Posts Tagged ‘Bible’


On Biblical Morality in Modern Times…

October 15, 2012

Moses on the SCOTUS facade.

It is important to consider that morality, at its essence, is a core of beliefs that is acted upon by individuals. Legislation, is but the codification of morality with the aim of directing groups of individuals to/from that morality. It is impossible for legislation to be devoid of morality, because legislation is a codification of values. So whether it serves as a legal restraint for good or a license for evil, it is inherently moral.

For the world, morality is benign, it is neither good nor bad. Dictators can be moral, so can school children, but where the world fails is in determining what if anything is immoral. The secular world fails to recognize any common universal source for morality, an individuals core of beliefs is but a reflection of their own predilection toward one course or another. Therefore when you ask a secularist ‘can one legislate morality?’ they give you this puzzled look. ‘How can anyone legislate or put into legislation individual morality?’ they ask. They go on to say, ‘what may be moral for you, is not moral for me…’ etc. This is the dead end road of the secular worldview. Ultimately nothing has meaning outside the individual, laws are suggestive of desire but not determinate of performance. The end result of this is chilling words from the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king… Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

For the Christian, morality is far less subjective. It is still a core of beliefs that is acted upon, but that core has a universal objective source. The source of human morality is God’s revelation in His word and in nature. Lodged within the narrative of history is the thread of God’s moral revelation. He reveals it implicitly in the general revelation of nature, and explicitly in the pages of His Word. Paul informs us in Romans that God has written His law on the heart of every man, so that whether they have received His written revelation or not they have within themselves a conscience that reflects their Creator’s image. For the Christian, morality is not benign, it is powerful. Morality is an expression of what one values and is given by God that we might value the right things. God gave His written law for the preservation of His people and the propagation of His glory. So for the Christian, laws and legislation become essential tools. God has created man to be ruled by laws. Whether Laws carved in stone or laws written on the human heart; it is man’s need to be governed by a moral code. The beauty of the gospel is that it redefines morality. Morality is now seen through the work of Christ on the cross. We are now given an opportunity to be governed by a law fulfilled in Christ. We are empowered to do greater works than were ever done before. What is moral becomes a reflection of Who He was and who we are in Him.

So there is great need on the part of the Christian to see that the laws of their lands reflect the redeemed reality of mankind. We must seek the goodwill of our neighborhood and our nation, and advocate for laws that protect and promote God’s design for mankind. But should the tide withdraw, and the season change, we must be prepared to live lives consistent with Christ’s example. Preaching the Word in season and out of season, as those around us “wander off into myths.” (2 Tim 4:4)


You Heard it Here First: The Exclusive Need for the Proclaimed Word…

September 3, 2012

Having previously covered in the prior post some positive affirmations of Christ’s exclusive role as savior and the exclusivity of the Gospel, we shall now turn to two deficits that appear within the inclusivist argument and attempt to show how these deficits are corrected by the claims of exclusivism.

Throughout the biblical narrative are instances of the general revelation of God in creation working in concert with God’s special revelation to His people.  However salvation is seen as coming not from the recognition of God within creation, but rather from deferent faith in light of His revealed mastery of it.  An excellent example of this lies in the first three chapters of the book of Joshua.  Israel, God’s exclusively chosen race, has been delivered from the bonds of Egypt and received the special revelation of His Law, and has arrived at the banks of the Jordan.  As Israel’s spies hid within the home of Rahab the prostitute, Rahab provides an illuminating and ultimately justifying testimony concerning God and His creation. ” I know that the Lord has given you this land…we have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea… as soon as we heard it our hearts melted… for the Lord your God, He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11)  Rahab doesn’t trust in God because he merely created the water, rather she trusts in His revelation displayed in parting the waters for His people.  An act He would perform again in Chapter 3 with the Jordan.  Her confession of this truth, and her corresponding action of hiding the spies displays that God justified her by faith. (James 2:25)  God general revelation in creation becomes special and able to save when God wields His creation in an act of revelation to His people.  The water alone saves none, but belief in He who parts the waters; it is by water and spirit that one is born again. (John 3:5)  The above speaks to effectiveness or lack thereof general revelation, if it is ineffective alone for salvation what is its purpose according to Scripture.

