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Luther and Erasmus: The Controversy Concerning the Bondage of the Will
Protestant Reformed Theological Journal ^ | April 1999 | Garrett J. Eriks

Posted on 01/01/2006 4:48:03 PM PST by HarleyD


At the time of the Reformation, many hoped Martin Luther and Erasmus could unite against the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther himself was tempted to unite with Erasmus because Erasmus was a great Renaissance scholar who studied the classics and the Greek New Testament. Examining the Roman Catholic Church, Erasmus was infuriated with the abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, especially those of the clergy. These abuses are vividly described in the satire of his book, The Praise of Folly. Erasmus called for reform in the Roman Catholic Church. Erasmus could have been a great help to the Reformation, so it seemed, by using the Renaissance in the service of the Reformation.

But a great chasm separated these two men. Luther loved the truth of God's Word as that was revealed to him through his own struggles with the assurance of salvation. Therefore Luther wanted true reformation in the church, which would be a reformation in doctrine and practice. Erasmus cared little about a right knowledge of truth. He simply wanted moral reform in the Roman Catholic Church. He did not want to leave the church, but remained supportive of the Pope.

This fundamental difference points out another difference between the two men. Martin Luther was bound by the Word of God. Therefore the content of the Scripture was of utmost importance to him. But Erasmus did not hold to this same high view of Scripture. Erasmus was a Renaissance rationalist who placed reason above Scripture. Therefore the truth of Scripture was not that important to him.

The two men could not have fellowship with each other, for the two movements which they represented were antithetical to each other. The fundamental differences came out especially in the debate over the freedom of the will.

From 1517 on, the chasm between Luther and Erasmus grew. The more Luther learned about Erasmus, the less he wanted anything to do with him. Melanchthon tried to play the mediator between Luther and Erasmus with no success. But many hated Erasmus because he was so outspoken against the church. These haters of Erasmus tried to discredit him by associating him with Luther, who was outside the church by this time. Erasmus continued to deny this unity, saying he did not know much about the writings of Luther. But as Luther took a stronger stand against the doctrinal abuses of Rome, Erasmus was forced either to agree with Luther or to dissociate himself from Luther. Erasmus chose the latter.

Many factors came together which finally caused Erasmus to wield his pen against Luther. Erasmus was under constant pressure from the Pope and later the king of England to refute the views of Luther. When Luther became more outspoken against Erasmus, Erasmus finally decided to write against him. On September 1, 1524, Erasmus published his treatise On the Freedom of the Will. In December of 1525, Luther responded with The Bondage of the Will.

Packer and Johnston call The Bondage of the Will "the greatest piece of theological writing that ever came from Luther's pen."1 Although Erasmus writes with eloquence, his writing cannot compare with that of Luther the theologian. Erasmus writes as one who cares little about the subject, while Luther writes with passion and conviction, giving glory to God. In his work, Luther defends the heart of the gospel over against the Pelagian error as defended by Erasmus. This controversy is of utmost importance.

In this paper, I will summarize both sides of the controversy, looking at what each taught and defended. Secondly, I will examine the biblical approach of each man. Finally, the main issues will be pointed out and the implications of the controversy will be drawn out for the church today.

Erasmus On the Freedom of the Will

Erasmus defines free-will or free choice as "a power of the human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation or turn away from them." By this, Erasmus means that man has voluntary or free power of himself to choose the way which leads to salvation apart from the grace of God.

Erasmus attempts to answer the question how man is saved: Is it the work of God or the work of man according to his free will? Erasmus answers that it is not one or the other. Salvation does not have to be one or the other, for God and man cooperate. On the one hand, Erasmus defines free-will, saying man can choose freely by himself, but on the other hand, he wants to retain the necessity of grace for salvation. Those who do good works by free-will do not attain the end they desire unless aided by God's grace. Therefore, in regard to salvation, man cooperates with God. Both must play their part in order for a man to be saved. Erasmus expresses it this way: "Those who support free choice nonetheless admit that a soul which is obstinate in evil cannot be softened into true repentance without the help of heavenly grace." Also, attributing all things to divine grace, Erasmus states,

And the upshot of it is that we should not arrogate anything to ourselves but attribute all things we have received to divine grace … that our will might be synergos (fellow-worker) with grace although grace is itself sufficient for all things and has no need of the assistance of any human will."

In his work On the Freedom of the Will, Erasmus defends this synergistic view of salvation. According to Erasmus, God and man, nature and grace, cooperate together in the salvation of a man. With this view of salvation, Erasmus tries to steer clear of outright Pelagianism and denies the necessity of human action which Martin Luther defends.

On the basis of an apocryphal passage (Ecclesiasticas 15:14-17), Erasmus begins his defense with the origin of free-will. Erasmus says that Adam, as he was created, had a free-will to choose good or to turn to evil. In Paradise, man's will was free and upright to choose. Adam did not depend upon the grace of God, but chose to do all things voluntarily. The question which follows is, "What happened to the will when Adam sinned; does man still retain this free-will?" Erasmus would answer, "Yes." Erasmus says that the will is born out of a man's reason. In the fall, man's reason was obscured but was not extinguished. Therefore the will, by which we choose, is depraved so that it cannot change its ways. The will serves sin. But this is qualified. Man's ability to choose freely or voluntarily is not hindered.

By this depravity of the will, Erasmus does not mean that man can do no good. Because of the fall, the will is "inclined" to evil, but can still do good. Notice, he says the will is only "inclined" to evil. Therefore the will can freely or voluntarily choose between good and evil. This is what he says in his definition: free-will is "a power of the human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation." Not only does the human will have power, although a little power, but the will has power by which a man merits salvation.

This free choice of man is necessary according to Erasmus in order for there to be sin. In order for a man to be guilty of sin, he must be able to know the difference between good and evil, and he must be able to choose between doing good and doing evil. A man is responsible only if he has the ability to choose good or evil. If the free-will of man is taken away, Erasmus says that man ceases to be a man.

For this freedom of the will, Erasmus claims to find much support in Scripture. According to Erasmus, when Scripture speaks of "choosing," it implies that man can freely choose. Also, whenever the Scripture uses commands, threats, exhortations, blessings, and cursings, it follows that man is capable of choosing whether or not he will obey.

Erasmus defines the work of man's will by which he can freely choose after the fall. Here he makes distinctions in his idea of a "threefold kind of law" which is made up of the "law of nature, law of works, and law of faith." First, this law of nature is in all men. By this law of nature, men do good by doing to others what they would want others to do to them. Having this law of nature, all men have a knowledge of God. By this law of nature, the will can choose good, but the will in this condition is useless for salvation. Therefore more is needed. The law of works is man's choice when he hears the threats of punishment which God gives. When a man hears these threats, he either continues to forsake God, or he desires God's grace. When a man desires God's grace, he then receives the law of faith which cures the sinful inclinations of his reason. A man has this law of faith only by divine grace.

In connection with this threefold kind of law, Erasmus distinguishes between three graces of God. First, in all men, even in those who remain in sin, a grace is implanted by God. But this grace is infected by sin. This grace arouses men by a certain knowledge of God to seek Him. The second grace is peculiar grace which arouses the sinner to repent. This does not involve the abolishing of sin or justification. But rather, a man becomes "a candidate for the highest grace." By this grace offered to all men, God invites all, and the sinner must come desiring God's grace. This grace helps the will to desire God. The final grace is the concluding grace which completes what was started. This is saving grace only for those who come by their free-will. Man begins on the path to salvation, after which God completes what man started. Along with man's natural abilities according to his will, God works by His grace. This is the synergos, or cooperation, which Erasmus defends.

Erasmus defends the free-will of man with a view to meriting salvation. This brings us to the heart of the matter. Erasmus begins with the premise that a man merits salvation. In order for a man to merit salvation, he cannot be completely carried by God, but he must have a free-will by which he chooses God voluntarily. Therefore, Erasmus concludes that by the exercise of his free-will, man merits salvation with God. When man obeys, God imputes this to his merit. Therefore Erasmus says, "This surely goes to show that it is not wrong to say that man does something…." Concerning the merit of man's works, Erasmus distinguishes with the Scholastics between congruent and condign merit. The former is that which a man performs by his own strength, making him a "fit subject for the gift of internal grace." This work of man removed the barrier which keeps God from giving grace. The barrier removed is man's unworthiness for grace, which God gives only to those who are fit for it. With the gift of grace, man can do works which before he could not do. God rewards these gifts with salvation. Therefore, with the help or aid of the grace of God, a man merits eternal salvation.

