Could Adultery and Fornication be Forgiven in the Early Catholic Church?

Could adultery and fornication be forgiven in the early Catholic Church? In the 200s, Christians were deeply divided over this question of mercy and forgiveness.

A major theological controversy broke out in in the Catholic Church around the year AD 217 regarding adultery and fornication.

christ-and-the-adulteress

In 217, Pope Saint Callixtus I of Rome issued a decree that the sins of adultery and fornication could be remitted by the Catholic Church through the office of the bishop.

Tertullian, who rejected the Pope for this reason, directly quotes and preserves Pope Callixtus’s decree:

I hear that there has even been an edict set forth, and a peremptory one too. The Pontifex Maximus, that is, the bishop of bishops, issues an edict:

“I remit, to such as have discharged the requirements of repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication.”

It’s notable that Tertullian refers to the Bishop of Rome as the “bishop of bishops” and “Pontifiex Maximus.” Tertullian scholars believe that he was saying this tongue in cheek, because Tertullian held the lowest esteem for Bishop of Rome and Pope Callixtus in particular.

This merciful papal decree of 217 led to general scandal because it was generally believed that certain sins could not be absolved by the visible church. According to Tertullian (a great theological enemy of Pope Callixtus), once a baptized person committed any of the seven sins on the list below, he or she could not be absolved by the visible church:

  1. murder
  2. idolatry
  3. fraud
  4. apostasy (publicly renouncing Jesus Christ)
  5. blasphemy
  6. adultery (sex with someone besides your spouse)
  7. fornication (sex outside marriage)
    (this list is found in Tertullian’s De Pudicitia*, Ch 19).

Tertullian vs. Pope Calixtus

Tertullian, citing ancient custom, claimed that a sinner could be forgiven directly by Jesus Christ for these seven sins; however, the Catholic Church on earth could not absolve these seven sins and those that committed them would and should remain excommunicated and outside the Catholic Church until death. If you were baptized and committed one of these seven sins, you could never in your life receive the Holy Eucharist. Period. End of story. Close the book.

Anti-Pope Hippolytus vs. Pope Callixtus

The Catholic Church’s first Anti-Pope (a man falsely claiming to be Pope against a valid Pope) arose in response to the 217 decree of Pope Callixtus allowing the absolution of fornication and adultery. While Tertullian was railing against Pope Callixtus’s laxity, some traditions say that a priest in Rome named Hippolytus rebelled against his Pope Callixtus and set himself up as a rival Bishop of Rome against Callixtus on the issue of absolution for adulterers and fornicators. It is unclear if Hippolytus claimed to be a full blown “Bishop of Rome” or merely a reformer set against the laxity of Callixtus. Either way we can see that even the clergy of Rome were divided over this issue.

Hippolytus writes that during the pontificate of Pope Callixtus, men in holy orders began taking wives and Callixtus did not censure them for sin or depose them (Refutation of All Heresies 9, 7). Hippolytus claims that clergy were even being married two to three times after ordination. Divorce and remarriage among the clergy!

Concerning Pope Callixtus, Hippolytus writes:

And in justification, [Callixtus] alleges that what has been spoken by the Apostle has been declared in reference to this person: “Who are you that judges another man’s servant?”

Hippolytus goes on to lament that Catholic women in Rome began to engage in contraception and abortion:

Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round [their belly], so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church!

And so there was great scandal in Rome concerning Pope Callixtus (who is a canonized Catholic saint).

Can Mortal Sins Be Forgiven? Callixtus says Yes

Center to the debate between Pope Calixtus and Tertullian/Hippolytus was the passage in 1 John concerning “mortal sins”:

And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. (1 Jn 5:15-16)

Both Tertullian and Hippolytus claimed that the Apostle John taught the Catholic Church that prayer should not be made for those whose sin is mortal. Saint John explicitly says: “I do not say that one is to pray for that.” So for them, there was Apostolic teaching that mortal sins should not receive the intercession of the public and visible Church. According to Tertullian and Hippolytus, if you committed apostasy or adultery or fornication, then the Church had nothing for you. No prayer. No Eucharist. Nothing. After all, didn’t Saint John teach the same thing?

