilocation. And I see no compelling reason to believe that God performs these super-extraordinary miracles every time we receive the Eucharist.

What is also curious to me is the comparison in this thinking between the concern that Jesus' body is in heaven (and if we allow His body to also be here on earth we are supposedly denying Chalcedon), with the simultaneous belief that mere men's bodies can be taken up to heaven while we are looking at them ostensibly remaining here in a church. One idea is replaced with another (in my opinion) far more implausible and a priori unlikely one.

The same serious problem remains: if you say we can only receive Jesus' body substantially in heaven, then we have to go there to receive Him, and this defies all outward appearances. It would require a miraculous transformation of our bodies, and some strange reversal of the location of heaven and earth. Calvin wrote in his Institutes (IV, 17, 12):

For as we do not doubt that Christ's body is limited by the general characteristics common to all human bodies, and is contained in heaven (where it was once for all received) until Christ return in judgment, so we deem it utterly unlawful to draw it back under these corruptible elements or to imagine it to be present everywhere.

This is the incoherence and implausibility of your view (as I see it) in a nutshell: Calvin limits Christ's body to heaven, as if it is unthinkable and a priori impossible ("utterly unlawful") for God to choose to make Himself present in the matter of bread and wine, just as He became Man. But then he turns around and grants these remarkable qualities to men, so that we can somehow go to heaven to receive Jesus' body which can only be localized there (as if it is more likely for God to let men have these qualities rather than Himself). Is this not strange?

While denying that Jesus can perform miracles with His body and become substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine, Calvin prefers to give the miraculous, spectacular qualities to men's bodies. But we're not the ones who walked on water, who walked through walls, who were resurrected from the dead (not yet) or who ascended to heaven (and came down from heaven also). Why is it "unlawful" for Jesus to become eucharistically present on earth, but totally believable for us to become present in heaven to worship God and receive Him? This makes no sense.

Furthermore, Calvin caricatures the Catholic and Lutheran Eucharist in saying that those positions require that Christ's body is "present everywhere," rather than the Holy Spirit. Omnipresence refers to spirit, not matter. Being present bodily in many places is not being present everywhere. If Jesus could multiply the loaves and fishes, why could He not multiply His body and blood, to be sacramentally and physically present in consecrated elements? I see (contra Calvin) no reason to believe why He could or would not do so. Calvin reiterates in IV, 17, 30:

Unless the body of Christ can be everywhere at once [same category mistake repeated], without limitation of place, it will not be credible that he lies hidden under bread in the Supper.


. . . placing the body itself in the bread, they assign to it a ubiquity contrary to its nature . . .

(IV, 17, 16)

So Christ Himself (Who is omnipotent; and Calvin accepts that, last time I checked) is limited by place, but we are not? God makes us somehow go to heaven to receive the Eucharist? If we can only receive Jesus substantially there, then we need to go there. But then we have characteristics which Calvin curiously denies even to Jesus' body. That is odd enough. If, on the other hand, we don't go to heaven to receive Him, then we do not receive His literal body, since Calvin (by some incomprehensible reasoning known only to himself) restricts it to heaven. Either way, it is implausible and illogical.

Calvin specifically restricts Christ's body to heaven. But he says that we go up to heaven only "with our eyes and minds":

But if we are lifted up to heaven with our eyes and minds, to seek Christ there in the glory of his Kingdom, as the symbols invite us to him in his wholeness, so under the symbol of bread we shall be fed his body . . .

(IV, 17, 18)

So here he denies that we literally go to heaven. Therefore, how can we receive Jesus' body substantially since Calvin has already limited Jesus to heaven? It can only (given simple logic) be symbolic, thus we are back to Zwingli again. Calvin keeps contradicting himself over and over:

This Kingdom is neither bounded by location in space nor circumscribed by any limits. Thus Christ is not prevented from exerting his power wherever he pleases, in heaven and on earth.

(IV, 17, 18)

Huh??? Why, then, does Calvin rule out a local bodily presence on earth in the Eucharist, and rail against transubstantiation as if it were the devil himself?:

. . . we do not think it is lawful for us to drag him from heaven.

(IV, 17, 31)

Yet Calvin thinks his view:

. . . contains nothing either absurd or obscure or ambiguous . . .

(IV, 17, 19)

I beg to differ. Calvin rails against the Catholic view, yet when it comes time to explain the incoherence and contradictions in his own view, he conveniently appeals to mystery:

Now, if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare . . .

Those who are carried beyond this by their own exaggerations do nothing but obscure simple and plain truth . . . we are now discussing a sacrament the whole of which must be referred to faith.

(IV, 17, 32)

I'm sure Calvin can't fully explain himself, but in any event, the presence of demonstrated logical contradiction would rule out a view, no matter how much or how little we understand it. And that is my present critique. Moreover, if his view requires faith, why can't Catholics hold to their beliefs in faith without being accused of a host of ridiculous things by Calvin?

But then I don't know how much Calvin's view developed after the Institutes. Perhaps these contradictions were alleviated. It doesn't seem like it, from what you are telling me.

Nor do I see such a thing in Scripture. God can make the Cross become present to us again in the Sacrifice of the Mass because He is outside of time and everything is "present" or "now" to Him. And so we see reference to a "Lamb slain" in heaven. But I see no indication that the Eucharist involves this "heavenly transplantation" that you speak of.

You gave a few biblical passages: Hebrews 6:4-8 is not about the Eucharist, but about apostasy. You can hardly deduce a heavenly eucharistic service from the phrase "tasted of the heavenly gift." Nor is it clear that "partakers of the Holy Spirit" refers to more than the Indwelling and the Spirit's guidance as the Paraclete.

