Month: June 2017

On The Existence of Aliens

On The Existence of Aliens

Ever since the rise of modern technology and the age of space exploration, there has been a growing desire to find life on other planets. Whether we mention TV shows like Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, X-Files, Firefly, or Fringe, the idea that there could be life on other planets completely permeates the genre of science fiction. But why? Why do we care so much about finding life on other planets, and why now?

The Post-Enlightenment Vacuum

Whenever a culture abruptly leaves something to enter something else, the reactionary pendulum swing always creates a vacuum; a silhouette of what once was. In this case, it was departing the spiritual for the sake of the scientific. Prior to the age of secular science, there were spiritual affirmations woven into the cultural DNA. Western humanity has always affirmed the idea that we are not alone in the universe, yet somehow this has become a new concept. Here is how I think this may have happened:

The age of secular science has, as part of its identity, a rejection of all that which cannot be seen. This was where everything changed. When you reject everything but the observable material world, you reject parts of a past societal framework, such as the belief in the incorporeal spiritual bodies of other realms. When you do this, you cannot but believe that we are alone in the universe, because nothing else can be observed. However, because there is an inward vacuum (remnants of a belief that we are not alone in the universe) within the secular person, one cannot help utilizing this new materialist perspective to prove what we inwardly know to be true. Thus, the search for extraterrestrial life begins anew. This leads to the idea of aliens, and why they are the way they are in the modern psyche. And what about the time travel trend, where one can encounter these pseudo-human beings from the future?

The Biblical Aliens

I think it is possible that the concept of the ‘alien’ is merely the materialistic secular approach to broad, distant, but uniquely Christian memories of the past. It is a modern approach to past memories like:

  1. The inward knowledge that we are ultimately not alone.
  2. Mankind is a cosmic microcosm.
  3. Testimony to mysteries of the paranormal.
  4. Religion and anthropomorphic deities.
  5. Manifestations of the Christian saints within the material world.
  6. The liturgical relationship to the nature of time.

All of these things are simply part of who we are as humans, and to try escaping them is always futile. In other words, we as Christians already know aliens exist, we just use words like God, saints, angels, and demons.

How Incorporeal Angels can have Corporeal Offspring

How Incorporeal Angels can have Corporeal Offspring

“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:1-5)

The Angelic Groom

Referencing the Enochic understanding within Jude 1:6-7 and 2 Pet 2:4,[1] St. Irenaeus accepts the idea that two hundred fallen angels (or “Watchers”) were responsible for introducing much wickedness into the human race, teaching humanity witchcraft and every kind of vanity. The offspring of this union are the giants known as the Nephilim.

“For unlawful unions occurred on earth, as angels united themselves with daughters of men, who bore them sons who, because of their exaggerated height, were called giants. The angels then gave their wives, as gifts, wicked teachings, for they taught them the powers of roots and herbs, of dyeing and cosmetics, and the discovery of precious material, love-potions, hatreds, loves, infatuations, seductions, bonds of witchcraft, and all kinds of divination and idolatry hateful to God. When these entered the world, the things of wickedness over-abounded, while those of righteousness decreased, until judgement came upon the world from God…” –St. Irenaeus of Lyons[2]

The angelic perspective is the majority view of the Church Fathers, and it is found in people like Justin Martyr,[3] Athenagoras,[4] Origen,[5] Clement of Alexandria,[6] Hilary of Poitiers,[7] Tertullian,[8] Eusebius,[9] Ambrose of Milan,[10] Jerome,[11] and Methodius.[12]

However, others like Ephrem the Syrian,[13] John Cassian,[14] John Chrysostom,[15] and Augustine[16] instead taught that the sons of God refer to the lineage of Seth, because angels are incorporeal beings and cannot have bodily relations with humans.

The Conduit Bride

This brings up a dilemma within certain interpretations of the text. Both perspectives raise valid points: Fallen angels had to be part of it, but how ought we to reconcile the idea that angels are incorporeal (which is undisputed in the church fathers), yet affirm the traditional angelic interpretation of the text (which the majority of Christians held)? And if angels really did mate with human women, and if this was truly a major reason why God sent the flood, why do the Nephilim (such as Goliath) still exist even after the flood? The only possibility is that the fallen angels united with women again after the flood. But how? I want to offer an alternative perspective that synthesizes the best of both worlds: I believe it is possible that women offered themselves as sexual conduits for demonic spirits.

Angels are incorporeal, so they cannot literally have physical relations with humans. However, they can certainly unite spiritually with a woman by possessing her, and such a union is so deep it could be considered a kind of marriage (essentially the perverse opposite of a nun being ‘married’ to Christ). Fallen angels can reveal to her the mysteries of the occult, and demonic possession could also have an effect on pregnancy. Scripture testifies of a demoniac with super-human strength (Mar 5:3-4), so it is not a stretch to think someone like Goliath is the result of such a union. This also explains why the Nephilim continued to exist after the flood, since temple prostitution with oracles was commonplace. There may have even been many more giants in the world if such practices did not go hand in hand with child sacrifice.

Therefore, I think this interpretation is interesting and does a good job when it comes to answering the difficulties surrounding the incorporeal nature of angels, but without doing any kind of harm to the other interpretations.

[1] 1 Enoch 6-9.
[2] Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 18, 19.
[3] 1 Apology 5.
[4] Plea for the Christians, 24.
[5] Against Celsus, LV.
[6] Miscellanies, 5.1.10
[7] Commentary on Psalm 133:3.
[8] Idolatry 9; Veiling 7.
[9] Preparation, 5:5.
[10] Noah and the Ark 4.8.
[11] Hebrew, 6.4.
[12] Discourse on the Resurrection, III.1.7.
[13] Commentary on Genesis 6.3.1.
[14] Conferences, 8.21.
[15] Homily on Genesis, 22.6-8.
[16] City of God, 15:22-23.

The Nakedness of Noah

The Nakedness of Noah

In Genesis 9:20-23, we are given a narrative that could be considered by some to be scandalous. It tells of one of the most important patriarchs of the Old Testament getting drunk and having his son Ham “look upon his nakedness.” The question is, what exactly does this mean, and what sin did Ham commit? Scholars are divided on the issue for a variety of reasons, and the obscurity of the text certainly does not help. However, the varying interpretations do have reasonable justification for their contrary perspectives, but it does not seem like any of them clear every obscurity within the text.

Voyeurism Theory

Davis does not give much insight into the nakedness of Noah, since he was much more intent on letting readers know the curse of Ham was absolutely not black skin.[1] However, he does remark that he believes Canaan was cursed because he was involved in the act.[2] This means that Davis is most likely assuming what is known as the voyeurism theory, which is the most literal and surface-level of all the perspectives. This theory posits that Ham did nothing more than stare at the exposed body of his naked father.[3] However, this theory is highly criticized because the nature of Ham’s actions does not seem to be enough grounds to justify the extremities of the following curse.[4] Voyeurism also cannot account for the fact that there is no evidence in biblical or ancient near eastern literature that expresses the accidental sight of a naked parent as being a taboo.[5] The text says that Noah saw “what his youngest son had done to him” (Gen 9:24), so it seems unlikely that it was merely a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is easily argued that “seeing the nakedness of the father” is an idiom for something sexual, because Leviticus (Lev 20:17), as well as Ezekiel (Ezek 16:36-37; 22:10; 23:10, 18, 29) use the phrase explicitly within a sexual context. Thematically, the wine motif is also noteworthy. Not only is wine connected with sexuality in Near Eastern literature,[6] but the only other reference to drunkenness in Genesis occurs with the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters (Gen 19:30-38). In Song of Solomon, words like “vineyard” and “wine” are euphemisms (Sng 8:2, 12), so wine is connected to sexuality even in the Bible.