Scripture clearly indicates that the general revelation of God in creation was given to remove excuse from those who would claim ignorance of God absent access to the “gospel.”  A text which is indispensable to this point is Romans 1:19-23

19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Inclusivists attempt to address the issue of the “seeker” outside of the reach of the revealed gospel.  What of the person who would want salvation but can not access it because he/she has no access to the gospel, which exclusivists claim is necessary?  The exclusivist response to this query would be that the natural man rejects God in light of creation rather than seeks Him.  Having received revelation about God’s existence from creation, and rejecting it, they are without excuse before God.  Instead of acknowledging divinity’s true source they exchanged His truth for His creation and thereby inherited a shadow of the Light available to them.  Luther comments on this passage drawing attention to the excuse that some may say that, “only in our time it was possible to know God.”  One could add  ‘place’ to the listed restriction of time.  Whether located in a different time, or a different and perhaps distant place, “it has been possible to know him [God] from the beginning of the world and at all times, and it is possible now.”[1]  So it is clear from this passage that God’s general revelation in creation is meant not for salvation but to act as a witness against those who would claim that His attributes were unperceivable.

The exclusivist argument is not without objection, in conclusion we shall now briefly address two common critiques.

One.  Is it not unjust for God to condemn people merely because they have never heard the gospel of Christ?  Does this not impinge on His mercy?[2]  The answer to the first questions is as follows;  people are not condemned because they have not heard the gospel, rather people are condemned because they are guilty.  This may appear to represent circular reasoning but scripture clearly states that our guilt lies not in what we have done but in who we are as sinner.  All of us have fallen short of God’s glorious standard (Rom 3:23) and each and every one of us is guilty in need of forgiveness from the outset.  Even those who hear the gospel and reject it do so because the natural mind is limited by its sinful condition and does not comprehend spiritual things. (I Cor. 2:14)  That one receives salvation at all is a less a testimony of having heard the word and responded, and more to being a recipient of God’s grace. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Two.  Are there not examples in scripture of those who received salvation apart from the specific revelation of Christ, and so by extension is that same generic faith, held by some in the world today sufficient to provide salvation?[3]  This argument addresses the idea of “holy pagans” individuals who appear in the Bible as believers but do so without any evidence, within the text,  that they were ever exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These include: Abel, Noah, Melchizedek, Job, Jethro, Balaam, Naaman the Ninevites and Cornelius.[4]  Scripture provides the key to understanding this mystery.  Acts 4:12 states, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  This axiom was true for the time of Melchizedek, as it was for Paul, and as it is today.  Christ too stated that no one comes to the Father but by Him. (John 14:6)  That these men are listed in scripture as being believers, saved by God, is a testimony that at sometime and at some point, they experienced the special revelation of God unto Salvation.  The revelation may have been in the form of a promise ala Abram or Noah, nonetheless they were responding to a specific promise in faith to a special revelation from Yahweh.  What they displayed was more that a generic faith in an undefined creator God.[5]

That God provides access to Himself is by far the greatest measure of grace extended to His creation.  While His attributes are clearly displayed in the universe, its order and form, beauty and character, His greatest gift is the revelation of His Son.  Those whom he foreknew He predestined to receive this gift, and by it traverse the hurdle of sin and be justified into the transcendence of glory.   Such is the nature of the exclusive revelation of the Gospel.

[1] Luther, Martin. Lectures on Romans. ed. Wilhelm Pauck. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press. 1961.) 23.

[2] Peterson, 15.

[3] Ibid. 15.