Binding and Loosing in Saint Peter’s Rome

We don’t have the exegetical response of Pope Saint Callixtus but I can make a conjecture of his orthodox response: Saint John said that we are not obliged to pray for mortal sins. However, we find two truths in the Gospels that show us that the visible Catholic Church can and should absolve mortal sins (even the mortal sins on Tertullian’s list of seven):

  1. The power to bind and loose on earth as given by Christ to Peter in Matthew 16. Saint Peter and the bishops of Rome do have the power to bind and loose sins and to modify customs for the sake of Christ’s mercy and salvation for sinners. Pope Callixtus was using the power of the keys as the Successor of Saint Peter.
  2. Peter committed apostasy on Good Friday. He was reestablished visibly and publicly by Christ. Christ did not leave Peter without prayer and sacraments until death. He publicly raised Peter back to his rank with the question: “Simon do you love me” three times.

The Catholic Church, the Pope, and the Ministry of Mercy

Nowadays it seems unthinkable that the austere rigorism of Tertullian and Hippolytus was once normative in the Catholic Church of AD 217. Back then it was generally assumed that after baptism, Catholics did not commit adultery, fornication, murder, apostasy, idolatry, blasphemy, or fraud. It just wasn’t supposed to happen. Remember, this was the persecuted Catholic Church of the martyrs. If you were baptized, you were signing up for possible martyrdom!

Origen (who died in 254), it seems, was baptized as an infant, but 90% or more of Christians at this time were not baptized as children. They made a careful and prayerful decision to follow Christ and receive baptism. Most of them had friends or family who were actual martyrs for Christ. These were serious Christians and once we recognize this reality, we see how “mortal sins” were a real issue.

In the Catholic Church, we see a theological shift happening in AD 217. The reality of Romans 7 comes alive: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” For this reason, the Church as the Body of Christ can visibly execute the mercy of Christ to mortal sinners.

Many Catholics began to report that the Rigorist position against absolving sin removed forgiveness and yet did not remove sin – because even the Rigorists had scandalous sins among them.

Repentance and Mercy

Pope Callixtus and the Catholic tradition afterward was not entirely lax, and she always required the act of ecclesial repentance for sin. “Going straight to Jesus” for the forgiveness of mortal sin has never been approved. If we commit a mortal sin, we must go and confess it to a priest in confession. We believe that forgiveness is tied to the Church and her powers that she received directly from Jesus Christ.

If a sin can be absolved through the bishop and the priests he appoints, then any sin can be absolved through the bishop and the priests. This is the great mercy and comfort of being a Catholic

Godspeed,

Taylor Marshall

PS: If you are interested in these types of topics, can get all three volumes of my Origins of Catholic Christianity at amazon.com.

* Of note, Tertullian in De Pudicitia claims that Saint Barnabas wrote the Epistle of Hebrews in union with Saint Paul. I claim that Tertullian is wrong on this point and Hebrews was written by Saint Luke and give my reasons in my book The Catholic Perspective on Paul.

 

Is St George Still a Saint? What about the Dragon?

April 23 is the feast of Saint George. So I put together a super post on Saint George:

Saint George

Saint George Podcast

Have you ever debated whether Saint George is real or historical? If so, then this Catholic podcast is for you: Is Saint George (and Saint Christopher) still a Saint?.mp3

Sword and Serpent: My Best-Selling Novel about Saint George is on sale this weekend

Looking for a Catholic fiction page-turner? I published a #1 best-selling historical fiction novel about Saint George and the Dragon (plus St Christopher, Emperor Constantine, Diocletian, et al.) titled Sword and Serpent

Father Dwight Longenecker wrote a glowing review of Sword and Serpent here.

Here’s the book trailer for Sword and Serpent on YouTube:

The novel is now on sale for this April 23 weekend on Kindle and in paperback. Click here to get a copy:

sword and serpent look inside

You can also download the free “Sword and Serpent Study Guide” (an explanation of the historical features of the book and its saints) at swordandserpent.com.

Troops of Saint George: Outdoor Adventure for Catholic Men and Sons

Looking for a Catholic alternative to scouting? In 2013 I founded a Catholic outdoor adventure fraternity for priests, deacons, fathers and sons – and dedicated it to Saint George. We have 40 active troops. Please visit our website and consider starting a Troop of Saint George at your parish. We have a starter kit for dads and for priests to help you get started:

TSG group photo

Click here to visit the Troops of Saint George website.

