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Only-Begotten, Mother-of-God, On-this-Rock:

Why English-only Approaches to Bible Interpretation are Dangerous.

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Question #1:  Hi Doc!  Most in protestant Christianity will undoubtedly hold firm to the belief that Jesus is the only "begotten" Son of God, and that He is "eternally" begotten. My question is...where in the bible does it state that the Son is "eternally" begotten? I understand that Jesus was begotten at His incarnation (Jn. 3:16) and in the Psalms 2:7, which I believe is a prophecy of the Jesus' incarnation. But I find no concept of the Son being eternally begotten in the scriptures, and the concept of Jesus being "eternally" begotten almost implies as if He is lesser than His Father. Greek scholar A.T. Robertson comments:

"But the best old Greek manuscripts (Aleph B C L) read monogenees theos (God only begotten) which is undoubtedly the true text. Probably some scribe changed it to ho monogenes huios to obviate the blunt statement of the deity of Christ and to make it like John 3:16."

Even in A.T. Robertson's commentary he states that Jesus is God the only begotten, and most, if not all commentaries, would interpret Jesus being begotten at His incarnation. So where do bible teachers and commentators get the doctrine of Jesus being "eternally" begotten?

Response #1:   

Your spiritual instincts are excellent. The phrase "eternally begotten" does not occur in scripture. Its origin is the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.). Here is the operative part in the ecumenical version (which I chose for its contemporary English):

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

The origin of the phrase in the creed, "eternally begotten", more than likely comes from an (incorrect) expansion on what we find in John 1:18:

No one has ever seen God. God the one and only (monogenes) [Son] – the One who has always been at the Father's side – He has made Him known.
John 1:18

The word I translate here "the one and only" is the Greek monogenes which is the word Robertson (and many versions) translate as "only begotten". No doubt the creed wished to "strengthen" this by replacing the "only" part (which calls attention to Jesus' uniqueness and to His status as the Father's only Son) to "eternally" in order to affirm His deity. Now Jesus is most certainly divine, and He is most certainly also a genuine human being ever since the incarnation. To improperly combine the two as the creed does is advance a warped and confusing picture of the essence and nature of our Savior. The "begotten" part is also very confusing because it places a misguided emphasis on the conception and birth of our Lord, whereas the actual usage of the Greek word monogenes in scripture is meant to call attention to the unique status of Jesus as the Father's one and only dearly loved Son; as such it is a direct and deliberate translation of the Hebrew word yachidh, purposely hearkening back to the unique birth and status of Isaac, Abraham's son of promise (and a type of Christ as his symbolic near-sacrifice on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22 shows very clearly). For more on all this, please see the link: "What does monogenes mean?"

Returning to the probable origin of the Nicene Creed's unfortunate phasing, namely, John 1:18, since Jesus is described there as being present with the Father from before time began (and also earlier of course as the Logos in the beginning of the chapter), the creed seems to have used the word "eternally" to link up these two ideas (i.e., "only begotten" or, better, Jesus' uniqueness, and His eternal divinity.

In the Greek version of the creed this phrase (γεννηθέντα πρό πάντων τών αιώνων) is more literally "born before all the ages", or as I would say "born in eternity past [before the creation of the world]"). The reason for the "begotten" part in the formula in the English version, which is a big part of the problem and of the confusion here, has to do with a desire to assimilate the phrase in the creed to the Greek adjective in John 1:18 monogenes: "only begotten" which I translate as "one and only" ("uniquely born" is also good).

The Greek word mono-genes has two morphemes: "only" / mono, and "born/begotten / genes. However, the meaning of any word in any language is determined not only (nor even decisively) by its etymology but by its actual use in that language. Etymology can give some very good clues as to meaning, but to really get on the wave-length of the true meaning, checking the word's use in various contexts is required. That turns out to be key here, because as mentioned above in the Bible the word monogenes is the New Testament's translation for the Hebrew word yachidh. The word yachidh very clearly means "one and only". Nota bene: there is no hint whatsoever in the Hebrew word of any sort of "begetting"; it is derived entirely from the numeral "one" (i.e., in the Hebrew word, there is only one morpheme, not two as in the Greek, and the one not present in the original which the Greek translates is the one which has to do with birth/begetting).

The word yachidh as discussed above is used of Isaac, who was Abraham's "one and only son" in the sense of his uniqueness and exclusivity as the son of promise and a type of Christ. The New Testament writers always have this Hebrew adjective – its context of usage and true meaning – in mind when they use mongenes. Simply put, in the Bible, monogenes is a translation of yachidh, so that it is incorrect to load on the idea of "begetting": the New Testament writers used the closest Greek word they could find, the word used to translate yachidh in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament). Failure to understand this has led to doctrinal error in the past, but there is no excuse for English versions of the Bible perpetuating the error. Doing so only gives rise to the type of problem you report, namely, revisiting doctrinal misunderstandings and mistakes from many centuries ago – as if there were not enough to deal with in our own day!

So in terms of the actual usage of the word monogenes in the Greek New Testament the "born/begotten" part is not the important part (and can be misleading if the above discussion is not understood); the reason the word is used at all is to communicate the "unique" part, that is, to call attention to Jesus' uniqueness as the Son of God and to His unique status as such.

Moreover, the word monogenes certainly cannot be taken to mean that Jesus was "eternally begotten", whatever the people who wrote the (non-inspired) creed three hundred years after the Bible may have thought they meant by the phrase "born before all the ages" (γεννηθέντα πρό πάντων τών αιώνων). Their precise thinking is unclear to me in any case, for immediately after saying He was "begotten not created" they say He is "of the same essence as the Father"; the only way this last statement can be true, and it is, is if Jesus is God in essence and was from eternity past just like the Father (which He certainly was), and of course there was no "begetting" in eternity before the creation of the world. So the creed is very confused, theologically speaking, and shows very clearly that theology by committee designed for political reasons is never going to be helpful.

You are absolutely correct that only since the incarnation is Jesus "begotten" in any sense; He was the unique Son of God in eternity before creation, but there was no "begetting" before the first advent. The Nicene Creed, by projecting back half of an adjective in a linguistically inappropriate way has thrown unnecessary confusion into many people's understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ. English versions which honor it with flawed translations of monogenes merely make things worse. Yet another reason why we go to and with scripture and not the tradition that follows it.

In our unique and blessed Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Hi again, Doc!

I forwarded your response to a friend of mine and he wrote a different take on it. He wrote:

"Eternally begotten" refers to the fact that the life of Christ was and is from the life of the Father. That has always been true.

John 6:57 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.

Now you may bring up this verse:

Psalm 2:7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee..

That is referring to Christ's resurrection from the dead, not his incarnation, and it does not mean he was not the only begotten son before that point. Jesus had from eternity past been the living only begotten Son of God but he did die. When he was raised up by the Father he was at that point begotten of the Father and restored to the life he had always had in the Father in addition to becoming our high priest.

Acts 13:33-34 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.

Notice Paul directly quotes Psalm 2:7 in reference to the resurrection.

Hebrews 5:5 So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.

Christ did not become our high priest till after he rose from the dead, so again Psalm 2:7 is quoted in reference to the resurrection.

He was already the only begotten son prior to his resurrection though as is attested to by the words of Christ himself and multiple other scripture passages."

What do you think about his view?

Response #2: 

I am very puzzled by this quote: "He was already the only begotten son prior to his resurrection though as is attested to by the words of Christ himself and multiple other scripture passages".

What passages would these be? There is no answer to my question because as I pointed out in the prior e-mail the phrase "eternally begotten" is not biblical; it does not occur in the Bible. The only "begetting" of Christ in scripture is always of His humanity, and that happened a little over two thousand years ago.

Therefore when your friend sets out to explain what "eternally begotten" means and says "it refers to the fact . . .", he/she has gotten caught in a logical fallacy. Since the phrase only occurs in the Nicene Creed, attempting to explain "what it means" begs the question, "what it means to whom?" For it means nothing in the Bible or to the Bible since it does not occur in the Bible. Attempting to "exegete" extra-biblical material as if it had some authority is always very dangerous as this e-mail shows (this is akin to people trying to "explain" doctrinal inconsistencies in popular hymns rather than accepting ahead of time that they are not inspired). The effect of such behavior it that it forces a person to try unnecessarily to "wedge in" some non-biblical concept into scripture where it does not belong, and this always results in any manner of doctrinal errors.

What does the phrase mean? This (i.e., the content of your forwarded e-mail) may well be what "it means" to your friend. But no writer of scripture would accept the phrase in the first place. And I seriously doubt if the explanation of the phrase given here even explains what the non-inspired writers of the creed had in mind, having examined the Greek text (explained in the prior e-mail).

Bottom line: neither the phrase "eternally begotten" nor the concept occurs in scripture. The phrase is a late, extra-biblical development, and is to be explained by a (failed) attempt to analyze the adjective monogenes etymologically instead of semantically and theologically. The fact that this is a mistake and was suspected as such even by the men who wrote the creed is evident from their extensive and confused explanation within the creed itself – an explanation as convoluted in its own right as the one given by your friend. For immediately after inserting the phrase itself, they say "begotten not created", and then "of the same essence as the Father" (whatever all that means). There is a reason why scripture tells us never to "go beyond what is written" (1Cor.4:6).

We would all be better off expunging "eternally begotten" from our theological lexica as it explains nothing and only invites incorrect assumptions about the Person of Christ, and completely unnecessarily so.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Hi Doc!

