Protestant/Other Christians

Every day, Catholics are invited by coworkers, neighbors, and even family members to “ecumenical” Bible studies. Should they go? Certainly all of us would benefit from more study of Scripture, but as someone who has been a part of a number of Protestant Bible studies—I’ve even taught them—I discourage Catholics from attending them because of the foundational premises and principles in operation at these studies.

Protestants are delighted to have Catholics attend their Bible studies, but it is often not because they want to hear and discuss the Catholic perspective on Scritpure. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to bring them to the “true Gospel”—to evangelize them, to get them saved.

In many cases, though certainly not all, the non-denominational Bible study is the Trojan Horse that infiltrates the Catholic’s mind and succeeds in drawing him away from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church—to join a Protestant group. Most of us have a family member or friend who has been affected in this way.

An unwary Catholic who steps into the Protestant Bible study usually does so with no intention of leaving the Catholic Church. They just want to study the Bible. The Catholic usually has a hard time finding a good and welcoming Bible study in Catholic circles—but this is changing.

First, while the Bible study may call itself “non-denominational,” Catholics and Orthodox are not usually included under this umbrella. While they may be invited, you’ll rarely find them in leadership.

Protestants think of themselves as people of the Book, not hampered by human tradition. They think of Catholics as, at best, followers of traditions for whom the Bible is secondary.

That is a huge misconception: Protestants are also people of tradition. No one reads the Bible objectively. People who claim to “just read the Bible” really read it through the eyes of a tradition they’ve already accepted, whether that be Fundamentalist, Calvinist, Pentecostal, Baptist or one of many others. Everyone depends upon tradition, but not everyone recognizes it.

“Bible Christians,” based on their tradition, study the Bible with these premises:

  • There is no binding authority but the Bible alone.
  • There is no official binding interpretation or interpreter.
  • The Bible is perspicuous (i.e., easy to understand) and can be interpreted and understood by anyone.
  • An individual can and should read the Bible and interpret it for himself.

Catholics, based on their Tradition, study the Bible with different premises:

  • The authority of the apostles and the Church preceded the Bible, and the Tradition of the Church is an equally infallible authority (2 Thess. 2:15; CCC 80–83). The Bible is part of the apostolic Tradition.
  • The authoritative interpretation of the Bible is the prerogative of the Catholic Church (1 Tim. 3:15; Matt. 18:17; CCC 85-88).
  • The Bible is not always easy to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16) and needs to be understood within its historical and contextual framework and interpreted within the community to which it belongs.
  • Individuals can and should read the Bible and interpret it for themselves—but within the framework of the Church’s authoritative teaching and not based on their own private interpretation (2 Pet 1:20-21).

These basic differences place the Catholic and Protestant worlds apart even though they are opening the pages of the same book and accepting it as an authoritative revelation from God. The Catholic position is biblical and has been espoused from the first days of the Church. The Protestant position is unbiblical and is of recent origin. The Catholic is in full continuity with historical Christianity; Protestants are in discontinuity.

Catholics attending a non-denominational Bible study need to be aware of these differences and be ready not only to filter out false conclusions but also to guard themselves against the false underlying assumptions (e.g., that everything has to be found and proven explicitly in the Bible).

Catholics who are unaware often begin to adopt a Protestant mentality without knowing they are doing so, gradually learning to suspect the Catholic Church and trying to prove everything from the Bible.

Let’s Take Just One Example: Baptism

But what difference do these premises make? Let’s take the example of 1 Peter 3:18-21:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Notice the words in italics. What does it say? To Catholics it makes perfect sense because Christians have always taught (until the Reformation) that baptism is essential for salvation. As Catholics, we can draw from a wealth of other biblical and patristic passages that consistently and continuously teach a seamless garment of doctrine—the constant teaching of the Church, of all Christians.

A few examples:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

This has always been understood to mean water baptism, until descendants of the Reformation denied it and came up with new interpretations, such as that the water refers to the water in the womb, the word of God, or even a synonym for the Spirit (as in “water, even the Spirit”). There is no consensus among Protestants.

