Introduction to Soteriology: Universal Atonement – a Scriptural and Patristic Apology

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

A key pin in soteriology debates is atonement doctrine. Atonement theories address the question of how Christ’s life, death, and resurrection play into the salvation of men (or perhaps the entirety of creation). There are a number of popular atonement theories. Some include Christus Victor, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, Satisfaction Theory, and Governmental Theory. Lutherans often borrow from more than one atonement theory but see Christus Victor and Penal Substitutionary Atonement as particularly important. Explaining these theories is beyond the scope of this post, but is helpful to know for those familiar with atonement theories that haven’t looked into Lutheranism and are wondering from which approach Lutherans consider the question of the extent of the atonement. For the sake of clarity, we will be primarily considering Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

The extent of the atonement is a debate primarily between Arminians and Calvinists in contemporary discourse. Generally, two sides are given: Limited Atonement (Calvinist) and Universal Atonement (Arminian). Arminians argue that the atonement is universal in extent; that is, Christ died for the redemption of every person that will ever live. Calvinists argue that the atonement is limited in extent; Christ died for the redemption of the elect (IE it is limited to the elect). For the clarification to the reader, John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, may not have believed in Limited Atonement, and there is scholarly debate on this subject. That said, many who came after Calvin in the Calvinist tradition, did affirm Limited Atonement, and this view is now synonymous with “Calvinism” in common parlance.

Different subsets of Arminianism and Calvinism have different nuances to their approaches, but the below confessions contain a summary of both sides, and perhaps the most central focus of this debate in history. Best representing the Arminian view is Article 2 of the Five Articles of Remonstrance, which were condemned by the Continental Reformed at the Synod of Dordt. Best representing the Calvinist view is Article 8 of the Canons of Dordt.

That agreeably thereunto, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Five Articles of Remonstrance, Article 2

Note the use of “savior of the world… for all men and for every man… for them all.”

For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father…

Canons of Dordt, Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ’s Death

Note the use of “chosen ones” to describe those for whom Christ redeems, and further, the section on “every people, tribe, nation, and language.” While the latter half sounds universal at first glance, this is an interpretation of the passages that say Christ died for the “world” as meaning “people from all over the world, but still only those were chosen.”

Lutherans, often left out of this debate, side with Arminians with regard to the extent of the atonement. The best expression of this in simple terms are in the 1592 Saxon Visitation Articles, which are generally considered an Appendix to the Lutheran Confessions.

The pure and true Doctrine of our Churches on this Article.

1] That Christ died for all men, and, as the Lamb of God, took away the sins of the whole world.

2] That God created no man for condemnation; but wills that all men should be saved and arrive at the knowledge of truth. He therefore commands all to hear Christ, his Son, in the gospel; and promises, by his hearing, the virtue and operation of the Holy Ghost for conversion and salvation.

1592 Saxon Visitation Articles, Article IV On Predestination and the Eternal Providence of God.

Calvinists often call Lutherans inconsistent when Lutherans state the universal extent of the atonement since Lutherans believe in Monergistic Election and Perseverance of the Elect. To this, the Saxon Visitation Articles provide further explanation.

3] That many men, by their own fault, perish: some, who will not hear the gospel concerning Christ; some, who again fall from grace, either by fundamental error, or by sins against conscience.

4] That all sinners who repent will be received into favor; and none will be excluded, though his sins be red as blood; since the mercy of God is greater than the sins of the whole world, and God hath mercy on all his works.

1592 Saxon Visitation Articles, Article IV On Predestination and the Eternal Providence of God.

Thus, Lutherans believe in a universal atonement but believe that those who reject God also reject God’s grace and the Gospel that is offered to them freely.

This post will not be addressing the related topics of monergistic election, perseverance and apostasy, or single vs double predestination (dedicated post in the future), which are discussed in other posts. Below, the Lutheran position is defended.

The Patristic Witness

In this post, it is sufficient enough to state that there is no significant support for the opposition in the church fathers and many discuss Christ’s death for the salvation of the world and for all. A handful of notable quotes are found below but are by no means comprehensive.

The entirety of Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John Book VI 37-38, which addresses this very topic but cannot all be placed here, is one of the earliest writings to address this question and concludes with a universal atonement.

The Father of Jesus is therefore a tender and loving Father, though ​”​He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up”​ as His lamb ​”for us all,”​ that so ​”the Lamb of God,”​ by dying for all men, might ​”take away the sin of the world.”​ It was not by compulsion, therefore, but willingly, that He bore the reproaches of those who reviled Him.

Origen, Against Celsus VIII.43 (248 AD)

Origen has several relevant quotes, but the two above examples seem sufficient.

Where our Lord Jesus Christ, who took upon Him to die for all, stretched forth His hands, not somewhere on the earth beneath, but in the air itself, in order that the Salvation effected by the Cross might be shown to be for all men everywhere: destroying the devil who was working in the air: and that He might consecrate our road up to Heaven, and make it free.

Athanasius of Alexandria, Letter 22 (297-373 AD)

“I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me.”​ [ Matthew 3:14 ] For, because the baptism was ​”​of repentance,​”​ and led men to accuse themselves for their offenses, lest any one should suppose that He too ​”​comes to Jordan”​ in this sort of mind, John sets it right beforehand, by calling Him both Lamb, and Redeemer from all the sin that is in the world. Since He that was able to take away the sins of the whole race of men, much more was He Himself without sin. For this cause then he said not,​”Behold, He that is without sin,​”​ but what was much more, He ​”that bears the sin of the world,”​ in order that together with this truth you might receive that other with all assurance, and having received it might perceive, that in the conduct of some further economy He comes to the baptism. Wherefore also he said to Him when He came, ​”​I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?”

John Chrysostom, Homily 12.1 on the Gospel of St. Matthew (347-407 AD)

“​So Christ was once offered.​”​ By whom offered? Evidently by Himself. Here he says that He is not Priest only, but Victim also, and what is sacrificed. On this account are [the words] ​”​was offered.”​ ​”Was once offered”​ (he says) ​”​to bear the sins of many.”​ Why ​”of many,”​ and not ​”of all”? Because not all believed. For He died indeed for all, that is His part: for that death was a counterbalance against the destruction of all men. But He did not bear the sins of all men, because they were not willing.

John Chrysostom, Homily on the Pestle to the Hebrews 17.4 (347-407 AD)

Chrysostom has several relevant quotes, but the two above examples seem sufficient.

Moreover, he adores the only begotten God Himself, after His Father, and for Him, giving Him thanks that He undertook to die for all men by the cross, the type of which He has appointed to be the baptism of regeneration. He glorifies Him also, for that God who is the Lord of the whole world, in the name of Christ and by His Holy Spirit, has not cast off mankind but has suited His providence to the difference of seasons…

Apostolic Constitutions VII.43 (400 AD)

To this forgiveness the traitor Judas could not attain: for he, the son of perdition, at whose right the devil stood, gave himself up to despair before Christ accomplished the mystery of universal redemption. For in that the Lord died for sinners, perchance even he might have found salvation if he had not hastened to hang himself.

Pope Leo the Great, Sermon 62.4 (On the Passion, XI) (400-461 AD)

Here it is clear that redemption is universal, so much so that Christ even died for Judas.

In some pictures of the venerable icons, a lamb is painted to which the Precursor points his finger, which is received as a type of grace, indicating beforehand through the Law, our true Lamb, Christ our God. Embracing therefore the ancient types and shadows as symbols of the truth, and patterns given to the Church, we prefer ​”​grace and truth,​”​ receiving it as the fulfillment of the Law. In order therefore that ​”​that which is perfect​”​ may be delineated to the eyes of all, at least in colored expression, we decree that the figure in human form of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, Christ our God, be henceforth exhibited in images, instead of the ancient lamb, so that all may understand by means of it the depths of the humiliation of the Word of God, and that we may recall to our memory his conversation in the flesh, his passion and salutary death, and his redemption which was wrought for the whole world.

Council of Trullo, Canon 82 (692 AD)

Notably, some will point to Augustine (354-430 AD) and later Augustinians Prosper of Aquitaine (390-455 AD) and Fulgentius of Ruspe (465-530 AD) as those who taught limited atonement. Augustine notably discusses double predestination, which can imply a limited atonement; however, he gives very little explanation of this doctrine at all, leaving him ambiguous at best for the Calvinists. Furthermore, Augustine writes the following:

The Passion of the Lord is the price for the whole world. He has redeemed the whole world.

Augustine, Letter 171 to Donatists

Just as our Lord was the Creator of all, so also as the Restorer of all He has absolved the whole world with a single death. For we must surely believe that He who has given more than the whole world was worth has ransomed the whole world.

Augustine, Sermon 193 (PL 39:902)

Furthermore, [Christ suffered] outside the city and outside its walls that you may understand that He is the universal victim offered for humankind and therefore is its universal purification.

Augustine, Sermon 155 (PL 39:2047)

And Prosper of Aquitaine writes in Pro Augustini Doctrina Responsiones Ad Capitula Objectionum Vincentianarum that Augustine said the following in response to opponents that accused him of teaching that Jesus did not suffer for the redemption of all men:

Against the wound of original sin by which the nature of all men was corrupted and made liable to death in Adam and out of which developed the disease of all lusts, the true and powerful and unique remedy is the death of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, etc. As far as the magnitude and power of the price are concerned, and as that price is related to the one cause of the human race, the blood of Christ is the ransom for the whole world. However, those who pass through this life without faith in Christ and without the sacrament of regeneration are foreigners to redemption, etc. The cup of immortality, which was prepared from our weakness and from God’s power, has in itself indeed the power to benefit all people. But if they do not drink it, it does not profit them.

Prosper of Aquitaine, Pro Augustini Doctrina Responsiones Ad Capitula Objectionum Vincentianarum

Prosper of Aquitaine discusses double predestination (though different from Calvin’s doctrine). Prosper’s doctrine states that God reprobates (I.E. eternal condemnation, the opposite of election) based on their foreseen demerits, I.E. their actual sins. This is different from the view of any notable early Calvinist. Prosper later rejects this position, however, and holds to a single predestination. This is seen expressly in his work The Call of All Nations. Fulgentius of Ruspe embraces a universal atonement early in life and later embraces a more limited atonement (see To Euthymius II.2-3), but his view is, once again, different from the Calvinists. Fulgentius of Ruspe retains a very high view of sacraments. While Calvinists insist that sacraments are only efficacious for the elect, Fulgentius states that they are effective for all who receive them; furthermore, Fulgentius’ form of double predestination is even more explicit than Prosper’s that reprobation is based on foreseen demerits.

Prosper devotes large portions of The Call of All Nations to the topic at hand, but this quote is particularity relevant:

There can, therefore, be not reason to doubt the Jesus Christ our Lord died for the unbelievers and the sinners. If there had been anyone who did not belong to these, then Christ would not have died for all. But He did die for all men without exception. There is no one, therefore, in all mankind who was not, before the reconciliation which Christ effected in His blood, either a sinner or an unbeliever.

Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations II.16.139-141 (450 AD)

Fulgentius states the following on predestination in his work Ad Monimum Book I:

God has not predestined the wicked to lose righteousness the way He has predestined the saints to receive righteousness… If we were to say that a man has been predestined by God to some wicked deed, we would be ascribing to a merciful God—heaven forbid!—the sort of work where one cannot find a merciful or just God… God could never have predestined man to that which He Himself determined to forbid by commandment, wash away with His mercy, and punish in His justice.


God destined those for punishment who He foreknew would depart from Him by the fault of their wicked will.

Fulgentius of Ruspe, Ad Monimum Bk 1 (465-530 AD)

With regard to the Vessels of Wrath in Romans 8, he writes the following:

[They] cannot be called the wrath of God except when the iniquity of man is believed to have preceded it.

Fulgentius of Ruspe, Ad Monimum Bk 1 (465-530 AD)

At best, Calvinists can only appeal to these figures by saying that they taught a position with some similarities to Calvinist doctrine, but with some apparent and important differences. Lutheran dogmaticians Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard discuss the work of the Augustinians and notes that their form of double predestination is different from Calvinists.

There are later figures to which the Reformed can appeal for support for their doctrine, namely figures such as Thomas Gottschalk of Orbais (808-867 AD). Gottschalk, however, was condemned as a heretic for his views. Other figures after Gottschalk also have a similar doctrine to the Reformed (though these figures are not the major theological figures in their respective eras), but what is notable is that there is no robust support for such a view prior to the ninth century.

The Scriptural Witness

Salvation for All

Isaiah 53:6 reads, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

“Him” in this passage refers to Christ and the context discusses Christ’s life and death.

John 12:30-33 reads, “Jesus answered and said, ‘This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die.”

Jesus is answering the people by him who heard the Father from heaven speaking, who the people thought was an angel. Christ says he will draw all to himself in his death on the cross.

Romans 5:15-19 reads, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”

This passage is clear that Christ’s atonement was comparable to Adam’s sin in that Adam’s sin brought death to all, yet Christ’s atonement brought life to all. For this passage to read otherwise, Adam’s sin, and with it death, would have to read as not applying to all people, yet it is clear that all sin and all die.

Romans 8:31-32 reads, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

1 Corinthians 15:20-22 reads, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”

See the note from Romans 5:15-19.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 reads, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

Here it is clear that Christ died for both all and the world.

Colossians 1:19-20 reads, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

This passage, in line with 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, highlights that Christ died not only to reconcile men to himself but all of creation, which includes all men.

1 Timothy 2:3-6 reads, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to 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.”

Here it is stated that Christ not only desires all to be saved but also that he ransomed (atoned) for all.

1 Timothy 4:9-11 reads, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”

Apologists for limited atonement will point to this passage as example of the doctrine of limited atonement since the atonement is “especially for those who believe,” yet the clear intent of the passage is that Christ died for all, not only those who believe.

Titus 2:11-14 reads, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

The grace of God that brings salvation, which certainly includes the atonement, has appeared to all men in this passage.

Hebrews 2:8-9 reads, “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”

This passage uses slightly different language, “everyone” rather than “all,” in English, but the Greek reads the same as the other passages using the Greek word for all (Gr: pas).

2 Peter 3:9 reads, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

God is willing that all come to repentance. This is not an explicit statement against limited atonement but is implied in that a limited atonement would not generally suggest that Christ desired all to be saved.

Salvation for the World

After John the Baptist preached of the coming of Christ, John 1:29 reads, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”

This famous proclamation from John the Baptist was considered essential to the early church and appears in the historic Sunday services in a canticle called the “Agnus Dei.”

John 3:14-17 reads, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

In this famous passage, the limited atonement must confess that John is using the word “world” in two different senses (though there is little contextual evidence to support this claim) or that God does not love the whole world but only people throughout the world.

1 John 2:1-2 reads, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

John is clear here that Christ died not only for the sins of the recipients of the letter but also the whole world. Apologists for limited atonement will argue that “holos” in Greek (translated as whole) here means “throughout” and/or that John is clarifying that Christ died not only for the recipients but also Christians throughout the world. The latter argument does not match the context of the letter. The former argument is not an entirely invalid reading, but is not the most common use of the term “holos.”

1 John 4:12-16 reads, “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

Salvation for the Ungodly

Romans 5:6-8 reads, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Limited atonement apologists will point out that all men, even Christians are ungodly. This reading does work in context, but the phrasing does put into question the underlying beliefs of Paul. If Paul believed in limited atonement, would he use such phrasing in this context without clarification?

2 Peter 2:1-3 reads, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”

Here, it is clear that Christ bought (that is, atoned for, see Acts 20:28) the false teachers who “bring on themselves swift destruction” and whose “judgment has not been idle” and “destruction does not slumber.” The false teachers are apostate Christians who are condemned, yet Christ still bought them. Limited atonement apologists will respond that the false teachers merely thought that Christ bought them, but because they were not elect, Christ didn’t actually buy them (this rests on the premise of perseverance of the saints, IE that those who truly believe cannot fall away). This interpretation is wanting in the text. Alternatively, another argument is that the false teachers received evanescent grace, a doctrine taught by Calvin that some receive a fleeting and in-genuine faith. This interpretation (and the doctrine of evanescent grace in general) is wanting in the text.

Addressing Counterarguments

Arguments for Limited Atonement (as with many doctrines) generally fall into a defense against the opponents (negative arguments) or defending the doctrine with their own reasons (positive arguments).

Negative arguments generally consist of the following: Any and all of the passages saying Christ died for the (whole) world are referring to Christ dying for people throughout the world but not every person, and any and all passages saying Christ died for all are referring to all Christians or all of the people being immediately addressed. While perhaps being a possible reading in some passages, such usage of the Greek word “holos” (all world) and “pas” (all) is wanting in many (if not all) the above passages. To claim such an interpretation across such numerous passages without the context of the passage justifying this interpretation undermines this argument. The passages on atonement for the ungodly have been addressed above.

Generally, there are six positive arguments seen in favor of limited atonement. One is an appeal to a select few church fathers and medievals– this has already been addressed above. One is an appeal to reason; drawing from passages on predestination, the Calvinists conclude those that are not predestined to salvation are predestined to condemnation, and therefore, Christ did not atone for them. I will address double predestination in a future post.

The other four arguments are scriptural arguments. The first two scriptural arguments presented are very similar; both look at passages regarding Christ’s atonement that refer to the atonement as “for many” or “for the church” and after this conclude that the writer is implying that Christ did not die for the others. The flaw in this reasoning should be apparent to the reader. Dying for some does not preclude dying for others, especially when there are numerous passages that point to a universal atonement as seen above and the testimony of nearly the entire history of the church is in concord with such a doctrine. The relevant verses have been placed below for the reader to examine themselves. A few notes have been added for clarity.

The final two arguments are interpretations of sections of two passages– namely the Parable of the Good Shepherd and Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. These passages are addressed individually below.

Christ Died for Many

Matthew 20:27-28 reads, “‘And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.'”

Matthew 26:28 (cf. Mark 14:24, Luke 22:17-20) reads, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many* for the remission of sins.”

*The text in Luke reads “shed for you (pl.)” rather than “shed for many.”

Hebrews 9:28 reads, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”

Christ Died for His People/The Church

Isaiah 53:8, 11 reads; “He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken…. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.”

Matthew 1:20-21 reads, “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.'”

Acts 20:28-29 reads, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”

Romans 8:33-34 reads, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

In this passage the argument is roughly that if it is Christ that justifies and condemns and Christ that intercedes, then he must atone solely for those for whom he justifies and intercedes, but this is drawn from reason, not from the text. Some Lutherans also handle this text with an appeal to universal objective justification, but is beyond the scope of this article.

Galatians 1:3-4 reads, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”

Ephesians 5:25-27 reads, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

A further counterargument given against the limited atonement interpretation is to apply the interpretation used to other texts and note the conclusions you must draw. An example of this is Galations 2:20, which reads, “‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.'” Applying the same rule to this text as the limited atonement apologists use in the above passages, we must conclude that Christ died for Paul, but not others, which nobody puts forth as a true interpretation.

John 10 – The Parable of the Good Shepherd

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”

…. [Later] the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”

John 10:1-16, 24-30

The limited atonement apologist interprets the phrase “I lay down My life for the sheep” to mean that Christ lays down His life for the church but not others. This argument fails on three grounds. First, like the other texts on Christ atoning for the church and for many, a text saying that Christ dies for one group does not exclude Christ dying for others. Second, when Christ says the he lays down His life for the sheep, he states it in context of being the good shepherd, contrasting that He lays down His life but the others do not. His focus is not on the extent of the atonement but in telling of His goodness and grace in protecting His flock. Third, if the limited atonement interpretation were to be taken at face value, this would still prove to be a poor passage on which to ground other doctrine. Parables are neither perfectly clear nor precise and thus shouldn’t be used to interpret other clear passages.

John 17 – Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.

I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

John 17:6-24

In this passage, the limited atonement interpretation is that when Christ says, “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours,” He is referring to the fact that He is praying for the elect, but not for the non-elect; therefore, it follows that Christ did not die for the non-elect since He did not intercede for them here. This interpretation fails on two grounds.

First, not interceding for a group in this passage does not necessitate that Christ did not die for this group, but even if this argument were true, who is it that are given to Christ in this passage and who is the world? Christ says, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” “Them,” “those whom You gave me” must refer to the Apostles as the next clause says “none of them is lost except the son of perdition.” It would not make sense to say “none of the elect is lost except the son of perdition” as the son of perdition (Judas) is not of the elect. Reading “them” to be the apostles also makes the most sense based on the previous clause that reads “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name,” suggesting that “them” is a group with whom Christ spent time while on earth.

This reading is further bolstered in the next paragraph. Christ says, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” “These alone” refers to “them” from the previous paragraph, and Christ then prays for “those who will believe in me through their word.” “Those who will believe” is self-explanatory and “their word” must refer to the preaching and writing of “them” from the previous statement, which can only be the Apostles as it was through the word of the Apostles that the rest who believed heard of Christ.

Thus, in this passage, Christ is first praying for the Apostles then for all the believers to come. Still some may argue that the second paragraph then reads, “I pray for the Apostles. I do not pray for the world but for the Apostles, for they are Yours.” Thus, Christ still did not pray for the world here. This argument fails on two grounds as well.

The first argument still holds. Not interceding for a group in this passage does not necessitate that Christ did not die for this group. The second argument regards the context of the prayer. In the end of John 16, Christ is telling the Apostles warnings and comfort, the work of the Holy Spirit, the sorrow and joy of His death and resurrection, and of how He has (ironically for the limited atonement apologist) overcome the world, thus worrying is of no need. The content leading up to the High Priestly Prayer is not regarding the elect, whom will and will not be saved, or other similar notions. The context is on comforting the Apostles and and the future church. The High Priestly Prayer is thus directed toward the same subject: the Apostles and the church. Christ is not outlining the doctrine of election or the atonement so much as praying for the comfort of the Apostles and the perseverance of the church to come.


