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.

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 Rebuke and Grace, 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 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). In the Hussite (Moravian) tradition, prayers for the faithful d feparted are in the Easter liturgy. 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.

The primary texts 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

Regarding the Lutheran position on prayers to the faithful departed, 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 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. And 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 deceased 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)

Origen

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

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.

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). Although Tertullian was a had fallen into Montanist heresy when he wrote this, he was merely commenting on a current phenomenon rather than inventing a new doctrine

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

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.

Memoria Apostolorum at ad Catacumbas

Latin and Greek graffiti invoking the Apostles Peter and Paul found at the Memoria Apostolorum at the cemetery ad Catacumbas, under the church of St Sebastiano on the via Appia, Rome dates to the mid-3rd to mid-4th century. The graffiti has a number of phrases including “O Peter and Paul, keep in your mind, in your prayers…”, “O Peter and Paul, intercede for Leontius!”, “O Paul and Peter, Intercede for us all!”, etc. They also include more direct requests such as “O Peter and Paul, save [—]!”, “Save, O Paul and Peter [—] and Martyrius, and save in the Lord [—]!”, “O Peter and Paul come to rescue Primus the sinner”, “O Paul and Peter, support servants of God! O holy spirits, support us so that we would live many years!”, etc. The abundance of the prayers makes clear that this spot had devotion to the two Apostles and had many visitors come to ask for intercession.

Dating the graffiti is challenging; a date between 244 and 356 AD is very likely. Dates with more precision have problems and are disputed by scholars.

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 (early-mid 4th century), 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 (mid 4th century) has earliest manuscripts from the eighth and ninth century. The Liturgy of St. Mark/Cyril (mid-late 4th century) has manuscripts dating to the fourth, fifth, sixth, and other first millennium centuries, but the Liturgy, even in the modern form, does not have invocation of saints.

Prayers to the Faithful Departed – the Counterargument

Necromancy

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.

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).

The Patristic Witness and Proto-Protestant Objections

Justin Martyr

For let even necromancy, and the divinations you practice by immaculate children, and the evoking of departed human souls, and those who are called among the magi, Dream-senders and Assistant-spirits (Familiars), and all that is done by those who are skilled in such matters– let these persuade you that even after death souls are in a state of sensation; and those who are seized and cast about the spirits of the dead, whom all call demoniacs or madmen; and what you repute as oracles, both of Amphilochus, Dodana, Pytho, and as many other such as exist; and the opinions of your authors, Empedocles and Pythagoras, Plato and Socrates, and the pit of Homer, and the descent of Ulysses to inspect these things, and all that has been uttered of a like kind.

Justin Martyr, First Apology 18 (155 AD)

Justin Martyr is one of the earliest church writers. Here he condemns necromancy, which I addressed earlier in the post. This passage is certainly not a refutation of invocation of the faithful departed, but he does criticize evoking the departed, even if the context is quite different from the usual context in which Christians later invoke saints.

Irenaeus

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. If, therefore, the name of our Lord Jesus Christ even now confers benefits [upon men], and cures thoroughly and effectively all who anywhere believe in Him, but not that of Simon, or Menander, or Carpocrates, or of any other man whatever, it is manifest that, when He was made man, He held fellowship with His own creation, and did all things truly through the power of God, according to the will of the Father of all, as the prophets had foretold.

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 strictly related to prayer but the performance of miracles and invoking created beings as did the gnostics, against whom Irenaeus is writing. In such situations, he is against angelic invocation as well as the invocation of men (such as the gnostic figures listed).

Tertullian

We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as Tertullian, man or Caesar, an emperor would wish. These things I cannot ask from any but the God from whom I know I shall obtain them, both because He alone bestows them and because I have claims upon Him for their gift, as being a servant of His, rendering homage to Him alone, persecuted for His doctrine, offering to Him, at His own requirement, that costly and noble sacrifice of prayer dispatched from the chaste body, an unstained soul, a sanctified spirit.

Tertullian, Apology 30 (~200 AD)

Tertullian makes it clear that he seeks requests from God alone. He furthermore gives homage to God alone and goes at length to give God honor.

