Inclusivism Leads to Pluralism

We saw earlier that Roman Catholicism teaches that Muslims and Christians worship the same God and that the plan of salvation includes Muslims as well. Catholicism also teaches that Jews do not need to believe the gospel in order to be saved. This has led the Catholic Church to completely redefine what “No Salvation Outside the Church” means. I am going to explain in this article why this inclusivistic stance on salvation is actually a form of religious pluralism.

Theological inclusivism is inherently inconsistent because it does not take into account that every member of an unreached people group who has not heard the gospel is a member of a false religion. The unreached people groups of the world fall into one of five categories: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, atheism, or some form of animism that is almost always polytheistic. Therefore, to say that the unevangelized can be saved apart from believing the gospel is to say that members of false religions can be saved. That is, they are saved as practicing members of a false religion believing in things that are directly contrary to the gospel. Inclusivism, taken to its logical conclusion, demands that God has placed salvific elements in other religions besides Christianity that can lead its practitioners to salvation.

This is why the general revelation inclusivism of Protestantism is inconsistent in comparison to the world religions inclusivism of Roman Catholicism. “Holy pagans” never stop believing in pagan things until they are brought the gospel. Therefore, theological inclusivism undermines the gospel because it teaches that members of false religions do not need to believe in Jesus to be saved. A person can believe in the heresies of these religions and still be saved even though the unique beliefs of these religions are far worse than anything found in the heresies the early church fought against.

If people are saved in these false religions, then they die believing in false doctrine and worshiping a false god or gods. To worship any God besides the Lord is idolatry and no idolater has eternal life (1 Cor 6:9). Let’s take the example of a man who lived and died in Papua New Guinea before the gospel message was brought to his tribe. He believed in animism or the belief that physical objects are possessed by spiritual beings that need to be placated by us and polytheism or the belief in many different gods. Must he abandon his beliefs in polytheism and animism to be saved? Can a person worship God acceptably while believing in these things? Can a person be saved and not be a true worshiper of God? If the unevangelized are saved, then they must worship God through the religion they are a member of.

The Catholic theologian Hans Küng elaborates on his view of how God is active in other religions:

“Since God seriously and effectively wills that all men should be saved and that none should be lost unless by his own fault, every man is intended to find his salvation within his own historical condition . . . within the religion imposed on him by society. . . . A man is to be saved within the religion that is made available to him in his historical situation. Hence, it is his right and duty to seek God within that religion in which the hidden God has already found him” (Theological Investigations, trans. Karl and Boniface Kruger [Baltimore, MD: Helicon, 1969], 6:395).

Pope Francis, in a speech to a group of Lutherans, takes this logic a step further in response to a question asking whether Christians should try to convince others of our faith by saying, “It is not licit to convince them of your faith. Proselytism is the strongest venom against the ecumenical path.” In other words, it is wrong to try to convert members of other religions to Christianity. Now, why would anyone believe this? The only answer I can think of is that he believes other religions are acceptable paths to God because God works through them to bring people to salvation. This is why the pope can kiss the Quran, receive a bindi from a priestess of Shiva, or say that we are all children of God. These religions are viewed as different paths to God which is pluralism, not just inclusivism. In contrast to this false belief, the Bible teaches that we are not all children of God and that only those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God overcome the world (1 John 5:5).

Do Jews Need to Believe the Gospel to Be Saved?

In a document released by the Vatican called The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable, the Catholic Church teaches that Jews do not need to believe the gospel in order to be saved:

“From the Christian confession that there can be only one path to salvation, however, it does not in any way follow that the Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. Such a claim would find no support in the soteriological understanding of Saint Paul.”

The same document also says that “the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.” But this is a complete repudiation of the gospel message which is “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16). It is tantamount to saying that a person can know the gospel message, reject it, and still be saved. But what did Jesus say to the Jewish leaders in John 8? He said to them:

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

Jesus said, “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” But the Catholic Church teaches that Jews don’t need to believe that Jesus is who he says he is to be saved from their sins. Jesus taught that to reject him is to reject the one who sent him (Luke 10:16). By rejecting Jesus, they have rejected the God of Israel.

John 3:18 says, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:36 leaves no exceptions when it says that all who do not obey the Son will not see life: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” If a person does not believe in Jesus, he does not believe in Moses either since Moses wrote about Jesus (John 5:46). If a person does not come to Christ, it shows that God did not give him to the Son (John 6:37). It is only those who abide in the teaching of Christ who are his true disciples (John 8:31). If a person does not know or rejects the teaching of Christ, he cannot abide in them.