Universal atonement is nearly unanimous in the history of the church. Among those who dissent, their framework for the doctrine is different from that of the most commonly promoted Calvinist position. The scriptures are clear in their assertion that Christ died for all people, the entire world, and even the ungodly. Supposed passages for limited atonement fail to support the doctrine upon further examination on multiple grounds. The doctrine of universal atonement stands as both the most historic and most scriptural teaching.

Further Reading

St. Prosper of Aquitaine’s The Call of All Nations

The Arminian Confessions

St. Anselm’s Why God Became Man

Introduction to Soteriology: Resistible Grace – a Scriptural Apology

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Among Protestants, debate surrounding Calvinism and Arminianism is generally focused on a presumed monergistic, irresistible, and final election until salvation vs a synergistic (though Arminians disagree with this term), prevenient, and contingent election. Lutheranism, rejects this paradigm. While Lutherans agree with Calvin, loosely speaking, on monergistic election and agree with Arminius on apostasy being possible, Lutherans take a middle-ground on the function of grace. More rightly speaking, since Luther (and the Lutherans with him) formulated their doctrine prior to the Arminian and Calvinist debates at the Synod of Dordt, Calvin (and the Reformed with him) took a more extreme stance than Luther, relative to the Roman Catholic Church, while Arminius (and the Remonstrants with him) took a more moderate stance than Luther.

For Lutherans, conversion is a monergistic process, that is to say, the will of man does not ascent to agreement to conversion. Man does not “accept” Christ nor does he “choose” God. This is in accordance with Reformed doctrine. Lutherans, however, reject that grace is irresistible. Man is able to reject God as his will naturally does in its sinful state. This is not to detract from God’s sovereignty; God does act in ways that are irresistible to man, but as a broad scriptural theme, God permits man to reject Him with regards to salvation. This occurs on a corporate level in Israel and on an individual level in the New Testament.

The Lutheran confessions state the following:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith

Small Catechism Part II – Answer for the Third Article of the Creed

18] Now, if in St. Paul and in other regenerate men the natural or carnal free will even after regeneration strives against God’s Law, it will be much more obstinate and hostile to God’s Law and will before regeneration. Hence it is manifest (as it is further declared in the article concerning original sin, to which we now refer for the sake of brevity) that the free will from its own natural powers, not only cannot work or concur in working anything for its own conversion, righteousness, and salvation, nor follow [obey], believe, or assent to the Holy Ghost, who through the Gospel offers him grace and salvation, but from its innate, wicked, rebellious nature it resists God and His will hostilely, unless it be enlightened and controlled by God’s Spirit.

19] On this account the Holy Scriptures also compare the heart of the unregenerate man to a hard stone, which does not yield to the one who touches it, but resists, and to a rough block, and to a wild, unmanageable beast; not that man since the Fall is no longer a rational creature, or is converted to God without hearing and meditating upon the divine Word, or in external, worldly things cannot understand, or of his free will do, or abstain from doing, anything good or evil.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II.18-19

39] There would also be overthrown and taken from us the foundation that the Holy Ghost wishes certainly to be present with the Word preached, heard, considered, and to be efficacious and operate through it. Therefore the meaning is not at all the one referred to above, namely, that the elect are to be such [among the elect are to be numbered such] as even despise the Word of God, thrust it from them, blaspheme and persecute it, or, when they hear it, harden their hearts; resist the Holy Ghost; without repentance persevere in sins, do not truly believe in Christ, only make [godliness] an outward show, or seek other ways to righteousness and salvation outside of Christ, 40] Moreover, even as God has ordained in His [eternal] counsel that the Holy Ghost should call, enlighten, and convert the elect through the Word, and that He will justify and save all those who by true faith receive Christ, so He also determined in His counsel that He will harden, reprobate, and condemn those who are called through the Word, if they reject the Word and resist the Holy Ghost, who wishes to be efficacious and to work in them through the Word and persevere therein. And in this manner many are called, but few are chosen….
78] But the reason why not all who hear it believe, and some are therefore condemned the more deeply [eternally to severer punishments], is not because God had begrudged them their salvation; but it is their own fault, as they have heard the Word in such a manner as not to learn, but only to despise, blaspheme, and disgrace it, and have resisted the Holy Ghost, who through the Word wished to work in them, as was the case at the time of Christ with the Pharisees and their adherents.

Formula of Concord, Solid Declartion II.39-40, 78

The Lutheran confessions are clear here that the Holy Ghost works in the Word and is always efficacious, yet men are able to resist the Holy Ghost working in the Word to convert. At the same time, men do not choose God. While somewhat mysterious, this doctrine upholds that salvation is entirely the work of God yet condemnation is the choice of man.

The reason for man’s resistance (his sinful state), the monergistic grace of God in working salvation, and the ability of man after being regenerate in faith to fall away (apostasy) have been addressed already. To better understand this, previous posts on Original Sin/Entire Depravity, Monergistic Election, and Apostasy/Perseverance should prove useful. Because the previous posts covered much of the argument surrounding this topic, merely falling short of addressing it directly, this post will be short, solely discussing the resistance to the Holy Ghost prior to regeneration.

The Scriptural Witness

Numbers 14:10-11 reads, “And all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel. Then the LORD said to Moses: ‘How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?'” God performed many signs to Israel, yet they rejected Him.

Isaiah 5:1-5 reads, “Now let me sing to my Well-beloved a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard: My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes. ‘And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.'” Here God works His vineyard, yet the vineyard brought forth wild grapes, suggesting that God allows man to resist His work.

Luke 7:29-30 reads, “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” The Pharisees and lawyers heard Christ preach to them yet they rejected the will of God. Examples of Christ preaching and man resisting that are less explicit are abundant.

Luke 13:34-35 reads, “‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!“‘” Israel heard the prophets but rejected them. Examples of prophets preaching and Israel resisting that are less explicit are abundant.

Acts 7:51-53 reads, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” Stephen is speaking to the Jewish religious authorities in this context, explaining how they resisted the Holy Spirit, as Israel had done in the past repeatedly.

Acts 13:44-46 reads, “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.'” Paul and Barnabas preached the word of God to the Jews, yet the Jews rejected God.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 reads, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.” Paul is clear that man can reject God after being called to holiness.

2 Timothy 3:6-9 reads, “For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.” Paul gives a clear example here of Jannes and Jambres resisting God (working through Moses) in the Old Testament and compares this to the perilous men that that resist the truth, which is none other than the Word of God, through which the Spirit works.

The above passages demonstrate that man resists God’s grace repeatedly, a common theme in scripture.

Addressing Common Counterarguments

“John 6 refutes resistible grace.”

John 6:37, 39, 44-45, 65 reads, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out…. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day…. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me…. Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace. Rather, it addresses predestination. Those given to the Son by the Father will be raised up on the last day. Nowhere does the passage make grace to be irresistible.

“Romans 8:28, 30 states that those whom God effectually calls necessarily come to full salvation.”

Romans 8:28, 30 reads, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose…. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace; nor does the argument address the subject at hand. The argument addresses the possibility of apostasy, not resistance to grace in conversion. I have addressed apostasy and perseverance in a previous post.

“Acts 13:48 states that those appointed thus believe, which suggests irresistible grace.”

Acts 13:48 reads, “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace. The passage addresses that those appointed, or in other passages often phrased as “elect” or “predestined” or “chosen,” came to believe. Monergistic election and perseverance of the elect have been addressed in previous posts.

“Acts 16:14 gives an example of irresistible grace.”

Acts 16:14 reads, “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.”

Nothing in this passage addresses irresistible or resistible grace. The passage states that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to the things spoken by Paul, which is affirmed by Lutherans as monergists. Even if this were an example of irresistible grace, to base a doctrine on this passage would be to take a single descriptive example as the general rule for all conversions.

“Daniel 4:35 and Psalm 115:3 state that God does as He pleases.”

Daniel 4:35 reads, “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?'”

Psalm 115:3 reads, “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.”

God is omnipotent and immutable, yet He permits and bestows free will onto people. God is sovereign, but this does not lead to a complete philosophical determinism. Man’s ability to resist God’s calls in the preached Word is not a violation of His sovereignty but a result of God’s permission of free will on man and man’s sinful nature.

Further Readings

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article II: Free Will, or Human Powers

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article XI: Election

Luther’s Small Catechism

High Church Wedding Liturgy for a Low Church Setting

I recently got married in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and had the privilege of freely working on the liturgy for the ceremony. I thought this would be a useful post for those who want a low church service that is still proper. Those who attended my ceremony were mostly Protestants from evangelical and reformed traditions, but everyone followed along quite well, and nobody seemed uncomfortable. This liturgy roughly follows a vespers service from The Lutheran Hymnal along with a marriage rite. The exact setting is modified from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Detroit. I cannot publish the entirety marriage rite, as that belongs Zion. Modifications were made to direct the congregation more easily in a couple places and to remove kneeling. The entire liturgy was spoken, except the hymns, which were sung, of course.

The week before, the following banns should be published, and the following prayer prayed during the intercessions:

The Banns: On [day of the week], the [#th] Day of [month], this [#th] year of our Lord ✠ Jesus Christ, [Groom] and [Bride] desire to enter the holy estate of matrimony according to the Lord’s Word. They desire our prayers so that they may begin their marriage in God’s Name and with His blessing. If you can show just cause why these two persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, you are to declare it before the wedding. May God grant them His blessing.

The prayer: Let us pray for [Groom] and [Bride], who are to be united before God and this congregation in Holy Matrimony (next/this) week: Heavenly Father, You have established matrimony and desire that we keep it holy. Behold with favor [Groom] and [Bride], who intend to have their union blessed by Your Word. Grant them Your grace that they may begin their wedded life in You, live according to Your Word, and rejoice in Your strong love and enduring blessings; Lord, in Your mercy… (hear our prayer).

The ordo:

Cover title: “The Divine Office at Vespers with the Wedding of [Bride] and [Groom].”

First page of liturgy title: “The Divine Office of Solemn Vespers with The Rite of Holy Matrimony [Bride] & [Groom] The [#th] Day of [Month] The Year of Our Lord [year].”

Words in bold are spoken by the congregation. CAPITAL UNDERLINED ITALICS are actions for the congregation.

The Prelude

Please STAND when the bride enters.

The Processional – It is traditional to bow as the Crucifix/Cross passes. When the wedding party has taken their places, please remain STANDING.

Opening Versicle

Pastor: Make ✠ haste, O God, to deliver me.

Congregation: Make haste to help me, O Lord.

All: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: World without end. Amen. Alleluia.

The Psalm ✠ Psalm 127

P: Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it.

Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

C: It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.

P: Lo, Children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.

C: As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of the youth.

P: Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it.


The First Reading ✠ Genesis 2:18, 21-24

The Responsory

P: But thou O Lord, have mercy upon us.

C: Thanks be to Thee, O Lord.

The Second Reading ✠ Ephesians 5:20-33

The Responsory

P: But thou O Lord, have mercy upon us.

C: Thanks be to Thee, O Lord.

Note: An interlude may be played while the pastor moves form the lectern to the pulpit.

The Homily

The Hymn

Note: Any of the following hymns is acceptable for the service. It may be best to choose a more well-known hymn tune for the setting or just a simple tune. I wrote a simple organ prelude for “Lord ‘Tis not that I did Choose Thee” that was played while people were arriving to get the tune into the ears of the congregation.

O Morning Star How Fair And Bright, LSB 395
Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus, LSB 531 (TLH 367)
Salvation Unto Us Has Come, LSB 555 (TLH 277)
Lord ’tis Not That I Did Choose Thee, LSB 573 (TLH 37)
Thy Strong Word, LSB 578
The Law Of God Is Good And Wise, LSB 579 (TLH 295)
These Are The Holy Ten Commands, LSB 581
Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide, LSB 585 (TLH 292)
God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It, LSB 594
All Christians Who Have Been Baptized, LSB 596
Jesus Christ Our Blessed Savior, LSB 627 (TLH 311)
Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand, LSB 645 (TLH 467)
Lord of Our Life and God of Our Salvation, LSB 659 (TLH 258)
What God Ordains Is Always Good, LSB 760 (TLH 521)
Our Father Who From Heav’n Above, LSB 766 (TLH 458)
O God O Lord Of Heaven And Earth, LSB 834
Go My Children With My Blessing, LSB 922

The Rite of Holy Matrimony

Note: Most of rite below follows what is seen generally in any of the Lutheran marriage rites published by the LCMS. I cannot publish the full text as it belongs to Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Detroit.

The Matrimonial Address

The congregation STANDS.

The Invocation

P: In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

C: Amen

The congregation IS SEATED.

The Betrothal Vows

The Parental Consent and Blessing

The Marriage Vows

The Blessing of the Rings

The Exchange of Rings

The Pronouncement of Marriage

The Marriage Blessing

After the Marriage Blessing, the congregation STANDS.

The Marriage Prayer

The Magnificat

Note: For the Magnificat, the TLH setting “My Soul doth magnify the Lord” is an excellent choice to make this singable for the common Protestant. It’s Long Metre, so the words can be set to many well-known tunes. I used Old Hundredth (the famous tune for “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow/The Doxology”).


The Prayers

Note: I added ellipses into the ordo to save on space for formatting. The full prayers can be seen at the bottom of this post.

P: Let us pray.

The Kyrie

All: Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.

The Our Father

P: Taught by Our Lord and trusting His promise, we are bold to pray:

All: Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed by Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from ✠ evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Collects

P: The Lord be with you.

C: And with your spirit.

The Wedding Collect

P: Let us pray.

Almighty, eternal God, our heavenly Father… through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C: Amen

Commemoration of the Faithful Departed

O God of Life, Lord of Sabaoth… through the same Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

C: Amen

For Peace

O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed… through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C: Amen

The Salutation

P: The Lord be with you.

C: And with your spirit.

The Benedicamus

P: Bless we the Lord.

C: Thanks be to God.

The Nuptial Blessing

P: Almighty God bless, preserve and keep you… in the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

C: Amen

The Blessing

P: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit ✠ be with you all.

C: Amen

The Silent Prayer

Pray that the love of Christ, by His Word, may abide in you and may strengthen and encourage [Bride] and [Groom].

The Pronunciation

Note: This pronunciation was an addition of preference and is not in the original liturgies. The officiant spoke, “It is my pleasure to announce to you, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. [Groom’s full name]. You may kiss the bride.” Following this, the recessional music immediately began.

The Retiring Processional

When the Processional begins, please STAND.

It is traditional to bow as the Crucifix/Cross passes. When the wedding party has left the nave, please SIT. You will be ushered from your seats.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

On the back cover, it is fitting to place relevant Bible verses or quotes from church fathers or Lutheran theologians and credits for any cover art.

The full prayers that were used without ellipses:

The Wedding Collect: Almighty, eternal God, our heavenly Father, who has united this man and this woman in the holy estate of matrimony, grant them the grace to live therein according to Your Word; strengthen them in constant faithfulness and true love toward each other; sustain and defend them amidst all trials and temptations; and help them so to pass through this world in faith towards You, in communion with your holy Church, and in loving service one of the other, that they may ever enjoy Your heavenly benediction; through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Commemoration of the Faithful Departed: O God of Life, Lord of Sabaoth, who has won for us eternal life in your Son Jesus Christ, we remember in thanksgiving all our loved ones who have gone before us with the sign of Faith and now sleep the sleep of peace. Grant to them, and to all who rest in the Church Victorious, as You have promised, a place of refreshment, light, and peace, through the same Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

For Peace: O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, give unto Your servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments, and also that we, being defended by You from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Nuptial Blessing: Almighty God bless, preserve and keep you; the Lord mercifully behold you with His grace; the Lord fill you with every spiritual blessing, so that, living together in His love in this life, you may enter with joy in His heavenly home; in the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Wine, Water, and Grape Juice in the Eucharist – A Historical Introduction

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

In many protestant traditions grape juice rather than wine is used in communion. A number of arguments are used to support this practice, but historical and pragmatic analysis renders such arguments entirely invalid. On the other hand, the mixing of water and wine in communion is a historic practice of the church.

A Brief History of Grape Juice

It should be obvious to the reader that while the modern fermentation process as we know it was not known until the 1800s, fresh squeezed grape juice has been around since grapes were first pressed for juice. In the Old Testament, the word “tiyrowsh” is used to refer to this “new wine” or “sweet wine” as it is often translated, and it occurs 38 times. It is repeatedly used in the context of God providing it (often alongside oil or corn) as a blessing to His people. Juice will stay relatively unfermented for a short time, but primary fermentation is completed in 3-7 days, so it wouldn’t have been a common drink as it would need to be drunk soon after being pressed, which is time consuming.

We do know fresh juice was consumed on some occasions despite the time required to get the drink. Josephus in Antiquities Book II Chapter 5.2 (AD 93-94) writes, “He therefore said, that in his sleep he saw three clusters of grapes hanging upon three branches of a vine, large already, and ripe for gathering; and that he squeezed them into a cup which the king held in his hand; and when he had strained the wine [oinos], he gave it to the king to drink, and that he received it from him with a pleasant countenance.” In this context, drinking fresh squeezed grape juice is fitting as the king has servants to bring it to him.

The first evidence of some method of pasteurization is found in Aristotle in his book Meteorologica (384-322 BC). He writes, “For some kinds of wine [oinos], for example must [gleukos], solidify when boiled.” And later in the book, “Though called wine [oinos], it has not the effect of wine, for it does taste like wine and does not intoxicate like ordinary wine.” The word “gleukos” (meaning sweet/fresh wine) comes from “glukus” (meaning sweet or fresh). Aristotle uses the term here to refer to what seems to be a wine that is preserved, perhaps as a primitive jelly, by boiling, which is the same idea as pasteurization.

Athenaeus, the grammarian (about AD 200), explains in his book Banquet that “the Mityleneans have a sweet wine [glukon oinon], what they called prodromos, and others call it protropos.” Later on in the same book, he recommends this sweet, unfermented wine (protropos) for the dyspeptic: “Let him take sweet wine, either mixed with water or warmed, especially that kind called protropos, the sweet Lesbian glukus, as being good for the stomach; for sweet wine [oinos] does not make the head heavy.” Here the unfermented sweet grape juice is called “lesbian” (read “effeminate”) because the potency or fermentable power of the wine had been removed. It’s unclear exactly what protropos is in this occasion, but it seems that in some cases it was warmed, perhaps boiled, to achieve a sweet drink that lacks alcohol. On another occasion in this work, Athenaeus records the juice being drunk directly from the field: “At the time of festivals, he [Drimacus the General] went about, and took wine [oinon] from the field and such animals for victims as were in good condition.”

Usage of Gleukos and Oinos

The Greek word for wine is “oinos.” This is the obvious translation in almost all contexts of the word, but as shown in examples above, there are exceptions. Aristotle, Josephus, and Athenaeus all use “oinos” to refer to grape juice/sweet wine. In the Bible, out of the 38 occurrences of the word “tiyrowsh” in the Old Testament, 36 times it is translated into the Old Greek LXX as “oinos.” This shows that “oinos” is used broadly to refer to liquid from grapes.

Gleukos is seen only twice in the Bible. Once it is seen in Job 32:19 in the LXX in which it is a translation of the Hebrew word “yayin,” which translates directly as “wine.” This translation choice is used as the wine is still new: “Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; it is ready to burst like new wineskins” (NKJV, from the Hebrew). “And my belly is like a bound wineskin of new wine in ferment or like a burst bellows of a blacksmith” (NETS, from the Greek). It is clear in this case, however, that gleukos is referring to “sweet wine/new wine” rather than grape juice as the bursting is a result of gas release from bacteria, which suggests that fermentation is occurring. The other place that gleukos appears is in Acts 2:13: “Others mocking said, ‘These men are full of new wine.'” This is directly after the men had begun speaking in tongues. In verse 15 Peter tells the people, “For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.” It is clear then that here gleukos also refers to sweet/new wine rather than grape juice as the men are thought to be drunk yet are not.

The argument from some for the use of grape juice is that since “oinos” can refer to grape juice and since primitive pasteurization is from antiquity, using pasteurized grape juice is permissible for communion, but this argument does not follow as will be demonstrated.

The Last Supper Narrative

The last supper narrative records Christ refers to drinking wine as drinking “gennēma ampelos” (lit. fruit of the vine). This would seemingly be support for the validity of using grape juice, as it is equally as fruit of the vine to wine. The phrase “gennēma ampelos” is absent from outside texts, so the use of the phrase offers no help to the reader, but historical context plays a large role in answering whether or not the fruit of the wine in the last supper fits the normal use of “oinos” as wine or the alternative “gleukos” as sweet wine/grape juice. We know from Mishnah Pesachim 10:1 that the Jews used fermented wine (yayin as opposed to tiyrowsh) specifically for the Seder meal, and, while this is source is later than the Gospel accounts, there is no reason to assume that this practice changed from grape juice to wine at some point. The Mishnah was written in the first and second centuries, finally being set in stone in the third century. Mishnah Pesachim is thought to date to 190-230 AD, but the intention of the Mishnah is to put into writing the ancient oral Torah, which dates far earlier than the Gospel accounts. Some will point out that yayin sometimes refers to mixed wine (cut with water) as opposed to “shekhar,” which refers to unmixed wine, but this only further emphasizes the use of fermented wine over the use of gleukos. Wine need not be cut with water lest it has already fermented. Mixing wine with water was common in the ancient world to reduce alcohol content, mitigate the poor vinegary tastes of some batches, and extend the drink. In addition to this, yayin comes from a root word that means “to effervesce,” which necessitates fermentation.

If the Mishnah is not to be considered reliable, it should be noted that while grape juice was found as a drink in Greco-Roman and Jewish culture, the overwhelming abundance of wine over grape juice in this period necessitates that “fruit of the vine” be taken simply as wine unless otherwise specified.

Water with Wine in Communion

As Mishnah Pesachim 10 records, yayin, which often means mixed wine, is used for the Seder meal. While there is debate over whether the last supper was a Seder meal, the Eucharist is certainly a replacement of the Old Testament Seder. Should communion wine then be mixed with water?

