Category Archives: Bible Stories

Apostolic Succession as Seen in the Jerusalem Council

Apostolic Succession as Seen in the Jerusalem CouncilSaint Matthias, from ‘Christ and the Apostles’, Friedrich Herlin, 1499
Saint Matthias, from ‘Christ and the Apostles’, Friedrich Herlin, 1499
Apostolic Succession as Seen in the Jerusalem Council
Here is a compelling biblical argument for an infallible Church, and against sola Scriptura.

The standard Catholic apologetics argument from the Bible for apostolic succession is the selection of Matthias to succeed Judas (Acts 1:16-26). That includes taking note that the word for “office” in 1:20 is episkopos: the word for “bishop.” Thus, we have some sort of equation of apostles and bishops, which is necessary, for we believe that bishops are indeed the successors of (but not identical to) the apostles.

This very day, in dialogue with a Protestant on Facebook, I stumbled upon a “new” argument for succession from Scripture that had never occurred to me before in my 26 years of doing Catholic apologetics (I love when that happens!). I put “new” in quotes because I’m sure someone else has thought of this (“nothing new under the sun”), but for me it’s new, and I did come up with it on my own, even if others have taught it in the past. Dialogue and its intellectual challenge has a way of bringing about such wonderful discoveries.

The argument stems from how the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:1-32; 16:4) is presented in Holy Scripture. It’s been one of my favorite arguments against sola Scriptura (i.e., Scripture as the only infallible authority), and as a rationale for Catholic ecumenical councils, to note the high authority of the Jerusalem council, guided by the Holy Spirit Himself (15:28) to make a proclamation binding upon all the Christian faithful everywhere. We know that, since Scripture reports that it was “delivered” and received at Antioch (15:30-31) and in various cities in Asia Minor (16:4); hence, the analogy to ecumenical councils, which are much more than mere local authoritative proclamations.

I have loved presenting the fact that the Apostle Paul “delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem” (16:4; RSV, as throughout).  This is the very opposite of sola Scriptura modes of thought. The Jerusalem council doesn’t even seem (from what we know) to have been primarily concerned with biblical arguments and justifications. But however the decision was arrived at, regarding abstaining “from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity” (15:28), and the non-necessity of circumcision (15:5), it was authoritative and binding. As such, it is a compelling biblical argument for an infallible Church and against sola Scriptura, which precisely denies this.

Now I will be using it as an argument for apostolic succession, too. Here is how it works: the Jerusalem council presents “apostles” and “elders” in conjunction six times:

Acts 15:2 . . .  Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

Acts 15:4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, . . .

Acts 15:6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.

Acts 15:22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church,  . . .

Acts 15:23. . . “The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cili’cia, . . .

Acts 16:4 . . . they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.

“Elders” here is the Greek presbuteros, which referred to a leader of a local congregation, so that Protestants think of it primarily as a “pastor”, whereas Catholics, Orthodox, and some Anglicans regard it as the equivalent of “priest.” In any event, all agree that it is a lower office in the scheme of things than an apostle: even arguably lower than a bishop (which is mentioned several times in the New Testament).

What is striking, then, is that the two offices in the Jerusalem council are presented as if there is little or no distinction between them, at least in terms of their practical authority. It’s not an airtight argument, I concede. We could, for example, say that “bishops and the pope gathered together at the Second Vatican Council.” We know that the pope had a higher authority. It may be that apostles here had greater authority.

But we don’t know that with certainty, from Bible passages that mention them. They seemto be presented as having in effect, “one man one vote.” They “consider” the issue “together” (15:6). It’s the same for the “decisions which had been reached” (16:4).

Therefore, if such a momentous, binding decision was arrived at by apostles and elders, it sure seems to suggest what Catholics believe: that bishops are successors of the apostles. We already see the two offices working together in Jerusalem and making a joint decision. It’s a concrete example of precisely what the Catholic Church claims about apostolic succession and the sublime authority conveyed therein. There are three additional sub-arguments that I submit for consideration:

1) The council, by joint authority of apostles and elders, sent off Judas and Silas as its messengers, even though they “were themselves prophets” (15:32).  Prophets were the highest authorities in the old covenant (with direct messages from God), and here mere “elders” are commissioning them.

2) St. Paul himself is duty-bound to the council’s decree (16:4), which was decided in part by mere elders. So this implies apostolic succession (and conciliarism), if elders can participate in such high authority that even apostles must obey it.

3) Paul previously “had no small dissension and debate” with the  circumcision party (15:1-2), but was unable to resolve the conflict by his own profound apostolic authority. Instead, he had to go to the council, where apostles and elders decided the question. All he is reported as doing there is reporting about “signs and wonders” in his ministry (15:12). He’s not the leader or even a key figure. This is not what the Protestant “Paulinist” view would have predicted.

Read the source:

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“Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written” (DV 12 #3). The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it (cf. DV 12 #4): 1) Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture” (cf. Lk 24:25-27, 44-46); 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”; 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith (cf. Rom 12:6; CCC: 111-114).

The 7 Weirdest Bible Stories They Didn’t Teach You in Sunday School

The 7 Weirdest Bible Stories They Didn’t Teach You in Sunday School

They might not come up in Sunday school, but they’re in there.

You’ve probably heard of Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, and of course Jesus. But the Bible is a big book, and there’s lot more in there than just those popular stories. There’s also magic fish, giants, and a prophet who was apparently really sensitive about being bald.

But then again, the Bible is the inspired Word of the almighty and ineffable God, so maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that things seem a bit strange at times.

Here are 7 of the weirdest stories from Scripture:

1.) Giants and angel-human crossbreeds?

Evelyn De Morgan / Public Domain

If you’ve seen the recent movie Noah starring Russell Crowe, you might have been confused by the giant rock monsters. While there was a lot about those characters that was made up for the movie, they weren’t entirely without a basis in Scripture:

“When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” (Genesis 6.1-4)

If you’re wondering what’s going on here, join the club. Who are the “sons of God” and who are the “daughters of men”? Are the “sons of God” angels, making their children angel-human crossbreeds? Or are they descendants of the righteous son of Adam and Eve, Seth?

The word Nephilim means “giants” – who are they? Are they the children of the “sons of God” and the “daughter of men,” or something else? And who are the “mighty men…of old, the men of renown”? Are they the people who inspired ancient myths found in other cultures (e.g. ancient Greek myths)?

2. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it can be found in fishes’ mouths

Domain / Wikimedia Commons

If anyone doesn’t think God has a sense of humor, just show them this passage.

