What is an Apostle? (And How it Relates to all the Boat Scenes in the Bible)

Our Lord Jesus Christ founded a New Israel with Himself as Davidic King and with Twelve Apostles initiating the new Twelve Tribes of Israel. This is the Messianic Kingdom of the Church.

As one who connects the Old Testament features to Catholic dogma (see this book: The Crucified Rabbi), I’ve always been painfully aware that the term “apostle” doesn’t have a slick connection to Old Testament kingdom language.

Pagan “Boat” Sources for the Term Apostle:

In pagan Greek sources (such as in the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus), ἀπόστολος (apostolos) refers to a political or military delegate or messenger. ἀπόστολος also refers to the commander of a naval force.

In fact, στόλος refers to a naval division or to a colony. So an ἀπόστολος is one who travels out to these naval colonies. Sometimes ἀπόστολος is used to refer to a formal naval dispatch or to an export license to/from these colonies.

So when the New Testament authors adopt this Greek term, they are not merely referring to a local rabbi or preacher. They are using a term that referred to diplomats who traveled to the farrest ends of the earth. It’s a global or catholic term.

Pauline Sources for the Term:

The term ἀπόστολος appears only once in the Greet Septuagint (Greek version of Old Testament) at 1 Kings 14:6 where ἀπόστολος is a translation of the Hebrew שָׁלוּחַ (sha-lach). The term appears 79 times in the New Testament – 68 of which are found in the writings of Paul and his disciple Luke.

It seems that originally ἀπόστολος referred to each of the original Twelve Apostles. However, Saint Paul opened the term to include himself, Barnabas (Acts 14:14) and Timothy and Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Paul also speaks of false apostles in 2 Corinthians.

In Hebrews, Luke/Paul identify Jesus as “the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb 3:1). In this context, apostleship is associated with the high priesthood. This is our biggest hint into how early Christians understood the term ἀπόστολος. It was missionary and priestly. Just as an ἀπόστολος origianlly referred to naval delegates to colonies, so a high priest bridges over water as a pontifex, a bridge builder between God and man.

According to Paul, apostles surpass the various other offices within the Church of “teachers, evangelists, and prophets” (διδάσκαλος, εὐαγγελιστής, προφήτης). In the mind of Paul, an apostle is more than these three. I would argue, that for Paul an apostle is all three of these at once while also being priestly diplomats for Christ.

Are Apostles Political or Priestly?

At first glance into a Greek dictionary, the term ἀπόστολος seems political or mercantile. It’s a civil title. However, the Christians looked to King Melchizedek and King David as “priest kings” or “liturgical kings” as the prototypes for King Jesus. So the political realm collapses into the priestly liturgical realm. This is why Christ is both establishing a “kingdom” (political) and also building at “temple” (priestly). He is king and pontiff. And so also, his political ministers are both political and cultic. The ἀπόστολος is a naval delegate for foreign colonies throughout the world but he is also a sacrificial priest who offers the Gentiles to God as sacrifice and who offers the Eucharist as sacrifice.

Apostles on a Boat:

One final related topic. I couldn’t help but noticed that in Acts, the vivid scenes of Paul traveling by ship may in fact be intentionally recounted with detail to bolster Paul’s identity as ἀπόστολος. In the Greek mind, the ἀπόστολος is primarily naval and thus Paul is literally fulfilling his role as ἀπόστολος (maybe better so than the Twelve!). Also, the stories of Saint James Zebedee going to and from (posthumously) to Spain by boat ratifies James as a true apostle for Jesus. And let’s not forget all the “Jesus in a boat” scenes from the Gospels!

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Hebrews 1:3 – A Manuscript Changes and a Rebuke

It’s interesting that in Codex Vaticanus, there is a “correction” to the original text and then a marginal note on Hebrews 1:3.

The original and correct Greek version of Hebrews 1:3 read:

“He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, UPHOLDING (φερων) the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

But the manuscript was changed by someone to read:

“He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, REVEALING (φανερων) the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

A marginal note reads: “Fool and knave, leave the old reading and do not change it!”