This person is giving me trouble and is making me sound like I'm someone who holds to false teachings. He wrote back:

****You wrote "What passages would these be?" John 1:18, John 3:16, John 3:18, and 1 John 4:9.

You wrote "There is no answer to my question because as I pointed out in the prior post the phrase "eternally begotten" is not biblical; it does not occur in the Bible."

No, it isn't a phrase found in the bible, but it is a concept found in the bible. The term "trinity" isn't found in the bible either, but the concept is there.

You wrote "The only "begetting" of Christ is of His humanity and that happened a little over two thousand years ago. "

I already showed you that wasn't the case. Please look at Acts 13:33 again, what Paul said couldn't be any clearer. He directly said the resurrection was the fulfillment of Psalm 2:7. Surely given that you can't in good conscience say that Psalm 2:7 is speaking of anything but the resurrection.

You wrote "Therefore when your friend sets out to explain what "eternally begotten" means and says "it refers to the fact . . .", he/she has gotten caught in a logical fallacy.

Since the phrase only occurs in the Nicene Creed, attempting to explain "what it means" begs the question, "what it means */to whom?/*". For it means nothing in the Bible or to the Bible since it does not occur in the Bible. Attempting to "exegete" extra-biblical material as if it had some authority is always very dangerous as this e-mail shows. It forces a person unnecessarily to try and "wedge in" some non-biblical concept into scripture where it does not belong and results in any manner of doctrinal errors as a result."

I don't care what the nicene creed says, and I don't give it any authority. You assume to much. The statement that Christ was eternally Gods only begotten son is a sound one though.

You wrote "Bottom line: neither the phrase "eternally begotten" nor the concept occurs in scripture. The phrase is a late development and is to be explained by an attempt to analyze the adjective /monogenes/ etymologically instead of semantically and theologically. The fact that this is a mistake and was suspected as such even by the men who wrote the creed is evident from their extensive rebuttal of the sort of explanation given by your friend right after inserting the phrase itself ("begotten */not/* created" they say, and "of the same essence as the Father"). We would all be better off expunging "eternally begotten" from our theological lexica as it explains nothing and only invites incorrect assumptions about the Person of Christ, and completely unnecessarily so."

If it makes you happy, fine, "expunge" the phrase from your "theological lexica". *Yawn* I don't find it confusing and it isn't exactly a term I use every day so I don't think I need to bother personally. Lol! I will not "expunge" the doctrine behind the term because the eternal sonship of Christ is a bible doctrine and I don't care to let it slip.

There was never a time when God the father was not the father, and there was never a time when Jesus Christ was not the son. In order to be a father you must begat in some form or another. It can be physical, or it can be spiritual as it was with Paul and Onesimus, but in order for the father to be the father he must begat a child in some manner. Likewise in order to be a son you must have been begotten or have had a father. God the father is the father for a reason. We may not fully understand the relationship of God the father and God the son since they are both eternal, but that doesn't mean it isn't real. If you are denying Christ was eternally begotten of the father you are denying that Christ was always the Son of God and are thus denying the very essence of the trinity. That is a sad thing to see, no matter if intentional or accidental.

Paslm 40:7-8 Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.

Christ was obedient to the father even before he came, that relationship was already there.****

He's making me sound like I'm a heretic because I'm denying that Christ is eternally begotten. Why would God who is uncreated need to "beget" Christ in order for Christ to be called a Son? Please help and thanks in advance!

Response #3:   

You are entirely correct. Your question, "Why would God who is uncreated need to "beget" Christ in order for Christ to be called a Son?" hits the nail right on the head. No one is denying the eternity of Christ nor the nature of His eternal relationship to the Father nor that of the Father to the Son. The issue here is entirely about the concept of "begetting". Begetting means "giving physical birth to", and there was nothing in existence which was physical at all before Jesus created the universe at the Father's behest. Besides that, if something or someone is "begotten" that something or someone must have had a beginning as well as a sire/creator. Jesus has no beginning: He always existed as God. Jesus has no sire/creator; His relationship as Son is one of chosen obedience but it does not flow from having been created or sired or begotten. As I have explained twice now, no one ever used this term before the Nicene Creed. If your friend is defending tradition, he/she is defending the Creed, because that is where this erroneous false doctrine originates. Of course the KJV contributed to the problem with its misleading rendering of monogenes as well, "only begotten"; that is a mistranslation and you will not find it in most of the other versions (see below). No one would read the passages this person has provided in any other version and come up with the word or concept "begotten" (let alone "eternally begotten").

All of these passages your friend lists (John 1:18, John 3:16, John 3:18, and 1 John 4:9) use the word monogenes whose meaning and usage I have explained twice already, but will have one last go here. This adjective and the failure to understand it properly are indeed at the root of the misunderstanding. The Greek adjective is the New Testament translation for the Hebrew adjective yachiyd which means "one and only" and has nothing to do with "begotten" or "begetting" (it is derived solely and entirely from the Hebrew numeral "one"). In the book of Hebrews (Heb.11:17) in the context of Abraham's intended sacrifice of Isaac, Isaac is described as monogenes, whereas in Genesis the word used is yachiyd. Without any question, therefore, monogenes is the Greek translation of yachiyd, so that whatever yachiyd means ("one and only") is precisely what monogenes is meant to mean, namely, "one and only" or "precious and unique", but not anything to do with "begotten": despite the etymology of the Greek adjective, usage determines meaning, not etymology. As I say, it would all be much ado about nothing except for the fact that improper translation has led some to misunderstand the divinity of Jesus Christ, since anyone "begotten" has both a beginning and a superior creator, neither of which things is true of our Lord Jesus. If your friend agrees/concurs with this last statement, then he/she is merely arguing about words, not doctrines (and mistranslated words at that).

In our dear Lord Jesus, the one and only Son of God.

Bob L.

Question #4: 

Hi again, Doc!

He seems to agree with some points but has difficulty still because he wrote back:

"First let me post the English definition of "begotten". Hopefully that will put us on the same page there.


1 : to procreate as the father : sire

2 : to produce especially as an effect or outgrowth

So we see in English it can have two different meanings. I agree that the term "only begotten" does not mean a only born son, because we as believers are born again at the new birth as sons of God and as you mentioned angels are also spoken of as the "sons of God" as well. Therefore "only begotten" must have an additional meaning. I think definition two is an appropriate description. It is perfectly accurate to say that Jesus was eternally the only "outgrowth" of the father, nor does it deny or lessen his deity. Christ said he only spoke only the things of the father while he was here on earth, and now that he is at the fathers right hand the Spirit speaks the things of Christ which are the things of the father ect.

Now with that said "begotten" in Psalm 2:7 and in Acts 13:33 does mean born in a more literal sense and is speaking of the resurrection of Christ by the father.

I don't see why you can accept the eternal Sonship of Christ while being bothered by the phrase "eternally begotten" since the two statements are synonyms. Obviously Christ was not "born" in a physical sense since he is eternal."

Is his view closer yet, or still unbiblical? Thanks in advance!

Response #4:   

First of all, they are the same thing because Acts 13:33 is quoting Psalm 2:7. And Psalm 2:7 and Acts 13:33-34 clearly are not referring to the resurrection but to entrance of Jesus humanity into the world, and are universally understood in this way by interpreters of all persuasions: "You are my Son; today I have become your Father" (Ps.2:7). "Today I have become your Father" – is it actually being suggested that this does not apply to Jesus' physical birth? Jesus is only "begotten" in any sense when He comes into the world for the first time – becoming a genuine human being, that is (and this cannot refer to the resurrection in any case). Acts 13:34 clearly attributes the resurrection part of Paul's statement to Isaiah 55:3 and Psalm 16:10 which are quoted next, and not to Psalm 2:7: "The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.' So it is stated elsewhere: 'You will not let your Holy One see decay.'" (Acts 13:34-35 NIV). That Psalm 2:7 is made indisputably clear by the use to which it is put when quoted at Hebrews 5:5 (cf. Heb.1:5), for that passage is talking about His Priesthood, His ministry for us at the cross (cf. v.7: "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions").

Jesus is "begotten" in His humanity; Jesus is "eternal" in His deity. He is not "eternally begotten", nor is there anything in scripture which suggests this.

As to the two English definitions given for "begotten", the Bible is written in Hebrew and in Greek. The question is not what English means; that is another fallacy. The question is what the Bible means in its original Hebrew and Greek. But even if we wished to place any stock in these English definitions, the second definition your friend wants to slide to now still says "produce an 'outgrowth'". Jesus was not produced; production requires a beginning, and Jesus has no beginning. He existed eternally from eternity past; there was never a time when He did not exist. Therefore He is not any sort of "outgrowth". If your friend wants to say that Jesus is eternal in His deity and begotten uniquely in His humanity, that would be correct. If your friend wants to say that in eternity past the idea that Jesus would at some point in human history become a human being, that is, be "begotten" in His humanity, that is fine. My point is that there is no need and no justification to express these truths with the (at best confusing, at worst rabidly heretical) phrase "eternally begotten", and, in fact, that is not what the English phrase means!

What a convoluted situation we put ourselves in if in order to adopt a non-biblical phrase we are forced to interpret it to mean something it clearly does not mean in normal English, and are likewise forced to aver that it does not mean what it clearly does mean when considered from the standpoint of normal English! Not only is that sort of "arguing about words" completely unnecessary, but it is also very confusing and potentially spiritually dangerous, because there will be those who will take the phrase to mean what it says, despite our convoluted attempts to explain that it really means something entirely different. When you or I or any other native English speaker hears "eternally begotten" we think "born in eternity" or something of the sort. But Jesus was not "born in eternity"; He was born (in His humanity) in 1 B.C. In eternity, He was undiminished deity without a beginning, without an end; this He has always been; this He will always be. The human part of His nature is the new development, and that only occurred in time, not in eternity. The biggest problem with the phrase "eternally begotten" is that it suggests otherwise. My point is that it is unnecessary and unwise to introduce a potentially confusing and spiritually dangerous phrase like this into the conversation of Christian doctrine because it will inevitably trip some people up and because we don't need to use it since it does not occur in the Bible anywhere (i.e., even in the mistranslated KJV passages, there is a big difference between "only begotten" and "eternally begotten").

