A Passage (not) About Rape

In the last several years I have shifted the focal point of my studies from broadly theological (including, but not limited to, Biblical studies), to specifically philosophical (through the avenue of philosophical theology). However, recently I was treated to a somewhat nostalgic experience: being called upon to act as an apologist for scripture. Although it is somewhat unfortunate that the question caught me unprepared, it did catalyze my interest in looking at the passage more carefully. In the end I found the problem to evaporate entirely upon closer inspection (as I have learnt from experience to expect). However, I also found that this verse is popularly used on the internet in an attempt to undermine the credibility of the claim that the Bible is a product of divine inspiration. So, I thought maybe I’d briefly address this alleged difficulty. This treatment will be a little more anecdotal and exploratory than academic, but whatever – it’s my blog and I’ll do whatever I want.

I was presented with a passage from Deuteronomy by two young women who had interpreted it as a justification for rape and a very peculiar kind of victim blaming. The passage read as follows:

“If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.”
(Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

They had reasoned that because the term ‘violated’ had been used this was a description of a man who had raped a virgin pledged to be married. They inferred, therefore, that the young woman who had been raped would be put to death because she did not scream for help. They then argued that in actual rape cases one is not always able to call out, nor is it always acceptably safe to do so. The passage had scandalized them and they turned to me to see what I might say in its defense. Having felt pressed for time I decided to assure them that although a passage like this may look bad at first blush, I have always found that upon closer inspection one finds that understanding more of the historical, legal and literary context mitigates the scandal we originally feel. With my dinner growing cold as it sat on the table, I asked if I could get back to them after having looked at the passage more carefully for myself – and that’s when one of them accused me of sounding like a Jehovah’s Witness (I happened to know that she had grown up in that community and had a bad experience ending in her departure – in fact, it was in excommunication). Being unable to tolerate the slight, I gave them my full attention, leaving my dinner to get cold. As I tried to balance reading the passage (along with the surrounding context, etc.) with keeping up in conversation with them over the phone as they jumped from one related issue to another, I noticed that they were trying to enunciate a general view of religion in line with that of the new atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins; a view of religion particularly contagious to those who had a negative experience with a rather immature version of religion (usually found in cults like that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Then, after several dozen minutes of discussion which began to trail further and further away from the original topic, I decided to read the passage again with fresh eyes, but this time my eyes seemed drawn to the very next verse:

“If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die.”
(Deuteronomy 22:23-25).

Those words contextualized the passage in a way which I thought, and continue to think, makes it impervious to the objection that it engages in victim-blaming. Even though I was at the disadvantage of no longer having my preferred bible-study software (for my laptop had recently just died), I couldn’t help but notice that in the only clear instance of ‘rape’ here, not only was that term used in contrast to the term ‘violate,’ but the punishment was supposed to be meted out differently. There are, it seems, (at least) two ways to interpret this passage. Either it suggests that a woman who is raped in a city is at fault, while one raped in the country is not – or it suggests that the woman in the city is being put to death for being a willing participant in the crime of adultery (as indicated by the fact that she did not cry out for help in an urban area where she would presumably have been heard). The first reading seems pretty wild, even on the assumption that the text is merely an uninspired primitive catalogue of ancient near-eastern jurisprudence. On the second reading, however, the alleged problem just evaporates, for the woman, far from being a rape victim, is being punished for deciding to cheat. Now, while that doesn’t mollify us completely (and, as I will shortly argue, shouldn’t), it is quite a different thing from suggesting that being raped is a capital offense (or that being raped without crying for help is a capital offense).1 The passage states, instead, that cheating (here understood as adultery) is a capital offense – worthy of capital punishment. I have read (though I cannot strictly confirm) that the Talmud calls the sin of adultery ha’averah meaning something like ‘the paradigmatic sin.’2 Interestingly, however, the way adultery is used in the Torah, it is meant to indicate illicit sex between a woman married, or one pledged to be married, and some man other than her husband (or soon to be husband). It does not apply to sex between an unmarried woman (not pledged to be married) and any man, whether married or not.3