As for Hebrews 10:19-25, Calvin himself relegates the passage to allegory, in his Commentary on Hebrews (dated 1549):

10:19: . . . he allegorically describes the access which Christ has opened to us.

He does, however, also state:

. . not only symbolically, but in reality an entrance into heaven is made open to us . . .

But he doesn't elaborate as to how this occurs. Nor does he seem to apply this interpretation to Hebrews 12:18-24, in the same Commentary.

That should be enough for now . . .

Your brother in Christ,


Monday, April 05, 2004

Vegetarianism and the Bible, Part II (vs. Sogn Mill-Scout)

As before, my older comments will be in red, Sogn Mill-Scout's in blue, and my present comments in black.

* * * * *

This was all, of course, a precursor to the Sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary (book of Hebrews). Jesus is even referred to as the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world. That would be interesting, if God can call Himself a name which is a direct reference to acts which you find intrinsically immoral (and acts which He commanded the Israelites to do regularly as part and parcel of the regular system of animal sacrifice under the Law (itself a divine revelation given to Moses on Mt. Sinai).

I see you that apparent oddity and raise you the aforementioned evidence of Eden and Eschaton.

I explained what you think are discrepancies in my position. Now it is your turn.

In other words, there is some difficult explaining to do whichever side you approach it from.

There are exegetical problems to work out, but I don't see glaring inconsistency in my position. I do see it in yours (needless to say, for anyone who has been following my argument).

Given the alternatives, I feel much more secure on the side of the Peaceable Kingdom.

I'm on the side of the Biblical Kingdom, and that includes elements of both war and peace.

Furthermore, Jesus did not abolish this law at all, but rather, fulfilled it (Matt 5:17). He observed the law Himself, and attended synagogue (e.g., Matt 4:23, Acts 18:19, many others), as did the early Christians before the complete separation of Judaism and Christianity. So they accepted the Law.

I don't know how you can claim this when the gospels include cases of Jesus treating the Law rather cavalierly - that's what so enraged the Pharisees who bitterly opposed him.

It wasn't "cavalier" at all; it was simply a different application of the Law that was unfamiliar to the Pharisees. Jesus' understanding was infinitely deeper than theirs (as we would expect: He being God).

Furthermore, as a believer in the consistency of all scripture, how do you reconcile this claim with the teaching of Paul, who explicitly declared the Law defunct. He became apoplectic when another Christian sect insisted on strictly keeping the Law - he even wished they'd castrate themselves! (Galatians)

This is a huge discussion. What Paul (and early Christianity in general) say is that the Law is observed differently by Christians. The Law is good, and is not "defunct." But the New Covenant gives a quite-different understanding of how it affects Christian life. So the food restrictions and other binding observances were loosened. Circumcision becomes baptism (Paul explicitly makes this argument). The Saturday Sabbath became the Lord's Day. The Passover developed into the Sacrifice of the Mass. Etc.

Jesus and the disciples observed Passover (e.g., Jn 13:1, Mk 12:14).

The Mark verse doesn't say anything about Passover;

It was a typo: it should be Mark 14:14; sorry. And that verse is crystal-clear.

the John passage merely identifies the time of the events by reference to Passover.

We know it is Passover from context and comparisons to the synoptic Gospels. See, e.g., John 11:55-57 -- 12:1,12. 13:1 refers to the Passover being observed by Jesus because the next verse refers to the "supper." The subsequent discourse was delivered at the Last Supper, and we know that was definitely a Passover from the synoptics. You are grasping at straws. One must compare Scripture with Scripture.

Jesus went to Jerusalem specifically to observe Passover, because He was an observant Jew (Jn 2:13,23; 12:1,12; 13:1). Mark 12:14 reads,

Aha, I see you've committed a dyslexism: you mean Mark 14:12.

!!! LOL I usually don't make two mistakes on verses in a short time. That's weird. Yes, it is Mark 14:12!

"And on the first day of Unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, 'Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?'"

Jesus ate the Passover lamb (Mk 14:14, Lk 22:8,11,15, Mt 26:17-19). He was not a vegetarian at all. According to you, then, he sinned against charity, against lambs. The Last Supper, where the Eucharist was instituted, was a Passover feast (Mk 12:14-25, Lk 22:1-20, Mt 26:17-29, Jn 13:1 [implied]). Jesus, Joseph, and Mary observed the Passover when our Lord was growing up (Lk 2:41-42). The Eucharist was a direct parallel to the system of animal sacrifice: applied to Jesus in a sacramental way (Lk 22:17-20). St. Paul calls Jesus "our Passover" (1 Cor 5:7).

Yes, the synoptics agree that Jesus & company ate a Passover meal, but mention of the lamb is conspicuously missing.

Why would you think it was missing? That was part of the Passover. C'mon, Sogn. Some of these arguments are almost an insult to our intelligence. We know what Passover meals involve, both from history and Jews' observance of it today. See, e.g., Exodus 12:1-20; especially verses 8-10.

To me this is significant because it is difficult to reconcile Jesus' own image of Himself as the Good Shepherd with killing sheep. It would be as though, instead of Jesus saying "I am the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep", he had said "I am the Good Shepherd who slaughters his sheep."

Whatever you think of it, He did it. And that is your problem. Your sentiments and opinions as to what you think Jesus should be like, do not determine how He is. Revelation tells us that. So you're really avoiding this massive evidence. I have little patience with the selective, pick-and-choose approach to Scripture and exegesis.