Those who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah demonstrate that they are not part of the flock of Christ: “But you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26-27). All of those who reject Christ will be judged on the last day: “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48). If a person does not know Christ, he does not have eternal life (John 17:3).

Paul did not believe that the Jews who rejected Jesus were saved and that is why he intentionally went to the synagogues to convert them to Jesus (Acts 9:20; 13:5, 14-15; 14:1; 17:1-2, 10-12, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9). When the Jews rejected Jesus, Paul and Barnabas let them know that they were unworthy of eternal life:

“And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles’” (Acts 13:46).

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, prayed earnestly for the salvation of the Jews because he knew they were lost apart from faith in Christ:

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. . . . Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:1-4, 9).

If Jewish people can be saved apart from faith in Christ, then why was Paul willing to go to hell if that would mean their salvation? As he lamented:

“I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom 9:1-3).

Why would Paul want to be “accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” if his Jewish brothers could be saved apart from embracing Christ? It is this very problem that gives rise to the question of how God is just to not save those who are Abraham’s descendants according to the flesh. Paul’s response makes no sense if he believes that a person is saved because he is a child of Abraham:

“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Rom 9:8).

That is, a person is not a true child of God because of physical descent, but by the sovereign choice of God resulting in salvation (Rom 9:14-16). According to Paul, those who reject the message of the cross are perishing: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The message of the cross is foolishness to Jews and Muslims. Both groups believe that God would never allow his Messiah to be crucified. Therefore, Jews deny that Jesus is the Messiah and Muslims deny that Jesus was crucified. But according to the author of Hebrews, those who neglect this message will not escape:

“For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard” (Heb 2:2-3).

According to Paul, “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” will be condemned to hell for their sins:

“And to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. . . . In order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess 1:7-10; 2:12).

Jesus is only “the source of eternal salvation” to those who obey him (Heb 5:9). That is why those who go back to Judaism after claiming to embrace Christianity will not be saved:

“If they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Heb 6:6-8).

Only those who confess the Son have the Father (1 John 2:23). Only those who confess Jesus are from God (1 John 4:3). Only those who listen to the apostolic message know God (1 John 4:6). Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God overcome the world (1 John 5:5). Only those who have the Son have life (1 John 5:12). Only those who abide in the teachings of Christ have God (2 John 1:9). To say otherwise is to deny the gospel and the message of the apostles.

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Roman Catholicism teaches in its Catechism that Muslims worship the same God Christians do and are included in the plan of salvation:

“The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day” (841).

If there is any confusion about the meaning of the Catechism, the document Nostra aetate from Vatican II clears it up:

“The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. . . . Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”

When it comes to the question of whether Muslims worship the same God we do, the answer must be a resounding no. Muslims deny the crucifixion of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the pre-existence of Christ, the sonship of Christ, the deity of Christ, the deity of the Holy Spirit, that God is Father, the Trinity, and have a long history of persecuting Christians. No one can worship the one true God who does not honor the Son in the same way he honors the Father:

“That all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23).

Do Muslims honor the Son just as they honor the Father? They cannot by definition because they deny that the Son is God and they deny that God is Father. Because they do not honor the Son as God, they do not honor the Father. Because they do not honor the Father, they do not worship him. Can one honor God by dishonoring his Son? Is God honored by worship that denies who he is?

No one can worship God who is not saved. Worship is something that is pleasing to God and only those who are in the Spirit can do anything pleasing to him (Rom 8:8-9). But only those who are saved have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Muslims are not saved because they deny the deity of Christ and his death and resurrection (Rom 10:9).

The book of 1 John answers this question directly:

“No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:23-24).

Muslims deny the heart of the gospel: that Jesus is God, that he died on the cross for sinners, and that he was raised from the dead. Because Muslims deny the Son, they do not have the Father. How can they worship God when they deny the Father and the Son?

Because Muslims deny that Jesus is the Son of God, they do not have salvation: “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5). Muslims do not abide in the teachings of Christ and therefore do not have God: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9).