What does this mean?

  1. We know that early biblical scribes changed the text either on purpose or by accident.
  2. My guess here is that somebody with proto-Arian tendencies did not like the idea of the Son of God “upholding the universe.” That, he thought, is the job of God the Father! So he changed a few letters for it read “revealing the universe.”
  3. Another explanation is that these manuscripts were created by one man reading the text aloud and another man writing it down. So he heard the word wrongly and changed a few letters on accident.
  4. We also see that Christians would feel free to write corrections or even rebukes in the margins of NT texts.

Did Paul write Hebrews? Historical Place of Hebrews in New Testament Canon

The Epistle to the Hebrew is anonymous. Since it mentions “Timothy” as a companion, it is written “from Italy,” and it has essentially the same theology as Galatians, it is presumed to a prison epistle of Saint Paul – perhaps penned by Saint Luke on the Apostle’s behalf.

My own theory is that Luke-Acts-Hebrew is a Pauline dissertation packet prepared by Luke (see my book on this topic) for the Jews of Jerusalem and that the books were likely delivered together.

Did Luke and Paul create Luke-Acts-Hebrews as an theological apologetics packet? I think so.

What’s interesting is how Hebrews came into the canon of the New Testament with regard to selection of book order:

Saint Jerome placed Hebrews after all the Pauline epistles and before the 7 Catholic epistles. This has become our received ordering of the epistles.

However, there are examples before Jerome of placing Hebrews within the Pauline corpus of epistles. For example:

  1. One of our oldest manuscripts Papyrus 46 (dated between AD 175 and 225) places Hebrews between Romans and 1 Corinthians. It confirms that Christians in the second century believed Hebrews to by authored by Paul. This order is also found in minuscules 103, 455, 1961, 1964, 1977, 1994.
  2. Codex Vaticanus (ca. AD 330) lists Hebrews between Galatians and Ephesians. This is either an error or left over from a previous manuscript from which Vaticanus was copied, because in the actual text of Vaticanus, Hebrews follows 2 Thessalonians.
  3. This order (2 Thess > Hebrews) conforms to almost all of our earliest Greek manuscripts have Hebrews between 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy: Sinaiticus (ca. AD 400), Alexandrinus (ca AD 400), Ephraemi, H, I, P, 0150, 0151, and about 60 others.

It’s also noteworthy that in the Roman Rite liturgy of the Mass up until 1970, whenever Hebrews was read in the liturgy it was announced as “Paul to the Hebrews” with Paul stated explicitly.

Did St Luke mention Christ appearing “over 500” from 1 Corinthians?

The day after Easter I wrote about the appearance of Christ to “over 500 at the same time” mentioned by Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians. Who were they? You can read it here. I provided four possible options.

Since then I’ve found a fifth option within Saint Luke’s Gospel. As I explain in my book The Catholic Perspective on Paul, I always try to interpret Saint Paul’s Epistles in light of Luke-Acts and vice versa. I do this because Saint Paul explicitly cites the Gospel of Luke as Sacred Scripture (read about it here).

So this new “fifth option” of finding Christ appear to the 500 within Luke’s Gospel is especially attractive to me, since I believe that Saint Paul received and carried Luke’s written Gospel as his favorite Gospel:

Luke on Christ appearing to more than the Apostles “at one time”:

It is the episode after the apparition of Christ to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus on the actual afternoon of Christ’s resurrection. First, Christ appears to “the women,” and then to Peter in the morning. Then later, on the road to Emmaus Christ appears to the two, and then once again to a larger group that includes the Apostles who are gathered with an unspecified number of people:

33 And they [the two Emmaus witnesses] rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the Eleven gathered together and those who were with them [Is this the 500? We are not told how many had gathered together with the Apostles on that day, but word had gotten out already since the two on the road had already heard of it – so the followers of Jesus were already talking and likely coming together on Sunday]34 who said [to the two returning from Emmaus], “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” [So Luke records Jesus appearing to Peter here] 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. [Euchastic theology here]

36 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them [the Apostles, the two from the Road to Emmaus and however many more – is this the 500?], “Peace to you.” 37 But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them. [It doesn’t get more “resurrection of the body” than that.]

