Recently, in a conversation on Facebook, I confessed that much of Protestantism annoyed me. Longtime readers will know that I believe in consistency — hermeneutics should be consistent, interpretations of passages should incorporate what has gone before, and your bar of acceptable proof should be even across all areas of your life.
Protestantism just isn’t consistent. The first post in this series laid the groundwork for why I don’t think Protestantism is very consistent with regard to Sacred Tradition. The previous post discussed the concept of high church, how Protestantism lacks it, and why it is biblical. However, submission doesn’t mean surrendering one’s mental faculties. For an application of that idea, we turn to the main issue I’ve always had with Catholicism, and a true biblical contradiction in its teaching: the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.
To believe this doctrine, you have to totally subvert the meaning of Mark 6:3, when the crowd in Jesus’ hometown asks, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”
The Catholic argument is that the word translated “brother” (αδελπηοσ) can be used for any close family member, since there wasn’t a Greek word for “cousins.” Therefore, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon are actually Jesus’ cousins. In fact, according to Strong’s, αδελπηοσ means “brother,” “sister” or “fellow believer.” However, we know from other New Testament passages that these folks are not fellow believers.
In fact, there is a Greek word meaning “cousin.” It is ανεπσιοσ, and is used in Colossians 4:10 to describe Mark, cousin of Barnabas. (The word actually refers to a niece or a nephew, and I’m at a loss to find out why it is universally translated “cousin.”) Which means the Catholic argument normally presented for Jesus’ brothers being cousins holds no water whatsoever.
The January 1990 issue of This Rock magazine has an article by Father Mateo specifically stating that:
Kilmon obscures the state of the question by alleging a “premise that ‘brother’ in the New Testament, like its counterpart in the Old Testament really means ‘cousin’ or ‘kinsman.'” No one holds such a premise. Both Hebrew and Greek dictionaries report that there are words in both languages whose primary meaning conveys uterine brother/sisterhood, but that these words are also used in both languages with much wider meanings: half brother/half sister, wife, kinsman, fellow tribe member, and so on, but not, as a matter of fact, cousin. (emphasis added)
But Father Mateo has spoke too soon. The Catholicism Answer Book (Sourcebooks, Inc: Naperville, IL, 2007), written by Catholic priests John Trigilio, Jr. and Kenneth Brighenti, does hold the very position that Father Mateo repudiates:
Scripture scholars have also delved into the question of brothers and sisters of Jesus. It all centers around the Greek word adelphoi. This word can be translated to mean brothers, cousins, or relatives, such as nephews and uncles. Therefore, when we read in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 13:55 concerning the brothers of Jesus, it is ambiguous whether the word adelphos is refering to brothers, cousins, nephews, or uncles. (57, emphasis added)
Just a few pages prior, Trigilio and Brighenti make a similar point. Ancient Hebrew (yes, they said Hebrew–remember that point) didn’t discern between close family (brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews), and thus the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus could have referred to other family members that didn’t have precise names (49).
The problem is that the New Testament was written in Greek, not Hebrew. Greek is exceedingly more complex, and does have those distinctions. The passages in question, read plainly, indicate family related by blood is under consideration. One hardly mentions the mother of a person and then a few cousins without some sort of context key. Nope, these are biological brothers and sisters, not close family or fellow Christians that are being discussed. It is difficult to argue otherwise.
Back in June, I confessed in a conversation on Facebook that much of Protestantism annoyed me. Longtime readers will know that I believe in consistency — hermeneutics should be consistent, interpretations of passages should incorporate what has gone before, and your bar of acceptable proof should be even across all areas of your life.
Protestantism just isn’t consistent. Protestants throw out whole swaths of Christian tradition and invent new things. They claim they follow the Bible closer than Catholics, but do they?
No, as it turns out. Most Protestants tell you that faith alone saves you. Yet the Bible, held to be the word of God, forcefully argues that this isn’t the case. The sentence “You see that a person is saved by works and not by faith alone” actually appears in the Bible (Jms 2:24)!
Another example is that most Protestants reject Catholic Tradition on the grounds that it developed later than apostolic times. Interesting. So, Marian dogmas originated in the mid to late second century, while the papacy developed over a few hundred years to solidify in the sixth century, and clerical vestments were developed in the tenth century. All of those are rejected for the alleged late development.
Now, if Protestants were consistent, then there a few of our own cherished doctrines that should go. Some came over 800 years later than the latest dogma of the Church rejected as a “late development.” The 6,000 year old earth concept was developed in the sixteenth century. The Rapture wasn’t mentioned until around 1850 in any literature that I’ve ever seen. Altar calls are from the late 1800s, too.
The early Reformers came up with the idea of the seven Catholic Sacraments as symbolic of Christ rather than literal dispensers of grace over and against Tradition. The Eucharist was no longer a true sacrifice in the sense of being the literal body and blood of Christ and one with the first sacrifice on Calvary, but now becomes a symbol of the death of Christ (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, p1365-1367; cf. the Westminster Confession XXIX.2). Again, this is over and against not only Tradition, but the Bible (see 1 Cor 11:23-32).
The universal church was founded by Jesus Christ, not by Martin Luther or John Calvin. So it is wholly inconsistent to throw out vast quantities of Sacred Tradition just because you feel like it, or because you lack the historical understanding of the evolution of the Christian faith. The teaching functions of the Church have been eliminated or minimized in Protestantism–to its detriment, I believe. What we end up with a range of possibilities, from no central teaching arm to a carbon copy (but less effective) of the Catholic hierarchy.
My own Grace Brethren denomination has no higher authority other than the individual pastors of individual churches. Presbyterian have a constitution that can change through a majority vote from the individual presbyteries; but members must abide by the Westminster Confession of Faith, which cannot change. The Anglican/Episcopal church has monarchical bishops, but no central Pope figure (though the Archbishop of Canterbury has certain “primacy” over the larger church, but not nearly what the Pope has over the Catholic Church).
The lack of a centralized teaching authority in Protestantism sorely tempted me to rejoin the Catholic Church. In the next post, I want to discuss high church. It is both biblical and necessary for the body of believers to remain in union with one another. But that alone cannot bring me to be Catholic, as it turns out, and we will see why in part 3.