Other examples are Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. The first says, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

The second one says, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”

These verses agree with the words of Jesus, Titus 3:5, and the rest of the New Testament about the necessity and importance of baptism. But many Evangelicals will offer in reply a list of verses that say salvation is by faith (e.g., John 3:16) and argue that since he can find twenty-five verses that say salvation is by faith, it can’t be by baptism.

Can we cut two verses out of the Bible because we find ten others that seem to contradict? Heavens, no! We have to find a way to explain and accept both and harmonize them into a cogent theology. That is what Catholics have been doing well for two millenia.

One of the great reliefs for me as a Catholic was to read the Bible without having to set aside verses that didn’t agree with my preconceived assumptions. Catholics do not have this problem.

A Figure of a Figure? Go Figure.

Now, back to 1 Peter 3:18-21. Protestant commentaries on Scripture admit it is one of the most difficult passages of the Bible to interpret. Here is a quote from my book Crossing the Tiber:

In his recent anti-Catholic book The Gospel according to Rome, James McCarthy says that “when Peter says that ‘baptism now saves you,’ he is speaking of the typological, or symbolic, significance of baptism. . . . It [the word figure] tells us that what follows, ‘baptism now saves you,’ is a figurative illustration that complements the symbolism of a preceding figure” (331-332).

It seems he is saying that baptism is a figure of a figure instead of the fulfillment of a figure. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature offers a different and more straightforward interpretation: “Baptism, which is a fulfillment (of the type), now saves you, i.e., the saving of Noah from the flood is a . . . ‘foreshadowing’ and baptism corresponds to it [fulfills it]” (75).

McCarthy does go on to say: “This verse is part of one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret. Nevertheless, this much is clear: it does not support the Roman Catholic doctrine” (331-332). (Crossing the Tiber, p. 130, note 56)

The Catholic interpretation explains the passage quite comfortably without twisting the text from its clear meaning, accepting the literal meaning of the text, and complementing the rest of New Testament teaching. It is difficult for McCarthy to interpret because he comes to the passage with a handicap: his Fundamentalist preconceptions.

Catholics: Seen but Not Heard

Baptism is just one example, and we have only scratched the surface. Other examples of passages that are difficult for Evangelicals—and where unwary Catholics attending a non-denominational Bible study can be misled—are John 20:23, Colossians 1:24, James 2:24, Matthew 16:18-19, and John 5:28-29.

Catholics often find non-denominational Bible studies appealing because of the warm, serious, loving, and family-like environment. Being used to reverence and quiet devotion, Catholics find the welcoming and chatty nature of these gatherings refreshing and new.

But there is such a thing as an ecumenical Bible study that doesn’t allow knowledgeable Catholics to participate in leadership or where the Catholic perspective is not equally presented and discussed with respect. In a truly ecumenical Bible study, the Catholic interpretation and teaching is not treated as substandard or heretical.

Also, the Catholic Church is not a “denomination” (which means “to take a new name”); it is the Church. Those who are in schism, who break away or subsist apart from it are denominations or sects. The Church is not. It is the Church.

There’s still a long way to go to get Catholics to the point of scriptural study that Protestants have achieved. But it is happening, and you can help. For more information, see my article “Starting a Parish Bible Study” at www.catholicconvert.com.

SIDEBARS

Before Chapter and Verse

Chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are quite recent. They have proven quite helpful in biblical study and finding our way around. But they can also be a great hindrance if people begin to see the Bible as an unrelated collection of wise maxims listed numerically. It becomes quite easy to pluck a numbered statement (a verse) out of its context and quote it as in independent entity. For the first 1,600 years of Christianity, biblical study was conducted without verse numbers, forcing the reader to see whole texts and not simply lists of unrelated sentences randomly compiled.

