Early Church Meriting Legalism

 

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The exact dating of the deaths of the eleven remaining Apostles and the Apostles Paul, Barnabus, James the Lord’s brother, Silas and Timothy is open to much debate. But let us assume they all died somewhere between 70 to 100 A.D. The fall of Jerusalem occurred in A.D. 70.

During the time the above Apostles ministered, they preached the right Gospel and experienced the wonderful workings of the Holy Spirit through their ministries. But note a short time after the deaths of the Apostles, some serious legalistic heresies entered the Church. This shows that unbiblical major errors in doctrine and practice can become popular in the Church not long after there are powerful movements of the Holy Spirit in the Church which are accompanied by the preaching of a sound Biblical Gospel.

 

A legalistic teaching of Clement, the bishop of Rome

 

The first Epistle of Clement was written by Clement the bishop of the Church of Rome. In Chapter 7, Clement teaches the legalistic idea that prayer and repentance merit the removal of God’s anger against our sins:

“Jonah proclaimed destruction to the Ninevites; but they, repenting of their sins, propitiated God by prayer, and obtained salvation.” 1 Clement was probably written about 95 to 97 A.D. [1] If this was true, this means that almost immediately after the time of the Apostles, the Roman bishop was teaching a form of legalism about removing God’s anger against sin. [2]

 

The influential “Shepherd of Hermas”

 

“The Shepherd” was a popular writing among many churchgoers in the Early Church from the late 100’s A.D. onwards. It was written about 150 A.D. by Hermas. It helped to spread a number of major errors in the Church. Below are two examples of these:

 

·         “The Shepherd” taught the ascetic and legalistic heresy that we can merit having our sins remitted by suffering for the Name of Jesus Christ: “‘Listen,’ he said: ‘all who once suffered for the name of the Lord are honourable before God; and of all these the sins were remitted, because they suffered for the name of the Son of God.’” [3]

·         In this writing, Hermas also taught that if people do more “good” than what God commands, they will obtain greater glory from Him than if they had only done what He commanded: “And if you do any good beyond what is commanded by God, you will gain for yourself more abundant glory, and will be more honoured by God than you would otherwise be.” [4] This false teaching opened the door for the later belief that God would reward churchgoers who did extra things not commanded in Scripture like not getting married or remarried, not owning possessions, depriving oneself of sleep and bodily comforts and so on.

 

Numerous early Church leaders and churchgoers were deceived into believing “The Shepherd of Hermas” was a part of the Scriptures. The early church leader Origen (185-254 A.D.) said: “And if one should dare using a Scripture which is in circulation in the church, but not acknowledged by all to be divine, to soften down a precept of this kind, the passage might be taken from The Shepherd, concerning some who as soon as they believe are put in subjection to Michael.” [5] Also the highly influential early Church leader and writer Irenaeus (140-202 A.D.) regarded “The Shepherd” as being a part of the Scriptures. [6]

The Christian writer of the Muratorian Canon said that Hermas was the brother of Pius who was the bishop of Rome between about 140 and 155. [7] The Muratorian Canon was written somewhere between A.D. 200-400. [8]

One of the reasons why the teachings of “The Shepherd of Hermas” were gullibly accepted by so many early Church leaders and churchgoers as being totally inspired by God was its author claimed to have visions from the Holy Spirit and a vision of an angel. The Shepherd’s author wrote: “And the Spirit carried me away, and took me through a pathless place, through which a man could not travel, for it was situated in the midst of rocks; it was rugged and impassible on account of water. Having passed over this river, I came to a plain. I then bent down to my knees, and began to pray to the Lord, and to confess my sins. And as I prayed, the heavens were opened.” [9] and: “After I had been praying at home, and had sat down on my couch, there entered a man of glorious aspect, dressed like a shepherd, with a white goat’s skin, a wallet on his shoulders, and a rod in his hand, and saluted me…he answered, and said to me, ‘Do not be confounded, but receive strength from the commandments which I am going to give you. For I have been sent,’ said he, ‘to show you again all the things which you saw before, especially those of them which are useful to you…’ All these words did the shepherd, even the angel of repentance, command me to write.” [10] Later sections of “The Shepherd” record the supposed other “God-given revelations” of this angel.