This is definitely a resurrection appearance of Christ, but I had never previously noted that the Apostles were not alone. They were with “others.” Could this be the “500 at one time” from 1 Corinthians. I’m now inclined to think so.

Luke’s Timeline for First Week after Resurrection:

I’m also wondering if Luke has telescoped the timeline here. Luke specifically says that the two disciples arrived to Emmaus on the day of the resurrection: “today is the third day since these things happened.”

But then after dark they have invite the Stranger (Jesus) to dine with them and during the dinner the Stranger “breaks bread” and they realize that is is Jesus! By now it’s likely 8pm.

It says that they rose up and returned to Jerusalem. But Jerusalem is 7 miles from Emmaus. If they ran it would take 1-2 hours. If they walked, it would take about 3 hours. By now it’s closer to midnight.

I believe that the two Emmaus disciples actually met up with the Eleven one week later. Why?

Luke says that the “eleven” were together, and that they touched and “handled” Christ. However, John tell us on the day of the Resurrection (first day of Easter), only 10 Apostles were assembled and not all 11 Apostles since Thomas was absent. It was the next Sunday that Thomas was there (all 11 Apostles) and we have the details of touching and handling Jesus Christ. This, I think, is when the 2 Emmaus disciples met with the “eleven.”

For those interested in private revelation, Blessed Anne Katherine Emmerich states that the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus were Cleopas (named in the Gospel) and…Saint Luke.

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The Resurrected Christ appeared to 500: When and Where did this Happen?

Saint Paul mentions an interesting detail: that the resurrected Jesus appeared to 500 people! That’s a big deal. Why isn’t it mentioned in the Gospels (or is it)? We’ll explore this detail in this post:

In 1 Corinthians 15, Saint Paul recites what seems to be a formula or creedal statement about the resurrection of Christ. I’ll bullet point it to make it clear:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:

  • that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
  • that he was buried,
  • that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
  • and that he appeared to Cephas,
  • then to the Twelve.
  • Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
  • Then he appeared to James,
  • then to all the Apostles.
  • Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor 15:3-8)

Here we have the kernel of the Apostles Creed (died, buried, rose on third day) but appended to it six resurrection appearances. Five apparitions and then finally one apparition to Saint Paul himself.

Paul speaks of the resurrected Christ appearing to “more than five hundred” and this event is recorded nowhere in the four Gospels or within St Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. So what is Saint Paul describing?

Christ Appearing to Over 500?

There are 4 opinions on this “500 witnesses event”:

  1. Never Happened: Liberal scholars say that Saint Paul made this up to make it sound like there were plenty of witnesses to the resurrection. It never happened. It’s a lie. The Catholic Christian cannot allow that the Apostle Paul would bear false witness within Divine Scripture.
  2. Galilee Event: Saint Paul refers to the Galilee appearance of the resurrected Jesus Christ as described by Saint Mark: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee. There you shall see him, as he told you” (Mark 16:7). The 11 Apostles would have then gathered over 500 believers to join them in Galilee where Jesus appeared to them in His resurrected body.
  3. After the Ascension: Saint John Chrysostom speculates that this event happened after Ascension because the Greek “more than (ἐπάνω) five hundred” could accurately be translated “above five hundred,” as in “above in the sky.”
  4. Pentecost in Jerusalem: Saint Paul is referring to Pentecost. Saint Luke says that 120 Christians (Mary, Apostles, the Seventy, the women, the brethren of Jesus) were gathered for miracle of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in Jerusalem. These 120 and the first several converts somehow witnessed an apparition of the resurrected Christ on this day, as well. Or perhaps the manifestation of the “Spirit of Christ” is counted as an apparition of Christ by Paul.

