Friday, December 2, 2011

More on Divorce

I don't feel my previous post did this justice, so I'd like to go back and look further into the topic of the "exception clause" in Matthew 5. First, lets read Matthew's second record of Jesus speaking on this matter found in chapter 19:3-10.
Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.

They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?”

He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.

[His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
This is taken from the NAB version, which is informed in it's translation by Catholic Tradition, so the problem of the "exception clause" has already been resolved. You'd find the same to be true of the parallel verse in chapter 5. Instead of the words, "except on the ground of unchastity," found in the RSV, or the similar wording of other translations, we find the words, "(unless the marriage is unlawful)." This "unlawful marriage" is a reference to the Levitical laws regarding sex, so this translation leads clearly to the understanding of the Catholic Church, which is that valid sacramental marriages are entirely permanent, and only a marriage which was "unlawful" to begin with can be ended.

Of course the problem still exists that Protestants do not use the NAB, and we really have to back to the original Greek manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel. What we find is inconclusive.

The Greek word which is variously translated as "unlawful marriage" or "unchastity," is porneia. This word is used many times in the Greek New Testament and Septuagint, and it has a variety of context sensitive meanings. Let's spend a moment on the rest of the words in the exception clauses of Matthew 5 & 19 before we return to that key word. The Greek literally translates as "except on the ground of porneias" or "excluding the matter of porneias" in Matthew 5 and "except for porneia" in Matthew 19. The Greek does not state that this is "her porneia," as translations such as the NLT or GNT convey. Still, the porneia in question could be "her porneia," it just isn't stated outright in the Greek.

Back to porneia, its most straight-forward meaning is "prostitution," but based on context, it can also refer to just about any kind of sexual immorality, such as adultery, homosexuality, fornication, incest, or unlawful relations. Thus, translations which give the word as "unchastity" or "sexual immorality" are trying to be broad just as the original word can be broad.

We can however, be fairly certain that the intended meaning is not "adultery," because the same verse uses the word which specifically means "adultery" twice, but does not use that word within the exception clause. But what kind of "sexual immorality" or "unchastity" can exist within marriage other than adultery? Given what Jesus said about lust in Matthew 5:28, it is hard to imagine a sexual sin which would not be considered adultery. Yet, here, Jesus is intentionally using a word that is not meant to mean adultery. And the only meaning of the word, "porneia," which actually differs from "adultery" within the context would be "unlawful relations." If a person were married in a way opposed to the law, they may or may not be culpable of adultery, but regardless, their marriage is void.

We find porneia used in a very similar situation in Acts 15:20, where James says:

"but tell them [the Gentiles] by letter to avoid pollution from idols, porneias, the meat of strangled animals, and blood."

We find porneias translated in this verse in a similar manner, as either "sexual immorality," "unchastity," or "unlawful marriage." The context of the verse is clearly related to Jewish Levitical law, not universal morality. It would make no sense to tell the Gentile converts to avoid adultery in this context; they were already well aware they needed to obey the moral law, including the Ten Commandments. The question was what parts, if any, of the Levitical law were they expected to follow. The only reasonable understanding of porneia would then be "unlawful marriage."

Thus, in Matthew's gospel, Jesus was not leaving a loophole, rather he was making clear that his statement did not apply to "the matter of unlawful relations."

Yes, at times this can be a hard teaching, but that's why our Lord's disciples said, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

While I find this argument sound, volumes have been said on the matter, and there exists a great deal of disagreement. I'll add some links to more information below:

The Church Fathers on the permanence of matrimony.

Did Jesus say adultery is grounds for divorce?
byJimmy Akin

What does the Catholic Church teach on divorce and remarriage?
by Patrick Madrid

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Bible on Divorce

I've always been a little confused by the words of Christ regarding divorce. They didn't seem to fit with the common Protestant idea that divorce is acceptable in extreme circumstances, and then remarriage is always okay. But they also appeared to contradict the Catholic view that divorced people cannot remarry unless they show that their original marriage was actually invalid. The answer really comes down to the interpretation of a few words. Let's look at the two interpretations, and see if we can find an answer that fits everything Jesus said.

