Tony Costa Christian Apologetics


"Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." - Jude 3

Apologetics 101

Studies in the Bible 1

Studies in the Bible 2

Studies in the Bible 3

The World of the Cults

The Errors of Open Theism

Islam and the Death of Jesus: A Response to Farzana Hassan Shahid

Roman Catholicism: Should We Pray to the Saints?

Apologetics:The Missing Link in the Christian Witness

Understanding Islam

Blessings and Curses: What is the Christian Response?

Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus

Astrology:A Christian Analysis

Christmas: A Biblical Analysis

Halloween: Hallowed or Harmful?

The "Iglesia Ni Cristo": A Christian Analysis

Roman Catholicism: Prayers to the Pope?

The New Testament: Its Theology, Political and Cultural Setting

The New Testament: The Synoptic Gospels and the Jesus in These Gospels

ACADEMIC PUBLICATIONS

"The Concept of Atoning Death in the New Testament: Pagan or Jewish?" in The American Journal of Biblical Theology Vol. 9 Issue 38

"Paul's Westward Mission in Acts and the Epistles: Incidental, Deliberate or Prophetic?" in The American Journal of Biblical Theology Vol. 9 Issue 30

"Was Adoptionism the Earliest Christology? A Response to Bart Ehrman" in The American Journal of Biblical Theology Vol.8 Issue 28

"Do the Gospels/Acts Conflict with Paul?" in Hope's Reason: A Journal of Apologetics Vol.1 No.1 2010: 115-35.

Book Review of Barrie Wilson's How Jesus became a Christian in The Protestant Challenge Spring 2009

Review of Biblical Literature: Jeannine K. Brown, Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007)

Review of Biblical Literature: Garrett C. Kenney,Translating H/holy S/spirit: Four Models: Unitarian, Binitarian, Trinitarian, and Non-Sectarian (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2006)

Review of Biblical Literature:George W. E.Nickelsburg,Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism and Early Christianity (Cambridge: Harvard Divinity School, 2006)

Review of Biblical Literature:Daniel M. Gurtner,The Torn Veil: Matthew's Exposition of the Death of Jesus (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Review of Biblical Literature: Jerome H. Neyrey,Give God the Glory: Ancient Prayer and Worship in Cultural Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007)

Review of Biblical Literature: Geza Vermes,The Resurrection: History and Myth (New York: Doubleday, 2008)

Review of Biblical Literature:Gerald L. Borchert, Worship in the New Testament:Divine Mystery and Human Response (St.Louis: Chalice, 2008)

Review of Biblical Literature: Robert M. Price, Jesus is Dead (Cranford, NJ: American Atheist Press, 2007)

Review of Biblical Literature:Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message (Downers Grove:IVP Academic, 2008)

Review of Biblical Literature:Carol M. Bechtel,ed., Touching the Altar: The Old Testament for Christian Worship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008)

Review of Biblical Literature:Paul F. Bradshaw, Reconstructing Early Christian Worship (London: SPCK, 2009)

Review of Biblical Literature:Daniel A. Smith, Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Early History of Easter (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010)

Review of Biblical Literature:Robert B. Stewart, ed., The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011)

Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism: Stanley E. Porter (ed.), Paul: Jew, Greek, and Roman (PAST, 5; Leiden: Brill, 2008)

APOLOGETICS 101

The word ‘Apologetics’ comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “answer”, “defense”, and “account”. Christians are called upon to always be ready to give a response, an answer, an account for the hope they have in Christ. (1 Peter 3:15) The Apostle Paul said that he was in chains in prison for the “defense (apologia) of the Gospel.” (Philippians 1:16)

Apologetics is also about being good students of the Bible. The Bible commands to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

As good students of the Bible, we are called upon to put everything to the test. We are not to just accept things because they sound good or make you feel good. See 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 and 2 Corinthians 13:5-6.

As Apologists, students must recognize the importance of biblical interpretation. We must pay close attention to the following:

1. Context. What is the passage about? What is its theme? Never read a passage in isolation, but examine the verses before and after. Context is extremely important if you want to understand what Scripture is saying to us.