Various leaders and officials were always trying to trip Jesus up. When some tax-collectors checked to see if Jesus and his disciples had been paying a certain tax, Jesus told his disciples that he was, of course, exempt (being God and all), but that to avoid offense, they would pay anyway. But then Jesus tells Simon Peter where to get the money:

“[N]ot to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17.27)

Whaaat? Jesus could have just snapped his fingers and made the money appear. But I guess he likes to keep things interesting.

3.) Make fun of a prophet’s bald head, get mauled to death by a bear

Here’s a great story for scaring young people into showing respect for their elders.

“[The prophet Elisha] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.” (2 Kings 2.23-25)

Yeah, you don’t want to mess with God’s prophets.

4.) A prophet gets into an argument with a donkey – and loses

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Ever wondered what your pet was staring at or running away from? It might be an angel.

The prophet Balaam was riding on his donkey when the donkey suddenly turned off the road into a field. After hitting the donkey to get back to the road, the donkey started pushing Balaam’s leg up against a wall. After hitting his donkey again to move, the donkey just laid down. So Balaam, angry that his donkey wasn’t cooperating, struck it again. The Bible tells us what happened next:

Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” (Numbers 22.28-29)

Apparently Balaam is too angry to realize that his donkey is talking to him.

And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” (Numbers 22.30)

Amazingly, the donkey wins the argument!

“Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” (Numbers 22.31-33)

So the next time your pet isn’t cooperating, he might just trying to save you from being killed by an angel of death.

5.) An enemy with so much fat, the hero loses his sword in it

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

It’s a recurring pattern in the history of ancient Israel: the Israelites are living comfortably, they turn away from God, God sends calamity on them to force them to turn back to God, and then God raises up a hero to save them once they return to the faith.

In this case, Eglon the king of Moab has taken over Israel, and God has raised up the hero Ehud, whom the Scriptures say was “a left-handed man” (Judges 3.15). After helping to deliver a tribute to King Eglon, who Scripture notes was a “very fat man,” (Judges 3.17) Ehud tells the king “I have a secret message for you, O king.” (Judges 3.19) So the king sends everyone else out of the room.

And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out. (Judges 3.20-22)

Needless to say, I don’t think Ehud got his sword back.

6. DIE, fig tree!

oreogasm / reddit

One of the surest signs that Jesus is the Son of God is that he did strange things. For example:

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once (Matthew 21.18-19).

Remember this story next time someone asks you “What would Jesus do?”

7.) God tries to kill Moses, but his wife saves him with his son’s foreskin 

Gebhard Fugel / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Everyone knows the story: the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, God spoke to Moses in a burning bush, and then Moses asked Pharaoh to “let my people go.”

That’s all true, except for a short, 3-verse interlude that never seems to make it into the movies. After being commissioned by God from the burning bush, Moses is on his way back to Egypt when this suddenly happens:

At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then [Moses’ wife] Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision. (Exodus 4.24-26)

There’s no immediate context or explanation as to why God is suddenly trying to kill Moses, why Zipporah thinks to circumcise their son to save Moses, or why touching the child’s foreskin to Moses’ feet assuages God’s intent to kill Moses.

But it all worked out (close call!), Moses was able to continue on with his mission, and the rest is history.

 Read the source:

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One of the most amazing things about the Bible is that there is ALWAYS more to learn. It is an endless well where you go as deep as you like and never reach the bottom. If you want to go deeper and learn about Scripture and deepen your knowledge of the Bible, you can learn from leading Biblical scholars such as Dr. Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, Dr. Ted Sri, Patrick Madrid, and Mark Hart at a Steubenville Conference!

Why Do Catholics And Protestants Have Different 10 Commandments?

Why Do Catholics And Protestants Have Different 10 Commandments?

When listing the 10 Commandments, Catholics and Protestants have slight differences. While very similar, the difference is instantly noticeable. And even though both listings have solid biblical support, some Protestants use the difference as an opportunity to accuse the Catholic Church of changing the 10 Commandments to support their “idolatrous worshipping of statues”.

Here are the 10 Commandments as numbered by Catholics and Protestants: 

The Traditional Catholic Listing: 

1. I am the Lord your God: You shall not have strange Gods before me. 

2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. 

3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day. 

4. Honor your father and mother. 

5. You shall not kill. 

6. You shall not commit adultery. 

7. You shall not steal. 

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 

9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. 

10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods. 

The Protestant Listing: 

1. I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me. 

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image 

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. 

4. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. 

5. Honor thy father and thy mother. 

6. Thou shalt not kill. 

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. 

8. Thou shalt not steal 

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness. 

10. Thou shalt not covet

So which numbering is correct? Did the Catholic Church change the 10 Commandments to support having statues?

First, it’s important to note that nowhere in the Book of Genesis is there any formula for numbering the Commandments given. The assigning of numbers to the Commandments developed over the centuries as a tool to make them easier to teach and remember. Two of these important early teachers were Saint Augustine and Origen. In their writings, each developed and favored a particular way of numbering the Commandments. It is roughly along these lines the Catholics and Protestants split. Catholics (and Lutherans) generally use the 10 Commandments as listed by Augustine, while the Eastern Churches and Protestants list the 10 Commandments set out by Origen.

The Catechism 2066 reads: “The division and numbering of the Commandments have varied in the course of history. The present catechism follows the division of the Commandments established by St. Augustine, which has become traditional in the Catholic Church. It is also that of the Lutheran confessions. The Greek Fathers worked out a slightly different division, which is found in the Orthodox Churches and Reformed communities.”

The accusation that the Church changed the Commandments is simply slander that grew out of the vitriol of the Reformation, and the listing 10 Commandments was an opportunity seized on by some to try to undermine the Church. But the fact remains that the numbering of the 10 Commandments is not a rigid Biblical concept, but one developed by scholars and theologians, so regardless of which method is used, the duty to obey them is not changed, and could never be changed.

The single best way to combat slanders like these about the Church is to become educated ourselves and learn how to defend our Faith against lies or misunderstandings. If you want to learn more about how to defend the Catholics faith or about Biblical Studies, register below to get more information from Steubenville Conferences.

Steubenville offers a variety of powerful and informative conferences, such as the Defending the Faith Conference, the Saint John Bosco Conference, the Applied Biblical Studies Conference, and more!

These conferences features leading Catholic apologists – such as Dr. Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, Dr. Ted Sri, Patrick Madrid, Mark Hart – who will teach you how to learn, grow in, and defend the faith. Participants learn more than how to win arguments – they learn to win souls. They learn not only how to speak the truth, but how to pass on the faith. They are challenged and empowered to go and take the lead in the New Evangelization with holy boldness, zeal, and love. If you feel called to transform the Church by bringing the strength to defend the Church and witness to the people in your parish, then you will not want miss this opportunity for training, fellowship, and empowerment.