Hope this helps,

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #5:

I've been told that Mary is the mother of God. This person said that since Jesus is God and Mary was His mother, therefore Mary is the mother is God. Is this true? and is it proper to call Mary God's mother? I would disagree because Jesus had told the religious leaders that King David in spirit called Him Lord; how then could Jesus be His son?

Response #5: 

As Jesus said . . .

That which is born from the flesh is flesh, and that which is born from the Spirit is spirit.
John 3:6

Since God is Spirit (Jn.4:24), and since all human beings are flesh (including Mary), no human being could possibly give birth to God (or to any spirit, including the human spirit which comes to us at birth from God; see the link: "The Human Spirit").

Mary gave birth to the humanity of Christ. Christ is the unique Person of the universe, being God from all eternity, and being man from the point of His virgin birth. Therefore, Mary is the mother of His humanity, but she is most certainly not the mother of His divinity. Not only is that impossible, but of course Jesus was divine before He created the universe in accordance with the Father's plan (e.g., Col.1:16-17). Mary is not, therefore, the "mother of God" in any sense whatsoever. And, most importantly, please note that scripture never suggests this anywhere. This idea is a later ecclesiastical development that has nothing to do with the Bible or with orthodox theology. It has been popular with the established church in the east and the west since about the third or fourth century A.D. to describe her with the word theotokos, "God-bearer" (and this might be what your correspondent is referring to), but that is, in fact, a heretical notion for the reasons outlined above.

In Jesus our Lord and our God,

Bob L.

Question #6: 

I shared your response to others and got this reply that states what you had wrote is a heresy. He wrote:

"This is the Nestorian heresy all over again. These heresies keep coming round.

A woman carries a person in her womb, not just a human nature. Mary carried, and gave birth to, the person of Jesus Christ, and that person was God, the second person of the Trinity.

Nestorians claimed that Mary did not give birth to a unified person but tried to separate Jesus' human nature from his divine nature, creating two separate persons, one human and one divine in a loose affiliation.

Jesus is God and as Mary is the mother of Jesus, she is the Mother of God. This does not mean she is older than God, or that she is the source of her Son's divinity. She is the Mother of God in that she carried in her womb, and gave birth to, a divine person – Jesus Christ, God "in the flesh" (2 Jn 7 & Jn 1:14). This has been acknowledged by Christians since early times until very recently. Even Luther and Calvin both insisted on Mary's divine maternity.

The early Church Fathers recognised Mary as the Mother of God. Here are a few quotes from them:

"The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God" (Iranaeus - Against Heresies, 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]).

"[T]o all generations they [the prophets] have pictured forth the grandest subjects for contemplation and for action. Thus, too, they preached of the advent of God in the flesh to the world, his advent by the spotless and God-bearing (theotokos) Mary in the way of birth and growth, and the manner of his life and conversation with men, and his manifestation by baptism, and the new birth that was to be to all men, and the regeneration by the laver [of baptism]" (Hippolytus - Discourse on the End of the World 1 [A.D. 217]).

"While the old man [Simeon] was thus exultant, and rejoicing with exceeding great and holy joy, that which had before been spoken of in a figure by the prophet Isaiah, the holy Mother of God now manifestly fulfilled" (Methodius - Oration on Simeon and Anna 7 [A.D. 305]).

"We acknowledge the resurrection of the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the firstling; he bore a body not in appearance but in truth derived from Mary the Mother of God" (Peter of Jerusalem - Letter to All Non-Egyptian Bishops 12 [A.D. 324]). "

I know what he had wrote is obviously wrong and would like your input on this. Thanks!

Response #6:   

I'm happy to respond.

1) Nestorians: The Nestorians taught that Christ was two persons, one human and one divine. Now that is a heresy, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with this discussion – except that your correspondent is attempting to discredit the truth by name-calling from the start (this is the theological equivalent in politics of calling somebody you disagree with a "Nazi" or a "Communist", regardless of what their actual positions may be). All who are truly Christian understand that Jesus is the God-Man since the virgin birth, that is, one Person but now with two distinct natures, human and divine.

2) This person's opening statement contains a major theological error (albeit a very common one). God gives life immediately at birth through the divine creation of the human spirit; spiritual life does not come from human beings biologically through sexual intercourse. The biological/material part of man is indeed produced through procreation, but the human spirit is not material in any way. It is given at birth by God according to the same pattern wherein He quickened Adam's perfectly complete yet lifeless material body by infusing him with a human spirit:

And the Lord God formed the man (i.e., Adam's body) from the dust of the ground, then blew into his nostrils the life-giving breath (i.e., his spirit), and [thus] the man became a living person.
Genesis 2:7

I reiterate, thus man became "a living person", and the same is true for all of woman born. That is a biblical fact, even if not widely understood, and scripture is replete with this teaching (please see the link for details: in BB 3A, "the human spirit").

Now if the unifying of Christ's deity with His humanity had happened in the womb, this person and all those who claim that Mary "bore God" would have at least in their favor that the child who came out of her womb would then have been God as well as man while in her womb. Let me emphatically state again that this is not the case because in fact life begins only when the spirit is given and the spirit is given at birth. However, even in this hypothetical case of "life in the womb", calling Mary "mother of God" or any variation thereof would still be, theologically speaking, extremely misleading and dangerous, even if one wants to argue that it is not heretical. That is because God has no beginning, no birth. But upon hearing something like "mother of God", those who don't know any better are likely to think "Mary created God", and "God has a beginning, at least Jesus does". Both of these ideas are so blasphemously antithetical to the true Christian faith that I doubt a person can believe either one (let alone both) and still be a genuine Christian. No doubt it is for this very reason that, whatever else may have been said later in Church tradition on the subject whether false of misleading, the Bible itself never comes close to any such statement about Mary.

Doesn't it then seem just a bit odd that we are having this discussion at all? We build orthodox doctrine from what the scriptures say, but the scriptures would never lead us even to consider this question, especially if we have read and understood Genesis 2:7. But even if we are laboring under the false and later-invented notion of a biologically produced "soul"-spirit, nothing in the Bible invites us to consider this particular question of Mary; nothing in scripture would ever bring us to the point of calling or considering Mary the "mother of God" or anything of the like. In the Bible, she is "the mother of Jesus" (Matt.1:16; Acts 1:14). Regardless, then, of what one thinks about these theoretical arguments, using the Bible as our guide we should tread very softly when it comes to attributing things to people which the scriptures do not attribute to them (1Cor.4:6). As I say above, there are very good reasons why scripture should not say something as potentially confusing and apt to bring in a stumbling block to a person's faith as the phrase/idea "mother of God". The fact that the Bible does not do so at the very least indicates that this was not the way the apostles and the apostolic Church thought about the issue.

3) I know of no place where Luther and Calvin "insisted on Mary's divine maternity" (whatever that statement really means). Irenaeus' comments occur in the final book of his Contra Haereses which only exist now in a Latin translation, so that we honestly don't know precisely what he said in the original Greek (and as correspondent's own citations show, later translators would be apt to move his language in the direction of their own predilections, whether deliberately or unconsciously). Further, the context is a rhetorical comparison between Eve's disobedience and Mary's obedience, so that while this may look like a resounding endorsement of the false idea being trumpeted here, in truth in the context of his argument it is added only for parallelism (i.e., ut portaret Deum merely responds to ut fugeret Deum). One would want much more evidence than this before proclaiming that Irenaeus understood the issue precisely as your correspondent seems to.

4) As to these later church fathers, there is no question but that any Bible-believing Christian would find much to disagree with in their writings, and on every page at that. The fact that they have bought into a tradition with little thought to the problems it would create as the church at Rome came to dominate the entire church visible and then degenerated into a political organization devoid of any spirituality whatsoever, is no endorsement of their value. I would hope that if these three cited fathers had been able to see where Roman Catholicism is today, and recognize that many of its adherents are being denied and denying themselves salvation through their veneration of Mary as a demigod and their concomitant denigration of Jesus' divinity, that they would have been more careful with their words (and more closely attuned to scripture).

Simply put, the Bible does not call Mary "God's mother" or anything of the sort – anywhere. Since this phrase/idea (theotokos), while absent in scripture, is potentially devastating to faith, it is at the very least prudent to avoid it (how much less not to engage in its defense!). And since this is true, there can be only one reason to wish to engage in this controversy really, namely, a desire to embrace and support the "Mariolatry" of Roman Catholicism. That may be some people's cup of tea, but it is inconsistent with true Christianity, and potentially debilitating to a person's faith – to a terminal degree.

In the Lord Jesus Christ, God from all eternity,

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Wow, this person is giving me trouble by introducing a whole new spin on this issue. And thanks for taking the time to give me a detailed refutation of his false teachings by the way. I got his response in my email.

You make a statement about my "theological error" and then present your personal opinion about when God gives life with no evidence. You cannot project how God gave Adam his spirit to all mankind because no other human is created in the same way as Adam was (or Eve). Therefore it provides no model for how, or when, God gives his spirit to us. Your thesis is therefore your own personal opinion which I do not accept. It is not a "biblical fact".