He could not have made such an analogy if it was based on a practice itself wicked and indefensible and unloving. For that would mean that Jesus sinned and lacked charity, and that is not possible. If you say we should look forward to the coming kingdom and the lion laying down with the lamb, etc., then I immediately ask, "then why didn't Jesus do it and become our example to follow?"

I would turn your question around and submit that, since Jesus was faultless in His character, and since He was the Messiah destined to inaugurate the Peaceable Kingdom foreseen by Isaiah, it is therefore exceedingly implausible to suppose that Jesus killed and ate animals or sanctioned their killing.

Whatever is "plausible" to you is irrelevant. We are trying to deal with the biblical RECORD here. And that record is abundantly clear. It expressly contradicts your viewpoint.

You need to address your own question, given your assertion that Jesus was a killer, i.e. why didn't Jesus behave as Isaiah and other prophets described the Messiah?

Because this was His first coming, not His second. Take it up with God. I am merely describing how the Bible describes Jesus in relation to meat-eating.

Paul urged abstention from meat and wine not because they were evil or because it was uncharitable to the animals from which the meat came, but in cases of making a brother stumble (Rom 14:20-21). In other words, if meat-eating itself were wrong, Paul did not think so.

Fortunately, Paul is not the Christ, nor was he sinless, as he admitted with great gusto.

Paul is the inspired author of a great deal of the New Testament, and Apostle, and a model of Christian behavior. The fact that this is your only comeback -- basically to run down Paul and minimize his importance --shows how exceedingly weak your case is.

He thought it could only voluntarily be renounced for the sake of others (precisely as I believe; I would never eat meat in front of you, on these very grounds, knowing that you were severely offended by it).

While I appreciate the sentiment, I don't make such demands on those with whom I dine. Of course, if I bought your dinner it would have to be vegetarian. And I admit I would be uncomfortable dining with someone who tactlessly kept raving about how delicious the steak is (which, I know, you would not do).

But this is inconsistent with the absolute nature of your ethical charges elsewhere, as I have already noted.

In the same passage, he says "everything is clean." He expands upon this understanding in 1 Cor 10:25-26: "Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For 'the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.'" The only meat that was to be avoided by command was that which was sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 10:19-21,27-29; Acts 15:28-29).

I concede that Paul didn't see meat-eating as immoral. He also didn't see slavery and female subjection as immoral. Again, Paul was not perfect.

Neither did Jesus, and so that pretty much dooms your whole "biblical case." I've dealt with slavery, and you simply don't understand the biblical concept of subjection. Jesus subjected Himself to Mary and Joseph as a child. Does that mean He was lesser than them, simply because of the subjection? Jesus said "the greatest among you shall be your servant." And Paul told husbands and wives also to submit to each other.

If you try to argue that the Old Testament meat-eating and sacrificing system was somehow changed in the New Testament, I answer that God allowed even more meat to be eaten than was before. This is shown in St. Peter's vision at Joppa (Acts 10:12-13): "[in the vision, Peter saw]. . . all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.'" Peter protests that he had never eaten ritually unclean foods under the Law (10:14). But he is answered, "What God has cleansed, you must not call common." (Acts 10:15). So much for biblically harmonious ethically-obligatory vegetarianism ...

Here you're way off. Not only is this clearly a symbolic story, i.e. symbolism intended to convey the message that Peter should not shun Gentiles, but Peter himself describes it as such!

Acts 10

[1] At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, [2] a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. ... [9] The next day ... Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. [10] And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance [11] and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. [12] In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. [13] And there came a voice to him: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." [14] But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." [15] And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. ... [19] And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. [20] Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them." ... [25] When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. [26] But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am a man." ... [28] And he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. [29] So when I was sent for, I came without objection. ... [34] So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, [35] but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

"God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean." That's what the vision was about; it wasn't an anti-PETA campaign. It wasn't about animals at all.

It had a double application, sure. But what you fail to see, again, is that even a parable or vision or purely symbolic writing in Scripture would not use something wrong to illustrate a righteous cause. How (in your worldview) can God tell Peter in the vision to eat all the animals (which is a wicked thing, according to you; so God in the symbolic story commands an unethical thing), and yet this represents a great thing: equality of Jews and Gentiles? This is desperate exegesis and special pleading, in order to bolster up a nonexistent biblical case.

Secondly, Peter at the Council of Jerusalem authoritatively states what Christians should be allowed to eat: he only prohibited food associated with idols and that which was strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:20,28-29). Not a word about vegetarianism. And this was the place to do it: an official council of the New Church, right when the New Covenant was in the process of being instituted; a proclamation guided by the Holy Spirit Himself (15:28).

Of course we all know how Jesus ate fish, even after His Resurrection (Jn 21:9-11). He performed the miracles of the feeding of the four thousand and five thousand, including fish (Mk 8:2-8; Mt 15:32-38). He chose several fishermen to be His disciples; He helped them have a good catch (Jn 21:4-8). he even compares the kingdom of God in one parable to a great catch of fish. Fishing involves suffering for the fish (though far less than what pigs and bulls (or minks) go through. They flop around before they die and are in obvious discomfort. If they are caught with a hook, they suffer that pain as well. So Jesus and many of His disciples were big sinners, being cruel to all these fish?

Assuming the gospels are reliable on these points, it seems incontestable that Jesus ate fish. It cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that He ate any other sentient beings, your Passover inference notwithstanding. I admit that it disturbs me that Jesus is reported to have eaten fish.