Read this source and comments:

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“Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written” (DV 12 #3). The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it (cf. DV 12 #4): 1) Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture” (cf. Lk 24:25-27, 44-46); 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”; 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith (cf. Rom 12:6; CCC: 111-114).


50 Biblical Evidences for the Holy Trinity

50 Biblical Evidences for the Holy Trinity
(Cuzco School, “The Enthroned Trinity” (c. 1730))
In the Holy Bible, we find indications of the Most Blessed Trinity at every turn.

Briefly put, the Holy Trinity is the belief that the one God subsists in Three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, Jesus (Who took on flesh in the incarnation and became Man), and God the Holy Spirit. They are all God, with the same divine attributes, yet are in relationship with each other as Subject and Object.

It is ultimately a deep mystery, because we can’t fully comprehend how three can be one. It seems to go against logic. Yet the Bible plainly teaches it, with many and varied proofs, and so we must accept the revealed doctrine in faith, bowing to the fact that God’s thoughts are much higher than ours (Is 55:9).

The Trinity is a classic case where there are few “direct” proofs, but many many deductive or indirect proofs, which can hardly be dismissed by any person who accepts the inspiration of Holy Scripture: God’s revelation.

No single passage states, “The one God exists in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Yet, for example, we see a verse that strongly suggests the same, with just a little deduction:

Matthew 28:19 (RSV) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

If the Bible teaches that God (and only God) has certain characteristics, and proceeds to apply them to three Persons: called the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then they are all one God (since the Bible teaches there is but one: Dt 6:4; 32:39; Is 43:10; 44:8; 1 Cor 8:4-6).

In my research, I have found 40 passages that mention all three Divine Persons. Here are eight of them (just one-fifth of all):

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, . . . (cf. 61:2; Jesus applies this to Himself in Lk 4:16-30)

Luke 3:21-22 . . . when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, [22] and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” (cf. Mt 3:13-17)

John 15:26 But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; (cf. 14:26)

Acts 2:33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. (cf. 7:55)

Acts 20:28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Romans 15:30 I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, (cf. Eph 2:18)

1 Corinthians 6:11 . . . justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (cf. 1 Pet 1:2)

2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Is the Holy Spirit directly referred to as God? Yes; here is the best single passage along those lines:

Acts 5:3-4 But Peter said, “Anani’as, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? [4] . . . You have not lied to men but to God.” . . .

Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit; at the same time he lied to God; therefore the Holy Spirit and God are synonymous: one and the same.

This sort of thing occurs over and over in the Bible: equivalent characteristics in many respects are applied to all three Divine Persons:

1. Who raised Jesus from the dead? Well, it was God the Father (Gal 1:1; 1 Thess 1:10); it was also Jesus Himself (Jn 2:19; 10:17-18); and it was the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11).

2. Who gave the new covenant? The Father (Jer 31:33-34); Jesus (Heb 8:1-13; 10:29; 12:24; 13:20); the Holy Spirit (Heb 10:15-17).

3. Who sanctifies believers? The Father (1 Thess 5:23); Jesus (Heb 13:12); the Holy Spirit (1 Pet 1:2).

4. Who is the creator? The Father (Gen 1:1; Is 44:24; Acts 17:24; Eph 3:9); Jesus (Jn 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:8, 10); the Holy Spirit (Job 33:4).Job 33:4.

5. Who indwells believers? The Father (1 Cor 3:16a; 2 Cor 6:16; 1 Jn 3:24); Jesus (Jn 6:56; Rom 8:10; Eph 3:17); the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16-17; Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 3:16b). The Bible even describes this in terms of different combinations: Father and Son (Jn 14:23); Father and Holy Spirit (Eph 2:21-22; 1 Jn 3:24); Son and Holy Spirit (Gal 4:6).

What one Person does, the others also do in complete agreement and unity, and the Persons “interpenetrate” each other. Christian theology has 50 cent words for this: circumincession(Latin) or perichoresis (Greek).

Lots of things are very difficult to understand, yet firmly believed; for starters: quantum mechanics, the physics of black holes, the nuclear fusion that occurs in the center of our sun,   the “bending” of space and time (Einstein’s relativity). Physical reality has turned out to be very “weird” and unpredictable. Theology is also sometimes striking, and seemingly “odd” and unfathomable. This should not surprise us at all (since God is an extraordinary Being).

Cumulative arguments based on scores of individual indications become very compelling: much as a large rope, consisting of many individual strands woven together is exceedingly strong. Such is the nature of biblical indications for the Holy Trinity. We find them at every turn. No one should be led astray to think that the Holy Trinity is not “biblical.” Having seen the many reasonable proofs, we believe in faith.

Read this source and comments:

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Christians are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). Before receiving the sacrament, they respond to a three-part question when asked to confess the Father, the Son, and the Spirit: “I do.” “The faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity” (St. Caesarius of Arles, CCC: 232). The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith” (CCC:234). The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the “mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God.” To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit (CCC: 237).

Five “UnBiblical Traditions” of Protestants

Five “UnBiblical Traditions” of Protestants
Five "UnBiblical Traditions" of Protestants
Photo Credit: Flickr/

What the Bible Says About Alcohol and Drunkenness?

What the Bible Says About Alcohol and Drunkenness?

Scripture gives strong testament to the fact that merely drinking alcohol is not a sin, but getting drunk on alcohol is.


Eduard von Grützner (1846–1925), via Wikimedia Commons

– Eduard von Grützner (1846–1925), via Wikimedia Commons

 Q: I need some help. Sometimes when I share my Catholic faith with people, they mention to me that Catholics like to drink alcohol and how wrong that is. How do I respond to this?

A: I would ask them to tell you where in the Scriptures it says anything about drinking alcohol being wrong. Quick answer: it doesn’t. It says getting drunk is wrong, but it doesn’t say merelydrinking is wrong. In fact, it tells us just the opposite:

1 Tim 3:8, “Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine…” Obviously, it is okay for them to drink some wine, they just cannot be addicted to “much” wine. Moderation is the key.

Matthew 15:10-11, “Hear and understand, not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth…”

1 Tim 5:23, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” Timothy is ordered to drink wine.

All 3 accounts of the Last Supper in Matthew, Mark, and Luke have Jesus and the Apostles drinking wine (the “fruit of the vine”).