False religions like Islam are a rejection of the gospel because they reject that Jesus is God’s Son. The Jesus of Islam is “another Jesus” about which Paul warned us (2 Cor 11:4). Muslims may claim that they worship the God of Abraham, but we know that the God of Abraham is not unitarian in person, but exists eternally as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God can only be worshiped in truth and therefore those who do not worship him according to his Word do not worship him at all. As John 4:24 says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Roman Catholicism on Reading the Bible

Did you know that Roman Catholicism has historically opposed the idea that reading the Bible is for all people? Only certain people were given permission to read the Bible. The Council of Trent declared:

“Since it is clear from experience that if the Sacred Books are permitted everywhere and without discrimination in the vernacular, there will by reason of the boldness of men arise therefrom more harm than good, the matter is in this respect left to the judgment of the bishop or inquisitor, who may with the advice of the pastor or confessor permit the reading of the Sacred Books translated into the vernacular by Catholic authors to those who they know will derive from such reading no harm but rather an increase of faith and piety, which permission they must have in writing. Those, however, who presume to read or possess them without such permission may not receive absolution from their sins till they have handed them over to the ordinary. Bookdealers who sell or in any other way supply Bibles written in the vernacular to anyone who has not this permission, shall lose the price of the books, which is to be applied by the bishop to pious purposes, and in keeping with the nature of the crime they shall be subject to other penalties which are left to the judgment of the same bishop. Regulars who have not the permission of their superiors may not read or purchase them” (Rules on Prohibited Books, approved by Pope Pius IV, 1564).

This is an infallible decree from Pope Pius IV on a matter of faith and morals during the ecumenical Council of Trent. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the pope and ecumenical councils are infallible when defining issues of faith and morals:

“It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. . . . To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals” (890).

In the infallible decree Unigenitus, Pope Clement XI condemned the following errors of the Jansenists:

  1. It is useful and necessary at every time, in every place, and for every kind of persons, to study and know the spirit, piety, and mysteries of sacred Scripture. 1 Cor. xiv. 6.
  2. The reading of sacred Scripture is for all. Acts viii. 28.
  3. The obscurity of the holy word of God is not a reason for the laity to excuse themselves from the reading thereof. Acts viii. 31.
  4. The Lord’s day ought to be sanctified by Christians with the readings of piety, and above all, of the holy Scriptures. It is damnable to wish to restrain a Christian from such reading. Acts xv. 21.
  5. It is an illusion to persuade oneself that a knowledge of the mysteries of religion ought not to be communicated to females by the reading of the sacred books. The abuse of the Scriptures has arisen, and heresies have sprung up, not from the simplicity of women, but from the haughty knowledge of men. John iv. 26.
  6. To snatch the New Testament out of the hands of Christians, or to keep it closed to them, by taking from them that method of understanding it, is to shut the mouth of Christ against them. Matt. v. 2.
  7. To interdict to Christians the reading of sacred Scripture, especially of the Gospel, is to interdict the use of light to the sons of light, and to cause them to suffer a certain kind of excommunication. Luke xi. 33.

This document meets the conditions for infallibility since Pope Clement XI was defining doctrine for all time and claiming to be protected from error by divine light:

“Having heard, therefore, the suffrages of the above-mentioned cardinals and other theologians exhibited to us both by word of mouth as well as in writing, and having invoked the protection of the divine light by proclaiming private and public prayers to that end, we by this our constitution, destined to be in effect for ever, declare, condemn, and reprobate all and each of the previously inserted propositions as false, captious, ill-sounding, offensive to pious ears, scandalous, pernicious, rash, injurious to the Church and her practice, and contumelious not only to the Church, but also to the secular powers; seditious, impious, blasphemous, suspected of heresy, and savouring of heresy itself, and also as abetting heretics and heresies, and also schism, erroneous, near akin to heresy, several times condemned, and finally heretical, and manifestly renewing respectively various heresies, and those particularly which are contained in the infamous propositions of Jansenius, taken, however, in that sense in which they have been condemned.”

These condemnations were reaffirmed by Pope Pius VI in Auctorem fidei which also condemned the idea that the church should introduce “the use of popular language into the liturgical prayers” which was overturned by Vatican II when the Tridentine Mass was set aside in favor of one where the popular language is used.

In addition, the Catholic Church has a long history of banning books and prohibited Catholics from reading the writings of Martin Luther and John Calvin. It is no wonder then that modern Catholics are confused as to why a pope would forbid anyone from reading the Bible when this is not the current teaching of the church.