This is for at least two reasons, as far as I can make out; first, because the law was written in a time and place where culture was inexorably (and, importantly, incorrigibly) patriarchal. I have elsewhere written about the nature of law under less than ideal circumstances of justice, but to reiterate the idea briefly; I believe that some laws, even if good, would be unenforceable given the reality of less-than-ideal circumstances. To give a simple modern example, I believe that it should (ideally) be illegal to mistreat animals intended for consumption (where by mistreat I mean abuse, put into horrible conditions, made to live through a hellish existence, et cetera). I also believe that such a law would be literally unenforceable in our current society. We would need moral and cultural progress with respect to our understanding of animal rights for that law to be feasibly enforced. I am suggesting that something similar is true nearly across the board; realistically speaking, whether we like it or not, it seems as though reforming a patriarchal society in the blink of an eye by introducing laws which would, for them, completely reorganize their societal structure and be incomprehensible to them as a culture, is just infeasible. No appeal to omnipotence (omniscience and omnibenevolence) can help one circumambulate this problem unless some good argument is provided to think that God would either prefer, or be indifferent to, a culturally-coercive revelation, rather than a sort of ’embedded revelation’ designed to catalyze progress organically by working to reorient culture from within (note the parallel, here, to the doctrine of justification by infusion, rather than by imputation). I can think of no such argument. Moreover, given the destabilizing effects of changing culture too radically too suddenly (i.e., a sort of cultural whiplash), I just don’t see how it could be incumbent upon God to demand a people, as a culture, to live up to standards which would have been entirely incomprehensible to them (such that they would appear not just mysterious, but utterly baffling). Culture, after all, is largely a product of people’s collective free expression and (in my opinion) all noteworthy theodicies rightly presume that freedom is paramount.

Now, obviously this rationalization (a sort of attempt to harmonize primitive systems of justice with modernist temperaments and moral scruples) applies to civil rights more easily than it could to natural rights. However, if no natural rights are violated in principle by capital punishment (which, I maintain, is not a violation of natural rights in principle), and no natural rights are violated in principle by inequality under the law, rather than inequality of treatment under the same law (and, again, I maintain that no natural rights are violated by some inequality under the law, whether that’s ideal or not), then I think the difficulty here is largely emotional, rather than strictly intellectual.4

I also want to note that if I am right about the realistic constraints of less than ideal circumstances vis-à-vis justice, I would expect the law, were it inspired, to on the one hand navigate its way around violations of intrinsic natural human rights, and on the other hand set a trajectory towards the good society. I would expect to see the establishment of a jurisprudential tradition which would, given its initial conditions, aim naturally towards moral progress. Do we have any reason to think this is the case with Jewish law? Well, perhaps we do. For a start, I think there is good evidence that this Jewish law already set itself apart as morally outstanding in its own era. Consider the following observation from the analytic philosopher of religion Paul Copan:

Middle Assyrian laws punished not a rapist but a rapist’s wife and even allowed her to be gang-raped. In other ancient Near Eastern laws, men could freely whip their wives, pull out their hair, mutilate their ears, or strike them –a dramatic contrast to Israel’s laws, which gave no such permission.5

These laws were clearly steps in the right moral direction. I also cannot quite see how they would violate, strictly and in principle, natural rights. It is interesting to ponder whether these laws, though they appear primitive to us (their beneficiaries who have had several thousand years to build systems of law influenced by them), really do appear to lubricate the gears of progress insofar as they really do catalyze significant legal and moral progress. Notice that David Werner Amram, a reputed legal scholar in his time, argued that progress in the holistic interpretation, understanding and application of the Pentateuch’s law concerning adultery was already observable by the end of the first century (A.D.).

Under the Talmudic law the severity of the Mosaic code was in many instances modified, and the laws relating to Adultery came under the influence of a milder theory of the relation of crime and punishment. Indeed, the rabbis went so far as to declare that a woman could not be convicted of Adultery unless it had been affirmatively shown that she knew the law relating to it—a theory that resulted in the practical impossibility of convicting any adulteress. No harm was done by this new view, because the right of divorce which remained to the husband was sufficient to free him from the woman, who, although guilty of the crime, was not punishable by the law. Upon this mild view followed the entire abolition of the death penalty, in the year 40, before the destruction of the Second Temple (Sanh. 41a), when the Jewish courts, probably under pressure of the Roman authorities, relinquished their right to inflict capital punishment. Thereafter, the adulterer was scourged, and the husband of the adulteress was not allowed to condone her crime (Soṭah, vi. 1), but was compelled to divorce her, and she lost all her property rights under her marriage contract (Maimonides, “Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, Ishut,” xxiv. 6); nor was the adulteress permitted to marry her paramour (Soṭah, v. 1); and if she married him, they were forced to separate.6