Castration Theory

Attempting to address the shortcomings of voyeurism, the Jewish tradition of Rab proposes the castration theory, which states that Noah was castrated by Ham to usurp his authority.[7] There are a variety of examples of sons castrating their fathers in ancient Near Eastern mythology, so such a concept was not uncommon in this period.[8] Rab believes that castration accounts for why Noah cursed Canaan instead of Ham. Since Noah cursed Ham’s fourth son, it follows that the offence was with regards to preventing Noah from having a fourth son.[9] Even though some say Ham did the castrating, there are others who believe Canaan was responsible by “mischievously looping a cord about his genitals and drawing it tight.”[10] It is said that the main problem with this theory is that it lacks explicit evidence within the text itself.

Paternal-Incest Theory

Others like Samuel suggest the paternal-incest theory, which claims that Ham sodomized Noah.[11] This is taken from the fact that the language is very similar to the account of Shechem’s rape of Dinah (Gen 34:1-2). Thus, Noah realizing what his son had done to him suggests that Noah was a victim in a sexual act. Proponents of this theory point out the relationship between this event and the Genesis account of the fallen angels known as the “sons of God” (Gen 6:1-4). “One story introduces the flood narrative, and the other concludes it.”[12] Thematically, the two stories relate on multiple levels. Not only do both stories involve the flood, this perspective would argue, but both involve unnatural sex. Interestingly, this very event is mentioned in Jude, when using the unnatural sexual lust of the angels to describe the unnatural homosexual lusts common in Sodom and Gomorrah (Jde 1:6-7). This then leads to the person of Lot, who happens to be connected to Sodom and Gomorrah, drunkenness, and the act of paternal incest. Not only that, but the very first sexual transgression mentioned in Leviticus (Lev 18:6-7) is about incest, and it is specifically used as a polemic against the land of Canaan (Lev 18:3).

Maternal-Incest Theory

Scott Hahn suggests what he calls the maternal-incest theory, which proposes that Ham actually has sexual relations with his mother, and not his father. He reasons that Lev 18:7-8 reveals how the “nakedness of your father” refers to the wife of the father, and not the father himself.[13] The reason why he doubts that Ham had sex with his father is because the verbiage in Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 does not line up with what is written in Gen 9:21-23. Therefore, he proposes that Canaan was cursed because he was the illegitimate offspring of the incestuous union.[14]

It is difficult to say which of these are correct, since they all make valid points in certain areas, but nonetheless do not account for every detail. Hahn presents an interesting theory, but it still raises other questions about how it is that Ham could have had sexual relations with his mother. Was she also drunk? Why is she not mentioned in the text? Etc. However, it seems that incest was involved in this story, since Moses is preparing the narrative to eventually contrast his moral laws with the surrounding Canaanite life. To the Hebrews in Moses’ day, the Canaanites were a cursed people, so the Genesis narrative was probably a means to explain why. Granted, Moses could have been a bit clearer.


[1] John Davis. Paradise to Prison. (Sheffield Publishing: Salem, Wisconsin, 1984) p. 128-129.
[2] Ibid.
[3] John Bergsma, and Scott Hahn. “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse on Canaan (Genesis 9:20-27).” Journal of Biblical Literature 124, no. 1 (2005): 26.
[4] Frederick Bassett. “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan, a Case of Incest?” Vetus Testamentum 21, no. 2 (1971): 233.
[5] Bergsma and Hahn, 27.
[6] Ibid., p. 30.
[7] Ibid., p. 28.
[8] Graves and Patai, Hebrew Myths, 122.
[9] Bergsma and Hahn, 28.
[10] Frederick Bassett, 233.
[11] Bergsma and Hahn, 28.
[12] Ibid., p. 30-31.
[13] Ibid., p. 34.
[14] Ibid., p. 35.

Iconographic Depictions of the Father?

Iconographic Depictions of the Father?

No matter what I read in defense of visual depictions of the Father as a man, the conversation always goes back to a conversation about the Ancient of Days. St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite (1749-1809), in his prolegomena to the Seventh Ecumenical Council wrote specifically about depicting the Father as the Ancient of Days, but he was a product of his time. To be fair, I will also not use the Moscow synod of 1666 which condemned depictions of the Father. This particular time period is said to be an incredibly murky 200 years of Western influence (17th-19th century), so I will not use it for the sake of taking a different argumentative route. The Old Testament passage is as follows:

I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.1Daniel 7:9

Even though many of the Church Fathers make exegetical illustration to Christ and His victory, this is not a literal description of what Daniel saw, nor was it what the text originally meant. Such an interpretation is more in the realm of creative theological liberties rather than exegetical accuracy. There is one interpretation by St Ambrose that is more accurate, especially in a visual sense:

He who sees Jesus, to him are the heavens opened as they were opened to Stephen, when he said: “Behold I see the heavens opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”  Jesus was standing as his advocate, He was standing as though anxious, that He might help His athlete Stephen in his conflict, He was standing as though ready to crown His martyr. Let Him then be standing for you, that you may not be afraid of Him sitting; for when sitting He judges, as Daniel says: “The thrones were placed, and the books were opened, and the Ancient of Days did sit.2Ambrose of Milan, Letter 63.

The liturgical services also testify to Christ as the Ancient of Days when it says:

He who is ancient of days and young in the flesh is being brought into the Temple by his virgin Mother.3Feast of the Meeting of the Lord

The ancient of days in a visual sense, is Christ, who is the image of the Father. “No man hath seen God,” which would include Daniel.4John 1:18, 4:12 Christ is even expressed with near identical imagery with the Ancient of Days in Revelation, which says,

His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire.5Rev 1:14.

This brings Daniel’s vision to its New Testament reality, because Revelation is essentially a continuation of Daniel’s vision. What was once called “Ancient of Days” in the Old Testament is now transfigured into the New Testament phrase “Alpha and Omega.”6Rev 1:8 One must always interpret the Old Testament obscurities in light of the New Testament revelation. The Old Testament always prefigures the coming Christ, for Christ’s said:

Search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.7Jhn 5:39.

It is at least possible that one reason many church fathers missed some of the nuances of Daniel 7 simply because many of them did not have Revelation in their collection of scriptures. This would make sense as to why St Ambrose, a Western saint, had such an interpretation.8Revelation never fell out of favor with the West like it did with the East.

However, in spite of this, Daniel’s vision is already explicitly interpreted within the text itself.9Dan 7:18, 27 People seem to stop reading before they get to the part where scripture says the “one like the son of man” are the saints of God merely being represented by a single person. We know retrospectively, in light of Christ, that the saints of God are able to achieve this precisely because Christ is the firstfruits of mankind,101 Cor 15:23 but it does not follow that an anthropomorphic vision is a prooftext for iconographic depictions of the Father as a man.

Despite the fact that the “son of man” can be exegetically spoken of in light of Christ (the representative of mankind and the last Adam), it becomes theologically problematic to then visually depict the Father as a man in icons. Daniel used anthropomorphism to describe aspects of his vision and experience of God: garment like snow, hair like wool, throne like flame, etc. These are details that mean something specific about the character of God through Daniel’s personal and unspeakable experience of the Divine. Such a vision is not meant to be taken literally, because Daniel did not literally see such details with his eyes.