Saint George’s Skull in Rome

Saint George’s skull is in Rome and I visited him last summer in Rome. If you’d like to go on pilgrimage with me for a NSTI Catholic Theology Pilgrimage to Rome and Italy this summer, please click here to reserve your spot.

Happy feast of Saint George!!!

Saint George pray for us,

Taylor Marshall

Why Did Jesus Wash the Feet of the Apostles? Pope Francis, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine

Recently the Catholic Church has been wrestling with the significance of foot washing – the liturgical reenactment of Christ washing the feet of His Apostles on the night before He was betrayed.

Jesus-washing-feet-

The Council of Elvira (Spain, AD 305) prohibited the washing of feet because heretical ideas were being associated with it: “The feet of the newly baptized are not to be washed by the priests or clerics” (Elvira 48). Saint Ambrose of Milan, against this rulings of the Council, considered foot washing to be “sacrament” of great importance. In Milan and other places, “foot washing” was a prelude to sacramental baptism.

The Albigensian heretics held foot washing in high esteem and assigned to it a theological importance without parallel in the orthodox Catholic Church. Up until the last century, Popes, Abbots, and Kings would wash the feet of the poor as a sign of humility and servant leadership. More on that later.

Foot Washing Enters the Mass in 1955

Up until 60 years ago, the custom of foot washing did not appear in the Roman Eucharistic liturgy. Until 1955, the Roman Missal included a rite of foot washing detached from the Mass. Pope Pius XII was the first Pope to have foot washing included in the Mass and it was stipulated that it would be the feet of men, presumably as a sign of the male-only priesthood.

Hence, foot washing is relatively new liturgical rite. 

In 2013, Pope Francis washed the feet of two women and non-Christians (Muslims) at a juvenile detention center in Rome 2013. Pope Francis revised the direction of the Roman Missal in 2016 to include men and women as a sign of inclusion.

Theology of Foot Washing? Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine:

I wrote a well-known book on Judaism and Catholicism that covers the liturgical and sacramental connections between the Old Testament and Catholic Christianity called The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity. It’s a popular text now in Catholic schools and seminaries. You can read reviews of it on amazon here.Crucified Rabbi Look InsideUnfortunately, I did not include a section on foot washing. So here goes:

Saint Jerome in his Epistle to Pope Damasus states that Christ washed His Apostles’ feet to prepare them for the preaching of the gospel, in fulfillment to the prophecy of Isaiah:

“How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, of them that bring good tidings.” (Isa. 52:7)

The Apostles were ordained as sacerdotal priests at the Last Supper and so the foot washing is to prepare them to carry the Gospel to foreign lands. It’s a commissioning rite to “preach the Gospel of peace.”

Saint Ambrose associates the foot washing to original sin and the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 since it is with “the heel” that the Messiah and His followers will crush Satan’s head:

“Because Adam was tripped up by the devil and the venom was poured out over thy feet, therefore dost thou wash thy feet that in that part where the serpent ensnared thee there may be added the more abundant aid of sanctification, so that he be not able to trip thee up hereafter.” Saint Ambrose De Sacramentis3, 1)

Saint Augustine and Cyprian associate the washing of feet with the removal of venial sins. This is why Christ says: “He that has been washed needs not but to wash his feet, but is clean throughout.” The Apostles were already baptized. Peter asks for a second baptism (his head) but Christ refuses. The Apostles had already been baptized and their sins removed, however, the lower sins that trip us up also have to be remitted before receiving the Holy Eucharist. Hence, the foot washing was a liturgical penitential rite prior to the First Communion of the Apostles.

Is Right to Allow Women?

Prior to Francis, the men chosen to receive foot washing symbolized the 12 Apostles. As described above, foot washing seems to be a priestly rite preparing the Apostles to have the “beautiful feet” foretold by Isaiah. Since men alone can be Catholic priests, only men were chosen for the washing of feet.

One might argue, however, that Christ calls all men and women to proclaim the Gospel with beautiful feet. Proclaiming or sharing the Good News is not exclusively a sacerdotal action. Moreover, Saint Paul states that all Christians are called to crush Satan under their (beautiful) feet (Rom 16:19). The Coptic liturgy includes the act of the priest washing the feet of the entire congregation! So there is liturgical precedent for including women in the washing of the feet.

Is it Right to Allow Non-Christians?