When Elizabeth says "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" who does she mean my Lord if not God?

Mary is the mother of Jesus; Jesus is God - or are you denying that? Therefore Mary is rightly called the mother of God. It's very simple.

Martin Luther: "The 'great things' are no other than this: she became the Mother of God. In this reality so many gifts and such great goods are dispensed that no one can grasp them. So, with one word, by calling her "Mother of God," we understand all her honor; we cannot tell her or speak of her saying anything greater, even if we could speak as many languages as there are leaves and blades of grass, stars in the heavens and grains of sand in the sea. Therefore the heart must ponder on what signifies to be "Mother of God."

John Calvin: "Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary was at the same time the eternal God."

Ulrich Zwingli: "I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin. I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary."

Ah, yes, if the early writings show the falsity of your arguments then try and discredit them or minimise their relevance. That is a poor debating tactic. Modern protestants try to ignore history and the teaching of the early fathers who were the inheritors of the Apostolic Tradition. They try to re-invent Christianity from scratch using their own personal interpretation of scriptures. This is the reason there are over 30,000 different protestant denominations. Modern Protestants have privatised Christianity. It's egocentric not Christocentric They have reduced it to a "personal relationship with Christ". It's about my personal interpretation of scripture. There is no room for the Mother of God in their reduced Christology. They call themselves Bible based but have rejected those Christ left to give true interpretation and teaching, and followed a myriad of false teachers. Catholics and Orthodox are Bible-believing Christians thank you very much. What I think you are referring to are those who adhere to the unbiblical doctrine of sola scriptura. I don't think that Orthodox would accept your suggestion that the church at Rome came to dominate the entire church visible. Put simply the Bible does not use the word trinity or incarnation but we are capable of demonstrating the concept from Scripture and Tradition. Similarly with the Mary being the mother of God. Incidentally the correct term is Mariology, but I expect you used the word Mariolatry just to be insulting. 

Please expose the errors of his teaching. Thanks!

Response #7:   

I will respond to this email, but as we have now established, this person is has a definite agenda, and, judging from his/her allegiance to Mary as a sort of god, is probably not a believer. I don't know about this person's spiritual status for sure, of course, but the Roman Catholic religion is a religion of works and paganism for the most part. They have long since divorced themselves theologically from any vestige of the truth. Certainly, people have a right to embrace any religion they wish, but my job as a Christian teacher is to help genuine Christians advance in the faith. Once a Christian understands – as all true Christians naturally understand – that God is the only legitimate object of our worship, then any further discussion about Buddha or Zeus or angels or aeons or Allah or St. Ambrose or Peter or Paul or Mary as objects of worship is no longer necessary. And make no mistake, that is the subtext in the desire to call Mary "mother of God", namely, to promote her to a position she does not in fact occupy, great believer though she was. For no believer is on a par with God.

So I have think we have sufficiently smoked this person out not only as to his/her religion, but also as to the particular crusade he/she is on. Once we accept that Mary is the "mother of God", then clearly we will be within our rights to worship her and venerate her and pray to her – after all, she must even outrank God, since she is His mother (or at the very least has some special "in" with Him). This kind of thinking, however, not only confuses all the genuine truth of scripture a Christian may have learned and believed, but can also undermine and destroy their faith. For salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, His person and His work. Mariolatry (yes, this is the correct term, i.e., making an idol out of Mary; cf. idolatry), shifts the focus of faith away from Jesus and towards Mary, even as it confuses the issue of Jesus' primacy as the object of faith for all who would be saved, and even calls the facts of His Person and unique dual nature into question.

I have always been agnostic about the issue of whether or not Roman Catholics can be saved while members of that communion. I do understand that to the extent that they are relying upon what their religion teaches, salvation by works, a pantheon of demigods, a tiered Body of Christ (with priests et al. higher up than everybody else), a monopoly within the church in dispensing "grace", and all manner of other abominable heresies, that to that extent individual members may never have known the true issue in salvation: by God's grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Yet I have always been hopeful that any group where Jesus is acknowledged in any way might somehow contain some who genuinely believed, even if they were not prudent enough to depart from such an apostate environment. However, every single Roman Catholic expatriate with whom I have ever talked about this matter has affirmed for me that 1) they were not saved while in that religion, and that 2) they felt that salvation within the Roman Catholic church was in fact an impossibility. At the very least, any contact with it or its false doctrines is fraught with spiritual danger. So I will do my best to address the main points in this particular email, but I would advise you to break off contact at this point, now that we see where this person is coming from. And – trust me on this point – there is no arguing with people who have taken up the mantle "defender of the faith". By their own admission and doctrine, they don't believe the Bible when it contradicts their doctrines; they put their stock in "church tradition" and "canon law" and "papal infallibility" and "the fathers of the church", but, as this person does at one point in this email, get offended when it is pointed out that scripture does not agree with any of these other "authorities".

I have carried on email conversations for months with such people, and never managed even to get them to acknowledge the bare facts of the Bible about the issue of salvation. That is because while they call themselves "Bible-believing", what they really mean by that is "our tradition incorporates all truth, so the Bible has to agree with us since we have the truth; and if it ever seems like the Bible contradicts us, then you just don't understand the Bible like we do, since we have the truth". So much for this person's claim that R.C.'s are "Bible-believing"; they just mean by that that the Bible agrees with them, nothing more. There is no arguing with a religion that sees the Bible only as a mirror to reflect back at them what they already believe and is never allowed to challenge their beliefs. So in such cases, I have learned that it is best to adhere to Paul's teaching on this:

Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.
Titus 3:10

This will have to be my "second warning".

Let's dispense with the "Trinity true though not in the Bible" argument right off the bat. The fact that some quasi-theological term "is not in the Bible" is surely no argument for its truth! Quite the contrary, the lack of specific mention of any truth per se sets the bar very high for giving it consideration anyway. So that there has to be ample justification for the use of terms which the Bible has not seen fit to record. The Trinity itself is everywhere in the Bible; it is just that the word itself is not used. If the word were problematic in theological terms, we would be right not to use it. As it is, it is perfectly fine and very helpful because it correctly expresses what the Bible actually teaches about the triune nature of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We could of course says that, i.e., "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" in place of "the Trinity", but the short-hand is very convenient and not in conflict with actual biblical content.

The phrase "mother of God", however, is not only not in the Bible, nor is it any sort of short-hand for an expressed biblical true (as "Trinity" is for "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit"), but is in fact dangerously suggestive of things which are not true. More than that, this false appellation has been used as a Trojan horse to introduce and to justify a wide-variety of heretical practices and beliefs.

On "simplicity": this is logical fallacy. Jesus is God. Mary is not. God has no beginning. Mary was a human being. Mary did give birth to Jesus. But God is not "born". So to call Mary "the mother of Jesus" is not only correct, it is biblical, for the Bible uses this very term. But to call Mary "the mother of God" is incorrect, for it is antithetical to everything the Bible tells us about God, and the Bible never uses this term.

To call Mary "mother of God" is to "go beyond what is written" (1Cor.4:6), because the Bible never says this. And, yes, it is to the Bible that I appeal alone. It may seem of small import to call Mary "mother of God" if by that we mean what Calvin explains in the quote supplied, namely, that Mary is not better than anyone else, that she is not to prayed to as some demigod or worshiped, nor are we to make statues of her and genuflect before them. Rather, Calvin is attempting to explain how the phrase might not be apostate. But if by "mother of God" what we really mean, with Calvin, is that "Mary was the mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God", then why not just say what we mean? Calvin lived in a time when weaning people away from the false beliefs of the past was still an incipient process (consider the continuation of infant baptism by Calvinists, for example). We have no need of such compromises today.

The bigger problem is that this person has a sinister agenda. First you accept the principle that Mary is the "mother of God"; next you worship her; finally, you are just as lost as this person . . . or at least headed towards apostasy and the loss of your faith. And of course, as I have pointed out in detail (not responded to by your correspondent except to cavil), since life begins at birth, the child in the womb was not yet the God-Man, since He only came to be Man as well as God at the point of His birth. Therefore there actually is no sense in which it could ever be legitimately said that Mary is the "mother of God". Jesus Himself weighed in on this issue when one of His contemporaries attempted to involve Him in just such Mariolatry:

While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed." But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it."
Luke 11:27-28 NASB

Zwingli was not mentioned in the prior email (I put no stock in anything he wrote). I am no Lutheran, and will not take pains to defend the mistakes that this great man of God made. Given all that he wrote, said and did, it would be a wonder had Luther been perfect. He was the first star to rise out of the swamp of R.C. theology, so it is not at all surprising if some small bit of muck from that original environment clung to him. He also said that "no one should put his trust or confidence" in Mary or her merits (Luther's Works 43:38), and that is in fact the key point here. As I say, if it were possible to use the phrase "mother of God" and not be seduced by it into false doctrine and apostasy, it would not, perhaps, be such a tragic heresy – but what is the need to do so? In the history of the church, this false appellation and, more to the point, the false doctrines that have accreted around it, have done much damage indeed.

The statements which follow speak volumes:

"Modern protestants try to ignore history and the teaching of the early fathers who were the inheritors of the Apostolic Tradition. They try to re-invent Christianity from scratch using their own personal interpretation of scriptures. This is the reason there are over 30,000 different protestant denominations. Modern Protestants have privatised Christianity. It's egocentric not Christocentric They have reduced it to a "personal relationship with Christ". It's about my personal interpretation of scripture. There is no room for the Mother of God in their reduced Christology. They call themselves Bible based but have rejected those Christ left to give true interpretation and teaching, and followed a myriad of false teachers."