It disturbs me that you are disturbed by anything Jesus does.

But it's also very disturbing to me that Jesus never condemned slavery, never explicitly condemned the brutal Roman Empire, and didn't include any women in His inner circle of twelve disciples.

So He was a pretty bad sinner and a lousy liberal to boot, lacking the proper compassion and politically-correct, fashionable feminist views, huh? Thanks for your refreshing honesty. Not many people have the guts to flat-out call Jesus a sinner, and in a Christian forum such as this.

Of course I know you have no problem with that last item as a Catholic defending the male-exclusive priesthood, but I assume that the other two items would be at least a little troubling for you.

They were dealt with in due course, and both crumbled precisely because of the Bible and Christianity.

I feel safe in assuming that you condemn slavery as unequivocally immoral,

There is a continuum. I don't see indentured servanthood with the servant treated with dignity and charity "unequivocally immoral." If all slavery were like that, then it would have been condemned in no uncertain terms in the Bible, just like pride, greed, fornication, stealing, etc.

and you know the Romans were oppressors of many people, and exceedingly cruel - as so graphically depicted by Mel Gibson currently.

Yes, Jesus in due course learned that quite well from firsthand experience, didn't He? Perhaps that was His punishment for not speaking out against Roman cruelty?

Lastly, God gave the Jews in the wilderness quail to eat (Numbers 11:18-33).

I deal with this as I did with the general meat-eating references discussed above.

I see.

The biblical evidence seems compelling then: meat may be eaten and it is no sin at all.

And yet it was a sin before the Fall and will again be a sin in heaven, or in the New Jerusalem. Curious!

Where does it say that it was a sin or will be? I don't believe it is there, but maybe I missed it.

Jesus gave no indication that this was to cease.

And yet it WILL cease in God's Kingdom, even though it's supposedly innocuous. Curious!

It was a simple enough matter, if this stuff was so immoral, for Jesus to be our example, just like He is in all other areas. But He says nothing about any requirement for vegetarianism. He isn't vegetarian Himself. When will you give this effort up? It's completely futile. You only try it at all in the first place because you are a Christian. If you weren't a Christian you would be like those radical ethical vegetarians that Keith Akers talked about, most of whom have rejected orthodox Christianity because they saw the two worldviews could not be reconciled.

But I see no indication of mistreatment of animals, unless you include what fish experience when they are caught.

I see no reason to doubt the suffering of asphyxiated fish,

I figured you would say this. So Jesus is definitely a sinner, big-time, as He participated in the murder of thousands of fish on more than one occasion: causing a bigger catch and feeding the 4000 and/or 5000.

and I would call slitting a lamb's throat mistreatment - assuming Jesus partook of that practice as you claim.

God the Father commanded that, so He is a sinner too. And since Jesus observed Passover and took sacrificial offerings to the Temple, He was mean to animals and unethical and lacking in compassion too.

On the matter of the biblical evidence you cite, I quote a fellow Christian vegetarian: "Anyone who believes that animal exploitation is ethically acceptable because the Bible approves of it should, if they are to be consistent in their use of the Bible, also believe that human slavery is ethically acceptable not to mention ethnic cleansing, genocide and rape." - Norm Phelps, *The Dominion of Love: Animal Rights According to the Bible*

This guy is a liberal, with higher-critical views of the Bible, too, no doubt. Why should we care what he thinks of the Bible? He obviously doesn't have a clue as to how to interpret Scripture.

As I showed, God and the disciples explicitly sanctioned meat-eating. Paul even says, "eat whatever you find at the meat market." Christianity moved towards an even wider range of meat-eating than Judaism, with its prohibition of pig-meat and other unclean foods.

So much the worse for Christian history.

Why not? You refuse to submit to what the Bible clearly teaches on this, so there is little reason to not ditch the witness of Christian Tradition too.

But you miss my point. It's irrelevant because modern American meat consumption, in the vast majority of cases, supports an extremely cruel industry, as can be - and has been - easily documented. It is, however, probable that nowhere near as much mistreatment was typical in obtaining meat in biblical history. When you buy meat at Safeway the bible is irrelevant.

It's not irrelevant because it does not show meat-eating to be wrong in and of itself, apart from the treatment of the animals. Obviously, for you, all killing of animals is cruel. So if you catch a fish, you are a heartless sadist. If you slaughter a Turkey for Thanksgiving, the same applies. Jesus ate fish and lamb, and chose fishermen for His first disciples and used fishing as illustrations in His parables. so He was a cruel person. You can't escape this, no matter how hard you try.

If you want to argue that it doesn't matter how Jesus acted; He was a sinner like the rest of us and didn't understand some things, then I truly wonder if you are a Christian, because you can't say that about Jesus and continue to believe He was God. If He was not God and not raised from the dead, then your faith is in vain, and you have denied essential truths of Christianity. So you are willing to pay a high price indeed for your vegetarianism.

He [Jesus] would recommend, I think, that a quick method of killing these poor creatures was adopted, regardless of the loss of profit. But He would not recommend a total cessation of all killing of animals, nor vegetarianism.

This image of Jesus is repugnant to me. It portrays Him as less merciful and compassionate than many people, including me. And I know how abysmally far I am from sainthood!

Then this conversation is near its end. And you have some extremely serious problems in your Christianity that you better deal with quickly (I say in love, as a person who wants to see you thrive in your spiritual life). You have dismantled your own case, point-by-point, in your replies. The last nail in the coffin was your contention that fish suffer when they are caught, aso that we are being cruel to them. That implicated Jesus, and you can't avoid that fact, even with by butchering the Bible (you think butchering a lamb is worse than tearing the Bible apart).

