James White sanctioned rank idolatry by posting a picture of statues of "reformers" (similar to the one above) on the same day that he issued a critique of my book's discussion of communion of saints, and mocked statues of Mary and the saints.
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As it turns out, James White has completely missed my dry humor above (which is all it was). He seems to think I was making an "argument". His words:
James White Promotes Worship of John Calvin!...or so Dave Armstrong alleges this morning. As an example of his methodology of argumentation (which often includes the, "Oh, look at that issue over there that is completely irrelevant to the point at hand, isn't it interesting?" tactic), Armstrong's attempted response . . . begins by re-posting Dan Borvan's picture from Geneva of the "Reformation Wall" with this subtitle [cites the words above]. For this to be true, of course, it would have to follow that DA has evidence that Dan bowed down to these statues, lit candles to them, prayed to them, and sought the intercession of these men of God. Of course, Armstrong doesn't have that evidence, and, of course, Dan didn't do that, which only shows once again that Armstrong has no compunctions about constructing straw-men.
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The Baptist Bishop James White has written his second installment of what appears to be an ongoing series of "reviews" of my latest book. I shall reply in full, with his words in blue.
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Under the broad topic of Mary and the Saints, Armstrong attempts to defend Rome's doctrine of prayer to saints.
The correct description is "asking saints to pray, or intercede for us. They, in turn, go to God, Who answers the prayer (or doesn't, as the case may be, if His answer is "No"!). The title of the section on pp. 120-121 is entitled "Praying to saints is wrong" precisely because this is how Protestants describe what we do (since the book dealt with the objections as the starting-point of each reply). If a Catholic says "I prayed to Saint So-and-So" he means (unless he is ignorant of his faith) "I asked him to intercede"; so it is a question of semantics. Just to get that straight right off the bat . . . but 90% of anti-Catholics refer to the doctrine as "prayer to saints".
Once again, we find no evidence that he is interested in responding to the strongest objections to his position, but only to the weakest.
Actually, the point of the book is to deal with (as the subtitle indicates) "common Protestant claims". These may be weak or relatively strong (in my experience, almost invariably the former), but my task as an apologist trying to equip the Catholic with answers to objections, is to meet these objections, whatever they are strong or weak. So if they are weak but rather common, then the degree of weakness or strength is irrelevant to deciding whether to answer them or not.
White, therefore, inadvertently proves that the standard garden-variety anti-Catholic or contra-Catholic rhetoric is exceptionally weak, since the most common arguments from that sphere are pitiful as can be. But he is here to provide us all with "strong" objections, which I will be more than happy to shoot down as well. And (very unlike him) I will actually reply to and refute his objections whenever they are offered.
But despite this, even in responding to the weakest argumentation, the number of circular arguments and simply false assumptions is great indeed.
He can claim this all he wants, but demonstrating it is another matter entirely.
Armstrong rightly lays out the objection: "The Bible forbids communication with the dead. It also tells us there is only one mediator between God and men: Jesus." Exactly, and, if he has taken the time to listen at all, he knows that the vacuous, yet nigh unto universal, argument of Roman Catholic apologists regarding asking a friend to pray for you (this is somehow taken as having relevance to Jesus' role as the sole mediator between God and men).
I kept waiting for the end of the sentence to come; it is incomplete and ungrammatical. Because of that, I'll pass on comment for the moment, hoping he will clarify later in his "review".
The fact that Jesus role as mediator is essentially and necessarily different is lost on those who use this facile argumentation, for Christ has a grounds upon which to stand as a mediator that no one, including Mary, possesses.
No one is denying that, so it is irrelevant, and no point of contention between us.
This has been explained many times, but Roman apologists continue repeating their simplistic argument as if no one has ever responded to it.
We don't disagree that Jesus' mediatorship is absolutely unique and "essentially and necessarily different"; we are saying that asking a dead saint to pray is no different in essence than asking a living friend to pray for us or someone else. It is biblically challenged Protestants who make the rather dumb objection that asking others to pray for us is the equivalent of denying that Jesus is sole mediator. That is where the dense incomprehension lies, and why we keep saying what we do, that White alludes to. The argument, then, boils down to establishing that asking a dead saint to pray is just as reasonable and biblical as asking a friend on this earth to pray. I think I have provided enough biblical support for the notion.