Perhaps the sample-size (of precisely one) and the viability of several alternative hypotheses for this apparent progress (conditioned on the implementation of this Jewish legal framework) makes such an argument appear overly ambitious. However, at least as far as the test-tube of history is concerned, the Pentateuch’s laws ostensibly showed themselves to be indisputably progressive, both for their time and in their orientation.

Second, I think the true tropological richness of the passage is filtered through its anagogical (i.e., eschatological) and allegorical senses. It is pretty clear that throughout their literature the Isrealites constantly return to one particularly popular way of conceptualizing their relationship with God, and this is in the form of a marriage covenant. For example:

For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”
(Isaiah 54:5)

Israel’s sin and rejection of God, then, was often couched in the language of adultery:

“I passed by you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love. I spread the edge of my cloak over you, and covered your nakedness: I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine… But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. You took some of your garments, and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore; nothing like this has ever been or ever shall be. You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and my silver that I had given you, and made for yourself male images, and with them played the whore… Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord… I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy.”
(Ezekiel 16:8,15-17, 35, 38)

The New Testament obviously makes special use of this theme as well, in talking about the Church as the bride of Christ (the bridegroom); indeed, eschatology is ultimately expressed in the Bible using this imagery. So, with this allegorical trope in place, and the anagogical significance of adultery in place, one can see how the punishment for adultery may have been partially motivated by its archetypal significance for Israel within the context of its covenant relationship with God.

As an aside, it seems to me, at the risk of sounding a little cheeky, that the real injustice, if there is one, in the way this law was written seems to be that the man who sleeps with a woman pledged to be married is put to death, even if she seduced him and he had no knowledge that she was pledged to be married. There was obviously a presumption behind the law that men either were already aware of who was (pledged to be) married, or that they had a duty to verify that the person was not married or pledged to be married which it is reasonable to expect them to be able to do. However, just like all systems of law, this one allows for ambiguities, and this is why there are judges (and why jurisprudence develops in an organic way, much like tradition).

As a post-script, I want to acknowledge that there are, of course, other Biblical passages allegedly condoning or enjoining rape. Perhaps the most well known comes from Numbers:

“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Numbers 31:17-18).

This is, I do not hesitate to say, a difficult passage, but it is largely difficult precisely because young women and girls are spared, while boys are all killed. I can understand the reasons for this; one would want to kill all the males because men are stronger than women, and they may grow up to not only resent the Israelites, but to rebel against them. The married women could be killed for the same reason, for even if they are the weaker sex (on average and in kind), their resentment and ability to rebel (by killing children, for instance, or poisoning men) cannot be ignored. Why, though, spare the young women? I think the idea was that they could be assimilated; in particular because they had obviously not participated in the immorality associated with Baal worship (due to their being demonstrably virginal). This is, however, apologetic speculation on my part. I raise the verse only to call attention to the fact that while Biblical passages can be difficult, no passages (no, not even this one) come close to enjoining rape. Although that seems a popular interpretation in the dark corners of the internet, a much more viable interpretation is that the passage recommends keeping every virgin girl alive and considering them eligible to marry the sons of Israel. In fact, I think that is the standard Jewish (and Christian) interpretation of this passage.

1 Although it is, of course, possible to be raped while being physically prevented from crying out, the law was obviously not written with this circumstance in mind. Rather, this just represents a more primitive standard for evidence establishing guilt ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’

2 I cannot confirm that this traces back to the Talmud, since I have been unable to find any such reference in the Talmud, however, that may be due to my own incompetence or unfamiliarity with the Talmud. Where I read this about adultery, originally, was from Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs, in an online article here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/adultery/

3 Another interesting note: the law seems to apply even if the man were seduced by a woman pledged to be married and he had no knowledge that he was participating in adultery. Ironically, then, the law seems especially unjust, if it is unjust at all, to men. I would dispute, however, that this is genuinely unjust; it simply makes presumptions about the man involved in the crime (namely, that he did so with knowledge concerning the act’s adulterous nature, and that of this the judges could be sure beyond reasonable doubt).