Although he says a man merits salvation, Erasmus wants to say that salvation is by God's grace. In order to hold both the free-will of man and the grace of God in salvation, Erasmus tries to show the two are not opposed to each other. He says, "It is not wrong to say that man does something yet attributes the sum of all he does to God as the author." Explaining the relationship between grace and free-will, Erasmus says that the grace of God and the free-will of man, as two causes, come together in one action "in such a way, however, that grace is the principle cause and the will secondary, which can do nothing apart from the principle cause since the principle is sufficient in itself." Therefore, in regard to salvation, God and man work together. Man has a free-will, but this will cannot attain salvation of itself. The will needs a boost from grace in order to merit eternal life.

Erasmus uses many pictures to describe the relationship between works and grace. He calls grace an "advisor," "helper," and "architect." Just as the builder of a house needs the architect to show him what to do and to set him straight when he does something wrong, so also man needs the assistance of God to help him where he is lacking. The free-will of man is aided by a necessary helper: grace. Therefore Erasmus says, "as we show a boy an apple and he runs for it ... so God knocks at our soul with His grace and we willingly embrace it." In this example, we are like a boy who cannot walk. The boy wants the apple, but he needs his father to assist him in obtaining the apple. So also, we need the assistance of God's grace. Man has a free-will by which he can seek after God, but this is not enough for him to merit salvation. By embracing God's grace with his free-will, man merits God's grace so that by his free-will and the help of God's grace he merits eternal life. This is a summary of what Erasmus defends.

Erasmus also deals with the relationship of God's foreknowledge and man's free-will. On the one hand, God does what he wills, but, on the other hand, God's will does not impose anything on man's will, for then man's will would not be free or voluntary. Therefore God's foreknowledge is not determinative, but He simply knows what man will choose. Men deserve punishment from eternity simply because God knows they will not choose the good, but will choose the evil. Man can resist the ordained will of God. The only thing man cannot resist is when God wills in miracles. When God performs some "supernatural" work, this cannot be resisted by men. For example, when Jesus performed a miracle, the man whose sight returned could not refuse to be healed. According to Erasmus, because man's will is free, God's will and foreknowledge depend on man's will except when He performs miracles.

This is a summary of what Erasmus taught in his treatise On the Freedom of the Will. In response to this treatise, Luther wrote The Bondage of the Will. We turn to this book of Luther.

Luther's Arguments Against Erasmus

Martin Luther gives a thorough defense of the sovereign grace of God over against the "semi-Pelagianism" of Erasmus by going through much of Erasmus' On the Freedom of the Will phrase by phrase. Against the cooperating work of salvation defended by Erasmus, Luther attacks Erasmus at the very heart of the issue. Luther's thesis is that "free-will is a nonentity, a thing consisting of name alone" because man is a slave to sin. Therefore salvation is the sovereign work of God alone.

In the "Diatribe," Luther says, Erasmus makes no sense. It seems Erasmus speaks out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, he says that man's will cannot will any good, yet on the other hand, he says man has a free-will. Other contradictions also exist in Erasmus' thought. Erasmus says that man has the power to choose good, but he also says that man needs grace to do good. Opposing Erasmus, Luther rightly points out that if there is free-will, there is no need for grace. Because of these contradictions in Erasmus, Luther says Erasmus "argues like a man drunk or asleep, blurting out between snores, 'Yes,' 'No.' " Not only does this view of Erasmus not make sense, but this is not what Scripture says concerning the will of man and the grace of God.

According to Luther, Erasmus does not prove his point, namely, the idea that man with his free-will cooperates in salvation with God. Throughout his work, Luther shows that Erasmus supports and agrees with the Pelagians. In fact, Erasmus' view is more despicable than Pelagianism because he is not honest and because the grace of God is cheapened. Only a small work is needed in order for a man to merit the grace of God.

Because Erasmus does not take up the question of what man can actually do of himself as fallen in Adam, Luther takes up the question of the ability of man. Here, Luther comes to the heart of his critique of the Diatribe in which he denies free-will and shows that God must be and is sovereign in salvation. Luther's arguments follow two lines: first, he shows that man is enslaved to sin and does not have a free-will; secondly, he shows that the truth of God's sovereign rule, by which He accomplishes His will according to His counsel, is opposed to free-will.

First, Luther successfully defends the thesis that there is no such entity as free-will because the will is enslaved to sin. Luther often says there is no such thing as free-will. The will of man without the grace of God "is not free at all, but is the permanent prisoner and bondslave of evil since it cannot turn itself to good." The free-will lost its freedom in the fall so that now the will is a slave to sin. This means the will can will no good. Therefore man does and wills sin "necessarily." Luther further describes the condition of man's will when he explains a passage from Ezekiel: "It cannot but fall into a worse condition, and add to its sins despair and impenitence unless God comes straightway to its help and calls it back and raises it up by the word of His promise."

Luther makes a crucial distinction in explaining what he means when he says man sins "necessarily." This does not mean "compulsion." A man without the Spirit is not forced, kicking and screaming, to sin but voluntarily does evil. Nevertheless, because man is enslaved to sin, his will cannot change itself. He only wills or chooses to sin of himself. He cannot change this willingness of his: he wills and desires evil. Man is wholly evil, thinking nothing but evil thoughts. Therefore there is no free-will.

Because this is the condition of man, he cannot merit eternal life. The enslaved will cannot merit anything with God because it can do no good. The only thing which man deserves is eternal punishment. By this, Luther also shows that there is no free-will.

In connection with man's merit, Luther describes the true biblical uses of the law. The purpose of the law of God is not to show men how they can merit salvation, but the law is given so that men might see their sinfulness and their own unworthiness. The law condemns the works of man, for when he judges himself according to the law, man sees that he can do no good. Therefore, he is driven to the cross. The law also serves as a guide for what the believer should do. But the law does not say anything about the ability of man to obey it.

Not only should the idea of free-will be rejected because man is enslaved to sin, but also because of who God is and the relationship between God and man. A man cannot act independently of God. Analyzing what Erasmus said, Luther says that God is not God, but He is an idol, because the freedom of man rules. Everything depends on man for salvation. Therefore man can merit salvation apart from God. A God that depends on man is not God.

Denying this horrible view of Erasmus, Luther proclaims the sovereignty of God in salvation. Because God is sovereign in all things and especially in salvation, there is no free-will.

Luther begins with the fact that God alone has a free-will. This means only God can will or not will the law, gospel, sin, and death. God does not act out of necessity, but freely. He alone is independent in all He decrees and does. Therefore man cannot have a free-will by which he acts independently of God, because God is immutable, omnipotent, and sovereign over all. Luther says that God is omnipotent, knowing all. Therefore we do nothing of ourselves. We can only act according to God's infallible, immutable counsel.

The great error of free-willism is that it ascribes divinity to man's free-will. God is not God anymore. If man has a free-will, this implies God is not omnipotent, controlling all of our actions. Free-will also implies that God makes mistakes and changes. Man must then fix the mistakes. Over against this, Luther says there can be no free-will because we are under the "mastery of God." We can do nothing apart from God by our own strength because we are enslaved to sin.

Luther also understands the difficulties which follow from saying that God is sovereign so that all things happen necessarily. Luther states: "If God foreknows a thing, it necessarily happens." The problem between God's foreknowledge and man's freedom cannot be completely solved. God sovereignly decrees all things that happen, and they happen as He has decreed them necessarily. Does this mean that when a man sins, he sins because God has decreed that sin? Luther would answer, Yes. But God does not act contrary to what man is. Man cannot will good, but he only seeks after sinful lusts. The nature of man is corrupted, so that he is turned from God. But God works in men and in Satan according to what they are. The sinner is still under the control of the omnipotent God, "which means, since they are evil and perverted themselves, that when they are impelled to action by this movement of Divine omnipotence they do only that which is perverted or evil." When God works in evil men, evil results. But God is not evil. He is good. He does not do evil, but He uses evil instruments. The sin is the fault of those evil instruments and not the fault of God.