Armstrong's "one-minute" reply is that James 5:16-18 tells us that "the prayers of certain people are more effective than those of others." Of course, what James 5 tells us is that "the prayer of a righteous man has great power." From this, it seems, you can create a direct proportion statement, so that the saints, being perfected, have the greatest "prayer power co-efficient" possible.
Good; White shows that he at least comprehends my argument. That's a start. But as we'll see, he goes off into fallacy-land right away . . .
But please notice, there is nothing in James 5 about dead people praying for us. Nothing at all, in fact, just the opposite.
That's irrelevant to the argument. It only is relevant if one is claiming that this verse itself contains all the components of the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints. I have not claimed that it does. It establishes the principle that lies behind why Catholics pray as they do. The Catholic chain of reasoning is as follows:
1. We ought to pray for each other (much biblical proof).So James 5:16-18 only provides a portion of the entire biblical argument necessary (#2 and #3 above, with #1 implied as the background premise). Other biblical passages support propositions #4-6, with #7 following, based on James 5, provided that #4-6 are established on other biblical grounds. Therefore, it is a complete non sequitur for White to "object" that James 5 doesn't mention dead saints, because it was never my claim in the first place. It's based on his dumbfounded misunderstanding of how the argument works.
2. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects (James 5:16-18).
3. Therefore it makes eminent sense to ask more righteous people to pray for us (implied in same passage).
4. Dead saints are more alive than we ourselves are (e.g., Mt 22:32).
5. Dead saints are aware of what happens on the earth (Heb 12:1 etc.), and indeed, are portrayed as praying for us in heaven (Rev 6:9-10).
6. Dead saints are exceptionally, if not wholly, righteous and holy, since they have been delivered from sin and are present with God (21:27, 22:14).
7. Therefore, it is perfectly sensible and wise to ask them to pray on our behalf to God.
The example Armstrong relies on specifically says, "Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves." Yes, he was...and that likewise means he was alive!
Which is perfectly irrelevant, per the above, but (to get back to the land of relevance) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are "alive" too, according to Jesus (!!).
From this Armstrong recalls the examples of Abraham and Moses who interceded with God, which is, again, quite true. But it is likewise irrelevant since, obviously, they were both alive at the time of their intercession with God.
Another non sequitur, flowing from White's apparent inability to grasp how my argument is logically structured . . . this is so often frustratingly the case when dealing with Bishop White. But one gets used to it after so many years, like a spouse snoring or a child who lisps or whines. One must accept the deficiencies in others and exercise patience.
Then we have the statement,
If, then, the Blessed Virgin Mary were indeed sinless, it would follow (right from Scripture) that her prayers would have the greatest power, and not only because of her sinlessness but because of her status as Mother of God. So we ask for her prayers and also ask other saints, because they have more power than we do, having been made perfectly righteous (according to James 5:16-18).You will remember that back in the days of the Reformation a common complaint made by the Reformers was that Rome's defenders were sophists, men who tried to look wise while promoting the most amazingly incoherent statements. Little has changed over the centuries. You take the statement that a righteous man's prayers have great power, which is said only of the living, transport this into another context, attach it to Mary (assuming her alleged sinlessness), and then "follows" "right from Scripture" (!!) that her prayers would have "the most power."
Again, the same incomprehension of how my argument works leads White to caricature it and present a twisted version of what my argument supposedly is in the first place, as something he then shoots down (the proverbial "straw man" of illogical argumentation). Also, it is true that here I assumed for the sake of argument that Mary was sinless:
If, then, the Blessed Virgin Mary were indeed sinless, it would follow . . .Assuming things for the sake of argument means, in effect, saying, "I won't digress to argue that point at the moment [it's almost like a footnote], in the midst of this argument, because it is another topic; we will assume it here and argue it elsewhere." That is exactly what I did. In this book, my argument for Mary's sinlessness occurs in pages 108-109. I've defended that doctrine in much greater depth elsewhere in books and on my blog.