What I cannot reconcile theologically is the act of washing the feet of non-baptized members of other religions, namely adherents of Islam, within the Eucharistic liturgy. Peter’s words and Christ’s response presume that the recipients are “washed already,” that is, baptized. Foot washing is an intra-baptized experience.

There is precedent for foot washing as a pre-baptismal rite (in the catechetical context of Easter baptisms), but it’s not clear that the Muslims receiving papal foot washing are preparing for baptism.

My personal belief is that foot washings should be returned to their pre-1955 status. Popes, Abbots, Kings, Presidents, parents, et al. can wash the feet of anyone they like as a sign of humility outside the Eucharistic liturgical rites of the Church.

If a Pope or King washes the feet of another outside of the liturgy, then it is simply a sign of humility. When it’s placed inside the context of Eucharistic liturgy, then we strain to attach a theological meaning to it…and that’s where we run into trouble.

If we want to show outward acts of “inclusion” to the non-baptized, we could give give them blessed bread or other gifts. Or we could wash their feet in contexts that aren’t sacramental. 

Question: I would love to hear your thoughts on foot washing. Please keep the comments respectful. No bashing of the Vicar of Christ on earth. He is our Holy Father. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

There are Guitars in the Bible

I like the Latin Mass. I don’t like the guitar Mass. However, there are “guitars” in the Bible, and even in the Heavenly Liturgy.

220px-Guitar_latina_morisca

A medieval Praise and Worship Band

The Greek word kithara appears 4 times in the New Testament – 3 times in the Book of Revelation.

{Here’s my audio Catholic commentary on the book of Revelation: click here.}

And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and twenty four presbyters fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them kitharan, and golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints. (Rev 5:8)

And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the kitharas of God. (Rev 15:2)

In English, it is sometimes translated as “harp,” but chordophone or “guitar” is actually a better translation.

The Greek word kithara comes into Latin as cithara and from Latin into Spanish as guitarra. The biblical guitar is a chordophones of 4-18 strings. 

The saints in Heaven are playing the kithara. Why? It’s the instrument that King David played. In fact, the word psalm means in Greek means “to pluck [a string].”

The problem is that the guitar is associated with rock n roll and rock n roll is not suitable for divine liturgy. The guitar or chordophone might find liturgical use, but in the meantime, let’s keep it out of the liturgy.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

8 Tips on How to Pray Every Day

In our Catholic New Year’s Goals webinar, we covered many tips on how to elevate your daily spiritual life.

(You can watch the replay here.)

The single best thing that you can do is to commit to a schedule of daily mental prayer. Here are tips in no particular order:

  1. Find a place in your home where you pray. Designate a space.
  2. Find a time in the day when you pray. The prophets and the saints usually got up early to pray. Set your alarm clock earlier (go to bed earlier) and wake up to be with Christ in the morning.
  3. Create a morning ritual that includes prayer. I recommend that it include Scriptural reading, also. The Bible is how God usually talks to you. “God never talks to me,” people often say. My response is, “Are you reading the Bible?” God talks to you in Scripture.
  4. Use a timer on your phone. Start at 5 minutes and work up to 30 minutes daily.
  5. Mental prayer is using your mind (“mental”) to speak to God. Tell him everything. Speak with your heart. Ask Him questions about your life. Ask Him theology questions? Ask Him to do more than you expect. Don’t be afraid to ask for insanely crazy requests. He likes to answer those best because they prove that we didn’t accomplish it.
  6. Keep a New Testament or spiritual reading book nearby. If you’re mind loses track and wanders. Use this book to read a few sentences to focus again on Christ or spiritual thoughts.
  7. Use your daily time to fill yourself with positivity. The people that I know that pray 30-60 minutes every day are very positive thinkers. Why? Because they spend time with God and learn that all things are possible through Christ. Faith and prayer build confidence and a “get it done” attitude. The most pessimistic (and lazy) people are the people who do not pray or do not spend time alone in silence. “Be still and know that I am God.”
  8. Make daily prayer your identity. Repeatedly tell yourself: “I am a person who talks to the Trinity every day. That is who I am and I always do it.” Become what you are.

Question: We can evangelize every soul on earth if we pray and fill ourselves every day with Christ’s resurrected power. How do you best plan your goal of daily mental prayer? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

(You can watch Catholic New Years Goals Webinar replay here.)

Top 10 Manly Christmas Gifts for Men (2015 Edition)

It’s time for the 2015 Manly Christmas Gift Guide!