Jesus’ first miracle was to turn some 120-180 gallons of water into wine (John 2:3-10) for folks to drink. And, it was better wine than any of the wine that had already been served at that particular wedding.

Now, some people will say that the wine Jesus created out of water, and the wine that Paul ordered Timothy to drink, and the wine at the Last Supper was “new” wine, which they claim is non-alcoholic wine. Let’s look and see what the Bible has to say about that.

First of all, we need to note that the Bible clearly identifies when there is a distinction being made for “new” wine. We see this in both the Old and New Testament. For example, “new” wine is mentioned in Hosea 9:2, Haggai 1:11, Zechariah 9:17, Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:38. Yet, neither at the wedding feast in Cana, nor at the Last Supper, nor in Paul’s letter to Timothy does it mention “new” wine.

Secondly, the Bible tells us that new wine is indeed alcoholic wine. We can see this very clearly in Hosea 4:11 where it says, “Wine and new wine take away the understanding.” I would like to have someone tell me how supposedly non-alcoholic new wine can “take away understanding?” And, we see the same in the New Testament. In Acts 2:13, when the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in other tongues, what do some in the crowd say? “But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine,’” (Acts 2:13). They thought the Apostles were drunk…on new wine! And this point cannot be argued because Peter goes on to say in verse 15, responding to the crowd, “For these men are not drunk.”

So, those who try to argue that “new” wine is the wine Jesus and the Apostles and Timothy and all the guests at the wedding feast of Cana drank, and that it is a non-alcoholic wine, are proven wrong by Scripture on both counts.

Finally, in Luke 7:33-34 it says, “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard.’” If Jesus was drinking non-alcoholic wine, how could they accuse Him of being a drunkard?

This is not to say that He was a drunkard – obviously He wasn’t. But, the only way someone could even begin to make that case would be if He was known to drink wine – wine that contained alcohol. You could not even falsely accuse someone of being a drunkard if they only drank non-alcoholic wine.

In other words, Scripture gives strong testament to the fact that merely drinking alcohol is not a sin, but getting drunk on alcohol is.

Read the source and comments:

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“The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the three “sources” of the morality of human acts. The object chosen morally specifies the act of willing accordingly as reason recognizes and judges it good or evil. “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention”(St. Thomas Aquinas). The end does not justify the means. A morally good act requires the goodness of its object, of its end, and of its circumstances together. There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice entails a disorder of the will, i.e. a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may result from it” (CCC: 1757-1761).

What are the principal sins against chastity?

Grave sins against chastity differ according to their object: adultery, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, rape, and homosexual acts. These sins are expressions of the vice of lust. These kinds of acts committed against the physical and moral integrity of minors become even more grave (CCC: 2351-2359, 2396).

What are the principal sins against chastity?

Grave sins against chastity differ according to their object: adultery, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, rape, and homosexual acts. These sins are expressions of the vice of lust. These kinds of acts committed against the physical and moral integrity of minors become even more grave (CCC: 2351-2359, 2396).

Final Judgment is Not a Matter of “Faith Alone” At All

Final Judgment is Not a Matter of “Faith Alone” At All

In the biblical and Catholic view, works are not separated from faith and salvation.


Giotto, “The Last Judgment”, Cappella Scrovegni in Padua (1306)

A Presbyterian pastor once asked me: “If you were to die tonight and God were to ask you why He should let you into heaven, what would you tell Him?”

The problem here is that I don’t see anywhere in the Bible, in any passages we can find concerning judgment, where God talks like a good Protestant Evangelical. They never refer to the “faith alone” that we are told is the sole criterion of salvation.

The Catholic Church, however, does not teach “works-salvation.” Works do not save anyone. Salvation is a free gift of grace and mercy from God. In the biblical and Catholic view, works are not separated from faith and salvation.

Spurred on by this challenge and my own curiosity, I actually found fifty biblical passages about judgment where works are mentioned as the criterion but not faith alone.

I managed to find two that at least mention faith in the context of judgment (but alas, not faith alone): Revelation 21:8 includes the “faithless” among those who will be damned. In context, it’s surrounded by many bad works characterizing the reprobate. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-12 mentions those who have “believed” while featuring the “work of faith” and other works in the same context.

Matthew 7:19, 21 (RSV) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. . . . [21] “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (cf. 7:22-27)

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man . . . will repay every man for what he has done.

Matthew 25:34-36 “Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; [35] for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, [36] I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” (cf. 25:31-33, 37-46)

Luke 3:9 . . . every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

John 5:29 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [29] and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

Romans 2:5-13 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. [6] For he will render to every man according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.[9] There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, [10] but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. [11] For God shows no partiality. [12] All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. [13] For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.

2 Thessalonians 1:8-11 inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. [9] They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, [10] when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. [11] To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power,

1 Peter 1:17 . . . who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, . . .

Revelation 2:23 . . . I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.

Revelation 20:12 . . . And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. (cf. 20:11-13)

Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.

Revelation 22:12 Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.

(cf. 1 Sam 28:15-19; 2 Ki 22:13; 2 Chr 34:21; Ps 7:8-10; 58:11;   Ecc 12:14; Is 59:18; Jer 4:4; 21:12; Ezek 7:3, 8; 33:20; 36:19; Mic 5:15; Zeph 2:3; Mt 3:10; 5:22; 7:19; 10:22; 18:8-9; 24:13; 25:14-30; Mk 13:13; Lk 14:13-14; 21:34-36; Rom 1:18; 8:17; 1 Cor 3:8-9; 1 Thess 3:12-13; 5:23; Heb 6:7-8; 1 Pet 4:13; 2 Pet 3:10-14; Jude 6-16, 20-21; Rev 2:5)

Therefore, if God did ask us the hypothetical question above, the proper answer wouldn’t be, “I had faith alone,” but rather, “I have (by your grace, with faith) done good works, obeyed your will, produced good fruits, fed the hungry . . . “ etc.

Read the source and comments:

About Dave Armstrong

Dave Armstrong
Dave Armstrong is a full-time Catholic author and apologist, who has been actively proclaiming and defending Christianity since 1981. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1991.

His multi-faceted website/blog, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, has been online since March 1997. He also maintains a popular Facebook page.

Dave has been happily married to his wife Judy since October 1984. They have three sons and a daughter (all homeschooled) and reside in metro Detroit.


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“Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written” (DV 12 #3). The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it (cf. DV 12 #4): 1) Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture” (cf. Lk 24:25-27, 44-46); 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”; 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith (cf. Rom 12:6; CCC: 111-114).