[4] Kaiser, Walter. “Holy Pagans: Reality or Myth?” in Faith Comes by Hearing ed. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson (Downers Grove: IVP. 2008) 123.

[5] Ibid. 141.


The Unanswered Cry: Lord, Lord! But didn’t we…

August 3, 2012


21 “ Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many [n]miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

“To be active in religious affairs is no substitute for obeying God.”

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been reorienting His disciples to a new reality, that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, and that they were to seek it above all else. These truths stood in marked contrast to the attitudes of the world which sought to receive temporary solutions to permanent problems. The world still seeks the quick fix. A law to follow, a checklist to finish, magic words to say; would that they could only live the way the wish and cry out Lord Lord when it suits them. But Jesus is testifying to a greater truth, that beyond the broad road of conflict their lies the difficult path of compassion; above the low road of worldly satisfaction there is the higher rocky trail of salvation. Fundamentally this text testifies to the fact that one must do more that simply declare Jesus as Lord to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (“For even the demons believe and shutter” James 2:19) It is not enough to proclaim Him Lord if you are not willing to let your life reflect the reality of that proclamation.

The Blessed, Happy life that Jesus calls us to, in the Sermon, is one that is constricted compared to the loose ways of the world. We achieve blessing by being poor in spirit among those rich in arrogance; by mourning among the indifferent; by being meek amidst the mighty; by finding God more appetizing than the world; by being merciful to the undeserving; having a clean heart in a filthy world; by being a people of peace on a planet of warriors, and finally by being a people persecuted among the privileged. None of those things are easy, each confession of blessing is a testimony to a rough and difficult life amidst a world of ease. But Jesus looks out across the crowd of His disciples and “those simply seeking him for signs and wonders” and He declares that it is not enough that the recognize Him; they must follow Him.

During His ministry Jesus encountered people who were willing to do much to gain His blessing; they would testify to His greatness, they would call Him teacher, but when it came time for them to lay down what they had, they clinched their fists around their possessions instead of grasping His hand. (“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matt 16:25) They were willing to do anything except truly giving themselves over into the hands of One who made them.

Consider Judas, among the crowd that day, who went out with the disciples to perform miracles and proclaim the Kingdom come, and yet he soon displayed his true loyalties turning his eyes on perishing silver and betraying his savior. Consider the rich young ruler, who approached Jesus as a Rabbi, but upon hearing the cost of the cross fled in despair, unwilling to part with what he valued greater than Christ. It is not enough to approach Christ, it is not enough to simply confess, we must “believe in our heart that Jesus is Lord and we will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

What Jesus is saying here is that we are to live in the light of the future reality that there is a Day coming when all will be revealed; a Day when we will stand before our Lord and the book of our life will be opened, and the truth will come out. This fact should give us pause. Each and every one of us must work out our salvation with fear and trembling, awaiting the Day of God’s judgement. To prepare for that Day, we are to ask, seek and knock; we are to believe that Jesus’ words are true. We are to live our lives bearing witness to the reality of that the truth we have heard has not only impacted our minds but changed our hearts. We must rely on God, rely on God, rely on God; we cannot trust in our own confessions, we can not trust in our own works. For if our hearts are not right with God, even if we prophesy in His name, do wonders in his name, cast out evil in His name, it will not matter. So ask yourself, when that Day comes will I push aside my sin and try and win God over with all I have done “in His name?” Or, will I lay myself bare before Him, and come to Him empty handed, poor in spirit, meekly seeking entrance to the Kingdom having displayed a life lived on the narrow road declaring “All I have is Christ”?