Luther asks himself the question, Why then did God let Adam fall so all men have his sin? The sovereignty of God must not be questioned, because God's will is beyond any earthly standard. Nothing is equal to God and His will. Answering the question above, Luther replies, "What God wills is not right because He ought or was bound, so to will, on the contrary, what takes place must be right because He so wills it." This is the hidden mystery of God's absolute sovereignty over all things.

God is sovereign over all things. He is sovereign in salvation. Is salvation a work of God and man? Luther answers negatively. God alone saves. Therefore salvation cannot be based on the merits of men's works. Man's obedience does not obtain salvation, according to Luther. Some become the sons of God "not by carnal birth, nor by zeal for the law, nor by any other human effort, but only by being born of God." Grace does not come by our own effort, but by the grace of Jesus Christ. To deny grace is to deny Jesus Christ. For Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Free-will says that it is the way, the truth, and the life. Therefore free-will denies Jesus Christ. This is a serious error.

God saves by His grace and Spirit in such away that the will is turned by Him. Only when the will is changed can it will and desire the good. Luther describes a struggle between God and Satan. Erasmus says man stands between God and Satan, who are as spectators waiting for man to make his choice. But Luther compares this struggle to a horse having two riders. "If God rides, it wills and goes where God goes…. If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan goes." The horse does not have the choice of which rider it wants. We have Satan riding us until God throws him off. In the same way, we are enslaved to sin until God breaks the power of sin. The salvation of a man depends upon the free work of God, who alone is sovereign and able to save men. Therefore this work in the will by God is a radical change whereby the willing of the soul is freed from sin. This beautiful truth stands over against Erasmus' grace, which gives man a booster shot in what he can do of himself.

This truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation is comforting to us. When man trusts in himself, he has no comfort that he is saved. Because man is enslaved to sin and because God is the sovereign, controlling all things according to His sovereign, immutable will, there is no free-will. The free-will of man does not save him. God alone saves.

The Battle of the Biblical Texts

The battle begins with the fundamental difference separating Luther and Erasmus in regard to the doctrine of Scripture. Erasmus defends the obscurity of Scripture. Basically, Erasmus says man cannot know with certainty many of the things in Scripture. Some things in God's Word are plain, while many are not. He applies the obscurity of Scripture to the controversy concerning the freedom of the will. In the camp of the hidden things of God, which include the hour of our death and when the last judgment will occur, Erasmus places "whether our will accomplishes anything in things pertaining to salvation." Because Scripture is unclear about these things, what one believes about these matters is not important. Erasmus did not want controversy, but he wanted peace. For him, the discussion of the hidden things is worthless because it causes the church to lose her love and unity.

Against this idea of the obscurity of Scripture, Luther defends the perspicuity of Scripture. Luther defines perspicuity as being twofold. The external word itself is clear, as that which God has written for His people. But man cannot understand this word of himself. Therefore Scripture is clear to God's people only by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.

The authority of Scripture is found in God Himself. God's Word must not be measured by man, for this leads to paradoxes, of which Erasmus is a case in point. By saying Scripture is paradoxical, Erasmus denies the authority of God's Word.

Luther does not deny that some passages are difficult to understand. This is not because the Word is unclear or because the work of the Holy Spirit is weak. Rather, we do not understand some passages because of our own weakness.

If Scripture is obscure, then this opposes what God is doing in revelation. Scripture is light which reveals the truth. If it is obscure, then why did God give it to us? According to Luther, not even the difficult to understand doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the unpardonable sin are obscure. Therefore the issue of the freedom of the will is not obscure. If the Scripture is unclear about the doctrine of the will of man, then this doctrine is not from Scripture.

Because Scripture is clear, Luther strongly attacks Erasmus on this fundamental point. Luther says, "The Scriptures are perfectly clear in their teaching, and that by their help such a defense of our position may be made that our adversaries cannot resist." This is what Luther hoped to show to Erasmus. The teaching of Scripture is fundamental. On this point of perspicuity, Luther has Erasmus by the horns. Erasmus says Scripture is not clear on this matter of the freedom of the will, yet he appeals to the church fathers for support. The church fathers base their doctrine of the free-will on Scripture. On the basis of the perspicuity of Scripture, Luther challenges Erasmus to find even one passage that supports his view of free-will. Luther emphasizes that not one can be found.

Luther also attacks Erasmus when he says what one believes concerning the freedom of the will does not matter. Luther sums up Erasmus' position this way: "In a word, what you say comes to this: that you do not think it matters a scrap what any one believes anywhere, as long as the world is at peace." Erasmus says the knowledge of free-will is useless and non-essential. Over against this, Luther says, "then neither God, Christ, Gospel, faith, nor anything else even of Judaism, let alone Christianity, is left!" Positively, Luther says about the importance of the truth: "I hold that a solemn and vital truth, of eternal consequences, is at stake in the discussion." Luther was willing to defend the truth even to death because of its importance as that which is taught in Scripture.

A word must also be said about the differing views of the interpretation of Scripture. Erasmus was not an exegete. He was a great scholar of the languages, but this did not make him an able exegete. Erasmus does not rely on the Word of God of itself, but he turns to the church fathers and to reason for the interpretation of Scripture. In regard to the passage out of Ecclesiasticas which Erasmus uses, Luther says the dispute there is not over the teaching of Scripture, but over human reason. Erasmus generalizes from a particular case, saying that since a passage mentions willing, this must mean a man has a free-will. In this regard, Luther also says that Erasmus "fashions and refashions the words of God as he pleases." Erasmus was concerned not with what God says in His Word, but with what he wanted God to say.

Not only does Erasmus use his own reason to interpret Scripture, but following in the Roman Catholic tradition he goes back to the church fathers. His work is filled with many quotes from the church fathers' interpretation of different passages. The idea is that the church alone has the authority to interpret Scripture. Erasmus goes so far in this that Luther accuses Erasmus of placing the fathers above the inspired apostle Paul.

In contrast to Erasmus, Luther interprets Scripture with Scripture. Seeing the Word of God as inspired by the Holy Spirit, Luther also trusts in the work of the Holy Spirit to interpret that Word. One of the fundamental points of Reformed hermeneutics is that Scripture interprets Scripture. Luther follows this. When Luther deals with a passage, he does not take it out of context as Erasmus does. Instead, he examines the context and checks other passages which use the same words.

Also, Luther does not add figures or devise implications as Erasmus does. But rather, Luther sticks to the simple and plain meaning of Scripture. He says, "Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rules of grammar and the habits of speech that God has created among men." In the controversy over the bondage of the will, both the formal and material principles of the Reformation were at stake.

Now we must examine some of the important passages for each man. This is a difficult task because they both refer to so many passages. We must content ourselves with looking at those which are fundamental for the main points of the controversy.

Showing the weakness of his view of Scripture, Erasmus begins with a passage from an apocryphal book: Ecclesiasticas 15:14-17. Erasmus uses this passage to show the origin of the free will and that the will continues to be free after the fall.

Following this passage, Erasmus looks at many passages from the Old Testament to prove that man has a free-will. He turns to Genesis 4:6, 7, which records God speaking to Cain after he offered his displeasing sacrifice to God. Verse 7 says, "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." Erasmus says that God sets before Cain a reward if he chooses the good. But if he chooses the evil, he will be punished. This implies that Cain has a will which can overcome evil and do the good.

From here, Erasmus looks at different passages using the word "choose." He says Scripture uses the word "choose" because man can freely choose. This is the only way it makes sense.

Erasmus also looks at many passages which use the word "if" in the Old Testament and also the commands of the Old Testament. For example, Isaiah 1:19,20 and 21:12 use the words "if … then." These conditions in Scripture imply that a man can do these things. Deuteronomy 30:14 is an example of a command. In this passage, Israel is commanded to love God with all their heart and soul. This command was given because Moses and the people had it in them to obey. Erasmus comes to these conclusions by implication.

Using a plethora of New Testament texts, Erasmus tries to support the idea of the freedom of the will. Once again, Erasmus appeals to those texts which speak of conditions. John 14:15 says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Also, in John 15:7 we read, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." These passages imply that man is able to fulfill the conditions by his free-will.

Remarkably, Erasmus identifies Paul as "the champion of free choice." Referring to passages in which Paul exhorts and commands, Erasmus says that this implies the ability to obey. An example is I Corinthians 9:24,25: "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible." Man is able to obey this command because he has a free-will.

