Slavery to the Fear of Death (Heb. 2:15)

(Posted by Paige)

Here’s a theme that I would like to develop into a written piece sometime; I thought I’d toss it out to you here to gather some of your good thinking, and thus expand my own. See which of these questions sparks ideas in you…

1) In what ways have cultures (and individuals), from ancient times to the present, told stories and pursued actions that reflect slavery to the fear of death?

2) In what ways has this universal fear of death been exploited by the powerful?

3)Would fear of death have at all influenced the lives of OT saints (up to and including Jesus’ disciples, pre-resurrection)? In other words, was OT revelation sufficient to remove, or at least mitigate, this universal fear of death?

Here is the text from Hebrews 2:14-15 (ESV):

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

Thanks in advance for your ideas!

Dependence on Sources

There are a variety of views on how we should treat sources: 1. There are those who believe that the only real source we should use is the Bible. 2. Others think that the Bible should be the main source, and we should use only a few other sources. 3. Still others believe that the Bible is the only infallible source, and that we should nevertheless use lots of non-inspired sources. 4. There are also those who believe that some sources are just as important as the Bible, assuming that the Bible is infallible. 5. Lastly, there are those who think that the Bible should almost never be used as a source, and that most other sources are more reliable. There are probably a few more that could be mentioned, but for our purposes in this post, I want to focus on views 1, 2, and 3.

Views 1 and 2 (which are sometimes indistinguishable in practice) are actually untenable. We cannot avoid dealing with uninspired sources even when we treat the Bible. For instance, if we use a translation of the Bible, we are dependent on a fallible translation of an infallible book. If we want to take the source back to the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek original, then we will be dependent on the grammar books and lexicons that help us to understand the ancient languages. This does not derogate in any way from the infallible authority of the Bible. Rather, it is simply an indication of how weak our understanding is, and how much help we need to understand. Does this mean that a person who only reads the Bible in English, and no other books, will be cut off from understanding the Bible? Of course not. Even in translation, God’s Word is God’s Word, and even in translation, the authority and clarity of God’s Word still gleams through with regard to the things we need to understand for salvation. Also, we have the Holy Spirit, who has promised to lead us into all truth. Many people have to rely on translation to have access to God’s Word. This is not a problem. But it is a factor that we have to recognize.

The point I wish to make is that some people have a “me and my Bible and Jesus” mentality which is thoroughly unhealthy, not to mention inconsistent. They will rely rather dogmatically on a very few (usually bad, unweighed, non-mainstream, and often downright sectarian) non-biblical sources, all the while claiming right and left to be holding to the Bible alone. The lack of self-awareness is usually quite stunning. They tend to look down on people who rely on lots and lots of sources, claiming that such people are not dependent on the Bible, but on what everyone else thinks.

The irony of it all is that the one who depends (and I use this word loosely of someone who holds that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice) on many sources is actually much less dependent on any one source than the person is who claims to be relying on the Bible alone. Take commentaries as a concrete example. Many people seem to despise commentaries. They will claim that people who rely on commentaries are just parroting what other people say. Now, it is, of course, quite possible merely to parrot what other people say. However, it is equally possible to peruse the vast range of commentaries, and critically take what is good, and spit out the bones. In this way, a person makes critical use of sources. The difference between these two views is that the person who claims to hold only to the Bible is actually highly reliant on a very few sources in a way that is non-critical and non-self-aware, whereas the person who reads lots of sources critically is able to avoid dependence on any of them. Personally, I appreciate commentaries on the Bible more than any other kind of theological book. In commentaries, I get to have a very long-running discussion with dozens of people about what the text of Scripture means.

The first two views are actually unbiblical, ironically. The Bible says that just as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. The Bible understands that we need one another. Furthermore, nothing about that verse in Proverbs limits the sharpening to people who are alive. Why should I avoid having dead people sharpen me through their books? Which is more humble: to think that I don’t need this sharpening? Or to think that I need all the help I can get? The problem with views 1 and 2 is that extreme arrogance and over-confidence in one’s own views and a supreme reliance on one’s own understanding are the result (and this is also unbiblical!). A person then speaks only with one’s own voice. Allowing the voices of the past to sharpen us means that we can speak with many voices all at once. Can the vast majority of church history be mistaken? Surely, for we are fallible creatures. Nevertheless, to deny that we need anyone from the past to correct us is the very height of arrogance. Also, we need to respect the majority of church history, and not shove it under the rug. Did God give gifts of understanding and teaching to the giants of the past? Did they understand themselves to be reading the Scriptures? Did they have anything valuable to contribute to our understanding? What makes us think that our theologizing is of a fundamentally different nature than the giants of the past? If we will not stand on the shoulders of the giants of the past, then we will not see past their knees.

