Dave Armstrong (DA), a lay apologist for Rome, asserts that there is "explicit biblical [sic] evidence for all the essential notions behind indulgences" (link to source of discussion) (link to quotation).
1) How does DA pick the "essential notions behind"?
DA is not very clear in this regard. It is as though he picks them out of a hat. This is not surprising, since the doctrine of Indulgences is not a Biblical doctrine. Thus, if one is going to be limited in how one picks doctrines that are to be called the "essential notions behind."
Of course, given that the doctrine of Indulgences is not itself a Biblical doctrine, one might think that DA would look for essential notions permitting uninspired men to innovate doctrines not taught by the apostles. DA, however, does not do this, as we see when we turn to:
2) What are the "essential notions behind"?
Apparently, the two "essential notions" that DA thinks are behind indulgences are absolution and church jurisdiction. But are these enough to address the essence of indulgences? Surely not.
Before we get to the issue of jurisdiction over penance/indulgences and forgiveness, there is the more fundamental issue of whether a proper category of temporal punishment of sin exists. This category does not have a reason for existence until the doctrine of Purgatory develops, because it is principally Purgatory for which indulgences become of value.
That is to say, the concept of earthly penance is not enough to justify the doctrine of Indulgences, which is based on the concept of temporal punishment for sins. Prior to the development of Purgatory and the concept of temporal punishment for sins, the concept of earthly penance can be viewed simply as a test of sincerity, as discipline (as distinct from punishment) for sins, or both.
Of course, Scripture nowhere makes the eternal/temporal punishment distinction. Christ's righteousness, suffering, and death are attributed to the believer in justification. Thus, as Paul says:
Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
But even if the alleged "essential notions" are not enough to justify the doctrine of Indulgences, let us address the next question:
3) Do DA's claims have support for what they assert?
DA claims that he has provided support for "priestly absolution" and "the power to impose penance ... and to grant indulgences." But, in fact, such concepts are not discussed in the passages he relies upon.
Instead, DA attempts to read his church's doctrines into three texts of Scripture:
A) Matthew 16:19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
B) Matthew 18:18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
C) John 20:23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
The first two passages (A and B) speak of the so-called power of the keys - of binding and loosing. But look at what is said: not what is bound on earth will be bound on earth or what is bound on earth will be bound in purgatory -- but rather what is bound on earth shall be bound in heaven.
Furthermore, the two passages (A and B) make no distinction between temporal and eternal punishments. In fact, though they mention earth and heaven they basically place an equals sign between them, such that what is true on earth is true in heaven. Thus, they actually undermine the underlying essential notion that there is a difference between temporal punishment for sins and eternal punishment for sins.
Likewise the third passage (C) makes no distinction between temporal and eternal punishment for sin, simply treating sin as sin. Thus, again, the essential notions behind Indulgences are not supported but undermined.
Furthermore, contrary to DA's claims, the passages do not describe "priestly absolution. " There is no discussion of priests performing the various binding/loosing remitting/retaining mentioned in the three passages.
It should be noted that the concept of a New Testament priesthood as separate from the "laity" is not a Scriptural concept. Nevertheless, there is nothing "explicit" (recall that was DA's claim) in the text that limits the binding/loosing or remitting/retaining to even the category of ordained ministers, other elders, or deacons. In fact, there is no explicit limitation at all.
Now, DA may want to counter that in the text only certain people are addressed and thus implicitly the binding/loosing and remitting/retaining is limited. One problem is that if one wishes to make that argument, one has to be prepared for the fact that there is nothing in the passage provided to avoid taking that implicit limit to its logical conclusion, namely that it was limited to only those people in particular to whom it was given.
Finally, naturally, the explanation of what the binding/loosing remitting/retaining constitutes is simply not explict in the passage (contrary to DA's broad assertions). In fact, in the case of binding/loosing, the passage is not even explicit that the binding/loosing has to do with sin.
In fact, with respect to the first two passages (A and B) there is a reasonable argument to be made that the reference could be to revelation - such that those with the power of the key to bind and loose may have the ability to keep heavenly information secret or reveal it.
The most obvious counter-argument to such a response is that these are the keys of the kingdom of heaven, i.e. that reference is being made to entry into the kingdom of heaven - i.e. to salvation. If this is the case, though, the verse cannot have any relation to Indulgences - which do not provide salvation.
After a brief quotation from Karl Adam (which provides some similar assertions to those of DA without any Biblical evidence), DA quotes from 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 and 2:6-8 and 10-11 and provides the following commentary:
St. Paul in his commands and exhortations to the Corinthians is in entire agreement with the Catholic tenets of penance and indulgences. He binds in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 and looses in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7,10, acting as a type of papal figure in 2 Corinthians 2:10, much like St. Peter among the Apostles. He forgives, and bids the Corinthian elders to forgive also, even though the offense was not committed against them personally. Clearly, both parties are acting as God's representatives in the matter of the forgiveness of sins and the remission of sin's temporal penalties (an indulgence). In this as in all other doctrinal matters, the Catholic Church is grounded in the Bible, takes seriously all that it teaches, and grapples with all the implications and deepest wellsprings of Truth to be found within the pages of God's Holy Scriptures.
Counting the errors in this paragraph is somewhat laborious, but perhaps it will be edifying:
1) The idea that the cited passages are "in entire agreement with the Catholic tenets of penance and indulgences," is really a red herring. Even supposing that were true, it would only be relevant if those passages were raised as an objection to such doctrines.
2) DA comment that, "He binds in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5," is not supported by Paul using the word for "bind" in that passage. Furthermore, Paul doesn't impose penance on the man, he excommunicates him.
3) DA states: "looses in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7,10," but that is also not supported by Paul using the word for "loose" in that passage. Furthermore, Paul speaks only of forgiveness and not excuse from the suffering of temporal punishments, as in the doctrine of Indulgences.
4) DA states: "acting as a type of papal figure in 2 Corinthians 2:10," but if there is an resemblance between Paul's activity and the supposed activity of a pope, Paul is engaging in the activity - not foreshadowing it.
5) DA states: "much like St. Peter among the Apostles," but there is no suggestion in the text to support an analogy of "Paul is to the Corinthians as Peter is to the other Apostles."
6) DA states, "He forgives, and bids the Corinthian elders to forgive also, even though the offense was not committed against them personally," but the text does not say that they offense was not committed against them personally.
7) DA states: "Clearly, both parties are acting as God's representatives in the matter of the forgiveness of sins and the remission of sin's temporal penalties (an indulgence)," but actually, as noted above, only the forgiveness of sins is mentioned, not the "remission of sin's temporal penalties."
8) DA finally states: "In this as in all other doctrinal matters, the Catholic Church is grounded in the Bible, takes seriously all that it teaches, and grapples with all the implications and deepest wellsprings of Truth to be found within the pages of God's Holy Scriptures." But, in fact DA's comment is misleading on several levels. The teaching of Catholicism is grounded on the authority of the Vatican, not on the authority of the Scripture. It is not a doctrine "grounded in" or otherwise derived from the Bible. It is the not the result of infallible exegesis - in fact it doesn't even claim to be! (i.e. that's not the Vatican's claim) It is not the result of battling with Scripture, as suggested by DA's comment, or - at best - there is absolutely no historical record of such grappling taking place.
Although Dave goes on to quote from a Cardinal of his church, the bulk of the remainder of Dave's article is really related to penance - which DA admits has "developed" over time (though some of the footnotes mention indulgences and their Medieval abuse).
In conclusion, we may safely continue to view Indulgences as not Biblically evidenced, despite Mr. Armstrong's boldly titled blog post.
Thanks be to the God who Justifies,