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 47 (~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.

Origen

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, 4-5 (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).

But if that cannot be done, as the laws of many states are quite inconsistent with each other, these laws, therefore, must of necessity either be no laws at all in the proper sense of the word, or else the enactments of wicked men; and these we must not obey, for “we must obey God rather than men.” Away, then, with this counsel, which Celsus gives us, to offer prayer to demons: it is not to be listened to for a moment; for our duty is to pray to the Most High God alone, and to the Only-begotten, the First-born of the whole creation, and to ask Him as our High Priest to present the prayers which ascend to Him from us, to His God and our God, to His Father and the Father of those who direct their lives according to His word.

Origen Against Celsus VIII, 26 (248 AD)

The argument made here is very similar to that in the previous quote from Book V.

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, 11 (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.

In a former part, Celsus did his utmost to debase our souls to the worship of demons; and now he wishes us to seek the favour of kings and princes, of whom, as the world and all history are full of them, I do not consider it necessary to quote examples.

There is therefore One whose favour we should seek, and to whom we ought to pray that He would be gracious to us — the Most High God, whose favour is gained by piety and the practice of every virtue. And if he would have us to seek the favour of others after the Most High God, let him consider that, as the motion of the shadow follows that of the body which casts it, so in like manner it follows, that when we have the favour of God, we have also the good-will of all angels and spirits who are friends of God. For they know who are worthy of the divine approval, and they are not only well disposed to them, but they co-operate with them in their endeavours to please God: they seek His favour on their behalf; with their prayers they join their own prayers and intercessions for them. We may indeed boldly say, that men who aspire after better things have, when they pray to God, tens of thousands of sacred powers upon their side. These, even when not asked, pray with them, they bring succour to our mortal race, and if I may so say, take up arms alongside of it…

Origen, Against Celsus VIII, 63-64 (248 AD)

Here, Origen is arguing against Celsus, who advocates worship of lower powers than God. Origen is clear that prayer should only be given to God and that the saints and angels pray for the church on earth, yet he is also clear that they do this without being invoked.

A number of further Origen quotes could be provided but the above should suffice. See Against Celsus V 46; VIII 26, 37.

Synod of Laodicaea

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.

The Sparse Witness in Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine

Invocation is seen in Ambrose (340-397 AD) in his Hexaemeron (5.25.90) and Augustine (354-430 AD) in his City of God (22.8.10) and Sermon 293 (On the Birthday of St John the Baptist) and is notably lacking in the writings of Jerome (347-420 AD). At least in my search, the few examples above are the only two examples out of the three most influential and most prolific writers of all of the early Western church. This is striking in that their combined volumes of writings are enormous (eclipsing perhaps all of the writing before them combined) and cover nearly every topic in theology, yet invocation of saints is almost entirely absent. This does not prove that there was no such practice among them (clearly there was, at least among Augustine and Ambrose), but it does call into question it’s prevalence since one would expect it to appear more often in their writings if it was occurring with frequency.

There is a prayer often attributed to Augustine that is directed to Mary; however, it is a false attribution. It is, as Preces Latinae – Treasury of Latin Prayers writes, “Written by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres (ca 951-ca 1029), it appears in his Sermo IX, De Annuntiatione Dominica. The prayer is sometimes attributed to St. Augustine, Book 10, Sermon 18, de Sanctis, since Bishop Fulbert’s sermon appeared in the collected works of St. Augustine at one time. However, it is now known that the sermon is not Augustine’s, but Bishop Fulbert’s.”

There are also a handful of quotes attributed to Augustine that are used to support invocation of saints, but all of them are simply recognition that the saints pray for us, not that we should invoke them. That is to say that they are recognition of prayers with the saints but not to them.

There is also a notable quote by Augustine that seems to be against invocation of saints.

