Sunday, March 19, 2017

Short post on 1 Timothy 2:5 and "praying to saints":


Does not the Catholic practice of praying to saints contradict 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”?


Recall first of all what Catholics mean by “praying to the saints”: they are using the word “pray” in the older meaning of the word, in which “pray” simply means to “ask”. (One sees this usage in the King James Bible; for instance, Gen 24:17)  In other words, when Catholics “pray” to the saints, they are asking the saints something, namely, for the saints to pray for them. Just as we may ask our friends here on earth to pray for us, so we may ask those in heaven to pray for us. That is, in substance, all “praying to the saints” is.

Now, there are various objections people do raise to this practice, of course, which need to be addressed at some point. At the moment, however, I will limit myself to the one presented in the
above question. And when we understand what is actually meant by "praying to the saints", it becomes clear that the aspect of the practice which is supposed by the objector to violate the passage from 1 Timothy (the saints being “mediators” by interceding for us) would in fact apply just as much to asking fellow Christians on earth to pray for us. After all, in that respect both practices are exactly the same: they both consist of asking others to intercede for us. If 1 Timothy 2:5 condemns the one practice, then it condemns the other for the very same reason.

Should we therefore refrain from asking others on earth to pray for us? Most
if not all Christians would say no. Indeed, there are various passages in the New Testament that presuppose it is perfectly acceptable and praiseworthy to do, such as when Peter was put in prison by Herod, and “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5). Again, Paul quite often asks for prayers on his behalf from others (i.e. Rm 15:30-32; Eph 6:18-20; Col 4:3-4, etc.). In no case is that seen as contradicting Christ’s one mediatorship. Perhaps most importantly (from the perspective of the present question) in the immediate context of the “one mediator” passage, Paul is exhorting intercession to be made for others!
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. (1 Timothy 2:1-6)
Clearly then, when Paul writes that Christ is the “one mediator”, he does not mean that we cannot intercede for each other, for otherwise he would be contradicting what he just wrote four verses earlier. In what respect is Christ the “one mediator between God and men” then?

Paul seems to explain himself by continuing in verse six that Christ is the one mediator in the sense of being the one “who gave himself a ransom for all”. In other words, Christ is the one mediator in that it was his death on the cross that reconciles us to the Father. By being both fully God and fully man, Christ’s sacrifice was of infinite value, and therefore the source of our redemption “And he is the propitation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) Or, as the book of Hebrews describes His mediatorship: “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” (Hebrew 9:15) That being the case, we also read “Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

No mere creature, however exalted, is or could possibly be a mediator in that sense. Only Christ can, for only Christ’s sacrifice is of infinite value, and therefore able to atone for our sins.

But this does
not entail that others cannot be “mediators” in a subordinate sense in various ways, one that is rooted and gains value from being united to Christ’s unique mediatorship. Hence, asking others to pray for us (whether those on earth or in heaven), far from contradicting Christ’s being the one mediator, in fact presupposes it, because it is rooted in His mediatorship.

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