The practice of mixing wine with water is abundant in the church fathers. It can be seen in Justin Martyr’s First Apology 65 (~150 AD), Irenaeus Against Heresies IV.33 (~180 AD), Clement of Alexandria The Instructor II (~200 AD), Cyprian Epistle 62 (~250 AD), Liturgy of St. James (~370 AD), Ambrose On the Sacraments V (~375 AD), Gregory of Nyssa The Great Catechism III.37 (~375 AD), Apostolic Constitutions VIII.12 (~380 AD), John Chrysostom Divine Liturgy (~400 AD), Council of Carthage Canon 37 (419 AD), Augustine On Christian Doctrine IV (~420 AD), Council of Trullo (692 AD), and various others.

Notably, Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) writes in Summa Theologica 3:74, “Water ought to be mingled with the wine which is offered in this sacrament. First of all on account of its institution: for it is believed with probability that our Lord instituted this sacrament in wine tempered with water according to the custom of that country: hence it is written (Proverbs 9:5 [Come, eat of my bread​​ and drink of the wine I have mixed]). Pope Alexander I [107-115 AD] says (Ep. 1 ad omnes orth.): ‘In the Lord’s chalice neither wine only nor water only ought to be offered, but both mixed because we read that both flowed from his side in the Passion.’ Thirdly, because this is adapted for signifying the effect of this sacrament, since as Pope Julius I [337-352 AD] says (Concil. Bracarens iii, can. 1): ‘We see that the people are signified by the water, but Christ’s blood by the wine. Therefore, when water is mixed with the wine in the chalice, the people is made one with Christ.’ Fourthly, because this is appropriate to the fourth effect of this sacrament, which is the entering into everlasting life: hence Ambrose says (De Sacram. v): ‘The water flows into the chalice, and springs forth unto everlasting life.'”


It is demonstrated then that the mixing of wine and water together is found in the foreshadowing of the Eucharist in the Seder in the Old Covenant, in the earliest days of the church as early as 107-115 AD, and throughout the entire history of the church from thenceforth. The use of gleukos in communion is absent from the history of the church entirely and contradicts the practice of mixing water with the wine as well as mirroring of the Old Testament Seder meal. Furthermore, there is scriptural support for the practice of mixing wine with water in that both water and blood flow from Christ’s side, and also in Proverbs, in which Wisdom (which is Christ) calls us to eat of His bread and drink of the wine He has mixed. In following the teaching of scripture and the historic church, proper practice for communion should be to use wine mixed with water.

Some will say that is necessary to have grape juice for alcoholics, but this is easily resolved by adding a drop of the consecrated element to water instead. Considering that part of the practice of cutting wine with water was to reduce alcohol content, it is only fitting that this be the method for which alcohol content is cut to a negligible amount for those who cannot consume any alcohol. Introducing grape juice into communion, especially pasteurized grape juice which has been intentionally changed so that it may not become wine, should not be practiced as it introduces doubt in the validity of the sacrament for the recipient. Wine mixed with water has always been used, so we can know that it is most certainly valid, so there is no need ever to deviate.

Introduction to Sacramentology: The Office of the Keys – a Scriptural and Patristic Apology

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

The practice of confession and absolution is absent, if not rejected outright, in much of the protestant tradition. Coming out of Roman Catholicism in the 1500s, this is understandable in some respects. Reformers spoke against the medieval practice of confession many times, criticizing it for it’s absuses: the requirement of the enumeration of all sins, hefty penance (good works) after the absolution, and binding all sins that go unconfessed prior to death. While the church in Rome has seemingly changed doctrine with regard to enumeration of all sins and has lightened penance requirements, the binding of all sins that go unconfessed prior to death has remained. In two branches of the reformation, confession and absolution were retained— Anglicanism and Lutheranism. The Anglican doctrine of this practice will not be discussed in this post.

Lutheranism has continued this practice on the ground of both scripture and tradition, going as far as declaring is one of the six chief parts of the Christian faith in the Small Catechism alongside the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. It is also given it’s own article in the Augsburg Confession and Apology and the Smalcald Articles and some editions of the Large Catechism.

The term “Office of the Keys” refers to Matthew 16:19 in which Christ tells Peter that He will give Peter the Keys of Heaven to bind and loose sins. The keys are a twofold responsibility: Loose the sins of the repentant and bind the sins of the unrepentant. This is where the practice of confession-absolution and the ban and excommunication are founded for the church in the New Testament. The protestant tradition has historically maintained the ban and excommunication, though many church bodies today practice seemingly antinomian practice in that they do not withhold communion from the unrepentant and allow clergy in great sin to continue preaching despite their failure to uphold ordination vows and the scriptural requirements for clergy.

A defense of the Lutheran position of the Office of the Keys entails an apology for the practice of confession to a pastor, the absolution bestowing Christ’s forgiveness to the confessor, and the practice of church discipline.

From the Lutheran Confessions:

The keys are an office and power given by Christ to the Church for binding and loosing sin, not only the gross and well-known sins, but also the subtle, hidden, which are known only to God, as it is written in Ps. 19:13: Who can understand his errors? And in Rom. 7:25 St. Paul himself complains that with the flesh he serves the law of sin. For it is not in our power, but belongs to God alone, to judge which, how great, and how many the sins are, as it is written in Ps. 143:2: Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified. And Paul says, 1 Cor. 4:4: For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified.

Since Absolution or the Power of the Keys is also an aid and consolation against sin and a bad conscience, ordained by Christ [Himself] in the Gospel, Confession or Absolution ought by no means to be abolished in the Church, especially on account of [tender and] timid consciences and on account of the untrained [and capricious] young people, in order that they may be examined, and instructed in the Christian doctrine. But the enumeration of sins ought to be free to every one, as to what he wishes to enumerate or not to enumerate. For as long as we are in the flesh, we shall not lie when we say: “I am a poor man [I acknowledge that I am a miserable sinner], full of sin.” Rom. 7:23: I see another law in my members, etc. For since private absolution originates in the Office of the Keys, it should not be despised [neglected], but greatly and highly esteemed [of the greatest worth], as [also] all other offices of the Christian Church.

The greater excommunication, as the Pope calls it, we regard only as a civil penalty, and it does not concern us ministers of the Church. But the lesser, that is, the true Christian excommunication, consists in this, that manifest and obstinate sinners are not admitted to the Sacrament and other communion of the Church until they amend their lives and avoid sin. And ministers ought not to mingle secular punishments with this ecclesiastical punishment, or excommunication.

If we call Sacraments rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to decide what are properly Sacraments. For rites instituted by men will not in this way be Sacraments properly so called. For it does not belong to human authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without God’s command are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps instruct the rude [children or the uncultivated], or admonish as to something [as a painted cross]. Therefore Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God’s command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament. For when we are baptized, when we eat the Lord’s body, when we are absolved, our hearts must be firmly assured that God truly forgives us for Christ’s sake. And God, at the same time, by the Word and by the rite, moves hearts to believe and conceive faith, just as Paul says, Rom. 10:17: Faith cometh by hearing. But just as the Word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart. The effect of the Word and of the rite is the same, as it has been well said by Augustine that a Sacrament is a visible word, because the rite is received by the eyes, and is, as it were, a picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore the effect of both is the same.  

Smalcald Articles Part III Articles VII, VIII.1-2, IX; Apology XIII (VII) 3-5

The Old Testament Witness

The Office of the Keys is rooted in the Old Testament and is rightly understood in that context. While the role of priests and prophets did not directly transfer into the New Testament, much of the role was retained, particularly the pastors’ role as stewards of God’s mysteries (1 Cor. 4:1-2) (Greek “mysterion”) which is the word for “sacrament” or in the Latin Vulgate “sacramentum.” The Office of the Keys is paramount to this idea, as Chrysostom (349-407 AD) writes in his 1 Corinthians commentary, “‘Stewards,’ says he, indicating that we ought not to give these things unto all, but unto whom it is due, and to whom it is fitting we should minister.”

Confession in the Old Testament

Leviticus 5:1-6 reads, “If a person sins in hearing the utterance of an oath, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of the matter— if he does not tell it…. Or if a person touches any unclean thing…. Or if a person swears, speaking thoughtlessly with his lips to do evil or to do good … then he shall be guilty in any of these matters. And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; and he shall bring his trespass offering to the LORD for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin.”

Leviticus specifically commands that Israelites confess their sins to a priest and receive atonement in the burnt offering. While the absolution is not given as a command for the priest in this text, the atonement for uncleanness following confession to a priest, is clear. It’s important to remember that the Old Testament atonement in the temple is for uncleanness rather than moral guilt, but this is the parallel for all atonement from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

Numbers 5:6-7 reads, “Speak to the children of Israel: ‘When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the LORD, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess the sin which he has committed. He shall make restitution for his trespass in full, plus one-fifth of it, and give it to the one he has wronged.”

Numbers gives a similar command to that of Leviticus, but with restitution towards the one wronged rather than burnt offering. The text is, however, unclear with regard to whom confession is made. It is possible that confession is made from offender to offended rather than to the priest.

1 Samuel 15:24-26 reads, “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.’ But Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.’”

Saul confessed his sin to the prophet Samuel, but Samuel saw through Saul’s false repentance and instead bound his sin rather than loosing it. The story that follows demonstrates that Samuel was correct in his judgement against Saul as Saul continued in evil unrepentantly.

2 Samuel 12:13 reads, “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’”

After committing adultery with Bathsheba and killing Uriah, David confessed his sin to the prophet Nathan, and Nathan absolved him. This is the clearest Old Testament text regarding the practice of confession to the clergy and absolution in return.

Nehemiah 9:1-3 reads, “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.”

This is an example from the Old Testament of corporate confession, which is included in the Lutheran liturgy. The congregation confesses their sins and receives the Word of God in return. A traditional confession in liturgy reads, “I confess to almighty God, before all the company of heaven, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed through my fault, through my own fault, through my own most grievous fault; wherefore I pray almighty God, for the save of Jesus Christ His Son, to have mercy on me, forgive me my sins, and bring me to everlasting life.” The pastor responds, “Upon this, your confession, I, by virtue of my Office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to all of you. In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” All then say, “Amen.”

Baruch 1:13-14 reads, “And pray concerning us to the Lord our God, for we have sinned against the Lord our God, and the anger of the Lord and his wrath have not turned away from us until this day.” Baruch 1:15-3:8 details the confession of Israel to the high priest Joachim. Baruch 4:21-24 then reads, “Take courage, O children; call out to God, and he will deliver you from domination, from the hand of enemies. For I have hoped in the Everlasting for your salvation, and joy has come to me from the Holy One because of the mercy that will soon come to you from your everlasting savior. For I dispatched out with mourning and weeping, but God will give you back to me with delight and merriment forever. For as the neighbors of Zion have seen your captivity now, so they will quickly see your salvation from God, which will come to you with the great glory and splendor of the Everlasting,” and in 5:9, “For God will lead Israel with merriment, by the light of his glory, together with the mercy and righteousness that is from him.”

Israel confessed their sins to the high priest and received the Word of god entailing salvation, mercy, eternal delight/merriment, and righteousness, which is to say, forgiveness from sin and bestowed righteousness, which is the definition of justification in the New Testament. This, along with the Numbers passage below, is perhaps the closest to the idea of corporate confession and absolution as seen in the Lutheran liturgy.

Absolution in the Old Testament

Leviticus 14:2, 6-7 reads, “This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest…. As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field.”

The concept of uncleanliness in the Old Testament does not transfer directly into the New Testament, but as sinners, we are spiritually unclean towards God (1 Cor. 7:14, Eph. 5:5). In the Old Testament, the priest would pronounce the unclean Israelite as clean.

Numbers 6:22-27 reads, “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, “This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel.” Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, ​And give you peace.” So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.’”

This text may be familiar to many as the benediction that is given at the end of services, even in many Protestant churches. While it is not a direct absolution for the confession of sins as in some other texts, it is clear that the priests are declaring God’s grace and peace unto the congregation, which is the purpose of an absolution.

Church Discipline in the Old Testament

The Hebrew word for uncleanness (tum’ah) occurs 37 times in the Old Testament, and the word for unclean (tame’) occurs 161 times in the Old Testament. The numerous things which make someone unclean are too numerous to list here, but include touching a dead animal or person, bearing children, male or female discharging, disease, touching anything that is unclean, and various other acts. Uncleanness required a period of separation from the camp for a varying amount of time depending on circumstances and a washing by the priest upon re-arrival. While this is not a direct parallel to New Testament church discipline, it is related in that various things make people unclean to come to God’s presence in the temple, and a washing is needed. Similarly, our sin makes us unclean, and a failure to repent and be washed (IE absolved) prohibits us from coming into God’s presence in communion (1 Cor. 11:27-29).

The Pentateuch documents the things which require that an individual be “cut off” from Israel (which is to be excommunicated). Israelites were to be cut off for being uncircumcised (Gen. 17:4), eating Leavened bread during Passover (Ex. 12:15,19), making chrism oil or incense for use outside of the temple (Ex. 30:33,38), breaking the sabbath (Ex. 31:14), eating peace offerings while unclean (Lev. 7:20-21), eating animal fat or blood from an offering (Lev. 7:25,27, 17:14), not making offering to God when slaughtering animals (Lev. 17:4,9), various sexually immoral acts (Lev. 18:29, 20:17-18), eating meat on two days after sacrificing it (Lev. 19:8), approaching holy things while unclean (Lev. 22:3, Num. 19:13), lack of conviction during the Feast of Atonement (Lev. 23:29), failing to keep Passover (Num. 9:13), and presumptuous acts (Num. 15:30-31).

Two examples of church discipline are seen in the Old Testament.

Numbers 12:14-15 reads, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘If her father had but spit in her face, would she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp seven days, and afterward she may be received again.‘ So Miriam was shut out of the camp seven days, and the people did not journey till Miriam was brought in again.”

Miriam is cut off for seven days after she and Aaron spoke against Moses to God.

Ezra 10:7-8 reads, “And they [Ezra and the priests] issued a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the descendants of the captivity, that they must gather at Jerusalem, and that whoever would not come within three days, according to the instructions of the leaders and elders, all his property would be confiscated, and he himself would be separated from the assembly of those from the captivity.”

Those who did not go to Jerusalem after the final release from captivity were separated from the congregation.

The New Testament Witness

Confession in the New Testament

Matthew 3:1, 5-6 (cf. Mark 1, Luke 3) reads, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea…. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.”

Those who came to John the Baptist confessed their sins before baptism. Though John was not a priest, he was certainly a prophet in that he prophesied the coming Messiah.

Luke 15:20-24 reads, “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the son confesses to the father and the father forgives the son in return. While this is certainly a parable about Christians and God, the parable uses people as it’s example for confession and forgiveness.

Acts 19:17-18 reads, “This [a failed exorcism by Jews] became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.”

Those who believed came and confessed their sins and recanted their practices. This example is seemingly a public confession as it is narrated immediately before the public book burning.

James 5:16 reads, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

This is the most direct command in the New Testament for confession. While it says to confess to one another, not specifically to a pastor, the Lutheran confessions address this: “For wherever the Church is, there is the authority [command] to administer the Gospel. Therefore it is necessary for the Church to retain the authority to call, elect, and ordain ministers. And this authority is a gift which in reality is given to the Church, which no human power can wrest from the Church, as Paul also testifies to the Ephesians when he says, Eph 4, 8: He ascended, He gave gifts to men. And he enumerates among the gifts specially belonging to the Church pastors and teachers, and adds that such are given for the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Hence, wherever there is a true church, the right to elect and ordain ministers necessarily exists. Just as in a case of necessity even a layman absolves, and becomes the minister and pastor of another; as Augustine narrates the story of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the catechumen, who after Baptism then absolved the baptizer” (Of the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Of the Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops, 67), and also “We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]. First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached [He commands to be preached] in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc.” (Smalcald Articles Part III, Article IV. Of the Gospel).

It is seen then that the Office of the Keys is not given to pastors alone, but to the church as a whole. Pastors are to be the stewards of the sacraments and God’s Word and are necessary for good order in the church, but in emergencies or in cases where one man sins against another, the keys are employed by laymen.

Absolution in the New Testament

Matthew 16:17-19 reads, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

The keys are here promised to Peter as the representative of the church. They are given to the church in Matthew 18 and John 20.

Matthew 18:15-20 reads, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

John 20:21-23 reads, “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

Matthew 18 and John 20 are the key texts for defending the Office of the Keys. They are clear in that Christ is the one who forgives, but the apostles are given the keys from Christ to forgive in his stead, or “in persona Christi,” in the person of Christ as it is often said. The church then has received the keys and great authority to “bind” and “loose” sins on earth and in heaven, which is to say, not only temporal, but also eternal forgiveness. Roman Catholic and Eastern Christianity may argue that because the apostles were given the keys that only pastors (particularly those in apostolic succession) may forgive sins, but this seemingly contradicts the ancient interpretation of Matthew 16, which holds that Peter received the promise of the keys as representative of the church and contradicts Matthew 18:20, which is clear that the keys are there where two or more are gathered in Christ’s name. This is not to say that any and all should use the keys at their own discretion as this would not be in good order or wisdom, but rather that all can, and in some cases (as stated in the section on confession in the New Testament) should absolve others.

2 Corinthians 2:10 reads, “Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ.”

The interpretation of the passage as absolution is supported by Cyprian (210-258 AD), Chrysostom (349-407 AD), and Theophylact (1050-1107+ AD). The Greek rendering is more clear than the NKJV; the forgiveness is given “en prosopon Xristou” which renders “in face/person of Christ,” (as KJV reads), (Vulgate reads “in persona Christi”) which is to say, it is in Christ’s stead, demonstrating the authority of the Office of the Keys.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 reads, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

The “ministry of reconciliation” must be taken as it plainly reads. Christ made the apostles ministers, and, in this ministry, they reconcile people to God, through Christ, who gave them this ministry in the keys.

Church Discipline in the New Testament

1 Corinthians 5:4-5 reads, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one [the sexually immoral] to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul tells the church in Corinth here to deliver the sexually immoral to Satan for destruction of the flesh, which is to drive them to repentance that they may be saved. This is a clear example of excommunication.

2 Corinthians 1:23-24 reads, “Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth. Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.”

Paul clarifies in his second letter to Corinth that he did not return there any longer so that more may be spared, suggesting that he was exercising church discipline in the church. The text is clear that Paul does not have authority over their faith in excommunicating but rather over church order, which is confirmed in Smalcald Articles VIII.1-2 as cited at the beginning. This theme of church discipline in good order and not over the eternal soul is repeated later in Titus.

1 Timothy 1:18-20 reads, “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

Paul gives an example to Timothy of two individuals who were delivered to Satan as he spoke in 1 Cor. 5:4-5 and demonstrates that handing them to Satan is to drive them to repentance.

2 Timothy 3:2-8 reads, “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith.”

Paul tells Timothy that the church is not to accept the unrepentant sinners, IE excommunicate them, as they will bring their sins into the church to lead others astray.

Titus 3:9-11 reads, “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.”

Paul again tells one of his disciples to exercise church discipline, this time for those who unnecessarily stir dissension in the church. He again is clear that these sinners condemn themselves, but the church, in good order, is to exercise discipline.

The Patristic Witness

Didache 4:14, 14:1 (49-70 AD) reads, “In church you shall confess your transgressions, and you shall not approach your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life…. On the Lord’s own day gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure.”

This is possibly an example of public confession in the early church. The two passages demonstrate that confession took place on Sundays in church. This would seem to imply that it is during the liturgy, though it is possible that it occurs prior to the liturgy in the church on Sunday.

This same wording is found the Epistle of Barnabas 19:12 (70-79 AD): “You shall confess your sins. You shall not come to prayer with an evil conscience.”

Ignatius Epistle of Philadelphia 8:1 (<108 AD) reads, “The Lord, however, forgives all who repent, if in repenting they return to the unity of God and the council of the bishop. I believe in the grace of Jesus Christ, who will free you from every restraint.”

Ignatius seemingly connects the forgiveness through repentance and returning to the unity of God also to the council of the bishop, which could imply confession to the bishop.

Irenaeus Adversus Haeresis 1.13.7 (174-189 AD) reads, “Some of them, [women deceived by heretics] indeed, make a public confession of their sins; but others of them are ashamed to do this, and in a tacit kind of way, despairing of [attaining to] the life of God, have, some of them, apostatized altogether.”

Public confession is seen again here, this case may refer to the ceremony of restoration of the lapsed, which was a practice for bringing the formerly apostate church members back into Christianity. Werner Elert’s Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries discusses this topic thoroughly if further reading is desired.

Tertullian On repentance (<206 AD) Chapter 10 reads, “What a son asks is ever easily obtained. Grand indeed is the reward of modesty, which the concealment of our fault promises us! To wit, if we do hide somewhat from the knowledge of man, shall we equally conceal it from God? Are the judgment of men and the knowledge of God so put upon a par? Is it better to be damned in secret than absolved in public? But you say, ‘It is a miserable thing thus to come to confession.’ Yes, for evil does bring to misery; but where repentance is to be made, the misery ceases, because it is turned into something salutary. Miserable it is to be cut, and cauterized, and racked with the pungency of some (medicinal) powder: still, the things which heal by unpleasant means do, by the benefit of the cure, excuse their own offensiveness, and make present injury bearable for the sake of the advantage to supervene.”

Here it is easily seen that Tertullian writes that it is good to go to confession and be absolved in public for the sake of comforting the soul. This is one possible support for the use of public absolution in the Lutheran liturgy, though Tertullian could be suggesting that this confession is “public” in that it is shared between the confessor and the clergyman.

Origen Homily 2 on Leviticus 4.5 (238-244 AD) reads, “And there is still a seventh remission of sins through penance, although admittedly it is difficult and toilsome, when the sinner washes ‘his couch in tears’ (Ps 6.7) and his ‘tears’ become his ‘bread day and night,’ (Ps 41.4) when he is not ashamed to make known his sin to the priest of the Lord and to seek a cure according to the one who says, ‘I said, “I will proclaim to the Lord my injustice against myself” and you forgave the impiety of my heart’ (Ps 31.5).”