When the Father is depicted as a man in icons, it seems to inevitably undermine St. John of Damascus and the incarnation altogether. Jesus said you see the Father through Him.11Jhn 14:9 Therefore, scripture testifies that Jesus is the icon of the invisible God.12Col 1:15. In other words, when you look at Jesus, you see the Father as well. When there is an icon that simultaneously shows both Jesus and a human depiction of the Father, it is a blatant departure from the Gospel narrative, and the average person is not going to discern the difference between Christ (who is literally a man and not anthropomorphized) and the Father (who is anthropomorphized and not literally a man), because both are simply shown to be men. If one were to ask, “Show me an icon of the Ancient of Days,” the answer will always be the same: “If you’ve seen Christ, you’ve seen the Ancient of Days.” Therefore, to depict the Ancient of Days in Daniel, one need only depict Christ as the Ancient of Days, because the name applies not to a particular person of the eternal Trinity, but to all three persons. Because this is the case, it follows that it should be the person of Christ who is depicted, because He is the Word of God, the One through whom the Father is seen by men.

This emphasis on the importance of the incarnation is the entire foundation to St John of Damascus’ defense of depicting Christ as a man in icons:

Human nature was not lost in the Godhead, but just as the Word made flesh remained the Word, so flesh became the Word remaining flesh, becoming, rather, one with the Word through union. Therefore I venture to draw an image of the invisible God, not as invisible, but as having become visible for our sake through flesh and blood. I do not draw an image of the immortal Godhead. I paint the visible flesh of God, for it is impossible to represent a spirit, how much more God who gives breath to the spirit.13John of Damascus, On Holy Images

An essential part of St John’s argument is that depicting Christ as a man in iconography is validated precisely because the invisible God became visible through the Son’s incarnation. It is also worthy to note that St John of Damascus did not simply throw his arms back, kick his feet up and say, “Daniel 7” to justify iconographic depictions of God. He used the incarnation as justification for depictions of the second person of the Trinity (because the Son, who was once invisible, assumed visible human nature). Orthodox theology specifically says we see the Father only through the Son. Since iconography is inherently ocular, it will inevitably make a statement about what can literally be seen with the eyes. If there is an image of two men, and both are called God, the viewer is not seeing one through the other, he is simply seeing both. This is not accurate, and it should be reconsidered.

Therefore, it could be argued that visually depicting the Father as a man is theologically inconsistent with what Orthodoxy teaches, or at the very least, inevitably misleading the viewer into confusion. I believe it is essential that Daniel’s Old Testament vision is read through a New Testament lens: specifically (1) the gospel proclamation that the Father is seen through Christ, (2) that Jesus is the icon of the invisible God, (3) the Old Testament is about Christ, and (4) Christ is the Alpha and Omega. I think to use any other method to interpret the text is simply not as accurate. I do not expect this blog post to end the discussion by any means, I simply desire to bring the discussion further along in the hopes of one day arriving at a consensus.

The Shortcomings of Contemporary Orthodox Apologetics

The Shortcomings of Contemporary Orthodox Apologetics

I would say I am someone who is rather engaged in the online world of Orthodox conversation, so for someone like me, it does not take very long to notice particular patterns with Orthodox conversation (if one could call what I often see, “conversation”) in the realm of contemporary Orthodox apologetics with the non-Orthodox. Even though I am Orthodox, I think it is necessary to be honest about what we need to work on. So, here are some of the things I’ve observed:

“The East doesn’t define things, that’s a Western thing.”

This is one line that is frequently stated to contrast the Orthodox approach to the that of Western churches. However, such a statement is also extremely misleading. We don’t have some explicit tradition stating thou shalt not define things. There are some underlying general differences in how the medieval West developed through Latin scholasticism, but in my opinion, much of this thinking is honestly unfair to Roman Catholics, because it seems “defining things” was largely a direct result of both 1) intellectual theologians being over-represented, and 2) the pressure from the Protestants that forced them to draw lines in the sand. Had the East been the ones with the Protestants (instead of being somewhat suppressed by the Ottomans), there would most certainly have been similar developments among the Orthodox, and we need to be humble about that. Zealously pointing out that the Orthodox Church avoided such a theological crucible is not a good selling point, as it could be interpreted that Orthodoxy is simply not as developed as Catholicism, and is thus not relevant with regards to the questions of modern society.

Every Eastern Orthodox theologian was in the business of “defining things” to some extent (St Athanasius, St Gregory the Theologian, St Gregory of Nyssa, and especially Origen…all of which are Eastern), so establishing theological clarity through the refining of definitions is not automatically a bad thing. This reality is why we use the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed instead of the original Nicene Creed. Some stuff needed to be reworked and added to bring further clarity in light of the present heterodoxy. Changing the creed is not an issue in of itself. Changing the creed without the approval of the whole Church is another story.

This “Anti-West” mentality seems so pervasive in contemporary Orthodox apologetics (or to be more accurate, “polemics”), and it seems to me that it is largely (if not entirely) built upon the Russian philosophical foundations of Aleksei Khomaikov and his 19th century critiques of the West, rather than something truly ancient. It was the ideas of Khomaikov that influenced the great Russian Orthodox theologians such as Vladimir Lossky and Sergei Bulgakov, giving their theology a bit of a polemical flavor. However, I think it is not in the spirit of Orthodoxy to demonize the entirety of Western civilization just because it developed differently, and that was certainly not the approach of Georges Florovsky (as Marcus Plested points out in his book Orthodox Readings of Aquinas).

If one approaches apologetics with the assumption that the West has it all wrong, such apologetics will inevitably mutate into the barking of the deaf. Talking to others with fingers in your ears isn’t dialogue, its preaching. If you’re good with a shield, then there is no need to use a sword. In other words, we ought to forget about attacking everyone who isn’t Orthodox and focus on our defense. We need to ask the questions: “How do people attack us? What arguments would be a good defense against these attacks?” We need to stop being trigger-happy, and start getting better with the shield. I’ve seen Orthodox Christians speak to Catholics with attitudes that downright scandalized me. It’s like watching a deranged husband slap his wife for burning his dinner back in 1054. I encountered one Orthodox person on the internet who was a total jerk to Protestants and justified his hostile behavior by claiming he’s just being like St Ignatius. Indeed, some read the Church Fathers to imitate their virtue and ignore the vice. But others, like that man, prefer to identify with the vice, convincing themselves it is virtue, and then justify their own vice.

I’ve also seen many Orthodox Christians go out of their way to find things with which to disagree with Catholics, and even try to create polemic-based dogmas around those points of disagreement… not because the Western understanding is necessarily false, but because it’s Catholic (or because it isn’t Byzantine). It’s time we stop the domestic abuse, and start wooing the woman back into communion with class. Like a true gentleman, not like a drunkard. Do not the Scriptures say in Romans 2:4 how it is the “goodness” of God that leads to repentance? If you are Orthodox, and you want to be better than the non-Orthodox, be better at humility. Be better at charity. Be better at prayer. This is how we win apologetics.


“The Orthodox Church continued unchanged for two thousand years.”

This is a very common statement, but it is also dishonest. Of course there are going to be changes. The first century Church was not citing the Nicene Creed. St John Chrysostom was not singing hymns written by St John of Damascus. We today do not use the first century liturgy of St James. There was a time when only married men could become bishops, and now it is the complete opposite. There were many years when the majority of the Church was Arian. These things cannot be adequately addressed if we continue to say simplistic things like “the Church has never changed.” Fearing the word “change” is not a good reason to perpetuate false information.