Bible Resources

Sites to help you find a Bible study, start a Bible study, or get Bible study materials:

www.catholicscripturestudy.com

www.greatadventureonline.com

A Catholic Answers booklet to help you get started reading the Bible:

Beginning Apologetics 7: How to Read the Bible by Jim Burnham and Fr. Frank Chacon (San Juan Catholic Seminars, 2003)

Books available at www.catholic.com to help your understanding of Scripture:

A Guide to the Bible by Antonio Fuentes (Four Courts Press, 1987)

Inside the Bible by Kenneth Baker, S.J. (Ignatius Press, 1998)

You Can Understand the Bible by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius, 2005)

How to Read the Bible Every Day by Carmen Rojas (Servant Books, 1988)

Books that answer common Protestant questions:

Where Is That in the Bible? by Patrick Madrid (Our Sunday Visitor, 1999)

Where We Got the Bible by Bishop Henry G. Graham (Catholic Answers, 1997)

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Today (Monday) I will be on the radio with Gary Michuta at 1 PM at https://virginmostpowerfulradio.org/. Hope you can listen in.

Our topic will be Abraham, Father of Faith & Works. I am looking forward to this live show. In honor of this event today I am posting this article on Abraham, a critique I made of a book falsely claiming Abraham was saved by “faith alone.”

Was Abraham saved by Faith Alone? By Steve Ray

imgres-1You say, “Of course Abraham was saved by faith alone! Doesn’t the Bible make that perfectly clear, especially in Paul’s letters? And didn’t Luther’s German translation inform the masses that the words “faith” and “alone” belonged together like bread and butter? Abraham was saved by faith alone!”

Well, maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t, but the Bible certainly throws some question on this well-known Protestant cliché. Let’s find out how and when Abraham was really “saved.” Fundamentalist Protestants like to tell us that we are saved at “one-point-in-time when we “simply believe.” In other words mental assent to the simple gospel gives us a free passage to heaven.

imagesSince Abraham is used in the New Testament as the quintessential example of justification by faith, let’s see if we can pin-point the moment when Abraham believed? Can we locate the exact moment he was “saved”? Since this was such a momentous occasion in the history of mankind, and in the drama of salvation history, it should be clearly shown when Abraham actually believed and was reckoned as righteous. From unbelief to belief, from no faith to saving faith.

Protestants (e.g., John Ankerberg in Protestants and Catholics, Do They Now Agree? [Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publ., 1995) like to say the word “justify” as used by James really means “vindicate,” and that “vindicate” has nothing to do with salvation, but has to do with the proving of the believer’s faith—Abraham’s faith. You really should have addressed the major weakness of this perspective: it is not the faith that is being justified by works—it is the man.

images-1How can we justify this? If our theory holds true shouldn’t we read, “Was not Abraham our father’s faith justified (vindicated) by works?” making it clear that it is his faith, and not his person. Instead we read, unfortunately, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works?” This observation does not set well with our interpretation.

In your book you say that it is always the faith that is proven by works, whereas the Apostle James seems to say it is the person. We should try to figure out how James could have worded this passage more carefully so Catholics don’t get the wrong idea and misunderstand the gospel. You also say in your book (p. 37) that “Paul is writing about a person being justified before God, while James is writing about a man being justified before men. Men cannot see another person’s heart as God can.”

imgresSomehow we have to more careful in this theory, or else we end up scratching a few verses out of the story of Abraham in Genesis. Was it men who were testing Abraham’s faith? The book of Genesis says, no. It was God who was testing Abraham in Genesis 22, not men. You write that James is referring to justification before men (p. 37), because God can already see the heart. I noticed in reading James & Peter, by Harry Ironside, that he agrees with you on this point.

But the problem seems to be that it was God who was testing Abraham in Genesis, because Moses wrote, “Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham . . . ” (Gen. 22:1) Notice it was not men who were finding out what was in Abraham’s heart— whether he had true faith—it was God.

For the whole article, click here.  To learn more or purchase our documentary on Abraham filmed in Iraq, Turkey and Israel, click here

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Bias in Bible Translations

by Steve Ray on August 22, 2019

Translating Holy Scripture is a necessary process by which the sacred text is provided in various languages, usually rendered from the original languages. Not all translations are created equal. Some result from one scholar’s work, others the work of a committee of scholars. Some are literal while others tend toward paraphrase.

Translation resembles a sliding scale with each translation placed somewhere between the two opposite ends. On one side of the scale are the literal translations, on the other the dynamic. The literal strives to achieve the exact rendering of the original language with minimal concern for readability or modern idioms. The dynamic end of the scale attempts to provide a readable and easily understood text even if it moves away from the literal rendering of the original language. It attempts to relay the meaning more than the literal terminology.