Sep 19th, 2016 | By  


Have you ever heard someone say “The Gospels were written centuries after Jesus”?

I hear this all the time. And of course the conclusion we are supposed to draw from this claim is that therefore the Gospels cannot be trusted to give us accurate information about the life of Jesus.

But there is one small problem.

This claim is complete NONSENSE. This claim evinces a total ignorance of history.

No New Testament scholar believes this ridiculous claim, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get asserted time and time again on the popular level.

In this episode of Spiritual Combat, I’m going to teach you how to debunk this claim and give it the Texas “whuppin” that it deserves.

Click the play button or link below to listen to this episode of Spiritual Combat:  (And don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or with RSS on your Android.)  

“Mutual Submission” between Husbands and Wives in Ephesians 5?

“Mutual Submission” between Husbands and Wives in Ephesians 5?

Ephesians 5

Since the promulgation of St. John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem in 1988, Catholics often speak of a “mutual submission” between husbands and wives. Proponents of the idea of mutual submission between spouses, including John Paul himself and Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, often cite Ephesians chapter 5, and particularly verse 21—“submitting to one another out of the fear of Christ”—as the basis for their teaching. Located as it is between general exhortations on Christian living and specific instructions for relationships within families, this verse is read as teaching an attitude of service and mutual regard among Christians, an attitude which would be especially appropriate among spouses who possess an equal dignity and an equal share in the salvation won by Christ (cf. Gal. 3:28). While some claim that John Paul II intends to leave in place the traditional doctrine of male headship in marriage and others claim he has moved beyond this teaching, few have examined the exegetical foundation upon which this teaching is based. Does Ephesians 5 teach mutual submission among spouses? As plausible as this reading is on a superficial level, it is almost certainly wrong, for a number of reasons.

Lexical and Semantic Considerations
The first reason why Ephesians 5 probably doesn’t teach mutual submission has to do with the meaning of the Greek word for submission and the way it is used in the New Testament. As almost any lexicon will verify, the Greek word hypotassō means to submit or be subject, invariably to some sort of authority. For instance, the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature lists the definitions of hypotassō in the passive and middle voices as: become subject; subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, obey. Understood in this sense, mutual submission is difficult to understand, if not a contradiction in terms. What can it mean to say that there are two heads of a marriage, each of which submits to the authority of the other? Apparently recognizing the difficulty of such a view, proponents of mutual submission claim that in this passage St. Paul is emphasizing mutual love between spouses, and see this passage as roughly equivalent to Paul’s command to the Galatians to “serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13).

Thus Rudolf Schnackenburg, in his commentary on Ephesians, claims that mutual submission is “an obliging behavior towards one another in ‘humility’ … an attitude demanded by love, urging to service (‘humility’) for which every Christian must be willing.” The problem with this reading is that in the New Testament hypotassō simply isn’t used to convey mutual love or humility, but instead always implies subjection to some authority. For instance, in the Pauline corpus, Christians are told to submit to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1, 5), servants are told to be submissive to their masters (Tit. 2:9), the Church is said to submit to Christ (Eph. 5:24), the universe and all the powers therein are said to be “submitted under the feet of Christ” (Eph. 1:22, cf. 1 Cor. 15:27), and Christ is said to submit to the Father (1 Cor. 15:28). In each case a relationship of authority is clearly in view, and the word submit is always used for the subordinate party, never for the authority.

In fact, with regard to the submission of Christ to the Father in 1 Cor. 15, Paul explicitly denies a kind of mutual submission between Father and Son when he asserts that of all the things which are to be submitted under Christ, “it is plain that He [the Father] is excepted” (1 Cor. 15:27). And the instructions for husbands and wives are no exception to this pattern: three times in the Pauline writings (Eph. 5:22, 24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; not to mention 1 Peter 3:5) wives are told to submit to their husbands, but not once is the husband told to submit to his wife. To put the matter curtly, if Eph. 5:21 teaches mutual submission, why are the words “submit” and “fear” (phobos), or their cognates, used only for the wife in the instructions that follow?

Moreover, as almost all commentators agree, v. 21 (“submitting to one another out of the fear of Christ”) functions as a transition and as a kind of heading for the “household code” (Haustafel) that follows. Therefore, to be consistent, advocates of the mutual submission interpretation must apply v. 21 not only to spouses but also to the relationship between parents and children, masters and slaves, as indeed a number of them do. But given the way hypotassō is used in the New Testament, with its specific connotation of submission to an authority, it seems highly unlikely that Paul is enjoining parents to submit to their children! It is true of course that there is an element of reciprocity in all of these examples: Alongside the exhortations to wives, children, and slaves, husbands are told to love their wives, parents are told not to provoke their children to anger, and masters are told not to threaten their slaves. But can this reciprocity be called mutual submission? Being mild with one’s subordinates is to be commended, but it is not remotely synonymous with being submissive to them. The husband’s Christ-like love should involve a great deal of sacrifice, but submission and sacrifice are not interchangeable. Such household codes are primarily concerned with order among Christians, not mutual love, which is presumably why wives are not told to love their husbands!

But what about the pronoun allelōn in v. 21, usually translated as “one another”? Who is it that should submit to one another if not husbands and wives? While such a reading is certainly possible, a more likely reading is that some Christians (namely, wives, children, and slaves) are being told to submit to other Christians (namely, husbands, parents, and masters). Of course, the phrase “one another” can include everyone who is referred to by the pronoun and could grammatically mean something like “everyone submits to everyone else.”  But it can also include only a subset of those comprised by the pronoun and mean something more like “some in the congregation should submit to others in the congregation.” Such a restrictive meaning of “one another” is often found when those indicated by the pronoun are part of the same group. Evangelical exegete Wayne Grudem uses the example of an event at which people are said to be “trampling one another.” Obviously it is not the case that everyone is trampling everyone else; rather, some members of a group (e.g., attendees at a rock concert) are trampling other members of the same group (fellow attendees).

Similar examples are furnished by the New Testament itself. For example, in Revelation 6:4, the second horseman of the apocalypse takes peace from the earth “so that men might kill one another.” Surely this indicates that some men are killing other men, not that everyone is killing everyone else. Total mutual slaughter is about as oxymoronic as mutual trampling. But an even more important example of this restrictive use of “one another” can be found in chapter 3 of the letter to the Colossians, since these passages are roughly parallel to the general exhortations of Ephesians 5. In v. 16, Paul writes: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.” Coming as it does in the midst of general instructions to the congregation, this command might seem to apply to all Christians.