One of the arguments used by Catholics that Scripture should not be read by all is based on Acts 8:30-31: “So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” Therefore, because the Ethiopian eunuch could not understand Isaiah 53 unless Philip explained it for him, we need the Catholic Church to explain the Bible to us in order for us to understand it. This is the infallible proof text that is cited against proposition 81 in Unigenitus. But the reason why the Ethiopian eunuch could not understand Isaiah 53 is not because we need the church to interpret it for us, but because he had never even heard of Jesus and his death for sinners! If a person has read about the life of Jesus and then reads Isaiah 53, he will be able to understand that this chapter is a prophecy about his death. It does not take an infallible magisterium to teach people the gospel message. It is the responsibility of every Christian to do what Philip is doing here and tell the story of Jesus to those who have never heard the gospel before.

Sola Scriptura in the Early Church

The debate over sola Scriptura or the sufficiency of Scripture as the sole infallible rule of faith is the area where Catholic apologists believe they have the strongest argument. I have already responded to the most common objections to sola Scriptura, but here I will be demonstrating from church history that sola Scriptura is the historic belief of the early church, not the invention of Protestants:

“Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.8.1).

“We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed ‘perfect knowledge,’ as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1).

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.2.1).

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7.16).

“There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. . . . So all of us who wish to practice piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatever things they teach, these let us learn” (Hippolytus, Against Noetus 9).

“Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture” (Athanasius, De Synodis 6).

“These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me’” (Athanasius, 39th Festal Letter).

“For how can we adopt those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?” (Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy 1.23.102).

“Have thou ever in your mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 4.17).

“Now mind not my argumentations, for perhaps you may be misled but unless thou receive testimony of the Prophets on each matter, believe not what I say: unless thou learn from the Holy Scriptures concerning the Virgin, and the place, the time, and the manner, receive not testimony from man. For one who at present thus teaches may possibly be suspected: but what man of sense will suspect one that prophesied a thousand and more years beforehand? If then you seek the cause of Christ’s coming, go back to the first book of the Scriptures” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 12.5).

“It would be the instigation of a demonical spirit to follow the conceits of the human mind, and to think anything divine, beyond what has the authority of the Scriptures” (Theophilus of Alexandria, Epistola 96; PL 22:778).

“But as we do not deny what is written, so we do reject what is not written” (Jerome, Against Helvidius 21).

“We are not entitled to such licence, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings” (Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection).

“The hear­ers taught in the Scrip­tures ought to test what is said by teach­ers and accept that which agrees with the Scrip­tures but reject that which is for­eign” (Basil of Caesarea, Moralia 72).

“Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth” (Basil of Caesarea, Letter 189).

“Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you to comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right” (Basil of Caesarea, Letter 283).

“Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learned what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Second Corinthians, Homily 13).

“What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostles? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought. Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher” (Augustine, Of the Good of Widowhood 2).

“It is to the canonical Scriptures alone that I am bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow their teaching, without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake or any statement intended to mislead could find a place” (Augustine, Letter 82.3.24).

“For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be Catholics, and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty, without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve, to condemn and reject anything in their writings, if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have, by the divine help, discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others, and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine” (Augustine, Letter 148.15).

“You are wont, indeed, to bring up against us the letters of Cyprian, his opinion, his Council; why do ye claim the authority of Cyprian for your schism, and reject his example when it makes for the peace of the Church? But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the the truth, either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christian charity?” (Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists 2.3).

“Especially as in writings of such authors I feel myself free to use my own judgment (owing unhesitating assent to nothing but the canonical Scriptures), whilst in fact there is not a passage which he has quoted from the works of this anonymous author that disturbs me” (Augustine, On Nature and Grace 71).

“This shows that the established authority of Scripture must outweigh every other; for it derives new confirmation from the progress of events which happen, as Scripture proves, in fulfillment of the predictions made so long before their occurrence” (Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean 13.5).

“In the matters of which we are now treating, only the canonical writings have any weight with us” (Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean 23.9).

“But for us the sufficient demonstration of the soul’s immortality is the teaching of Holy Scripture, which is self-authenticating because [it is] inspired of God” (Nemesius of Emesa, On the Nature of Man, Chapter 2, Of the Soul).

“Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone” (Theodoret of Cyrus, Dialogue 1).

“All things, therefore, that have been delivered to us by the Law, and Prophets, and Apostles, we receive, and acknowledge, and confess; and beyond these, we seek not to know anything. For it is impossible for us to say, or at all think anything concerning God, beyond what has been divinely declared by the divine oracles of the Old and New Testament” (Cyril of Alexandria, De Sacrosancta Trinitate 1).