But note how White twisted and distorted the very nature of my argument. This is first-rate sophistry. He is accusing me of being the sophist, and of being incoherent. Yet what I did was completely coherent and therefore not sophistry at all. I assumed the hypothetical (Mary's sinlessness). I didn't argue it in this particular section (one can't digress when one has two pages to work with). But White completely blows it; he doesn't get it. Let me illustrate how he engages in this sophistry with a comparison. This is the structure of my actual argument:
1. The prayer of a righteous man has great power.Now look at how White twists the very nature of my argument in order to mock and "refute" it:
2. IF Mary is sinless [biblical arguments having been made elsewhere favoring this], it would follow that her prayers have the greatest power.
3. Assuming the hypothetical in #2 for the sake of argument, it follows "right from Scripture" that her prayers would have the most effect, based on the logical relationship of "more holy = more effective prayer" to "holiest of all = most effective prayer of all."
1. The prayer of a righteous man has great power.In other words, White wants to pretend that I am making an authoritative, dogmatic claim based on nothing at all. That's why he thinks my reasoning is circular: because he doesn't understand how the argument works in the first place. This recurrent logical deficiency in White's anti-Catholic apologetics (I've observed it countless times over twelve years) causes great flaws to appear in the very heart of his arguments. Anyway, what I was specifically referring to as "right from Scripture" was a purely logical relationship:
2. Assume that Mary is sinless (without argument, biblical or otherwise).
3. Assume ("right from Scripture") that her prayers have the greatest power.
4. Thus, the Catholic claim has no biblical support and is altogether incoherent and circular.
From the proposition:That follows "right from Scripture." This is what I meant. I didn't assume Mary's sinlessness with no argument whatsoever. I assumed it in this context for the sake of argument, while providing arguments for her sinlessness elsewhere.
"more holy = more effective prayer"it follows that:
"holiest of all = most effective prayer of all."
Then, you throw in the other saints, who now have more power (because the prayers of a living righteous man have great power), and tie it all up with another reference to James 5, and voila! the Roman position. Not compelling? Of course not. It really isn't meant to be. It is meant to have just enough appeal to it to keep the person who wants to believe it in a state of faith.
Of course it is not compelling because this is not the Catholic argument in the first place! It is a pathetic caricature of a stereotype of Catholic faith: what White mistakenly thinks that we teach, rather than what we actually believe.
This is then followed by the constant false appeal to inter-Christian prayers as if they are relevant. "Most Protestants are quite comfortable asking for prayers from other Christians on earth; why do they not ask those saved saints who have departed from the earth and are close to God in heaven? After all, they may have passed from this world, but they're certainly alive -- more than we are!" That sounds so nice, but it is double-talk. Passed from this world = dead to us. Alive to God? Of course. Spiritually alive? Completely. But the prohibition of contact with the dead is specifically in the context of people living on earth seeking to have contact with those who have "passed from this world"! This kind of argumentation leaves the prohibition of contact with the dead meaningless and undefined.
But White is assuming here something that is quite unbiblical itself: the notion that God wants us to have no contact at all with those who have died. Why would he think this? I provided much evidence to the contrary in one of my papers:
A) 1 Samuel 28:12,14-15 (Samuel): the prophet Samuel appeared to King Saul to prophesy his death. The current consensus among biblical commentators (e.g., The New Bible Commentary, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary) is that it was indeed Samuel the prophet, not an impersonating demon (since it happened during a sort of seance with the so-called "witch or medium of Endor"). This was the view of, e.g., St. Justin Martyr, Origen, and St. Augustine, among others. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 6:19-20 reinforces the latter interpretation: "Samuel . . . after he had fallen asleep he prophesied and revealed to the king his death, and lifted up his voice out of the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people."Sounds like, then, James White is the one making the circular arguments: assuming things but not proving them. I have made the biblical argument. Let him deal with Holy Scripture.
B) Matthew 17:1-3 (the Transfiguration: Moses and Elijah): . . . Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (see also Mark 9:4 and Luke 9:30-31)
C) Matthew 27:52-53 (raised bodies after the crucifixion): . . . the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
D) Revelation 11:3,6 (the "Two Witnesses"): And I will grant my two witnesses power to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days . . . they have power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall . . . and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague . . .
These two witnesses are killed (11:7-9), were raised after "three and a half days" and "stood up on their feet" (11:11), and then "went up to heaven in a cloud" (11:12). Many Church Fathers thought these two were Enoch and Elijah, because both of them didn't die; thus this would explain their dying after this appearance on earth. Some Protestant commentators think the two witnesses are Moses and Elijah, because of the parallel to the Transfiguration, and also similarities with the plagues of Egypt and the fact that Elijah also stopped the rain for three-and-a-half years (James 5:17).
We must conclude based on the above passages that contact between heaven and earth is God's will; otherwise He wouldn't have permitted it in these instances. The Catholic belief in more interconnection between heaven and earth cannot be ruled out as "unbiblical". One has to try other arguments to refute our beliefs in this regard.
Further, there is a substantive, clear difference between asking a fellow believer to pray for you, and the prayers that are addressed to Mary and the saints. I have never asked anyone to save me from the wrath of Jesus, and yet that is what we read in this famous prayer:
O Mother of Perpetual Help, thou art the dispenser of all the goods which God grants to us miserable sinners, and for this reason he has made thee so powerful, so rich, and so bountiful, that thou mayest help us in our misery. Thou art the advocate of the most wretched and abandoned sinners who have recourse to thee. Come then, to my help, dearest Mother, for I recommend myself to thee. In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul. Count me among thy most devoted servants; take me under thy protection, and it is enough for me. For, if thou protect me, dear Mother, I fear nothing; not from my sins, because thou wilt obtain for me the pardon of them; nor from the devils, because thou are more powerful than all hell together; nor even from Jesus, my Judge himself, because by one prayer from thee he will be appeased. But one thing I fear, that in the hour of temptation I may neglect to call on thee and thus perish miserably. Obtain for me, then, the pardon of my sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and the grace always to have recourse to thee, O Mother of Perpetual Help.Well, of course there is a difference between asking Mary, the Mother of God to pray for us and asking Pastor Doe or Grandma Smith. This is the whole point. We think Mary is the highest creature that God ever made. Everything she is, is because of God's free, unmerited grace. So her prayers are the most powerful of any human being. We could ask God for something, or we could ask Mary to ask God for the same thing. If indeed Mary is what we believe she is (sinless and God's highest creation) then clearly, her prayers would have far more effect than ours, based on James 5:16-18). That's precisely why we "go to her" instead of going right to God (but we can do that, too, anytime we want, and the Church doesn't require us at all not to approach God directly).
White cites this Marian devotion because he knows most of his readers (even more uninformed or misinformed than he is on such matters) will recoil with horror just as he does. But the properly informed Catholic understands the overall Christological context of Marian piety and Mariology.
I went through this fundamental spade work with two other anti-Catholics who wanted to go after St. Alphonsus Liguori by presenting a cynically selective, distorted view of what he taught. They would cite all the flowery language of Marian devotion while conveniently overlooking and not considering the many statements from the same saint about Jesus that are always assumed as lying behind the Marian expressions:
Does St. Alphonsus de Liguori, in The Glories of Mary, Teach That Mary is "Above God" and Can "Manipulate God"? (Corrections of Protestant Misunderstandings of Catholic Mariology) (vs. Len Lisenbee)White's primary aim is always to play to his followers (preaching to the choir); to find the most "outrageous" things (i.e., from the warped anti-Catholic perspective) that will cause them to think that anyone who espouses such things is a nut and biblically illiterate; in spiritual darkness. But it is absurdly presented so selectively that it amounts to a half-truth, which is no better than a lie (in both a legal and logical sense).
If one doesn't understand the Christological emphasis behind Catholic Mariology (doesn't even try to do so), then one has no hope of understanding the Mariology itself. It's as simple as that. White sees to it that he never presents the full, balanced picture, because that would work against his purpose of making the Catholic look like a nutcase idolater who doesn't even know that Jesus is the one Who saves, etc., etc.
When Mr. Armstrong finds me bowing down in front of one of my fellow believers, rocking back and forth mouthing prayers while fingering a string of beads, and placing a lit candle before them, then we can talk about parallels.