2. Grammar. We must realize that there are certain words that are written in the original languages of the Bible that contain a special meaning that sometimes are not fully intelligible in English. Words used in the past tense for example are important in teaching important doctrines, for example salvation as a completed action. “By grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:8)

3. Historical Element. What are the cultural backgrounds, customs? What do certain phrases mean in the time they were written? Why are there certain practices mentioned in the Bible like polygamy, wars, etc? When we look at a given text in the Bible we should ask the question: a) Who is the writer? To whom is the author writing to? When was it written? Why? What prompted the writing?

4. Application. How do we apply Scripture to our present day? Even though Scripture was written thousands of years ago, God has spoken and His Word is eternal and always applicable at all times.

5. Caution. Never build theology or doctrine on ambiguous or unclear passages of Scripture.

STUDIES IN THE BIBLE 1

The Bible is the greatest book ever written. It still remains the world’s best selling book. It was also the first book that was ever printed when Guttenberg invented the printing press in Germany in the 16th century. Here is a good acronym for the “Bible”, “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”.

The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word “biblos”, and this referred to a “scroll” (see Luke 4:17 NIV), it was later rendered “book” because of the invention of the “codex”, ie. a book form. The idea of a book was invented in the 4th century A.D.

It is important to realize that the Bible is not just one book, it is a library, an encyclopedia of 66 books. The Old Testament has 39 books and the New Testament has 27 books. There is an easy way to remember this. If you remember that the Old Testament has 39 books, just multiply 3 X 9 = 27, and you get the 27 books of the New Testament, it’s that easy! People often accuse Christians of practising circular reasoning, that is quoting the Bible to prove the Bible, but as we have noted above, this would only be true if the Bible was only one book, but it is not one book, it is a volume, a library, an encyclopedia of 66 books! Thus, if Paul in the 1st century A.D. quotes Isaiah from the 8th century B.C. this is not circular reasoning, because one source is quoting another source from a different time period. On the other hand when Muslims quote the Qur’an to prove the Qur’an this is circular reasoning because the Qur’an is one book, made up of 114 chapters (called “surahs” in Arabic) composed as Muslims claim within a 23 year period. So to quote the same book to prove itself is to commit the logical fallacy of circular reasoning.

The Bible was composed over a 1600 year period, by over 40 different authors, many of whom lived at different times from each other and had different occupations. Some were fisherman, others, priests, prophets, a gardener, kings, a shepherd, a rabbi, etc. Thus the authors of the Bible share a rich diversity in their backgrounds.

The Bible also came down to us in 3 different languages, this is easily remembered by the acronym HAG‡Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek. God used these human languages to transmit His Word to humanity, thus it is important to realize when we read the Bible that the biblical authors used terms and words that although may seem strange to us in the 21st century, were relevant and understandable at the time they were written. The Word of God was written within history, that is why it is important to understand the historical background of the Bible.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. This text is known as the “Masoretic Text” (from the 8th cent.A.D. to 9th cent.A.D. when the “Masoretic” scribes put the vowel points into the Hebrew text). Hebrew and Aramaic was written in the ancient world only with consonants and no vowels. Scholars abbreviate this text as MT

There was also a Greek translation of the Old Testament composed around the 3rd century B.C. called the “Septuagint”, its abbreviation is LXX.

STUDIES IN THE BIBLE 2

The Bible is an encyclopedia composed of 66 books. It is divided into two sections, the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT). These two sections are complimentary to each other, not contradictory. There is a co-relation between the OT and the NT. The OT is the NT concealed, and the NT is the OT revealed. The analogy that has been used is that of the bud and the flower. The OT is the bud, which is beautiful to a degree, and the NT is the flower, which is far more beautiful and elegant that the bud. However, the bud comes first, and opens the way for the flower to emerge afterwards.