 

The Didache

 

“The Didache” was another writing which became popular among many early Christians. It was written somewhere between the first and second centuries A.D. [11] The Didache was also called “The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles through the Twelve Apostles”. The Didache contains many good Biblical teachings.

But the Didache also taught the following legalistic idea: “Be not a stretcher forth of the hands to receive and a drawer of them back to give. If thou hast aught, through thy hands thou shalt give ransom for thy sins. Thou shalt not hesitate to give, nor murmur when thou givest; for thou shalt know who is the good repayer of the hire.” [12] The above words suggest we can merit being ransomed from the penalty of our sins by giving to the needy. Being ransomed by God is an expression of His unmerited mercy and grace and is not a deserved payment or reward for our giving.

 

A strong warning for us today

 

The fact that it only took such a short time after the time of the Apostles for such seriously wrong teachings to spread in the church as observed in 1 Clement, the Shepherd and the Didache, is a warning to us today. Despite the previous great moves of the Holy Spirit seen in our Evangelical and Pentecostal-Charismatic movements, it is just as easy for parts or all of our movements to begin to backslide through compromising with sin, legalism and pagan philosophies like humanism and postmodernism.

Having a name of being “Evangelical”, “Pentecostal”, “Charismatic” or “Spirit-filled” means nothing if we compromise with false gospels, sin, pagan unbiblical philosophies and hypocrisy. The Holy Spirit hates all such compromise. He is perfectly holy and will not give His full approval to anything contrary to His written Word.

The Lord Jesus is very gracious and merciful in many ways to Christian movements when they first begin to compromise with unbiblical teachings and practices. But as we can see by His Words in Revelation 2:1-3:6 and 3:14-22, He hates all such compromising. In Revelation 2:15, Jesus said He hated “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.” In Revelation 2:14 and 24, He spoke of other doctrines He abhorred. In Revelation Chapters 2 and 3, He also referred to many practices that He hated.

In Revelation 3:19, He said: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” Whenever a local church or movement in the universal church is no longer open to be rebuked, corrected or disciplined about its false teachings and/or practices, it is like the church spoken of in Revelation 3:17: “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”

 

Other early church legalists

 

Legalistic attitudes to rewards are evident in the writings of numerous other early church leaders living after the time of the Apostles. Examples of these are Tertullian, Bishop Ambrose of Milan, Bishop Augustine of Hippo, Pope Gregory 1 and Bishop Cyprian of Carthage.

 

2 Clement

 

There is much debate about the author and date of the early church writing called 2 Clement. But regardless of this, 2 Clement indicates some of the teachings of some in the early church after the time of the Apostles. The following three quotes from the Second Epistle of Clement show this writing taught we can merit eternal life through good works:

“Wherefore, brethren, by doing the will of the Father, and keeping the flesh holy and observing the commandments of the Lord, we shall obtain eternal life.” [13] and:

“This then is what He means: ‘Keep the flesh holy and the seal undefiled, that ye may receive eternal life.’” [14]

2 Clement, Chapter 5 says:

“And consider, brethren, that the sojourning in the flesh in this world is but brief and transient, but the promise of Christ is great and wonderful, even the rest of the kingdom to come, and of life everlasting. By what course of conduct, then, shall we attain these things, but by leading a holy and righteous life, and by deeming these worldly things as not belonging to us, and not fixing our desires upon them? For if we desire to possess them, we fall away from the path of righteousness.”

Another legalistic meriting claim is found in 2 Clement Chapter 9 when repentance is wrongly referred to as a payment to God and not correctly as a means of receiving undeserved grace: “…and give to Him a recompense. Of what sort? Repentance out of a sincere heart.”  Repentance is not a payment or recompense by which we can buy or earn God’s gracious blessings.