One doesn't have to do that with living people (i.e., those still on earth with us, not having died), but plenty of folks bow down before the grave of a loved one, or at the place where they were killed in a car crash. People light candles in memory of people who died (look at, for example, what happened after the deaths of John Lennon and Princess Diana, or, for that matter, 9-11). I've seen many people kiss dead bodies in caskets. They are no longer there; it's just a dead body. So is that some abominable idolatry too? There are plenty of statues of people we regard as heroes.
Humorously enough, on the very same day that White issued this critique, he posted a picture of "the famed Reformation Wall'" in Geneva (see above): huge statues of "reformers" Farel, Calvin, Beza, and Knox. Statues honor the memory of people we admire for some reason or other. Otherwise, why have them at all (just for pigeon toilets?)? If White would get sufficiently biblical, he could bow before one of these statues and ask one of these men (represented by the statue, for a visual and devotional aid) to pray for him, too (assuming they are out of purgatory yet, and assuming they were granted the grace to even get to purgatory). After all, even John Calvin held that dead saints pray for us (Institutes, III, 20, 24), though he denied (without reason and against the evidence of Scripture) that they observed what happened on the earth or should be asked to pray.
I'd much rather see Mr. White rocking back and forth in a rocking chair with an introductory textbook to logic. Most of the prayers of the Rosary are straight from the Bible: the "Hail Mary" was uttered by an angel of God, Gabriel (Luke 1:28). The next part of the Rosary was uttered by Elizabeth, and recorded in Scripture (Luke 1:42). Would White counsel Christians to refrain from praying biblical prayers that came from the mouth of an angel and from Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist? That would be odd. But this is just another of White's tactics to divert attention from my actual apologetic that he is supposedly "refuting". For more on the Rosary, see my paper, Reply to Questions About Catholic Mariology (and the Rosary) From a Recent Convert (+ Discussion).
But then we find the paragraph that drew my attention to this section. I quote it in full:
If it is objected that the dead saints cannot hear us, we reply that God is fully able to give them that power -- with plenty of supporting biblical evidence: 1) the "cloud of witnesses" that Hebrews 12:1 describes; 2) in Revelation 6:9-10, prayers are given for us in heaven from "saints"; 3) elsewhere in Revelation an angel possesses "prayers of the saints" and in turn presents them to God; 4) Jeremiah is described as one who "prays much for the people" after his death in 2 Maccabees 15:13-14. The saints in heaven are clearly aware of earthly happenings. If they have such awareness, it isn't that much of a leap to deduce that they can hear our requests for prayer, especially since the Bible itself shows that they are indeed praying.Let's examine this argumentation. First, the objection would be based upon a lack of biblical evidence, along with the positive biblical prohibition against contact with the dead.
We have seen how there is a quite permissible "contact with the dead" of some sort illustrated in the Bible, by four explicit, undeniable examples. I have condemned what is not permitted, right along with White, in the same section he is critiquing:
A Protestant Might Further Object:To reply, "Well, God is fully able to give them that power" is not, in fact a response. Of course God can do so. God has all power, and since that is not a point in dispute, this is a classic example of a red herring. If God had wanted to arrange things so that Mary is the mediatrix of all graces, and so that saints intercede on our behalf in a Christianized pantheon of gods in heaven, He could have done that. The question is not "does God have the power to do so," the question is "has God done so?"
It is not clear how these Catholic practices are any different from the séances, magic, witchcraft, and necromancy forbidden by the Bible. When you come down to it, Catholics are still messing around with dead spirits.
The One-Minute Apologist Says:
Catholics fully agree that these things are prohibited, but deny that the Communion of Saints is a practice included at all in those condemnations.
The difference is in the source of the supernatural power and the intention. When a Christian on earth asks a saint to pray for him (directly supported by the biblical indications above), God is the one whose power makes the relationship between departed and living members of the Body of Christ possible. The medium in a séance, on the other hand, is trying to use her own occultic powers to “conjure up” the dead -- opening up the very real possibility of demonic counterfeit. Catholics aren’t “conjuring” anyone; we’re simply asking great departed saints to pray for us. If they are aware of the earth, then God can also make it possible for them to “hear” and heed our prayer requests. If this weren’t the case, then saints and angels in heaven wouldn’t be portrayed as they are in Scripture: intensely active and still involved in earthly affairs.