In fine, they [pagan worshipers] built temples to these gods of theirs, and set up altars, and ordained priests, and appointed sacrifices; but to our martyrs we build, not temples as if they were gods, but monuments as to dead men whose spirits live with God. Neither do we erect altars at these monuments that we may sacrifice to the martyrs, but to the one God of the martyrs and of ourselves; and in this sacrifice they are named in their own place and rank as men of God who conquered the world by confessing Him, but they are not invoked by the sacrificing priest. For it is to God, not to them, he sacrifices, though he sacrifices at their monument; for he is God’s priest, not theirs. The sacrifice itself, too, is the body of Christ, which is not offered to them, because they themselves are this body. Which then can more readily be believed to work miracles?

Augustine, City of God 22, 10 (426 AD)

It is clear then that Augustine, at least in the context of the celebration of Communion, denies that the priest makes any invocation to saints, but this is simply a limiting factor on where/when the practice occurs and not necessarily a denial of the practice outright (which would contradict his earlier statement in chapter 8 that I mentioned earlier).

Jerome’s Against Vigilantius is often used to defend invocation of saints. The work goes at length to counter the arguments of Vigilantius, who accused Christians of idolatry in their honor toward saints, especially the use of relics. Jerome, however, in the entire treatise, despite speaking of both prayers with and for saints and talking at length about venerating saints, does not mention their invocation.

Does the bishop of Rome do wrong when he offers sacrifices to the Lord over the venerable bones of the dead men Peter and Paul, as we should say, but according to you, over “a worthless bit of dust,” and judges their tombs worthy to be Christ’s altars? And not only is the bishop of one city in error, but the bishops of the whole world, who, despite the tavern-keeper Vigilantius, enter the basilicas of the dead, in which “a worthless bit of dust and ashes lies wrapped up in a cloth,” defiled and defiling all else. Thus, according to you, the sacred buildings are like the sepulchres of the Pharisees, whitened without, while within they have filthy remains, and are full of foul smells and uncleanliness. And then he dares to expectorate his filth upon the subject and to say, “Is it the case that the souls of the martyrs love their ashes, and hover round them, and are always present, lest haply if any one come to pray and they were absent, they could not hear?”

Jerome, Against Vigilantius 8 (406 AD)

This is the closest Jerome comes to mentioning the topic of invocation specifically. Jerome is responding to Vigilantius’ objection to the practice of Christians celebrating Communion over altars with relics of saints in them. The quote Jerome provides from Vigilantius could indicate invocation of saints, though this wouldn’t make too much sense considering that the context is the celebration of Communion, which Jerome describes as a “sacrifice to the Lord.” An alternative explanation is that Vigilantius is speaking of prayers with saints, echoing notions of Revelation 5, 6, and 8 that saints send our prayers to God, hence why they would, according to Vigilantius, need to be at the location of the altar. Jerome does not have any response to this apart from mocking Vigilantius, so nothing substantial can be deduced from the passage apart from what has been said already.

The Council of Frankfort

The Council of Frankfort was a council held in 794 AD in response to the Second Council of Nicaea (787 AD). The Second Council of Nicaea anathematized those who do not invoke saints and itself contains prayers to saints. The Council of Frankfort, under Charlemagne, rejected this practice in its canons. Anglicans and Lutherans have appealed to this council before as an attempt to push against what they believed to be the overstepping of Nicaea II, though the Council of Frankfort also opposed the use of iconography, which is generally accepted by Lutherans and (modern) Anglicans. Unfortunately, the text is untranslated, but a 9th century manuscript is available online for reading.

The Proto-Protestants

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 who often lacked resources to spread their views; however, 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.

Conclusion

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 (or perhaps just before) and writings that seem to be against it in the the first three centuries, including scripture.

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 and Origen 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. If this is not of any interest to the reader, one can skip past this section to the meat of the post.

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, speak 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.

Foreknowledge

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.

Predestination

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.

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

Introduction to Soteriology: Entire Depravity and Original Sin – 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.