These texts can be placed together because Luther responds to them as a whole. Luther does treat many of these texts separately, but often comes back to the same point. Luther's response to Genesis 4:7 applies to all of the commands and conditions to which Erasmus refers: "Man is shown, not what he can do, but what he ought to do." Similarly, Luther responds to Deuteronomy 30:19: "It is from this passage that I derive my answer to you: that by the words of the law man is admonished and taught, not what he can do, but what he ought to do; that is, that he may know sin, not that he may believe that he has any strength." The exhortations and commands of the New Testament given through the apostle Paul are not written to show what we can do, but rather, after the gospel is preached, they encourage those justified and saved to live in the Spirit.

From these passages, Erasmus also taught that man merited salvation by his obedience or a man merited punishment by his disobedience, all of which was based on man's ability according to his free-will. Erasmus jumps from reward to merit. He does this in the conditional phrases of Scripture especially. But Luther says that merit is not proved from reward. God uses rewards in Scripture to exhort us and threaten us so that the godly persevere. Rewards are not that which a man merits.

The heart of the battle of the biblical texts is found in their treatment of passages from the book of Romans, especially Romans 9. Here, Erasmus treats Romans 9 as a passage which seems to oppose the freedom of the will but does not.

Erasmus begins his treatment of Romans 9 by considering the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. He treats this in connection with what Romans 9:18 says, "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will, he hardeneth." To interpret this passage, Erasmus turns to Jerome, who says, "God hardens when he does not at once punish the sinner and has mercy as soon as he invites repentance by means of afflictions." God's hardening and mercy are the results of what man does. God has mercy "on those who recognize the goodness of God and repent…." Also, this hardening is not something which God does, but something which Pharaoh did by not repenting. God was longsuffering to Pharaoh, not punishing him immediately, during which Pharaoh hardened his heart. God simply gave the occasion for the hardening of his heart. Therefore the blame can be placed on Pharaoh.

Although Erasmus claims to take the literal meaning of the passage, Luther is outraged at this interpretation. Luther objects:

Showing the absurdity of what Erasmus says, Luther says that this view means that God shows mercy when He sends Israel into captivity because then they are invited to repent; but when Israel is brought back from captivity, He hardens them by giving them the opportunity of hardening in His longsuffering. This is "topsy-turvy."

Positively, Luther explains this hardening of the heart of Pharaoh. God does this, therefore Pharaoh's heart is necessarily hardened. But God does not do something which is opposed to the nature of Pharaoh. Pharoah is enslaved to sin. When he hears the word of God through Moses which irritates his evil will, Pharaoh's heart is hardened. Luther explains it this way:

In his consideration of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9, Erasmus denies that this passage speaks of predestination. Erasmus says God does not hate anybody from eternity. But God's wrath and fury against sin are revealed on Esau because He knows the sins he will commit. In this connection, when Romans 9 speaks of God as the potter making a vessel of honor and dishonor, Erasmus says that God does this because of their belief and unbelief. Erasmus is trying to deny the necessity of the fulfillment of God's decree in order to support the freedom of the will.

Once again, Luther objects. Luther defends the necessity of consequence to what God decrees. Luther says, "If God foreknows a thing, it necessarily takes place." Therefore, in regard to Jacob and Esau, they did not attain their positions by their own free-will. Romans 9 emphasizes that they were not yet born and that they had not yet done good or evil. Without any works of obedience or disobedience, the one was master and the other was the servant. Jacob was rewarded not on the basis of anything he had done. Jacob was loved and Esau was hated even before the world began. Jacob loved God because God loved him. Therefore the source of salvation is not the free-will of man, but God's eternal decree. Paul is not the great champion of the freedom of the will.

In defense of the literal meaning of Romans 9:21-23, Luther shows that these verses oppose free-will as well. Luther examines the passage in the context of what Paul is saying. The emphasis in the earlier verses is not man, but what God does. He is sovereign in salvation. Here also, the emphasis is the potter. God is sovereign, almighty, and free. Man is enslaved to sin and acts out of necessity according to all God decrees. Luther shows that this is the emphasis of Romans 9 with sound exegetical work.

After refuting the texts to which Erasmus refers, Luther continues to show that Scripture denies the freedom of the will and teaches the sovereignty of God in salvation. He begins with Romans 1:18 which says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." Luther says this means all men are ungodly and are unrighteous. Therefore, all deserve the wrath of God. The best a man can do is evil. Referring to Romans 3:9, Luther proves the same thing. Both Jews and Greeks are all under sin. They will and do nothing but evil. Man has no power to seek after good because there is none that doeth good (Ps. 14:3). Therefore, men are "ignorant of and despise God! Here is unbelief, disobedience, sacrilege, blasphemy towards God, cruelty and mercilessness towards one's neighbors and love of self in all things of God and man." Luther's conclusion to the matter is this: man is enslaved to sin.

Man cannot obtain salvation by his works. Romans 3:20 says that by the works of the law no man can be justified in God's sight. It is impossible for a man to merit salvation by his works. Salvation must be the sovereign work of God.

Luther thunders against free-will in connection with Romans 3:21-16 which proclaims salvation by grace alone through faith.58 Free-will is opposed to faith. These are two different ways of salvation. Luther shows that a man cannot be saved by his works, therefore it must be by faith in Jesus Christ. Justification is free, of grace, and without works because man possesses no worthiness for it.

Finally, we notice that Luther points out the comprehensive terms of the apostle Paul to show that there is no free-will in man. All are sinners. There is none that is righteous, and none that doeth good. Paul uses many others also. Therefore, justification and salvation are without works and without the law.

Over against the idea of free-will stands the clear teaching of Scripture. Luther clearly exegetes God's Word to show this. In summary, the truth of predestination denies the free-will of man. Because salvation is by grace and faith, salvation is not by works. Faith and grace are of no avail if salvation is by the works of man. Also, the only thing the law works is wrath. The law displays the unworthiness, sinfulness, and guilt of man. As children of Adam we can do no good. Luther argues along these lines to show that a free-will does not exist in man. Salvation is by grace alone.

The Main Issues and Implications of Each View

Luther is not interested in abstract theological concepts. He does not take up this debate with Erasmus on a purely intellectual level. The main issue is salvation: how does God save? Luther himself defines the issue on which the debate hinges:

So it is not irreligious, idle, or superfluous, but in the highest degree wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know whether or not his will has anything to do in matters pertaining to salvation…. This is the hinge on which our discussion turns, the crucial issue between us.

Luther finds it necessary to investigate from Scripture what ability the will of man has and how this is related to God and His grace. If one does not know this, he does not know Christianity. Luther brings this against Erasmus because he shows no interest in the truth regarding how it is that some are saved.

Although the broad issue of the debate is how God saves, the specific issue is the sovereignty of God in salvation. The main issue for Luther is that man does not have a free-will by which he merits eternal life, but God sovereignly saves those whom He has chosen.

Luther is pursuing the question, "Is God, God?" This means, is God the omnipotent who reigns over all and who sovereignly saves, or does He depend on man? If God depends on man for anything, then He is not God. Therefore Luther asks the question of himself: Who will try to reform his life, believe, and love God? His answer, "Nobody." No man can do this of himself. He needs God. "The elect, who fear God, will be reformed by the Holy Spirit; the rest will perish unreformed." Luther defends this truth so vigorously because it is the heart of the gospel. God is the sovereign God of salvation. If salvation depends on the works of man, he cannot be saved.

Certain implications necessarily follow from the views of salvation defended by both men. First, we must consider the implications which show the falsehood of Erasmus' view of salvation.

When Erasmus speaks of merit, he is really speaking as a Pelagian. This was offensive to Erasmus because he specifically claimed that he was not a Pelagian. But Luther rightly points out that Erasmus says man merits salvation. According to the idea of merit, man performs an act separate from God, which act is the basis of salvation. He deserves a reward. This is opposed to grace. Therefore, if merit is at all involved, man saves himself. This makes Erasmus no different from the Pelagians except that the Pelagians are honest. Pelagians honestly confess that man merits eternal life. Erasmus tries to give the appearance that he is against the Pelagians although he really is a Pelagian. Packer and Johnston make this analysis:

According to Luther, Erasmus does not succeed in moving closer to the Augustinian position. Instead, he cheapens the purchase of God's grace. Luther says:

The Pelagians base salvation upon works; men work for their own righteousness. But Erasmus has cheapened the price which must be paid for salvation. Because only a small work of man is needed to merit salvation, God is not so great and mighty. Man only needs to choose God and choose the good. God's character is tarnished with the teaching of Erasmus. This semi-Pelagianism is worse than Pelagianism, for little is required to earn salvation. As Packer and Johnston say, "that is to belittle salvation and to insult God."