Penance refers to the process of confession, absolution, and tasks afterward which are to accompany this to show repentance.

Cyprian Treatise 3 – The Lapsed 15-16, 28 (251 AD) reads, “Also, the apostle testifies, and says, ‘You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; you cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils’ (1 Cor. 10:21). He threatens, moreover, the stubborn and Lord unworthily, is ‘guilty of the body and blood of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 11:27). All these warnings being scorned and contemned — before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by offering and by the hand of the priest, before the offense of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord…. Moreover, how much are they both greater in faith and better in their fear, who, although bound by no crime of sacrifice to idols or of certificate, yet, since they have even thought of such things, with grief and simplicity confess this very thing to God’s priests, and make the conscientious avowal, put off from them the load of their minds, and seek out the salutary medicine even for slight and moderate wounds, knowing that it is written, God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7).”

Cyprian is clear in this case on the practice of private confession to a clergyman as a necessity before communion. The purging by offering is unclear in the text. This could be communion, though that would seemingly contradict his point, since the lapsed individual would have to commune once first in order to commune the second time rightly. It’s possible this refers to penance or a sacrifice of praise, incense, or worship. He writes further on this topic on numerous occasions (Epistles 9, 10 11, 39, 51, 61, 72, 74).

Aphrahat Demonstrations 8.8 (337 AD) reads, “Then Moses wished by his priestly power to absolve Reuben from his transgression and sin, in that he had lain with Bilhah, his father’s concubine; that when his brethren should rise, he might not be cut off from their number.”

Aphrahat connects the practice of absolution to the Old Testament priesthood.

Council of Antioch in Encaeniis Canon 2 (341 AD) reads, “All who enter the church of God and hear the Holy Scriptures, but do not communicate with the people in prayers, or who turn away, by reason of some disorder, from the holy partaking of the Eucharist, are to be cast out of the Church, until, after they shall have made confession, and having brought forth the fruits of penance, and made earnest entreaty, they shall have obtained forgiveness; and it is unlawful to communicate with excommunicated persons, or to assemble in private houses and pray with those who do not pray in the Church; or to receive in one Church those who do not assemble with another Church. And, if any one of the bishops, presbyters, or deacons, or any one in the Canon shall be found communicating with excommunicated persons, let him also be excommunicated, as one who brings confusion on the order of the Church.”

Athanasius Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 19 (<373 AD) writes, “Just as a man is enlightened by the Holy Spirit when he is baptized by a priest, so he who confesses his sins with a repentant heart obtains their remission from the priest.”

Basil the Great Rules Briefly Treated 288 (374 AD) reads, “It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist (Matt 3:6); but in Acts they confessed to the Apostles, by whom also all were baptized (Acts 19:18).”

Council of Laodicaea Canon 2 (390 AD) reads, “They who have sinned in various particulars, if they have persevered in the prayer of confession and penance, and are wholly converted from their faults, shall be received again to communion, through the mercy and goodness of God, after a time of penance appointed to them, in proportion to the nature of their offense. “

Ambrose Concerning Repentance I.7-8 (388 AD) reads, “The Church holds fast its obedience on either side, by both retaining and remitting sin; heresy is on the one side cruel, and on the other disobedient; wishes to bind what it will not loosen, and will not loosen what it has bound, whereby it condemns itself by its own sentence. For the Lord willed that the power of binding and of loosing should be alike, and sanctioned each by a similar condition. So he who has not the power to loose has not the power to bind. For as, according to the Lord’s word, he who has the power to bind has also the power to loose, their teaching destroys itself, inasmuch as they who deny that they have the power of loosing ought also to deny that of binding. For how can the one be allowed and the other disallowed? It is plain and evident that either each is allowed or each is disallowed in the case of those to whom each has been given. Each is allowed to the Church, neither to heresy, for this power has been entrusted to priests alone. Rightly, therefore, does the Church claim it, which has true priests; heresy, which has not the priests of God, cannot claim it. And by not claiming this power heresy pronounces its own sentence, that not possessing priests it cannot claim priestly power. And so in their shameless obstinacy a shamefaced acknowledgment meets our view. Consider, too, the point that he who has received the Holy Ghost has also received the power of forgiving and of retaining sin. For thus it is written: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit: whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven unto them, and whosoever sins you retain, they are retained’ (John 20:22-23). So, then, he who has not received power to forgive sins has not received the Holy Spirit. The office of the priest is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and His right it is specially to forgive and to retain sins. How, then, can they claim His gift who distrust His power and His right?”

Jerome Commentary on Matthew 3:16-19 (398 AD) reads, “Just as in the Old Testament the priest makes the leper clean or unclean, so in the New Testament the bishop and presbyter binds or looses not those who are innocent or guilty, but by reason of their office, when they have heard various kinds of sins, they know who is to be bound and who loosed.”

Confession, absolution, and church discipline can be further found among numerous fathers, and the citations are too numerous to include all here. Some examples are John Chrysostom (347-407 AD), Augustine (354-430 AD), and Leo the Great (395-461 AD) each in numerous works, Socrates’ (379-450) Ecclesial History book 5, Sozomen’s (375-477 AD) Ecclesial History book 7, Theodore of Mopsuestia Catechetical Homilies 16, and various others. Ecclesiastical canons and local councils also tend to address the topic of church discipline thoroughly.


The practices of confession, absolution, and church discipline are abundant in the Old and New Testaments, not only in descriptive, but also prescriptive texts. The fathers continued in this tradition in all ages of the church. God uses His people to bestow forgiveness to the world not only in the preaching of the Gospel, Baptism, and Communion, but also the Absolution.

Further Readings

Ambrose Concerning Repentance

Tertullian One Repentance

Apology to the Ausgburg Confession Article XI: Of Confession

Luther’s Brief Admonition to Confession

Introduction to Sacramentology: Real Presence in the Eucharist – a Scriptural Apology

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Among the things in which the early church was in universal agreement that are debated today are three: people can apostatize from their faith; the Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ; and baptism truly brings saving grace to the recipient (cit. Dr. Jordan B Cooper, Sola Fide in the Church Fathers).

During the Reformation, the topic of how Christ is present in the Eucharist was a heated debate. The most notable dispute took place at the Marburg Colloquy where Luther and Zwingli (as well as others on each respective side) debated whether Christ was corporeally present or not in the Eucharist.

In modern Christianity, a variety of Eucharistic traditions are seen. The Roman Catholic and Eastern churches hold to a doctrine of Transubstantiation/Metoousios, in which Aristotelian metaphysics are use to explain that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ in substance, but the accidents of bread and wine remain. The Reformed tradition (including the Remonstrants) holds that Christ is partaken in a spiritual, but not corporeal manner. Lutherans affirm a doctrine known as “mystical union,” which states that Christ is essentially and corporeally present in the Eucharist, yet the bread and wine also remain. The Wesleyan tradition affirms a middle ground of real, yet not corporeal presence. “Real presence” generally refers to the doctrine held be Lutherans, Rome, and the East, though the doctrine of some Wesleyans and Anglicans could also fall under this category.

The Lutheran Confessions define presence in communion as follows: “We believe, teach, and confess that the body and blood of Christ are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually by faith, but also orally; yet not in a Capernaitic, but in a supernatural, heavenly mode, because of the sacramental union; as the words of Christ clearly show, when Christ gives direction to take, eat, and drink, as was also done by the apostles; for it is written (Mark 14:23): And they all drank of it. St. Paul likewise says, (1 Cor. 10:16) The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? that is: He who eats this bread eats the body of Christ, which also the chief ancient teachers of the Church, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Leo I, Gregory, Ambrose, Augustine, unanimously testify” (Formula of Concord Epitome Article VII: The Lord’s Supper, 6).

A Brief History of non-Real Presence

It may be a surprise to most Protestants that Christ being present in communion is the norm in Protestant tradition. The memorialist/symbolic position is largely absent, even in Baptist theology, until the 1800s. Reformed (Calvinist) and Remonstrant (Arminian) theologians both believed in a spiritual presence while Lutherans have always believed in a real corporeal presence.

Dr. Jordan Cooper, in the video cited in the first paragraph, makes a caveat that some scholars argue that Tertullian (c. 155-240) held a view closer to that of the Wesleyan or Reformed tradition than that of Lutherans, Rome, or the East. This is particularly seen in Against Marcion Book IV.40, but it is necessary to know that, at the time of writing Against Marcion, Tertullian had fallen into Montanist heresy, and that his view of Eucharistic presence must be taken in context of all of his writings, not Against Marcion alone. (Dr. Cooper states that he believes Tertullian held to real presence). Proto-Reformers John Wycliffe (c. 1324-1384) and Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415) both believed in a sort of presence in communion, though Wycliffe is unclear and loose with his language at times and could be read as holding a Reformed, Wesleyan, or Lutheran view of communion depending on how he is read (see Sermon LXI on John 6, among others). Wycliffe scholars disagree on his position (see John Wyclif : Scriptural Logic, Real Presence, and the Parameters of Orthodoxy by Ian Christopher Levy). The Lollard Confession seems to profess the Reformed position. Hus is clear in his belief in real presence, however. What is most notable is that the memorialist view, that Christ is not present in the supper at all, but the supper is solely a memorial of a past event is not found in the magisterial reformation at all or proto-reformers. It is found in the English Separatists who first united in confession in 1596 and in the radical reformation in the Anabaptists in the 1520s. Memorialism does not appear in the magisterial branch until the late 1600s, notably in 1691 in Baptist theologian Thomas Collier’s A Short Confession or a Brief Narrative of Faith, which is the first confession from the magisterial branch to profess memorialism. Prior to this, all magisterial protestants (Baptists included) believed in some sense of presence in communion. Memorialism remained relatively small among Baptists and others alike until the 1800s in light of the widespread acceptance of Voltaire’s radical enlightenment and the Second Great Awakening.

Against common belief, it is demonstrated repeatedly from the primary sources by E.M. Henning in The Architectonics of Faith: Metalogic and Metaphor in Zwingli’s Doctrine of the Eucharist (1986) that Zwingli, who is generally attributed as the theologian to spread memorialist doctrine, was not a strict memorialist, but rather in-line with others in the Reformed tradition, believing in spiritual presence in communion. His emphasis on presence is certainly less than that of Calvin or Bucer, but it is clear nonetheless. Zwingli attributes this doctrine to Cornelis Henricxz Hoen (Honius) who seems to have held the view prior to 1520. It should be further noted (again contrary to popular belief) that the Proto-Protestant movement started by Peter Waldo (c. 1140-1205), the Waldensians (both those of France and those of Lombardy), believed in real presence as is clearly shown many times over in the primary sources by Emilio Comba in History of the Waldenses of Italy, From Their Origin to the Reformation (English 1889). What is commonly mistaken for a rejection of real presence is, in reality, a mere rejection of the doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice and particular Roman Catholic distinctions of how real presence came to be in the Lord’s supper, I.E. whether the words of institution in particular were the cause of a valid consecration or if the priest needed a valid ordination and whether real presence could be explained in particular Aristotelian philosophical terms or not. The earliest Anabaptist confessions (The Schleitheim Confession (1527) and Discipline of the Church (1527)) as well as later confessions (The Dordrecht Confession (1632) and A Declaration of People Called Anabaptists (1659)) are unclear on doctrine of presence in the Eucharist, though they sound most similar to the confessions of memorialists. At the very least, it is assumed that they intend to profess a memorialist position as Hubmaier Balthasar, perhaps the greatest of the Anabaptist theologians, professes a memorialist position in 1524 in A Simple Explanation of the Words “This Is My Body” (full text unavailable in English). Ridemann’s Rechenschaft (1540) is the confession that is most clearly memorialist.

It can be said, then, that while a couple theologians (Tertullian and Wycliffe) were ambiguous on Eucharistic doctrine, perhaps holding a view that can be considered close to that of the Reformed or Wesleyan traditions or a real presence view, all other Theologians prior to the 1500s believed in real presence in communion. The spiritual presence position is found first sometime prior to 1520, and the strict memorialist position, that of no presence at all, is seen at the earliest in the mid-1520s in the Anabaptists, becoming more explicitly memorialist over time, particularly by 1540, and later in the English Separatists in the mid-1590s. After this point in time, the memorialist position became a known and recognizable viewpoint, distinct from the spiritual presence view of the Reformed tradition but didn’t reach the magisterial (IE non-Anabaptist) branch in any substantial form until the 1800s.

The New Testament Texts

Matthew 26:26-28 reads, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. ‘”

Mark 14:22-24 reads, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, eat this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.'”

Luke 22:19-20 reads, “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.'”

Luke 24:30-35 reads, “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.”

The breaking of bread would have been common at meals in this time. What is significant about this passage is that Jesus chose to use the breaking of bread as an indicator to Peter and Cleopas of His identity which tells us the Last Supper was significant to them. While it is possible that the institution of a memorial meal would recall some significance for them, an easier reading is that they understood a greater significance in the meal, I.E. Christ’s true body and blood for the remission of sins.

John 6:25-58 reads, “They said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did You come here?’ Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.’ Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’ Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’ The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ And they said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?’ Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.‘ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.’ The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.'”

John 6 is debated among Lutherans as a Eucharistic text. While Martin Luther believed it was not a Eucharistic text, Martin Chemnitz did. The fact that John’s Gospel lacks the Last Supper narrative is notable, and John 6 may be the Eucharistic text instead. This passage is preceded by the feeding of the 5,000, which takes place near Passover. The Bread of Heaven narrative above takes place the next day. Jesus is clear and explicit in His statements about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Theophilus (d. 183-185), Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), Cyprian (c. 210-258), Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310-367), Chrysostom (c. 349-407), Augustine (c. 354-430), Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444), Bede (c. 673-735), Alcuin of York (c. 735-804), Theophylact (c. 1050-1107+), and Wycliffe (c. 1324-1384), among others all believed that John 6 was a Eucharistic passage.

John 13:18-20, 25-26, 30 reads, “‘I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me’ (Psalm 41:9). Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.’…. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he [Peter] said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.‘ And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him…. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.”

Those who object to real presence doctrine point out that this passage, as well as 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 and Proverbs 9:5 refer to the elements as bread and the cup/wine. Lutherans, however, hold that the elements are truly bread and wine and truly body and blood. Scripture speaks of the elements as both realities, so this doctrine is maintained.

1 Corinthians 10:14-17 reads, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”

This passage is clear in its statement that the cup is “the communion of the blood of Christ” and the bread is “the communion of the body of Christ.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-30 reads, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broke for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.”

Paul recounts the Gospels here then goes on to make statements about those who eat and drink unworthily. We must ask why it is that those who eat and drink unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord if the bread and cup are not the body and blood. Furthermore, Paul attributes the judgment for unworthy reception to be a result of “not discerning the Lord’s body,” which is to say that it is the Lord’s body that is being received, but not treated as if it truly is the Body of Christ. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407) writes, “But why does he eat judgment to himself? Not discerning the Lord’s body: i.e., not searching, not bearing in mind, as he ought, the greatness of the things set before him; not estimating the weight of the gift. For if you should come to know accurately Who it is that lies before you, and Who He is that gives Himself, and to whom, you will need no other argument, but this is enough for you to use all vigilance; unless you should be altogether fallen.”

Revelation 2:7, 17 reads, “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God…. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.‘”

Alcuin of York (c. 735-804) and Bede (c. 673-735) both take these verses to be Eucharistic texts (see more below in the Tree of Life discussion).

Remembrance and Anamnesis

What is notable about the Luke narrative of the Last Supper is that it includes the clause regarding remembrance, which is absent in the other Gospels. While it is an important clause as it is both here and in 1 Corinthians 11, it cannot be the primary focus of the account as it is missing from both Matthew and Mark. Memorialists tend to emphasize this clause in error, holding it over and above the parts of the passage that are in all accounts. Moreover the Greek does not help the memorialist case. “τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν” is most literally translated as “do this into my remembrance.” The famous Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias notes in The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (pg. 252), “The command for repetition [of the Lord’s Supper] may be translated: ‘This do, that God may remember me.’ How is this to be understood? Here an old Passover prayer is illuminating. On Passover evening a prayer is inserted into the third benediction of the grace after the meal, a prayer which asks God to remember the Messiah. . . . In this very common prayer, which is also used on other festival days, God is petitioned at every Passover concerning ‘the remembrance of the Messiah.'” The remembrance in the Luke and 1 Corinthians passage is not our remembrance of God but God’s remembrance of us. This is the most straightforward reading of the Greek and the most in-line with historical context. If some are to say that God need not a reminder of us, then God need not our prayers at all as He already knows our thoughts, needs, sins, and desires; such an argument does not follow. Past this, the final word, “ἀνάμνησιν,” is hard to render in English. “Remembrance” is close but falls short. It is used five times in the Greek Old Testament: Lv 24:7, Nm 10:10, Ps 37:1, Ps 69:1, Wsd 16:6.

Leviticus 24:5-9 reads, “And you shall take fine flour and make it twelve loaves; two-tenths shall be the one loaf. And you shall lay them in two piles, six loaves per one pile, on the pure table before the Lord. You shall put on the pile pure frankincense and salt, and they shall be as loaves for remembrance, set before the Lord. On the day of the sabbaths he shall set them out before the Lord continually as an everlasting covenant from the sons of Israel. And they shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat them in a holy place, for they are holy of holies; this is for him from the things sacrificed to the Lord, a perpetual precept.” (NETS)

The parallel between this passage and that of the Eucharist should be apparent. The continual showbread is treated with great reverence, to be handled by the highest clergy, and kept in the holy of holies, where God dwells. It can be reasonably inferred that this is a foreshadowing of God’s dwelling in the Eucharist. The bread here is not a mere symbol of the covenant, but truly a part of the covenant (see more below in the Continual Showbread discussion).

Numbers 10:9-10 reads, “And if you go out to war in your land against the adversaries who oppose you, you shall also give a signal with the trumpets, and you shall be remembered before the Lord, and you shall escape to safety from your enemies. And in the days of your gladness and at your feasts and at your new moons, you shall trumpet with the trumpets over the whole burn offerings and over your sacrifices of deliverance, and it shall be for you a reminder before your God. I am the Lord your God.” (NETS)

The trumpets then, which are used in times of deliverance from enemies and deliverance from sin at the sacrifices are then reminders, not of God to man but of man to God, “καὶ ἀναμνησθήσεσθε ἔναντι Κυρίου” in v. 9 and “ἔσται ὑμῖν ἀνάμνησις ἔναντι τοῦ Θεοῦ ὑμῶν” in v. 10. In the New Testament, we are delivered from sins in Christ’s body and blood.

Psalms 37:1 and 69:1 both use “ἀνάμνησιν” in their titles. 37:1 reads, “A Psalm. Pertaining to David. As a reminder [of Sabbath]” and 69:1 reads, “Regarding completion. Pertaining to David. As a reminder, for the Lord to save me.” Both Psalms, when read, show themselves to be that of reminders to God to deliver man from anguish and sin, not reminders of God to man.

The one case where “ἀνάμνησιν” is used for God reminding man is in the apocrypha. Wisdom 16:5-6 reads, “For even when the terrible rage of wild animals came upon them and they were perishing through the bites of twisted snakes, your anger did not continue to the end; for a short while they were troubled as a warning, professing a symbol of salvation to remind them of the command of your law.” This is referring to the bronze snake of Moses that delivered them from the venom of the snakes that bit them in Numbers 21. While the snake is called a symbol of salvation to remind them of the command, the snake truly saved the people by God’s power: “Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Numbers 21:9, NKJV).

It is seen then that, “ἀνάμνησιν” is used in the Old Testament 4/5 times to refer to God remembering us, and all five passages are related to God’s deliverance from sin and enemies and/or foreshadowing the Eucharist. This is the context for how the New Testament writers are familiar with the word “ἀνάμνησιν.” It is not a simple remembrance, but has a sacramental sense in that a reality of God’s deliverance unto salvation is being made true, whether through bread in Leviticus, the annunciation of the Lord in Numbers, the Word of God in the Psalms, or the Bronze Serpent in Wisdom.

The Importance of Old Testament Foreshadowing

Passover Parallels

The connection between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper should be apparent to any reader, namely in that the Last Supper was for Passover and that Christ was sacrificed for our sins two days after Passover. 1 Corinthians 5:6-7 reads, “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” It’s seen that Christ is the new Passover Lamb. It follows that, just as the Passover lamb of the Old Testament was eaten solely by the Jews (Ex. 12:48) as a means for the forgiveness of sins (Num. 9:13), Christ is truly eaten solely by Christians (Heb. 13:9-10) as a means for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28).

Among the Old Testament feasts, some meals are “todah” meals. “Todah” is a Hebrew word which means “thanksgiving.” The Passover meal is one of the “todah” meals. In the Greek Old Testament, it is rendered “eucharistia.” This thanksgiving (eucharistia) is found in all four accounts of the Lord’s supper and is where the English word “Eucharist” comes to us. The Jewish writer Philo (c. 20BC-50AD) writes in Special Laws II.XVII, “And this festival is instituted in remembrance of, and as giving thanks for, their great migration which they made from Egypt, with many myriads of people, in accordance with the commands of God given to them.” A feast of remembrance and thanksgiving is given as the primary means of forgiveness in the Old Testament. This is paralleled in the feast of remembrance and thanksgiving in the New Testament.

The Blood of the Covenant

All four accounts of the Last Supper include the cup being blessed by Christ as “the new covenant in my blood.” This is a clear parallel with the blood of the covenant in Exodus 24:3-8: “So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the LORD has said we will do.’ And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.'” Just as the blood of the oxen was not a mere symbol of the covenant, but truly what made the covenant a reality, the cup in the New Testament is not a mere symbol of the covenant, but truly what makes the covenant a reality.