For the sixth year in a row, I am featuring the Top Ten Manly Christmas Gifts for Men – stuff that men want but don’t ask for.

Manly Christmas Gifts

* If you received this post by email, you’ll want to click “Always Display Images” in your email client so that you can see the manly gift images.

Every year you’ve come to expect it, and every year I get ready for angry liberals complaining about my advocacy for pocket knives, guns, scotch, pipes, and leather.

After doing this list for six years, I now get stopped by wives who say, “Thanks for your annual Men’s Christmas Gift Guide. My husband loved the thermos and knife that you recommended.” Recently, a Catholic dad related to me, “My wife followed your Christmas manly gift guide. Thanks for recommending the scotch decanter. I love it.” Last year we even caused Amazon to sell out of pocket Bibles.

Like last year I have an improved list with more information on knives and how a lady can choose the right knife for the men in her life.

Men, it’s not bad taste to forward this post to your wife’s email account.

When your man gets back to work after Christmas and someone asks, “So what did you get for Christmas?” let him say something more than “Oh you know, a couple of new shirts and a tie.”

Top Ten Manly Christmas Gifts for Men (drumroll…)

Below is a guide for Manly Christmas Gifts: your husband, brother, or grandpa. Seriously, you can’t wrong with the following ten gifts. They’re all winners. So here we go:

Is Islam a Heresy or World Religion? Legos and Muhammad

Answer begins with an H

The politically incorrect article I wrote last week on a Thomistic response to the Islamic Refugee Crisis is approaching 100,000 views and 20,000 shares on Facebook and some 300 comments – many of which debate the “nature of Islam.”

I wanted to continue this discussion in a sequel article about the relationship of Islam with Christian theology. You’ll find this sequel in the post below:

The question is really about whether Islam is a “Christian heresy” or a whether Islam is a “world religion.”

The English word “heresy” derives from the Greek word αἵρεσις (hairesis) meaning “choice” or “a thing chosen.” (It’s the original “pro-choice” position.) Saint Paul uses the word in Titus 3:10 to describes “heretics” – those that pick and choose their own beliefs instead of following the beliefs taught by the Apostles:

  • heresy = I choose my own personal beliefs just as I choose my meal at Luby’s
  • orthodoxy = I receive the Apostolic beliefs passed down through papally ratified Councils, Scripture, and Tradition (orthos in Greek means “right or straight”; eg. orthodontics means “straight teeth” and orthodox means “straight belief.”

Heresy is not a slur or pejorative term. It simply describes a method of religion.

An Analogy from Legos

Let’s say you purchased the Lego edition of the Star Wars’ Death Star. It comes with a box full of plastic pieces and a paper set of instructions.

A Highly Recommended Catholic Fiction Novel: Macabre. Yet Clean.

Father Dwight Longenecker on Saint George Rides Again

Are you looking for a gripping Catholic novel that you just can’t put down?

The difficulty with so-called “Christian” fiction is that it must avoid explicit sermonizing, and yet subtly communicate human sin and redemption. If the book preaches an obvious lesson, the story fails.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.30.56 PMThe ever-popular author and blogger Father Dwight Longenecker recently reviewed my #1 Amazon Bestselling novel Sword and Serpent: A Retelling of Saint George and the Dragon with a similar [initial] concern that my novel could have been yet another pious sermon pretending to the next Lord of the Rings.

Instead, Father Longenecker was delightfully surprised in the novel as a “re-mythology” of Saint George. He writes:

sword and serpent box shot cropped“Using the fact that the story of St. George is rooted in history, but surrounded by mythical elements, Dr. Marshall avoids the temptation to de-mythologize and, through the use of imagination and fantasy, decides to re-mythologize. He does so skillfully, never quite revealing whether the dragon is a literal reptile, a paranormal manifestation of evil, or a beast from the realm of the daemonic. It doesn’t matter. A dragon is a dragon is a dragon, and Georgios is led by providence to enter the cave, encounter the serpent, and slay him once and for all. That the beautiful Sabra stands by in a white bridal gown says all that needs to be said about Dr. Freud’s interpretation of the myth.