One important point which has to be made is that if the NT had contradicted the OT, then it would have to be rejected. God’s revelations are always consistent with each other. Acts 17:11 tells us that, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” In this passage, you will notice that when Paul preached the Gospel certain people (mostly Jews) actually checked what Paul said with the Scriptures. This was the right procedure and they found that what Paul preached was in harmony with what the OT Scriptures said. This is still the rule even today when we want to test things to see whether they are from God or not. If Christians were in the habit of doing this, we would have less cults today! The cults are the unpaid bills of the Church.

One major rule must be remembered in studying the Bible. As pointed out above, the NT is supported by the OT and confirmed as the continuation of God’s revelation. With this in mind one important rule must be understood. This was a point that all early Christians, and Early Church Fathers recognized. You never interpret the NT by the OT. The rule is that the OT must always be interpreted by the NT. If you remember this you will avoid massive confusion in biblical interpretation. The reason for this principle is that much of the meaning in the OT was concealed until its fulfillment had come in the NT. Remember the point I made above that the OT is the NT concealed, and the NT is the OT revealed? The NT is also the end of the biblical books. It is closed, there are no more books.

Several passages in the NT make this clear. It is only in Jesus that the OT is clarified and fulfilled. In the book of Hebrews we are told that many points in the OT referring to the priesthood, sacrifices of sheep, bulls, goats and the administration of the Temple were all precursors for the coming of Christ and only in Jesus are they made clear. In 2 Corinthians 3:14-15, Paul referring to the reading of the OT by the Jews says, “ But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.” In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul again states regarding the OT, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

STUDIES IN THE BIBLE 3

The word “Synoptic” comes from two Greek words meaning “syn” (together) and “optic” (eye), in other words, seeing together through the same eye. Three of the Gospels constitute the Synoptic Gospels, namely Matthew, Mark and Luke. The reason for this is because these three share a lot of common material. The Gospel of John on the other is quite different, and seems to share material unique to itself.

The Synoptic Gospels while share similar material also has material unique to each other. For example, only Matthew has the story of the Magi coming to Jesus (Matthew 2). Only Luke has the story of the shepherds in the field on the night Jesus was born (Luke 2). Only Luke has the parables of the Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son, Lost Sheep, etc. Some of the stories while similar in the Synoptics also are recorded differently. Why? What does this mean? What we have to realize is that Matthew, Mark, Luke and even John for that matter wrote to respective audiences and as such had to arrange material that was relevant to such audiences. The audiences that the Gospel writers addressed were the following:

Matthew- wrote to the Jews.

Mark – wrote to the Romans.

Luke – wrote to the Greeks.

John – wrote to Christian believers.

When we understand and appreciate this we can observe how the Evangelists wrote their Gospels. Let us take a look at 3 parallel accounts in Synoptic Gospels and see how this was done. Let us take the Confession of Peter as recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:13-16)

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." (Mark 8:27-29)

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:18-20)

If you notice, this is the same account, but recorded differently. Can you see why each of the Gospel writers presented this story to their audiences? They all agree that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah, but some told us more, like Matthew who also tells us Jesus is the Son of God. This is like 3 reporters writing 3 different accounts about the same story.

THE WORLD OF THE CULTS

A cult, in Christian terminology, is a group gathered around an individual or an organization that claims to be a prophet, a messenger, an apostle, or one who has been specially chosen by God. Cults claim to be in harmony with the historic Christian faith, but in fact they deny all the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith such as the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, Salvation by Grace Alone to name a few. All cults have the following common traits:

They all claim to be the restoration of Christianity, they are the true Church, the remnant, movement, and only organization of God. All others are in error. They all have extra biblical authority. The Bible is never enough, it cannot be understood apart from the cult. The Bible always has a secondary status, and it is the cult's book or new revelation that is above the Bible and interprets it.

All cults deny the Deity of Jesus Christ. They all deny that Jesus is the eternal God made flesh. All cults deny salvation by grace alone. Cults emphasize that works are absolutely necessary for salvation. All cults claim that salvation is by works, and not by grace alone. Some teach it is grace + works, but it still maintains it is impossible to be saved without good works.