Many New Wesleyan Arminians (including many evangelicals) and Eastern churches deny the doctrine of entire depravity and original sin, either in degree or in their entirety. This doctrine has been present, however, since the scriptures and has been maintained through the entire history of the church. Notable reformers and spearheads of Protestant theology Luther, Calvin, and Arminius held strongly to the doctrine (with nuanced differences), and even later English reformers such as Wesley believed in original sin (albeit somewhat modified). This entry attempts to make the case for both entire depravity and original sin simultaneously through scripture and demonstrate the continued teaching in the church fathers.

I will be using definitions from the Lutheran Book of Concord to define these doctrines. The doctrine of original sin is defined in Augsburg Confession Article II:

“1] Also they teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with 2] concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost.
3] They condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, and who, to obscure the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits, argue that man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.”

Apology Article II shows the connection of Original Sin to Entire Depravity:

“5] For some contend that original sin is not a depravity or corruption in the nature of man, but only servitude, or a condition of mortality [not an innate evil nature, but only a blemish or imposed load, or burden], which those propagated from Adam bear because of the guilt of another [namely, Adam’s sin], and without any depravity of their own. Besides, they add that no one is condemned to eternal death on account of original sin, just as those who are born of a bond-woman are slaves, and bear this condition without any natural blemish, but because of the calamity of their mother [while, of themselves, they are born without fault, like other men: thus original sin is not an innate evil, but a defect and burden which we bear since Adam, but we are not on that account personally in sin and inherited disgrace]. 6] To show that this impious opinion is displeasing to us, we made mention of “concupiscence,” and, with the best intention, have termed and explained it as ‘diseases,’ that ‘the nature of men is born corrupt and full of faults’ [not a part of man, but the entire person with its entire nature is born in sin as with a hereditary disease].”

The subject is further defined and covered in the Formula of Concord Epitome Article I and Solid Declaration Article I, and it is defended in the Apology Article II.

Defense of Original Sin

Our sinful nature is present and widely encompassing from our youth. As it is written: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psa. 51:5). “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Pro 22:15). “For You write bitter things against me, and make me inherit the iniquities of my youth” (Job 13:26). “Man, born of woman, is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). “What is man, that he could be pure? And, born of a woman, that he could be righteous?” (Job 15:14).

The New Testament makes it clear that all have sinned and have inherited the sin of Adam. “‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (Mat. 10:18, 19:17, Luk. 18:19). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). “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” (Rom. 5:15-19). “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” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

This same doctrine can be found in the Apocrypha. “For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the people’s heart along with the evil root, but what was good departed, and the evil remained” (2 Esd. 3:21-22). “For a grain of evil seed was sown in Adam’s heart from the beginning, and how much ungodliness it has produced until now, and will produce until the time of threshing comes!” (2 Esd. 4:30). “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die” (Sir. 25:24).

Defense of Entire Depravity

This begs the question, “How sinful is the nature of man?” Might he be partially depraved? This cannot be the case. The scriptures are clear on the complete depravity of man. The doctrine can be found from the very beginning in Genesis and Numbers. “Then the LORD [God] saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). “And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined” (Num. 15:39).

The doctrine is also found all throughout the wisdom literature. “Truly I know it is so, but how can a man be righteous before God? If one wished to contend with Him, he could not answer Him one time out of a thousand” (Job 9:2-3). “If God puts no trust in His saints, and the heavens are not pure in His sight, how much less man, abominable and filthy, who drinks iniquity like water!” (Job 15:15-16). “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt. They have done abominable works. There is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men. To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside. They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, no, not one” (Psa. 14:1-3 & 53:1-3). “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Pro. 14:12). “The heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecc. 8:11). “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead” (Ecc. 9:3).

This can also be found in the Prophets. “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity. Your lips have spoken lies; your tongue has muttered perversity. No one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; they conceive evil and bring forth iniquity. They hatch vipers’ eggs and weave the spider’s web; he who eats of their eggs dies, and from that which is crushed a viper breaks out. Their webs will not become garments, nor will they cover themselves with their works. Their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and  destruction  are in their paths. The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways. They have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace” (Isa 59:1-8).