 

Tertullian

 

Tertullian was trained in Roman law and after his conversion was very influential in the Western church. In his writing “On Repentance”, Tertullian makes the following legalistic comments. He calls salvation a “reward” when he says God “invites by (offering) reward – salvation…” [15] Tertullian refers to earning or meriting God’s favour when he said “…as being all competitors for salvation in earning the favour of God”. [16]

He wrote: “A good deed has God as its debtor, just as an evil deed has Him also; for the judge is a rewarder of every cause.” [17] Here he makes the following errors:

 

·         He ignores the fact that all humans owe God an unpayable eternal debt because of their sins and therefore cannot possibly fully deserve any reward from God.

·         Job 41:11 and Romans 11:35 reveal none of the rewards believers receive from God are fully deserved in terms of His strict justice. So God is not the debtor of any fallen human.

 

Tertullian also taught the following legalistic idea about confession of sin and repentance: “by confession satisfaction is settled, of confession repentance is born, by repentance God is appeased. [18]

Here Tertullian wrongly suggests that repentance appeases God’s wrath. Jesus’ death and not repentance removes God’s anger against us and our sins. Faith and accompanying repentance are the God-appointed means of receiving the free gift of salvation from eternal punishment and God’s anger against our sins.

Tertullian also taught the following legalistic ideas about repentance. He said: “For repentance is the price at which the Lord has determined to award pardon: He proposes the redemption of release from penalty at this compensating exchange of repentance.” [19] Repentance is a God-appointed means of receiving God’s pardon by grace. Repentance is not the compensation price needed to buy pardon of sins. The idea repentance is a price or compensation is based on ancient Roman law and not Biblical teaching.

In another quote, Tertullian referred to repentance as being a satisfaction to God: “Thus he who through repentance for sins, had begun to make satisfaction to the Lord…” [20] A “satisfaction” is a price paid in compensation to God because of the debt owing to His holiness and perfect justice due to our sins. But the New Testament reveals there is only one satisfaction or price which God accepts as a sufficient compensation for our sins – Jesus’ death (see Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6 and Titus 2:14). Hebrews 9:22 shows it is only through the death of a substitute that there is remission of our sins: “And according to the law almost all things are purged with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.”

Tertullian wrongly interpreted the Biblical doctrine of repentance to include legalistic self-imposed tortures or sufferings which supposedly merited reconciliation with God: “let him say, ‘I have sinned against God, and am in peril of eternally perishing: and so now I am drooping, and wasting and torturing myself, that I may reconcile God to myself, whom by sinning I have offended.’” [21]

Similarly Tertullian spoke of “by temporal mortification…discharge eternal punishments.” [22] He referred to this in the context of him arguing that self-imposed earthly sufferings or self-denials by believers merit the removal of eternal punishment in hell. “Temporal” means “earthly”.

When referring to King Nebuchadnezzar, Tertullian said: “Long time had he offered to the Lord his repentance, working out his exomologesis by a seven years’ squalor, with his nails wildly growing after the eagle’s fashion, and his unkempt hair wearing the shagginess of a lion. Hard handling! Him whom men were shuddering at, God was receiving back.” [23] The Greek word “exomologesis” above means “confession in an open manner” and is used in the context of confessing sins.

To support his own legalistic penance version of repentance, Tertullian above has twisted Daniel’s record of God’s dealings with Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 4:1-37 reveals that Nebuchadnezzar’s sufferings over seven years were not self-imposed but were God’s work. God was punishing Nebuchadnezzar because of his pride (see Daniel 4:30 and 37) and his sins (verse 27) and to show him that God has supreme rule over all things (verses 25-26 and 32-35).

In his following legalistic words, Tertullian says that by fasting: “the primordial sin might now be expiated, in order that man may make God satisfaction through the self-same causative material through which he had offended, that is, through interdiction of food.” [24] In the above, Tertullian makes the ridiculous claim that fasting merits expiation. Expiation means the removal of the guilt of our sin. “Primordial sin” refers to original Adamic sin. “Interdiction” means the prohibition or restraining of yourself from doing something.