However, I frankly concede the difficulty of a panzoist Christian dealing with a fish-eating yet putatively faultless Lord and Savior. One attempt to grapple with it was represented in that piece you posted on Keith Akers to which I had pointed you. I'm not sure how to deal with the issue, but I try to keep in mind the broader view, as I've pointed out here, to wit, that meat-eating isn't the only thing on which one can call Jesus into question. Most Christians aren't noticeably troubled by His slavery silence, or His Roman silence, or (for non-fundamentalist Protestants) His exclusion of women from the Apostle roster, but why not? What is the non-arbitrary, morally relevant difference between these quirks of the sinless Jesus and His recorded consumption of fish (and lamb if you're correct)? One can just ignore what is troubling if one is able and willing to compartmentalize one's mind that way, but that's not an option for me, or for you or any Christian inclined to be reflective and honest about her faith.

I fail to see any longer how you can be a Christian and believe in a Jesus Who is a sinner and not even as holy as you are (!!!). God cannot sin. Jesus is God; therefore He cannot sin. And He is perfectly holy and righteous, so these scenarios you posit are not possible with Him.

You have, therefore, denied that deity of Christ, and no one who does so can be considered a Christian, because that is a fundamental that cannot be given up. It's part of the Nicene Creed. I am always willing to grant a great deal of latitude for who is a Christian and who isn't, but when it comes to denying Who Jesus was, that is extremely serious and potentially soul-destroying.

He [Jesus] would oppose mistreatment, I firmly believe.

That is reason enough - in the situation that applies to almost all Americans - to either adopt vegetarianism or, at the very least, incorporate some degree of regular fasting from meat into one's lifestyle. You haven't provided any reason to contest this relatively modest claim. On the contrary, some of your own admissions seem to confirm it. It seems therefore appropriate to say that your only substantive disagreement with me is whether meat-eating, or killing sentient beings, is morally permissible under SOME ('humane') circumstances. Do you agree that our dispute reduces to that issue?

Our dispute, as we have sadly seen, "reduces" to whether Jesus was God or not, and whether the Bible is inspired revelation or not. This is classic theological liberalism. it is always opposed to traditional Christian orthodoxy (as conceived in either a Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox sense). I have agreed all along that animals should not be mistreated. I don't agree that it is immoral to kill them. You don't seem to be able to imagine any humane way to kill them.

I can live with that if only it issues in SOME degree of lifestyle modification. We will then have to agree to disagree on whether God finds unnecessary (i.e. for survival) meat-eating innocuous under the specified ('humane') conditions. Again, if I can only persuade some Christians to make some dent in the meat industry, I can feel pretty good about that.

I have no problem with that. Your problems in how you approach the Bible and Jesus are far more serious.

The Bible gives the principles which would eventually render slavery obsolete.

Yes! And by the same token it gives the principles which should (and according to prophecy, eventually will) render meat-eating obsolete. What's the difference?

We've been through that.

And even the slavery it did sanction was under many ethical injunctions as to proper treatment (this was not followed by many American slaveholders, needless to say). With meat-eating, however, there is no indication at all that it is a sin or that it would or should eventually be abolished.

Then you haven't read Isaiah!

I love Isaiah. I listed it as my favorite book in the Bible. Where does it say that eating meat is a sin? You have this silly notion that the prophets were somehow some bleeding-heart liberal vegetarians. This is untrue. One wearies of having to argue these self-evident things.

Jeremiah records that if the people "listen" to the LORD (17:24), and keep the Sabbath holy (17:24,27), then among other things, there will be (by God's sanction): "burnt offerings and sacrifices . . . [brought to] the house of the LORD" (Jer 17:26). Elsewhere, in referring to the messianic kingdom (Jer 33:14-16), Jeremiah speaks of the continued sacrificial system "for ever" (33:18). Yet you tried to argue that "the sacrificial system was condemned by some of the prophets!" and cited Jeremiah 7:22-23 as a supposed instance of this. It's poppycock. I get the feeling that you are simply pulling proof texts up from your various books without bothering to check to see what these prophets wrote elsewhere.

The prophet Ezekiel also joins the ranks of sinners like Jesus, Paul, and Jeremiah. He writes about the sacrificial offerings being eaten by the priests in the Temple (42:13, 44:29), and reiterates the sacrifice of sheep under the Law (45:15-17,23-25; 46:5-7,11-15). This is six verses after God says through Ezekiel, "Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness" (45:9). So what is Ezekiel? a split personality? The Wolfman?

Is Isaiah (whom you thought offered your "biblical" silver bullet against meat-eating) any different? Of course not. When God (through Isaiah) is condemning Israel for disobedience, He says:
You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings, or honored me with your sacrifices.

(Isaiah 43:23)
Speaking of the messianic age, and the kingdom of Israel as God desires it, in the context of keeping the covenant and the Sabbath (56:6), God states:
. . . their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer.

(Isaiah 56:7)
Speaking of Egypt, Isaiah writes:
And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and burnt offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them . . . and they will return to the LORD, and he will heed their supplications and heal them.

(Isaiah 19:21-22)
In a passage about the day of judgment (Isaiah chapter 34), Isaiah refers to the "sword" of the LORD, "gorged with fat, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams" (Isaiah 34:6). Hopefully, you will think twice (and consult a Concordance) before again making such foolish claims about what the prophets believe.

Quite the contrary; it is positively recommended, as shown. Peter is virtually commanded to kill animals and eat them, in a supernatural vision.