The Words

First, Jesus broadens our idea of what constitutes adultery to include lust.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-28 NIV)

And then he follows up by showing the adulterous nature of remarriage after divorce.

It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matt 5:31-32 NIV)

While difficult to follow, the teaching that it is sinful to look at a woman lustfully is fairly easy to understand. The more difficult and divisive words are found in Matthew 32. Our understanding of what Jesus meant by “except for sexual immorality” can lead us in a variety of directions.

The Protestant Understanding

Protestants are very divided over this issue. How serious is divorce? When is it acceptable? When is remarriage an option? So, I will have to deal with generalities based on my experience, and it cannot be assumed that this applies to all Protestant groups.

What I have found to be common, is a line of reasoning something like this:

According to my reading, Jesus says we can divorce and remarry, if our spouse has committed adultery. If this is true, then if our spouse violates our wedding vows in other serious ways, such as abusive behavior, this would also be valid grounds for divorce and remarriage.

Certain translations of the Bible seem to assume this is what was meant, and in an attempt at clarity, alter the words of Christ to fit this understanding.

... if a man divorces his wife for any cause other than her unfaithfulness...” (Matt 5:32 GNT)

But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful... (Matt 5:32 NLT)

But this leaves us with several questions. Where do we draw the line on what constitutes a violation of wedding vows which is grounds for divorce? Didn't Jesus just say that lust was adultery, and if so, isn't this grounds for almost any woman to divorce her husband and remarry? And if this is the case, then what purpose is served by warning us against divorce in the first place? And, why doesn't the parallel verse in Luke 16:18 give us exceptions to the inviolable nature of marriage?

The Catholic Understanding

I always favored the Catholic understanding because it seems clear to me that Jesus regards divorce as a very serious matter, and he warns severely against remarriage. Even as a Protestant I had an understanding of the inviolable sacramental nature of marriage. But Catholics are not allowed to remarry after a divorce, unless they can show that their marriage was invalid (I'm not getting into the issue of what many Catholics do, or whether the Church grants too many annulments. I'm looking at the actual teaching of the Church). This seems to go against the exception provided by Christ. Didn't Jesus say that we could remarry if our wives committed adultery?

Let's look for a clue in another Protestant Bible translation. The Contemporary English Version records the verse like this:

But I tell you not to divorce your wife unless she has committed some terrible sexual sin. If you divorce her, you will cause her to be unfaithful, just as any man who marries her is guilty of taking another man's wife.” (Matt 5:32 CEV)

This isn't very different from the other versions, but this version includes a footnote saying, “some terrible sexual sin: This probably refers to the laws about the wrong kinds of marriages that are forbidden in Leviticus 18.6-18 or to some serious sexual sin.”

Discovering this greatly alleviated my confusion on this matter. If the first meaning is correct, that this “refers to the laws about the wrong kind of marriages that are forbidden,” then this verse is entirely consistent with the Catholic teaching. A man's wedding vows are rendered null if it turns out that their marriage was a “forbidden” kind of marriage, not valid from the start. In this case, the sexual sin was not an extramarital affair as suggested by many translations, rather it was the false marriage which was “unchaste” by its own failing, having been improperly established.

If the marriage was not valid to begin with, then it would not be adultery to remarry after such a divorce. This is the Catholic teaching on the matter, and it is the one teaching that does justice to all the relevant scriptures. The Catholic teaching is consistent, and follows the teaching of our Lord, properly professing the gravity of divorce and remarriage.

Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery” (CCC 2384).

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Assumption of Non-Denominational Neutrality

Does non-denominational equal neutral?
As with many of the common Protestant beliefs that now seem obviously silly to me, this is something I once believed myself. I grew up with a kind of non-denominational Evangelicalism. I considered myself, “Just a Christian,” a “Generic Christian,” or we might say, a believer in “Mere Christianity.” In a similar way of speaking, I commonly hear people say things like, “I don't believe in denominations,” or “our group is a mix of Catholic and Evangelical, so let us study a 'regular' Christian book together,” or worse, “My wife was raised Baptist, I was raised Lutheran, so we go to a non-denominational church to avoid the divisions.”

In this way of thinking, non-denominational churches form a kind of middle ground, they avoid the divisions that have long caused conflict between denominations, they cut out the unnecessary additions that might impede the ability of Christians to unite on a simple Bible Faith.