So to sum up, what are some take aways from this passage and from what we’ve discussed above? God prizes obedience over sacrifice, He always has, and He always will. He calls us to live according to all He has taught, and He calls us to repent and live a new life according to His will. So if you are living within un-repentant sin in your life and you are justifying it by saying, ‘its ok, surely God will accept me, I mean I go to church every Sunday, I teach Sunday school, I go on mission trips, Ive even led people to the Lord, surely all that will out-weigh my sin.’ IF that is your inner monologue, then you should question your citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven; for that is the same works-righteousness that fails every time. That is the wide road taken by Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, some Catholics, some protestants, and the vast majority of Americans who believe that ‘if I live a good life, then I’ll get into heaven.’ The ONLY way to enter the kingdom is through the narrow gate of Christ. The only work that we can present before God in order to enter His kingdom is the work of His Son on the cross, and our unqualified obedience to all that God has called us to in light of that wondrous work.


Pearls before Swine: Using Discernment when Declaring the Word

July 22, 2012


One of the most enigmatic verses in the Sermon on the Mount has to be Matthew 7:6

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
(Matthew 7:6 ESV)

So what are we dealing with here? What does this verse mean?

Verses 1-5 are dealing with judgement and the extent to which followers of Christ should judge one another. These verses do no preclude all forms of judgement or discernment, rather they provide a timely and helpful admonition for those seeking to judge to deal and grapple with their own sin before they proceed to tackle the sin in other peoples lives. While Jesus is admonishing His disciples and by extension us to guard agains hasty and hypocritical judgments, He is by no means saying that we are not to exercise discernment in dealing with others. Verses 1-5 paint a picture of someone going to a brother and addressing sin in that brother’s life. There is some anticipation in these verses that the one confronted with his sin, if confronted in a un-hypocritical way, might have the speck in his eye removed. To put it another way, there is some anticipation that the brother confronted with his sin is agreeable to receiving correction. We learn from Jesus’ instruction from Matthew 18, that acknowledged sin in a brothers/sisters life is to be confronted openly and consistently with the aim of seeing the wayward brother turn and repent of sin and be restored to fellowship with his believing family. If that wayward “believer” refuses to repent, he is from then on to be treated as someone outside the family of God. But what of those around us who are not our brothers and sisters in Christ who are openly hostile to the gospel of God’s grace?

If the teaching in verses 1-5 serve as an example of how we are to avoid displaying hypocrisy in judgment. The parable in Matthew 7:6 serves as a example of how and to what extent Jesus’ disciples, and by extension us, are to avoid displaying futility in proclamation. “This passage gives us a balance for the teaching against judging. Discrimination is to be applied according to the attitude and receptivity of our hearers.”[1] In the Sermon, Jesus is equipping His disciples with the wisdom necessary to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven. He lays out the method by which one becomes blessed in the Kingdom 5:1-11; He describes how one lives and interprets the law in the Kingdom 5:12-6:34; And now He lays out the consequences of Kingdom living, the personal consequences and the eternal consequences 7:1-27. Here He tells his disciples that the precious truth of God’s word (what is Holy and the pearls) will not be received by all, and therefore should be proclaimed with discretion. This attitude is confirmed throughout this gospel (Matthew 10 for instance) and throughout the Bible. Proverbially it is consistent with proverbs like Prov. 9:8 and 29:1, and this attitude is exemplified by Paul’s reaction to the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews of Corinth… (Acts 18:1-6, see also Acts 13:44-51, 28:17-28; Ro 16:17-18). And also (Titus 3:10-11).

Jesus is clear, those who despise the word of God will perish and are not worthy to receive it, but to any who ask “it will be given to you; seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives and the one who seeks finds…” (Matt 7:7-8) In this Kingdom we are to live as salt and light, to live in such a way that others are prompted to question the hope we have displayed, and we must be prepared to give an answer. (1 Peter 3:15) God will always answer one who asks, seeks and knocks. However, concerning those who lack spiritual understanding (1Cor 2:14) the Word is but folly to be trampled; and we are encouraged to withhold, with discernment, the glory of God’s truth from those who would treat it with disdain.

So based on this verse can we simply write some people off and abandon them in their sin?