Theological bias becomes increasingly possible the further a translation moves toward the dynamic end of the scale. It is inevitable that some interpretation is involved in translation. Some translators, to accommodate their theological persuasion, may emphasize denominational and theological points of view. Martin Luther provided a well-known example when he added the word “alone” to the word “faith” in his German translation of Romans. An extreme example is the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses which subverts the nature of Christ through translation. The RSV renders John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Teaching that Jesus Christ was a creature, and not the eternal Son of God, the Jehovah’s Witnesses translate the passage to conform to their heresy. Their New World Translation renders John 1:1 as, “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” although the article “a” is absent from the original Greek text.

Many Protestant translations display a considerable doctrinal persuasion, even a bias against Catholicism. Though nicely written and easily readable, the very popular New International Version is a good example. Though the NIV claims to be “international” and “trans-denominational”, in reality, the scholars were limited to five English speaking countries and the committee 1 was Protestant. The “denominations” excluded Catholic and Orthodox contributors though the Preface announces a desire to “avoid sectarian bias”. In contrast, the NAB included both Catholic and Protestant scholars.

What appears to be doctrinal bias is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:15. The word “traditions” is used to translate the word paradosis by all major English translations. However, the NIV reads, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter (italics mine).” Instead of using St. Paul’s choice of paradosis, the translators used the word “teaching” (Didache). This tends to obscure the Catholic implications of the text. (See also 2 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thes 3:6.)

In Acts 1:20, the word translated as “bishoprick” in the KJV and “office” by most other translations, is the Greek word episkope from which we get our English word “episcopal”. Peter declares that a man must succeed to the office vacated by Judas. Seemingly, to avoid the implications of apostolic succession, the NIV renders episkope as “place of leadership”. On the sliding scale of translations, this choice of words is really an Evangelical interpretation very close to the dynamic end of the scale, diminishing a foundational basis for the successive office of bishop.

A final example is James 2:24 where we read in almost every English translation, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone (RSV).” The NIV renders this verse as “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone (italics mine).” Although the Greek word is clearly “works” (ergon), the translators of the NIV replaced it with “what he does”, obscuring the implications that seem contradictory to the Protestant doctrine of justification by “faith alone”.

Even with these examples, it must be mentioned that the NIV translation also has its surprises. According to So Many Versions?, the text and note on Matthew 16:18, stating that “Peter means rock”, is “rather surprising for a conservative [Protestant] version. The traditional conservative position is that “Peter” means a “rolling stone”.

All translations contain some influence of theological persuasion. However, some are more blatant than others. Readers should be aware of the theological standpoint held by the translators. The Second Vatican Council proclaims “Since the Word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable 2 and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them (Dei Verbum, 22).

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Referenced Works: So Many Translations?, Sakae Kubo and Walter F. Specht, Zondervan Publishing House, 1983. p. 247.

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Suggested Reading: Divino Afflante Spiritu (“Promotion of Biblical Studies”) by Pope Pius XII, St. Paul Books. Dei Verbum (“Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation”), Second Vatican Council. So Many Translations?, Sakae Kubo and Walter F. Specht, Zondervan Publishing House, 1983. p. 247. The Translation Debate, Eugene H. Glassman, InterVarsity Press, 1981. History of the English Bible, F. F. Bruce, Oxford University Press, 1978.

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Protestant Acknowledges “Five Things We Lost because of the Reformation” – one of the best I’ve read on it

August 7, 2019

This article was published by Nick Page in Premier Christianity Magazine in October 2017. He is trying to help Protestants understand that there were problems created by the Protestant movement. He explains five big loses: 1) Loss of unity, 2) Loss of monasteries, 3) Loss of silence, 4) Loss of “doing things”, and 5) Loss […]

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Baptist at the door, “Are you born again?” Prepare yourself to answer them!