That is a transparent misreading of the story, as PETER himself interpreted it, as I've already shown.

Nothing in this story suggests vegetarianism. Quite the contrary.

In general I find that the use of Scripture in defense of one's preferences or habits is extremely selective.
Oftentimes it is, yes.

Actually, so far as I have been able to tell, it is almost always selective.

As we have clearly seen in your "selectivity" in Isaiah, vainly trying to make out that he condemned the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant, when he did precisely the opposite.

I find that most Christians pick and choose what they like and don't like in Scripture, but most are disingenuous about it and mask their selectivity behind this or that system of hermeneutics. This is called "exegesis."

Your "exegesis" is very much of this variety, as I have been demonstrating repeatedly. You neglect context and the background thought involved; you don't even look to see what the writer expressed elsewhere, so as to present a coherent version of their beliefs.

The bible is not a book, but a library of books, and while some fairly prominent themes may be traced through most of the collection, I think it's an exercise in futility to try to harmonize all that material into one, single, consistent, coherent message.

That's why you're a theological liberal! This is a classic expression of it. And we see where it ends up: a sinning Jesus, Who is not the biblical Jesus at all.

The fixation on finding THE SINGLE FLAWLESSLY CONSISTENT message of the bible leads to sectarianism and perpetual strife among Christians. It leads, IMO, to idolatry, virtually worshiping the bible rather than God.

That's an interesting thought: belief in biblical inspiration and self-harmony leads inexorably to strife, division, and bibliolatry. Well, we have no choice but to become good liberals, huh?! It's either idolizing Scripture or worshiping a sinful Jesus. Any sane person would choose the latter as the preferable course, right Sogn?

Christians ought to be characterized primarily by how much we love each other (according to our Lord's instructions),

His instructions are considerably watered-down if we think He was a sinner and couldn't even get "self-evident" things right like cruelty to fish and so forth . . . why should we care about what someone thinks who is on a lower ethical plane than we are?

as well as by our compassion for the poor and weak of the world, rather than for our capacity to agree on THE meaning of the bible.

Why do I have to make this choice? The liberals chose to separate the "social gospel" from the "doctrinal Bible." The Bible itself doesn't teach that. All this wonderful liberal "compassion" has brought us abortion and Leninism and Stalinism (both stemming from Karl Marx: a backslidden Jew).

Well, that's a sermonesque tangent to the issue of panzoism, I guess.

Thanks for showing us where your ultimate allegiances lie! "If the Bible contradicts our little system, so much for the Bible . . ."

. . . I cannot hope to match you in typing speed, nor, lacking your two decades or so of apologetics experience, can I think on my feet with anything like your alacrity in matters biblical or theological. You are the Isaac Asimov* of apologetics, sir! I doff my cap to you.

Well, thanks! If you acknowledge that I know something about the Bible, then perhaps counter-examples like those I gave from Isaiah will cause you to reconsider your position.

No, we are vegans under normal (domestic) circumstances, though we make exceptions for some social situations. It isn't that hard to live this way, but that's a matter of individual judgement. As I keep reiterating, there are many degrees of lifestyle adjustment that could collectively impact the meat and dairy industries. It isn't all or nothing.

I just found out that the Episcopal church into which I'm being baptized during the Great Vigil Easter service on the 10th, is having a quasi-Passover seder meal with lamb stew. There are times when I wish I were a Jain. ;-)

Yet above you tried to deny that Jesus ate lamb because it wasn't specifically mentioned. You again contradict yourself. Be sure to tell them that you think Jesus was a sinner. They may not be willing to baptize you.

I do eat fish and chicken and turkey occasionally. How much do turkeys and chickens suffer during their "processing"?

Plenty. Easily documented, though certainly not here and now!

. . . Vegetarianism may be an ideal that not everyone, due to health or geographical limitations, can realize.

. . . Medical testing is the final frontier of animal liberation. If animals were no longer exploited as food and clothing it would be a monumental, nay, eschatological advance.

But you offer no reason for us to accept banning these practices.

Vivisection is the old term for experimentation on animals. Much experimentation is done to further pharmaceutical research, but a considerable amount is frivolous at best, such as the infamous testing of motorcycle helmets by smashing chimpanzees' skulls. There's no doubt a special place in hell reserved for people who would do that.

People who deny that Jesus is God are in danger of going to hell too. Don't lose your own soul while worrying (even if rightly) about monkeys.

Preventing their suffering is the very least that should be done in the context of experimentation. On that we can agree. I would go further and say we have no right to use the animals for our purposes. But what you describe would be a definite advance.

... nature itself is every bit as cruel to all sorts of animals as men are to them.

People invariably say this, yet it's completely irrelevant to our obligations as God's stewards. God didn't tell us to lower ourselves to the level of the beasts or imitate brutal behavior! The ethic of Jesus is as unnatural as anything could possibly be!

This doesn't answer the question. If God made a world which included the brutality of the animal kingdom (post-Fall, but He knew what would happen), then it is not wrong for us to kill an animal quickly to eat it, seeing that fellow animals might eat it alive (and slowly).

All you're doing is calling attention to the problem of evil. I don't see what special relevance it has to panzoism, since we have the capacity to choose to behave differently than impersonal nature.

The argument pertains more to the radical vegetarians, where there is no God or standard of absolute ethics to appeal to.

Here's a question you might be willing to answer: Why do you WANT to kill animals (or have them killed for you)?