Cults have a different Jesus, a different Gospel and a different spirit. (2 Cor.11:3-4; Gal.1:6-9) Be careful, there are a lot of "Jesus's" out in the world. When you talk to someone in a cult, you always ask them to define their terms. Ask questions like

What do you mean by "Jesus"? Who is Jesus to you? Is He God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity? Is He the God-Man? The cultist will always deny this. (See point 3 above) What do you mean by "God"? Is "God", the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three Persons in one God? What do you mean by salvation? Do you have to trust in Jesus alone for your salvation or do you need your church, organization, prophet, leader, etc? What is the Gospel? (Answer is found in 1 Cor.15:1-4!) The cultist does not know. They will say it is the Kingdom of God, enlightenment, exaltation (becoming "a god" as in Mormonism), self-realization, all of which are in error.

THE ERRORS OF OPEN THEISM

The spirit of apostasy (falling away from the faith)is already within the walls of the church. As the Holy Spirit prophesied through the Apostle Paul, "Even from your [the Church's] own number men will arise anddistort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you nightand day with tears." (Acts 20:30-31)

We have all heard of the first gay person ordained as an Episcopalian bishop in the US. The Episcopalians are the American equivalent of the Anglicans. They are part of the Church of England. This is certain to create a serious break within the Anglican fellowship. Even within the evangelical wing of the Church there is a false and insidious doctrine arising in our midst and being tolerated. I am talking about the theological concept known as "Open Theism", sometimes called "Neotheism".

This concept maintains that God does not know everything, He does not fully know what the future will bring. This is a subtle attack on the omniscience of God and the foreknowledge of God. If God does not fully know the future, then in effect, we limit God which is absurd.

It is interesting to note that in Scripture, it is the wicked that attribute to God finite knowledge, they are the ones who claim God does not know all things.For instance,in Psalm 73:11-12 it states, "They say, 'How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?'This is what the wicked are like-always carefree, they increase in wealth."

An infinite Being cannot be limited. I am reminded of the well known book by J.B.Phillips entitled, 'Your God is Too Small'. That is the God that open theism teaches about. The Scriptures maintain repeatedly that God knows the end from the beginning, that He is the Creator of time, from beginning to end. As the Creator of time and space, God is supremely sovereign over both. God is only limited by His own perfect nature. There are certain things God cannot do. For instance, God cannot lie, He cannot sin, He cannot deny Himself. In short, God cannot do anything which is contrary to His perfect nature. Moreover, it logically follows that if God is not omniscient (all-knowing), then what guarantee do we have that we can believe in the prophecies of the Bible? If God does not fully know the future, how can we trust His Word about the future? We are told in Scripture however that, "From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:26-27)

Open theism is taught by certain well known writers such as Clark Pinnock, John Sanders and Gregory Boyd. I personally know a pastor who accepts the views of these men and teaches it at his church! If we limit God and attack His foreknowledge, then it is a matter of time before everything else breaks down as well. In the end, the authority of the Bible will come under attack as it has in these liberal churches. We are now seeing the fruits of such rejection of Scriptural authority in these churches. Every heresy in the history of the Christian Church always arose because of a distorted view of the nature of God. Be cautious about the theology of open theism and challenge anyone who teaches it. It is unbiblical and spiritually dangerous. Keep the faith. (Jude 3)

Islam and the Death of Jesus: A Response to Farzana Hassan Shahid

The article ‘In Search of the Historical Jesus’ by Farzana Hassan Shahid in the The Ambition Monthly (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; June 2004) has made a number of misleading and gross errors regarding the historic Christian perception of the death of Jesus. It would have been advisable if Shahid had consulted with Christian scholars and/or theologians before proceeding with the writing of this article.