In Daniel 4:27, Daniel told the king to abandon his sins and to begin to live rightly: “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.” God wanted this type of repentance and its fruit and not the legalistic self-imposed sufferings of penance. [25]

 

Ambrose, Augustine and Pope Gregory I

 

In the late 300’s A.D., Bishop Ambrose of Milan said that the martyrs earned or merited the washing away of their sins through their being willing to die for Christ: “the martyrs must be entreated whose patronage we seem to claim by a sort of pledge, the possession of their body. They can entreat for our sins, who, if they had any sins, washed them in their own blood; for they are the martyrs of God, our leaders, the beholders of our life and of our actions. Let us not be ashamed to take them as intercessors for our weakness, for they themselves knew the weakness of the body, even when they overcame.” [26]

Bishop Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) taught Biblically about many matters. But he also taught some false teachings which have had a bad influence on those who follow them. For example, in the following we see he taught that various types of alms or good works assist in our obtaining the pardon of our sins:

“CHAP. 72. – THERE ARE MANY KINDS OF ALMS, THE GIVING OF WHICH ASSISTS TO PROCURE PARDON FOR OUR SINS.

                And on this principle of interpretation, our Lord’s saying, ‘Give alms of such things as ye have, and, behold, all things are clean unto you,’ applies to every useful act that a man does in mercy. Not only, then, the man who gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, hospitality to the stranger, shelter to the fugitive, who visits the sick and the imprisoned, ransoms the captive, assists the weak, leads the blind, comforts the sorrowful, heals the sick, puts the wanderer on the right path, gives advice to the perplexed, and supplies the wants of the needy, –  not this man only, but the man who pardons the sinner also gives alms; and the man who corrects with blows, or restrains by any kind of discipline one over whom he has power, and who at the same time forgives from the heart the sin by which he was injured, or prays that it may be forgiven, is also a giver of alms, not only in that he forgives, or prays for forgiveness for the sin, but also in that he rebukes and corrects the sinner: for in this, too, he shows mercy. And thus there are many kinds of alms, by giving of which we assist to procure the pardon of our sins.” [27]

Augustine here interprets Jesus’ words in Luke 11:41 to mean we receive pardon of our sins partly on the basis of our good works. [28] Augustine tried to limit the danger of the above teachings about good works and the pardon of sins, by saying: “almsgiving must be used to propitiate God for past sins, not to purchase impunity for the commission of such sins in the future.” [29] and: “CHAP. 75. – THE WICKED AND THE UNBELIEVING ARE NOT MADE CLEAN BY THE GIVING OF ALMS, EXCEPT THEY BE BORN AGAIN. Assuredly, then, those who live in gross wickedness, and take no care to reform their lives and manners, and yet amid all their crimes and vices do not cease to give frequent alms, in vain take comfort to themselves from the saying of our Lord: ‘Give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.’” [30]

But Augustine’s two qualifications here do not detract from the fact he teaches the legalistic idea forgiveness of sin is partly obtained through good works. This is very similar to the part-grace, part-legalistic teaching of some American television teachers who say miracles and healings are gifts of God’s grace but are also merited as rewards through a mixture of faith plus sending money to the preacher. These teachers regard this giving of money as a good work which partially merits the miracle. Like Augustine, these preachers stress God’s grace and faith response. But like him, they also tack on an element of legalistic meriting. [31]

Augustine of Hippo also taught the legalistic idea that times of penance can merit or be the price of satisfying God’s just demand for the punishment of sins: “those who govern the Church have rightly appointed times of penitence, that the Church in which the sins are remitted may be satisfied.”[32]

Later in the Middle Ages, the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.) taught a similar legalistic idea: “Now it is clear that any man, established in grace, who suffers for righteousness’ sake, merits salvation for himself by that very suffering (Matt. V.10). [33]