However, a closer looks reveals that this is doubtful; for both teaching and admonishing are activities clearly associated in the New Testament with the leadership of the Church. In particular, teaching is explicitly restricted to only some Christians and seems almost to have been a formal office in the early church. As the letter of James warns, “Let not many of you become teachers” (James 3:1). And Paul himself expressly forbids women to teach men (1 Tim. 2:11-12; cf. 1 Cor. 14:34) and asks rhetorically in 1 Cor. 12:29, “Are all teachers?” And since children are apparently among the intended audience of the letter (cf. Col. 3:20), it seems doubly likely that this charge is given to the limited number of Colossian Christians who are teaching and admonishing others.

The Christ–Church Analogy
But if such lexical and grammatical considerations are not decisive, a second reason for rejecting the “mutual submission” interpretation also presents itself: the Christ-Church analogy which follows verse 21, wherein the husband is likened to Christ the head while the wife is compared to the Church, his body. While the husband is told to love his wife as Christ loves the Church (a truly imposing command), the verses directed toward the wife clearly place her in a subordinate position with regard to her husband, who is depicted as a kind of vicar of Christ himself. Thus in v. 22 the wife is told to submit to her husband “as to the Lord,” and v. 24 tells the wife to “submit” to her husband “in all things” “as” the Church submits to Christ. Less egalitarian language is scarcely imaginable. Moreover, this submission is comprehensive and would seem to rule out the kind of alternating submission advocated by some. For if the wife submits to the husband in “all things,” then where precisely is the husband supposed to submit to the wife?

Furthermore, the notion of headship expressed in the analogy indicates a unique authority and is incompatible with mutual submission. If it is true that, as Peter Williamson argues in his commentary on Ephesians, “it is not correct to reduce the meaning of ‘head’ to ‘authority over,’ it is certainly not correct to deny that headshipincludes the idea of authority. After all, it is precisely “because” (hoti) the husband is the head of the wife “as” (hōs) Christ is the head of the Church that the woman is told to submit to her husband (v. 23). It is obvious that Christ’s headship includes an element of authority, especially since the central theme of Ephesians is the supremacy of Christ, whose headship entails dominion over the whole cosmos (cf. Eph. 1:19-10; Eph. 1:20-23).

Moreover, mutual submission simply makes nonsense of the head-body analogy. For if, as was commonly understood in ancient society, the head exercises authority over the body, what would mutual submission entail if not that each couple would be in effect a two-headed monster? Or to approach the metaphor from a different angle, mutual submission would require that the head “place itself under” (the literal meaning ofhypotassō) the body, a curious icon of the totus Christus if ever there was one. If Paul is trying to teach mutual submission, it seems he has chosen a very poor analogy! And apparently this point is conceded by John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem when he writes, “However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the ‘subjection’ is not one-sided but mutual” (no. 24b). In other words, according to John Paul II, Paul has used an image of unilateral submission to teach mutual submission!

Mutual Submission Absent in Scriptural Parallels
The third reason why Ephesians 5:21 probably does not teach mutual submission is that the scriptural parallels to this passage, particularly those in the Pauline corpus, give not even a hint of the idea of mutual submission. Some proponents of mutual submission claim that in Ephesians 5 Paul uses the culturally dominant language of female subordination but subtly undermines the prevailing custom by including the language of mutual submission. But, as we have seen above, such qualifying language is conspicuously absent from any of the parallel passages where the roles of husbands and wives are addressed. Thus in Colossians 3:18-19, wives are simply told to submit to their husbands, while husbands are told only to love their wives. Far from challenging the prevailing cultural norm, Paul would in fact be reinforcing it, and innumerable Christians would have received instructions which include a defective idea of Christian marriage.

In truth, however, Paul’s teaching on male headship is informed not by Greco-Roman culture but by his Christological reading of the Old Testament: for Paul clearly sees male authority not as a consequence of the fall but as inherent in the original design of creation (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3-12; 1 Tim. 2:11-13), a design which the order of grace does not destroy but rather perfects. And this is why, moreover, male headship is in no way comparable to slavery, despite the facile claims made by some. In the household codes, Paul is not addressing the institution of slavery as such, but merely prescribing the order that must exist in any social structure. However, he not only asserts the divine origin of marriage, but furthermore affirms the God-given order which should obtain therein, which is why Pius XI in Casti Connubii described this patriarchal order as “established and confirmed by God” (no. 28).

So how should an orthodox Catholic respond to the language of mutual submission in general and in the teaching of John Paul II in particular, if this interpretation is correct? One thing to keep in mind is that even though the Bible doesn’t use the language of mutual submission, it does support the idea, if mutual submission is understood in the broader, extra-biblical sense of an attitude of humble service and love among Christians. John Paul II is surely correct that Christ, “who came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45), has introduced a radically new model for the exercise of authority. And perhaps John Paul is not rejecting male headship in se but only the abuse of such authority; in his Theology of the Body, he writes, “Love excludes every kind of subjection whereby the wife might become a servant or a slave of the husband, an object of unilateral domination.” This passage clearly does not rule out the kind of loving headship which the tradition has upheld.

But mutual submission must be understood in a way that does not undermine the unique authority of the husband, an authority which Pius XI said “must always and everywhere be maintained intact” (Casti Conubii no. 28). For even if my interpretation of Eph. 5:21 is incorrect, it is clear that mutual submission, conceived in this broader sense, does not rule out the exercise of authority. This is why 1 Peter can say, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another,” and in the next sentence exhort the younger members of the congregation to be “subject to those who are older” (v. 5). The fact is that in the New Testament, exhortations to mutual service exist alongside a certain authority ascribed to elders, Apostles, and Christ himself. Since there can be no denying that husbands are also accorded a unique authority in the New Testament, we should avoid doing serious violence to the theological vision of St. Paul and of the New Testament as a whole.

Read the source and comments:

Josh Kusch


Josh Kusch received his MA in Catholic Thought and Life from St. Meinrad School of Theology. He teaches Catholic theology in Louisville, Kentucky, where he lives with his wife and five children.

Here-under are some articles about family and marriage for you to read or watch: 

  1. Getting to know you, please click this link:
  2. Be Positive, please click this link:
  3. Love and Marriage, please click this link:
  4. Endless Love – Marriage after all, please click this link:
  5. Say it with love, please click this link:
  6. Quality family moments, please click this link:
  7. Secret of successful marriage, please click this link:
  8. The vocation of marriage, please click this link:
  9. Marriage as Covenant, please click this link:
  10. Humility: Foundation for Marital Happiness, please click this link:
  11. Gratitude: Foundation for marriage, please click this link:
  12. True Meaning of marriage, please click this link:
  13. Marriage and incompatibility, please click this link:
  14. Love is a garden, please click this link:
  15. Three kinds of love, please click this link:

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“God himself is the author of marriage” (GS 48:1). The vocation of marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes (CCC:1603)

Five Hard Bible Passages and What They Mean: Understanding the difficult parts of the Bible

Five Hard Bible Passages and What They Mean: Understanding the difficult parts of the Bible


Elisha and the bears.