There is indeed biblical evidence for this. The Bible plainly teaches us these things:
1. Dead saints are alive.White seems to deny #4 ("saints intercede on our behalf in a Christianized pantheon of gods in heaven"). He describes this as an example of a red herring and denies that God has brought this state of affairs about. But he is contradicted by the explicit example of Revelation 6:9-10, that I cited in the very paragraph he noted in his own critique. It is a curious methodology that ignores explicit biblical proofs while wishfully fancying that there are none:
2. Dead saints are aware of earthly affairs.
3. Dead saints have specifically come back to earth and have had contact with human beings.
4. Dead saints pray for us in heaven.Those things are beyond dispute. They're explicitly biblical.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?"As I explained in my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (pp. 113-114):
Here the martyrs in Heaven are uttering what are known as "imprecatory prayers." These are not so much vengeful as they are a plea for, and recognition of, God's role as the wrathful Judge who will rescue and vindicate the righteous, either in this life or the next. Examples can be found particularly in the Psalms (35, 59, 69, 79, 109, 139) and in Jeremiah (11:18 ff., 15:15 ff., 18:19 ff., 20:11 ff.).An angel offers up a very similar prayer in Zechariah 1:12. Jesus mentions a type of this prayer in Matthew 26:53, in which he states that he could have prayed to the Father and received legions of angels to prevent His arrest, had it been the Father's will. The idea is the same: prayer for judgment to be wrought upon the enemies of God. At the same time, imprecatory prayers often are intercessions on behalf of the righteous, as in this passage.Therefore, unarguably, dead saints are praying for Christians on earth. If they can intercede for us, why should we not ask for their prayers? Clearly, they are aware of what is happening on earth, as indicated in this passage and, for instance, Hebrews 12:1. They are more alive, unfathomably more righteous, and obviously closer to God than we are. Omniscience is not required for them to hear our prayers, as is often charged. Rather, we have reason to believe that they are out of time, and therefore not subject to its constraints. We ought to ask for their prayers just as we would ask for the intercession of a fellow Christian on earth, and, if James 5:16 is true, their prayers will have incomparably more effect.The well-known Protestant New Bible Commentary, [footnote 110] states that this plea in Heaven is indeed a prayer, which quickens the end of the age (8:1-5). This admission is of immense significance for our topic. For if the prayers of dead saints have such an importance regarding the last days and the final judgment, who can deny that such prayers are valid and effective with regard to far more mundane matters (such as our everyday concerns)? The doctrine of Communion of Saints, then, would appear to be irrefutably presented in the book of Revelation.
Is it true that the Bible doesn't explicitly state that we should ask these same dead saints to pray for us? Well, yes and no. It's not absolutely explicit, yet the Bible does present angels in heaven having something to do with "prayers of the saints". I presented this also in A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (p. 112):
So I ask Bishop White and anyone else who believes as he does: "what are men or angels (or both) in heaven doing with the 'prayers of the saints'? What sense does this make in the Protestant worldview?" Our prayers, according to that theology, go right to God without any intercessory "mediator". So how is this explained? Perhaps White can tell us how it fits into his Baptist tradition. I'll follow the teaching of the Bible rather than man-made traditions.Revelation 5:8: "The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints."
Revelation 8:3-4: "And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God."It is somewhat unclear whether the twenty-four elders in this scene are angels or men, and commentators differ. Early Christian Tradition associated them with the twelve patriarchs of Israel and the twelve Apostles, representing the churches of the Old and New Covenants, respectively (see Isa. 24:23; Dan. 7:9-10). References to them clad in white garments, with golden crowns (4:4,10) suggest the view that these elders are glorified human beings (see, e.g., 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 2:10; 3:5,11; 6:11; 7:9,13-14). In any event, in both examples above, creatures -- whether men or angels -- are involved with our prayers as intercessory intermediaries, which isn't supposed to happen if the Catholic belief in the intercession of saints and angels is untrue.
Now, back to what I was arguing above. The missing "plank" there was an example of biblical sanction of our asking saints to pray for us. I have just presented two biblical instances of creatures in heaven having something to do with our prayers. If they have received our prayers, then it follows logically that either:
1) human beings asked them directly,In any of these scenarios, intercession of the saints is involved, and White stands refuted from the Bible. It's not just "me 'n' God". Others are involved in the process of prayer.