It is my belief that all apologetics must adapt to the response. If you’re a military general and you send soldiers into a forest when you get word that the forest is clear, what happens when you receive word that, actually it isn’t clear: it’s an ambush. Would you not adapt your former strategy to take into account the new development? In the same way, we can’t keep using apologetic strategies that have been unsuccessful for many years. I have seen the way people respond to misleading statements like these, and it leads to extremely zealous converts eventually coming to the realization that they’ve been duped, and Protestants thinking the Orthodox are willfully ignorant of basic facts.

Therefore, popular apologetics must transfigure and take on a form that actually answers the questions people ask, in a way that they will understand. We are quite vocal about our history with translating the Bible (as opposed to the Catholic emphasis on Latin), and yet our translation seems to stop at the Bible. Because when it comes to basic dialogue, we don’t want to validate anyone who doesn’t think, talk, dress, and act like a 8th century Byzantine.

When there is confusion among the people about what something means, the proper response is to charitably seek understanding and find a way to make it work…not ignore it because it’s a foreign language to eastern ears, and pretend like one is winning the mystical life by being ignorant.



American Politics: The Death of the Moderate

American Politics: The Death of the Moderate

The United States is such a peculiar animal, if one could even call it an animal. Perhaps a chimera would be a more accurate: fusing the heartless insensitivity of a bald eagle with the deranged cannibalism of a turkey. The former mirrors our foreign policy, and the latter depicts our domestic relationship with one another. Perhaps this would have been a more appropriate national bird to truly reflect the people it represents.

It has become incredibly difficult to be a moderate in such a polarizing country. Any clarification or nuance on any issue is immediately interpreted to be propaganda from the other side. If one identifies as a Progressive, any argument against abortion is seen as having its origin from Fox News. If one identifies as Conservative, any argument against the violence toward “black lives” (or against rich bankers and businessmen) is immediately seen as Progressive/Liberal. Have compassion on other people? Perhaps you have control over your tongue? Uh oh, you must be a ‘snowflake,’ because you are simply not willing to treat others like trash for the sake of what you think is true.

If this was a gang war against the ‘Red gang’ and the ‘Blue gang,’ the people in the middle are not seen as wearing ‘purple’–They are seen as wearing both red and blue, so they are simply shot by both gangs. To make matters worse, there are other clans with different shades of red and blue who are the rejects of the Red and Blue gangs. There is the Alex Jones “Alien Life Extension Technology” cartoon squad, and the Libertarian “I don’t need nothin from nobody” squad.

Being moderate or independent essentially means you are politically homeless. Being moderate has become a death wish, as it is to be counted among the remnant still in control of their mental faculties, standing alone, weaponless, among hordes of wroth imbeciles violently shaking their pitchforks. Evil is then understood to be whatever is outside the mob.

“Out with the old, in with the new”

Information in the Progressive circle is no longer received on the basis of whether or not it is true, but whether or not it is consistent with the new. The academic journals that are pushed into the public spotlight are only the ones consistent with the Progressive agenda. If it is with regards to ‘gender studies,’ then all conclusions aligned with the status quo are pushed aside in favor of the ones that tickle the ear and tell us what we want to hear. The definition of ‘falsehood’ becomes synonymous with the ‘status quo.’ This “tea party of the left” (as Dave Rubin calls it) is known as the regressive left. Outwardly, many of them appear to be intellectuals, but inwardly they aggressively wave torches.

However, even saying this in public would no doubt cause people to assume I am a Conservative Republican, or at the very least, an Establishment Democrat, which is my point. I am neither of those things. I am also not a Libertarian, and most definitely not ‘Alt-right.’

Lest people jump to conclusions, I must say that I don’t merely have issues with Progressives. I might have even more issues with Conservatives, who are often hypocritical, associate their dumb politics with my transcendent God, and are increasingly being recruited into the ‘Alt-right militia’ to prepare for some revolution.

“The Devil is a Democrat”

This quote was an actual sign that was being held in public. “The Devil is a Democrat.” Why does someone hold a sign like this, you ask? Because once you (1) trip over the Republican support for murdering foreign leaders for the sake of regime change, and you (2) crawl over the Republican support for corporate corruption through ‘trickle-down’ economics (which is when a rich person urinates on his slaves from his lofty balcony), and with your remaining strength you (3) yet crawl over the racist Republican prison system and drug war, one eventually sees, off in the distance, some Democrats supporting abortion. Thus, the hypocritical Republican condemns the Democrat with one finger, and himself with three.

I don’t really know why I feel the need to write this. I guess I’m just tired of the mindlessness in political discourse. The empty-headed rioting between the political factions is beginning to bore me. The social assumptions that “everyone in the room agrees with my ignorant statement” is tiresome. No, I don’t think the devil is a democrat because of abortion, and no, I don’t think Michelle Obama is built like a monkey. No, I don’t think being against abortion is contrary to women’s rights, and no, I don’t think Libertarian anarchy is the answer.

A moderate independent thinker is a casualty in a senseless gang war over colors. I pray that the red seeds of such martyrdom will cause the yellow fields of American discourse to one day bloom with nuance.

On Icons and their Veneration

On Icons and their Veneration

Images of God

What are we to do with this notion that depictions of Christ are inherently wrong? I have encountered a few Christians who reject iconography specifically on the basis of the second commandment in the Old Testament. I found this peculiar, because they did not believe that God was inherently against particular forms of artwork (sculpting, painting, etc.). They also did not seem to have an issue with images of Christ, so long as He was represented in film or children’s books. I always ask if the person also boycotts these things (in order to be logically consistent with the argument), and this question usually proves my point. Nobody is raiding art museums because they contain ‘graven images’ generally. Nobody is surrounding Jim Caviezel’s house with pitchforks because he agreed to present himself as Mel Gibson’s graven image. Nobody is burning Evangelical children’s books simply because they depict Jesus. Nobody is filled with iconoclastic outrage after seeing a nativity scene on the front lawn of a Methodist church. Nobody is ripping pages out of their Old Testament because it talks about the Ark of the Covenant being adorned with the images of angels (Ex 25:22), or because God tells people to utilize the material world for the worship of His name (Ex 31:1-5).

To prove this point further, the commandment against graven images was to prevent the Hebrews from worshiping a false god, since we are dealing with people who had issues with literally worshiping cows.

The divine nature is beyond comprehension. It is too infinite and abstract to possibly imagine, let alone carve in a piece of wood. Any attempt to do so would inevitably end up being something that is not God. We can only depict that which is experienced through bodily senses, so God, who is spirit (Jhn 4:24), would need to take on physical matter for the possibility of an objective (rather than anthropomorphic) depiction. Lo and behold, the Son of God assumed human flesh. For the first time ever, mankind was able to see God for who He is, through the medium of human nature. This is why images of Christ are not only possible, but they celebrate the reality of His incarnation.

One might say, “But you depict God when you depict Christ!” In one sense, yes. In the sense of this objection, no. When Christ is depicted, only the human nature is shown. Yes, we know Christ is God, but Christ as God is not something we can observe with our eyes, it is something we know only in our hearts. The divine nature is invisible to human observation. We know it is there, but we cannot see it. When we look to God, what we see is a man, and that man is Christ. If we could see Christ’s divine nature by looking at His physical appearance, He surely would not have said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father which is in heaven” (Mat 16:17). Therefore, when we see an image of Christ, we behold specifically His humanity, not His divinity (which is unseen).