“The canonical scriptures alone are the rule (measure) of faith (Sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John XXI. 24-25, paragraph 2656).

Why the Apocrypha Is Not Scripture

If you have ever done any study of the canon of Scripture, you will notice that Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles are bigger than Protestant ones. In addition to the 66 books Protestants accept, Catholicism also accepts Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, Baruch with the Letter of Jeremiah, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, additions to Daniel, and additions to Esther. In addition to these, Eastern Orthodoxy accepts 1 Esdras or 3 Ezra, the Prayer of Manasseh, 3 Maccabees, and Psalm 151. While there are many historical arguments for rejecting the Apocrypha as Scripture, I want to focus here on the texts themselves.

It is much easier to prove which books do not belong in the Bible than to prove which ones do. For example, the gnostic Gospel of Thomas teaches polytheism or the belief in many gods. It claims that Jesus said, “Where there are three deities, they are divine. Where there are two or one, I am with that one.” But since the Bible teaches that there is only one God (John 5:44), the Gospel of Thomas is not canonical because it contains doctrinal error and the Holy Spirit does not contradict himself. In the same way, the apocryphal books contain doctrinal and historical errors in them which preclude them from being accepted by Christians as coming from the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom 8:19-20 teaches the pre-existence of the soul which Roman Catholicism does not teach. The text reads: “As a child I was by nature well endowed, and a good soul fell to my lot; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body.” “Soul” in Wisdom is distinct from the body: “For a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind” (Wis 9:15). “A man in his wickedness kills another, but he cannot bring back the departed spirit, nor set free the imprisoned soul” (Wis 16:14). The belief in the pre-existence of the soul was condemned as heresy at the Fifth Ecumenical Council which is considered to be an infallible ecumenical council by Catholicism.

Another error in Wisdom is the denial of creation ex nihilo, or “out of nothing,” which is taught in Scripture (Rom 4:17; Heb 11:3). Wisdom 11:17 says, “For thy all-powerful hand, which created the world out of formless matter, did not lack the means to send upon them a multitude of bears, or bold lions.” This also contradicts another text in the Apocrypha which does teach that God created all things out of nothing: “I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being” (2 Macc 7:28).

The book of Judith is filled with historical errors. The first verse of the book reads: “In the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh, in the days of Arphaxad, who ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana.” The problem is that Nineveh fell in 612 to Nebuchadnezzar’s father Nabopolassar. Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon in 605 after his father’s death and never ruled over Nineveh. The twelfth year of his reign would have been 593, 19 years after Nineveh’s fall. Judith 4:3 teaches that the Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity and rebuilt the temple before Nebuchadnezzar died: “For they had only recently returned from the captivity, and all the people of Judea were newly gathered together, and the sacred vessels and the altar and the temple had been consecrated after their profanation.” The Babylonian captivity did not end until 539, but Nebuchadnezzar died in 562. The author of Judith intentionally put historical errors like these into the text to indicate that this is a work of fiction and not meant to be taken as history.

Tobit 1:15 says that Sennacherib was the son of Shalmaneser and reigned in his place after he died: “But when Shalmaneser died, Sennacherib his son reigned in his place; and under him the highways were unsafe, so that I could no longer go into Media.” But Sennacherib did not reign when Shalmaneser died, but Sargon II. The reign of Shalmaneser V was from 727-722, the reign of Sargon II was from 722-705, and Sennacherib’s reign was from 705-681. Tobit 6:6-7 teaches that smoke from a fish’s heart and liver drives away demons: “Then the young man said to the angel, ‘Brother Azarias, of what use is the liver and heart and gall of the fish?’ He replied, ‘As for the heart and liver, if a demon or evil spirit gives trouble to any one, you make a smoke from these before the man or woman, and that person will never be troubled again.’” Not only is this verse ridiculous (why would an immaterial demon be frightened away by smoke?), but it contradicts God’s Word which teaches that we are not to use magic (Deut 18:9-14; Acts 19:18-19). Tobit 14:15 says, “But before he died he heard of the destruction of Nineveh, which Nebuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus had captured. Before his death he rejoiced over Nineveh.” But Nineveh was not captured by Nebuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus, but by Nabopolassar and Cyaxares.