“Dr. Marshall also manages to capture the intriguing religious atmosphere of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. The story opens with the lament that the ancient gods have died. The haruspex can no longer discern the future in the entrails of the victims. The sybils are silent, and the pagan prophets are blind. Christianity is on the rise, and George’s slaughter of the ancient dragon is a powerful victory over the old gods and their demonic domination of the world. The book evokes the tender and wise world of the early Christians—avoiding persecution with gentleness and taking hold of the future with confidence.” (read his entire review here)

So if you want to crack open a new historical novel full of sinners and saints (and Roman emperors and catacombs) before the feast of All Saints, please pick up a copy of: Sword and Serpent (available this week for $0.99 on Kindle and 13.99 in Print).

13 Assumption of Mary Catholic Resources

Here are 13 Resources for you in time for the Assumption of Mary!

tomb of mary

Here are some interesting resources for you as we celebrate Our Lady’s Dormition and Assumption:

  1. What is the historical date of Mary’s Assumption?
  2. Did the Virgin Mary Die? The Answer May Surprise You (The majority tradition in Catholic history is that Our Lady did experience the separation of body and soul.)
  3. Audio: Mary as Assumed in Revelation 12 Podcast: Our Lady of the Apocalypse
  4. Did Christ receive an assumption or ascension or both?
  5. The year of the assumption according to Maria Agreda
  6. The Assumption of Saint Joseph – A forgotten tradition
  7. If you deny the Assumption – You have fallen away!
  8. Saint Gregory of Tours on the Assumption
  9. The Assumption of Mary in the Book of Psalms
  10. Does the Rosary Pre-Date Dominic?
  11. Mary’s Special Role over Purgatory
  12. Mary’s Empty Tomb Information
  13. Did Pope Pius XII Teach that Mary died? Yes he did

Enjoy!

to Jesus through Mary,
Taylor Marshall

Question: Please let me know if there are any topics that you’d like me to write on as it relates to Our Lady! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Paul’s Damascus Conversion: Does Acts 9 Contradict Acts 22?

I’m seeing more and more anti-Christian apologetics against “Paul” as the faux founder of Christianity. Scholars like Bart Ehrman argue that Christ was originally just an apocalyptic Rabbi who eschatological vision crashed with his crucifixion.

bart ehrman

The claim is that it was Saul/Paul, not Christ, who founded the religion of Christianity and that the historical Christ was universalized and divinized into a cosmic Christ.

The argument goes that Saul had some kind of conversion from radical Pharisaic Judaism to belief in Christ, but that Saul/Paul had zero interaction with the dead Rabbi Jesus.

It is true that Saul/Paul did not claim to have known or seen Jesus of Nazareth prior to His crucifixion. Instead, Saul/Paul claims to have met and known Jesus of Nazareth through mystical experiences.

To read of Paul’s three encounters with Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles, click here.

Paul’s first encounter with Jesus is his conversion on the Road to Damascus. Luke retells the conversion of Acts and the narrative compares Jesus to an Old Testament theophany of Yahweh.

In Acts 9:7, Luke writes:

And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no one.”

Here Luke is making the connection with God’s theophany in Deuteronomy with Christ’s theophany to Paul:

Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.” (Deut 4:12)

Notice that in both cases there is no visual form, but only the voice.

The Alleged Controversy of the Paul’s Damascus Accounts

The “heard voice, saw nothing” account in Acts 9 makes for a great parallel with Deuteronomy but it opens up a problem.

There is a alleged contradictory account of between Luke’s narrative account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 and the second version retold by Paul himself in Acts 22:6-9:

6 “As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me.

Some claim that this contradicts the account in Acts 9 because:

  • Acts 9: men with Saul hear a voice, but see no one.
  • Acts 22:6-9: men with Saul saw the light but did not hear the voice.

The contradiction is dispensed with easily in this way:

  • Acts 9 reports that the men saw no one and Acts 22 says they saw a light. This is not a contradiction. These men saw a light but saw no form or person in it.
  • Acts 9 reports that the men heard a generic voice, but Acts 22 says they “did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me.” In Acts 22, the stress is on “the voice of the one speaking to Saul.” This means that the men heard a sound (Acts 9), but that it was not intelligible to them (Acts 22).

Here we can see that Saul’s encounter with Christ is not fictionalized. The fact that it is recounted three times in Acts is remarkable. It is the anchor of Paul’s claim to apostleship. Without it, Paul is merely an enthusiast. Luke’s Acts demonstrates that Paul’s apostleship is accompanied by miracles and this fact reveals Paul as a true and valid prophet for the New Covenant [Catholic] Church.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.