However, this reveals that the issue people have with iconography is not that they depict Christ, but rather because veneration has the ‘outward appearance’ of worship.


Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. (Joshua 7:6)

This is the real heart of the issue. If someone is seen kissing a religious image, it is automatically interpreted by fundamentalists to be ‘worshiping graven images’ (icons are usually painted or printed images, not graven, but I digress).

This leads to the question, “Does kissing an image automatically mean you worship that which is depicted?” How could anyone make such a claim? For even Judas gave Christ a kiss, and it was for the sake of betrayal, not worship (Mat 26:47-50). This is proof in of itself that merely kissing the “icon of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) should not be assumed to be worship.

What of a mother who has a son away at war, having nothing but his picture in her purse? Is she guilty of worship for kissing the image of her son? Everyone immediately knows that the mother kisses the image out of affection for the person depicted, not the glossy paper on which it is printed. And she is only kissing the image because the son is not physically present with her, so obviously kissing an image of a person represents a physical placeholder until the person returns. In the same way, when Christians kiss an image of Christ, it is to show affection for Christ in the material world until His return.

One may then say, “Alright, but it is still wrong to kiss an object in worship of God.” However, I find it unlikely that such a person would say the same thing to, for instance, persecuted Christians in China who kiss the Bible they finally receive for the first time, out of love and worship for Christ and His provision. The Bible is just as much an icon as anything else, and there is nothing wrong with expressing thanks and affection to God by kissing it.

On what grounds, then, do we show reverence to each other unless because we are made after God’s image? For as Basil, that well-versed expounder of divine things, says, the honor given to the image passes over to the prototype. -St. John of Damascus

This gets to the definition of veneration. Venerating an icon does not mean worshiping wood and paint, it is to exercise affection and honor for the person depicted. When you visit family and greet them with a kiss, you are venerating them. In most cultures, you greet someone by kissing them. It was not until our socially awkward American culture that the handshake became something less ritualistic and more standardized. Evangelicalism is now known for the ‘side-hug,’ and many people do not even come into physical contact with other people– generally settling for a wave or a nod. It is only natural that a culture like this sees a normative mode of kissing as foreign, let alone the kissing of objects. However, you cannot shake an icon’s hand. The practice of veneration was created in a culture that kissed each other, so that is how their descendants continue to greet and show affection to this day. This reality should be fairly obvious when reading passages like:

Scripture says to “judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (Jhn 7:24). Just because it has the appearance of worship, does not mean it is. Like I said, Judas appeared to worship Christ right before his betrayal. Therefore, people should be given the benefit of the doubt when something has a peculiar appearance.


[For more information on icons and veneration, read St John of Damascus’ On the Orthodox Faith, IV.16].


Silence: Apostasy without Consequence

Silence: Apostasy without Consequence

[Spoiler Warning]

What would you do if you were a priest, and your persecutors wanted you to prove you denounced Christ by stepping on His image, or spitting on an image of Mary before calling her a “whore?” Or if you’re a Protestant, what if you were commanded to burn a Bible? “I would never do that,” one might say. Now imagine all of your parishioners were gathered together and systematically murdered because you refuse apostasy? Would you value their lives above your own relationship with Christ, or should you remain steadfast in faith even unto the deaths of those you love?

This is the main question Martin Scorsese asks each and every one of his viewers. I will henceforth call the above scenario “the Scorsese dilemma.”

Inquisitor: “The price of your glory is their suffering!

Whether it is the lush green shrubs, or the overhead perspective of great ships amid violent waves, the cinematography is beautiful. However, despite the visual appeal, the substance of the film left me saddened. My countenance did not fall simply because of the bleak nature of Christians being massacred, because reading the lives of the martyrs is always so incredibly inspiring. My countenance fell when I read Martin Scorsese’s theology all throughout the film.

This film has four major characters. Fr. Ferriera (Liam Neeson), Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), Fr. Garupe (Adam Driver), and Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka). Ferriera was the first priest sent to Japan, but apostatized under the circumstances and became a citizen of Japan while Rodrigues and Garupe were sent to find out what became of him. Kichijiro is a Japanese drunkard who the two priests find on the way. They later find out that he is the way he is because he witnessed his own family die after he alone stepped on the image of Christ.

Rodrigues and Garupe represent the two main answers to the Scorsese dilemma (since Ferriera is the same as Rodrigues, and Kichijiro is not a priest). The dispositions of the two men are seen clearly within one particular exchange when the two provide their own premeditated answers to the potential dilemma:

Rodrigues: “You apostatize…!
Garupe: “No! What are you saying?

Even though Fr. Garupe admired the steadfastness of Fr. Rodrigues early on in the film, it is actually Garupe who is the greater of the two. Rodrigues started strong and ended weak, whereas Garupe started weak and ended strong. Jesus said, “Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). The same can be said of a priest’s love for his flock. It should be concerning that Rodrigues was so quick to respond in the way that he did, as if standing for Christ in the face of death has no value. “But what about the suffering of those whom He loves?” one might ask.

They say, accordingly, that the blessed Peter, on seeing his wife led to death, rejoiced on account of her call and conveyance home, and called very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, “Remember the Lord.” Such was the marriage of the blessed and their perfect disposition towards those dearest to them. – St Clement of Alexandria

Just before St Peter was willingly crucified upside down, he had to endure watching his wife die. That was part of his trial. But what did he do? Did he cry out to his executioners and denounce Christ to save her life? No. He knew that any man who loves his wife more than Christ is not worthy of Christ. He knew that martyrdom is a coronation, and to stop it would be to steal the “crown of life” (Jas 1:12). However, martyrdom is much more than a coronation; it is birth. It is the very means by which we become truly human.

For if ye are silent concerning me, I shall become God’s; but if you show your love to my flesh, I shall again have to run my race… Birth-pangs are upon me. Do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world. Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither, I shall indeed be a man of God. – Ignatius of Antioch

St Ignatius of Antioch wrote a letter to Rome to force his loved ones to watch him suffer and do nothing. He calls them to not “love” his flesh. Ignatius even frames martyrdom as being born again. To prevent his martyrdom is to prevent him from living. To prevent his martyrdom is to prevent him from becoming human.

Christ said “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again,” (John 3:7). For it is “he who endures to the end” who shall be saved (Mat 24:13). Our Lord also said, “If you deny me before men, I shall deny you before my Father in heaven” (Mat 10:33). These are strong words to behold in the face of the Scorsese dilemma. Though, St Peter is both the rule and the exception, isn’t he? For truly it is he who, like Kichijiro, denied Christ multiple times. However, such denial came with a price. No longer could Peter hope to have a death like St John, but he must drink from that bitter cup of suffering if he wishes to be made whole (Mat 20:23). Christ does forgive, but it is concerning when Scorsese seems to ignore nearly everything Christ said about apostasy in order to portray a forgiving Christ.

When apostasy has no consequence, martyrdom has no meaning. It was Fr. Garupe who responded correctly, because he dove into the waters to save those whom he loved, and he died in the process. Fr. Garupe may have been silenced, but his actions continued to speak volumes. The enormous faith of the little peasant girl put Fr. Rodrigues to shame. There comes a time when man is called to give up those whom he loves back to God, as St Peter had to do with his wife. He called her to remember the Lord, for she belonged not to him, but to God. We can only live our lives by what Christ explicitly said, not hope that we might be a possible exception to what He said.