4 Think here, for example, of the way the modern constitutional-democratic law treats children as ineligible voters, even though arguments could be made for allowing them to vote should they feel so inclined. Indeed, they arguably have a greater vested interest in politics than do senior citizens, but they are treated unequally under the law because we believe that most of them are unable to consent to the extent we reasonably expect voters to be able to consent. Consider, additionally, whether it intrinsically violates human rights to be able to forcefully conscript men into the military (in a time of desperation and war), but not forcefully conscript women into the military (perhaps allowing them to exercise freedom in joining the military under these conditions).

5 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. 140.

6 David Werner Amram, “Adultery” in The Jewish Encyclopedia. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/865-adultery


14 thoughts on “A Passage (not) About Rape

  1. Once again context matters greatly.

    Back up one verse and you can see that Deuteronomy 22:22 is clearly discussing adultery. Deuteronomy 22:23 is thus equally concerned with determining whether or not the act was consensual adultery. While the objections you raised should all be considered, it is obviously not about rape.

    Deuteronomy 25:11-12 is a strange passage, but what is fascinating is that the judge is explicitly instructed in this one instance to “show her no pity”. The obvious implication is that the cultural default would be to have pity on the woman and not give her the full punishment. I point this out only because after a complete reading (context!) of Deuteronomy and Numbers, you come away with the distinct impression that law is very protective of the rights of women, something most unusual in a patriarchal society.

    Deuteronomy 22:22-25 is concerned with determining when the woman is innocent of adultery. The man is presumed guilty in every scenario while the woman in the country is presumed innocent because there is no way to prove she was a willing participant. This passage protects woman because they know if they cry out justice will be done: their rapist will be executed. This is more protective of a woman’s rights than modern laws.

    Numbers 31:17-18 seems scary, until you read Deuteronomy 21:10-14 and realize that there is a one month waiting period on marrying captive girls. This rules out rape entirely. Not only that, but it explicitly states that a man is not to keep the woman if she does not wish to be with him and if she leaves it is the man at fault for dishonoring the woman.

    • Thank you for that contribution. I do worry, though, that you may be misinterpreting me. You say: “While the objections you raised should all be considered, it is obviously not about rape.” That these passages are not about rape was my conclusion. We are in ostensible agreement.

      • Yes, we are in agreement. All I meant was that your subsequent discussion (e.g. “I believe that some laws, even if good, would be unenforceable given the reality of less-than-ideal circumstances.” or “it is largely difficult precisely because young women and girls are spared, while boys are all killed”) points to some ‘objections’ that could be raised (as separate issues).

        It is a shame that those you talked with were more interested in discrediting you and the Bible (“jumped from one related issue to another”) than in finding understanding.

  2. Hi. On the issue of justification between Catholics and Protestants. What reasons are there for believing infusion instead of imputation ? I find myself lost in the debates over this.


    • You know, this is the one thing I really thought I was going to have trouble with when I was becoming Catholic. I had thought, prior to studying the reformation (in a sort of last ditch effort to avoid becoming Catholic), that I was going to agree with Catholics about the nature of the Church (i.e., ecclesiology) but agree with protestants about justification (i.e., soteriology). However, ever since taking the time to really think through the competing doctrines of justification I have found myself scandalized by the protestant view and in adamant agreement with the Catholic view (though, admittedly, talking about justification on a spectrum, and treating ‘salvation’ and ‘sanctification’ as synonyms took a little while for me because of my protestant background). However, I do think that the arguments for the Catholic view are many, varied, and overwhelmingly good. Aside from the Biblical arguments (e.g., Phil. 2:12, Col. 1:24, Rom. 2:6-7, Jam. 2:24, et cetera), as well as insights from the new perspective on Paul, and arguments form authority (running throughout the Church Fathers and ecumenical councils), and other arguments from systematic theology (for instance, from ecclesiology), there are also noteworthy philosophical arguments as well. The simplest one, I think, is this: there is no way to have morally relevant freedom with respect to salvation unless the doctrine of infusion is true (or, at least, the protestant doctrine of imputation is false).