The Continual Showbread

The showbread (or more literally “continual bread”) is one of the most notable foreshadowings of the Eucharist in the Old Testament. The rubrics for this bread are written in three passages:

The making of the table for the bread is described in Exodus 25:23-30: “You shall also make a table of acacia wood; two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold all around. You shall make for it a frame of a handbreadth all around, and you shall make a gold molding for the frame all around. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings on the four corners that are at its four legs. The rings shall be close to the frame, as holders for the poles to bear the table. And you shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be carried with them. You shall make its dishes, its pans, its pitchers, and its bowls for pouring. You shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the showbread on the table before Me always.”

The making of the bread is seen in Leviticus 24:5-9: “And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the LORD. And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the LORD. Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute.”

The preparation of the table for the bread is seen in Numbers 4:7-10: “On the table of showbread they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring; and the showbread shall be on it. They shall spread over them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles. And they shall take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand of the light, with its lamps, its wick-trimmers, its trays, and all its oil vessels, with which they service it. Then they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of badger skins, and put it on a carrying beam.”

The rubrics describe a highly ornate and reverent treatment for the showbread. Leviticus attributes the reverence to the fact that it is part of the everlasting covenant. Similarly, in the new covenant, the bread is consecrated each Sunday in our churches. The great reverence in the Old Testament demonstrates that it is foreshadowing something of great reverence in the New Testament as well. A symbol is not treated with such reverence of ornate gold, cloths, and incense, but the covenant of the Lord in His blood surely does.

The Tree of Life in Genesis and Revelation

The tree of life is one of two trees seen in the Garden of Eden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is partaken by Adam and Eve unto their detriment, but the tree of life is said to bring immortality: “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’— therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken” (Gen. 3:22-24). Augustine (c. 354-430) writes in his Genesis commentary, “Thus Paradise is the Church, as it is called in [Song of Songs 4:13], the four rivers of Paradise are the four gospels; the fruit-trees the saints, and the fruit their works; the tree of life is the holy of holies, Christ; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the will’s free choice.” Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395) writes in his Genesis commentary, “It seems to me that I may take the great David and the wise Solomon as my instructors in the interpretation of this text: for both understand the grace of the permitted delight to be one—that very actual Good, which in truth is every good—David, when he says, Delight thou in the Lord , and Solomon, when he names Wisdom herself (which is the Lord) a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18). Thus the every tree of which the passage gives food to him who was made in the likeness of God, is the same with the tree of life.”

Later in Revelation 2:7, the tree is mentioned again: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Bede (c. 673-735) writes in his Revelation commentary, “The tree of life is Christ, by the vision of Whom in the celestial paradise, and in the present body of the Church, holy souls are refreshed.”

If the tree of life is Christ and it is food unto eternal life, how are we to receive eternal life? Eternal life is granted in the remission of sins, which is in Christ’s sacrifice poured out for us, which is to say that we truly receive Christ in communion and eat of the tree of life.

Melchizedek and Christ

One of the most obvious parallels communion in the Old Testament is in Melchizedek. Hebrews 5-7 demonstrates that Melchizedek is a “type of Christ” in the Old Testament. He is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament, Genesis 14:18 and Psalm 110:4: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:​​​ ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High,​​ Possessor of heaven and earth; ​​And blessed be God Most High,​​Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all” (Gen 14:18-20). “Your people shall be volunteers​​ in the day of Your power;​​ In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning,​​ You have the dew of Your youth. ​​The LORD has sworn​​ and will not relent,​​’You are a priest forever​​ according to the order of Melchizedek'” (Psalm 110:3-4).

The very brief account of Melchizedek in the Old Testament is a seemingly odd and insignificant story without the New Testament context. If Genesis 14:18-20 is removed from the chapter, the story with the king of Sodom on either side of it actually reads more smoothly. Three verses seemingly derail the story without reason, and the bread and wine are given no explanation. If it were not for the Eucharist, the account would seem altogether unnecessary to the Biblical narrative, that is to say that if the Eucharist is solely a symbol, then the story of Melchizedek is even less significant as it is a foreshadowing of a future symbol that grants no grace or significance to the recipient. This renders the emphasis on Melchizedek in Hebrew 5-7 hardly readable.

The Seraphim’s Coal

Isaiah 6:1-7 reads, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said, ​​​’Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’​ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone!​​Because I am a man of unclean lips,​​ and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;​​For my eyes have seen the King, ​​The LORD of hosts.’​ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips;​​ your iniquity is taken away,​​ and your sin purged.'”

Perhaps the most debatable foreshadowing of the Eucharist in the Old Testament is the Seraphim’s coal in Isarah 6. While various modern theologians have proposed this is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, the historical for precedence for this interpretation is mixed. Martin Luther compares it to baptism. Cyril of Aleandria says it is the Word preached. Notably John Damascenus (c. 675-749) writes, “With eyes, lips, and aces turned toward it, let us receive the divine burning coal so that the fire of the coal may be added to the desire within us to consume our sins and enlighten our hearts, and so that by this communion with the divine fire we may be set afire and deified. Isaiah saw a live coal, and this coal was not plain wood but wood joined with fire. Thus also, the bread of communion is not plain bread but bread joined with the Godhead. And the body joined with the Godhead is not one nature. On the contrary, that of the body is one, whereas that of the Godhead joined with it is another– so that both together are not one nature but two” (Orthodox Faith 4.13).

Addressing Counterarguments

“The elements remain to all senses bread and wine./The accidents of bread and wine cannot remain without the substance of bread and wine remaining.”

This argument is most simply addressed in that Lutherans believe that the bread and wine remain after consecration. The body and blood are united to the bread and wine through the sacramental (I.E. mysterious) union. We do not attempt to explain this philosophically, but do compare it to two examples from Christianity: the ascended Christ walking through a closed door (Jn. 20:19) and, as is tradition, Christ passing through Mary’s womb without it being opened. This is a miracle just as the bush burned in front of Moses yet was not consumed, and as Christ used mud to heal the blind. The fire did not interact with the world as it would naturally, yet it was there. The mud was a substance of the world, yet Christ used it as a means for miracle. Memorialism spread after the radical enlightenment, in which science became a means to trump scripture rather than work hand-in-hand. This philosophy leads to the conclusion that the senses trump the plain words of Christ and the denial of the miraculous Biblical accounts.

“It is cannibalism to eat a person. Cannibalism is a sin, so the elements cannot be Christ’s body and blood.”

The flaw in this reasoning is that it presumes a capernaitic (AKA carnal) form of eating, which is to say a natural eating of the body and blood rather than a sacramental/ supernatural eating. This was an argument made against Christians from the earliest times and is addressed as early as the mid-first century by Justin Martyr in his Second Apology (defense) for Christianity. This is actually a testament to the widespread belief in real presence in the early church. They did not respond by saying it is merely a symbol or a spiritual eating; they gave responses explaining the nature of the eating as the true body and blood, but not in a capernaitic manner. Dr. Jordan Cooper gives a response to this objection.

Other arguments (such as those regarding remembrance) have been addressed above.


The Old Testament witness demonstrates a clear witness of something great and astounding to come in the New Testament, something greater than a symbol. The words of Christ are clear and simple and the broader New Testament witness and treatment of the Eucharist show a belief that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, while the bread and wine simultaneously remain. The history of the church demonstrates a clear universal belief in real presence, lest perhaps two Theologians (one a heretic) who believe in some sort of presence, though it is unclear how this comes to be in their theology. Memorialism is foreign entirely to historic Protestantism, found only in the radical reformation between the 1520s and the late 1600s and not widespread until the 1800s. The evidence is abundant for the doctrine of real presence and should be the natural conclusion of both the theologian and historian.

Further Readings

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article VII: The Holy Supper

Large Catechism on the Sacrament of the Altar

Philo’s Special Laws Book II

St. Ambrose’s On The Sacraments

Introduction to Soteriology: Apostasy and Perseverance – a Scriptural and Patristic Apology

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Among the things in which the early church was in universal agreement that are debated today are three: people can apostatize from their faith; the Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ; and baptism truly brings saving grace to the recipient (cit. Dr. Jordan B Cooper, Sola Fide in the Church Fathers).

Debate surrounding apostasy and perseverance has been around since the early days of Protestantism. As the magisterial reformation came about, the Reformed tradition came to embrace a doctrine known as Perseverance of the Saints, which teaches that those whom God elects cannot fall away from the faith, IE the saints will persevere. The Lutheran tradition (alongside all non-Reformed Christians at the time, IE Rome, the Eastern churches, Moravians, Anabaptists, and later, the Remonstrants/Arminians and Wesleyans) denied this, holding that those who are truly Christians can fall away from the faith if they later reject God (apostasy). There are now two extant groups that believe that believe that Christians cannot apostatize: Calvinists and Once-Saved-Always-Saved (OSAS) Arminians.

Some believers in Perseverance of the Saints, along with Calvin himself, in an attempt to reconcile both their personal experiences and scripture passages which speak of apostasy believe in an idea known as “evanescent grace,” that is, a grace that is given temporarily and without forgiveness of sins or adoption of Christ. This idea is not found in any Reformed or Arminian confessions, however, so it is not binding to Reformed denominations. Calvin defines this in the Institutes as follows:

…experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them…. but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption…. though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith…. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate…. under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition…. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end…. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.

3.2.11, Institutes of Christian Religion

Regarding apostasy, the Lutheran confessions state the following:

Thus many receive the Word with joy, but afterwards fall away again, Luke 8:13. But the cause is not as though God were unwilling to grant grace for perseverance to those in whom He has begun the good work, for that is contrary to St. Paul, Phil. 1:6; but the cause is that they willfully turn away again from the holy commandment [of God], grieve and embitter the Holy Ghost, implicate themselves again in the filth of the world, and garnish again the habitation of the heart for the devil. With them the last state is worse than the first, 2 Pet. 2:10. 20; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 10:26; Luke 11:25.

Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article XI: Election, 42

Scriptural Apology for Apostasy

General Examples and Warnings of Apostasy in Scripture

Jeremiah 17:5-6 reads, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man​​And makes flesh his strength,​​ whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,​​And shall not see when good comes, b​ut shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,​​ in a salt land which is not inhabited.”

Ezekiel 3:20 reads, “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.”

Luke 12:42-46 reads, “And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.”

John 15:5-6 reads, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”

Romans 11:19-22 reads, “You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 reads, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

1 Corinthians 10:11-12 reads, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

2 Corinthians 11:2-3 reads, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”

Galatians 5:3-4 reads, “And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”

1 Timothy 3:2,6-7 reads, “A bishop then must be blameless…. not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

1 Timothy 4:1-3 reads, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”

1 Timothy 5:11-12 reads, “But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith.”

1 Timothy 5:14-15 reads, “Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some have already turned aside after Satan. ”

1 Timothy 6:9-10 reads, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

1 Timothy 6:20-21 reads, “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge— by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.”

2 Peter 2:12-15 reads, “But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.”

2 Peter 2:18-21 reads, “For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”

Hebrews 6:4-6 reads, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, [as long as] they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”

Hebrews 10:26-27 reads, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”

James 5:19-20 reads, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

Revelation 2:1-5 reads, “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.’”

Revelation 3:3-5 reads, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life.”

Revelation 22:18-19 reads, “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

Specific Accounts of Apostasy in Scripture

1 Samuel 15:10-11 reads, “Now the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, 11 “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night.”

1 Timothy 1:18-20 reads, “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

2 Timothy 2:17-18 reads, “And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.”

2 Timothy 4:6-7, 10 reads, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…. Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica.”

Warnings Against Deception and False Teaching

Texts regarding false teachers and deception of churches are meaningless without a true possibility of apostasy, unless they all are speaking hypothetically.

Matthew 24:9-13 reads, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”

Matthew 24:23-25 (cf. Mark 13:22) reads, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.”

Romans 16:17-18 reads, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”

Colossians 2:18-19 reads, “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.”

2 Peter 2:1-3 reads, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”

Exhortations to Endurance and Overcoming Trial

Texts regarding endurance and overcoming trial in the faith are meaningless without a true possibility of apostasy, unless they are only speaking for the sake of emotional encouragement.

Matthew 10:21-22 reads, “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 reads, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”

Galatians 6:7-9 reads, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

Colossians 1:21-23 reads, “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

1 Peter 5:8-9 reads, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.”

Hebrews 3:12-14 reads, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”

Hebrews 10:36-39 reads, “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: ‘For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. ​Now the just shall live by faith; ​​But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him’ (Hab. 2:3-4). But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”

James 1:12 reads, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

Revelation 2:10-11 reads, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”

Revelation 3:11-12 reads, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.”

Revelation 3:15,19-21 reads, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot…. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Perseverance of the Eternally Elect – Augustinians, Calvinists, and Scripture

Regarding perseverance, the Lutheran confessions state the following:

The eternal election of God, however, not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but is also, from the gracious will and pleasure of God in Christ Jesus, a cause which procures, works, helps, and promotes our salvation and what pertains thereto; and upon this [divine predestination] our salvation is so founded that “the gates of hell cannot prevail against it,” (Matt. 16:18), as is written (John 10:28): “Neither shall any man pluck My sheep out of My hand.” And again, (Acts 13:48): “And as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.”

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration XI.8

The Formula of Concord is precise when it speaks of predestination and election in that it states that while apostasy is possible, the eternally elect (AKA the predestined) will persevere, that is to say, predestined means predestined. This is rooted in the Augustinian tradition, which believed that apostasy is possible, yet the predestined persevere. Apostasy alongside Perseverance of the Eternally Elect is found in Augustine, as demonstrated below, as well as Fulgentius of Ruspe (To Peter on the Faith, §37 p83), Prosper of Acquitaine (The Call of All Nations, Book I, 121), Aquinas (ST I:II:112:3), and others.

Therefore, of two infants, equally bound by original sin, why the one is taken and the other left; and of two wicked men of already mature years, why this one should be so called as to follow Him that calleth, while that one is either not called at all, or is not called in such a manner – the judgments of God are unsearchable. But of two pious men, why to the one should be given perseverance unto the end, and to the other it should not be given, God’s judgments are even more unsearchable. Yet to believers it ought to be a most certain fact that the former is of the predestinated, the latter is not. 

Augustine, The Gift of Perseverance, Chapter 21

To the saints predestinated to the kingdom of God by God’s grace, the aid of perseverance that is given is not such as the former, but such that to them perseverance itself is bestowed; not only so that without that gift they cannot persevere, but, moreover, so that by means of this gift they cannot help persevering. For not only did He say, “Without me ye can do nothing,” but He also said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” By which words He showed that He had given them not only righteousness, but perseverance therein.

Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 34

Scriptural Apology for Perseverance of the Eternally Elect

Jeremiah 32:38-40 reads, “They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.”

John 6:35-40 reads, “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’”

John 10:27-29 reads, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”

John 15:16 reads, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”

1 Peter 1:3-5 reads, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Calvinism and Perseverance of the Saints

Calvinists will read the above passages as proof of Perseverance of the Saints, but such an interpretation forces passages about apostasy to be obscured against their natural reading and the universal attestation in the church fathers. A more natural reading of passages on perseverance is the interpretation of the Augustinian tradition, from Augustine’s On Grace and Free Will to Chemnitz’s Formula of Concord Epitome XI as shown above, which is compatible with a natural reading of scripture and the fathers on apostasy.

To further support the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, Calvinists cite passages such as Psalm 55:22 (“Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved,”) and Psalm 121:3-8 (“He will not allow your foot to be moved;​​ He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel​​ shall neither slumber nor sleep.​ The LORD is your keeper; ​​The LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day,​​ nor the moon by night.​ ​​The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; ​​He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in​​ from this time forth, and even forevermore.”)

Such an interpretation not only fails in context, as the focus of the surrounding context in these passages is exhortation to reliance and trust in the Lord, but also fails in historical validity, as Augustine writes on Psalm 121:3, “Sing therefore what followeth; if thou wish to hear how thou mayest most securely set thy feet on the steps, so that thou mayest not be fatigued in that ascent, nor stumble and fall: pray in these words: ‘Suffer not my foot to be moved!’ (ver. 3). Whereby are feet moved; whereby was the foot of him who was in Paradise moved? But first consider whereby the feet of him who was among the Angels were moved: who when his feet were moved fell, and from an Angel became a devil: for when his feet were moved he fell. Seek whereby he fell: he fell through pride. Nothing then moveth the feet, save pride: nothing moveth the feet to a fall, save pride. Charity moveth them to walk and to improve and to ascend; pride moveth them to fall …Rightly therefore the Psalmist, hearing how he may ascend and may not fall, prayeth unto God that he may profit from the vale of misery, and may not fail in the swelling of pride, in these words, ‘Suffer not my feet to be moved!'” Rather than take this as support for doctrine of perseverance, it is taken to be exhortation to not apostatize in pride.

Similarly, in Romans 11:29 (“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”), the verse is about God’s faithfulness rather than perseverance. The word for “irrevocable” in Greek, “ametamelētos,” means that God (or the gifts and calling of God) will not change His mind. In the KJV it is rendered, perhaps more accurately, though challenging to read, as “without repentance.” A more readable, yet accurate, translation may be “unregretted.” Another interpretation of the passage lends itself to Lutheran theology in that there is a universal gift of grace and universal calling of God which do not necessarily lead to salvation. These gifts and calling will never be revoked from the world.

Another frequently cited passage by Calvinists for support of their doctrine is 1 John 2:18-19 which reads, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” Yet to read this passage into all others about those who have departed from the faith is to take a descriptive text as prescriptive. It is possible that this is one example where people in the church were not ever among the saved, but it does not follow that this is the case in every passage in scripture, as plain reading and the interpretation by the fathers suggests. Furthermore, the text does not say that “they were never of us,” but rather that “none of them were us.”

It should be concluded from the plain reading of scripture and the universal attestation of the fathers that apostasy is a true doctrine. While a number of passages speak about perseverance, the Augustinian position holds a faithful reading to the text as it plainly speaks without pitting it against passages on apostasy. Christians can look to God’s monergistic election and forgiveness of sins for assurance while simultaneously affirming the truth of scripture and tradition regarding apostasy.

Further Readings

Smalcald Articles Part III Article III: Of Repentance

Formula of Concord Epitome Article XI: Election

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article XI: Election

Augustine, On Grace and Free Will

Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II.II Question 12: Apostasy

Prayers with, for, and to the Faithful Departed – a Historical and Scriptural Introduction

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Within the Protestant tradition, prayers related to the departed are largely a rejected practice. This has not always been the case, however, and the Lutheran tradition explicitly affirms prayers with and for the faithful departed in the Book of Concord while condemning the Roman Catholic practice of prayers to the faithful departed. In the Moravian tradition, prayers for the faithful departed are in the Easter liturgy. In the Anglican tradition, the 1549 and 1979 Book of Common Prayer have prayers for the faithful departed in the communion liturgy and catechism respectively. In the Methodist tradition, John Wesley approved prayers with and for the departed in John Wesley and Highchurchmen (Ch. 13), and a short manuscript he wrote on liturgy cited in Chapters on the Early Registers of Halifax Parish Church. Whitley & Booth. (pg. 20). The exception to this practice is found in the Reformed tradition. John Calvin writes against prayers to and with the faithful departed in his Institutes (Ch. 20.20-27), arguing that the faithful departed neither hear us nor pray for us.

In this post, I’d like to define terms clearly to avoid confusion.

Prayers with the faithful departed: Prayers which recognize that the faithful departed pray also to God while they are in Heaven, IE the faithful departed pray with us.

Prayers for the faithful departed: Prayers which are offered to God that He deliver His promise of Paradise to the faithful departed.

Prayer to the faithful departed: Prayers which ask the faithful departed to pray on our behalf.

From the Lutheran Confessions:

And although the angels in heaven pray for us (as Christ Himself also does), as also do the saints on earth, and perhaps also in heaven, yet it does not follow thence that we should invoke and adore the angels and saints, and fast, hold festivals, celebrate Mass in their honor, make offerings, and establish churches, altars, divine worship, and in still other ways serve them, and regard them as helpers in need [as patrons and intercessors], and divide among them all kinds of help, and ascribe to each one a particular form of assistance, as the Papists teach and do. For this is idolatry, and such honor belongs alone to God.

The Smalcald Articles, The Second Part, Article II: Of the Mass, 26

Now, as regards the adversaries’ citing the Fathers concerning the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit; but we disapprove of the application ex opere operato of the Lord’s Supper on behalf of the dead. Neither do the ancients favor the adversaries concerning the opus operatum.

Apology to the Augsburg Confession Article XXIV (XII): Of the Mass, 94

Scripture teaches not the invocation of saints or to ask help of saints, since it sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Propitiation, High Priest, and Intercessor. He is to be prayed to, and has promised that He will hear our prayer; and this worship He approves above all, to wit, that in all afflictions He be called upon, “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, etc.” (1 John. 2:1). This is about the Sum of our Doctrine.

Apology to the Augsburg Confession Article XXI: Of the Invocation of the Saints, 2-5

Prayers with the Faithful Departed

Psalm 148:1-4

Praise the LORD! ​​Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all you stars of light! Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, And you waters above the heavens!

Psalm 148:1-4 (NKJV)

While not referring specifically to the faithful departed praying with or for us, it is clear that the angels, hosts, and heavens praise God.

Zechariah 1:12-13

Then the Angel of the LORD answered and said, “O LORD of hosts, how long will You not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which You were angry these seventy years?” And the LORD answered the angel who talked to me, with good and comforting words.

Zechariah 1:12-13 (NKJV)

This passage is explicit in that the Angel of the Lord prays for Jerusalem, and God responds with “good and comforting words.”

2 Maccabees 15:12-14

What he saw was this: Onias, who had been high priest, a beautiful and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who was well-spoken and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole community of the Judeans. Then in the same fashion another appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and appearance, and of marvelous and most glorious dignity. An Onias spoke, saying, “This man is the one who loves his brothers, who prays much for the people and the holy city— Jeremiah, the prophet of God.”