Pope Gregory 1 (540-604 A.D.) is also called “Saint Gregory the Great” by the Roman Catholic Church. He is said to be one of their great teaching Doctors. When commenting on 1 Kings 13:11-28, Pope Gregory 1 said: From this passage we see that the sin of disobedience was atoned for by his death…” [34] Pope Gregory also said: “What then, does it matter to the just if they undergo harsh treatment at death, since they are on their way to eternal life? Sometimes, perhaps, it is a fault of theirs, slight though it be, that has to be expiated by such a death”. [35] “Expiated” means “removed”. In other words, Pope Gregory falsely taught believers can receive atonement of their sins through the physical suffering they undergo when dying. [36]

In his “The History of the Franks”, Bishop Gregory of Tours (approx. 538-594 A.D.) records one of Pope Gregory I’s addresses to the people of Rome. In it, Pope Gregory stated: “A penance lasting only three days wiped away the long-lived sins of the men of Ninevah! The thief who repented won the reward of life at the very moment when he had received the sentence of death!” [37]

Here Pope Gregory wrongly taught that penance and repentance are means of meriting eternal life as a reward.

 

Bishop Cyprian

 

Cyprian was Bishop of Carthage between 249-258 A.D. Roman Catholic Popes often quoted Cyprian, who was Bishop of Carthage between 249-258 A.D., as one of the early church Fathers who supported their claim to being the supreme bishop in the universal Church. [38] His teachings contained a number of errors.

Cyprian also taught that God’s anger against us as sinners is pacified or propitiated by good works. He also wrote that prayers and fastings when accompanied by almsgiving or giving to the needy and other good works merit God’s mercy, cleansing from sin, redemption and salvation from death. Read the following: “The remedies for propitiating God are given in the words of God Himself; the divine instructions have taught what sinners ought to do, that by works of righteousness God is satisfied, that with the deserts of mercy sins are cleansed…Raphael, the angel also witnesses the like, and exhorts that alms should be freely and liberally bestowed, saying, ‘ prayer is good, with fasting and alms; because alms doth deliver from death, and it purgeth away sins.’ He shows that our prayers and fastings are of less avail, unless they are aided by almsgiving; that entreaties alone are of little force to obtain what they seek, unless they be made sufficient by the addition of deeds and good works. The angel reveals and manifests, and certifies that our petitions become efficacious by almsgiving, that life is redeemed from dangers by almsgiving, that souls are delivered from death by almsgiving.” [39]

 “Propitiating God” is defined as appeasing or pacifying God’s wrath or anger against us. “Efficacious” means “effective or sure to produce the desired effect”. Cyprian here quotes the Jewish apocryphal book of Tobit which is added to the Old Testament Scriptures by the Roman Catholic Church and some Orthodox groups. Tobit 12:9 makes the following legalistic dreadful claim: “For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fulness of life.” The form of Jewish legalism found in the above verses entered the teaching of the early church through various influential writers and leaders like Bishop Cyprian.

In 250-251 A.D., the Roman Emperor Decius began a dreadful persecution of the Church. Decius proclaimed that every citizen in the Roman Empire had to publicly worship the gods of the Roman state. Every person had to obtain a certificate from the local Roman authorities saying they had worshipped these gods. Numerous Christians obtained falsified certificates from the local magistrates even though these believers had not sacrificed to these pagan gods. Other Christians compromised by sacrificing.