      Let us stipulate (in order to save time and space, for now) that the doctrine of justification by infusion is true if and only if salvation is by faith and works. Now, obviously salvation is by grace alone (the Catholic Church adamantly affirms and defends that in company with Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and the greater part of the historical Christian tradition). It logically follows that works are instances of grace (and this the Catholic Church adamantly affirms, even excommunicating those who disagree – see the canons of the second council of Orange). So, a work, from a Catholic perspective, is something which requires prevenient grace, is only accomplished/executed with the sustenance of grace, but is not compelled by grace. Instead, a work is something we freely elect to do, given the prevenient grace enabling us to desire to do it at all (which is provided in order to make it possible for us to freely choose the good, for without that prevenient grace, given the effects of original sin, we could never choose the good), with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, which draws ourselves and/or others towards God through/in Christ. Given that this is what both Catholics and the protestant reformers meant by ‘works’ in the theological sense, it should be obvious that if I can freely accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and saviour, then my salvation can be by faith and works (or, to be precise, by faith and at least one work; namely, freely accepting Christ at the instigation, but not the compulsion, of the Holy Spirit). This point has been greatly obscured among contemporary evangelicals (in my opinion), but it was well recognized by the reformers themselves; this is precisely why they felt the need to deny that we have libertarian free will given the doctrine of justification to which they had become committed – or, at least, they all denied that we could freely accept Christ (true, Luther thought that we could exercise free will given morally irrelevant choices, but he adamantly denied that our will could choose the good except under the compulsion of grace). This is where Calvin’s doctrine of double-predestination comes from. This theme runs through all of the reformers (Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, etc. – for all their bickering about the doctrine of the Eucharist or infant baptism, the one point to which they all agreed was that their understanding of Christianity was incompatible with morally significant free will).

      Modern protestants, largely thanks to Armenianism, have created a hybrid view of justification which resembles the Catholic one much more than many of them appreciate. However – and this is key – even Armenianism, if interpreted from a Catholic perspective, does not manage to deny that salvation comes by at least one work (namely, the free assent to relationship with God through Christ). That, though, seems sufficient for the doctrine of infusion.

      From this we get the argument:

      1. If justification is not by infusion, then we have no morally relevant free will.
      2. But we do have morally relevant free will.
      3. Therefore, justification is by infusion.

      Consider another reason: if salvation is merely imputed, and Christ paid the penalty for the sin of all mankind in a strict univocal jurisprudential sense, so that justification is not a transformation over time but a declaration of righteousness imputed by Christ, then God strictly owes us salvation. That is absurd. What is only slightly less absurd is the authentically reformed response from Calvin (et alia) that, technically, Christ did not die for all mankind, but only for the elect who were predestined (and predetermined) for salvation. This view, however, seems as alien to the historical Christian tradition as the teachings of Joseph Smith.

      Those are some basic intuition-pumping considerations which, I feel, stand strongly in favor of the Catholic view of justification by infusion.

      • Hello,
        Thanks for the reply, it was very helpful. I have one last question if you don’t mind. What about the argument about Paul’s use of the law court language in Romans, Where Protestants would say we are declared righteous instead of made righteous in justification ? It usually hinges on the meaning of dikaios.

      • Let’s quickly put some of Paul’s words in Romans on the table for context:

        “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” Romans 2:13

        “For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20

        “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” Romans 3:28

        So obviously we need to interpret these statements keeping in mind that when Paul speaks about the law, he is usually speaking about the Torah. In the first passage, however, he is clearly speaking about the law in a wider sense (i.e., what we would call the Natural Law). In subsequent instances, though, he is clearly talking about works of the Torah. Once one sees that, the apparent tension between Paul and James just evaporates entirely.

        Also noteworthy, it is in Romans that Paul indicates that the resurrection (not the crucifixion) is what justifies us.

        “who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” Romans 4:25

        Clearly Paul had a much richer view of justification than merely imputation by penal substitution.

      • “Clearly Paul had a much richer view of justification than merely imputation by penal substitution.”

        Perhaps I’m missing something (likely), but I don’t follow the logic. Romans 4:25 states that it was through the death of Jesus that the sin-price was paid. Yes we are justified (that is, declared righteous) through the resurrection, but the substitution happened through the sacrifice.

        Without the resurrection, Jesus cannot act as intercessor, or send the holy spirit, or declare us righteous before God, because he would be dead. The role of the risen Christ must go beyond merely paying the penalty for sin; there is an ongoing role in making believers righteous. This seems to be the case whether infusion or imputation is correct.

      • Sorry it has been so long since I last responded to comments (in particular to yours). Responding to your comment actually led me down a rabbit trail of looking for a quote from Martin Luther which no scholar in the English speaking world has actually managed to track down (though it apparently comes from the Table Talks). Luther is alleged to have said something to the effect that on his view we are pieces of crap (I’m putting it more mildly than he did) covered by snow – this was an image he suggested was a useful illustration for his doctrine of justification. I found this great article on it, which I recall reading years ago but had long forgotten (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2016/04/luthers-snow-covered-dunghill-myth.html), and it made me want to find the quote. I started searching through digital copies of the Table Talks in German, looking for anything like the relevant passage. I spent so long looking (unsuccessfully) that I got sidetracked and unfortunately my response to you went unfinished. Mea Culpa. 🙂

        Here is my original response, with very little amended or added (I just finished it off quickly in order to give you a response).

        So, let’s imagine a logically possible world (for the sake of argument), where the penalty for sin is death, Jesus pays the penalty by dying, but God does not raise Jesus from the dead. In such a possible world (which God was under no obligation to *not* actualize), could we be saved? As I understand justification by imputation, God could very well have justified us without any resurrection-event. In fact, the resurrection, from that point of view, looks like an act of vindication (of Christ’s claims for himself) rather than effectual for justification.

        Put another way, I don’t see why Jesus couldn’t have acted as the intercessor if he weren’t raised bodily from the dead… Maybe if you’re a peculiar kind of A-theorist about time… No, actually, even then I’d have to see an argument for thinking that Jesus would have to have been raised bodily rather than merely be glorified. It seems that insofar as he intercedes for us on the cross, any further intercession is strictly superfluous with respect to justification (on the protestant view).

        Notice I say all of this while in agreement with you that, in actual fact, the role of the risen Christ does go beyond (indeed, far beyond) merely making satisfaction for our sin. I am just trying to highlight the point that I don’t think this makes much sense on the Protestant (Reformed) view of penal substitutionary atonement and justification by imputation. On that view, the penalty for sin is death, this is what Christ paid for on our behalf by his dying on the cross, so the resurrection looks at best to be a vindication of Christ, a catalyst for the Church – but nothing about it literally *saves* the believer if salvation consists merely in penal (individual) substitutionary atonement.

        Also, let me say that where Catholics and Protestants often speak past one another is when we use the same vocabulary with a different dictionary. Catholics think that justification literally is the same thing as sanctification; you can be more or less justified. Justification is not a matter of declaration, but one of transformation or relationship. For this reason, when Catholics maintained that God justifies us gradually over time, Protestant reformers strictly denied this. We can be further sanctified over time, but this amounts merely to our learning to behave as that which we already are in God’s eyes. God makes himself blind to our flaws by looking at us through Christ as the lens – but on the Catholic view Christ transforms us through infusion. That is, Christ doesn’t merely impute his righteousness to us extrinsically, but actually justifies us through effecting intrinsic ongoing transformation.

        While Luther may or may not have said this, it is in line with his views: we are, from God’s perspective, pieces of crap covered by snow. This is the protestant view. The Catholic view is much more like being pieces of crap which God will transform into fertile soil.

      • What are the consequences if intercession only requires glorification, not bodily resurrection? Lazarus was raised bodily, but this was not the resurrection of the dead on the day of judgement (for Lazarus died again). Jesus is the firstborn of the dead, not Lazarus (or even the saints raised at the crucifixion), because he was the first glorified. So we know, from scripture, that there are different kinds of resurrections. This suggests the possibility that glorification from death requires being simultaneously raised bodily.

        But let’s say that glorification only requires death followed by non-bodily resurrection and that bodily resurrection is ‘just’ an act of vindication. So what? Without vindictive proof, the Christian religion is a non-starter. When Paul says we are ‘justified’ through the resurrection, how could this mean anything but glorification, especially if infusion is the correct doctrine? Jesus doesn’t work within us because he was raised bodily, but because he was glorified and sitting at the right hand of God the Father.

        So is it a problem if imputation doesn’t require a resurrection event for salvation? I’m not sure. During his ministry Jesus declared, without being resurrected, the forgiveness of sins by grace and demanded faith (in the gospel message) and works (through repentance). This does not sound like infusion, but imputation: salvation through grace by faith alone and works as the natural consequence of belief. Paul, in Romans, says that works are the outward evidence of salvation, not the source of salvation. Thus in Romans 2:13-15 he says that the works of the law done by the Gentiles demonstrate what is written in their hearts. Jesus took the role of high priest as described in Hebrews. He did this before his death and continues to do so after. The resurrection was required insomuch as Jesus had to fulfill the ongoing role of high priest.

        It seems that insofar as he intercedes for us on the cross, any further intercession is strictly superfluous with respect to justification (on the protestant view).

        It doesn’t make sense to say “intercedes for us on the cross” as if Jesus is done interceding. We must have different understandings. Jesus is our advocate at the final judgment, which is to come. If Jesus had remained in the grave, he could not be our advocate. But that doesn’t mean that salvation is through something other than the blood: a ritual sacrifice required both blood and priest. Jesus serves both roles.

        Is justification declared righteousness or gradual sanctification? Why not both? Paul, in Romans, discussed justification by declaration through legal language. Salvation is by grace alone and we are declared righteous by faith. Paul, also in Romans, says that works are the outward obedience to the inward salvation, and James says the same thing even more forcefully. If there are no outward works, there can be no salvation because there is no faith. If there is faith then there will be outward works. Where infusion comes in to play, if at all, is the notion that we may all be saved, but that there are degrees of salvation. 1 Corinthians 3:15 comes to mind, but there are others.

        Perhaps you are right when you say that the modern protestant hybrid view is close to the Catholic one. I admit I don’t fully understand the Catholic view. Your comments have certainly got me thinking!

      • Well I’m glad that my comments have helped you think about this important issue; your comments have also invited me to think about it again. I think it’s important to note that Catholics do believe and affirm that salvation is by grace alone – what we deny is that salvation is by faith alone. It follows, of course, that works are a form of grace (may I recommend reading the CCC from paragraph 2006 to 2011: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm).

        Now, this represents another difference between the protestant and Catholic views; on the Protestant view works are the natural outworking of faith, but they do not contribute to justification (either for oneself, or for others). On the Catholic view, however, works are made possible by the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit, and they can be accomplished by the exercise of God’s grace in us which is done by God, but we participate in these insofar as we retain the ability, given prevenient grace, to freely elect to do the good. If we choose to do that good (whether it be prayer, reading scripture, acts of charity, or whatever it is the Lord is calling us to) then that literally does increase our own justification and/or draws others towards Christ. Remember, of course, on the Catholic view ‘justification’ means salvation and sanctification.

        Just to review a little bit, however, I’d like to point out that Paul went so far as to say that his own meritorious acts were filling up what was lacking in Christ’s: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24).

        Paul also says: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13).

        James also writes “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24).

        These are the kinds of comments sprinkled throughout the scriptures which, I think, are exceptionally difficult to reconcile to the protestant view. By contrast, they fit extremely well with the Catholic view.

        Now, you wrote: “During his ministry Jesus declared, without being resurrected, the forgiveness of sins by grace and demanded faith (in the gospel message) and works (through repentance). This does not sound like infusion, but imputation: salvation through grace by faith alone and works as the natural consequence of belief.”

        Where did you get faith alone from any of that? The only passage I’m aware of which even comes close to saying that salvation is by faith alone is Romans 3:28 after Martin Luther literally changed it to include the word ‘alone’ in his translation, but glancing at the Greek we see that μόνον is nowhere in sight. So, I wonder, are you perhaps guilty of a similar mistake (namely, reading your doctrine of justification into scripture, rather than getting it from scripture)? That’s at least something to think about.

