Thursday, August 14, 2008

Biblical Evidence for the Veneration of Relics Ignored?

Previously, I discussed (and rebutted) the claim that the Scriptural discussion of the transport of Joseph's bones from Egypt to Canaan was evidence of the veneration of relics in the Old Testament (link). Now, I turn to a second favorite passage that relic-venerators tend to appeal to, as allegedly supporting their position. That passage is the discussion of the resuscitation of a man who touched Elisha's bones.

The Scripture in question is as follows:

2 Kings 13:20-21
20And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. 21And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.

The point of this passage would seem to be an indication of the extreme poverty of the prophet, as well as a testimony to the reality of his divine appointment as a prophet.

1) Note that they buried Elisha. They did not place his bones in a synagogue or in the temple to be venerated.

2) Note that they buried Elisha in a place of the dead. This is confirmed by the fact that men who were burying a man (who is so unimportant as not even to be named in Scripture) found Elisha's sepulcher at hand. Thus, it appears that Elisha's sepulcher was not in a place of great importance, but in a place of the dead.

3) Note that Elisha's sepulchre was open. If it had been a closed sepulchre, it would not have been convenient to dump a body into it. An open sepulchre was an unpleasant and foul thing, even though it had an important purpose. In fact, the Psalmist uses it to provide a negative picture of the sinful man's mouth:

Psalm 5:9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.

Notice the comparison there. An open sepulchre, as you can see, has the advantage of not smelling so bad at the mouth of the sepulchre, but inside is death: a carcase. We can deduce that these open sepulchres were either deep (to accomplish this smell prevention issue), and consequently the prophet Jeremiah likens the quiver of mighty men to an open sepulchre:

Jeremiah 5:16 Their quiver is as an open sepulchre, they are all mighty men.

Or possibly the idea is that open sepulchres were in essence mass graves: which would also make sense both in the context of 2 Kings 13 and Jeremiah 5 (although I am inclined to the former view).

Some have suggested that an open sepulchre is basically a crevasse in the earth, a deep, naturally occurring pit into which a body could basically be dumped, thereby saving cost in terms of the time spent having to dig up the earth for burial. This would make sense as well - the idea being in Jeremiah 5 that the mighty men have a basically limitless supply of arrows.

4) The sepulchre was not a rock-face sepulchre, like that in which Jesus was buried. Recall that the man was not simply tossed or placed into the sepulchre, but lowered into the open sepulchre. This "lowered" suggests that the sepulchre opened upward rather than laterally. Again, this confirms that Elijah was not buried in some elaborate tomb designed to honor him, but rather in a low-cost alternative.

Analysis of Verse with Respect to Veneration Hypothesis

With the analysis above in mind, we should examine the verse in view of the hypothesis that it has something to do with venerating relics. Frankly, of course, there is no hint of veneration. Indeed, the idea of placing (even carefully) an apparently dead body on top of Elisha's would seem to show the opposite of veneration for him (dead bodies were unclean).

One might argue that the knowledge that it was the place where Elisha was buried shows some amount of honor, but it is the sort of bare honor that demonstrates that Elisha was at least not buried in an unmarked grave (as contrasted, for example, with the Muslims' practices).

Rather than being used specifically for the purposes of showing veneration, some might argue this as showing the supernatural effects associated with the corpses of holy men.

Leaving aside the issue of whether Elisha was particularly holy, it is interesting to note that the passage does not explicitly say that the man about to be buried was dead. It says he revived, which is ambiguous (both in the original Hebrew and in our English translation) as to whether the man came to life or simply recovered from a state of apparent death (presumably folks wouldn't bury an apparently alive person).

Either way, it is reasonable to infer that one of the reasons for the mention of the revival was to highlight this as a sort of posthumous miracle of Elisha. It is a reasonable inference, but not a necessary one. Regardless of whether it is a correct inference, all that it demonstrates is that God chose to testify to Elisha's gifts in this particular way at this particular time.

In other words, we would have no logical or proper ground to infer a general principle from this isolated and Scripturally unexplained occurrence. It certainly does not teach the veneration of relics, nor does it provide a rational basis for endorsing the superstitious legends that have sprung up around various relics, within churches that engage in relic veneration.