After the persecution ended, the Church divided about whether those who had obtained false certificates or actually sacrificed could continue as members of the Church. In 251 A.D., the election for a new Roman bishop occurred. The churchgoers at Rome chose Cornelius. But the Roman clergy chose Novatian. This resulted in there being two rival Popes. Novatian taught only God could give forgiveness for this type of sin. As a result, he would not allow people who committed this sin back into Church membership. His rival, Cornelius, however, allowed such lapsed Christians back into the Church after a period of penance. [40]

Bishop Cyprian supported Cornelius’ attitudes about this matter. Cyprian also taught the legalistic idea that those believers who had suffered dreadfully in the Decian persecution but had not died earnt special merit from God because of their willing sufferings. He also stated this supposed merit of these martyrs could be applied to those who had sinned during the persecution by sacrificing to the pagan gods. He wrote of the latter people receiving certificates from the martyrs in relation to them. He said “that they who have received certificates from the martyrs, and may be assisted by their (the martyrs’) privilege with God…” [41]

Cyprian also wrote: “that they who have received a certificate from the martyrs, and can be assisted by their help with the Lord in respect of their sins, if they begin to be oppressed with any sickness or risk; when they have made confession, and have received the imposition of hands on them by you in acknowledgment of their penitence, should be remitted to the Lord with the peace promised to them by the martyrs”. [42] The above legalistic teaching was later used by other church leaders to justify the idea of transferring the supposed merits earned by so-called “holy saints” in relation to their good works and sufferings to other more frequently sinning churchgoers. All humans except Jesus Christ have sinned and have the sinful flesh even after conversion. So none of them can earn merit from God which can be transferred to others.

Bishop Cyprian and his supporters claimed their teachings were inspired by God. Cyprian believed all Christians should totally submit to the authority and teachings of bishops like him whom he claimed were the successors of the Apostles. Throughout history, many teaching great errors have claimed inspiration from the Holy Spirit for what they say. Also, because they are high leaders in the Church, many have sinfully insisted that others should not question by the Scriptures what they say.

 

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.         Explain examples of the legalistic teachings of:

a)             Clement, the bishop of Rome

b)             The Shepherd of Hermas

c)             The Didache

d)             2 Clement

e)             Tertullian

f)              Ambrose

g)             Augustine

h)             Pope Gregory I

i)               Bishop Cyprian

 

 


 

[1] Bettenson, page 8 and Cairns, page 77.

[2] In 1 Clement Chapter 25, Clement, the bishop of Rome taught that the pagan fable about the Phoenix was true and was a symbol of our resurrection by God. The Chapter is entitled “The Phoenix an emblem of our resurrection”. Clement says the Phoenix is a bird which lives for five hundred years in Arabia. After it dies, a worm is produced from its flesh and becomes another Phoenix. Then the new bird flies to Heliopolis in Egypt and places the nest and bones of its parent on the pagan altar of the Sun. This occurs exactly every 500 years. Here we see that immediately after the time of the Apostles, Biblical teaching in the Church began to be corrupted through the adding of contemporary worldly ideas.

[3] “Shepherd”, Book 3, Similtude 9, Chapter 28.

[4] “Shepherd”, Book 3, Similtude 3, Chapter 3.

[5] Origen, “Commentary on Matthew”, Part 21.

[6] Irenaeus,“Against Heresies”, Book 4, Chapter 20, 2.

[7] Cairns, page 82.

[8] Bromiley, Volume 3, page 433.

[9] “The Shepherd”, Book 1, Chapter 1.

[10] Ibid, Book 1, Chapter 3.

[11] Bromiley, Volume 1, page 207.

[12] Ibid, Chapter 3, verses 18-20.

[13] Second Epistle of Clement, Chapter 8.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Tertullian, “On Repentance”, Chapter 1V in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (editors), “The Ante-Nicene Fathers”, Volume 3, W.B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, page 660.

[16] Ibid, Chapter V1.

[17] Tertullian, “De Poenitentia”, 2, in J. Ayer, “A Source Book for Ancient History”, A.M.S. Press, New York, 1913, page 167.

[18] Tertullian, “On Repentance”, Chapter 9.

[19] Ibid, Chapter 6.

[20] Ibid, Chapter 5.

[21] Ibid, Chapter 11.

[22] Ibid, Chapter 9.

[23] Ibid, Chapter 12.

[24] Tertullian, “Part Fourth”, 8 “On Fasting in Opposition to the Psychics”, Chapter 3.