 

One of the misleading statements is the idea that “According to early Christians [sic] texts, the one put on the cross was a substitute of Jesus ‘in his likeness.’” The problem here involves a fallacy of accent. The word “early” necessitates some qualification. What does Shahid imply by “early Christians [sic] texts”? If the reference is to the Nag Hammadi collection of texts, then these are by no means the earliest Christian texts at all. Most of the texts found at Nag Hammadi date to 140 CE or 150 CE and afterwards. The earliest Christian texts are in fact the New Testament which date to the first century CE covering the time span of at least 50 CE to 100 CE. Shahid is in error to claim that the Nag Hammadi texts “…shed considerable light on the historical Jesus.” On the contrary, it is the New Testament that sheds this light on the historical Jesus. All Jesus scholars and historians begin with the New Testament as the primary document in order to learn of the historical Jesus and the origins of the Christian faith and not the Nag Hammadi texts. The reasons are obvious, the New Testament is, and remains the earliest texts of the Christian faith.

 

The reason why many of the texts found at Nag Hammadi such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and others were excluded from the New Testament is clear when one investigates the theological and historical context of early Christianity. The early Christians in the first century had two criteria whereby they determined what texts were considered authoritative and inspired:

 

1)      The text had to be written by an apostle of Jesus or by a disciple of an apostle of Jesus. Thus the 4 Gospels were accepted in the Christian community without question from the earliest times as all New Testament scholars will admit. Matthew and John were both apostles of Jesus, Mark and Luke were disciples of apostles. Mark was a disciple of the apostle Peter and Luke a disciple of the apostle Paul.

 

2)      The text had to be written early within the first century time period, that is during the time of the living witnesses who knew and walked with Jesus. During the first century these witnesses were still alive and thus were able to verify or refute circulating stories about Jesus.

 

Thus based on points (1) and (2) above, the reason for the exclusion of the Nag Hammadi texts is self-evident. They were not written by any of the apostles and/or disciples of Jesus, and they were not written within the first century. It is for this reason that scholars date these writings to the middle of the second century, ie.140 CE and after, not before. The Nag Hammadi texts also reflect a sectarian influence. One of the early sectarian movements that broke off from mainstream Christianity was Gnosticism from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning “knowledge”. This movement held to the esoteric philosophy that Jesus was not a real human being but rather a spiritual teacher who came to give true spiritual insight, “gnosis”, “knowledge” to humans who lived in a world of material evil and illusion. Gnosticism also vehemently rejected the God of the Old Testament and held Him to be the creator of all material evil and not good. It also made a difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament arguing that they were not the same. With the rejection of the true humanity of Jesus, the Gnostics also rejected His virgin birth, for if Jesus was not really human, then logically He did not need a human birth! Moreover, if Jesus was never human, then He never really could die, and in fact according to Gnosticism, Jesus never will die because only humans die, and Jesus according to Gnosticism was not a real human.

 

This helps explain the text of the Apocalypse of Peter that Shahid cited. The Apocalypse of Peter is also a Gnostic text. The reason why Jesus is not crucified in this text is because He is not human, hence a human substitute is taken. Moreover, throughout the Apocalypse of Peter, Jesus is referred to as “Savior”, a title that even Islam refuses to confer on Jesus! Thus, Shahid is being extremely selective here in the choice of what to include and exclude about Jesus. The Gnostic writings in rejecting the humanity of Jesus sought to explain away the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ death by developing explanations such as substitutes and illusionary visions of Jesus on the cross. The death of Jesus remains a historical fact of history despite what the Qur’an 4:157 says.

 

When one surveys some of the other texts found at Nag Hammadi such as ‘The Thunder', 'Perfect Mind'’,'The Thought of Norea', ‘The Sophia of Jesus Christ', ‘The Exegesis of the Soul', it becomes quite evident that one is dealing with Gnostic literature and not classical Christian material. One of the clearest indications that these texts are not original or early Christian texts as Shahid falsely assumes, is the fact that many of them plagiarize material copiously from the New Testament. In the Gospel of Thomas, references are made to material found in the Gospels of the New Testament, a glaring revelation of its later dating.