There seems to be a willingness among many people to quickly buy into such ideas, and accept them without question. I think a great deal of this is just due to the terms being used. These groups avoid the language of division, and make claims of a simple faith, and people take them at their word. This mindset also draws upon sketchy ideas of Catholicism's “additions,” and vague knowledge of the battles fought between different denominations following the Reformation.

But this view that avoiding traditional denominations makes your church a kind of purified middle ground is generally just fallen into, and not really thought out. When it is examined, it is clearly false.

There is a similar situation in American politics, where we have two major parties, and many “third parties,” one of these is the American Independent Party. Using the term, “Independent,” they could easily be seen as a non-divisive middle ground, but upon inspection, their policies are clearly Conservative, and they have much in common with certain parts of the Republican Party, but very little in common with any parts of the Democratic Party.

Let's take a specific group as an example: Calvary Chapel is one of the largest associations of non-denominational churches. Their numbers likely exceed those of many denominations, and their structure is no more loose than what is found in some denominational associations, so it is already clear that there is an issue of word-preference in play here. Now Calvary Chapel can certainly claim to be less denomination-based than the Catholic Church, or mainstream Protestant branches, but they aren't structurally any less of a denomination than some Evangelical groups which do consider themselves “denominations.”

Of course I would argue that a “denomination” can be as small as a single church, or even a single person. Really, a denomination can be most clearly defined by who is recognized as its highest visible authority. As such, attempts to avoid being a denomination are really just avoiding the word “denomination,” not the reality expressed by that word.

But moving beyond the “denomination” name games, are non-denominational churches non-divisive? Are they a pure, agreeable middle ground, devoid of unnecessary divisive beliefs?

Calvary Chapel states, "We are not a denominational church, nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only their over-emphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the Body of Christ." And they often try to strike a middle ground. For example, like Pentecostals, they believe in the modern gift of speaking in tongues, but like most non-Pentecostal groups, they generally do not believe speaking in tongues is meant to figure prominently in church services. This places them fairly near to Catholics on this issue. But it is clearly not all-accepting. It is in fact a rejection of the Pentecostal idea that speaking in tongues should be a prominent part of worship services, and it is also a rejection of the idea held by some other Protestants that the Holy Spirit no longer gives the gift of tongues to believers.

Many differences with the Catholic Church are even more pronounced. Calvary Chapel does not believe in the efficacy of Sacraments. They believe that baptism is only an outward sign of an inward reality in an informed believer, and that it conveys no grace. Thus they reject infant baptism. Likewise, they hold that communion is symbolic, and reject any notion of the Real Presence of Christ and the re-presentation of our Lord's sacrifice on Calvary. First, this shows that only Catholic chapels can claim full connection with Calvary, but more to the point, we see not a position of acceptance and common ground, but a position that requires rejection as much as any “divisive denominational church.”

Their most notable differences from most Protestant groups are perhaps their dispensational and pretribulational beliefs, but I think it's clear enough that they do indeed have divisive beliefs, and you cannot accept Calvary Chapel beliefs without rejecting various beliefs of most other Christian groups.

What exact beliefs you'll find in any of the varied non-denominational churches will certainly vary somewhat from those in the example of Calvary Chapel, but they cannot escape the reality of division or the necessary rejection of opposing beliefs.

It is completely unreasonable to expect Catholics to cede the default, the neutral, or the middle ground to non-denominational Christians based on their claims of simplicity and non-divisiveness. It is in fact far more reasonable for Christians to be Catholic by default, for Protestantism is a rebellion against a Catholic Christian past, and Protestants do not even know what they are rejecting or why, and it is only in Catholicism that Christianity has ever been united.

When it comes to inter-denominational dialogue, I am not arguing that we should fall back into inappropriately divisive patterns of prejudice and name-calling, but it is certainly not fair to claim "denominations" are being divisive while obviously holding mutually exclusive positions yourself.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween Warning

I just received an email to warn me about the dangers of Halloween. I appreciate the effort to counter acceptance of the occult, and to warn of other unhealthy trends, but I also tend to disagree with the alarmed tone of the message, and the implication that any celebration of Halloween is in opposition to our Christian values. Here are my thoughts regarding the issues raised.