The majority position is (2) that this happened in Galilee when the Apostles went back to Jerusalem to witness Christ there. Here’s why this is the best answer:

  1. The Ten Apostles (without Thomas) saw the resurrected Christ on the evening of the Resurrection Sunday when Christ appeared to them within locked doors and breathed on them.
  2. The Eleven Apostles (now with Thomas) saw the resurrected Christ one Sunday later and allowed Thomas to place his fingers within His wounds.
  3. If the Apostles saw Christ at least twice in Jerusalem, why then would Christ instruct them to go to Galilee to be witnesses there? Presumably so that all of Christ’s followers in Galilee could see Him resurrected there. This would make sense and this is why “more than five hundred” would see Christ resurrected. This “more than 500” would be the nucleus of the 5000 that were fed and of those who had seen His miracles.
  4. When Saint Paul writes: “then to all the Apostles,” at the end of his list, he is likely referring to the Ascension of Christ. So the appearance to 500 likely happened before the Ascension. That rules out (3) Christ appearing after Ascension as suggested by Saint John Chrysostom. Sorry Chrysostom.
  5. It also rules out (4) Christ appearing at Pentecost, because Christ appearing to disciples at Pentecost would have been recorded by Paul’s friend Saint Luke. After all, Saint Luke mentions Christ appearing to Saint Stephen – so why would he omit an apparition of Jesus on Pentecost? So then, it seems safe to say that Christ did not appear on Pentecost.

It could also be that Saint Matthew records the “500 Event” as having occurred in Galilee without mentioning “500”:

“The eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted” (Mt 28:16-17).

Matthew speaks only of the 11 living Apostles but says “some doubted.” Surely the 11 didn’t doubt at this time since it follows the “doubting Thomas” event that happened 13 days after the Resurrection in Jerusalem. So it could be that “some doubted” refers to “some of the 500 doubted.”

Christ is risen!
Dr Taylor Marshall

Question: I’d love to hear others weigh in on this topic. Who were the five hundred and when did it happen? I think it was the Galilee Event but I’m open to other ideas. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Saint Paul never once mentions the word Hell

I’m writing a commentary on Romans for the New Saint Thomas Institute, and I’ve been going over his passages on salvation and damnation. I’m certainly not the first to notice it, but Paul never once mentions “hell” or “hades” or “gehenna” in his epistles. This is interesting, because our Lord Jesus Christ speaks about hell all the time. Yet Paul does not mention the word once.

Don’t take this too far. Saint Paul speaks plenty of human damnation and believes in punishment in the afterlife. For example:

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed…But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Rom 2:5, 8)

“If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal 1:8-9).

“He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:8-10)

“All will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” (2 Thes 2:12)

My belief is that Paul is does not use the language of “Hades” because it conjures ideas of Homer and Virgil in Roman audiences. And he does not use the language of “Gehenna” because it’s an exclusively Jewish idea. So “eternal condemnation” and “fire” are his favorite categories for Gentile audiences.

There is a lot of crazy stuff on the internet (and bookstores) on Saint Paul. If you want a concise Catholic commentary on all the writings of Saint Paul, please check out this book: The Catholic Perspective on Paul.

 

Concerning the Death of Unbaptized Infants by St Gregory Nazianzus

Two of the most rewarding practices for a Christian are 1) reading the Bible from beginning to end, and 2) reading the sermons of the Church Fathers. One of the greatest theologians and orators of the Church Fathers is Saint Gregory Nazianzus. He is simply called Saint Gregory “the Theologian” in the East because of his precise and excellent presentation of theology.

Since the Apostles and Church Fathers universally recognized that baptism was the instrumental means by which Jesus Christ removes sin and infuses grace, they also received the pastoral question of what happens to unbaptized babies. Before we look St Gregory the Theologian, let that sink in. The presumption is that infants should be baptized.

Not only that, but we know from the Eastern Fathers and from Western Fathers like Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine that baptized infants were confirmed and received the Holy Eucharist. We Roman Catholics would do well to request that the Apostolic and Patristic practice of paedo-communion (infant communion) be rightfully restored to our children.