Another implication of the synergistic view of salvation held to by Erasmus is that God is not God. Because salvation depends upon the free-will of man according to Erasmus, man ascribes divinity to himself. God is not God because He depends upon man. Man himself determines whether or not he will be saved. Therefore the study of soteriology is not the study of what God does in salvation, but soteriology is a study of what man does with God to deserve eternal life.

This means God's grace is not irresistible, but man can reject the grace of God. Man then has more power than God. God watches passively to see what man will do.

Finally, a serious implication of the view of Erasmus is that he denies salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone. In his Diatribe, Erasmus rarely mentions Jesus Christ. This shows something is wrong. This does follow from what Erasmus says. The emphasis for Erasmus is what man must do to be saved and not on what God has done in Jesus Christ. Therefore Jesus Christ is not the only way of salvation and is not that important.

Over against the implications of Erasmus' view are the orthodox implications of Luther's view. God is sovereign in salvation. God elects His people, He sent Jesus Christ, and reveals Jesus Christ only to His people. It is God who turns the enslaved wills of His people so that they seek after Him. Salvation does not depend upon the work of man in any sense.

The basis of salvation is Jesus Christ alone. Because man is enslaved to sin, He must be turned from that sin. He must be saved from that sin through the satisfaction of the justice of God. A man needs the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to be saved. A man needs the new life of Jesus Christ in order to inherit eternal life. The merits of man do not save because he merits nothing with God. A man needs the merits of Jesus Christ for eternal life. A man needs faith by which he is united to Christ.

The source of this salvation is election. God saves only those whom He elects. Those who receive that new life of Christ are those whom God has chosen. God is sovereign in salvation.

Because God is sovereign in salvation, His grace cannot be resisted. Erasmus says that the reason some do not believe is because they reject the grace which God has given to them. Luther implies that God does not show grace to all men. Instead, He saves and shows favor only to those who are His children. In them, God of necessity, efficaciously accomplishes His purpose.

Because man cannot merit eternal life, saving faith is not a work of man by which he merits anything with God. Works do not justify a man. Salvation is the work of God alone in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift of God whereby we are united to Jesus Christ and receive the new life found in Him. Even the knowledge and confidence as the activity of faith are the gifts of faith.

Finally, only with this view of salvation that God is sovereign can a man have comfort that he will be saved. Because God is sovereign in salvation and because His counsel is immutable, we cannot fall from the grace of God. He preserves those who are His children. Erasmus could not have this comfort because he held that man determines his own salvation.

The Importance of This Controversy Today

Although this controversy happened almost five hundred years ago, it is significant for the church today. The error of "semi-Pelagianism" is still alive in the church today. Much of the church world sides with Erasmus today, even among those who claim to be "Reformed." If a "Reformed" or Lutheran church denies what Luther says and sides with Erasmus, they despise the reformation of the church in the sixteenth century. They might as well go back to the Roman Catholic Church.

This controversy is important today because many deny that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. A man can worship heathen gods and be saved. This follows from making works the basis of salvation. Over against this error, Martin Luther proclaimed the sovereignty of God in salvation. He proclaimed Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. We must do the same.

The error of Pelagianism attacks the church in many different forms. We have seen that in the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches. The sovereignty of God in salvation has been attacked by the errors of common grace and a conditional covenant. Over against these errors, some in the church world have remained steadfast by the grace of God. God does not love all. Nor does He show favor to all men in the preaching of gospel. Erasmus himself said that God showed grace to all men and God does not hate any man. The Arminians said the same thing at the time of the Synod of Dordt. Yet, men who defend common grace claim to be Reformed. They are not.

Also, in this synergistic view of salvation, we see the principles of the bilateral, conditional covenant view which is in many "Reformed" churches. If God and man work together in salvation, then the covenant must be a pact in which both God and man must hold up each one's end of the agreement. Over against this we must proclaim the sovereignty of God in salvation especially in regard to the covenant. The covenant is not conditional and bilateral. God works unconditionally and unilaterally in the covenant of grace.

Finally, we must apply the truth of the sovereignty of God defended by Luther to ourselves. We could say there is a Pelagian in all of us. We know God sovereignly saves, but we often show by our practice that we proudly want to sneak a few of our works in the back door. We must depend upon God for all things.

May this truth which Martin Luther defended, the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation, be preserved in the church.

TOPICS: History; Mainline Protestant
KEYWORDS: bondageofthewill; catholic; christalone; erasmus; faithalone; gracealone; luther; martinluther; protestant; reformation; savedbygracealone; scripturealone; solascriptura; thegoodnews
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To: HarleyD
What is really in your statement is that you take what is written in scripture and apply what others have stated before you to arrive at some conclusion. This isn't any different than Protestants-except we come to different conclusions. You would probably add that you have the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

That would be a pretty fair analysis. With one addition, if I may. MANY (not all) Protestants have a disdain for tradition and give it very little, if any, authority. One is free to deviate from past "revelations" of the Spirit. Thus, the Spirit is no longer the Spirit of Truth, but the "Spirit of what's good for today". I realize that not all Protestants are this way... However, one merely needs to look at the difference between moral teachings from Catholicism and Protestantism to see the effects of not respecting the Spirit's movement within the Church of the past.

I would say that doesn't matter since the Church has, in the past, misinterpreted scripture.

What do you mean by "the Church"? Are you speaking of a previously-held dogma of faith or a particular man expressing his opinion - but one that was not accepted by the community at large?

For example the Orthodox Church has formulated policies and have come to different conclusions based upon the scriptures such as the authority of the Pope or the Nicene Creed. Who's right?

We agree on the Nicean Creed. The WORDS are not infallible (in that THEY can NEVER change), but the idea behind the Creed. We both believe in ONE divine principle. "And the Son" COULD be taken to imply a second one, which we CLEARLY do NOT believe - so this is a matter of misunderstanding. The authority of the Pope, I think, the Orthodox agree in principle on his position within the Church. Recall, they were not present at Vatican 1, so they didn't take part in that dogma expressed. But as the Creed, the WORDS are not infallible, but the idea. Catholics and Orthodox will eventually come to a common understanding of his position WITHOUT compromising Vatican 1's intentions.

The issue on indulgences was over ABUSE, not over the Church's ability to bind people by them. We are human, and abuse will take place in all institutions that have men in them. Are we to also get rid of human sexuality, because people abuse sex?


4,121 posted on 03/28/2006 4:05:35 PM PST by jo kus (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore CHOOSE life - Deut 30:19)
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To: Forest Keeper; annalex
Then Mark 2 does not really mean: "Who can forgive sins, but God only?" (emphasis added) Instead, it really means: "Who can forgive sins, but God only, or God's human designee."

Who are you to take away God's Freedom to designate men to provide visible manifestations of God's graces among us? Can you show one verse that PREVENTS God from dealing with men in such a way? I suggest you read the Matthew version of this story - the JEWS THEMSELVES recognized with awe that God had given men the power to forgive sins! Did God or did He NOT give men the power to forgive sins in John 20? Only twisting the Scripture out of recognition will bring you to falsely think that God is "not allowed" to deal with men in such a manner.

And secondly, of course, God STILL DOES forgive sins...The priest is "in the person of Christ". The priest visibly represents the voice of Christ. Catholics KNOW they have been forgiven of sin. Protestants always wonder "did my sinner's prayer take? If I start to fall away, I might never had been saved (healed) to begin with!"


4,122 posted on 03/28/2006 4:12:36 PM PST by jo kus (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore CHOOSE life - Deut 30:19)
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To: Forest Keeper; annalex
So does that mean that Jesus was speaking through a Catholic lens? I would think that Jesus would be the one to create the lens, not follow the lens created by man. As you mentioned, one example is His teaching on divorce. Man's lens on the subject was corrupt and He corrected it.

No, the lense called "Catholic" was created by the Messiah and given to Apostles. The Apostles then are "giving" this lense through the use of oral and written teachings.

As to divorce, our vision is still the same given by Christ.


4,123 posted on 03/28/2006 4:16:49 PM PST by jo kus (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore CHOOSE life - Deut 30:19)
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To: Forest Keeper
In most cases, on the meaning of a particular writing, the ones He guided were the other writers in the Bible.