Halloween originated as a Pagan festival.
While we do know that Halloween developed out of All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, the exact details of All Saints Day's early development have been partially lost to history. We do know that the Catholic Church has often “Baptized” pagan celebrations to make them Christian Holy Days, and we know that Autumn Harvest Celebrations of different kinds have been celebrated in most every culture since the dawn of agriculture, so it is reasonable to assume that All Saints Day was placed on October 31st to take the place of those kinds of celebrations. It wasn't until recently that All Saints Day was displaced, and we developed the modern American celebration of Halloween.

Halloween is still celebrated by pagans.
Here, the connotation is that pagans have always been celebrating this “dark holiday,” and that by joining them in the celebration we are participating in their pagan religious activities.

Really, many modern pagan movements make references to ancient religions, but they can draw no real lines of continuity. This is not their holiday, it is a Christian holiday that became a secular American holiday, and the pagans are latching on to that secular holiday.

People sacrifice cats on Halloween.
While this is disturbing, it has nothing to do with my family, or any celebration of Halloween I have ever been a part of. I don't feel getting drunk and pinching people has much to do with St. Patrick either.

Teenage girls dress in sexy Halloween costumes.
Another disturbing trend, but once again, this is just one thing for parents to watch out for and avoid in their own families. Really this is a question of general modesty, not just a problem on one day.

Are there benefits to Halloween?
Yes, aside from being fun for children, I believe it gives us a good chance to familiarize ourselves with our neighbors. Also, this is the one day of the year when everyone in a neighborhood engages in sharing with each other. If only this were more of an example for the rest of the year.

Can't we just have our own unrelated Harvest Festival?
Here we go. This is the solution a lot of churches come up with. The first thing you should notice is that they are mimicking what the Catholic Church did. They are trying to de-paganize a celebration they see as pagan. The problem is that Halloween is not rooted in paganism, but in the All Saints Day remembrance of the Christians who have gone to heaven before us. By stripping this away, and making it a generic “harvest festival” they've actually taken the final step in de-Christianizing the holiday.

The real problem isn't that we dress up and share candy on Halloween. The real problem is that we forget All Saints Day. Isn't this the same thing Christians are fighting hard not to do with Christmas and Easter? Yet it was the early radical Protestant rejection of all Holy Days that led to the climate in America where Halloween would be celebrated while All Saints Day was forgotten.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Questions about Mary

Because of a recent discussion between my wife and her friend regarding Mary, I'm going to go through a (hopefully) quick discussion of Catholic Marian beliefs. I'm not going to do a lot of digging right now on this, so there is definitely more that can be said on these issues.

When I decided to join the Catholic Church a few years back, one of the last hurdles I faced was Mary. This seems to be common in those who come from a Protestant background. Let me get into the basics real quick, and I'll end with the thing that gave me the most trouble.

Why do Catholics call Mary the "Mother of God?"
This doctrine was highlighted in the controversy with Nestorius in 431 AD who taught a disunion between Christ's human and divine natures, and said that Mary was only the mother of his human nature. The Church then reaffirmed that Christ's human and divine natures were united. A part of making this point was making clear that Mary was the mother of the Person, Jesus Christ, and as he was one person with both divine and human natures, Mary could rightly be called "Mother of God." Certainly the title honors Mary, but more importantly, it reaffirms that from his conception, Jesus was fully God and fully man. Notable supporters of this doctrine's importance include Martin Luther and John Calvin.

The Perpetual Virginity... what about Jesus' "brothers?"
The term "brothers" in this context can literally mean "brothers," but it can also mean"kinsmen" or "cousins." Either way, Mary needn't have had children. It was common belief in the early church that Joseph was an elderly widower, and had children from his previous marriage. It is thought, for one thing, that Joseph would treat the woman who bore God in her womb with a special reverence, as Jews would be accustomed to treating things touched in a special way by God, like the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies, and the ground in front of the burning bush. Such an idea might seem odd to modern Christians, but first century Jews knew that when the wrong person touched the Ark of the Covenant, they dropped dead. Supporters of this belief once again include Martin Luther and John Calvin.