This is the classic Roman Catholic argument: "the fact that not every Protestant interprets the Bible the same way means that they must all be wrong and we are entirely right". This is, simply put, ridiculous, and, more than that, hypocritical. Ridiculous, because of course no two people are going to agree on everything. The Bible is 100% true. Should we not then be straining every spiritual muscle and leaving no stone unturned in order to get to the whole truth of scripture? Is it better to accept a supposedly "settled" theology which is nearly 100% wrong? And so wrong that any ten-year-old with a Bible can figure that out in about twenty minutes. It is also hypocritical because, in fact, Roman Catholic theology is in truth anything but settled. They change whatever they want whenever they want (ever hear of "Vatican II"?). The pope and his churchmen can alter the "received faith" at will, and have done so countless times over the centuries. The fact that they are not apparently doing much of that now only reflects the fact that the Roman Catholic religion is completely dead in spiritual terms. No one who is truly seeking God will stay in it long enough to provoke theological controversy any more. It is merely a collection of traditions and ritual religious practices which have almost nothing to do with the Bible, so that there is no occasion to question them from a biblical point of view. That has already been done (it was called the Reformation); nowadays, true Christians have simply moved on. But one can find some scholar or pope or council of the church or passage of canon law in the past to agree with anything a person wants to believe. In the twelfth century, the R.C. theologian Peter Abelard wrote a book, Sic et Non ("Yes and No") wherein he proved just that, lining up famous churchmen and scholars on opposite sides of every major theological issue and controversy. If one becomes a Roman Catholic today, doubtless they will see little of such controversy – not because Roman Catholics have "found the truth", but because they don't care about the truth, one way or another. Even this "Mary crusader" is really very unusual. He/she represents a relatively rare species of Roman Catholic who cares enough about the tradition to go out and "fight for it". One can only guess why. Sometimes these people are just trying to fill a hole in their lives. They need to come to Christ, but their tradition is hampering them. It's just like when a woman loves an abusive alcoholic husband too much to leave; somehow that attachment just won't allow her to let go, even though she is being destroyed.

Finally on this point, it is so ridiculous to suggest that there are hundreds of thousands of Protestant opinions on everything. Clearly, we have diversity of views, but not generally on the big things. Few true Protestant fail to understand that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, for example. Or just try to find one who doesn't realize that it is horribly wrong to pray to Mary or any other human being. We have the opportunity to get to the full truth of the Bible, and there are those who are working at this proposition with might and main (that is the purpose of this ministry). Every Christian who really does want God's truth is always rewarded by receiving it, even if it takes some effort to get to it ("knock, and it will be answered to you"). But Roman Catholics have settled for less, and it is doubtful if what they have settled for can even result in their salvation, let alone a powerful and productive spiritual life which honors our Lord Jesus Christ.

I believe this answers all of the pertinent objections contained in this email response. If you personally have questions about any of this, I would be only too happy to respond.

In our dear Lord Jesus, the Creator of the world.

Bob L.

Question #8:

I wanted to comment once more on a letter I received from the correspondent's friend. She stated a few things that seem to differ from what my correspondent had wrote. She wrote back:

"No one anywhere has gone anywhere near suggesting Mary is a God. That is an assumption you are making so maybe we should leave the further assumption you are making about who is a believer or not to God ? Smoked him out ? Not a very astute observation as I think you well know. Please fret no longer as that is also not in you're hands. So shall we leave the decision of who is saved or not to a higher being than you ?

Every single RC who has affirmed to you that they were not saved didn't know that Christ was nailed to that cross for them ? That he shed blood for them and were covered in that blood ? I am amazed. Have you ever considered that James was saying, when he said " faith without works is dead ", that it's all very well believing but being a nasty old so and so isn't very edifying ( nasty old so and so being just a phrase I use and directed at no one ) to God ? That the belief comes first and then we should show our fruits by allowing the Holy Spirit to " work " in us ? Maybe many, many RC's do believe " works " are physical works and being kind, giving to charity ect ect, gets them the ticket in but, I don't believe thats what James meant. I believe he was saying, let the Holy Spirit " work " in you.

If the vatican teaches otherwise then they and I part company on that interpretation.

These people ? Trust " me " on this point, " these people ", as a Christian, matter to her. As a Christian, they should matter to you also, so I make a repectful request that you cease with language that can be considered as very derogatory.

Never in my 40yrs + as a RC did I worship Mary. Yet again, here is someone else, who can identify even with you're analogy, who you didn't ask before that blanket statement. Tradition wasn't hampering me. Far from it. My own ignorance was hampering me.

Can you clarify please if you mean the hierarchy of the RCC or RC's in general? In the confines of this RC forum, it should be no suprise that you see RC doctrine and teaching.

May I respectfully suggest that if you feel you are fighting a loosing battle, that you do as Jesus said and wipe the dust from you're feet but, please feel free to stay and express you're opinions. All I ask is that you express them in a less degrogatory way, a way that is edifying to God and that which befits the love of Christ."

I'm not quite sure what portions of your email she's responding to, but I agree that I shouldn't concern too much myself with those who have their minds and hearts closed to correction. I was interested in what you had to say in regards to her reply, which seems to differ with my direct correspondent. Thanks!

Response #8: 

I guess the first thing I would want to point out is that I know none of these people, either personally nor through contact on any internet forum. I was responding to mis-statements made in the email sent to me, and I certainly stand by everything I have written. Whether either or any of these persons is saved is certainly not mine to say one way or the other. I can only judge by the words I read. Legalism and traditionalism of any sort are debilitating to true faith, and those who crusade for such things are, at the very least, headed in a dangerous direction, spiritually speaking, if they are saved at all. This is not for me to decide, but as a teacher of the Word it is definitely my responsibility to make such issues clear whenever questions are asked.

Secondly, in this latest response you ask about, I would wish to emphasize that this other person takes great pains to separate his/her positions from those of the Roman Catholic church. Being R.C. hasn't hurt him/her, he/she suggests, because, I suppose from reading this email, he/she doesn't hold to what the church of Rome teaches. In that lack of obedience to false doctrine, we certainly agree. And I would go further and affirm that being a Roman Catholic certainly doesn't make someone a "bad person". I have known an exceptionally large number of Roman Catholics in my life who were not only "good persons", but honorable, charitable, hard-working, and patriotic at that. It is a fact that a person can be a Buddhist, a Muslim, a pagan, or what have you, and still be civil. On the other hand, I have known fundamentalist Christians who, sad to say, who have not honored our Lord in the things they have said and done.

All this is merely confusing the issues, however. The prime issue is that of salvation. 1st John 4:15 says, "Whoever acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God". That is to say, Christianity is indeed a personal relationship; it is belonging to God by grace through a living faith in Jesus Christ. There are Buddhists who have heard of Jesus, good people who know the Christian teaching that Jesus died for us; there are Muslims who accept their own teachings that Jesus was a prophet; and there are any number of people who are members of all manner of Christian churches and denominations who know all about Jesus . . . but who do not know Jesus in the sense of having put their faith in Him and His work for their eternal life. Since salvation has absolutely nothing to do with being a member of any group, including the Roman church, it is hypothetically possible for a person to be a genuine Christian in any of them. So why do I express misgivings and doubt? For the same reason that while it is possible for a person who is a practicing Buddhist or Jew or Muslim or pagan to hear the good news about Jesus Christ and believe, it is virtually impossible for them to stay active in their former "faiths" and maintain the true faith. Christ has called us outside the gate (Heb.13:12-14), that is, away from institutionalized unbelief, in order that we may serve Him truly in newness of life.

The above issue is very clear when it comes to definitively non-Christian religions, but in respect to all Christian groups (and all groups which call themselves Christian), there is a gray area which can be even more debilitating to faith. For a former animist somewhere in the undeveloped world, leaving the old behind and embracing the new is a clear choice, so that whether in the end a person continues with Christ or goes back to "Egypt", there is no doubt about what they are choosing. However, in all groups that call themselves Christian, it takes some degree of spiritual growth to see whether or not 1) such a group really is serving Jesus Christ, and 2) whether or not they are doing so in a way and to a degree that continuing on with them is spiritually beneficial (or dangerous). As I say, I am agnostic about whether or not a person can be saved and remain in the Roman church. Certainly, a person who is a part of that tradition may hear the gospel or read it in the Bible and believe. But from all I have ever observed about that religion, the chances of maintaining any serious contact with it and retaining a living faith in Jesus Christ are not good. That is because all its major teachings and practices are antithetical to faith and to the truth of scripture. The best one can hope for is that, like your latest correspondent, a person who comes to believe while in the Roman Catholic church will be able to maintain a distance between everything the church teaches and does on the one hand, and what they believe and do on the other (as the second person suggests he/she is doing). But my question then is, if a person really does realize that this tradition has nothing to do with true Christianity (as evidenced by the fact that they are maintaining this divide between themselves and it), then why continue in it? They are not being fed spiritually, and, to the contrary, are having their true faith bombarded and attacked in every contact they have with that church. In my view, people who express greater loyalty to their traditional denominations than they do to Jesus Christ are making a horribly bad bargain (and that goes for almost all Protestants as well, to be fair). All they are doing is hamstringing their faith and drastically reducing the chances that they will ever accomplish what Christ has left them in the world to do. This phenomenon is most definitely not confined to Roman Catholicism. Indeed, it is true to a greater or lesser degree of all organized Christianity. The true Church is composed of all who genuinely believe in Jesus and so belong to Him. All other organization which passes the point of bare-bones necessity inevitably goes astray, at least to some degree.

Your second correspondent seems to be a "good person". Whether or not he/she is saved, I cannot tell from this short email. But he/she, though not a virulent advocate for a dangerous false doctrine, even so betrays the effects of the negative influence that association with this doctrinally bankrupt church always seems to produce.

1) Defending the practice of idolizing Mary: The fact that this person does not think that Mary is a god is fine. But, clearly, he/she would not be defending his/her friend and this practice if there were not some emotional attachment to the elevation of Mary above other human beings. This person says he/she has never worshiped Mary. Has he/she ever prayed to Mary as Roman Catholics do as a matter of course? And if so, what is the practical difference? I'm just making the issue clear by (admittedly) being blunt about it.

2) "Covered in the blood of Christ": One of the more disturbing aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine (and one which is increasingly coming to be shared by many Protestant groups, no doubt stemming from their aversion to serious Bible study) is the idea that Christ literally "bled to death" for us and that "His actual blood" has something to do with our communion (Mass) with Him. This idea is weird, morbid, and entirely un-biblical. It is at the heart of many apostate notions about Christ and salvation, and a major stumbling block that has to be removed before any serious spiritual growth is possible. What Christ did for us on the cross entails ineffably more than His physical bleeding, and such false, unscriptural heresies only cheapen His work in dying for all our sins. Anyone who has ever read the gospels knows that Christ exhaled His spirit when He had completed the work of salvation (Jn.19:30: "It is done!"), and that ipso fact He could not have bled to death. "The blood of Christ" is thus a sanctified metaphor which represents His death to sin in the darkness for us (please see the links: "The Blood of Christ" and "The Spiritual Death of Christ").

3) "Faith without works is dead": This is certainly true, but the problem with the Roman Catholic application of this principle is not the complementing of true faith in Jesus with a genuine and natural Christian response in the fulfilling of the potential of our individual spiritual gifts, but rather the substitution of works for faith, works which are very narrowly defined by the church at that. Such behavior does not save. There are many unbelievers of various religious stripes and not a few atheists who do visible works of charity that most of us would be hard-pressed to equal. That may be admirable, but it does not result in salvation. The fact of the matter is, that there will be many "good people" in hell; torments is filled with those whose visible acts of charity were notable. All these people had a definite "reason for boasting" in this life, "but not before God" (Rom.4:2).

So you see my concerns about Roman Catholic doctrine. Even in the course of a very short missile such as this we find three "icebergs" which are each big enough on their own to sink a Titanic-sized faith. I believe it is not too much to say that the only way a person can get to heaven as a member in good-standing of the Roman Catholic church is to secretly disavow in their hearts virtually everything that church teaches – and what a sorry existence that would be! More than that, what a wasted life, with all spiritual effort going into "defense" to protect the small seed of faith in one's heart which as a result never has an opportunity to grow above such imposing weeds.

I love all my brothers and sisters in Jesus. The fact that I am frank with them is a demonstration of that love. I would never dream of approaching someone of a particular church and remonstrating with them about their organization's short-comings. That is their business, and if I had a concern, I would address it through prayer and wait for a timely opportunity for an open discussion. But it is my responsibility to address all unsolicited direct comments, questions, and false claims made to me, and that is what I have done in this string of emails. I certainly did not intend to offend anyone unduly, but I did mean to put the truth squarely. So to the extent that any offense was taken because of any misstep in tone or tenor on my part, I profusely apologize. But to the extent that offense has been taken because of the uncomfortable nature of the truth, from this I will never draw back. Were it possible to enter heaven on the basis of a "good life", many religions, including Roman Catholicism, would be worthy of emulation in many respects. But there is only one Way of eternal life, an uncompromised and uncompromising faith in the Person and the work of our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Adding anything to this most precious faith or subtracting anything from it is a course whose end can at best only be spiritual disaster of the most serious sort.

In the love of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Bob L.

Question #9: 

Hello--Do you remember when you sent me some info about "petra" and "petros"? And how when Jesus said, "you are Peter and upon this Petra, I will build my church?" And how Catholics think the petra refers to Jesus, even though it is a different word and feminine and means something a little different? There is a Catholic who says that both refer to Peter, because when Jesus said "you are Petros" he was giving him a formal name, and had to change the gender from petra, since he is a man (Like Eusebius' name, from Eusebia, since he was a man). And when He said, "upon this Rock" Jesus was giving Peter a title. Here is some of his arguments, interspersed with mine (the "quote' stuff is mine ,as is the sentence in italics; the stuff in between is the Roman Catholic guy's ):

No, I don't think there is a difference, because Jesus wasn't using Petra as a title, either, or a name, but a metaphor, describing Himself. Hence, the "upon THIS Rock"--Petra--I will build My church." NOT "upon YOU, Petros, I will build my church." But Petros is a name, and must therefore follow the grammatical conventions for names - the name for a male must be in the masculine form. Hence the name "Jesus" for Our Lord.


Also, "petros" can mean anything from a small, hand-held stone, to a boulder, a chip off the "Petra." We have the same difference in English. We know a stone is usually smaller than a rock, but a rock is smaller than a rocky cliff or massif or bedrock. Sorry if I didn't clarify myself too well.

Can you show me anywhere that it is thus used in Koine Greek?


Also "stone" could be referring to what something is MADE of. We talk about something being made of stone, not made of rock. But the verse above from 1 Peter DOES contain "Rock" and it IS "Petra." I checked. And it STILL refers to Christ.

Right - as a metaphor or title. Not as a name.


And I find your answer a bit confusing, when you said that the only time "petros" is used in the Bible is as Peter's name. What was your point about that?

Because, if "petros" is anything other than the masculine form of "petra" which has the same meaning, it should have been used as such elsewhere, correct? The problem with your assertion is that everywhere else your definition of "petros" could be applied to the Greek texts of Scripture, an entirely different word (e.g. - lithos, koclax) is used. Why, if "petros" was a word distinct from "petra", being commonly understood as having a meaning other than "rock", is it never used in that fashion?

Now, is Petra really just the feminine for "petros"? I thought they meant two different things, one a smaller rock, the other, a rocky cliff or massif. Like El Capitan, in the example you gave me earlier. Also, is "petros" found outside the Bible, in Greek literature? Or is it strictly used as a name in the bible, as a masculine version of "petra", in order to make it agree with Peter's gender? The whole argument sounds forced to me, to try to find an excuse to make Peter the Rock upon which Christ founded His church, and not Himself. Anway, let me know what you think. I'd appreciate it, esp. if you know of any instances when "petros" is used in Greek literature, outside the Bible.

God bless.

Response #9:   

Yes, petra and petros are actual words, and they are two separate words with similar but significantly different meanings. I agree, the argument is forced – or rather it is no argument at all. There is no reason why Jesus had to add anything about petra if He weren't making a point; He could have just said "You are Peter/petros . . . and on this petros"; the point behind changing from petros to petra is to draw a distinction between the rock (the meaning of petros) and the Mountain, (the meaning of petra), between a brick in the edifice and the One who is the corner stone (Eph.2:22 and 1Pet.2:5 compared with Christ the Cornerstone: Eph.2:20 and 1Pet.2:6). The difference in vocabulary does not explain at all by any sound logic why Jesus added petra – there was no need to do so (in Greek, any way) . . . unless He was in fact deliberately not equating the small stone, petros, and the massive ROCK, PETRA.

(1) For I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, about the fact that our [spiritual] forefathers (i.e., the Exodus generation) were all under the cloud (i.e., protected by the Glory). (2) And all of them were baptized into Moses (i.e., closely identified with him) in both the case of the cloud and of the sea (i.e., received the same protection and deliverance as he did). (3) And all of them ate spiritual food (i.e., divinely provided manna). (4) And all of them drank the same spiritual drink (i.e., divinely provided water). For all of them drank from the spiritual[ly significant] Rock which followed them – for that Rock was Christ.
1st Corinthians 10:1-4

Interestingly, Mark, who wrote under the authority of Peter, does not include the "on this Rock" part when describing Christ's naming of Peter.  One would have thought he would have done so, if establishing Peter's authority were what the passage was really about.

Please see the following responses as well, and here are some additional links:

The Pebble and the Rock (in Peter #2)

Christ the Rock

Petra versus Petros

Upon this Rock (in SR 5)

Jesus is the Rock (in BB 4A)

Jesus not Peter is the Rock

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Could you please let me know if "petros" is a word used outside the bible, in Greek literature? No hurry. God bless. Thanks.

Response #10:   

Yes indeed, petros is used and is distinguished from petra throughout ancient Greek going back to Homer – the earliest written literary Greek we possess. These words are as common as "dog" or "bread" (cf. "petroleum" is from petr[os]-oleum, "rock-oil").

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #11:

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

Do you remember what you wrote to me down below? Well, it seems to me I wrote to you, asking if "petra" and "petros" were separate words commonly used in everyday Greek, and you told me "yes." Well, a Catholic wrote this to me, on CARM.org, about "upon this Rock" (again, unfortunately):

"You are half right about the word petra existing as a separate and distinct word from petros in Greek literature. The problem is that the usages you refer to were not in use during the time of Christ. The Greek usages you reference had not been used for hundreds of years prior to the time of Jesus.

Likewise, you are wrong to suggest that it would not be necessary to masculinize the name in assigning it to a man. I've studied some foreign languages, although I am not a linguistic expert, and know that this is a true statement. It would otherwise be similar to Jesus naming Peter "Patricia" as opposed to "Patrick."