The New Testament continues this message even more clearly, and the doctrine can be found in the Gospels, the Pauline Epistles, and in Johannine literature. As it is written: “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornicators, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mat. 15:18-19). Perhaps the most famous passage on the subject from Romans: “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; ​​There is none who seeks after God. ​​They have all turned aside; ​​They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one’ (Ps. 14:1-3, 53:1-3, Ecc. 7:20). ‘Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit’; (Ps. 5:9) ‘The poison of asps is under their lips’; (Ps. 140:3) ​​’Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness‘ (Ps. 10:7). ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known‘ (Is. 59:7-8). ​​’There is no fear of God before their eyes’ (Ps. 36:1)” (Rom. 3:9-18). “But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:22). “And you, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Eph. 2:1-3). “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled” (Col. 1:21). “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all your trespasses” (Col. 2:13). “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Tit. 1:15-16). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8).

The Patristic Witness

Many have said that original sin is an invention of Augustine, but this is far from the truth. While some church fathers, particularly in the East, denied original sin (that is, denied that we are guilty of original sin but instead only suffered its consequences, namely death). Figures in the early church maintained this doctrine, as once taught by the prophets and the apostles, and it can be found among many fathers across all of history. Some notable examples are listed below.

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies (175-185AD) Book 3, 22:4, Book 5, 16:3:

“Eve…having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race….Adam became the beginning of those who die.”

“But inasmuch as it was by these things that we disobeyed God, and did not give credit to His word, so was it also by these same that He brought in obedience and consent as respects His Word; by which things He clearly shows forth God Himself, whom indeed we had offended in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. In the second Adam, however, we are reconciled, being made obedient even unto death. For we were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.”

Cyprian of Carthage (250AD), 64:5 (58:5):

“But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted — and nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace— how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins— that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.”

Hilary of Poitiers (360AD), Commentary on Psalm 118 (119):

“Having been sent in a flesh in the likeness of that of sin, He did not have sin in the same way that He had flesh. But as all flesh comes from sin, that is, it derives from the sin of Adam the progenitor, He has been sent in a flesh similar to that of sin, because in Him sin does not subsist, but the image of sinful flesh…. [David] does not think he lives in this life, for he had said: ‘Behold I have been conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me.’ He knows that he was born of sinful origin and under the law of sin.”

Ambrose of Milan (390AD), Commentary on Luke (12:52):

“Reason is the food of the mind, and a noble and sweet nourishment, which does not burden the body, and changes not into something shameful in nature, but into something glorious, when the wallowing place of lust is changed into the temple of God, and the inn of vices begins to be the shrine of virtues. This takes place when the flesh, returning to its nature, recognizes the nurse of its strength and, putting aside the boldness of its obstinacy, is joined to the will of the regulating soul – such as it was when it received the secrets of dwelling in paradise, before it was infected with the poison of the pestilent Serpent and knew that wicked hunger, and through gluttonous greed brushed aside the memory of the divine commandment which inhered in the senses of the soul. It is hence, we are told, that sin flowed from body and soul as though from its parents; the nature of the body being tempted, the soul suffered with the body’s disorderly health. For, if it had restrained the appetite of the body, the soul would have destroyed in its very beginning the origin of sin; but the soul, in its now corrupt vigor, heavy with burdens not its own, gave birth to sin as though in an evil pregnancy by the action of the male, the body.”

Council of Carthage (418-419AD): Canon CX (Latin)/ CXII (Greek):

“Likewise it seemed good that whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized, or says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, from whence the conclusion follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.

For no otherwise can be understood what the Apostle says, By one man sin has come into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed upon all men in that all have sinned, than the Catholic Church everywhere diffused has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration.”

After this, Augustine and the Augustinian tradition, carried by figures such as Prosper of Acquitaine, Fulgentius of Ruspe, and Lupus De Ferrier, continued Augustine’s strong and clear position on original sin and the depravity of man.

The Second Council of Orange (529 AD) addresses original sin and the depravity of man and settled this topic for the Western church for centuries to come, strongly defending the Augustinian position on scriptural grounds.

Further Readings

Quotes from the Fathers

A three part series on original sin in scripture and the fathers