I don't (I have never hunted; nor do I wish to). At best I want to eat meat. And since it is allowed by God (even commanded, in the case of the Jews, as part of religious ritual, with soteriological significance), then there is nothing wrong with it.

Even if the bible unequivocally and consistently supported meat-eating, why would you - or any Christian - WANT to kill if it isn't essential to your survival?

Obviously, because it tastes good. Why would God make it taste so good to us if it was such a terrible thing to eat meat in the first place? He could have made all meat and poultry and fish taste like throw-up or sewer water. But He didn't. Interesting, isn't it?

The only answer I can think of is that flesh tastes good and you can get away with it according to your interpretation of the bible.

It is improper to speak of "getting away with" something if it is not wrong to do that thing in the first place. You keep trying to have it both ways. You will make concessions implying that you don't see this as an absolute, yet when push comes to shove, your language betrays that you either do think it is absolutely wrong or wish you could, if you had good enough reason. If it's wrong, it's wrong. PERIOD. Then no one could eat meat under any circumstance, even if they were starving. But if it isn't wrong, then it is silly to speak of "getting away with it." That would be like saying "you play baseball because you can get away with it according to your interpretation of the Bible" or "you tie your shoes because you can get away with it according to your interpretation of the Bible."

Which really just reduces to "flesh tastes good, so I kill."

Don't forget the end: "and killing animals is not wrong."

I remember the years when I persisted in eating meat despite my love of animals, and I was acutely and embarrassingly aware that I had nothing more than my culinary habits to cite in my defense.

But it didn't occur to you that abortion was a far greater inconsistency (to the extent that you were obliged to oppose almost all cases of it) until the last three weeks or so. I submit that if you couldn't even see THAT glaring inconsistency, that perhaps you should be a little less ready to charge inconsistency in others (even Jesus Himself). You don't know if you will change this view of yours eventually, just as you did with regard to abortion.

I was immensely relieved when I was finally able to drop that specious rationalization. I don't know why it doesn't bother other people - at least people who love (some) animals.

I have tried to explain. But if everything is based on mere feelings and sentiment rather than reason and biblical revelation, it won't suffice.

Speaking of which, you had mentioned to me privately that you hoped to have a diverse discussion of this subject, but I can't recall anyone posting who didn't support meat-eating. What happened?

I don't know. It was Keith Rickert who said he knew a bunch of people who might want to come join in. It's probably the usual reluctance that people have, discussing stuff with Christians. They are more than welcome. I wrote to Keith Akers, and he wrote a nice letter back, but apparently didn't have time to comment.

I guess my ministry, such as it is, is to persuade people - especially fellow Christians - to think more carefully and compassionately about nonhumans, and to act accordingly.

I have said repeatedly that I agree and commend you for this. I'm infinitely more concerned about how you regard Jesus and the Bible. I never doubted for a second that you were a Christian before. Now I do. You simply can't deny that Jesus is God and be a Christian. That's like trying to be a race car driver while denying that race cars exist. God by definition is holy and sinless. Whomever is not that is not God.

You seem to agree that people, especially Christians, should make at least SOME modification of their casual meat-industry-supportive lifestyles. That's pretty significant agreement. Do you think many Christians are willing to go even that far (e.g. a weekly meat-fast)?


If not, why?

Because it is too inconvenient. Convenience is one of our idols.

What would that say about Christianity?

Nothing. But it says plenty about human beings who are Christians.

Then at least some degree of practical change should be implemented, right?

Yes. But frankly, unless I could see the wanton slaughter of tiny human beings ended, I doubt that I would ever go on a crusade to reform the meat industry (though I would not oppose that). First things first . . .

And because you are a Christian yourself, and need to synthesize your beliefs with biblical revelation and almost universal Christian practice in eating.

I need to come to terms with biblical revelation, yes.

You sure do.

I don't need to concern myself with "almost universal Christian practice in eating" if such habits are largely a reflection of thoughtlessness.

They obviously stem from the biblical teaching. If Christianity had been vegetarian, then Christians would have followed suit by and large, because we seek to put into practice the teachings of Jesus.

Other Christians' eating habits are not normative for me or any Christian.

Put that way, no. But you can't say they are wrong, according to the Bible, unless they are gluttonous or eating food sacrificed to idols, or stolen food, or only junk food, etc.

I will make that determination as I observe how you deal with the biblical texts I produced. :-) If you try to dismiss them at every turn, then I will conclude that you 1) reject biblical inspiration, and/or 2) that non-Christian philosophies have overcome Christian ones in you, with regard to this matter.

I didn't dismiss them, but I don't treat all parts of the bible as equally authoritative. (Nor does any Christian to my knowledge.) For instance, I don't learn how to treat my neighbors from reading Joshua and Judges! If I did, I'd no doubt be in prison by now. Instead I go to the source, Jesus, and try to love my enemies instead of raping and killing them.

I've seen enough of your exegesis to be greatly alarmed.

God has a big ethical problem then (which becomes your problem in defending this).

No more of a problem than He has by virtue of overlooking slavery and - apparently - sanctioning genocide on the part of the Hebrews.

Here we go again. Do you wish to equate God with Hitler and Stalin? If so, why do you try to follow Him at all?

Furthermore, surely all Christians agree that the heart and apotheosis of all divine revelation is found in Jesus - the Word made flesh. And Jesus, even if He ate fish, certainly taught an ethic of self-sacrifice and servanthood for the good of those who are weak and powerless. And His image of Himself as the Good Shepherd who sacrifices Himself for his sheep, as well as His statement that God cares about individual sparrows, suggests that He didn't limit His compassion to humans.