Well yes and no. “Jesus’ teaching demonstrated that the disciples were not to presume that any person would reject the gospel. They were to offer it to anyone. However, when the gospel was rejected, the disciples were to refocus their evangelistic efforts on others.”[1] Jesus displays this throughout the gospels. When individuals like the rich young ruler come to Him and ask Him about the gospel, He answers. When the young man rejects the gospel and leaves, Jesus does not chase him down and continue to offer the gospel, he lets him go. Likewise when Jesus is before Herod, He does not answer him when questioned about His ministry. Jesus spoke in parables so that those with ears would hear and those without hearing would remain in darkness. We must never “write people off” if writing people off means that we cease to love and pray for them. We are to continually love others and to pray with persistence that it be God’s will that the unrepentant repent and that the hard hearts be softened. For we all at some point stood against our king in hostility to His message, but His grace overcame our sinful will and changed our heart.

We constantly pray that His will be done in the lives of all we come across. But when we encounter those who refuse to listen to the gospel, and repudiate it and profane it treating the Gospel of glory like dirt; we must not continue on at that moment offering them what they do not want. We withhold what is holy and wait for a time when their hearts are softer and their ears are more open. John Hannah, a Scholar from DTS once said that we live out the great commission by loving our neighbor and waiting for the hand of God to strike their life; we love, we wait, and when God sees fit to soften their heart we are their with the message of His glorious Hope.




[1] Quarles, 295.

[1] Dockery and Garland, Seeking the Kingdom. 106.


Judging Others: Hey You’ve Got Something in Your Eye…

July 21, 2012

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
(Matthew 7:3-5 ESV)


Fundamentally the log in our own eye should be replaced with the cross. We take that beam of sin, and relate it to the beams of the cross. When the cross is before us, and in our eyes all sin is given its proper perspective. When I say see the cross I mean come to Jesus, for the only way the plank is removed is if He removes it because of His great mercy and through His grace. At the foot of the cross of Christ, the single beam in our eye is replaced by two intersecting at God’s judgment and forgiveness.


John MacArthur has a helpful word on how we experience this forgiveness and mercy, and how the beam is removed:


“How do you remove the plank? How do you do that? I believe it’s a matter of confession of sin. Don’t you? I think first you have to look and see that it’s there. Verse 3, “consider not the plank in your own eye?” And the word “consider” there means to perceive in a meditative, prolonged way. It is used, for example, in Luke 12:27. “Consider the lilies.” In James 1:23, “as we behold our face in a glass.” It is a constant look, a look of understanding, a look of comprehension. And so he’s saying, “Take a good look. Don’t you see you’ve got a spiritual problem yourself? Don’t you see you’ve got an ungodly self-righteousness that makes you judgmental and critical of other people? Consider that.” Having considered it, you go to verse 5. “Cast it out.” And how do you do that? By confessing it to the Lord. I Corinthians 11:21, “If we judge ourselves, we won’t be judged.” Right? God’s not going to have to chasten the sin of self-righteousness if we deal with it. And so I bring my life fully to the judgment of God, and I ask Him to cleanse, to purify, to remove it.”


“And once I’ve done that, I can move on to verse 5, and “then shalt thou see clearly to cast the moat out of thy brother’s eye.” Listen, we’ve got to get the thing out of our brother’s eye, don’t we? We can’t let him go on in sin. That’s to hate him, Leviticus 19:17 says. We’ve got to get it out. But we’ve got to deal with, first, ourselves. Listen to how David put it. Psalm 51. “Create in me, oh, Lord, a,” what? “Clean heart.” Did you hear that? “Create in me, oh, Lord, a clean heart.” Now listen. “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways and sinners shall be converted to thee.” But there’s no way to teach a transgressor the right way, and there’s no way to convert a sinner to God, until I have in my own life a clean heart.”[1]


So confession removes the plank, and compassion is the result once the plank is removed. We confess our sins at the cross of Christ, His compassion overwhelms our sin, heals our sight, and we in-turn act in compassion towards others; sparing judgement and proclaiming grace.