2) God sent them their way, just as one post office might send a load of mail to another to "sort", before the ultimate destination (back to the original one).
3) Prayers automatically get channeled through creatures before they get to God.
Moreover, even if these proofs are somehow rejected or discounted, it follows from common sense that if #1-4 above are true (the "chart" further above about dead saints), that we can ask them to intercede, since if they are aware of earthly happenings and even pray for those on the earth, then common sense would seem (at least to me) to dictate that they can, most likely, "hear" our prayers as well. So that is two different lines of argument: one explicitly biblical and the other a straightforward and plausible deduction from explicitly biblical data.
But what kind of supporting biblical evidence are we offered?
The sort that I have just outlined above, that I had already provided in my first book. In the present book, I had only two pages of space to defend each belief, so I obviously couldn't provide the depth that I could in my first book, where, for example, I devoted seventeen pages to communion of saints. In The Catholic Verses I provided the reader with fourteen more pages on the topic.
I mean, if prayer, an act of worship in Scripture, is to be offered to anyone but God,
Asking saints to pray is not the same as praying to them (in the sense of expecting them to actually answer the prayer).
surely there will be overwhelming evidence found in the normative practice of the Christian church, and in the writings of the early leaders of that church, the New Testament. But is that what we find?
Yes. I have provided the biblical evidences. I'm not gonna spend more of my time delving into patristics, as this is, ostensibly, a review of my book (mostly biblical arguments). But it's assuredly there, if White wants to argue about patristic beliefs.
The first text given is Hebrews 12:1, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Armstrong assumes that the "great cloud of witnesses" refers to saints in heaven observing events on earth. However, given that this is a transitional statement following the chapter on the faithful men and women of old, it is far better to understand this text as referring to them and to recognize that a witness is not one who is observing events (as in Western thinking) but one who testifies, witnesses, by their life. The faithful of old are the ones who have witnessed to God's faithfulness by their own lives, and, since we have their testimony, we are to run the race with patience and joy. There is no reason, in the context of Hebrews, to conclude that the writer was positively teaching that saints in heaven observe earthly events, a concept that would be completely irrelevant to his point.
Well, that is Bishop White's opinion. He is entitled to it, but he has to argue for it and establish why it is the most plausible exegetical position, just like anyone else. He can't simply expect everyone to accept his word as if from on high because he said it. Many others disagree with him on this.
I have myself found at least three non-Catholic language references that confirm that the element of "spectatorship," which lends itself to the Catholic notion of communion of saints, where saints in heaven are aware of, and observe events on earth, is present in Hebrews 12:1, and cannot be ruled out simply on the basis of a prior doctrinal bias. Witness is the Greek word martus, from which is derived the English word martyr:
1) Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Joseph H. Thayer, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 4th edition, 1977; originally 1901, p. 392) defines it - as used in this verse - as follows:To summarize:
One who is a spectator of anything, e.g. of a contest, Heb 12:1.[Strong's word #3144; similar usages cited by Thayer: Lk 24:48; Acts 1:8; 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39; 13:31; 26:16; 1 Pet 5:1 - the sense is indisputable in these other verses]
2) Word Studies in the New Testament (Marvin R. Vincent, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980; originally 1887; vol. 4, p. 536), another standard Protestant language source, comments on this verse as follows:
'Witnesses' does not mean spectators, but those who have borne witness to the truth, as those enumerated in chapter 11. Yet the idea of spectators is implied, and is really the principal idea. The writer's picture is that of an arena in which the Christians whom he addresses are contending in a race, while the vast host of the heroes of faith who, after having borne witness to the truth, have entered into their heavenly rest, watches the contest from the encircling tiers of the arena, compassing and overhanging it like a cloud, filled with lively interest and sympathy, and lending heavenly aid.3) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (edited by Gerhard Kittel & Gerhard Friedrich; translated and abridged by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985; p. 567), an impeccable and widely-used linguistic source, states:
In Heb. 12:1 the witnesses watching the race seem to be confessing witnesses (cf. 11:2), but this does not exclude the element of factual witness.