1 Maccabees 6:8-16 says that Antiochus Epiphanes died in his bed of an illness. But 2 Maccabees 1:14-17 says he was stoned to death. A third contradictory account is found in 2 Maccabees 9:1-29 which says that he died far away in the mountains of an internal pain in the bowels. 2 Maccabees 2:4-5 says that Jeremiah hid the ark in a cave. But this contradicts Jeremiah 3:16 which tells us that the ark was destroyed by the Babylonians: “And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.” The author of 2 Maccabees denied that his book was inspired Scripture when he closed by saying, “If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do” (15:38). This is a far cry from the “thus says the Lord” of the authors of Scripture.

Sirach 3:30 says, “Water extinguishes a blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin.” This verse became the basis for the practice of indulgences which undermines the sufficiency of Christ’s death to save us. Sirach 12:4-5 says, “Give to the godly man, but do not help the sinner. Do good to the humble, but do not give to the ungodly; hold back his bread, and do not give it to him, lest by means of it he subdue you; for you will receive twice as much evil for all the good which you do to him.” But Jesus taught the opposite of this in Luke 6:33-35: “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” For more on this subject, I recommend William Webster’s book on the Apocrypha.

What Are Indulgences?

The practice of indulgences could never exist apart from a belief in purgatory. Since no one wants to go to purgatory, indulgences exist to reduce or eliminate the amount of time one needs to spend in suffering after death before being allowed entrance into heaven. Because of purgatory, Catholics argue that prayers should be offered for the dead that they might be delivered out of the suffering of purgatory into heaven. An indulgence is the granting of remission from the temporal punishment due to sin through the application of the supererogatory righteousness of the saints in the treasury of merit which the pope has access to through the keys of the church. The practice of indulgences is still alive and well today and is expressed most clearly in the papal encyclical Indulgentiarum doctrina. In it, Pope Paul VI proclaims that by carrying our crosses, we expiate our sins and the sins of others:

“Following in the footsteps of Christ, the Christian faithful have always endeavored to help one another on the path leading to the heavenly Father through prayer, the exchange of spiritual goods and penitential expiation. The more they have been immersed in the fervor of charity, the more they have imitated Christ in His sufferings, carrying their crosses in expiation for their own sins and those of others, certain that they could help their brothers to obtain salvation from God the Father of mercies.”

In the church, there is a great treasury of merit which contains the righteous deeds of the saints which help to bring about the salvation of others:

“This treasury also includes the truly immense, unfathomable and ever pristine value before God of the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, who following in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by His grace have sanctified their lives and fulfilled the mission entrusted to them by the Father. Thus while attaining their own salvation, they have also cooperated in the salvation of their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”

It is rather shocking that the document admits that the practice of indulgences developed over time (the first historical reference to indulgences does not appear for at least a thousand years after Christ) and was not practiced by the earliest Christians:

“The conviction existing in the Church that the pastors of the flock of the Lord could set the individual free from the vestiges of sins by applying the merits of Christ and of the saints led gradually, in the course of the centuries and under the influence of the Holy Spirit’s continuous inspiration of the people of God, to the usage of indulgences which represented a progression in the doctrine and discipline of the Church rather than a change.”

The Catholic Church anathematizes anyone who says that indulgences are useless:

“But the Church, in deploring and correcting these improper uses ‘teaches and establishes that the use of indulgences must be preserved because it is supremely salutary for the Christian people and authoritatively approved by the sacred councils; and it condemns with anathema those who maintain the uselessness of indulgences or deny the power of the Church to grant them.’”

I agree with John Calvin that indulgences are a Satanic mockery of the work of Christ. The righteousness by which we stand before God is not a patchwork righteousness made up of a combination of the righteousness of Christ, Mary, the saints, and ourselves. The doctrine of the imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ is essential to justification and the foundation for the Protestant rejection of indulgences. This alone is the gospel.

A common verse used to support indulgences is Colossians 1:24 where Paul says that he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.” Therefore, it is argued that the sufferings of Christ on the cross are not sufficient to save us. We need to complete what is lacking in Christ’s atonement through our own suffering. But the affliction of Christ Paul is speaking of is not his suffering of atonement on the cross for sin (Heb 10:10-14), but his lifelong suffering as a minister of God. These are the ministerial sufferings of Christ which Paul continued by acting as a servant of God for the sake of the church through his apostolic ministry. Because Christ and Paul are now in heaven and no longer suffering, it is the church’s responsibility to continue this suffering. This is especially true for pastors as they shepherd and suffer for the church of God. This suffering includes persecution which is the calling of all Christians (2 Tim 3:12).