The name of the movie is “Silence,” and Scorsese was trying to convey the apparent silence of God in the midst of difficult circumstances. However, the sad reality is that the film more accurately conveys the silence of an apostate. A man who once had loud zeal and sought to pray without ceasing eventually closed his mouth for the rest of his life. The only sound that remained was the echo of his foot tramping upon the very face he once adored. The fiery spirit of hope became the flickering of a fire burning his cold mute corpse. His hand, once used to proclaim sacramental blessings as it moved to form the sign of the cross, was consumed alongside the last remaining memory of what a cross even looked like. There was nothing noteworthy or noble about his death, and Christ was not glorified in anything Fr. Rodrigues did after his apostasy. It seems to me that this was the real silence of Silence.

When beholding the most faithful and loving Christians he had ever seen, Fr. Rodrigues said, “I worry, they value these poor signs of faith more than faith itself.” This is ironic, because they died with open and outstretched hands upon a cross, whereas Fr. Rodrigues died closed inside a burning tomb, being cremated with the light of the cross hiding under the bushel of his hand. Perhaps it is he who valued poor signs of faith more than faith itself.

I do not claim to know the fate of men like Rodrigues, but such a life is certainly worse than death.


Against Sola Scriptura

Against Sola Scriptura

Sola scriptura has been a staple for Protestant ecclesiology ever since the Reformation. In modern times, it is typically utilized as a convenient polemic to argue against any tradition that is not Protestant. This paper will analyze the doctrine from various angles, and provide reasons for why it is ultimately redundant, misleading, ahistorical, and entirely contingent upon the literacy of its adherent. As with any Protestant doctrine, sola scriptura is difficult to define, simply because of how many varying definitions exist. There is no universally agreed upon definition among Protestants, so no matter what definition is stated, there will always be some who will accuse others of creating strawmen. Therefore, to avoid the strawman accusation, multiple definitions will be mentioned for the sake of clarity.


According to the sixth article of the Twenty-Nine Articles of Religion (1563), Anglicans define sola scriptura as “containing all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation”[1] (For example, since making the sign of the cross is not explicitly mentioned in the scriptures, it is therefore not required and unnecessary for salvation). The Methodists agree with this definition.[2] The Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) states, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Sprit, or traditions of men.”[3] The Baptist Abstract of Principles (1858) states that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were “given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.”[4]

Despite all these understandings, one I found most enlightening was in a book with the peculiar title Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, and it is by a collection of popular Reformed theologians (Robert Godfrey, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, James White, etc.). One can only speculate how a few Calvinists can gather together and claim to speak on behalf of all Protestants, but the title is certainly a bit presumptuous. In any case, Robert Godfrey claims that the scriptures alone are the ultimate religious authority. He states that everything necessary for salvation concerning faith and life are taught in the Bible with enough clarity that any “ordinary believer” can find them there and understand for themselves.[5] In attempt to nuance his position, he also states the following:

Let me begin with certain clarifications so as not to be misunderstood. I am not arguing that all truth is to be found in the Bible or that the Bible is the only form in which the truth of God has come to His people. I am not arguing that every verse in the Bible is equally clear to every reader. Neither am I arguing that the church—both the people of God and the ministerial office—is not of great value and help in understanding the Scriptures. As William Whitaker states in his noble work: “For we also say that the church is the interpreter of Scripture, and that the gift of interpretation resides only in the church: but we deny that it pertains to particular persons, or is tied to any particular see or succession of men.”[6]

As defined by the articulate Reformed theologians of modernity, the doctrine of sola scriptura states that the scriptures are not only the sole infallible rule of faith and practice, but that it is clear enough that any ordinary believer can understand it.


Firstly, stating that any Christian can understand the scriptures is entirely redundant. The fact is that every ordinary believer does not understand the scriptures. Indeed, most ordinary believers both misinterpret and twist the scriptures. When Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch if he understood the book of Isaiah, did he reply, “Certainly, any ordinary believer can do this?” It seems his humility was much too great for such a response.[7] This fact alone proves the need for an authoritative teaching office for the sake of maintaining an apostolic hermeneutic. Also, if sola scriptura was truly about understanding the scriptures as the authority on matters of faith and practice, a Catholic could immediately end the Protestant objection by agreement. Do most Protestants not agree on sola scriptura, yet disagree on everything the scriptures say? Therefore, sola scriptura is entirely redundant, because it does not address the actual problem, which is interpretation.

Secondly, Whitaker’s quote that “the church is the interpreter of scripture” is also telling, because it shows that he is clearly rejecting the concept of one visible church community with historical ecclesiological, theological, liturgical, and methodological continuity. In other words, Whitaker is using the word ‘church’ to mean that Christians generally are the ones who accurately interpret scripture, as opposed to secularists. This is a radical departure from traditional understandings of ecclesiology, since most Christians would have interpreted the quote “the church is the interpreter of scripture” to mean the clergy, scholars and monastics of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church pass down biblical interpretation to the laymen via liturgy, homily, catechesis, and fellowship.

The Visible Church

When it comes to hermeneutics, the ecclesiastical structure of the Church exists to maintain the highest probability of interpretive success. For example, obeying what St Ignatius of Antioch (c. 30 – 108) or St Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130 – 202) believed about the ‘Thanksgiving’ (Eucharist) maintains a correct interpretation about what Eucharist means. In isolation from the Church, one might think thanksgiving simply means lunch time, or perhaps even the American holiday in the month of November.[8] Our understanding of the Eucharist also shapes how one interprets Bible passages such as the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Establishing the ecclesiastical tradition around the bishops is how Christendom always functioned.

The Whitaker quote that Godfrey mentioned is also deeply perplexing, for in one moment he says the church is the interpreter of scripture, and the next moment he says no church is the interpreter of scripture. If hermeneutic is not tied to any particular persons, or see, or succession, then how is ‘the church’ the interpretive standard? Being a Protestant, he no doubt interprets the church as invisible rather than visible, but it does not change the self-defeating nature of the statement. If he believes in sola scriptura, then he already disagrees with his own argument, because the New Testament already contains the interpretations of particular persons, along with the sees and successors of those particular persons.[9] If we are not even trying to align ourselves to the specific interpretive tradition handed down from the Apostles,[10] and to their bishops,[11] then of what use is scripture apart from tradition?

Blind and Mute

The biggest problem with sola scriptura lies not necessarily in what it affirms, but what it denies. The biggest problem lies not in what it says, but what it assumes. Sola scriptura is not problematic merely because it affirms that scripture is the only infallible authority (such a statement means nothing apart from tradition), it is problematic because it allows every individual to be their own (and assign their own) interpretive authority. The doctrine is silent as to which interpretive ecclesiological tradition is representative of ‘orthodoxy.’ For instance, though scripture says we are to baptize, it does not self-interpret what baptism means. Is baptism by immersion, submersion, or sprinkling? Does baptism impart grace, regeneration, and the forgiveness of sins, or is it merely a symbolic outward sign depicting an inward reality? Do we baptize in the name of Jesus, or in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Do we baptize once or three times? One might conclude any of these options from several different Bible passages, which is the problem. Sola scriptura is silent in answering the only questions that matter, and such silence speaks volumes in of itself.