 

If Shahid finds support in these Gnostic texts to corroborate the Qur’anic statement in 4:157 that Jesus was not crucified or killed, then is Shahid also prepared to accept the other teachings these texts espouse that are not only contrary to historic Christianity but also historic Islam? These texts from Nag Hammadi also refute Islamic beliefs regarding Jesus and God in that it denies:

 

1)      Jesus was a real human being.

2)      Jesus was miraculously born of the Virgin Mary.

3)      The God of the Jews is the same God as the God of Jesus and by extension the

      God of all Muslims according to the Qur’an.

 

Shahid argues that one should place the “Crucifixion story to scrutiny, in light of certain historical data and religious texts available to us.” This is indeed the place to start. What has New Testament scholarship through the centuries surrendered to us by way of evidence? New Testament scholars and historians are in agreement that the following things are true about the historical Jesus:

 

1)      Jesus of Nazareth had a remarkable ministry in that He was believed to have performed incredible works (healings, exorcisms, etc)

2)      Jesus was arrested and consequently executed by the Roman method of crucifixion.

3)      The tomb of Jesus was found empty on the third day following His death.

4)      The disciples experienced post mortem appearances of Jesus alive again.

5)      Based on (4) the Christian faith began and spread.

 

Shahid’s article has not considered any of the points (2) – (5), although as a Muslim, Shahid would concede to (1). The death of Jesus of Nazareth is virtually accepted by all scholars and historians as a fact of history. Dr. John Dominic Crossan, a fellow of the Jesus Seminar and by no means a conservative scholar stated, “[T]here is not the slightest doubt about the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.”  John Dominc Crossan. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991), 375. (emphasis his) The cumulative evidence of the New Testament and of the secular literature of the first and second centuries such as Tacitus, Seutonius, Josephus, Pliny the Younger, the Jewish Talmud and others point to the historical fact of Jesus’ death by crucifixion.

 

The weight of this evidence has also caused Muslim apologists like Ahmed Deedat and Shabir Ally to at least concede the point that Jesus was crucified. Ally however accepts the ‘swoon theory’ or ‘apparent death theory’ promulgated by the Ahmadiyah Movement that Jesus was crucified but did not die on the cross. No serious New Testament scholar holds to these theories any longer nor are they believed to be tenable at all by current scholarship.

Shahid’s appeal to the Nag Hammadi texts as representative of historic Christianity is misleading in that these texts are sectarian and do not reflect primitive orthodox Christianity. This would be the same as someone quoting the Ahmadiyah position as proof that Sunni Muslims believe the same thing as the Ahmadiyahs, or appealing to the Baha’i’ writings as representative of historic Islam, or even claiming that Sunnis and Shi’ites share the same view on whether Muhammad left a successor or not. Both the Ahmadiyahs and Baha’i’s for instance, are viewed as sectarian and separate from historic Islam. The same is true in historic Christianity with its rival sects like Gnosticism. One never consults sectarian groups to understand the position of mainstream religion, whether it be Christianity or Islam. Would it be appropriate for Christians to consult the Nation of Islam, or the Ahmadiyah Movement or the Baha’i’ s to understand historic Islam?

Shahid also makes the incredible assertion that the Gospel of Barnabas has validity. The Muslim scholar Cyril Glassé states:

As regards the "Gospel of Barnabas" itself, there is no question that it is a medieval forgery. A complete Italian manuscript exists which appears to be a translation from a Spanish original (which exists in part), written to curry favor with Muslims of the time. It contains anachronisms which can date only from the Middle Ages and not before, and shows a garbled comprehension of Islamic doctrines, calling the Prophet "the Messiah", which Islam does not claim for him. Besides its farcical notion of sacred history, stylistically it is a mediocre parody of the Gospels, as the writings of Baha'Allah are of the Koran.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Harper & Row, 1989, p. 64

 

A number of other misleading statements concern the place of certain sects such as the Ebionites and others which Shahid claims hold a “position very close to that of Islam’s.”  The Ebionites however rejected the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus, a doctrine that Islam accepts! Furthermore, the assertion that the Council of Nicea in 325 CE invented the doctrine of the Trinity and the salvation of humanity through the death of Jesus is absolutely absurd and displays a gross ignorance of the historical facts.