Moreover, the Aramaic Peshitta denies your understanding of the Greek. In the Peshitta it is "Kepha" and "Kepha"."

I told him what you had told me, that Jesus wasn't giving Peter a masculine version of the word "petra" for a name, masculinizing it. Now, is this correct, what this guy wrote: "The problem is that the usages you refer to were not in use during the time of Christ. The Greek usages you reference had not been used for hundreds of years prior to the time of Jesus."

I remember your telling me it was common in Greek literature, and I presume, that predates the time of Christ? What about its usage in Koine Greek, not just in classic Greek?

Thanks for any help. God bless.

Response #11: 

Of course if we personalize a root and make it a name we will need to be conscious of gender because in Greek as in English there are "boy names" and "girl names". But petra is not a name (like Patrick or Patricia). Personalizing petra would require in our example some sort of name-making suffix if we wished it to be a masculine name (petraei-os and petraei-a respectively; or something of the sort). Since that is not what we have here, the argument has no bearing. But this person's argument makes no sense in any case, because Christ is not feminine, nor is Peter. So by this person's logic the petra would not be able refer to either of them. Since it has to refer to one of them, clearly the gender issue is a red-herring. This word, petra, is a noun which is significantly different from Peter's name and introduced to point out just such a significant difference:

And I tell you that you are Peter [the little rock] (petr-os), and upon this [mighty] Rock (petr-a, i.e., upon Christ Himself; cf. 1Cor.3:11) I shall build My Church (cf. Dan.2:44-45), and the gates (i.e., the fortified defenses) of Hades (i.e., the devil's kingdom) will not [be able to] resist it.
Matthew 16:18

Also, in regard to the above, one should not that the authoritative "keys" in verse nineteen (also used by these types to advance the putative superiority of Peter) elsewhere belong to Jesus (Rev.1:18; 3:7; see the link: "The Keys to Death and Hades"), and also and very significantly that in this very context, while Jesus does not in fact call Peter "The ROCK", He most certainly does call him "Satan" ("Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Matt.16:23 NIV). Clearly, Peter was a great believer, but his failing in trying to get Jesus to forget about going to the cross puts the "pebble/ROCK" discussion into proper perspective.

As to the later Greek usage of petra, a quick check of the TLG (Thesaurus Lingua Graeca) reveals more post 1st century A.D. uses of the word than those previous to the time of Christ. It is a common word in common parlance throughout the era of spoken ancient Greek (roughly 8th B.C. to 5th A.D.). Some examples of later authors are (not nearly inclusive but I include some of the better known ones): Lucian, Polyaenus, Strabo, Pausanias, Josephus, Procopius, the Etymologicum Magnum etc.

The fact that the Peshitta either did not have the requisite Syriac vocabulary to reflect the very significant distinction between petra and Petros or else failed to appreciate it of course means nothing. It is an uninspired translation and only as good as its translators (who apparently failed here).

Incidentally, I think it is very interesting that Paul makes of a point of referring to Peter in Galatians as Kephas rather than Petros, no doubt to make clear to his Galatian readers that Christ, not Peter, is the issue, that He is the Rock upon which the Church is built, it's true Foundation Stone, not Peter or the Jerusalem council or, in our day, the church derived from the political success of the bishop of Rome.

Question #12: 

Hi--Thanks so much for this information. I am surprised, though, that you consider the Vulgate an excellent translation. I thought you told me awhile back that it has had many UNauthorized changes made to it, so it is hard to know what Jerome translated and what was changed. You did tell me of some early Vulgate manuscripts, if I remember right. Isn't "repentence" translated as "penance" in the Vulgate? Or is that one of the unauthorized changes? I don't wish to belabor this, but the Catholic I posted your note to below took exception to it; no surprise there. He wrote:

"The good Dr. has no basis for making this remark and likewise provides no evidence. The Peshitta is a very ancient text and there are those that persuasively argue for its primacy over the Greek. I have read the arguments on both sides of this particular issue and would say that the scholars are, at best, at an impasse in determining who is right. My sense is that the Peshitta has this one right and that the Greek flows the way it does as a translation. Moreover, I believe that Jesus spoke to his disciples in Aramaic as would be quite natural. Furthermore, Dr. Luginbill's pointing to the Vulgate is of no consequence. I studies Latin and know that the gender issue would arise just as it does in the Greek.

Anyway, I can assure you of something else here. Your experts are no better than the best experts on the other side of this issue. I would recommend to you the book Jesus, Peter & the Keys by Butler, Dalghren, and Hess. The interesting thing about this book is the views expressed by many extremely well respected Protestant scripture scholars. I have read a rather negative Protestant critique of the book, but after reading the book found the critique to be lacking."

What do you think about what he wrote about the Peshitta? I've never even heard of them. And have you ever heard of the book he mentions, Jesus, Peter, & the Keys? I haven't nor the Peshittas. On what do you base your critique of them?

Thanks for your help. I also told him that Matthew was written in Greek and shows no signs of having been translated from Hebrew or Aramaic into Greek, but that Matthew MAY have written a separate Gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic. But no copy of it survives. So, we have to deal with the fact that in Greek, there IS a distinct difference between "Petra" and "petros."

I also quoted from Lenski's commentary on Matthew, in which he quotes Liddell and Scott, who say that "There is no example in good authors of "petra" being used in the sense of "petros", a stone, for even in Homer "petrai" are not loose stones but masses of living rock torn up and hurled by giants." I don't know who these guys are, but presumably you do. :-)

Take care.

Response #12:   

First, on the Vulgate, I don't remembering referencing it, but it does render the passage in a way that is favorable to the argument we are making by making the same precise distinction between the two words (tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam). Since the Vulgate is considered authoritative by the Roman Catholic church, that would seem to undermine this person's position. For when X says that the Vulgate is "of no consequence", that is true only for all of us who reject papal authority completely; but for those who are trying to support said authority dissing the Vulgate, their preferred authoritative version, is a major contradiction.

As to the Peshitta, it is 5th century translation from the Greek into Syriac (I know of no scholar who would argue that). Not only is it derivative, but it was also produced some 350-450 years or more after the fact. This is thus a little like using tomorrow's New York Times as evidence for what happened when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth rock: short of assuming time-travel, not likely to be valid. In Dr. Bruce Metzger's Early Versions of the New Testament (Oxford 1977), hardly a conservative book, there is an entire section by S.P. Brock on "Limitations of Syriac in Representing Greek". To make a long story short, there are many things Syriac cannot do that Greek can, thus, where there are discrepancies in translation, apologies need to made for the Syriac, not for the Greek. For one thing, Syriac has no case endings; for another, it has a well-known problem in representing Greek name-spellings (both of which problems come to the fore in the context of our debate). But then this is the first time in a long career where I have ever heard anyone suggest that a late Syriac translation should take precedence over the original Greek.

You are absolutely correct in your representations of Matthew's gospel being originally in Greek. There is a story that he also wrote a shorter version in Hebrew, but the story is significantly later (earliest actual reports come second hand in the 2-3 cent.) and there is no evidence to support the truth of it (i.e., not a single fragment has survived -- but we do have literally thousands upon thousands of ancient witnesses to the Greek gospel; see the links: "Did Matthew write his gospel in Hebrew?" and "Christians Beware").

As to what language Jesus spoke, this is a question to which people have been supplying their own answer for centuries (see the link: "What language did Jesus speak?"). The best biblical answer is that He and the apostles spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek:

1) There are Aramaic phrases as quotes in the gospels.

2) Hebrew was spoken in Jerusalem and yet He and the twelve didn't need translators when they went there, although the speech is sometimes misunderstood by the locals (e.g., Jesus quote of Ps.22 in Aramaic on the cross being misunderstood: i.e. Matt.27:47 being thought to be a reference to Elijah in the next verse), and sometimes gives them away (e.g., Peter in the high priest's courtyard before the rooster's crow)

3) Greek: the gospels are written in passably good Greek (something the apostles surely did not just up and learn in a few short years later in life) and purport to give many quotations outright – all of which are of course in Greek (the fact that only a few phrases are transliterated into Aramaic argues that most were not originally in that language).

This sort of multi-lingualism is, as I have often remarked, not an unusual thing in other parts of the world today (in Switzerland everyone knows at least 4 languages very well and many know even more), and was even more common in antiquity (especially in places like Syria-Palestine where so many cultures collided). It is only here in the U.S. as a result of our dumbed-down educational system that this may seem unlikely. So "Jesus knew Aramaic" is no argument whatsoever for any authority being given to a late translation of confused parentage (the sources of the Peshitta and its ms. tradition are almost as confused as that of the Vulgate – and Syriac is only Aramaic in the same sense that English is related to Old English). This will remain true for me even if people wish to write books (I've never heard of this one) extolling the Old Syriac versions (unless, as I say, they can also show that the original translators had access to a time machine). They are not direct witnesses to the NT Greek text, and given that the NT Greek text is the best witnessed text surviving from the entire ancient world, it is hard to see how any reading from the Peshitta could ever carry the day (i.e., we also have an abundance of better witnesses to consider first). Even in a case where I was inclined to prefer what it said, I would probably have to use such an outlier reading from it as evidence to the contrary (i.e., over the nearly five hundred years since the real thing, someone else must have had the same question or problem I have with a passage, then made an unauthorized correction).