The People’s Court: Judging Others vs. Matthew 7…

July 20, 2012

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
(Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)

No one can read the Sermon on the Mount without being prompted to question.  When we come to Matthew chapter 7, the questions inevitably abound; is Jesus saying we can never judge?  Can we ever judge others?

Yes, there are times in which it is permissible, even mandated that we judge or pass judgment on others. One can think of the process of Church discipline in Matthew 18, or the commendation that if a brother sins we are to rebuke him, and if he then repents we are to forgive. (Luke 17:3)  Also later in this chapter, Jesus’ clearly instructs the listener to discern (judge) false prophets and false disciples by their behavior. (7:15-23)   But this passage is not talking about mere judging righteously (Proverbs 31:9); this passage is dealing with hypocrisy and hypocritical judgment.  Jesus first addressed this theme earlier in the sermon, in Matthew 6:2, 5 and 16.  The grammatical construction of the negation “do not Judge” uses the negative “me” which “calls the hearers to cease an action already in progress.”[1]  This allows us to assume that Jesus was addressing a behavior already present within His disciples, “Jesus had observed a judgmental attitude among His disciples and He now urged [them] to abandon that outlook.”[2]

The notion here in this passage is to admonish against the judgmental self-righteousness that fails to reflect the experienced mercy of God.  We judge not, lest we be judged much like we show mercy, so that mercy will be shown to us.(Matthew 5:7)  Jesus is addressing the prevalent mindset of one who would pass judgement on others all the while oblivious to his own sin, perhaps the same sin he is condemning.  There is a consistent scriptural teaching regarding this tragic abuse and denial of mercy: i.e. Romans 2:3 “do you suppose, O man- you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself- that you will escape the judgement of God?”  Christians who have truly experienced God’s forgiveness and mercy are loath to focus on the transgressions of others, as they are rightly so overwhelmed by the weight of their own sin overcome at the cross.  “The story is intended to restrict hypocritical correction of others rather than to restrict all helpful correction.  Jesus calls for His followers to avoid prejudice, prejudgement, and stereotyping.”[3]

Another major question that arises out of this passage is what is the difference between confronting a brother in sin and wrongly judging others?

There are two important aspects of this teaching that we must emphasize:

First. It is important to remember, that in order to observe we need to be able to see in the first place.  This is integral to Jesus’ teaching in this passage, that we deal with our own spiritual blindness before we move on to addressing the need of others.  If you have a log or beam in your own eye you are blind, you can not see your own troubles let alone address the needs of others.  You would not want a blind optometrist performing eye surgery on you; likewise one blinded by their own sin is incapable and ill-suited to address sin in the life of others.  But praise be to God that we serve a Lord who gives sight to the blind and removes our afflictions.  Wh must first address our own sin with God before we move on to others.

Second.  In this passage, Jesus is addressing the hypocritical practice of judging others out of turn.  The observation in view in regards to observing a brother’s sin is completely different.  In this case, one who is well and sighted (having dealt with their own sin first) is tasked with shepherding the flock of God, or keeping another accountable.  When one claims to know Christ, but acts wholly inconsistent with that knowledge those with in the body are tasked with the responsibility of addressing that sin.  They observe and address the sin both for the brother’s soul and for the reputation of the body of believers as a whole.  The intent is not merely to point out flaws or to call someone out, judging them irrationally; the purpose of this observation and confrontation is to lead the brother to repentance and restoration.  If the brother repents, then he/she is to be forgiven and accepted with no malice back into the fold. (Mt 18, Gal 6:1, Col 3:12-15)



[1] Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the basics, 724.

[2] Quarles, Charles. Sermon on the Mount, 284.

[3] Dockery and Garland, Seeking the Kingdom, 104.