2 Maccabees 15:12-14 (NETS)

Judas Maccabeus saw both Onias (a long passed high priest) and the prophet Jeremiah praying for him in his dream. This is the only scriptural reference (albeit apocryphal) that refers to the faithful departed praying specifically for the church on Earth.

Greek Daniel (Prayer of Azariah) 3:58, 61, 86

Bless the Lord, you angels of the Lord; sing hymns, and highly exalt him forever…. Bless the Lord, you ever power; sing hymns, and highly exalt him forever…. Bless the Lord, spirits and righteous souls; sing hymns, and highly exalt him forever.

Greek Daniel 3:58, 61, 86 (NETS, Theodotion)

While the above verses seem to show those on earth asking the hosts and the faithful departed to praise God, which would be a form of invocation, if this interpretation is followed, then those on earth are also invoking waters above the heavens (v. 60), the sun and moon (v. 62), fire and heat (v. 66), dew and snow (v. 68), etc. Since this practice is unfounded in both pre-Christian Judaism and Christianity, this seems a wrong interpretation. Invoking such things would also be directly contradicting Origen, Against Celsus V: XI, which is discussed later. The passage is similar to Ps. 148:1-4, but goes on much more extensively. This is closer to an example of prayers with the faithful departed than prayers to the faithful departed.

Revelation 5:8, 6:9-11, & 8:3-5

Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5:8 (NKJV)

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.

Revelation 6:9-11 (NKJV)

Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

Revelation 8:3-5 (NKJV)

In these passages we see that angels take the prayers of the saints to God. It is clear from Revelation 4:1-5 that the above passages all take place in Heaven. Revelation 6:9-11 shows the faithful departed praying to God for matters about those on Earth. Revelation 8:3-5 shows that the prayer is answered by God as those on Earth are punished and the faithful departed are avenged.

Shepherd of Hermas

[The Shepherd said:] ‘But those who are weak and slothful in prayer, hesitate to ask anything from the Lord; but the Lord is full of compassion, and gives without fail to all who ask him. But you, [Hermas,] having been strengthened by the holy angel [you saw], and having obtained from him such intercession, and not being slothful, why do not you ask of the Lord understanding, and receive it from him?’

The Shepherd 3:5:4 (80-120 AD)

Clement of Alexandria

In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer].

Miscellanies 7:12 (~208 AD)


But these pray along with those who genuinely pray—not only the high priest [Christ] but also the angels who “rejoice in heaven over one repenting sinner more than over ninety-nine righteous that need not repentance,” and also the souls of the saints already at rest.

Origen, On Prayer VI.7 (233-234 AD)

Cyprian of Carthage, Letter 56[60]

Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father’s mercy.

Letters 56[60]:5 (~253 AD)

Quotes from the fathers on angels and saints praying with us and for us are abundant. One only need do a brief search in forums, blogs, and Catholic or Orthodox apologetics sites to find more, but the three above shall suffice to prove the early dating of the idea (though it is, moreover, in scripture as has already been seen).

Prayers for the Faithful Departed

1 Corinthians 15:29

Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?

1 Corinthians 15:29 (NKJV)

Some, trying to find an example of ceremonies for the departed and link this to prayer for the departed, wish to cite this passage as support, though no definitive argument can be made. Tertullian in Adversus Marcionem (late second century) writes, “We will not be wanting (in some defense of the doctrine) even here, in consideration of such persons as are ignorant of that little treatise. ‘What’ asks he, ‘shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not?'” Didymus the Blind (313-398 AD) writes, “The Marcionites baptize the living on behalf of dead unbelievers, not knowing that baptism saves only the person who receives it.” Ambrosiaster in his commentary on 1 Corinthians (366-384 AD) writes, “It seems that some people were at the time being baptized for the dead because they were afraid that someone who was not baptized would either not rise at all or else rise merely in order to be condemned.”

John Chrysostom (349-407 AD) puts forward the Marcionite practice and interpretation stating that they baptize the living as a substitute for those who departed prior to baptism then continues, “As thus, if this was Paul’s meaning wherefore did God threaten him that is not baptized? For it is impossible that any should not be baptized henceforth, this being once devised: and besides, the fault no longer lies with the dead, but with the living. But to whom spoke he, ‘Unless you eat My flesh, and drink My blood, you have no life in yourselves?’ (John 6:53) To the living, or to the dead, tell me? And again, ‘Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ (John 3:5) For if this be permitted, and there be no need of the mind of the receiver nor of his assent while he lives, what hinders both Greeks and Jews thus to become believers, other men after their decease doing these things in their stead?” An Old Irish gloss similarly comments on the verse, “For sinners who cause death: or, for those who are dead as to their wills.”

The interpretation, then, that this passage refers to a ceremony for the departed is not supported. The baptism is for the dead insofar as those who are unbaptized remain dead in their sin as Chrysostom and the Irish gloss interpret.

2 Timothy 1:15-18, 4:19

This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.

2 Timothy 1:16-18, 4:19 (NKJV)

To quote Jay Twomey, “Beyond his specific role as a character in the Paul story, Onesiphorus has played a minor role in doctrinal controversies. Both because of the Pastor’s reference to ‘that day’ (v. 18) and because, at 4:19, ‘Paul’ sends his greetings to ‘the household of Onesiphorus,’ but not to the man himself, readers have frequently assumed that Onesiphorus was dead when this letter was written (Bassler 1996: 137). If this is the case, Collins claims, then ‘the prayer of verse 18 [is] one of the earliest examples of Christian prayer for the dead’ (2002: 217)” (Pastoral Epistles Throughout the Centuries, 2 Timothy 1, pg. 125). One historical commentary by Ishodad of Merv (mid ninth century), a bishop in the Church of the East, says, “Phygellus and Hermogenes had been among the Believers, and had departed from the Faith.” 2 Timothy could, then, be an example of prayers for the faithful departed in the Protestant scriptural Canon.

2 Maccabees 15:39-45

On the next day, when the need for it had arisen, Judas’ men went to recover the bodies of those fallen earlier and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in their ancestral sepulchres. Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred token of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Judeans to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge; who makes visible the things that are hidden, and they turned to supplication, imploring that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Hierosolyma to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead so that they might be delivered from their sin.

2 Maccabees 15:39-45 (NETS)

In the apocrypha, we see the most clear example of prayers for the departed. Notable in this passage is that Judas expects that these individuals died in the faith (“expecting that those who had fallen would rise again”), albeit in sin, that they may have the “splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness.”

Acts of Paul and Thecla

…after the exhibition, Tryphæna again received her. For her daughter Falconilla had died, and said to her in a dream, “Mother, you shall have this stranger Thecla in my place, in order that she may pray concerning me, and that I may be transferred to the place of the just.”

And when, after the exhibition, Tryphæna received her, at the same time indeed she grieved that she had to fight with the wild beasts on the day following; and at the same time, loving her as much as her daughter Falconilla, she said, “My second child Thecla, come and pray for my child, that she may live for ever; for this I saw in my sleep.” And she, nothing hesitating, lifted up her voice, and said, “God most high, grant to this woman according to her wish, that her daughter Falconilla may live forever.”

Acts of Paul and Thecla, 17-18

The Acts of Paul and Thecla is a pseudepigraphal work from early Christianity that documents Thecla’s life and encounters with the Apostle. While we must be skeptical of pseudipigraphal works, they do give insight into Christianity at the time of authorship. Even in the possible case of a non-Christian author, the author would attempt to make the document seem Christian. The Acts of Paul and Thecla was fairly well received in the early church for a time, but was later rejected as inauthentic. While many have dated the document to ~190 AD, an analysis of the doctrine and language of the story shows it is likely from 100-117 AD (cit. Dr. Peter Dunn, Acts of Paul and the Pauline Legacy). The quote above gives an example of prayer for the faithful departed in Christianity, perhaps the earliest example outside of scripture.

Tertullian, De Exhortatione Castitatis

For (in that case) the shame is double; inasmuch as, in second marriage, two wives beset the same husband— one in spirit, one in flesh. For the first wife you cannot hate, for whom you retain an even more religious affection, as being already received into the Lord’s presence; for whose spirit you make request; for whom you render annual oblations. Will you stand, then, before the Lord with as many wives as you commemorate in prayer; and will you offer for two; and will you commend those two (to God) by the ministry of a priest ordained (to his sacred office) on the score of monogamy, or else consecrated (thereto) on the score even of virginity, surrounded by widows married but to one husband?

Tertullian, De Exhortatione Castitatis Ch. 3 (early third century)

This excerpt from Tertullian is perhaps the earliest reference in the church fathers of prayer for the faithful departed in a positive light. Tertullian also writes of prayers and sacrifices for the departed various other writings (De Monogomia, De Anima, De Corona, Passio SS Perpetuae et Felicitatis). It should be noted that all of these writings came from the latter part of Tertullian’s life, at which point he had fallen into Montanist heresy, so his writings must be taken with suspicion.

Hippolytus, Against Plato

…to those who have done well shall be assigned righteously eternal bliss, and to the lovers of iniquity shall be given eternal punishment. And the fire which is un-quenchable and without end awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which dies not, and which does not waste the body, but continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no voice of interceding friends will profit them. For neither are the righteous seen by them any longer, nor are they worthy of remembrance.

Hippolytus, Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe Ch. 3 (early third century)

This fragment from Hippolytus is perhaps the earliest reference in a non-heretical church father of prayer for the departed. Hippolytus speaks negatively of the practice here, though it cannot be said whether he is applying the negative connotation broadly or only for this particular situation. What he says is not out of line with that of 2 Maccabees and Tertullian in that prayers for the departed are only for the faithful departed. As for the unfaithful, “no voice of interceding friends will profit them.”

Cyprian, Epistle 33(39)

Moreover, his paternal and maternal uncles, Laurentius and Egnatius, who themselves also were once warring in the camps of the world, but were true and spiritual soldiers of God, casting down the devil by the confession of Christ, merited palms and crowns from the Lord by their illustrious passion. We always offer sacrifices for them, as you remember, as often as we celebrate the passions and days of the martyrs in the annual commemoration. Nor could he, therefore, be degenerate and inferior whom this family dignity and a generous nobility provoked, by domestic examples of virtue and faith. 

Cyprian, To Clergy and People, Epistle 33(39), Ch. 3 (~250 AD)

Cyprian in Epistle 33 is perhaps the earliest positive mention of prayers for the faithful departed by a non-heretical church father. While the excerpt is not explicit about prayer, it does speak of sacrifices for them and commemoration. A more explicit quote can be seen in Epistle 56(60), which was already cited above in the section on prayers with the faithful departed.

Prayers to the Faithful Departed

1 Enoch 9:1-3

Then Michael and Gabriel, Raphael, Suryal, and Uriel, looked down from heaven, and saw the quantity from heaven, and saw the quantity of blood which was shed on earth, and all the iniquity which was done upon it, and said one to another, It is the voice of their cries; the earth deprived of her children has cried even to the gate of heaven. And now to you, O you holy one of heaven, the souls of men complain, saying, Obtain Justice for us with the Most High.

1 Enoch 9:1-3 (tr. Laurence, 1883)

This is perhaps the earliest example in which angels (specifically archangels) are invoked. 1 Enoch is generally dated to 300-200 BC, with some later sections being dated to 100 BC. While 1 Enoch is not canonical among Judaism (except the ancient Essene sect) nor Christianity (except the Ethiopian Orthodox), it demonstrates that invoking angels is present in pre-Christian Judaism at least in the Essene tradition, which was known for its unusual beliefs and mystical/cosmological emphasis. It is notably absent from mention from other Jewish texts until post-Christian texts such as Sotah 34b (280-352 AD) and absent from Christian texts until the fourth century AD. Furthermore, descriptive texts are not to function as prescriptive texts. The mention of invoking archangels does not necessitate its command.

Luke 16:19-31

There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

Luke 16:19-31 (NKJV)

Luke 16:19-31 is a most mysterious passage and, perhaps, the only possible scriptural defense for invocation of the faithful departed (IE asking them to pray for us). If this notion were to be accepted, we would expect it to appear in commentaries in the early church, especially in periods where invocation of saints is well attested. Among the fathers who comment on this passage are Cyril, Ambrosiaster, Ambrose, Theophylact, Bede, Eusebius, Chrysostom, Pseudo-Chrysostom, Pseudo-Basil, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Theophilus, Ephrem the Syrian, Peter Chrysologus, Cyprian, Jerome, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, Athenagoras, Augustine, Hippolytus, and Gregory the Great. The entirety of these commentaries is more than a couple hours of reading, yet only small pieces of the last three writers relate in any way to invocation of saints.

Hippolytus (170-235 AD) writes, “No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no voice of interceding friends will profit them.”

Interestingly, we see here that the intercession is of no avail; furthermore, this seems rather to be speaking of prayers of friends to God, not invoking saints.

Augustine (354-430 AD) writes, “For it is shown by the unchangeableness of the Divine sentence, that no aid of mercy can be rendered to men by the righteous, even though they should wish to give it; by which he reminds us, that in this life men should relieve those they can, since hereafter even if they be well received, they would not be able to give help to those they love. For that which was written, that they may receive you into everlasting habitations, was not said of the proud and unmerciful, but of those who have made to themselves friends by their works of mercy, whom the righteous receive, not as if by their own power benefiting them, but by Divine permission.”

This passage seems to directly contradict the nature of many prayers to the faithful departed. Many such prayers ask for protection, mercy, grace, or comfort, yet Augustine says that they can do nothing but receive the righteous when they come (as Abraham did here), not by their own power, but by Divine permission

Augustine also writes, “But some may say, ‘If the dead have no care for the living, how did the rich man ask Abraham, that he should send Lazarus to his five brethren?’ But because he said this, did the rich man therefore know what his brethren were doing, or what was their condition at that time? His care about the living was such that he might yet be altogether ignorant what they were doing, just as we care about the dead, although we know nothing of what they do. But again the question occurs, How did Abraham know that Moses and the prophets are here in their books? Whence also had he known that the rich man had lived in luxury, but Lazarus in affliction. Not surely when these things were going on in their lifetime, but at their death he might know through Lazarus’ telling him, that in order that might not be false which the prophet says, ‘Abraham heard us not.’ The dead might also hear something from the angels who are ever present at the things which are done here. They might also know some things which it was necessary for them to have known, not only past, but also future, through the revelation of the Church of God.”

Here we see quite clearly that Augustine stands against the notion that the saints in Heaven are aware of what occurs on Earth outside that which is brought to them by those who departed after them, what angels tell them, and what is revealed in the Church of God. The departed are not concerned with what goes on here so much as they are concerned with the church as a whole, just as we are not concerned with what goes on after death so much as we are concerned with those who have departed.

Gregory the Great (540-604 AD) writes, “When the two men were below on earth, that is, the poor and the rich, there was one above who saw into their hearts, and by trials exercised the poor man to glory, by endurance awaited the rich man to punishment. Hence it follows, The rich man also cried. Now if Abraham sate below, the rich man placed in torments would not see him. For they who have followed the path to the heavenly country, when they leave the flesh, are kept back by the gates of hell; not that punishment smites them as sinners, but that resting in some more remote places, (for the intercession of the Mediator was not yet come,) the guilt of their first fault prevents them from entering the kingdom. And this rich man forsooth, now fixed in his doom, seeks as his patron him to whom in this life he would not show mercy.”

The only mention of a mediator in this passage and intercession in this passage is The Mediator, IE Christ, who came later to “proclaim to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19). With such a great volume of commentary, yet no implication of invoking saints being tied to this passage, it can be concluded that this is not of what this passage speaks.

The earliest example of invocation of the faithful departed in Christianity is from one of four sources depending on how you date and interpret them: The Martyrdom of Paul (98-180 AD), The Autun Inscription (162-600 AD), Ryland’s Papyrus P470 Egypt (250-500 AD), or Methodius of Olympus’ Oration on Simeon and Anna (305 AD).

Martyrdom of Paul

And while they yet spake thus, Nero sent one Parthenius and Pheres to see if Paul were already beheaded; and they found him yet alive. And he called them to him and said: Believe on the living God, which raiseth me and all them that believe on him from the dead. And they said: We go now unto Nero; but when thou diest and risest again, then will we believe on thy God. And as Longus and Cestus entreated him yet more concerning salvation, he saith to them: Come quickly unto my grave in the morning and ye shall find two men praying, Titus and Luke. They shall give you the seal in the Lord.
Then Paul stood with his face to the east and lifted up his hands unto heaven and prayed a long time, and in his prayer he communed in the Hebrew tongue with the fathers, and then stretched forth his neck without speaking. And when the executioner (speculator) struck off his head, milk spurted upon the cloak of the soldier. 

Martyrdom of Paul V (98-180 AD)

This is the first text in which the faithful departed specifically are invoked. Dating the text is challenging as it could be as early as the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD) or as late 180, which is when we first see it mentioned in outside sources. The strange part about this text is that Paul seemingly “communes” (or some translations “converses,” original Greek reads “ekoinonesen”) with the fathers (the patriarchs, perhaps) in Hebrew (often an idiom for Aramaic in this period). It’s unclear if Paul is talking with them in a special manner (IE vision, trance, etc.) or if this is simply prayer, but it seems to be a connection between the himself and the recipient of the prayer. The text is further complicated in that it is unclear whether this is meant to communicate that Paul had a particular spiritual gift that allowed him to do this or if this is seen as normal. The authorship of the text is unknown, though the Acts of Paul (of which the Martyrdom is a subsection) is well received in its time. Much of the story is thought to be hagiography in scholarship. The unusual nature of the text, unknown authorship, and hagiography hurt the use of this text as support for invocation of the faithful departed, but it is a notable text nonetheless.

The Autun Inscription

Offspring of the heavenly ICHTHYS, see that a heart of holy reverence be thine, now that from Divine waters thou hast received, while yet among mortals, a fount of life that is to immortality. Quicken thy soul, beloved one, with ever-flowing waters of wealth-giving wisdom, and receive the honey-sweet food of the Saviour of the saints. Eat with a longing hunger, holding Ichthys in thine hands.

To Ichthys … Come nigh unto me, my Lord [and] Saviour [be thou my Guide] I entreat Thee, Thou Light of them for whom the hour of death is past.

Aschandius, my Father, dear unto mine heart, and thou [sweet Mother, and all] that are mine … remember Pectorius.

The Autun Inscription, translated with some conjecture by Marriott (162-600 AD)

The Autun Inscription is from either an old hymn or epitaph; it is unclear. There is very little to use to date the inscription aside from the use of the Ichthys (Jesus fish) symbol. The last sentence is the only relevant part of the text for discussion in this post. If the inscription is from an epitaph, it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, and it can be interpreted not as a prayer but a common request as many would make today, writing in epitaphs as if the departed can still hear us. If it is from a hymn, the request is more out of place and is more easily read as a prayer to the faithful departed. Unfortunately, dating it accurately is challenging, so we cannot know if this is an early or later example of invocation. Perhaps another problem with using The Autun Inscription as support for invocation of saints is that the author is unknown. It could be from a Christian author or heretical sect, layman or clergyman, etc. This inhibits its use as an authoritative text.

Rylands Papyrus P470 Egypt

Under thy compassion we take refuge, O Theotokos. Do not despise our petitions in the time of trouble, but from dangers ransom us, singularly holy, singularly blessed.

Rylands Papyrus P470 Egypt (250-500 AD)

This is an explicit example of invocation of saints, Theotokos here referring to Mary. The papyrus is challenging to date as it hardly has any content. We are left to lexicographic (handwriting analysis) methods to date it. Some papyrologists note that characters seem similar to the Letter of Subatianus Aquila which puts the P470 papyrus at 250 AD, but others note that P470 seems rather unique in style, making dating to hard to pin down. Some estimate the dating could be as late as the fifth century. P470 also suffers from the same issues seen in The Autun Inscription regarding authorship.

Sotah 34b

It is also stated with regard to the spies: “And they went up into the south, and he came to Hebron” (Numbers 13:22). Why is the phrase “and he came” written in the singular form? The verse should have said: And they came. Rava says: This teaches that Caleb separated himself from the counsel of the other spies and went and prostrated himself on the graves of the forefathers in Hebron. He said to them: My forefathers, pray for mercy for me so that I will be saved from the counsel of the spies.

Sotah 34b (280-352 AD)

The Sotah is part of the Babylonian Talmud, the Talmudic Jewish collection of sacred texts. Rava, also known as Abba ben Joseph bar Ḥama, was a Babylonian Talmudist that lived from 280-352 AD. His commentary on Numbers 13:22 in the Sotah states that Caleb invoked his forefathers at their graves. The exact date of this writing is unclear, but is likely from the fourth century strictly based on the birth and death dates of Rava. This reveals that Talmudic Jews likely practiced invocation of the faithful departed by the time this text was written.

Methodius of Olympus, Oration on Simeon and Anna

Hail to you for ever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the bread of life. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness.
Therefore, we pray [ask] you, the most excellent among women, who glories in the confidence of your maternal honors, that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy Mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in you, and who in august hymns celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away.
And you also, O honored and venerable Simeon, you earliest host of our holy religion, and teacher of the resurrection of the faithful, do be our patron and advocate with that Savior God, whom you were deemed worthy to receive into your arms. We, together with you, sing our praises to Christ, who has the power of life and death, saying, “You are the true Light, proceeding from the true light; the true God, begotten of the true God.”

Methodius of Olympus, Oration on Simeon and Anna 14 (305 AD)   

With certainty, we can say that invocation of saints was in Christian practice by 305 AD as the example from Methodius shows here, but explicit examples become more common slowly over time, showing widespread use by the fifth the century. This is the first extant example of a church authority invoking the faithful departed, making support for prayer to the faithful departed much less supported than prayer with and for the faithful departed in the early church.