White: "There is no reason, in the context of Hebrews, to conclude that the writer was positively teaching that saints in heaven observe earthly events"Carmen J. Bryant, an exegete and seminary professor with whom I have had the pleasure to dialogue a few times, notes two of the "many" other Protestants who agree with this assessment (my bolding):
Vincent: "the idea of spectators is implied, and is really the principal idea. . . . the vast host of the heroes of faith . . . watches the contest from the encircling tiers of the arena, . . . filled with lively interest and sympathy, and lending heavenly aid."
Kittel: "this does not exclude the element of factual witness."
Henry Alford, in his extensive commentary on the Greek New Testament [The Greek New Testament, vol. 4; Chicago: Moody Press, 1958, 234-235], insists that the cloud of witnesses must be onlookers . . . Interpreting marture otherwise would miss the point, he claims, . . . Cloud suggests that the witnesses are literally looking down from heaven. Anything short of this is too “tame.”I'll go with the three great Greek scholars and two reputable commentators, thank you. If I'm a fool and a simpleton for believing as I do about this verse, then at least I am in good scholarly Protestant company. If five such scholars can be found, I'm sure there are many more, and I need not find them at this time. My point is sufficiently made by now.
Leon Morris, in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, notes the debate over the word witnesses. It is not a question of identity but a question of function. Are they witnesses to the faith, or are they spectators of the race? Morris admits that normally marture is used in the former sense, and “it is doubtful whether it ever means simply ‘a spectator.’ Still . . . the imagery of the present passage favors it.”
White cites the Scottish exegete Marcus Dods (1834-1909) in favor of his interpretation, and noted (fairly) that the Anglican scholar "Philip Edgecumbe Hughes, . . . derive[s] 'observation' from the metaphorical language." So now we have six scholars who take my position on this versus one mentioned by James White and he himself (who is no scholar, since he received his supposed "doctorate" from a diploma mill).
But the point that must be seen is that for the Roman Catholic usage of this text to stand, an equivalency must be drawn between "witness" and "spectator." It is not enough, in light of the context lacking any emphasis at all upon communication with the dead, the observation of living people by the dead, or exhortation based upon such concepts, to merely say it is "possible" to read the text in this fashion. Something much stronger, much more compelling, must be provided than the mere suggestion that "witness" can be taken in such a fashion.
I will accept the informed opinions of the six scholars above who say that the notion of spectatorship is present. That is all that is necessary for the verse to fit into my particular apologetic on the communion of saints. But even if it weren't, it is clearly the case that dead saints are aware of what is happening on the earth, on the basis of passages such as Revelation 6:9-10.
And I hardly think I need to point out, yet again, that Rome has not officially defined the meaning of this text.
So what? How is that relevant to anything at all? See my paper: The Freedom of the Catholic Biblical Exegete.
In fact, some would argue Rome has not officially defined the meaning of any text at all,
The Catholic Church has defined the meaning of seven texts. See the just-mentioned paper of mine.
so for the Roman Catholic who constantly decries "private interpretation," consistency would demand they recognize that their own interpretations do not have dogmatic sanction from their own ultimate authority.
No one said they did. Another of a long list of non sequiturs, or red herrings.
Both Armstrong and Hahn address the same text in Revelation 6:9-11 next, so I will address their comments as time permits.
I can't wait.
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Here is White's "response" (about half of it was devoted to my humorous posting of the "Reformers" statues, cited at the top). Based on his history, it may very well be his only "response". There is always a first for everything, though. Maybe one day White will truly engage in real dialogue with a Catholic. For now, though, this is all we get:
I note briefly in passing as well that Armstrong's response proves that he is unable to engage the actual texts under discussion outside of relying upon secondary sources. That is, all he can do is try to line up commentators on one side or the other and say, "See, my point is possible because these guys say so." But he is not capable of responding to the substance of the comments regarding martu,rwn, qeatai, etc., for this is beyond his area of study. Now, there is nothing wrong with someone being ignorant of the original languages, exegesis, etc., however, there is everything wrong in being ignorant of these things and yet making repeated pronouncements about the conclusions of the study of these fields.