Catholic Authority: The Word on Tradition…

July 7, 2012

Below is a brief overview of the sources, transmission, and interpretation of divine revelation within the Roman Catholic Church with particular attention to the functions of: Scripture,  Apostolic Tradition, and the Magisterium.

For the Church authority matters.  By what authority a church or religious institution claims to exist and speak into the lives of its adherents is of primary importance.  Within the Catholic Church authority is primarily derived from one source;  the revelation of God.  Understanding how that revelation was manifested and received is key to understanding the authority of the Catholic church and its mission.  God in his wisdom chose to reveal Himself and to make known to mankind the “hidden purpose of His will.”[1]  The majesty and impact of this act has not been lost on the church, and in fact, has served to animate the activities and construction within the church, of the apparatus necessary to share this glorious revelation with the world.  Our task here will be to examine the elements, sources and impact of the church’s use of this revelation; and how this differs from and/or fascinates protestant evangelicalism.

That God chose to reveal himself to the world is not in dispute within the church.  How God accomplished this revelation and how the church responded has often been a point of division throughout the history of Christianity.  For the Catholic Church,  there are three primary sources of God’s revelation to man.  This trinity of divine revelation takes the form of two modes of transmission and mode of interpretation.  God.  God transmitted His word through two sources; sacred scripture and tradition.[2]  These two occupy the same space and serve to work together and form a unified front of the truth of Christ.  They “are bound closely together and communicate one with the other.”[3]

Sacred Scripture is the actual written word of God, recorded through the work and breath of the Holy Spirit.[4]  This Scripture is the record of God’s deeds made manifest in the history of salvation. The word both confirms and is confirmed by the works of God in history.[5]  Chief among God works recorded in the Scriptures is the incarnation of the mystery of His Son.  Christ serves to make the revelation of God to man complete.  This leads us to the second mode of God’s revealing transmission, tradition.

Holy tradition is the entirety of God’s word communicated from God to the apostles by Christ and by the Holy Spirit.[6]  These are the oral teachings of Christ, recorded in the gospels, which informed the first church fathers, the apostles, as to the construction and actions of the Church.  The church is the product of Christ’s incarnation and work here on earth; indeed it is the focus of God’s revelation through His son and the Holy Spirit.  As such, the church “does not derive certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone.”[7]  But rather it must derive its certainty about truth from the work of scripture and tradition together.  And each must be accorded “equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”[8]  These are the two modes of the transmission divine revelation.  And both for “one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.”[9]  Of chief importance to the church is its mode of interpreting this sacred deposit and communicating this truth to its believers.  This task falls under the work of the Magisterium.

The Magisterium serves to, “give authentic interpretation of the word of God,” to the people of God within the church.[10]  It is not superior to God’s word, but is indispensable to the work of God, acting as the servant of the word; “teaching what has been handed on to it.”[11]  While not equal to God’s word, it exercises its authority from Christ to the “fullest extent” when it serves to defines dogma from God’s revelation.[12]  This si the work of define truths from Scripture and tradition to inform the life of the believer and conform the behaviors of the faithful to the image of Christ.  This work is necessary to the effectiveness of the Scriptures.[13]

These three elements of divine revelation weave together the tapestry of divine authority as exercised by the church.  Each mode serves to inform the other and bring definition to the will of God for the believer.  And each is of indispensable importance to the authority of the church on earth.  We shall now examine the sources the church uses to proclaim this authority.

As was evidenced in the discussion above, there are three sources and methods by which the church has developed the doctrine of divine revelation.  More than any other doctrine, this one has woven together its substance and its subject.  How do we know what to believe about the Scriptures? We know from the Scriptures.  What informs our thoughts on tradition?  Of course, the history of tradition within the church.  Each of these doctrines is joined together by the work of the Magisterium.  The Catechism speaks to revelation in a section entitled “God comes to meet Man.”  Within that section on divine revelation, the chief source of catechetical instruction comes from Vatican II and the document Dei Verbum.  Dei Verbum was solemnly promulgated by Pope Paul VI, to follow in the foot steps of “the council of Trent and the First Vatican Council.  The presentation of this doctrine within the teaching of the church reflects very much the substance of this doctrine in practice.  It is often difficult to tell where Scripture begins and where tradition ends, or visa versa.  This is a key point of Criticism among evangelical and has been since the Council of Trent.