Finally, Liddell and Scott are the two Oxford scholars who produced the famous Greek-English Lexicon that is the sine qua non for Classical scholarship. Without it, I doubt learning Greek would be an inestimably more difficult task. Stephanus' 15th century Thesaurus, not entirely alphabetical, extremely large and unwieldy, and prohibitively expensive, was never effectively replaced (pace Barker and co.) until Liddell and Scott's publication (last ed. in 1883). It is indispensable, irreplaceable, and of the highest academic quality. They are rarely (if ever) wrong, and the fact that there are very few qualitative mistakes or omissions in an era of fountain pens and movable type is, to my mind, astounding. Bottom line: Lenski's quote is a good one to hang your hat on since the source is impeccable.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #13:

Hi--I don't mean to keep bugging you, but I can't find something you wrote to me earlier, about Papias saying Matthew was written in Aramaic or Hebrew. I remember your saying it was just rumor or something that Papias reported, which he got from someone else.

This Catholic guy wrote this:

"Peter's letters are most likely translations done by a secretary on his behalf. Papias recorded that Peter used Mark as an interpreter[Eusebius, HE 3.39, 15].

Likewise, we read this in 1 Peter 5:12:

"By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God; stand fast in it."

Luke is another case entirely and I would say that the case for his gospel being written originally in Greek is pretty stong. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that Luke was not an apostle or an eyewitness. His gospel material is from the apostles and people like Paul. He shifts from a Greek style and word usage to Hebraisms in the infancy narrative and then back again. Outside of the infancy narrative, Luke uses many Greek terms in place of the semitic terms used by Matthew and Mark.

Examples of these would be the following:

--Luke never uses the term "abba"[Father].

--Luke does not use the term "boanerges"[sons of thunder].

--Luke does not use the term "hosanna"[save, we pray].

--Instead of the Hebrew title "rabbi", Luke uses "didaskale"[teacher] and the term "epistata"[master].

--Luke also uses the Greek word for "skull" instead of the Hebrew "golgotha."

These are but a few of the differences that show Luke's pagan heritage and Greek speaking influences as his gospel is geared more toward the gentiles.

The abundance of copies in Greek versus those in Aramaic is probably not much of an indicator. No one is claiming that most copies of the gospels were written in Aramaic. The claim is that the originals were in Aramaic and quickly translated into Greek and spread through the empire. The higher numeric count is historically of no help. I'll give an example of how this played out on another biblical issue relating to the canon. After the destruction of Jerusalem only the Pharisees were left and the copies of the sacred writings in Jerusalem had been burned. When the remaining Jewish leadership began to challenge the Christian scriptures they held the Council of Jamnia in 90AD. One of the criteria they used to dismiss some of the Septuagint scriptures used by the Christians was to state that the accepted scriptures had to have been originally written in Hebrew. Later, Luther and others that wished to reject the existing Catholic canon applied this same criteria. Neither the Pharisees at Jamnia or the leaders of the Reformation had the historical/generational knowledge to be aware that many of the scriptures they were rejecting were, indeed, first written in Hebrew. The Dead Sea Scrolls shattered what these people thought about the Hebrew vs. Greek originals.

The actual number of copies simply doesn't help us determine which was first."

Could you resend me what you wrote about Papias ,and being second hand information? Also, if the Gospels were originally written in Aramaic, wouldn't it be possible to tell if they had been translated from that language into Greek, by the way the Greek was worded? My husband's Greek professor told me that Matthew showed no sign of having been originally in Aramaic and translated into Greek, as there are ways of being able to determine that, though he didn't elaborate.

Thanks again. I also told this Catholic guy that if he doesn't believe you, to write to you and tell you his reasons why and why HE knows more than YOU do. And gave him the ichthys2 address.

God bless.

Response #13: 

Papias' work does not survive. This story is quoted in Eusebius and several other church fathers (see the link: "Did Matthew write his gospel in Hebrew?"). Eusebius is by no means an inspired text. On top of that, he wrote in the fourth century. Apropos of our discussion here is the fact that a significant number of our witnesses to the Greek text are earlier than Eusebius. You will see from these quotes you have been given (and others included in the link above and in Eusebius generally) that none of these very early witnesses, Papias, Irenaeus, or Origen, actually claim to have seen this mysterious Hebrew copy of Matthew (rather strange if such really existed, don't you think?). Further, the similarity of their accounts prove that they are all repeating the same story, a story which apparently goes back to Papias alone (whose work is not extent). Therefore there is only one story (or fable), and the repetition of it by many later authors because it is a "good story/fable" does not for that reason increase its likely historicity one whit (that is a fallacy committed by all too many would-be ancient historians). Given the "flexibility" with which Eusebius paraphrases, we cannot know for certain exactly what Papias meant in any case. Add to that the fact that Eusebius says that P. "by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends". He also includes a very pertinent quote from Papias himself: "But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations of them . . ." It would seem that not only did Papias not see or hear these things for himself, and not only did he not have any written record, but that he heard these stories third or fourth hand (at least) and then "read between the lines" to come up with his "history". This is a slender reed upon which to overturn direct biblical testimony and the massive fund of physical evidence that no serious secular scholar would dare ignore.

Thus any speculation about Mark or Luke based upon Eusebius is just that: speculation (or better, "speculation twice removed" at least). I do feel compelled to point out that this person even misunderstands Eusebius in regard to the quotes about Peter and Mark, then applies that false conclusion wrongly to Paul. Eusebius calls Mark "Peter's hermeneutes", which in E's language and in this context merely means that Mark wrote under Peter's guidance and authority (as the text points out). Paul and Silvanus are a different case entirely; Silvanus was Paul's amanuensis, or "secretary" as we should say today. He took dictation; he did not write scripture on his own. Luke played a role in regard to Paul comparable to that of Mark vis- -vis Peter.

As to Aramaic, first, the "testimony" of Eusebius, slender as it is, is still testimony for a Hebrew gospel, not an Aramaic one, so that in regard to the Syriac discussion, that is a comparison of apples to oranges: Aramaic/Syriac is a different language(s) from Hebrew just as it is from Greek so that we would still have to do with a translation rather than any direct evidence to a supposed "Aramaic original".

I think it speaks volumes about this person's approach that he would say something like "the case for Luke's gospel being written in Greek is pretty strong" -- !!!??? Luke, or course, is written in Greek, and so are all the other gospels. We know they were written in Greek because we can hold them in our own hands and look at them; we can also via the internet look at ancient copies that go back as early as the third century (before Eusebius), and we can further consult, if we want to travel, papyri and ostraka that go back even earlier, some as early as the second century, only a generation or two after the originals were penned and earlier than Papias (and now even some of the papyri can be viewed online: e.g., see the link: "P46" which dates to the early third century). By while we have a tremendous amount of evidence for the Greek text, let me be clear, we have no evidence for any Aramaic text – none whatsoever. There has not so much as a fragment of papyrus of any supposed Aramaic gospels to have survived. This person misunderstands my previous argument (and his "example" ending in "Dead Sea scrolls" is incoherent). The point is that the huge volume of witnesses to the Greek text, even in all sorts of scraps, is extremely telling versus the total dearth of any evidence of the gospels having been composed in another language first. And think about it: if the gospels were originally in Aramaic, then why are the later Aramaic translations like the Peshitta very clearly translations of the Greek gospels rather than coming from some Ur-Aramaic Vorlage? That is a fact easily established from the Syriac versions since they are clearly making use of Greek transliterations for names – something which they would of course never do if they were really reflecting "Aramaic originals".

The Aramaic theory remains only a theory, and there is no compelling reason either to proffer or to prefer it – which begs the question, why in the world would someone who has actually researched this question want to go in this direction? Apart from a handful of secular academics whose methods would be laughed out of traditional philology circles (maybe Homer wrote in Hittite – the fact that there is no evidence for this apparently shouldn't deter us), most people I have seen advancing such drivel usually want to take scripture down a peg for some reason or other. That seems to be the subtext in this discussion, although we have meandered a long way away from Peter as supposed first "pope". But I would imagine that once the Syriac and Aramaic theory is accepted, then we really couldn't know what the gospels originally said. For in that case, we would only have translations that must be vetted by "experts" to determine what the evangelists might have meant when they wrote their lost originals in a by now poorly attested language: "Aramaic" is not really a helpful term in this regard, since the differences between biblical Aramaic, 1st cent. Aramaic, and later Syriac are wider than those of Old English, pre-Elizabethan English, and contemporary American English.

On the other hand, there is a very good reason why the Holy Spirit directed the gospels be written in Greek and not Hebrew or Aramaic or any other language, and it is exactly the same reason that explains why the rest of the New Testament was incontrovertibly written in Greek: Greek was the lingua franca of the entire eastern Mediterranean world stretching as far as the Black Sea coast, Afghanistan and India, and even in the west was the second language de rigeur as far as the pillars of Heracles, with Greek colonies salted along every coast, and with every educated member of Roman society studying it diligently in order to access and enjoy its rich literature. Greek was clearly the language in which one would wish to write to gain a broad hearing, and in the plan of God this state of affairs is no accident, designed for the spread of the gospel throughout the world. On the other hand, Aramaic's reach was minuscule in comparison and Hebrew even more parochial. As Hebrew was the language of God's chosen nation, Greek was the language of the gentiles (and remained so for centuries). The gospels, like the rest of the NT, were written in Greek so that the world might know the truth, so that we might know the truth. But according to this person's theory, the truth lies buried in the dust and is essentially inextricable from ancient traditions, questionable translations, and esoteric interpretations. All the better I suppose to support the argument that looking to the Bible is pointless; better to look to Christ's "vicar" on earth.

I praise God that we do have the truth accessible to all who want it, and bountifully so.

In Jesus' Name,

Bob L.

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