Early liturgies

Perhaps a stronger argument than the text by Methodius for the Christian practice of invocation are liturgical texts. All complete texts we have of early liturgies include invocation, including the earliest liturgy, The Liturgy of St. James, and other early significant liturgies. Unfortunately, many of our liturgical manuscripts are from much later dates than the liturgies were written, which makes them subject to change. This is also true for most church fathers; however, church fathers do not undergo the same historical development as liturgies, which see changes over time yet retain the same name. The Liturgy of St. James’ earliest manuscript is ninth century codex, Vaticanus graecus 2282. The Liturgy of St. Basil has earliest manuscripts from the eighth and ninth century. The Liturgy of St. Mark/Cyril has manuscripts dating to the fourth, fifth, sixth, and other first millennium centuries, but they are only small fragments and the sections are not parts of the liturgy that would include invocation.

Prayers to the Faithful Departed – the Counterargument


The Bible condemns communication with the dead on multiple occasions (Lev. 19:31, 20:6, 20:27, Deu. 18:11, etc). It is also seen in the famous examples of the Witch of Endor and the evil people under King Josiah. While at first glance, this is a clear argument against invocation of the faithful departed, it is not without fault. The saints are alive in Heaven, not dead in Sheol or Hell. Additionally, requesting that the faithful departed pray on your behalf is a poor comparison to necromancy, which generally seeks to converse with the departed or gain power from them. This does not make the argument completely irrelevant, as there are parallels, but it is very incomplete.

Incense and the Bronze Serpent

In Numbers 21, Israel had turned from God and sent fiery serpents among them as punishment. Moses prayed to God and in return God offered mercy.

So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Numbers 21:9 (NKJV)

John 3:14-17 makes clear that the snake on the pole is a foreshadowing of Christ: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Augustine ties the snake to the grace of Christ writing, “To be made whole of a serpent is a great sacrament. What is it to be made whole of a serpent by looking upon a serpent? It is to be made whole of death by believing in one dead. And nevertheless Moses feared and fled. What is it that Moses fled from that serpent? What, brethren, save that which we know to have been done in the gospel? Christ died, and the disciples feared and withdrew from that hope wherein they had been.”

Ehprem the Syrian (306-373 AD) does the same in his commentary on Tatian’s Gospel Harmony writing, “The serpent struck Adam in paradise and killed him. [It also struck] Israel in the camp and annihilated them. ‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, the Son of Man will be lifted up.’ Just as those who looked with bodily eyes at the sign which Moses fastened on the cross lived bodily, so too those who look with spiritual eyes at the body of the Messiah nailed and suspended on the cross and believe in him will live [spiritually]. Thus it was revealed through this brazen [serpent], which by nature cannot suffer, that he who was to suffer on the cross is one who by nature cannot die.”

Later in the reign of Hezekiah, Israel began to worship the Snake by burning incense to it.

Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign…. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.

2 Kings 2:1, 3-4

This passage may seem like little more than a condemnation of idol worship, but what is important is the use of incense. Incense is consistently used in scripture as a representation of prayer (Ps. 141, Rev. 5, 8). Even when the origin of the object was of God and His grace and when it represents what is to come in the atonement of Christ, burning incense to it was considered sinful. This works against the argument of apologists for invocation of saints that says that the saints are connected to God’s grace or represent his grace and thus are worthy of prayer.

One Mediator, Christ

The Greek word for “mediator,” “mesitēs,” appears six times in the New Testament in five passages (Galations 3:19-20, 1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 9:15, and Hebrew 12:24). The Galatians passage is not relevant to the discussion, but the others are helpful.

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

1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NKJV)

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” [Ex. 25:40] But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

Hebrews 8:3-6 (NKJV)

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Hebrews 9:13-15 (NKJV)

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

Hebrews 12:22-24 (NKJV)

The first and final quotes are the most relevant to discussion. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 is explicit that there is solely one mediator between God and men, and that is Christ. Hebrews 12:22-24 goes as far as mentioning the company of angels and the first born of the saints, yet it is clear that Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant. If there were ever an opportunity to write of the angels and saints in Heaven acting as mediators, surely it would have been here, though this is an argument from silence.

The Early Patristic Witness and Proto-Protestant Objections

Nor does she [the church] perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or by incantations, or by any other wicked curious art; but, directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things, in a pure, sincere, and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2:32:5 (174-189 AD)

Irenaeus is one of the most respected church fathers of the second century, and a very influential writer. The topic he is discussing is not related to prayer in particular, but the performance of miracles. Nonetheless, in such situations, he is against angelic invocation.

If, again, we mention Paradise, a place of celestial delight, appointed for the reception of the spirits of the saints, and separated from the knowledge of the world in general by a kind of partition formed by that fiery zone.

Tertullian, Apology XLVII.13 (~200 AD)

Tertullian writes here that the faithful departed are separated from knowledge of Earth, so how could they receive our invocations? This matches what Augustine says in the commentary above on Luke 16 that the faithful departed do not know what occurs on Earth except an angel or later faithful departed tells them or it is revealed by God. It is unclear if Tertullian’s apology is from his pre-Montanist or Montanist (heretical) writings.

Now request and intercession and thanksgiving, it is not out of place to offer even to men—the two latter, intercession and thanksgiving, not only to saintly men but also to others. But request to saints alone, should some Paul or Peter appear, to benefit us by making us worthy to obtain the authority which has been given to them to forgive sins—with this addition indeed that, even should a man not be a saint and we have wronged him, we are permitted our becoming conscious of our sin against him to make request even of such, that he extend pardon to us who have wronged him…. It remains, accordingly, to pray to God alone, the Father of All, not however apart from the High Priest who has been appointed by the Father with swearing of an oath, according to the words He hath sworn and shall not repent, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” In thanksgiving to God, therefore, during their prayers, saints acknowledge His favors through Christ Jesus.

Origen, On Prayer Ch. X.1,5 (233-234 AD)

Here Origen says that it is not out of place to request intercession to men, but he is clear in the manner of requests. He says to request of them, if they appear, absolution, as they received the office of the keys from Christ in Matthew 18 and John 20, and if we have sinned against someone, even if they are not Christian, to ask for pardon. It is clear then, that this should only occur if the one being invoked is present with us (as we invoke friends to pray for us), not to those who have departed. He then follows this saying that we are to pray to God alone.

Having thus learned to call these beings “angels” from their employments, we find that because they are divine they are sometimes termed “god” in the sacred Scriptures, but not so that we are commanded to honor and worship in place of God those who minister to us, and bear to us His blessings. For every prayer, and supplication, and intercession, and thanksgiving, is to be sent up to the Supreme God through the High Priest, who is above all the angels, the living Word and God. And to the Word Himself shall we also pray and make intercessions, and offer thanksgivings and supplications to Him, if we have the capacity of distinguishing between the proper use and abuse of prayer. For to invoke angels without having obtained a knowledge of their nature greater than is possessed by men, would be contrary to reason.

Origen, Against Celsus V: IV-V (248 AD)

Origen is clear here that angels are not to be employed for honor, worship, or invocation. He then says that every prayer, supplication, intercession, and thanksgiving be sent to the Father through Christ the High Priest (a clear reference to the Hebrews passages above).

And being persuaded that the sun himself, and moon, and stars pray to the Supreme God through His only-begotten Son, we judge it improper to pray to those beings who themselves offer up prayers (to God), seeing even they themselves would prefer that we should send up our requests to the God to whom they pray, rather than send them downwards to themselves, or apportion our power of prayer between God and them….  And although one may not be so exalted (as the sun), nevertheless let such an one pray to the Word of God (who is able to heal him), and still more to His Father, who also to the righteous of former times ‘sent His Word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.’

Origen, Against Celsus V: XI (248 AD)

In this passage, Origen is writing against the pagan practice of prayer to heavenly bodies (such as the sun and moon), and condemns it, saying that we should instead pray to God. It is noteworthy, for the sake of honesty to the reader, that Origen was declared a heretic centuries after his death for his views on pre-existence of souls; however, Origen was well-respected and very influential in his day, and his anathema was not related to the topic at hand.

Christians must not forsake the Church of God, and go away and invoke angels and gather assemblies, which things are forbidden.  If, therefore, any one shall be found engaged in this covert idolatry, let him be anathema; for he has forsaken our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and has gone over to idolatry. Whoso calls assemblies in opposition to those of the Church and names angels, is near to idolatry and let him be anathema.

Synod of Laodicaea Canon XXXV (363-364 AD)

At first sight, this canon may seem to prohibit invocation of angels entirely, but the translation can be deceptive. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers by Philip Schaff notes the following:

Whatever the worship of angels condemned by this canon may have been, one thing is manifest, that it was a species of idolatry, and detracted from the worship due to Christ. Theodoret makes mention of this superstitious cult in his exposition of the Text of St. Paul, Col. ii. 18, and when writing of its condemnation by this synod he says, “they were leading to worship angels such as were defending the Law; for, said they, the Law was given through angels.  And this vice lasted for a long time in Phrygia and Pisidia.  Therefore it was that the synod which met at Laodicea in Phrygia, prohibited by a canon, that prayer should be offered to angels, and even to-day an oratory of St. Michael can be seen among them, and their neighbours.” In the Capitular of Charlemagne a.d. 789 (cap. xvi.), it is said, “In that same council (Laodicea) it was ordered that angels should not be given unknown names, and that such should not be affixed to them, but that only they should be named by the names which we have by authority.  These are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael.”  And then is subjoined the present canon.  The canon forbids “to name” (ὀνομάζειν) angels, and this was understood as meaning to give them names instead of to call upon them by name. Perchance the authors of the Capitular had in mind the Roman Council under Pope Zachary, a.d. 745, against Aldebert, who was found to invoke by name eight angels in his prayers. It should be noted that some Latin versions of great authority and antiquity read angulos for angelos.  This would refer to doing these idolatrous rites in corners, hiddenly, secretly, occulte as in the Latin.  But this reading, though so respectable in the Latin, has no Greek authority for it.”

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Synod of Laodicaea Canon XXXV

What is translated as “invoke” (ὀνομάζειν) means “name” or “call.” The word is used in both manners in the New Testament. While Theodoret of Cyrus suggests that this is referring to prayer to angels, the Capitular of Charlemagne suggests that it is referring to naming angels. What’s clear is that worship of angels is prohibited, though past this, the Synod of Laodicaea is ambiguous.

Much later in the high and late middle-ages, all major Proto-Protestant groups, the Waldensians (1170 AD), Lollards (1377 AD), and Hussites (1410 AD), rejected invocation of saints as idolatrous. Finding official statements from Waldensians on their doctrine is challenging, but their 1489 confession (among other scattered fragments from earlier in the middle-ages) deny the practice. The same is true for Lollards, but Wycliffe states in his Trialogus book III, “This custom is, with reason, observed by our church: that whosoever entreats a saint, should direct his prayer to Christ as God, not to the saint especially, but to Christ.” The Hussite Confessions also reject the practice.

Apologists for invocation of saints make the appeal that as we ask others to pray for us on Earth, we ask the faithful departed to pray for us in Heaven, so they aren’t professing saints and angels as mediators, but let not this deceive you. To quote the examples above, “Under thy compassion we take refuge, O Theotokos. Do not despise our petitions in the time of trouble, but from dangers ransom us, singularly holy, singularly blessed.” “Hail to you for ever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again.” In what situation does one say these things to a fellow Christian on Earth? These themes of turning to departed saints for refuge are common in these prayers, progressively becoming stronger over time. Such examples of supposed veneration are not present in scripture. We are to take refuge in God (Ps. 9, 46, etc.); ask God to hear our prayers in times of trouble (Ps. 27); look to Christ as our ransom (Hos. 13, Matt. 20/ Mark 10, 1 Tim. 2); look to God for our joy (Ps. 43, 51, etc.); and turn to God always (Deut. 4, 30, Ps. 22, Acts 26).

All things considered, a clear-cut and bullet-proof argument against the practice of invoking saints using scripture and the early church cannot be made, but something can be said for its seemingly late origins in the 4th century (except the 1 Enoch passage on invoking archangels) and writings that seem to be against it in the the first three centuries, including scripture.

Regarding the Lutheran position, The Book of Concord speaks of invoking the faithful departed four times: Augsburg Confession XXI, Apology XXI (IX), Smalcald Articles II 25-29, and Of the Power and Primacy of the Pope 47. What is condemned in these passages is invoking saints being taught as the following: it is from scripture or the early church (AC XXI); it is required or binding on consciences; it works propitiation from sins; the saints mediate redemption (Apology XXI (IX)); it is commanded or counseled; it includes festivals, offerings, devoted churches/altars, or worship; the saints offer help in distress; individual saints are for particular situations; it is part of the divine service (SA II); it is idolatrous (Power and Primacy).

While SA II.25 calls the practice “a most harmful thing,” it is possible that this only refers to the practice as it was done in the Roman Catholic church. This is a common occurrence in the Book of Concord, so it is not an unlikely reading, and Lutheran scholastics disagreed on how to read these passages in the Book of Concord, particularly in regard to church history, which shows widespread invocation of saints from the 4th century onward. The primary focus in the Book of Concord is that it is not mentioned in scripture nor the early witnesses. Invoking saints, then, (in my opinion) is not entirely forbidden, but it must be done as one would ask another saint on Earth, outside of a liturgical setting, and not to a particular saint for a particular situation. Even this practice, however, is called into question in the Apology since it has no support in either scripture or the early witnesses; instead we are pointed to pray to God, who we know indeed hears our prayers.


Prayers with and for the faithful departed have scriptural support and early witnesses to testify for the practice. Prayers to the faithful departed are not supported by scripture nor can be found confidently among the early witnesses. Scripture and early writers seemingly testify against the practice of invoking saints and angels, instead pointing us to pray to God alone. The Lutheran position stand then, that prayers with and for the faithful departed are of the church catholic, while prayers to the faithful departed are not of our doctrine.

Of the Worship of Saints they teach that the memory of saints may be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works, according to our calling, as the Emperor may follow the example of David in making war to drive away the Turk from his country. For both are kings. But the Scripture teaches not the invocation of saints or to ask help of saints, since it sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Propitiation, High Priest, and Intercessor. He is to be prayed to, and has promised that He will hear our prayer; and this worship He approves above all, to wit, that in all afflictions He be called upon (1 John 2, 1). If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, etc. This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers.

Augsburg Confession Article XXI: Of the Worship of Saints

Appendix – Guardian Angels

Guardian angels are a topic mentioned throughout scripture, perhaps, with less certainty in some spots than others. What’s notable about guardian angels is that they are appointed to watch over us, meaning they certainly do hear us just as others do on Earth. This makes them different from the faithful departed, and does not contradict the views of Tertullian, Origen, and Augustine regarding the inability of the faithful departed to know what occurs on Earth. Guardian angels are claimed to have Biblical support in the following passages: Job 33:23, Daniel 10:10-13, Psalm 34:7, Psalm 91:11, Psalm 103:21, Matthew 18:10, Acts 12:7,12-15, Hebrews 1:14, and Tobit as a whole. While the patristic witness supporting such interpretations is not found in Job 33:23 (where Christ is interpreted as mediator) or Psalm 103:21 (where the idea of guardian angels isn’t mentioned by commentators), each of the other passages have commentary from the fathers that affirm that the passages refer to guardian angels.

Suddenly, a hand touched me, which made me tremble on my knees and onthe palms of my hands. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” While he was speaking this word to me, I stood trembling. Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia. 

Daniel 10:10-13 (NKJV)

Michael here is interpreted to be the archangel Michael, and the princes to be other angels. It is notable that they govern a particular country as angels, which Clement of Alexandria (~195 AD) points out. Hippolytus (170-235 AD), Jerome (347-420 AD), and John Cassian (360-435 AD) all note that that Michael had been appointed as the overseer of Israel.

The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him,​​ and delivers them.

Psalm 34:7 (NKJV)

This passage could be interpreted as referring to guardian angels or Christ as he is sometimes referred to as the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, which is Augustine’s interpretation here.

For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.

Psalm 91:11 (NKJV)

Augustine suggests this means that angels keep watch over what we do, writing, “If You shall cast yourself down, angels shall receive you” in his commentary.

Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 

Matthew 18:10 (NKJV)

This is the most explicit reference to guardian angels in scripture. Clement of Alexandria (~195 AD), Origen (184-253 AD), Hilary of Poitiers (310-368 AD), Chrysostom (349-407 AD), Chromatius of Aquileia (<407 AD), Jerome (347-420 AD), Augustine (354-430 AD), Gregory the Great (540-604 AD), Anselm (1033-1109 AD), and Theophylact (1050-1107 AD) all comment on this passage saying it’s referring to guardian angels, though they differ on whether or not only Christians have guardian angels and on whether they are assigned at birth or at baptism. Chromatius also says these angels carry our prayers to Heaven.

Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands…. he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”

Acts 12:7,12-15 (NKJV)

Chrysostom, in his commentary on Acts 12, says, “This is a truth, that each man has an Angel.” In Acts 12:15, those speaking to Rhoda also assume that Peter has an angel of his own. Cassiodorus Senator (485-585 AD) refers to the angel that assists Peter as “his angel” in his commentary on Acts 12.

Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?

Hebrews 1:14 (NKJV)

Chrysostom comments on this, “See how he lifts up their minds, and shows the great honor which God has for us, since He has assigned to Angels who are above us this ministration on our behalf.”

When you and your daughter-in-law Sara prayed, I brought the memorial of your prayer before the Holy One, and when you would bury the dead, I was likewise present with you. And when you did not hesitate to get up and leave your dinner to go out and bury the dead, the good deed was not hidden from me, but I was with you. So now God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sara. I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the holy ones and enter before the glory of the Hold One.

Tobit 12:11-15 (NETS, GI)

Augustine notes, “Prayers may be made known also to the angels that are in the presence of God, that these beings may in some way present them to God, and consult Him concerning them, and may bring to us, either manifestly or secretly, that which, hearkening to His commandment, they may have learned to be His will, and which must be fulfilled by them according to that which they have there learned to be their duty; for the angel said to Tobit.” And in another spot, “The angels are said to offer up our prayers to God. Not that they instruct him what we do, or what we ask; for he knows all things exactly as they are, even before they are: And therefore cannot possibly be ignorant of them afterwards. But they attend his pleasure upon these occasions, execute his orders, and what they knew God has decreed, are sometimes instruments of accomplishing, and sometimes messengers too to give the parties concerned, notice of. Thus, the angel tells Tobit, ‘That he brought the remembrance of his prayer before the holy One’, and that there are some spirits, whose office it is, to present the prayer of the saint, and to go in and out before the Throne of God.”

Origen (184-253 AD) repeatedly refers to guardian angels in other writings apart from commenting on particular scriptural passages, and Gregory Thaumaturgus (~255 AD) and Methodius of Olympus (~290 AD) also make note of them outside of commentary.

While there is no mention in the Book of Concord of guardian angels praying for us, both the Apology to the Augsburg Confession (Article XXI) and Smalcald Articles (Article II) affirm that angels pray for us, and the Morning and Evening prayers mention what seems to be a guardian angel.

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Small Catechism, Appendix I.2

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicke Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Small Catechism, Appendix I.5

Further Readings

John Calvin’s Institutes on the Christian Religion

Early church father quotes on angels

Church Fathers’ commentary on Tobit

Augsburg Confession Article XXI: Of the Worship of Saints

Apology Article XXI (IX): Of the Invocation of Saints

Smalcald Articles (Of the Invocation of Saints)

Introduction to Sacramentology: Baptismal Regeneration – a Scriptural Apology

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Among the things in which the early church was in universal agreement that are debated today are three: people can apostatize from their faith; the Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ; and baptism truly brings saving grace to the recipient (cit. Dr. Jordan B Cooper, Sola Fide in the Church Fathers).

It would be a surprise to many Protestants today that Luther and the Lutheran tradition as a whole affirm that baptism brings salvation to the recipient. This should not, however, be a shocking statement to Protestants. Rather, they should look no further than their own fathers in the faith to see that many of them affirmed similarly. The efficacy of baptism unto salvation can be found in Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, Calvin, Bullinger, Cranmer, Knox, Arminius, and others. Christians from the magisterial reformation (Congregationalists, Continental Reformed, Presbyterians, Classical Arminians, Anglicans, Hussites, and Lutherans) should not be averse to saying “baptism saves” or similar statements, and this should be seen as true orthodox (small “o”) Christianity. Unfortunately, many Protestant traditions have watered down this belief or rejected it all together despite their own theologians and confessions affirming this doctrine.

From the Congregationalist confessions, The Cambridge and Saybrook Platforms of Church Discipline, with the Confession of Faith of the New England Churches Adopted in 1680:

“Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life ; which ordinance is by Christ’s own appointment to be continued in his church, until the end of the world.”.

Confession of Faith, XXIX.I

From the Continental Reformed confessions, The Three Forms of Unity:

“69. How is it signified and sealed to you in Holy Baptism that you have part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?

Thus: that Christ instituted this outward washing with water [1] and joined to it this promise, that I am washed with His blood and Spirit from the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water, whereby commonly the filthiness of the body is taken away.[2]

70. What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?

It is to have the forgiveness of sins from God through grace, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which He shed for us in His sacrifice on the cross;[1] and also to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and sanctified to be members of Christ, so that we may more and more die unto sin and lead holy and unblamable lives.[2]

71. Where has Christ promised that we are as certainly washed with His blood and Spirit as with the water of Baptism?

In the institution of Baptism, which says: “Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.[1] He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.”[2] This promise is also repeated where Scripture calls Baptism the washing of regeneration[3] and the washing away of sins[4].”

Heidelberg Catechism, 69-71

From the Presbyterian confessions, The Westminster Standards:

“Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.”

Westminster Confession, XXVIII

“Q. 165. What is baptism?

A. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.”

Westminster Larger Catechism, 165

From the Remonstrant confessions, The Arminian Confession of 1621:

“Baptism is the first public and sacred rite of the New Testament, by which all who belonged to the covenant were engrafted [incorporated] into the church by the solemn washing with water without distinction of age or gender, and initiated into the worship of God. For this, they were immerged [submerged] or washed in water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, that by a symbolic sign and sacred token, they were confirmed concerning the gracious will of God toward them, that just as the filth of their bodies is washed away by water, so they themselves were purged within by the blood and Spirit of Christ (if they do not make this gracious covenant void through their own fault), and most fully delivered from the guilt of all their sins, and finally were granted the glorious immortality and eternal happiness of the sons of God.”