As you have labored to tell me, man will eventually corrupt such teachings. Look at Protestantism :-) With this concept in mind, WHY on earth would God NOT CONTINUE to guide men so they wouldn't screw up??? Do you really think the Bible is so clear that anyone can pick it up and come to the same conclusion. We got two people who disagree on so much - apparently, the Bible is not so easy to discern ALONE...


4,124 posted on 03/28/2006 4:20:12 PM PST by jo kus (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore CHOOSE life - Deut 30:19)
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To: Forest Keeper
But Jesus was condemned and cursed by the Jews. That was Jewish tradition for the crime of blasphemy.

Wrong! That is the Word of God! It is NOT a "tradition" as you say...

"And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree; his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him the same day; for he that is hanged is accursed of God" Deut 21:22-23

According to the "Book", Jesus was a "failed Messiah". They expected someone who would save them, free them from slavery. They expected a righteous man, not one who worked on the sabbath, ate with sinners, and flaunted purification rituals. By all accounts of Torah, the Jews who held to the Scripture alone, Jesus was NOT the Messiah. The Scripture even says God condemned him. Look at this from a Jew's perspective and lense for a second...

See, the problem was something called "cognitive dissonance". That is when a conviction you have firmly held to is thrown into jeopardy by an experience that you have. The Apostles experienced the Risen LORD! But their world of Torah told them that Jesus COULDN'T be the Messiah! He hung from a tree! Thus, a whole new paradigm had to come into being, one that explained the Torah in a new light. The old wineskins would NOT do!

Brother, read the end of Luke's Gospel. HERE is where Jesus EXPLAINS THE SCRIPTURES!

"he {Jesus} said unto them, O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." Luke 24:25-27

Thus, Jesus solves their cognitive dissonance by bringing about a new paradigm. Jesus does not deny their experience of His resurrection, nor does He deny that the OT was the Word of God. But now, He gives them a new manner of looking at the Scriptures. "Christ is hidden in the Old Testament". Like the Essenes, the first Christians looked to the Prophetic Books of the OT, seeing their community as the ongoing fulfillment of God's Word found in Scriptures. By receiving the fullness of revelation that God would give men, Christianity was able to explain the experience of the Risen Lord, AND to keep the OT Scriptures as point to Christ (but in a different way then the Jews would have thought to look).

I slavishly follow the book because it is of God, and I do not slavishly follow men.

You follow yourself, correct? Thus, you slavishly follow a man - not knowing whether God is guiding you or not.

And all this time you have been arguing that if a notion was commonly held, it must have been right. The popularity argument. I'm glad to see that you now allow for some popular views to have been wrong.

Do we or do we not agree that the Jews had incomplete revelation? That is no longer applicable to us. God has sent the Christ to lead us to all truth. Your argument won't apply anymore. The Spirit leads the Church.


4,125 posted on 03/28/2006 4:40:46 PM PST by jo kus (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore CHOOSE life - Deut 30:19)
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To: jo kus
MANY (not all) Protestants have a disdain for tradition and give it very little, if any, authority.

We agree on the Nicean Creed.

The authority of the Pope, I think, the Orthodox agree in principle on his position within the Church.

4,126 posted on 03/28/2006 4:41:30 PM PST by HarleyD ("A man's steps are from the Lord, How then can man understand his way?" Prov 20:24 (HNV))
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To: HarleyD; kosta50; Forest Keeper; Kolokotronis; jo kus; annalex; Dr. Eckleburg; qua

I would like to point out, with all respect to Greg Bahnsen's protestations, that the idea of the inerrant autograph first formulated by Warfield, et al did not exist prior to the 19th c.

I would be interested if anyone can show pre-19th c. evidence of this concept that the autographs are inerrant, but that body of Scriptural text that we actually have received cannot be said to be so. I don't think that it existed anywhere in Protestantism or in any pre-Protestant Christianity.

Warfield, et al came up with this idea because of the pressures put on them by the weight of liberal Protestant textual criticism. This criticism had come to the conclusion in the 19th c. that the text of the New Testament as we had received it (i.e. as the Greek Orthodox had preserved it for two millenia) was hopelessly corrupt, and that only then, in the 19th c. did mankind have the tools to determine what the more original texts had to say.

The Westminster Divines retreated behind a position that was, they felt, impregnable. After all, this way they could both believe in Biblical inerrancy, as their Presbyterian faith required, and at the same time not be accused of ignorance by their liberal counterparts.

By claiming that only the original autographs are the "real" Bible, it would never be necessary to give up the idea of inerrancy, since we will never have a copy of the original autographs, and since such autographs can never be reconstructed using modern techniques of textual criticism.

To the extent that attempts have been made to "reconstruct the autographs," one is left with the inescapable conclusion that until the 19th century, the Bible was never faithfully copied, since modern critical editions reconstruct the text based on scores of widely-flung and divergent manuscripts. This doesn't say much for the preservation of Scripture by the Holy Spirit.

4,127 posted on 03/28/2006 5:08:14 PM PST by Agrarian
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To: jo kus; HarleyD; kosta50; Agrarian; Forest Keeper; Kolokotronis; annalex

"It is not a matter of something being WRITTEN that gives it authority, but its ACCEPTANCE by the COMMUNITY at large."

This has quite a large element of truth. Those newly encountering Orthodoxy often find it curious that in practice, Orthodoxy almost places more reliance on the theology found in our liturgical texts than it does on the writings of the Fathers.

But when one understands that the history of the Church is the history of every generation of Orthodox Christians critically asking the question "is this the Apostolic faith?", then it shouldn't be surprising that our liturgical texts are considered to be so reliable theologically.

They have been "scrubbed," as it were, for two millenia, always asking of each new liturgical text that same question in the light of the entire body of Tradition -- beginning with Holy Scripture, which stands alone at the pinnacle of Holy Tradition as the most authoritative written source of Tradition. And of course, this process happens with the active guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit in the Church

On the other hand, the writings of any one given Father at one given point in time can only be considered authoritative in a qualified manner -- that is to say, they are authoritative insofar as they lie within the consensus patrum, and in and of themselves are only the opinion of one man, however revered he might be.

4,128 posted on 03/28/2006 5:19:51 PM PST by Agrarian
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To: kosta50; HarleyD; Forest Keeper; Kolokotronis; jo kus; annalex; Dr. Eckleburg; qua

"The only copy of LXX that is positively corroborated with Dead Sea Scrolls (and disagree with Hebrew Masoretic Text) is the oldest version of LXX."

There is no way to prove what the oldest version of the LXX is, and I doubt that the comparisons done with the Dead Sea Scrolls were done only with one manuscript of the LXX. I furthermore find it interesting that anyone would seriously posit the idea that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the standard by which to judge the LXX. If so, then the LXX is seriously flawed, since there are many readings in the DSS that disagree with both the LXX and the Massoretic text. In any event I'd be interested in seeing your source for your information on which LXX manuscripts have been compared with the DSS.

"Whether such version exists on the Internet or not is a question, and I assume that you have a translation at home."

The comments in my post were made based not on any translation of the LXX, but rather on the Greek text and apparatus of Rahlf's critical edition of the LXX, which compiles and details the various known LXX manuscripts.

"If what you say is true, this is the first time that I hear that Brenton's is a "misleading" copy. Does this Orthodox Church make any statements to that effect?"

What I say is true. Brenton's is widely used in the English-speaking Orthodox world because it is the most readily available. I use it myself all the time, even though I never forget that there are probably many points at which it doesn't follow the Byzantine textual tradition.

As you know, the Orthodox Church is not given to making proclamations about Holy Scriptures. Our textual tradition of the Scriptures is first and foremost a liturgical one. Since only a few books of the Old Testament are used liturgically, the emphasis on the text of the OT is not nearly as strong as it is in the NT. Also, the state of Orthodox scholarship vis a vis the issues of modern textual criticism is not very advanced. That is not necessarily a bad thing, unless one has a predilection for being taken in by modern skeptical views of Scripture.

"Regardless, my point was from the beginning that various copies contain various statements, even different pararaphs, different lengths of the same books, and that the Bible is doctored and redacted, (mis)translated and altered and that there are no originals available to corroborate what is what."