Problematic Biblical passages are only a problem because we don’t approach them properly. Either we’re taking a passage too literally (or perhaps not literally enough), excising it from context, assuming an action of humans is a divinely approved, relying on faulty translations, or simply failing to understand the real meaning because of our distance from the time, place, and culture in which it was written.

These are human, not divine, errors, and they require intelligent engagement. They’re easy to mock, and the internet is full of scoffers doing just that rather than trying to understand the real meaning. Sites such as The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible pile ignorant derision on the text as though Jewish and Christian scholars hadn’t poured over every degesh and iota for several thousand years. There are no hard questions that have not already been asked and answered many, many times. All you need is the willingness to seek an answer.

Amputation for Touching a Man’s Genitals (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)


When men fight with one another, and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall have no pity.

Difficulties with this passage go back a long way, with Talmudic scholars arguing (unconvincingly) that the passage means a woman should be fined the value of her hand. Other exegetes see this not as a judgement to be delivered after the fact but as a method of getting the woman to release her hold on the genitals. Certainly, the act of grabbing a man’s genitals in the midst of a fight is immodest (not to mention odd), but hardly worthy of the punishment meted out. Beyond mere modesty, an injury to the genitals could affect a man dearly, preventing him from having more children, which could lead to shame and impoverishment in the Biblical world.

The JPS Torah Commentary says: “The meaning is: If a person is attacking another in a potentially lethal way (such as seizing his genitals, which is considered a lethal spot), you may even wound the attacker if that is necessary to save the victim (‘you may even cut off her hand’); if that doesn’t suffice, you may kill the attacker (‘show no pity).”

The Middle Assyrian Laws (A8) shed further light on the legal context of the Ancient Near East:

If a woman has crushed a man’s testicle in an affray, one of her fingers shall be cut off. And if, even though a physician has bound it up, the other testicle has become affected along with it and becomes inflamed, or if she has crushed the other testicle in the affray, they shall tear out both of her (last word missing).

The problem of interpretation is exacerbated by the use of two different words (yad and kap ), the second of which is polyvalent. It can mean palm, sole of the foot, bowl, hip socket, handful, and control (“But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” Judges 6:13). Since different words are used, it’s reasonable to assume different meanings are intended. In addition, the word translated as “cut off” (qss) is also used to mean take away or remove. Given that the passage comes immediately after one about a woman’s right to a levirate marriage (in which a widow is instructed to pull off her brother-in-law’s sandal and spit in his face if he refuses the marriage), perhaps the punishment has to do with marriage rather than mutilation. Perhaps she is “cut off” from her husband, or the community.

The point of this exercise is not to come up with convoluted explanations for inexcusable passages, but to realize that the meaning of words can be complex and changing. We still don’t really know what “selah” means despite it being used 74 times in the Old Testament.

What Jesus Knows (Mark 13:32)


”But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

If Jesus is the incarnate Word, how can there be things he does not know?

The passage can’t be plucked out and interpreted in isolation, but must be understood with other comments in which Jesus discusses the relationship of the Father and the Son. It is similar to Matthew 20:23, “To sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” Yet it must be placed alongside Matthew 11:27, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” John 3:35, “the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand,” and similar passages attesting to the divinity of the Son.

The Church Fathers pondered these passages as well, and St. Augustine developed the “form of the servant” interpretation based upon Philippians 2:6-7: “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.”

In De Trinitate Augustine argues that there is no contradiction in the Son being to the Father and the Father being great than the Son, because Jesus is True God and True man. In his deity he is equal and in his humanity he is not: “The one is to be understood in virtue of the form of God, the other in virtue of the form of a servant, without any confusion.” Scripture passages are thus interpreted by the understanding the “two resonances in them, one tuned to the form of God in which he is, and is equal to the Father, the other tuned to the form of a servant which he took and is less than the Father.” When we start to understand the true meaning of the two natures of Christ, then numerous passages start to slide into place.


“In the form of God, all things were made by him (John 1:3); in the form of a servant, he himself was made of woman, made under the law (Galatians 4:4). In the form of God, he and the Father are one (John 10:30); in the form of a servant, he did not come to do his own will, but the will of him who sent him (John 6:38). In the form of God, as the Father has life in himself, so he gave the Son also to have life in himself (John 5:26); in the form of a servant, his soul is sorrowful to the point of death, and Father, he said, if it can be, let this cup pass by (Mattew 26:38). In the form of God, he is true God and life eternal (1 John 5:20); in the form of a servant he became obedient to the point of death, the death even of the cross (Philippians 2:8). In the form of God, everything that the Father has is his (John 16:15), and all yours is mine, he says, and mine yours (John 17:10); in the form of a servant, his doctrine is not his own, but his who sent him (John 7:16)”

Lot Offers His Daughters For Rape (Genesis 19:8)


“Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

The offer of Lot to sacrifice his daughters echoes other sacrifices of loved ones in the Bible, such as Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Sarah (twice, in Genesis 12:13 and 20: 2) to the lust of Abimelech and Pharaoh, and the sacrifice of Isaac. In none of the cases is the sacrifice necessary, but it is offered to show the seriousness of the situation. Lot’s daughters were virgins, but were betrothed, which had the same legal status as marriage. It’s unlikely Lot even had the legal right to offer them to them mob, which is an example of his panic and the gravity of the offense to Lot’s hospitality embodied in the Sodomites. In the next section Lot’s daughters will get their father drunk and copulate with him in order to bear children, so even though lot and his daughters are rescued, they’re not being held up as models of righteousness.

The angels were offered protection by Lot. As Claus Westermann points out in his three-volume Genesis commentary, “The ‘shadow of his roof’ became thereby the place of security for the guests, the violation of which was a fearful crime with incalculable consequences.” Lot exposes himself to great personal risk in order to reason with the men, leaving his home and closing the door behind him. He councils them against committing the sin of homosexual rape by offering heterosexual rape as an alternative. Quite clearly, this speaks to the reduced respect for women in the ancient world, but it also emphasizes the grave depravity of sodomy. The two acts of sexual violation would not have been considered equal. There’s no reason to choose among misogyny, violations of hospitality, or violent anal rape as the sole root of Lot’s offer and the source of Sodom’s condemnation. They’re all reasons.