February 21, 2019

Grilled salmon sizzled on his plate as Andy and his family sat down for dinner. No sooner had they crossed themselves to bless the food than the doorbell rang. Andrew dragged himself to answer the door while his family began eating. Two smiling faces peered in the door. “Good evening, we hope we’re not interrupting […]

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Cross vs. Crucifix

February 11, 2019

(A letter Steve wrote to an Evangelical friend asking for an explanation of the Crucifix) Dear Protestant Friend: You display a bare cross in your homes; we display the cross and the crucifix. What is the difference and why? The cross is an upright post with a crossbeam in the shape of a “T”. A […]

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Baptist in a Protestant Bookstore – Interesting Conversation

February 7, 2019

Dear Jerry: I am writing a short letter to thank you for approaching me in the bookstore yesterday to talk, and to make a few comments on our earlier discussion. As always it was fun talking with you Jerry. I always look forward to such times; they are a high point in my week. I […]

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Christmas – when even Protestants put up Statues!

December 20, 2018

Christmas is that magical time of year when Protestants don’t have a problem with statues of Jesus, Mary, Saints and Angels! Isn’t that lovely (and inconsistent)?

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“Ancient Baptists” and Other Myths

November 27, 2018

“Ancient Baptists” and Other Myths Fr. Hugh Barbour, O.Praem. Nicea, August 24, A.D. 325, 7:41 p.m. “That was powerful preaching, Brother Athanasius. Powerful! Amen! I want to invite any of you folks in the back to approach the altar here and receive the Lord into your hearts. Just come on up. We’ve got brothers and […]

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Trail of Blood: Do Baptists Have a Claim to the Original Church?

November 26, 2018

What is the history of Baptists? Can they trace their roots back to the 1st century? Many ”fundamentalist” Baptists believe they can. Are they correct? There is a booklet that is very popular among this fundamentalist crowd. It is entitled “The Trail of Blood”. The booklet claims that Catholics persecuted the true Christians — the Baptists — leaving […]

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The Bible out of Context: “Saved by Faith Alone”?

November 13, 2018

When reading the Bible devoid of its historical and textual context, there is no context except the context which any person might supply for it. or put otherwise, A text without a context is a pretext. I always get frustrated when self-proclaimed Bible students or teachers start pontificating about the meaning of the Bible and […]

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White Supremacy, Black Power, to Islam, then the Road to Damascus: My Journey into the Fullness of the Christian Faith

October 31, 2018

Follow Dustin through the phases of his life including Islam until he finally discovered the Catholic Church. Maybe you’re like me (aside from being born with Cerebral Palsy and defying doctors’ pronouncements, by the grace of God, that I would be confined to a wheelchair and relegated to a vegetative state). Maybe you grew up […]

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Willow Creek Protestant Megachurch Paid $3.25M in Lawsuits Over Sex Abuse of Disabled Boys

August 16, 2018

If you don’t like this post, or think I’m pointing fingers, then read below under the line of asterisks ******* By Stoyan Zaimov Aug 16, 2018 | 8:01 AM “Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois reportedly paid $3.5 million in lawsuits over the sex abuse of two developmentally disabled boys. The evangelical megachurch, which recently […]

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Who Speaks for God on Morals? Many Choose their Church Like they Choose a Restaurant

August 13, 2018

We have a “church” near our house that is making it comfortable for anyone to join no matter who they are, what they believe or what they practice. They say it is our job to accept and love, to be nice, not to judge. “Celebrate Diversity!” Celebrate Diversity is a slogan of acceptance, multiculturalism, non-judgmental […]

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Mega-church Mania: One Mom’s Observations (she’s a good writer) and Observations from the Early Church

August 10, 2018

Mr. Ray, My eldest daughter invited me to my grandson’s ‘dedication’ at her new place of worship.  Worship? Sorry. Her new place of…..well, the giant Olympic-sized structure that, after being directed in by police/traffic officers, upon entering, reminded me of a mall.  Oh and by the way, I didn’t witness any worship. My 1st thoughts were…”Wow! […]

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Why are some ex-Catholics so hateful?

August 5, 2018

I was asked recently why some ex-Catholics and anti-Catholics are so hateful and mean — why they display such fierce opposition to the Church. Of course, not all ex-Catholics are that way, but a good number are. When I was an anti-Catholic I did not consider Catholics to be Christians. They were heretics. I thought […]

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