        “When Paul says we are ‘justified’ through the resurrection, how could this mean anything but glorification, especially if infusion is the correct doctrine?” This is an interesting question. I’ll certainly be thinking about this. As a knee-jerk reaction I want to say that it was also salvific to the extent that it was a good work in itself, that it drew people to Christ, (etc.). However, the key point is going to remain; if salvation is strictly by penal substitutionary atonement then I see no reason for the glorification, for the perpetual intercession – if sin is the only thing which keeps us from the presence of God, and Jesus takes the full penalty of our sins (according to the demands of God’s all-holiness and justice), then why wouldn’t his death on the cross strictly suffice to justify us?

  3. “guilty of…reading your doctrine of justification into scripture”

    I hope you will forgive my fallibility. I certainly do have gaps in my understanding of various doctrines. These comments take me hours in preparation, writing and editing, and they still have flaws. And still I make poorly formed arguments. But I’ve never had an opportunity to “cross-examine” a Catholic thinker on these issues. I find it incredibly valuable. Also my views are pretty fluid and honest in that I’m open to change. I just remain unconvinced.

    “why wouldn’t his death on the cross strictly suffice to justify us?”

    It is belief in the risen Jesus that is credited to us as righteousness (Romans 4:24). Romans 4:4-5 contrasts works and belief. The latter is in view in verse 24. The cross is the debt payment, but belief in the resurrection justifies (credited as righteousness). This is declarational. The answer to your question is that without resurrection there can be no belief in the resurrection to justify us.

    You correctly find that imputation doesn’t necessitate glorification for salvation and (Protestant) justification, only the sacrifice, bodily resurrection, and faith (see below). Glorification leads to (Protestant) sanctification. But infusion seems to require glorification for on-going (Catholic) sanctification. Bodily-resurrection was at most a temporary pre-ascension necessity.

    How can James 2 use the same example as Romans 4 (Abraham) and say that a person is justified by their works? Is there a contradiction? Romans contrasts ‘works/obligations’ with ‘belief/righteousness’. James contrasts ‘no works/false faith’ with ‘works/true faith’. Abraham’s example is the latter of both. You can’t have faith without works. A righteous person must believe and they must have works. They are saved by faith (also: Ephesians 2:8-9), but if there are no works (as judged by God himself), there is no salvation.

    You don’t get infusion from this. The requirement that the external (works) reflects the internal (faith) does not mean that [Catholic] justification is an on-going process of salvation. It means you can’t fake it. You can’t earn salvation through works, but you must still do them. This isn’t a complex, difficult, or stretch interpretation either, but simple logic. See James 2:26 where he says “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”. The black and white, dead or alive analogy of body and spirit does not work with the progressive nature of infusion.

    if salvation is strictly by penal substitutionary atonement then I see no reason for the glorification, for the perpetual intercession

    I don’t believe this is as problematic as you imply. Substitutionary atonement may not strictly require glorification, but why would that matter? (1) If salvation, justification, and atonement are all unique Protestant concepts, then there is no problem.; (2) glorification and bodily resurrection are probably the same thing and represent (as per N.T. Wright) “life after life after death”, the type example. Any objections about bodily vs. spiritual resurrection then do not apply; (3) ‘intercession’ is vague so I should’ve avoided it. Protestants don’t view the glorified Jesus as a mere figurehead. If salvation and justification are two different things, glorification pertains to the latter, not the former. In short: Jesus died as sacrifice and is glorified as high priest. Different roles pose no problem for this view. Both are required to enter God’s presence (the sacrifice has to be both made and accepted).; (4) Sanctification. The glorified Jesus certainly assists us in living holy lives.

    Where did you get faith alone from any of that?

    When Jesus forgave sins (e.g. Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 7:36-50), the reason he gave was their faith. They had to believe and demonstrate this in various ways. As in James, actions reflected faith, but it was faith that saved.

    prevenient grace

    I find my admittedly limited understanding of the prevenient grace concept and the CCC section you referenced to be illogical and/or contrived. It seems integral to the infusion doctrine though. I’ll need to do my homework more deeply, but this comment is already long enough.

  4. Pingback: Criticizing the Bible, Interpreting the Law – Grassroots Apologetics

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