The offer itself is wicked by any understanding of moral theology. You do not address one grave evil with another. We don’t have to believe that Lot is in the right to understand the point of the story.

Children Eaten By Bears (2 Kings 2:23-24)


[Elisha] went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.

Once again we have a popular passage for scoffers, but that’s nothing new. St. Caesarius of Arles, for example, tells us this was a favorite passage of the Manichees for mocking the Old Testament. Elisha has a few dozen kids killed by bears for making for making fun of his baldness? Hardly behavior worthy of a prophet of God, right? Let’s break it down and see what’s actually going on here.

The curse has been considered potentially immoral by exegetes almost from the beginning, leading them to look for deeper reasons. One interpretation is that this is just a tale to instruct children in respect, and therefore it’s meant to be didactic and not literal. It was meant to show the power of the prophet’s word and the respect due to him.

A variant in the Lucianic recension of the Septuagint has “they stone” rather than “they mocked,” which obviously makes their offense much more serious. It’s also worth noting that the word translated as “small boys” in English can also mean young men. This may well have been a mob intent on doing Elisha harm.

“Forty-two” may be a symbolic number simply meaning “a lot.” We also encounter it in 2 Kings 10:14 as the number killed by Jehu. The Babylonian Talmud (b. Sota 47a) records the number of sacrifices by Balak of Moab as 42, and claims that the boys killed by the bears were taken in payments for these deaths.

What about the baldness, though? Was he naturally balding, or had he shaved his head in lamentation for Elijah? If the latter, then the mockery did not enrage him because he was vain, but because it disrespected the great prophet. Were they jeering at baldness because he was contemptible as a bald man, or were they jeering at his baldness because it signified his prophetic gift? The latter certainly would have been a more serious offense. The honor of the Lord Himself was injured by the children of Bethel. We may also read it as a condemnation of the adults of Bethel through the curse on their children.

Genocide (various)


Deuteronomy 20:16-17:  But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Per′izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb′usites, as the Lord your God has commanded.

Joshua 6:21: Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword.

1 Samuel 15:3: Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

The ancient world could be a barbaric place. Total annihilation of an enemy was a standard element of warfare. When we find God commanding this violence, we’re shocked. How can a Creator of love and compassion order the killing of women and children?

There are a couple of easy responses. Some readers merely recoil and condemn God as a moral monster, turning away from Him and losing faith. Some try to wave the passages away as evidence of ancient tribal culture given a veneer of divine sanction, rather than the true word of God. Neither of these is an acceptable response. The God of New and Old Testaments is the same. There’s no slithering away from this. Either you take Yahweh and Jesus together, or you take neither.

And that’s the key to understanding this. Canonical criticism (which I discuss here) approaches the Bible as a totality rather than a series of independent stories sliced from context. It is the revelation of one God mediated through many human voices. It shouldn’t surprise us that the Origin of all things speaking across time, space, and matter to people separated by vast cultural differences and temporal contexts should communicate in polyphony. The work of the faithful is to tune our ear to better hear His voice, particularly when the words strike discordant notes, as they do in passages about merciless warfare.

The main recurring narrative theme of the Old Testament is Israel turning away from God to follow false religions. Modernists like to think all religions are equally valid (or invalid) and thus none is better than any other. History reveals this to be demonstrably untrue, so when we look more deeply into the past shouldn’t be surprised to find barbaric people and belief systems. The Canaanites engaged in a laundry list of awful practices, including child sacrifice, temple prostitution, witchcraft, idol worship, and just about every thing the Lord had ordered the Jewsnot to do. “Every abominable thing which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:31)

(One curious difference with warfare in the Bible is that the Lord forbids Jews to take spoils of war in certain cases. Indeed, the story of Achen’s punishment in Joshua 7 is an example of the harsh punishment meted out when someone disobeys this command. Spoils made war more appealing and prosperous, and forbidding them meant people were not fighting simply for financial gain.)

Israel, in fact, didn’t wipe out the Canaanites. They rarely did what God commanded, and they often reaped the whirlwind of this disobedience. In Psalm Psalm 106:36-39 we’re told just happened:

They served their idols,
which became a snare to them.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons;
they poured out innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;
and the land was polluted with blood.
Thus they became unclean by their acts,
and played the harlot in their doings.

The People of God took up the wicked habits of those they had been ordered to conquer, and fell into damnation because of it. God had chosen the Jews to be His people, writing the history of His work in the world through their lives as he slowly ushered them from savagery to salvation. It’s hard to read passages like those found in Numbers 31, when Moses orders the destruction of the Midianites: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man.” He wants to extinguish the line of the Midianites so they will no longer threaten the Jews by rising against them or tempting them to follow foreign gods.

After 2000 years under the New Law of Christ, this kind of cruelty is unthinkable to us. Good. The world moved on, guided by Jesus, who speaks with the same voice as Yahweh. The entire approach to the wicked was flipped on its head. No longer were they to be wiped out. Now, the People of God had to be willing to die rather than to kill. We were commissioned to go into all the nations of the world and preach the good news, even if it meant our deaths, as it often did. “Do not spare them” was changed to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Temptation is no longer fought with the edge of the sword, but in the heart of man.

God does not change, but man does, and history is the story of his rough progression. The God who tried to shelter his beloved people from the corruption of wicked nations is the same God who ordered his followers to humble themselves even unto death in order to spread the word of His saving love.

One passage doesn’t make sense without the other. You have to look at the entire Bible and consider it as a single message from a single God. This is why heresies like Marcionism, Gnosticism, Manicheanism, and others that rejected the Old Testament were rejected so firmly by the Church Fathers. The accounts of Israel’s God and Jesus of Nazareth tell one story with one consistent meaning. It is the story of man being drawn, kicking and screaming, from the depths of sin to the Kingdom of God. It was never going to be easy.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald
Thomas L. McDonald has been a writer and editor for the past 25 years, covering technology, history, archaeology, games, and religion. He has degrees in English, Film, and Theology with a concentration in Church History. He’s been a certified catechist for twelve years, and taught Church History for eight. His other writing can be found at Wonderful Things []. He writes about archaeology and history for the National Catholic Register weekly.

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“Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written” (DV 12 #3). The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it (cf. DV 12 #4): 1) Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture” (cf. Lk 24:25-27, 44-46); 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”; 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith (cf. Rom 12:6; CCC: 111-114).