Here is Saint Gregory “the Theologian” Nazianzus on the death of unbaptized children:

Liturgy does NOT mean Work of the People (Against Liturgical Pelagianism)

Examples of λειτουργία from the New Testament

It became quite stylish in the liturgical reforms of the 1960s and 1970s to teach that the Greek word for liturgy is λειτουργία (leitourgia) and that this word means “work of the people.” This led to the new idea that λειτουργία or “liturgy” is something that lay people should be leading and even performing within the context of worship.

Does λειτουργία mean “work of the people”? No.

Photo: Pope John XXIII Celebrating the Eastern Divine Liturgy

Liturgy certainly does not mean “work of the people,” and I’ll show you why from examples in Sacred Scripture. But before looking at Scripture, let’s look at the actual Greek word:

The Word “Liturgy” in Greek

λειτουργία, like so many words in Greek, is a composite. The first word half of the word derives form the Greek word “laos” meaning “people.” (There is also the variation of “leos” which is the Attic Greek version of the same word for “people.”) This word “laos” (or “leos” in Attic) is where we get laity and laypeople. It’s a generic word for a collection of people. The Greek name Menelaos means “withstanding the people” and the Greek name Nikolaos means “conquering the people.”

The second part of the word derives from the Greek word “ergon” meaning “work,” as in ergonomic, energy, and synergy.

When you smash the two Greek words together to describe something you get: leitourgia or λειτουργία.

Does λειτουργία mean “work of the people” or “work for the people”?

So the term contains the two Greek words for “people” and “work,” but how do we arrange it for its meaning? On one hand, it could be “work of the people,” meaning something the people work out together. On the other hand, it could be “work for the people,” meaning something done for the benefit of the people.

Option 1: Liturgy as “Work of the People”

The kumbaya (Elvis liturgy) crowd of the 1960s and 1970s insisted that it was former – something people work out when they come together. This led to the idea that lay people should lead prayers, read the lessons, prepare the altar, handle chalices, handle the Eucharist, distribute the Eucharist, bless people in the Communion line, and cleanse the vessels. After all, if liturgy means “work of the people,” then the people ought to be up there doing active work.

Option 2: Liturgy as “Work Done for the People”:

The historical, traditional, and received definition of liturgy or λειτουργία is that it is something done by one for the sake of the people. This may come as a crushing blow to the legions of Christians who were taught that liturgy was the “work of the people,” but it’s the plain truth. In Plato and other Greek authors, λειτουργία is something done by one for the sake of the people. Consequently, the Greek term is usually a priestly or political term depending on the context. And in the Bible, it is usually a priestly term, but we will examine one passage in Romans that is expressly political:

Let’s look at Sacred Scripture to settle the debate:

In the account of the birth of John the Baptist, we discover that his father Zacharias is an Aaronic priest of the tribe of Levi. As such, he serves in the Temple as a priest when it is the time of his allotment. [I explain elsewhere how this detail leads us to know that Christ as born in late December.] The passage explains that St Zacharias goes to the Temple to minister and the original Greek word is that he goes there to do liturgy:

And when his time of service (λειτουργίας) was ended, he went to his home. (Luke 1:23)

Did Zacharias gather a bunch of people to worship the Lord? No, the passage explains that his duty was to go into the Temple and offer incense to Yahweh. He did this to ceremoniously present the prayers of the people to God. It becomes obvious that his “liturgy” was something he did as a priest for the benefit of the people, not something he did as a priest with other people present.

Let’s look at another example from Hebrews:

And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship (λειτουργίας). (Heb 9:22)

This is a description of how Moses consecrated the tabernacle and vessels for divine worship in the Old Testament. The tent/tabernacle and the vessels could only be handled and used by the Levites, as they administered them for the benefit of Israel. Once again we see that λειτουργία refers to what is done by a priestly class on behalf of the laity.

The Liturgy of Christ as for the people:

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry (λειτουργίας) which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Heb 8:6)

The author describes Christ as a High Priest who now administers a better New Covenant through a better λειτουργία or Liturgy. Once again, this λειτουργία is something Christ is administering on our behalf for our salvation. Notably it is His presentation of His Body and Blood to the Father for our redemption – something that is presented in every Liturgy of the Mass.