This writer agrees with Shahid that it is necessary “to conduct a search for the historical Jesus with objectivity and care” and  “provided an honest attempt is made to seek the truth.”  What is most upsetting is that this course of inquiry was not followed at all. In order for Christians and Muslims to effectively dialogue with one another, it is imperative to respect one another’s Scriptures and history and avoid the careless treatment of factual evidence.

 

Roman Catholicism: Should We Pray to the Saints?

Roman Catholics and members of the Orthodox and Eastern churches make the claim that it is permissible for Christians to pray to the saints and especially to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Protestant Christians object to this on Scriptural grounds that this is an unbiblical practice. Roman Catholic apologists usually retort that the practice of addressing the saints in prayer is founded on Sacred Tradition and Church history. Of course, this latter view entails an implicit denial and rejection of the Reformation motto "sola Scriptura", ie. "Scripture alone" as the rule and basis for all belief and practice in the Church. Notwithstanding this point, several Roman Catholic apologists have attempted to argue that the Scriptures do indeed buttress the postion that saints can and should be addressed in prayer.

The main passage that is alluded to is Revelation 5:8, Certainly, if prayers to the saints was a common Christian practice then it would be found in a few places in the New Testament, yet it does not. The book of Revelation is an apocalyptic book filled with symbolic imagery and one must be careful how to interpret it. Revelation 5:8 does not say that these are saints in heaven offering up the prayers of other saints to God. Rev.5:8 (NIV) states,

"And when he [the Lamb-Christ]had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints."

In this passage both the 4 living creatures and 24 elders bow before the Lamb and hold the bowls of incense. Where does it say they are saints? The 4 living creatures are presumably cherubim based on Ezekiel 1, but cherubim are not saints, they are heavenly beings. The 24 elders are not defined and have been a topic of various interpretations among scholars and theologians. They may represent the people of God through the ages, but we are not sure. However, one thing is certain, they are not the object of prayer. Throughout the book of Revelation, it is God and the Lamb (Jesus Christ) who are always the focal point of worship, honour and praise.

The book of Revelation again is filled with apocalyptic language and is highly symbolic. There are saints in heaven to be sure (Hebrews 12:22-24), but nowhere are we told that they hear our prayers and intercede for us. Hebrews 12:22-24 seeks to show that the Church exists on two levels, the heavenly and earthly level, the Church is both in heaven and earth. Those who seek to prove that saints can be addressed in prayer are clearly reading into the text of Rev.5:8 what is not there. Nowhere does it say that the 24 elders are saints, but rather that they offer up the prayers of the saints to God perhaps as representatives. Even angels perform the same duty of offering up the prayers of the saints (Revelation 8:3-4), but that does not mean they are redeemed saints. ALL who are in Christ Jesus are "saints" (1 Corinthians 1:2), they do not need to go through a process of canonization as Rome has it today. Thus, the saints exist on 2 planes, heavenly (those who have died) and earthly (those who are still alive on earth).

Another point to be made here is the question of intercessory prayer. Do we not intercede for others? The argument usually proceeds along these lines according to Roman Catholic apologists to argue that the saints can also intercede on our behalf in heaven. It is clear that Christ is the only Mediator (1 Tim.2:5) However, Christians can pray and intercede for one another as Scripture clearly testifies. (1 Tim.2:1-4) Of course we should pray for one another. Nevertheless, one important distinction that is always over looked is that such interceding is never commanded or enjoined on the Christian to be done for the dead. It is only in the context of the living and the present. Look at all the passages cited in relation to intercession and it will become evident that this is indeed the case. Not once is the context dealing with intercessory prayer addressing the subject of praying for departed Christians or saints much less praying to them.