In short, we can reject the theory that 2 Kings 13:20-21 in any way supports relic veneration or the churches that practice such activity. You might think, based on the explanation above, that no one would attempt to use such a clearly unhelpful passage as 2 Kings 13:20-21, but - in fact - we see such happening in papist apologetics (Dave Armstrong, for example, falsely claims that "In the Old Law we read of the veneration of the Jews for the bones of Joseph (Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32), and of the prophet Eliseus [Elisha] ...." (quoting with approval from Bertrand Conway) link; See also Steve Ray relying on Joseph and Elisha, Ron aka "Saint under Construction" similarly relying on Joseph and Elisha, and this anonymous article that has received Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur which relies on Elisha while wisely omitting reference to Joseph)

May the God of the Living keep us from this,

-TurretinFan

11 comments:

GeneMBridges said...

4) The sepulchre was not a rock-face sepulchre, like that in which Jesus was buried. Recall that the man was not simply tossed or placed into the sepulchre, but lowered into the open sepulchre. This "lowered" suggests that the sepulchre opened upward rather than laterally. Again, this confirms that Elijah was not buried in some elaborate tomb designed to honor him, but rather in a low-cost alternative.

If I may, I'd like to draw attention to this and jump a tad ahead to the NT, Luke 11:

Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. 48So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.

By this, I would say, Jesus Himself condemns the veneration of "saints."

1. By building the tombs of those whom their fathers murdered - and bragging about it - the experts in the law were demonstrating their agreement with their fathers for murdering the prophets. One wonders if they perversely believed they were somehow making up for the mistakes of the past by "elevating" the prophets through building their tombs in the present day.

2. You're right Elisha and a great many of the prophets were extremely poor. This is highly important to remember.

3. And I would say that there is more to this text than literally murdering the prophets. The leaders in the present day not only agreed with the actual murder of these men of God, they compounded their sin by trying elevate them in the building of a tomb. Rather than ask themselves "What would the prophet actually think of what we're doing?" they went their own way.

4. Apropos 4, isn't this precisely what Romanists do with their saints? On the one hand they extol these men and women for their good works and humility and poverty and then on the other elevate them to "the best seats in the house" as it were. Let's take Mary...have Catholics ever really bothered to ask if the veneration of Mary does justice to her actual character? Is that something of which the Mary of the Bible would actually approve? If not, then it amounts to a figurative sort of murder to elevate her or any "saint," just as it figurative "murdered" the prophets by trouncing on their character. It's what we call today, "character assassination" not by insult, but by basically ignoring what these people are said to have stood for.

Roman Catholicism is just like 1st century Judaism is it not?

Ben Douglass said...

On the one hand they extol these men and women for their good works and humility and poverty and then on the other elevate them to "the best seats in the house" as it were.

"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted" (Matt 23:12).

"He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble" (Luke 1:52).

"But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:10-11).

God has already elevated the Saints to "the best seats in the house," as it were. Yes, precisely because of their humility, he has said to them "friend, move up higher." And because God has so exalted them, the Saints have "honor in the sight of all [Catholics] who are at table" with them. God exalts; we recognize what God has done.

"Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt 19:28).

Ben Douglass said...

Let's take Mary...have Catholics ever really bothered to ask if the veneration of Mary does justice to her actual character? Is that something of which the Mary of the Bible would actually approve?

"When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.'"

Mary accepted veneration from St. Elizabeth. She accepts it from Catholics.

orthodox said...

"By this, I would say, Jesus Himself condemns the veneration of "saints."

LOL, if Jesus condemned the Jews for venerating the saints, this at least concedes that the Jews venerated the saints, which is what fake Turretin is trying to refute.

Turretinfan said...

Ben:

As to your two comments:

a) Your leadership wears what amount to crowns and sit on what amount to thrones. They do not wait for God to exalt them. Think about it.

b) The recognition of "saints" in Catholicism is not inspired - it is human and fallible. Indeed, as others have noted there are "Catholic saints" who either did not exist (Saint Veronica for example) or who were wicked men (I'd rather not point fingers here, but with such a large group ...). Thus, it is not a fulfilment of Jesus' words about the host exalting one of his guests.

c) Mary's cousin sharing her joy was not religious veneration. In fact, it was prophecy - confirming Christ's divinity. It wasn't about Mary: it was about Jesus.

d) Even if it did count as some form of veneration, (1) Mary is no longer around to hear people saying such things about her and (2) folks who make such arguments normally do not limit themselves to the kind of moderate praise that Elizabeth gave, but make ridiculously grandiose praises, such as calling Mary the "Queen of Heaven" and the like.

-TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

Orthodox:

If you wish to claim the mantle of the Pharisees, it's yours.

But ask yourself whether even the Pharisees were so foolish as to imagine that the martyrs could hear their mutterings or would be honored by people bowing down to their graves.

Look for the historical evidence - see if you can find in Josephus (since you cannot in the Bible) examples of the Pharisees praying to the dead.

-TurretinFan

GeneMBridges said...

"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted" (Matt 23:12).

By God Himself, not "The Church." I've been to beatificaition ceremonies at the Vatican. The one who humbles himself is the one who trusts in Christ alone, not one who trusts in the merits of Christ, his congruent merit, and the congruent merit of others.

"He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble" (Luke 1:52).

In context, this has nothing to do with this topic. In context, it's talking about God's power over those who oppressed His people and the elevation of those people over them, because God is faithful to His covenant people.

Ever notice how Romanists and the Orthodox CITE Scripture without bothering EXEGETE Scripture?

"But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:10-11).


In context this too has nothing to do with this topic. It would, by the way, Ben, apply to every genuine believer, not a specified, canonized list of them. Tell us, Ben, do faithful Catholics venerate every believer or just certain saints?

"Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt 19:28).

That's eschatological.

God has already elevated the Saints to "the best seats in the house," as it were.

Yes, He ALONE does this, not you and your apostate, monopolisitic communion that says it prays through them, not to them.

Yes, precisely because of their humility, he has said to them "friend, move up higher.

Their "humility" would be due to their trust in Christ alone...but in Catholic theology, Ben, the elevation, canonization, and veneration of saints is based on the treasury of merit.

And because God has so exalted them, the Saints have "honor in the sight of all [Catholics] who are at table" with them. God exalts; we recognize what God has done. No, you don't because, even if God exalts particular people over others, you don't know who they are unless you have access to the Divine Mind to know who those people are, unless you believe God is in the business of revealing who these people are to you through "the Church." How can we verify that God has done this?

"When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.'"Mary accepted veneration from St. Elizabeth. She accepts it from Catholics.

Notice that Ben only cites this text, he doesn't exegete this text. In context, Elizabeth isn't "venerating Mary" she's praising God for His faithfulnes to His covenant people and prophesying about Mary and Christ. This is an echo of the Messianic hope, prophecy, not a statement about Mary's merit in the eyes of God. "Veneration" is a term of art in Catholicism, it doesn't cover this sort of statement.

Note carefully that Ben moves from a statement by Elizabeth to a blanket statement about all Catholics. Where is the supporting argument? Ben, do you not see the fallacy there? Do we really have to spell it out for you?

LOL, if Jesus condemned the Jews for venerating the saints, this at least concedes that the Jews venerated the saints, which is what fake Turretin is trying to refute.

1. At present, TF is in the OT.
2. In the First Century, Orthodox, the Jewish leaders were apostate, as was the majority of the nation. According to Jay Dyer and several other representatives of Orthodoxy on Tblog, we shouldn't follow "Christ hating Jews." So, if the First Century Jews were in the business of venerating particular persons as "saints" then you've now admitted to following "Christ-hating Jews." This must be quite the conundrum for you.
3. It's one thing to build tombs, that's one aspect of veneration in Catholic theology, but where can we find prayers to the dearly departed among the Jews? Please tell us, Orthodox.

natamllc said...

As with everything else that is wrong about this evil form, being an "Indian" as in Indian before the USA, I'll take flight with my headdress and look down on this and say, it's just another way for the foolish to be manipulated by religion, ah, man made stuff that does not reveal the Truth.

Well, Truth is revealed but not by man and when Truth is revealed to man, man realizes that.

1Th 5:22 Abstain from every form of evil.
1Th 5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Th 5:24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

I have some good news! Now one who has Truth can go directly into the throne room of the Very Present God full of Grace, Mercy and Peace. No need for relics of man made religion to have the relationship with Him these forms of religion promise you you will have with Him!