Roman Emperor as Liturgizer:

And let’s not forget that Saint Paul calls the evil Emperor Nero a “liturgizer.” In Romans 13, Saint Paul explains how the Roman Emperor (at that time Nero) and all political rulers are “liturgizers””

3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant (διάκονός or diakonos) of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers (λειτουργοὶ or leitourgoi) of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Saint Paul identifies the Emperor as διάκονός or deacon and as all rulers as λειτουργοὶ or liturgizers. Be mindful that this Emperor was Nero, and yet he receives sacerdotal titles from Paul.

In fact, the dalmatic (which is worn by deacons) is an imperial garment traditionally reserved for the Byzantine court. I cannot find the source at the moment, but I recall reading once that Constantine was allowed to read Scripture in liturgy while still unbaptized because he was considered to be a quasi-deacon by virtue of his status as Emperor. And the Emperor in Constantinople processed with the Patriarch and the clergy, often in a dalmatic.

Back to “liturgy” in Romans 13. It’s manifest that the Roman Emperor and other Roman rulers are accorded the title of λειτουργοὶ. They are not liturgists designing services. Nero isn’t leading the people in “Gather us in, the rich and the haughty.” Rather these Roman rulers are, according to Paul, appointed by God to administer justice for the people. 

Liturgy as Something Done for People

Liturgy, at least in the Old and New Testament is something priestly or political that is done for the sake of the people. It is communal only in that it is done for others.

A priest saying the Mass alone in a Russian hotel room is doing “work for the people” without anyone else gathered together with him.

Likewise, the Pope gathered at a Mass of 10,000 people is doing “work for the people,” but the people being present doesn’t make it “liturgy.” The liturgy is accomplished in persona Christi for the people. Just as Zacharias was able to do “liturgy” all alone with his thurible in the Temple.

When Christ died on the cross, He administered a new λειτουργία for the people of the world. It was a liturgical act in which nobody participated by dancing, performing, reading from a book, or carrying a vessel. The truly “active participation” was accomplished by the Mother of God, Saint Mary Magdalene, the other women, and by the Apostle John when they lifted up their hearts to the divine Crucified Rabbi on the cross. They painfully and silently received the bloody λειτουργία of Christ on their behalf.

The time has come for us to understand liturgy as sacerdotal and as something done by Christ for His people. Cardinal Sarah summed this up recently with these words:

Liturgy is about God and His work for His people. Whoever tells us that we must celebrate ourselves in the liturgy is undermining biblical liturgy. Liturgy as “work of the people” is liturgical Pelagianism – the heresy that says that man can naturally work for his salvation.

If you’d like to learn about Sacramental Theology and earn your Certificate in Catholic Theology along the way, please join us at the New Saint Thomas Institute. We have a 2 part video on the “Mystical Meanings of the Mass according to Thomas Aquinas” waiting for you:

Learn more about our online theology courses and earn up to 6 Certificates in Philosophy, Theology, and Church History at newsaintthomas.com, the largest global online Institute for theological studies.

Godspeed,
Dr. Taylor Marshall

Is Our Salvation Based on the Concepts of Debt and Law?

I just happened upon your blog so I admit that I have not read your books or very much of your blog. However, it concerned me that in this article, you suggest that our salvation was accomplished by payment of a debt.

I am a Catholic and that is not what I believe. The concept of “debt” implies that sin is a sort of legal problem rather than an ontological one. However, I will hold off (for now!) on sharing any further thoughts because quite possibly I have misunderstood you.

Thank you Mary. I love how you hold off on judgment and ask for clarity. So often in the Catholic theological community, people start casting stones. I appreciate your moderation, prudence, and charity. Let’s look more deeply on this topic of debt and law.

“Ontological” = referring to being:

For new readers, by “ontological,” Mary means “having to do with our being or nature” (from Greek ὄν (gen. ὄντος) meaning being. Ontology is the study of being.