Sola scriptura automatically presumes that any personal/individual hermeneutic represents—by default—the standard of orthodoxy. This is the central error of the doctrine, and it goes unnoticed by every single Protestant who believes in sola scriptura. This blindness must necessarily be present for the doctrine to be affirmed, because the moment one’s eyes are opened to this bubble of presupposition, they no longer hold to sola scriptura by definition. Those inside the bubble think everyone who disagrees with them disagrees with scripture, because they (without realizing it) have made themselves the interpretive standard. For instance, if one were to talk to a Calvinist about ‘Predestination,’ they will presume a determinist understanding of predestination is “what the Bible clearly teaches.” In reality, it is simply how they as individuals interpret the Bible, even knowing that the patristic consensus is in explicit disagreement. John Calvin deliberately chose his own understanding of the text over the understanding of the universal Church. When Protestants accuse Catholics of not holding to sola scriptura, it is under the assumption that the Protestant hermeneutic is entirely accurate and representative of orthodoxy, simply because Protestants understand the scriptures to mean something contrary to Catholicism. This is what I mean by sola scriptura having nothing to do with the Bible, and everything to do with the authority of the Church. Noticing a possible alternative interpretation of a few verses does not—in of itself—prove the validity of the alternate interpretation.

What about Ulrich Zwingli (c. 1484 – 1531) and his understanding of the Eucharist, or the Anabaptist understanding of Baptism? Both Zwingli and the Anabaptists would say that the sacraments are merely ‘symbols,’ and that such an interpretation is “what the Bible clearly teaches.” Yet, they would disagree on whether baptism extends to infants. The other Reformers were so vehemently opposed to such ideas that they went to war against them. If the Bible is so “clear,”[12] why does everyone seem to be blind?

The Berean Novice

One might ask, “Were the Bereans not more noble because they went back and studied the scriptures for themselves?”[13] To this I say that Luke’s description was not authorizing an individualistic means of interpreting the scriptures. Luke records this only to show us that the Bereans received the message with “readiness of mind,” as opposed to the theological apathy of Thessalonica.[14] The Bereans happened to reach the same conclusion, but this is not because they searched the scriptures, it is in spite of it. Any untrained child can search the scriptures like a Berean, that does not mean the child will come to the correct understanding. Do not the scriptures testify to the disqualification of the novice?[15] St Augustine rejected Christianity for Manichaeism precisely because he searched the scriptures and interpreted them in isolation from the hermeneutic of the Church. Then nearly a decade later, he went on a business trip to Milan and encountered St Ambrose preaching a homily on the book of Genesis, and it changed his life forever.[16] The only thing ‘sola scriptura’ did for St Augustine was cause him to reject the Bible and run away from Church’s life-giving hermeneutic.[17]

One might reply that St Augustine did not understand the scriptures because he did not have the Holy Spirit, as if chrismation automatically transforms children into scholars. However, such an argument is easily refuted by its own implication. Firstly, without the ecclesiology of the Church, who decides which interpretations are actually from the Holy Spirit, and on what authority? Why was St Augustine wrong the first time? Why was he right the second time? At the council of Jerusalem, does James say, “It seems good to the holy scriptures and to us?” [18] ‘Orthodoxy’ has always been understood as the Holy Spirit’s declaration through the conciliarity of the Church, not any and every individual’s understanding of the Bible simply because they have the Holy Spirit. The exegetical guidance of the Holy Spirit is given to the Church at large, and within the visible boundaries of Eucharistic communion,[19] not each self-professed Christian individually. Secondly, would anyone actually suggest that if a man cannot understand the scriptures, it is automatically because he does not have the Holy Spirit? Surely one would not suggest that every Christian has identical levels of intellectual competency, or even basic literacy, simply because of a shared Holy Spirit. Such an understanding would immediately disqualify anyone who is mentally handicapped. Thirdly, does St Paul say every man is given to be a teacher?[20] Does St James say that many should be teachers?”[21] Neither are the case, and yet sola scriptura creates an emphasis on private interpretations,[22] which then creates an environment where everyone not only becomes a teacher, but teachers who attempt to teach themselves orthodoxy. In other words, sola scriptura has made every sheep his own shepherd.

The Audacious Canon

From a Protestant perspective, why is praying for the departed ‘unbiblical’ according to the Septuagint canon? Could we not simply point to the Book of Tobit or the second Book of Maccabees?[23] Why exactly is something branded unbiblical simply because it is not in agreement with a Reformer’s canon? Protestantism audaciously gave itself the authority to determine what is or is not ‘canon,’ and Protestants like Martin Luther determined this based entirely upon his own already established hermeneutic. Therefore, Luther was entirely ready and willing to remove the Book of James from his German translation of the New Testament, calling it an “Epistle of straw.” He felt it did not belong in the canon simply because it did not fit within his framework of how he thought the Bible ought to be interpreted.[24] Instead of shaping his hermeneutic around which books of the Bible were always used according to the most popular version of the scriptures,[25] he ironically shaped the Bible around the passages he personally considered ‘biblical.’ Martin Luther clearly must have thought he understood the scriptures better than even St James, and this kind of arrogance is unfortunately all throughout the mindset of the Protestant Reformers. Even if one removes the deuterocanon, prayers for the departed are still evidenced in St Paul.[26] Though, the Reformers would no doubt be forced to disagree with such an interpretation, and instead appeal to a different hermeneutic that is neither authoritative nor historical.

Defined by History

This cosmic shift of authority from Church to self is the real reason why sola scriptura is so problematic. Historically speaking, the very essence of sola scriptura is the usurping of papal authority. It represents a kind of ecclesiastical coup d’etat. It is undeniable that the doctrine exists in history only because of the abuses of papal authority. If there was never a fault observed within the papacy, the doctrine of sola scriptura would not exist because it would have been created out of redundancy rather than necessity. If one grants the proposition that the Protestant Reformers saw sola scriptura as being created from the position of necessity, then one must also grant the reason its existence was perceived as necessary to begin with; that reason being the abuse of ecclesiastical authority.

The reason why this is such an important point to make is because many Protestant answers to the modern criticisms of sola scriptura ignore the historical reasons for its very creation. Protestants will try to disarm Catholic objections by saying they too utilize the Church Fathers. However, Reformation readings of patristic texts were just as selective and individualistic as their reading of the scriptures. For example, John Calvin (c. 1509 – 1564) admired John Chrysostom (c. 347 – 407), but such admiration never went beyond the things Chrysostom said with which Calvin already agreed prior to reading Chrysostom. Calvin went as far as to say that because Chrysostom did not agree with his teaching on predestination,[27] he departed God’s judgment and obviously just wanted to please the world.[28] This shows how Reformers like Calvin judged the Church Fathers using his already established hermeneutic as the standard, rather than the other way around. Trenham writes:

Here is Calvin in all his arrogance and theological overconfidence. His accusations against the likes of Ss. Chrysostom and Basil the Great are that they were too worldly, too submissive to worldly powers, and not willing enough to defy merely human judgments. These charges are ironic in that they apply far more to Calvin himself and the Protestant Reformers than to the Holy Fathers he attacks…That the Holy Fathers refused to articulate Calvin’s doctrine of predestination is hardly a sign of complicity with worldly men, but rather a refusal to articulate what does not have the support of the Holy Scriptures and the consensus patrum.[29]

Authority Complex

Sola scriptura is clearly not a doctrine about the Bible, it truly is a doctrine about ecclesiastical authority. The historical context surrounding sola scriptura defines the doctrine much louder than the actual stated definition. Sola scriptura is simply the shift of interpretive authority from ‘Church’ to ‘self.’ It claims that every individual Christian is bound only to that which is in the Bible, because all ecclesiastical authorities are subject to error and uncertainty. However, what sola scriptura really means is that every individual Christian is bound only to their personal interpretation of scripture. This has frightening implications when sola scriptura advocates also call the Bible the “Word of God,” because it essentially divinizes their own interpretation. Therefore, sola scriptura undermines the office of teacher that was given to the Church.[30]

Many advocates of sola scriptura seem to think it is a dogma of Christianity. However, as it has been shown, the doctrine itself was historically created as a Protestant polemic against the interpretive authority of Rome, after having concluded the Roman Catholic Church was in error. However, if the Reformers were correct regarding something in the scriptures, it was despite sola scriptura, not because of it. One could argue that the Reformers got much more incorrect than correct, if Orthodoxy is the interpretive standard. The Reformers were only correct in their attacks against Rome if one believes the Reformers themselves to be the interpretive standard of orthodoxy. However, if Eastern Orthodoxy is the interpretive standard, the Reformers were correct with regards to very little.