The Arminian Confession of 1621 Ch. 23.3

From the Anglican confessions, The Book of Common Prayer of 1662:

“We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit….Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior….Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace….N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”

Holy Baptism, Thanksgiving Over the Water – The Baptism

From the Hussite Confessions, The Book of Order:

They also teach that baptism is a saving ministration instituted by Christ and added to the Gospel through which He Himself purifies, cleanses, and sanctifies His Church in His death and blood. As Paul says [Eph. 5:2526]: “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water through the word.” And the people of our church alone in the Kingdom of Bohemia and the March of Moravia defend this faith concerning baptism with these Scriptures against those who believe and write that baptism cleans off only the dirt of the body, but does nothing in the soul for salvation.

Confession of 1535, Article 12 – Baptism

It should be noted, for the sake of clarity and honesty towards the reader, that the Reformed tradition does not tie salvation in baptism to the moment of administration nor do they believe that it is effectual for the non-elect. This does not mean that they reject baptism as a means of salvation, but rather believe that the benefits of baptism may be apprehended at a later point in time according to these confessions. Reformed theologians during the reformation still, however, point people to their baptism for assurance of their salvation as a true promise that they are saved. Additionally, neither the Lutheran nor Reformed tradition state that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. Rather, it is seen as the ordinary form of regeneration. Those who have faith are truly saved even if they are yet to be baptized, yet those who reject baptism or refuse to be baptized are not saved for they do not have the Spirit, who would certainly lead them to a desire for baptism.

From the Luther’s Small Catechism, a brief outline of Lutheran Baptismal doctrine is presented. This will be the focus for the apology:

1] What is Baptism?—2] Answer.

Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

3] Which is that word of God?—Answer.

4] Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

5] What does Baptism give or profit?—6] Answer.

It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

7] Which are such words and promises of God?—8] Answer.

Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

9] How can water do such great things?—10] Answer.

It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

What does such baptizing with water signify?—12] Answer.

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

13] Where is this written?—14] Answer.

St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Luther’s Small Catechism IV – The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

While the reformers were certainly well versed in the tradition of the church and philosophy among other subjects and appealed to these fields at times when making arguments, most often, they point not to great theologians of the past nor to pure reason but rather to scripture as their proof for baptismal regeneration, for Christians need look no further than the scriptures to see how plainly the Apostles speak on this matter.

The Scriptural Defense

Mark 16:15-16 reads, “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.'” In this text we see as stated above that it is unbelief that condemns, yet baptism is still given salvific efficacy. If baptism was absolutely necessary unto salvation, the verse would read “he who does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned.”

Luke 3:2-3 reads, “While Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” This speaks of the baptism of John the Baptist. In Lutheran theology, there is disagreement on whether this is or is not the same baptism as the later baptisms, yet if John’s baptism is “of repentance for the remission of sins,” how much more then is the baptism instituted by Jesus?

John 3:2-8 reads, “[Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” Some note that born of water could refer to the natural birth (cit. Cyril of Alexandria), many more assert that to be born of water and the Spirit is most certainly to point to baptism (cit. Augustine, Chrysostom, Ambrosiaster, among others).

Acts 2:36-39 reads, “[Peter speaking] ‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’” It is directly stated here that baptism is “for the remission of sins,” to “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” a “promise…to you and to your children,” and a “call.” Notably lacking is any action on the part of man; rather baptism is presented as the work of God.

Acts 22:12-16 reads, “A certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him. Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’” Just as seen earlier in Acts, baptism is to “wash away your sins.”

Romans 6:1-4 reads, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Just as Christ was killed and raised from the dead, so too is the old Adam killed and raised from the death of sin (Rom. 6:23) into life through baptism.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13, reads “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” Grafting into the body of Christ, which is by baptism, assuredly includes salvation.

Galatians 3:26-27 reads, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Putting on Christ, which is by baptism, assuredly includes salvation as well.

Ephesians 5:25-27 reads, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” What is to be cleansed by a washing of water by the Word if it is not baptism? This washing of water by the Word leads to “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing” along with holiness and lack of blemish.

Colossians 2:11-14 reads, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Echoing Romans 6, we read that in baptism we are buried, raised, made alive in Christ, and forgiven all our trespasses.

Titus 3:3-7 reads, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” What is the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” other than baptism? Just as in Acts 2, this passage emphasizes that baptism is not our own doing, but God’s monergistic act of grace through the Spirit.

Hebrews 10:19-23 reads, “Brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” What is having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water if it is not baptism?

1 Peter 3:18-21 reads, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the appeal of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Just as Noah and his family were saved through water, so also are we saved in baptism, which is not mere water to remove filth of the flesh, but appeal of a good conscience toward God.

Less direct references to baptism also exist that refer to the working of regeneration:

Ezekiel 36:25-27 reads, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” Some take this to be a foreshadowing of baptism from the Old Testament.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 reads, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” To be freed from sin here is associated not only with sanctification and justification but also with washing, which is to say baptism.

1 Peter 1:1-3 reads, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.” As with Hebrews, baptism is spoken of indirectly as “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” and is said to be part of election.

Lastly, it is notable that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration was so important and agreed upon in the early church that it is part of the universally accepted Nicene Creed (381 AD) in the statement “I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.” This creed is accepted by all* of the traditions of the magisterial reformation.

*The Congregationalist tradition never formally adopted the Nicene Creed until the Kansas City Statement of Faith in 1913, but the historic creeds were still influential in their tradition.

Addressing Common Counterarguments

“1 Peter 3:21 says the appeal saves you.”

This might seem so in some English translations, but the Greek is clearer. The word for “appeal” is “eperōtēma” and is a noun in the nominative case, meaning that it is the subject of the clause. The word is referring back to baptism here; thus, baptism is the appeal. We are not doing the appealing, the baptism itself is the appeal.

“This passage refers to spiritual baptism, but not water baptism.”

This cannot be referring merely to a spiritual baptism. Not only do Ephesians 4:5 and the Nicene Creed explicit state that there is solely “one baptism,” but also the Greek cannot render such a reading. To quote Dr. Eric Philips, “1 Pet. 3:21 is an even stronger proof of Baptismal regeneration than any of the major English translations communicate, because the first word of the verse [antitypos or antitype in English] is a relative pronoun referring to the word “water” at the end of v. 20. ‘…which water, as the antitype, Baptism, now saves you…'” (Philips, January 2019).

“Everyone in the New Testament believed, then was baptized, so the belief saved them.”

This argument does not negate the aforementioned verses. It needs to be stressed that Lutherans do not reject that belief saves a la Rom. 10. This is not an either/or; it is a both/and. Baptism is the appeal for the good conscience in 1 Peter 3:21. It gives faith and assurance a la Rom. 6:1-10. Baptism is water with the Word, a working of grace by the Holy Spirit.

“Salvation is by grace through faith, not by works. Baptism is a work./Baptism is of obedience and a command. It is not a promise.”

Where is Baptism spoken of as a work? It is always paired in passages with the Gospel rather than the Law and near grace and salvation rather than good works. The flaw in this reasoning is easily demonstrated with a simple thought experiment. Replace “baptism” with “good work” or “work” or “man’s work” in any passage about baptism; the result tends to be horrendous. Past this, Lutherans hold that baptism is a monergistic means of grace, a work God, which bestows faith to the individual. That is salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, from Christ alone (not the baptizee, baptizer, or sponsors).

“Baptism is a public profession of faith. It can’t save.”

If that is the case, then we would expect verses speaking about baptism to mention the individuals who witness the baptisms to be the focus, or the testimonies of individuals to be the focus. “Baptisma” appears 22 times in 22 verses in the New Testament, and “Baptizō” appears 86 times in 65 verses in the New Testament, but baptism is never spoken of as an event for the eyes of the audience. In most cases, people are baptized as soon as possible, often without audiences as in the Samaritans in Acts 8:12-13, Ethiopian eunuch 8:34-39, Saul of Tarsus 9:17-18, 22:12-16, Cornelius and family 10:14, 44-48, Lydia and family 16:13-15, the Philippian jailer and family 16:30-34, Crispus and family 18:7-8, and the Ephesian disciples 19:1-5.  We also do not see any testimonies for the public before baptism, past “they believed” (present in some examples and not others) which may or may not have been a vocal profession.

Further Readings

Patristic/conciliar argument

General exegetical argument

Luther’s Large Catechism on baptism

Apology to the Augsburg Confession on baptism

Smalcald Articles on baptism

Introduction to Soteriology: Monergistic Election – a Scriptural Apology

Note: For all Biblical quotations, the NKJV is used, unless I am citing the Greek Old Testament (LXX), for which the NETS is used. The italics in Biblical quotations are from the translators to note words added for clarity that are not present in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

This blog post is meant to be read following the previous blog post on Total Depravity and Original Sin. It is not entirely necessary to read them in order, but it does bolster the apology and provide good anthropological grounds for understanding the discussion in this blog post.

The doctrine of election is usually associated with Calvinism in protestant circles and often Augustine or even Aquinas at times in studies of historical theology. On the Protestant side of theology, two broad umbrellas are generally cast onto people, that of “Calvinism” AKA “Reformed” theology or that of “Arminianism*” AKA “Remonstrant” theology. Further subcategories are seen on both sides with variants seen in Wesley on the Arminian side and Amyrhaut on the Calvinist side, among others in both camps. Lutherans, being neither Calvinist nor Arminian fall in a middle-ground in some ways, but are significantly closer to the Reformed on this specific matter. Luther’s works, in particular On the Bondage of the Will, write against man’s free will to choose God.

*This term is being used to describe the definition used in common parlance in modern theology, not necessarily what Arminius or the earliest Remontrants believed.

While some laymen see this to be the point of difference between Calvinists and Arminians, this is really an oversimplification. While other matters of soteriology are related to election, it is not the sole grounds of difference among Protestant soteriology. Some of this oversimplification is a result of a lack of catechesis and doctrinal education, but it is also a matter of logical syllogism, namely: If we are predestined, then election and reprobation are unconditional. If election is unconditional, then grace is irresistible. If grace is irresistible, then Christians cannot fall away. If reprobation is unconditional, then the atonement is limited. Thus Calvinism is seen as a logical conclusion by many. A number of flaws arise in this method of Protestant doctrinal analysis, namely that it fails to address middle-ground positions and presumes that theology must fit into logical syllogism.

In Lutheran doctrine, the matters of election, foreknowledge, and predestination can be found in the Formula of Concord Epitome and Solid Declaration XI. For a more brief and direct focus on the discussion for this article, the following from the Small Catechism Part II – Answer for the Third Article of the Creed will suffice:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”

This statement explains that the entire process of salvation is the work of the Holy Ghost. Belief in Christ and coming to Him are not conditional (dependent) on the choice, reason, will, or action of the person— The election is monergistic.

Rather than give a comprehensive or logical argument, providing exegesis on each passage (for which, I am not qualified), I will instead focus on the type of language scripture uses to speak of salvation, providing brief guiding points. I encourage the reader to consider the broader context around each passage; this analysis will only be on the diction in the Bible used to describe Christians.


Rom. 8:29-30 “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

The “ordo salutis,” or “order of salvation” is laid out simply by Paul in Romans 8 and provides a framework for the organization of this blog post. The importance of these verses is that God not only foreknew (προγινώσκω) those whom he would save, he also predestined/fore-ordained (προορίζω) them to salvation and called (καλέω) them to salvation. I will be looking at these ideas in this order as that is how Paul has laid this out.

We see God’s foreknowledge of salvation twice more in scripture:

Rom. 11:1-2 “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.”

1 Pet. 1:1-2 “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.”

Here we see that Paul extends this foreknowledge of salvation into the Old Testament, which is important to remember for later discussion. We also see Peter mentioning foreknowledge in a more concrete usage, namely, towards specific groups of Christians whom he is addressing, which should dispel any notion that Paul was merely speaking hypothetically. Peter also connects foreknowledge to election in this verse, which will be covered later.


Romans 8 is perhaps the most frequently cited chapter on predestination, particularly in Reformed circles, but Ephesians 1 also speaks on this doctrine:

Eph. 1:3-6 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”

Eph. 1:11-12 “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.”

In these passages we see that Christ not only predestined, but also chose the elect before the foundation of the world and adopted us according to His will and purpose.

Called (κλητός)

Matt. 20:16/22:14 “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”

Rom. 1:1, 5-7 “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God…. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Rom. 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

1 Cor. 1:1-3 “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Cor. 1:23-24 “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Jude 1:1 “Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”

Rev. 17:14 “These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

We see all throughout the New Testament that we are called by God, another monergistic act of our salvation. Arminians may point out that κλητός can be translated as “invited” for a more synergistic view, but it can be translated also in more monergistic terms as “selected” or “appointed.” Context is the key to understanding how the term should be understood in each passage, but If there is any uncertainty about this call being synergstic, such a notion should be dispelled with the abundance of verses on God’s election.


In the New Testament we see a handful of words that get translated as “elect” or “chosen” in one form or another in English: (syn)Eklektos, Eklegomai, and Eklogē.

(syn)Eklektos is used 25 times in 24 verses in the NT, specifically referring to Christians as elect in 15 places (not counting parallels)

Matt. 20:16/22:14 “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”

Matt. 24:21-22,24,31 (Mark 13:19-20,22,27)
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened…. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Here we see Jesus speaking of events to come. While the passage is cryptic, nonetheless, Jesus refers to Christians here as the elect.

Following the parable of the persistent widow Jesus explains the meaning in Luke 18:6-8: “Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?'”

Romans 8 comes up once more explaining the doctrines of election and predestination in verses 31-33: “What then shall we say to these things [doctrines of salvation]? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

At the end of Romans, Paul greets many people, among them he refers to one individual as “chosen” Rom. 16:13: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” It is not unusual in the New Testament epistles to see the author refer to the recipients as elect/chosen as shown below.

Col. 3:12-13 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

1 Pet. 1:2 “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.” (This passage was already seen in the first section).

1 Pet. 2:4-6, 9 “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.’ [Is. 28:16 LXX]….Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient [or disbelieve], “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” [Ps. 117:22 LXX] and“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” [Isaiah 8:14 LXX]. They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

What is particularly important about this passage is that Peter connects the idea of election between the Old and New Testament, citing passages which use “eklektos” in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX), which will be examined later.

1 Pet. 5:13 “By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand. She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.”

2 Tim. 2:9-10 “Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

2 Jo. 1:1-3 “The Elder, to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you [or us] from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.”

2 Jo. 1:12-13 “Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.

Titus 1:1-4 “Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior; To Titus…”

In Rev. 17:14 the angel says to John, “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

Eklegomai is used 25 times in 19 verses in the NT, specifically referring to God choosing Christians in 2 places

Nearly identical to the Matthew 24 passage above, Mark 13:19-20 refers to Christians as both “the elect” and “chosen:” “For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.”

Ephesians 1:3-4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love…” (This passage was already seen in the second section).

Eklogē is used 7 times in 7 verses in the NT, specifically referring to the election of Christians in 5 places

Rom. 9:10-12 “…when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” [Gen. 25:23] As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” [Mal. 1:2, 3].”

Rom. 11:3-7 “‘LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life’? [1 Kings 19:10, 14] But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” [1 Kings 19:18] Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.”

Rom. 11:28 “Concerning the gospel they [Israel] are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.”

1 Thess. 1:2-4 “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.”

2 Pet. 1:10-11 “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The Old Testament

As seen in all of the above passages, we see an abundance of language in the New Testament which refers to Christians as “foreknown,” “predestined,” “called,” “elect,” and “chosen.” This language, however, is not isolated to the New Testament. The Old Testament refers to Israel in the same manner. In Hebrew, “Bachar” is translated as “to choose, elect, decide for,” and “Bachiyr” is translated as “chosen, choice one, elect.” In the LXX, we see Bachar being translated as Eklegomai and Bachiyr being translated as Eklektos.

Bachar is found 172 times in 164 verses. There are 9 passages where it is both translated as Eklegomai and refers to Israel being “chosen” or “elect.”

Deut. 4:36-38 “Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire. And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land as an inheritance, as it is this day.”

Deut 7:7-8 “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

Deut 10:15 “The LORD delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day.”

Deut. 14:1-2 “You are the children of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave the front of your head for the dead. For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

1 Kings 3:7-8 “Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted.”

Ps. 33:12 (32:12 LXX) “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.”

Isa. 14:1 “For the LORD will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose Israel, and settle them in their own land. The strangers will be joined with them, and they will cling to the house of Jacob.”

Isa. 44:1 “Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant, and Israel whom I have chosen.”

Ezek. 20:5 “Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “On the day when I chose Israel and raised My hand in an oath to the descendants of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known to them in the land of Egypt, I raised My hand in an oath to them, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God.’”

Bachiyr is found 13 times in 13 verses. There are 8 passages where it is both translated as Eklektos and refers to Israel being “chosen” or “elect.”

1 Chron. 16:13 “O seed of Israel His servant, you children of Jacob, His chosen ones!”

Ps. 89:3 (88:4 LXX) “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David: ‘Your seed I will establish forever, and build up your throne to all generations.’”

Ps. 105:6 (104:6 LXX) “O seed of Abraham His servant, you children of Jacob, His chosen ones!”

Ps. 105:43 (104:43 LXX) “He brought out His people with joy, His chosen ones with gladness.”

Ps. 106:4-5 (105:5 LXX) “Remember me, O LORD, with the favor You have toward Your people. Oh, visit me with Your salvation, that I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation, that I may glory with Your inheritance.”

Isa. 43:20-21 “The beast of the field will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wildernessAnd rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen. This people I have formed for Myself; they shall declare My praise.”

Isa. 45:4 “For Jacob My servant’s sake and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me.”

Isa. 65:9, 15, 22 “I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah an heir of My mountains; My elect shall inherit it, and My servants shall dwell there…. You shall leave your name as a curse to My chosen; for the Lord GOD will slay you, and call His servants by another name….They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”

The apocryphal/deuterocanonical works in the LXX have four passages that use Eklektos to refer to Israel as “chosen.”

Old Greek Est. 7:19-21 “And you will do well to post a copy of this letter [of Artaxerxes] in every place and to allow the Judeans to live in accordance with their own precepts and to join in helping themselves against those who attack in the time of oppression, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, Adar, on that same day. For God, who rules over all things has made this day to be a joy for His chosen race instead of a day of destruction for them.”

Wsd. 3:9/4:15 “Those who trust in Him will understand truth, and the faithful will remain with Him in love, because grace and mercy are upon His holy ones, and he watches over His chosen ones.”

Sir. 46:1 “Mighty in war was Jesus son of Naue and a successor of Moses in prophecies, who was, like his name, great for the salvation of His elect, to take vengeance on enemies when stirred up, so that he might give Israel an inheritance.”

Sir. 47:22 “But the Lord will never abandon His mercy and never caused of any of His words to perish, and he will never blot out the descendants of His chosen one, and he will never take away the seed of the one who loved Him, and He gave a remnant of Jacob, and to David a root out of him.”

Other verses of support

Prov. 8:35 (LXX) “For my egressions are the egressions of life, and the incentive is prepared by the Lord.” Incentive here is the Greek “thelesis” which is generally rendered “wanting” or “will.”

Jn. 1:12-13 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of Go, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Jn. 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Jn. 6:65 “And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.””

Acts 5:29-32 “But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.'”

Acts 11:18 “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

Acts 13:48 “For so the Lord has commanded us:‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth’ ” [Isa. 49:6]. Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

Rom. 10:20 (Isa. 65:1) “I was found by those who did not seek Me;​​ I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.

1 Cor. 2:13-16 “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” [Isa. 40:31] But we have the mind of Christ.”

Eph. 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Phil. 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

2 Timothy 2:24-26 “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”

We can see from the above passages that the human will is prepared and worked by the Lord (Prov. 8 (LXX), Phil. 2), being reborn does not depend on the will of man (Jn. 1); none come to the father lest they be drawn and granted by God (Jn. 6); God gives repentance to man (Acts 5, 11, 2 Tim. 2); God appoints people to eternal life (Acts 13); God finds His followers not by those who ask or seek Him, but on His own (Rom. 10) natural man considers the things of God to be foolish, being unable to know them unless they be enlightened by God (1 Cor. 2); and salvation is not of ourselves, but a gift from God, which is not of any of our own actions (Eph. 2).

Appendix – the Predestination Controversy

In many early Lutheran writings election is written to be “in view of faith.” This means that God foresees those who will have faith and persevere in faith unto death and elects them unto salvation. Furthermore, in early Arminian writings, including the Arminian Confessions, this same profession is made. Both the early Lutherans and Arminians, however, make it clear that this view upholds a monergistic election as faith is considered a gift of God, and is not dependent on the choice of man. Lutherans settled much of this dispute in the 16th and 17th centuries in the “synergist controversy.” Later Arminians, in particular those that followed John Wesley, disagreed with the earliest Arminians and professed that the human will does play a role in conversion.

In the 19th century, the language of “election in view of faith” was disputed among Lutherans. On one side, those that followed the theology of CFW Walther and Franz Pieper contended that this language was no longer useful as it was widely used among Wesleyans to mean “election in view of man’s decision to faith.” Those that opposed Walther and Pieper insisted on continuing the use of this language saying that it was present among all of the earlier Lutheran writers. While Walther and Pieper argued that their opponents were teaching a synergistic election, their opponents insisted that they were being falsely labeled. A discussion of this debate would be far too long for a blog post as many volumes have been written on the subject, of which the chief books would be the CPH edition of Walther’s Works on Predestination, Pieper’s volume on Conversion and Election, and on the opposing side, Matthias Loy’s The Error of Modern Missouri.

Further Readings

Formula of Concord Solid Declartion Article XI: Election

The Bondage of the Will by Dr. Martin Luther

Dr. Jordan Cooper on Monergism in the Church Fathers