If you’d like to get a dictionary or lexicon of all these philosophical words used in Catholic theology, please download my book (for free), Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages (top right corner of taylormarshall.com).

Ontological or Debt/Law?

Salvation is ontological (the elevation of our human nature) and entails Christ transforming us “in Him” into “new creations.” We partake of the divine nature of Christ through His humanity. The hypostatic union becomes the bridge by which we partake of the divine nature. We are deified and in the Beatific Vision, Thomas Aquinas teaches that we will become “deiform” while remaining human and creatures.

So yes, ontological all the way. Catholics (like the Eastern Orthodox) teach that salvation is chiefly a transformation and elevation of human nature.

However, Scripture is replete of examples also discussing salvation in terms of both law and debt/remission.

It’s true Protestants focus almost solely on legal/forensic categories and hence Catholics tend to move away from them. This is a mistake on the Catholic’s part.

We are “freed from the law”. We are “justified” (legal term). Our debts are paid. The jubilee remission of debts is inaugurated by Christ.

Our terms “remission” and “redemption” (to buy back) are financial terms.

The Greek word for “redemption” is strongly legal and financial: ἀπολύτρωσις. It literally means “buying back from, re-purchasing, winning back what was previously forfeited.”

Saint Paul repeatedly refers to how the baptized have been “purchased” by the blood of Christ: “you were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20).

Christ Himself uses money examples as an analogy of sin remission: “And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). “So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’” (Luke 16:5). “And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

It’s not either ontological or legal/debt. It’s all. It’s both/and.

Thomism on Nature and Law

As a Thomist, I would go on to say that all true law (lex) must necessarily based on being (esse). In fact, if a law does not conform to being (natural law), according to Thomas it is not a law at all.

This is why Thomas divides history and covenants into three epochs: Natural Law (Adam to Moses), Old Law (Moses to Christ), and New Law (Christ till Parousia).

For him “New Law” is just another way of saying “New Creation.” Law and ontology are parallel.

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Godspeed,
Dr Taylor Marshall

How and Why Catholics can use Language of Imputation

A reader of The Catholic Perspective on Paul, named Dylan asks this question:

I have a question for you from “The Catholic Perspective on Paul.” You make brief conversation about the protestant idea of ‘imputed righteousness’ by way of Luther, but didn’t discuss other verses he may have drawn that idea from. In particular, I know James White (a popular debater on YouTube) likes to quote from Romans 4 and the Psalm therein about the “blessed man to whom the Lord imputes to guilt” and makes a big deal about “God’s imputation of our sins to our account”, saying that even if we can be forgiven by the Sacrament of Penance, we would still be un-blessed because God “blames us” for our sins under the Roman system of Theology. Have you discussed this idea before? I would love to hear your thoughts

I was also curious what translation of the Bible you were quoting from in your books. While similar to the RSV2CE I own, I like many passages you quoted because they seem a bit more poetic than what I’m used to reading. What translation are you using?

Here is my response:

Dylan,

For Luther, Calvin (and White) imputation involves legal fiction. God says we are righteous, but we are not. God says we are not guilty, but we are guilty.
God (in Catholicism) does not impute guilt because Christ has actually taken the guilt away. It’s not legal fiction. The guilt is actually removed by Christ from the sinner’s soul. Hence, it is no longer imputed.
Peter Gertner Crucifixion
  • If Dylan owes me one million dollars, I could just pretend that you don’t owe me (Lutheranism) and say you are forgiven.
  • The Catholic way is that I actually give Dylan a million dollars and the debt is actually paid back to me.
Ultimately, the Lutheran way doesn’t even need Christ to die on the cross since nothing actually needs to be paid or transferred. God the Father just fudges the book-keeping for sinners.
The Catholic actually believes in an ontological (down the being of the soul) change in the soul of the sinner at ontological that is infused with grace, faith, hope, and charity. As long as this bond of charity is preserved, the soul is saved and all the guilt is removed.
I hope that helps.
Godspeed,
Taylor
PS: I use RSV translation but I use my own translation from Greek when I don’t prefer the RSV rendering.