[25] In his writing “On Modesty” (Chapter 8), Tertullian referred to others in the Church at his time who believed 1 Corinthians 5:5 teaches that self-inflicted sufferings would pay the price owing to God because of their sins. Such people thought that by such means, Christians could obtain the pardon of sins like sex outside marriage. This is another legalistic version of trying to merit redemption and forgiveness.

[26] Ambrose of Milan, “De Viduis”, Chapter 9 in J. Ayer, “A Source Book for Ancient History”, pages 396-397.

[27] Augustine, “Enchiridion”, Chapter 72.

[28] In other writings, Augustine emphasised faith and God’s grace in opposition to merit. This is particularly so in his corrections of the very legalistic Pelagian heresy. But Augustine himself was not totally free of legalism.

[29] Ibid, Chapter 70.

[30] Ibid, Chapter 75.

[31] Those legalists who believe almsgiving to the poor and good works atone for sin sometimes quote Luke 11:41 and Proverbs 16:6 as supposed proof of this. Luke 11:41 states: “But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.” In Luke 11:41, Jesus teaches that we should have loving generous attitudes and give in order to manifest real purity or cleanliness. He said this in the context of His previous words about the Pharisees making themselves clean outwardly but being inwardly full of greed. In Greek, the expression “are clean” in this context does not refer to atoning for sin but instead to being without blemish or guilt and free from evil desire.

Psalm 49:6-8 reveals we cannot redeem or ransom ourselves or others by giving money offerings to God: “Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches, none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him – for the redemption of their souls is costly, and it shall cease forever.”

Proverbs 16:6 states: “In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity…” In Hebrew, the word “mercy” here is “hesed” which also means “(God’s) kindness or lovingkindness in condescending to the needs of His creatures” (Brown, Driver and Briggs, page 339) or “lovingkindness, steadfast love, grace, mercy, faithfulness, goodness…” (Vine, page 142). Proverbs 16:6 teaches that in His lovingkindness or grace and truth, God provides atonement for our sins. This verse does not teach that by our kind or merciful acts to others and our telling the truth, we atone for our own and other peoples’ sins.

[32] Ibid, Chapter 65.

[33] Henry Bettenson (editor), “Documents of the Christian Church”, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1963, page 145.

[34] “Saint Gregory The Great – Dialogue Four” in “The Fathers of the Church”, Volume 39, Fathers of the Church Inc., New York, 1959, page 217.

[35] Ibid, page 216.

[36] Those who teach the legalistic idea that suffering by sinful humans atones for their own sins or the sins of others sometimes quote Colossians 1:24 as supposed proof of this. Colossians 1:24 says: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.” But this verse does not relate to atonement for sins. Instead it teaches that ministers of the Gospel like Paul suffer persecution and other hardships so they can help members of His body grow in Him. Because Christ is not physically present here on Earth now, His ministers suffer on His behalf. God’s revelation to Ananias, about Paul recorded in Acts 9:15-16, relate to all this: “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.’”

1 Corinthians 11:31 states: “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” Some argue this verse supports the idea that the sufferings imposed by a Catholic priest or by the sinner on themselves as part of penance satisfies God’s justice and results in Him not punishing the sinner for the specific sins in question. But this verse refers not to self-imposed sufferings. In Greek, the expression “we would judge” is a form of the word “diakrino” which means “judge correctly” (Bauer, page 185) or “examine” (Perschbacher, page 93) or “make a judgement on the basis of careful and detailed information” (Louw and Nida, page 364). 1 Corinthians 11:31 refers to examining or judging our attitudes and behaviour rightly and not to punishing ourselves.

[37] Gregory of Tours, “The History of the Franks”, Book 10, 1.

[38] “New Catholic Encyclopedia”, Volume 4, page 564.

[39] Cyprian, Treatise 8, 5.

[40] Walter Elwell (editor), “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology”, Baker, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984, page 782.

[41] “The Epistles of Cyprian”, Epistle X11, Part 1.

[42] Ibid, Epistle X111, Part 2.

 


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