A concern for the "originals" has never been particularly embraced by the Orthodox Church. The idea of the "original autograph" is a 19th c Protestant one. Orthodox copyists have certainly made efforts to identify poor copies of any piece of writing and to avoid copying them -- look at St. Paisius Velichkovsky's work with cleaning up the texts of the Philokalia. Part of why the major uncial codices are in such good condition in spite of their age is clearly because they weren't used or copied. Our Scriptures are the Scriptures we have passed down within our Church, not the Scriptures that someone's theories claim used to exist.

"Obviously, not one of these copies can make a claim that it is the one true copy and that everything in it is true, just as God wanted it."

No, and the Orthodox Church has never made such a claim. That is why you don't see me promoting the idea of absolute Biblical inerrancy, for all of my respect for our Calvinist friends on this thread. But, on the other hand, the general body of manuscripts handed down in the Orthodox Church, the "text-type," can and is certainly considered by Orthodox Christians to be authoritative and reliable, even though our use of these authoritative and reliable texts is based in the Orthodox spiritual tradition.

"The devil is in the details, Agrarian."

I know. That's why I took the time to write that fairly detailed post.

"Perhaps such little details as Michal's children (why would Melchol be something you need to mention -- Isaiah is not Isaiah in Hebrew) or lack thereof shows the all bibles are not the same, and do not convey the same information."

My mentioning the Greek spelling of Melchol vs Michol was merely to point out that in the reading of Codex Vaticanus that Brenton uses, the spelling of her name differs in this one verse that was being disputed -- to me this makes it suspicious that it is Codex Vaticanus that is the corrupt version, although I can't prove this.

"If one is going to believe everything in the Bible as God's truth than one must assume that the other copies do not meet that criteria because they say different things."

This is nonsense. It is perfectly possible for two divergent manuscripts of the Bible to have equally powerful spiritual effects. If one were to believe that, then one would have to believe that Christianity was without the full effect of the Scriptures prior to the printing press, when manuscripts all differed very slightly from each other, even within a textual tradition. You seem to be saying, in essence, that if the Scriptures are not 100% consistent from manuscript to manuscript, that we are obligated to take a stance of disbelief toward their historical accuracy. To me, that is a false choice, and a choice with no basis whatsoever in the exegetical traditions of the Fathers.

"LXX is the oldest copy of complete Five Books of Moses, Catholics accept it only partially, and Protestants have rejected in outright. So have the Jews. Yet, you are using LXX to show that Protestant's claims, based on Hebrew MT, prove LXX is right, and Jerome, who used partially the MT is wrong. Strange indeed."

I'm really not sure what your point is here. I agreed with you and jo kus that the MT (and thus the KJV and Vulgate) is self-contradictory on this question. It just so happened that the instincts of our Calvinist friends to find harmony in the Scripture rather than contradiction found them agreeing with the Byzantine LXX reading.

My own point, if I had one at all, was simply to correct your statement that the LXX was just as contradictory on this small and trivial point as are those versions based on the Hebrew. Since the reliability of Scripture was apparently depending on this critical point, I thought I should convey to the thread just what the Byzantine LXX tradition had to say about it.

All I did was to do what I always do. I worked from the assumption that the Bible is generally historically accurate and that the Byzantine textual tradition of OT and NT alike is the best one for an Orthodox Christian to examine. The rest was pretty easy. It takes a lot more energy to try to pick holes in the Scriptures than it does to accept them.

A broader point that I wanted to make was that skeptical attitudes toward the Scriptures, which superficially seem to be terribly advanced and intelligent (at least in modern unbelieving America), are just as likely to be based in ignorance as are fundamentalist approaches to Scripture. Which is why the simple peasant beliefs that have dominated the Orthodox Church for centuries haven't had such bad results.

4,129 posted on 03/28/2006 6:46:45 PM PST by Agrarian
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To: Agrarian; kosta50; HarleyD; Forest Keeper; jo kus; annalex; Dr. Eckleburg; qua

"A broader point that I wanted to make was that skeptical attitudes toward the Scriptures, which superficially seem to be terribly advanced and intelligent (at least in modern unbelieving America), are just as likely to be based in ignorance as are fundamentalist approaches to Scripture. Which is why the simple peasant beliefs that have dominated the Orthodox Church for centuries haven't had such bad results."

Something I have always tried to remember is that my great-grandmother probably couldn't read, at least not much and I am sure she never heard of biblical exegesis, but her best friend was the Most Holy Theotokos...and the influence of her Orthodox faith shows itself daily in the lives of her her great great grandsons.

4,130 posted on 03/28/2006 6:58:13 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: annalex
FK: "The alternative [to reading in Rom. 3 that "all" really means "all"] is to say that only some bear the sin of Adam as opposed to others."

This is exactly what is being argued for Blessed Mary and John the Baptist, as well as Christ himself. Do not forget the children and the insane either.

I don't think those with diminished capacity (by age or condition) are exempt from the nature of their birth, but I do think they may not be held accountable for their nature in the same way we are.

Do Catholics believe that John the Baptist was sinless?

4,131 posted on 03/28/2006 7:13:12 PM PST by Forest Keeper
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To: annalex
FK: "How are these passages [Mark 2:7 and John 20:23] reconciled?"

On the face of the former, they don't even need to be, as it is the pharisees say that only God can forgive sin. But even taking the word of the Pharisees as inspired in this instance, Christ (God) has placed the Holy Ghost (God) into the apostles and then empowered them to forgive sin. The only reason this is met with any mental resistance in the Protestant world is the extrascriptural anticlerical indoctrination.

I disagree. It is interesting that Jesus, starting with the very next verse in Mark, "Immediately" issues a correction to the Pharisees. However, the one point He does not correct at all is the one we are talking about. That speaks volumes to me.

I don't need any "extrascriptural anticlerical indoctrination" to be against the idea of God delegating away His sovereign powers. I'm just looking at the scriptures as they are. You are forced to completely re-write Mark 2:7 in order for it to conform to Catholicism. I object to the re-writing of scripture by men.

4,132 posted on 03/28/2006 7:39:26 PM PST by Forest Keeper
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To: annalex
Much of what Christ said has never been committed to paper, as is clear from the Gospels themselves.

Absolutely, as John tells us.

We can assume that the essential teaching of Christ is expressed in the Gospel; the gnostic heresy that there is or was an essentially different hidden teaching was condemned by the keeper of the totality of the revelation, the Church.

And I do thank the Church for that service to mankind. :)

Nevertheless, that leaves the commentary and the clarifications to the recorded doctrine, and that Holy Tradition was committed to writing in a non-Canonical way as the patristic legacy, the hymnody and the iconography.

I think I understand what you are saying, although I wouldn't have before this thread. :) I think you mean that dogma is not possible because we just don't have the records to prove anything. Is that close?

4,133 posted on 03/28/2006 8:15:10 PM PST by Forest Keeper
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To: Agrarian; Kolokotronis; HarleyD; Forest Keeper; jo kus; annalex; Dr. Eckleburg; qua
In any event I'd be interested in seeing your source for your information on which LXX manuscripts have been compared with the DSS

I don't use any particular source; I use all of them. It was the discovery of the dead Sea Scrolls that "verified" many of the LXX deviations from the MT. I don't have the source handy, but it's the same one that carries Rahlf's.

Here are some facts about the Septuagint (LXX) that I have compiled:

a) the original does not exist
b) The oldest fragments (2nd c. BC) include Leviticus, deuteronomy and Minor Prophets
c) It is unknown how LXX came into existence; there is a legend about it being commissioned and that it was done in ecrod time; evidence shows it was more like two centuries.
d) there are numerous redactions, variations and copies, not all in concord with each other.
e) Oldest known copy of the OT (LXX) is Codex Sinaticus (4th c. AD)
f) the Orthodox Church does not differentiate between different versions g) Some sections are literal Greek (Ecclesiastes); others are periphrasic (Proverbs)
h) LXX Jeremiah is shorter by 1/8 than the MT; Job 1/6; Esther has 50% fewer verses the MT version
i) Exodus differs in many instances
j) Gen 4:7 is very different as compared to the MT
k) Syriac OT, based on Hebrew reatins the Michal/Michol/Melchol in Kings 2
l) There are over 2,000 typographical errors in various LXX copies
j) LXX agrees with DSS where the LXX differs from MT
k) LXX is quoted some 100 times in the New Testament; MT only six.