Sadly, this is what some of you have when God does not have you!

Of course, those of us that know, know that there are many broad ways to hell and only one way to Heaven!

luvvom said...

I know VERY little of Catholicism so I can't contribute about veneration of relics...I don't even know what that means. Right now, I'm just wondering if the guy got out of the grave...it doesn't say!

Ben Douglass said...

Sorry for taking so long to respond. I got embroiled in a long discussion on Mark Shea's blog.

genembridges: One wonders if [the Pharisees] perversely believed they were somehow making up for the mistakes of the past by "elevating" the prophets through building their tombs in the present day.

More likely, the Pharisees built the tombs of the prophets in a cynical attempt to appropriate their names and prestige to serve the Pharisaical cause. Their behavior would then be analogous to Latin American feminists making pro-abortion "holy cards" of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Ben Douglass said...

genembridges: The one who humbles himself is the one who trusts in Christ alone, not one who trusts in the merits of Christ, his congruent merit, and the congruent merit of others.

This is a separate debate. However, if you want to debate justification, I've had a paper on my website for a few years which no Protestant, to my knowledge, has yet rebutted: http://www.pugiofidei.com/logizomai.htm

genembridges: In context, this has nothing to do with this topic. In context, it's talking about God's power over those who oppressed His people and the elevation of those people over them, because God is faithful to His covenant people.

The context also deals with the spiritual lives of individuals. Mary has, just a few verses earlier, stated: "For he has regarded the humility of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed." Mary has humbled herself, therefore God has exalted her, such that all future generations will praise her. So, the general principle that God "casts the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly" finds fullfilment both in nations and in individuals.

genembridges: Ever notice how Romanists and the Orthodox CITE Scripture without bothering EXEGETE Scripture?

The lack of exegesis in my earlier post owes to lack of time, not ability.

genembridges: In context this too has nothing to do with this topic.

Gratuitously asserted. Gratuitously denied.

Tell us, Ben, do faithful Catholics venerate every believer or just certain saints?

All holiness is worthy of veneration. Hence, every person in a state of grace is worthy of veneration to some degree. So, Catholics can and do venerate men and women who have not been beatified or canonized. Personally, I have a devotion to, among the dead, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Alphonse Ratisbonne, and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. Among the living, I hold several persons of my acquaintance in veneration.

Yes, He ALONE does this, not you and your apostate, monopolisitic communion that says it prays through them, not to them.

Granted, God alone exalts the saints. When the Church canonizes someone she does not cause someone who was not already in heaven to enter it; she merely informs her children (infallibly) of what God has already accomplished.

Next, individual Catholics on the internet might declaim praying to the saints, but the Church herself does not. It is perfectly correct to say that Catholics pray to saints. I think that when Catholics deny this, their point is that the saints do not have power in and of themselves; their power is intercessory, instrumental, and wholly dependent upon the power of God. So, Catholics who deny praying to saints are driving at a truth, but nevertheless their language is confusing and should be abandoned.

genembridges: No, you don't because, even if God exalts particular people over others, you don't know who they are unless you have access to the Divine Mind to know who those people are, unless you believe God is in the business of revealing who these people are to you through "the Church." How can we verify that God has done this?

Well, obviously, there must be some way to verify that God has exalted certain Christians over others because Jesus says that those whom He so exalts will "have honor in the sight of all who are at the table," i.e., in the sight of all fellow Christians. How can the rest of the people at the table honor the one whom Jesus invites to a higher seat if they have no way of knowing who he is?

To answer your question more directly, there are several means of determining if a man is a saint: (1) has he lived a holy life (cf. Matt 7:16)? (2) Has he faced death with virtue? (3) Has he endured martyrdom? (4) Is his body incorrupt? (5) Has he performed miracles while alive? (6) Has his intercession procured miracles after his death?

genembridges: Note carefully that Ben moves from a statement by Elizabeth to a blanket statement about all Catholics. Where is the supporting argument? Ben, do you not see the fallacy there?

I see no fallacy. You argue that Mary would oppose, as a matter of principle, that anyone should venerate her. If I can demonstrate that Mary has accepted veneration from one person, then you have no basis to argue that she would reject veneration from someone else.