My Intinction Paper

I have written a paper on intinction for the Palmetto Presbytery. It might be of some interest to a few of my readers, especially given the current BCO amendment being voted on by the Presbyteries. Intinction is the practice of dipping the bread into the wine during the Lord’s Supper. My paper is historical, exegetical, and systematic-theological in its approach. The full paper is available here.

Ludwig Ott’s Tome

I just finished reading Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma this morning. It is quite a remarkable feat of compression. In this regard, it reminds me of Turretin. It is certainly not easy going. It is a very thorough and clear exposition of Roman Catholic teaching in a somewhat scholastic mode. I say somewhat, since Ott does not always defend each and every doctrine from opponents. Most of the time he does, but not always.

Ott’s work is extremely Thomistic. Aquinas is not only cited more often than any other source, but is also the source with which Ott agrees the most (occasionally he will disagree, but always in the context of having cited and understood Aquinas’ position). It must be pointed out, therefore, that there are other streams of theology within Roman Catholicism that are not Thomistic. The most obvious example, of course, is the so-called “Nouvelle Théologie” (“new theology,” a name given to the movement by its detractors).  This movement actually preferred to call itself Ressourcement, a name referring to a desire to return to original sources. After Vatican II, this newer movement split into two factions, one basically progressive, and the other basically conservative. The former is represented by such theologians as Rahner, Congar, and Küng. The latter is represented by de Lubac, von Balthasar, and the current pope. So, we can see that there are at least three major streams of Catholic thought, all with significant overlap, of course, but distinguishable in their basic approach to theology: the Thomistic and Neo-Thomistic stream, which is a scholastic tradition based on Aquinas; the progressive Ressourcement stream, a more humanistic (in the Renaissance definition of the term) methodology, and the conservative Ressourcement stream, which currently has the upper hand in Roman Catholicism, given that the current pope is probably its best-known practitioner.  Ott is obviously a representative of the Thomistic stream. Of course, the conservative Ressourcement theologians owe a great deal to Thomism, and so these categories must not be seen as hermetically sealed from each other. Ott’s work is pre-Vatican II.

A fascinating question arose as a result of reading Ott’s position on the duration of purgatory. He argues that purgatory will cease to exist at the final judgment, the need for it being gone. I wonder what happens, then, to a person who dies just before the final judgment, and who needs purifying, but will not have the opportunity (!?) of being purified before the Final Judgment. Is there a gigantic intensified push of purifying before the end of purgatory? Or does the final judgment take care of the remaining impurities?

System or Atom?

I was very excited to see this book recommended to me, as I have been thinking along these lines for a while now. I agree with Richard Cronin’s critique of much of evangelical assessment of Rome. It is too atomistic. It has a tendency to miss the forest for the trees. It argues about admittedly centrally important issues without, however, getting at what makes Catholicism Catholicism. I also have a hunch that this might be behind Bryan Cross’s repeated charges of begging the question. Because the hermeneutical, systemic, presuppositional issues have not been dealt with yet, it is somewhat futile to argue about individual issues. Now, it is not entirely fruitless. There are still aspects of the argument concerning justification, say, that can be addressed without reference to the system as a whole (I think in particular of the exegetical questions). However, this kind of critique will always run the risk of distortion. According to the description of the book (I haven’t read it yet, but hope to soon), the systemic issues concentrate on nature-grace and on ecclesiology. I wonder at this point what he means by “ecclesiological self-understanding.” I think that this could be a very helpful way of describing the center, as long as it does not leave out what Barron calls his incarnational understanding of the church. I also wonder how he will argue that the nature-grace issue is a systemic issue, and not simply another issue in a long list of issues. I guess I will just have to read the book and find out. To my Roman Catholic readers, how would you describe the centrality of Roman Catholicism? And where have you found the best descriptions of that centrality? Would you agree with Barron, for instance?