Reading sola scriptura backwards through history is anachronistic, because the early bishops and theologians of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church were obviously not going to emphasize “the Bible” over and against the very interpretive authority through which the scriptures are read and understood. When many Protestants read any emphasis of the scriptures within the patristic corpus, they often do so thinking the fathers carry with them the same assumption that the scriptures contain a disembodied interpretation existing in a realm beyond human perception. However, there simply is no such thing as ‘the Bible,’ or any written text, in the form of an autonomous inanimate entity that speaks for itself. If this were the case, differences in interpretation would not exist, because interpretation would be based solely on literacy.

Literacy and Education

Literacy is a historical aspect of sola scriptura that often gets overlooked. The Protestant Reformation takes place at a unique point in time, because prior to the creation of the Gutenberg printing press (c. 1440), most people were illiterate. It should come as no surprise that the doctrine of sola scriptura was being preached from the mouth of men like Martin Luther (c. 1483 – 1546) within one generation after the Bible was being printed for the common man. It should also not be surprising that Protestants began vigorous educational campaigns to reduce the level of illiteracy. To those who cannot read, sola scriptura is an irrelevant doctrine because it does not change the fact that the illiterate would still need an interpretive authority outside of themselves. For the Reformers, literacy was not optional, it was fundamental. Literacy was the very foundation to support sola scriptura, and this resulted in a very high view of education.[31] Of course, this is not to say that emphasizing education and literacy is a problem, but that one must understand sola scriptura in its proper historical context, because it is actually the historical context that defines the doctrine, not the various Protestant definitions.


Sola scriptura is therefore a redundant doctrine with a misleading definition, because the doctrine is not actually defined by what it says, but by what it does not say. It is ultimately ahistorical and entirely contingent upon the literacy of its adherent. It was not held by any of the Church Fathers, because it would have dismantled the very ecclesiastical system that surrounded them. It could neither be held by the average laymen, since illiteracy was always an issue. Therefore, sola scriptura ought to either be reformed or outright rejected.


[1] John H. Leith, Creeds of the Churches (Louisville: John Knox Press, 3rd edition, 1982), p. 267.

[2] Ibid., p. 355.

[3] Ibid., p. 195.

[4] Ibid., 340.

[5] Robert Godfrey. “What do we mean by sola scriptura?” Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible. (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009), p. 2.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Acts 8:27.

[8] Before laughing, know that I have seen even greater ignorance than this among the “ordinary believers.” I once had a conversation with a man who thought Baptist Protestants were the true Christians because the Bible says the forerunner to Christ was named John “the Baptist.”

[9] Such as the Apostles, rather than their Gnostic contemporaries.

[10] 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

[11] Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, etc.

[12] There is a Protestant doctrine known as the “perspicuity” of the scriptures, which asserts that the scriptures are clear and free from obscurity.

[13] Acts 17:11.

[14] Ibid.

[15] 1 Timothy 3:6.

[16] Augustine. Confessions 5.13.23

[17] Anachronism is employed here for the sake of argument, and not for historical accuracy.

[18] Acts 15:28.

[19] Meaning, the Spirit is the promised guardian of only that which can be defined as “The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Therefore, heterodox Christian traditions existing outside of communion with the visible Orthodox Church do not have the same kind of hermeneutical hope.

[20] Ephesians 4:11.

[21] James 3:1.

[22] Due to the individualistic rejection of any ‘ecclesiastical’ authority in hermeneutics.

[23] Tobit 12:12, 2 Maccabees 12:39-45.

[24] Luther’s personal orthodoxy determined his personal canon.

[25] The Septuagint.

[26] 2 Timothy 1:18.

[27] Which is essentially determinism.

[28] Josiah Trenham. Rock and Sand: An Orthodox Appraisal of the Protestant Reformers and Their Teachings. (Newrome Press LLC, 2015), p.131.

[29] Ibid., p. 132.

[30] 1 Corinthians 12:28.

[31] Paul Spears. “Luther, Protestantism, and Education.” Chapter 14 of International Handbook of Protestant Education. Vol. 6, (Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 2012), p. 296.


Why Do You Keep Saying “Lord Have Mercy?”

Why Do You Keep Saying “Lord Have Mercy?”

One of the most common questions asked of Orthodox Christians is, “Why the repetition of ‘Lord have mercy?’ Isn’t that vain repetition? Don’t you trust in the mercy of God?” This question comes from a range of people, from the uneducated to even the scholar. I will seek to answer these questions by clarifying what vain repetition means, and then talk about what mercy means.

Vain Repetition

First, to address the question of repetition, one must first understand that Christ takes no issue with repetition generally. The issue is specifically repetition that is vain (Mat 6:7). Vain repetition is simply when the mouth runs ahead of the heart. However, the apparent ‘discovery’ of repetition is vocalized by Christians who are just as guilty of repetition. Any liturgy repeats something on a weekly basis. We repeatedly pray for our loved ones to be healed of their sickness. We repeatedly pray for peace in the world. Yet, for some reason, it is perceived as vain to repeat a prayer multiple times in one service.

We know repetition is not inherently vain for multiple reasons, one of which is the following passage:

“And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” (Mark 10:46-48)

Notice how the blind Bartimaeus repeats his plea for mercy. Does this mean he lacks faith in the mercy of Christ by his repetition? On the contrary, persistent prayer indicates one has a strong working knowledge that God is merciful. The one with strong faith is one who, like the persistent widow, “always prays, and without fainting” (Luke 18:1). It is the absence of prayer that reveals the absence of faith, not the presence of prayer.


This leads to the question, “What is mercy?” What exactly do we mean when we ask for mercy? Mercy does not have punitive connotations of God deciding not to throw down some fireballs on people who deserve it. Mercy is not about God relenting, it is about God bringing compassionate aid and comfort to those who are afflicted. We implore God to reveal to the world the compassion we already know He has.

This can take multiple forms. Aside from Bartimaeus invoking the compassion of Christ for healing, mercy is also found in the Our Father. The prayer states:

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

The language here is misleading in light of other places in scripture. For example, Christ was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Mat 4:1), and yet St James says God tempts no man (Jas 1:13). Therefore, the “lead us not into temptation” does not mean that we are praying to avoid temptation. The meaning is clarified by the conjunction “but deliver us from evil.”

When we pray this prayer, we are imploring God to give us the strength to endure the temptation to succumb to evil. As St James says, “Count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations,” he is echoing our Lord who said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven…” (Mat 5:11-12a). It is as Job declares, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). This is why many martyrs battled their executioners (who persistently tempt them to deny their Lord) by repeating, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Through their calling upon the name of the Lord, they are delivered from evil’s temptation (Joel 2:32, Rom 10:13).

So the next time you hear, “Lord have mercy,” know that it is because we know God is merciful, and we want Him to show the world how awesome He is though His great and rich mercy.


Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!