4,134 posted on 03/28/2006 10:49:21 PM PST by kosta50 (Eastern Orthodoxy is pure Christianity)
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To: Agrarian; Kolokotronis; HarleyD; Forest Keeper; jo kus; annalex
My previous post (#4134) was/is the reason no one can say that everything in Scriptures is true. Sometimes "everything" just isn't everything. God did not inspire people to write contradictions, to add, alter or shorten verses, words and sometimes even meaning; God did not give us the Scripture through revelation of its authors to confuse, contradict or create dozens of versions that don't seme to "fit." All that is human corruption of what God gave us, as our whole nature is a corruption of the original.

The Bible has been redacted, doctored, changed, shortened, re-worded, altered, falsified, mistranslated, etc. by men. We don't even agree as to what consitutes biblical canon; how can we even speak of "everything in the Bible?"

The Bible cannot be used as a reliable source of scientific knowledge. Placing trust in the Bible to explain the world's physical make-up would not cause one to know the world correctly. The Bible was not intended to be the encyclopedia of zoology, botany, astronomy, etc. but of spiritual revelation -- of morality, of our ancestral transgression, and of God's salvific work.

Those who mistook the Bible for an encyclopedia believed that the moon couldn't have craters, or that the heavens were the sky above (in fact in Slavonic the word for "sky" and "heaven" is one and the same); they believed the world to be flat; they believed the diseases are caused by demons; they believed lightening was God's anger, etc.

The Bible does not say the earth is round; it does not say lightening is what it is; it does not reveal anything we know of the world today. It reflects the knopwledge of the people who wrote it; not God's knowledge of the world. Most of its events cannot be corroborated; most of the people in it may or may not have existed. The Bible teaches what is good and what is evil, not how the world is. The "errors" of the Bible are human errors of; errors of mixing God's revelation with man's limited knowledge; using man's limited senses to conceive the Unlimited; using imperfect language to describe the Perfect. They are errors of transcribing, interpreting, memory loss, etc. What remains true in any version is God's spiritual message, His love and His glory. As I see it, it should be a source of spiritual wealth of God's word and used to edify us spiritually through it's message, not its "facts" about the world and history. Used for anything esle, it missess the mark.

4,135 posted on 03/29/2006 3:44:23 AM PST by kosta50 (Eastern Orthodoxy is pure Christianity)
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To: Agrarian; HarleyD; kosta50; Forest Keeper; Kolokotronis; annalex
I would be interested if anyone can show pre-19th c. evidence of this concept that the autographs are inerrant, but that body of Scriptural text that we actually have received cannot be said to be so. I don't think that it existed anywhere in Protestantism or in any pre-Protestant Christianity.

Perhaps this is related, but I think this concept of humanism came about just before the Protestant Reformation - that man could figure out what God wanted written based on their own study. This "purifying" of the Scriptures was the driving force behind Luther's use of the Masoretic OT text - as he thought it to be closer to the original than the Vulgate. I wonder if he was aware that the Masoretic text is based on an oral tradition - of where the vowels go when translating ...


4,136 posted on 03/29/2006 4:04:14 AM PST by jo kus (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore CHOOSE life - Deut 30:19)
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To: Forest Keeper; annalex
Do Catholics believe that John the Baptist was sinless?

Another of those many flexible Catholic positions...


4,137 posted on 03/29/2006 4:05:30 AM PST by jo kus (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore CHOOSE life - Deut 30:19)
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To: HarleyD
You mistake disagreement for disdainment.

I don't think that your opinion or knowledge regarding the Church Fathers is the norm of modern Protestantism. Most haven't a clue about their writings and think that the Church started with Christ, and then, 1500 years later came Martin Luther. I have had door-to-door salesman come and try to sell me history books. I kid you not, these books COMPLETELY SKIP 1500 years of Christian history! One chapter is the Apostles, the next is Martin Luther. I asked about this missing history, and they displayed a frown and said "well, that's when the Cath-o-licks had gone and corrupted the Word. It took Dr. Luther to bring Christianity out of the Dark Ages..."That's disdain for tradition, not disagreement...

Certainly not the filique

As I said in my last post, we agree on the theological implications and meaning of this portion of the Creed. The wording is the point of contention, not our belief.

What, that the Pope is the final authority? I doubt it.

I think a study of the first millenium of Christianity will show that in matters of doctrine, he was the "deciding vote". I think most Orthodox would agree that in limited situations, God would speak through the Pope to clarify Christian doctrine. There are a number responding to your posts. Perhaps you should ask them. I think where the Orthodox would disagree would be over supremacy in ALL matters. While in theory, that is what Latins believe, it is rarely placed into practice. The bishop is the "pope" of his own diocese, and to a large degree, the pastor is the "pope" over his own church. Micromanagement is not an issue in the Church, for the most part - unless someone begins to teach non-Catholic things. The Pope speaks for the whole Church when some clown bishop begins to teach garbage to the faithful.


4,138 posted on 03/29/2006 4:21:06 AM PST by jo kus (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore CHOOSE life - Deut 30:19)
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To: Forest Keeper; annalex
It is interesting that Jesus, starting with the very next verse in Mark, "Immediately" issues a correction to the Pharisees.

And what, FK, is Jesus correcting??? That HE is God and the Pharisees should already know that - thus had the power to forgive sins??? We are talking about Mark's Gospel - where NO ONE knows WHO Jesus is (except for the demons He casts out) until the centurion on the cross recognizes Him.

Jesus sets out to PROVE that God forgives sin through MAN BY healing the man first. Jesus was a man, fully. No one knew He was God at that point! Jesus is correcting their understanding that as a divine messenger exemplar, His deeds and teachings proved He was from God. Thus, being from God, He had the authority to even forgive sins - proven by the fact that God worked through Jesus to cure that man. Would God cure the paralytic through a man giving false teachings?

Perhaps you should consider the Matthew version of this story. Here is the pertinent verse for you:

"when the multitudes saw [it], they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men." Mat 9:8

See, WE know that Jesus is God. These people did not. Thus, when they witnessed Christ forgiving sins, and THEN curing the man of his physical maladies, the people understood that God was blessing Jesus' words and confirming them. Thus, their response in Mat 9. Thus, it was quite easy for them to understand that this power was passed onto the Apostles with John 20:23. The people regarded that this ministry of forgiving sins through men continued with the Apostles, as Paul says in 2 Cor 5.

And why wouldn't it? Christ came to heal men. Psycologically, what better way are we healed then to actually hear the words "I forgive you" from the person we have offended - Jesus Christ - through the voice of the priest? God doesn't just provide abstract healing...


4,139 posted on 03/29/2006 4:38:48 AM PST by jo kus (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore CHOOSE life - Deut 30:19)
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To: kosta50

I agree with most things in your two posts.

Where I disagree is that I don't think that Scripture was ever meant exactly to "fit," since while we believe God inspires and lives within the Church, he doesn't treat us like robots.

We believe that "all Scripture was given by inspiration of God," unless we think that St. Paul was mistaken or lying. We also believe that God has basically preserved the body of Scripture for us.

Why would he inspire, but not preserve? Since humans are the ones he is using to preserve, there will be variations and slight errors, but I find it hard to believe that the Church could the faith of Christ in its purity but not also basically keep intact the words of the Scriptures they reverenced.

Why would we reverence a Gospel book that is riddled with errors or lies? It is a verbal icon of Christ. Just as all icons of Christ in the Orthodox tradition are slightly different from each other, yet clearly show the same person, so also the Gospels. We don't paint icons that look like Martin Luther, label it an icon of Christ, and then tell people -- "go ahead and reverence it, it's the spiritual idea of Christ that you are reverencing."

Why would the verbal icon of Christ be any different? This is why I also disagree when you say, " should be a source of spiritual wealth of God's word and used to edify us spiritually through it's message, not its "facts" about the world and history."

Of course it is the spiritual message that is paramount, but a major part of the way that the Bible conveys those spiritual messages is by telling us the history of how God came to earth and became man, and what he did and said while he was here. It is also the history of how God worked in synergia with a people to produce the conditions of the "fullness of time" for the Annunciation to happen.

These are not "cunningly devised fables," to use the words of the Apostle. They are a record of God's "salvific work," as you correctly state the Scriptures are meant to be.

4,140 posted on 03/29/2006 4:52:39 AM PST by Agrarian
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