While the elevation of the entirety of Scripture as the infallible word of God is commendable, the chief complaint among protestant evangelicals is the equal elevation of tradition.  Placing anything on par with the word of God as proclaimed by the Holy Spirit, recorded in writing by the priests, prophets an apostles; is viewed as unacceptable.  Whether catholic or protestant, one can not deny the importance or the role of Christ’s church on earth.  Jesus gave his life for His church, His bride.  But the protestant desire for sola scriptura (scripture alone) is based on the belief that Scripture alone is “God breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness.”[14]  Also there is an appeal on behalf of evangelicals to examine the fruit of the church’s history concerning the practice of its tradition and Magisterium.  By misinterpreting the  perceived oral teachings of Christ, the habits of the early church fathers and even the composition of the canon to include apocryphal books and treating them as authoritative on par with the explicit recorded word of God, much damage has been done to the witness of Christ on earth.  The word has been given, and the mission is clear to Go into all the word, teaching what Christ taught, making disciples and baptizing in the name of the Father son and the Holy Spirit.  Elevating any human teaching or tradition to the level of this truth is bound to compete with the spirit of that mission.

In concluding it is worth examining this doctrine in terms of mystery and fascination.  As an evangelical protestant, I must admit to finding some attraction to the permanence and authority with which the Catholic church operates.  There is perceived, unquestioning adherence to what the church teaches and often times a confidence which grows from those convictions.  I think the evangelical world is beset by variation and independence of conscious to the point that it can be very difficult to discern what is true and authoritative; what truly should inform our lives?  The Catholic Church would appear to have answers to these questions.  And that perception is alluring and enticing, and its authority is attractive in this post-modern world.  The reality of course is that perception is often greater that reality.  The Catholic Church is not a monolithic body of mindless automatons.  But rather it is a vibrantly diverse group of over a billion people, some following the letter of the tradition, others not.  Ultimately evangelicals, myself included, must root our confidence in the word of God, for it alone possesses the power to save the souls of men.[15]  Our tradition must be that sole adherence to the word, which was made manifest in the Son.  The Word full of Glory, glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of Grace and Truth.  Lacking in nothing.



The Holy Scriptures: The speech of God as put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit, organized in the Canon, called the Holy Bible.


Tradition: The entirety of the Word of God entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit.


Magisterium: the servant of the Word of God, it is the teaching office of the church, giving authentic interpretation to the Word of God, whether in written form or in tradition.


Dei Verbum:  (The words of God) the Chief document of Vatican II discussing the revelation of God to the Church through the Scriptures, Holy Tradition and the role of the Magisterium.


Sola Scriptura:  One of the five Solas of the reformation.  Testifying to the belief of the reformers that scripture alone should instruct and inform the life of the believer and that tradition and the Magisterium were in no way equal in substance, importance, or function to the Word of God.


Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ligouri: Liguori

Publications. 1994. Sections 50-141 the Revelation of God and Sacred Scripture.


Dei Verbum. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. Promulgated by His

Holiness Pope Pail VI, November 18, 1965

[1] Dei Verbum (DV) Ch1:2

[2]Catechism Sec. 81.

[3] Catechism Sec. 80

[4] Ibid Sec. 81

[5] DV Ch.1:2

[6] Catechism Sec. 81

[7] Catechism Sec. 82


[9]DV Ch. 2:10

[10] Catechism Sec. 85

[11] Catechism Sec. 86

 [12] Catechism Sec. 88

[13] Ibid.

[14] 2 Timothy 3:16

[15] James 1:21