It is clearly necromancy, to consult the dead whether for occultic purposes or otherwise. Deuteronomy 18:10-15 is very clear on this. To invoke the dead is to consult with the dead, it is common sense. Roman Catholic apologists who attempt to cite the example of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration is extremely weak. Elijah for one had not died but was translated, Moses did indeed die. However, they appeared not because the disciples were having a séance(they had no clue what was going on!), they appeared with Jesus and they were discussing His death in Jerusalem,

"Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. "(Luke 9:30-31)

The appearance of Elijah and Moses represented Jesus' fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). Jesus had said that God was the God of the living, not the dead, and to Him, all are alive. (Luke 20:37-38) The Transfiguration showed that God's servants are alive in His presence in glory. The Transfiguration was to show Christ' glory (see 2 Peter 1:17-18), not to teach us that we can pray to the saints. It is interesting however, that Elijah and Moses are never called "saints" per se in Roman Catholic teaching. You don't hear of St.Moses or prayers offered to him!

The Protestant charge that the saints cannot hear our prayers because they are not omnipresent and infinite like God is a valid one. How can Mary and the saints hear all the prayers around the world. Only God can do this because He is omniscient and omnipresent. Are the saints as finite beings omnipresent, omniscient? This critique has not been adequately explained by those who hold to the view that saints can be invoked in prayer.

Another passage that is sometimes offered by Roman Catholic apologists is the following Scripture,

"Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will!" (Psalm 103:20-21)

Also the following passage,

"Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!" (Psalm 148:1-2)

The commands given here are imperatives. The Psalms are poetic in their literary genre and they call on the angels to worship God and sometimes they call on inanimate objects to do the same. These are not prayers to angels, but commands for them to worship God with all creation. Another significant passage that is not usually mentioned for reasons that will be obvious is the remainder of Psalm 148:3-4,

"Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies."

Here, the psalmist calls on the sun, moon, the stars and the heavens to praise God. Does this mean by the same logic that the sun, moon and stars pray for us? Are these heavenly bodies saints? The words are the same in Psalm 148:1-2 as they are in 148:3-4. Roman Catholic apologists are clearly being selective in the passages they want to cite and not cite.

It is also a known fact that Roman Catholics not only invoke the saints in prayer including Mary, but also the angels, particularly their guardian angels. Two key Scriptural passages demonstrate that both these practices are in error.

In the story of the visit of the apostle Peter to the Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10:23-48) we read that when Cornelius met Peter he "fell at his feet in reverence." (Acts 10:25) Notice Peter's response, "But Peter made him get up. 'Stand up,' he said, 'I am only a man myself.'"(Acts 10:26) If the Pope is the successor of Peter as Roman Catholicism alleges, does he like Peter forbid people to bow before him in reverence? Does he remind them that he is "only a man"? It is clear that Peter realized that God alone was the object of worship and reverence.

In the case of angels, it is significant that in the book of Revelation, as John was being given his apocalyptic tour of heaven and future events that we read the following in Revelation 19:10,

"At this I fell at his [the angel's] feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!"

It is clear that angel worship here is strongly discouraged. Even the apostle Paul warned of those who practiced "the worship of angels"(Colossians 2:18)

None of the passages examined above support the Roman Catholic teaching of addressing the saints in prayer. In fact as in the case of Acts 10:23-48 and Revelation 19:10, no saint or angel should ever be the recipient of reverence or worship. To do so would be to commit idolatry and violate the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3) What they do consistently teach is that God alone is the recipient of all glory, honour and power. He is the object of our worship. Of course, various theological terms have been employed like "veneration" and "adoration" in Catholicism to argue that saints and angels can be venerated but only God can be adored and worshipped. However, at the end of the day it becomes a game of linguistic gymnastics and semantics. Prayers and invocations are ingredients of worship found strewn throughout the Bible. When these same features appear with the saints as their objects, then how can one argue that this is not worship? The result is that technical terms like "veneration" and "adoration" are in the final analysis indistinguishable from each other.

The Scriptures are clear. God and God alone is the object of our prayers, invocations and worship. It is this important point the Reformers reminded us about and appealed for us to return to. This article is a loving appeal to return to the Scriptures as the basis of our belief and practice. In short, this is a labour of love for the cause of Christ. We must speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15) To God alone be the glory!

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