Then why did He eat lamb and fish if to do so necessarily involves a lack of compassion?

I "discovered" another good proof of the biblical (and Jesus') sanction of meat-eating in the readings at Mass yesterday. It's in the parable of the prodigal son, told, of course, by Jesus (Luke 15:11-32).

Note how when the son returns, the father is jubilant, and celebrates in the following manner: "... bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry." (Luke 11:23; cf. 11:27)

This shows a lot of things:

1. One could kill an animal for the reason of celebration (in addition to nutrition).
2. By implication, Jews (including Jesus Himself) ate beef.

This is almost as embarrassing as your "proof" from Peter's vision regarding Cornelius and the Gentiles . . .

This [#2] does not follow by any logic I know.

I didn't claim that it did. It is not an airtight proof. What it is, is weird and strange if it is wrong to eat meat.

3. The calf was prepared specifically for human consumption ("fatted"). I believe that is what this means, though I might be mistaken.

One might quibble that this is simply a story, so what does that prove?

That's exactly what I would say. It's no more significant than if I were to illustrate some point by telling a story about one of my early Thanksgivings when I feasted on turkey flesh.

But you are not God telling the story. You could sin in the past. God cannot sin, nor can He use an example of sin as a perfectly proper practice, even in a parable. You either get this or you don't. It's self-evident.

If I used the story to make some point, say, about my family life, it would scarcely imply my current approval of my past consumption of turkey.

That's irrelevant. God can't change and He can't sin. He has no "change of opinions" as men do.

That would be incidental, though it would be a detail that most people in our culture could easily relate to, and there lies another point relevant to Jesus' parable. It's a story His audience could relate to, as all His stories were intended to be.

That's irrelevant, too. To show how silly your reasoning is, imagine if Jesus had used an example of something we all consider sin: "To celebrate the fact that his son had returned, the father said, 'let's go and kill the fatted son who was loyal to the father, since he was jealous about the prodigal son.' " You and I would agree that this is nonsensical and Jesus would never say it. He simply wouldn't use something intrinsically wrong like that in his parable. Therefore, killing the fatted calf is not something he considers intrinsically wrong. Nor should you.

Your interpretation runs afoul of the pan-pacifistic Eschaton. The father's joy and celebratory mood represents God's grace toward us wayward sinners. It is overly literalistic to draw the inference (in conflict with prophecy) that God will be slaughtering cows and serving them to us when we come into His Kingdom.

Isaiah and Jeremiah already stated practically as much concerning the messianic kingdom, which is sort of a prefigure of the heavenly kingdom. So it is not inconceivable at all, biblically-speaking. In fact, in Revelation, Jesus is shown as a "Lamb slain" after His Resurrection and Ascension.

Sogn has already indicated his way out of all this: he will simply assume a critical stance towards the Bible where it disagrees with his view.

I assume a critical stance, if you wish to call it that, toward anything that flagrantly violates my conscience.

Even if God tells you otherwise . . .

The most blatant biblical example is the aforementioned stories (in Joshua and elsewhere) of God commanding His people to commit genocide. You and I and every morally decent person know that such behavior is depraved. I've read various desperate attempts to reconcile those actions with God's goodness as revealed in Jesus and, without exception, these attempts at "exegesis" are embarrassing, and only serve to give non-Christians further ammunition against Christianity.

So did God really command this, which makes Him (according to you) evil, or do you just rip this out of the Bible? If the latter, on what non-arbitrary basis?

I refuse to argue that in this context, as biblical inspiration and inerrancy is an entirely separate discussion (involving examination of the usual unsavory and incoherent liberal so-called "higher critical" methodologies).

It definitely should be a separate subject, if only because it's huge.

I won't be the main one to argue it, because I have nothing but disdain for these theories. They are intellectually bankrupt, and the people who hold them oftentimes lack faith. They have adopted wholesale rationalism.

I will close with a statement of "A Christian Credo for Animals" as formulated by Reverend Andrew Linzey in one of the greatest Christian books I've read - Animal Gospel:
I affirm the One Creator God from whom all existence flows. I celebrate the common origin of all life in God. I undertake to cherish and love all creatures whose life belongs to God and exists for God's glory.

I affirm the life of Jesus as the true pattern of service to the weak. I promise my solidarity with all suffering creatures. I join hands with Jesus in his ministry to the least of all, knowing that it is the vocation of the strong to be gentle.

I see in the face of the Crucified the faces of all innocent, suffering creatures. I hear their cries for a new creation. I thank God for the grace to feel their suffering and give voice to their pain.

I affirm the Word made flesh as the new covenant between God and all sentient creatures. I seek to live out that covenant in acts of moral generosity, kindness and gentleness to all those creatures that God has gathered together into unity.

I affirm the life-giving Spirit, source of all that is wonderful, who animates every creature. I pledge myself to honor life because of the Lord of life.

I affirm the hope of the world to come for all God's creatures. I believe in the Cross as the symbol of liberation for every creature suffering from bondage. I will daily trust in the redeeming power of God to transform the universe.

I pray that the community of Christ may be blessed with a new vision of God's creation. I will turn away from my hardness of heart and seek to become a living sign of the Gospel for which all creatures long.

I rejoice in animals as fellow-creatures: loved by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit.

May God the Holy Trinity give me strength to live out my commitment this day.

-- Andrew Linzey,
Animals are not "redeemed by the Son" because they did not rebel against God like man did. And most Christian theologians hold that they do not possess a soul.

Thanks again for the stimulating discussion.