The Immaculate Conception of Mary... wasn't Jesus the only person without sin?
The Bible doesn't actually say that Jesus was the only person without sin (though we could get into verses that seem to suggest this). There is a fundamental difference between Mary's sinlessness and the sinlessness of our Lord. Jesus was sinless by his own power, as God. Mary was only preserved from sin by the external Grace of God. This Grace was bestowed upon her because God was preparing a fitting mother for his son, a fitting womb to bear God.

To better understand some of these things and what the Bible says to suggest them we'd have to go into discussions of Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant, and Mary as the New Eve. This is certainly key, but it's also a bit complex, so I'll leave this to another occasion, or to those better equipped than I.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

St. Patrick Evangelization Society

I'd like to introduce the newly founded nonprofit I'm involved with, St. Patrick Evangelization Society.

Our goal is to bring people into a relationship with Christ. Enabling others to share in the Hope and Love brought by Faith. This means bringing more people into the Church, and keeping people in the Church.

To find out more, check out the Website here:

And the blog here:

We do need your help to make this successful, so please make us a part of your tithe.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Opinions on John Corapi

Apparently the biggest current story in Catholic blogs, Fr. John Corapi is walking away from the priesthood after three months of being suspended because of accusations of drug use and having an inappropriate relationship with an adult woman.

I'm neither a fan, nor an opponent of John Corapi. I don't have much light to shed on any of this, but I do have complaints about everyone all around! Bloggers, John Corapi, whoever. I'll include links to the related posts.

Father Corapi. I really can't see how giving up after just three months is the best move. Shouldn't he at least give it a while longer, so more people will believe him when he says the case will never go anywhere? Couldn't he find some friendly bishops to back him in reforming the investigation process?

My thoughts mostly lean toward this: The situation may be completely unfair, and I may be able to imagine myself reacting the same way, but I still think he should have held on.

Jimmy Akin. I'm usually a Jimmy Akin fan, but I think he's pulling things out of context a bit in his blog post on this. The whole "Black SheepDog" name is weird, but is it "really disturbing?" Hardly. And when Corapi says not to bother the Bishops, he seems to mean, "Sending the bishop angry letters won't help anyone." Akin seems to imply Corapi is saying, "Talking to the bishops is always futile because they don't listen."

Well, that's actually enough individualized criticism for me. On to generalities.

To all the harsh commenters: He's a human. We all have limits and failings. At least try to give him the benefit-of-the-doubt.

To all his super fans: Let's not be so quick to demonize the bishops for everything they do that isn't exactly what you think they should do. Exercise due caution in following Corapi from here on out. What special revelation have you been given that lets you just know that his accuser is a liar?

Now, for some actually informative posts on how these cases are handled:

Father John Corapi and the State of Due Process for Accused Priests by Ryan McDonald at Catholic Lane, confirms some of what John Corapi said in his farewell speech.

Find out What can an ex-priest do? by Deacon Greg Kandra.

And Deacon William T. Ditewig, Ph.D. gives some defense for the way the Bishops handled this case in Fr. Corapi: "Soft you; a word or two before you go".

Update 6/21:
Find one of the best blog entries I've read on this at The Curt Jester.

And some details from Fr. Corapi's religious superior make this sound a lot more like Fr. Corapi's fault, in that he contributed to the problem of the case being impossible to investigate with a lawsuit of his own, at The National Catholic Register.

Update 6/23:
Jimmy Akin has a second post on National Catholic Register, which rectifies the problems with the first, and is much more in tune with my thinking (and much better expressed than anything I said on the matter).

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Septuagint

I just ran across an interesting post on the Logos Bible Software Blog about why the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament is valuable.
"Many pastors, seminary students, and lay people devoted to Bible study might wonder about the value of the Septuagint for Bible study. The Septuagint, of course, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Septuagint was the Old Testament of the early Greek-speaking church, and it is by far the version of the Old Testament most frequently quoted by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. Rather than try to persuade you of the value of the Septuagint by means of these kinds of arguments, I thought it might be helpful to provide a practical example where the Septuagint explains what seems to be a New Testament theological blunder. I’m betting most of us are interested in that sort of thing!" 
-Dr. Michael Heiser, Academic Editor at Logos
Read the rest at: