Thursday, October 16, 2008

There is One Mediator and Only One Mediator

In a recent blog post (link), Dave Armstrong (a lay advocate of Catholicism) has made the remarkable argument that "there is one mediator" in 1 Timothy 2:5 does not rule out what Dave calls "mini-mediators." Dave doesn't comment on whether "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD," rules out mini-Jehovahs or whether "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, " rules out mini-Lords, mini-faiths, and mini-baptisms.

Naturally, he also doesn't comment on whether "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble," rules out mini-Gods. I suppose that he might be excused from these oversights with respect to other uses of "one" in Scripture except that the verse in question does not say only "there is one mediator" but also "there is one God" - in fact the quotation, "There is one mediator," requires one to omit "One God, and" in the usual translation of the text:

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

Dave also doesn't comment on the fact that the term "mediator" is only ever used of Jesus in the New Testament (see post-script below for more discussion on this). That's true whether we speak of the English word for mediator in KJV, the Latin word for mediator in the Vulgate, or the Greek word for mediator in the original. Instead of dealing with these troubling details, Dave waves his hand and claims that Scriptures teach the concept of mini-mediators. Of course, it doesn't take a genius to guess that Dave cannot find the term "mini-mediator" in Scripture either. Instead, he declares that:

1) When Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9:22 of "by all means sav[ing] some" - that means Paul is a "mini-mediator";

2) When Paul speaks in 1 Timothy 4:16 of "sav[ing] both yourself and your hearers" - that means Timothy is going to be a "mini-mediator";

3) When Paul speaks in Philippians 2:12-13 of "work[ing] out your own salvation" - that means the Philippians are going to be "mini-mediators";

4) When Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 4:15 of "all things [being] for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God" - that means that Paul is a "mini-mediator";

5) When Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:2 of "the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward" - that means Paul is a "mini-mediator";

6) When Paul speaks in Ephesians 4:29 of the words from the Ephesians mouths "minister[ing] grace unto the hearers" - that means the Ephesians will be "mini-mediators";

7) When Peter speaks in 1 Peter 4:8-10 of "good stewards of the manifold grace of God" - that means that the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia are going to be "mini-mediators";

8) When John speaks in Revelation 1:4-5 of "the seven spirits who are before his throne" - that means that angels are going to be "mini-mediators";

9) Whenever Paul or anyone else uses the phrase "grace to you" or the like - that means that the person using the phrase is acting as a "mini-mediator."

There a number of significant problems with Dave's methodology. For one thing, Dave more or less simply assumes in each case that the activity involved is somehow a "mini" form of what Christ does as mediator. Another problem is that in order for Dave's overall argument to work, Dave essentially has to reduce Jesus' mediatorial role to that of being a grace conduit, with God (the Father) being the source and believers (or all men - one is not really sure whether Dave applies a "prevenient grace" concept here) being the recipients. There are other problems to be sure. For example, the idea that the "seven spirits who are before [God's] throne" are consequently to be implicated in mediation is particularly far-fetched. But the two I've identified above may be viewed as the primary problems.

What is the cause of Dave's problems in this regard? Dave simply doesn't seem to understand the role of the mediator. The mediator is not simply a grace conduit. The mediator is the person who reconciles two. As Scripture says,

Galatians 3:20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

The mediator stands between two parties and reconciles them together. Thus, for example, the LXX uses this same word for mediator in Job 9:33, where the text says:

Job 9:33 Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, [that] might lay his hand upon us both. (KJV)

Job 9:33 "There is no umpire between us, Who may lay his hand upon us both. (NASB)

Jesus is that one person who reconciles God and man. Jesus does that job and does it completely, leaving no room for a "mini-mediator." Part of that role, moreover, is the role of being the sole object of faith. That's how Galatians connects Jesus' role as mediator to the relation between God and man:

Galatians 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

It is by faith in the mediator that we obtain the blessing. There is no mention in Scripture of salvation by faith in any lesser or "mini" mediator - but only by faith in Christ. There is no salvation by faith in the church, in the saints, or in Mary: there is only one mediator: Jesus Christ. The same point is being made in 1 Timothy 2, in which what is well pleasing to God is that men believe on his son - the one mediator between God and man.

But an even stronger point is made in the Epistle to the Hebrews. In chapter 8, Christ is portrayed as performing the mediatorial role by serving as the high priest of the "better covenant" - by which it is meant that he is the one who offers up the sacrifice to God. After all, it is the sacrifice that reconciles us to God. Hebrews 12 makes the same connection, but more loosely.

It is, however, in Hebrews 9 that we find the clear exposition of what it means for Christ to be the mediator:

Hebrews 9:15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Christ's role as mediator is a priestly role. He is the sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and he is the priest that offers the sacrifice. He is the Lamb and the one who offers the Lamb. He offers it specifically for "they which are called," and do so that they will receive the promise of heaven. Christ mediates the new covenant. He is the one mediator of it.

Paul explicitly disclaims any such role:

1 Corinthians 1:13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Furthermore, though he Paul would like to take on such a role, he implicitly acknowledges that he cannot:

Romans 9:3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

Similarly, Moses' attempt to be the mediator between God and Israel was rejected by God:

Exodus 32:31-33
31And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. 32Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. 33And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.

Furthermore, the epistle to the Hebrews explains that such a role is an impossibility:

Hebrews 10:9-14
9Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

Notice the key here: by one offering Christ has once for all sanctified and perfected us. There is no room for mini-mediators, because this mediator has done it all. It is finished. There is nothing left to mediate: God's wrath against us is appeased in Christ, and consequently we have no need of a further mediator, whether "mini-" or "co-" as some advocates of Catholicism have attempted to suggest.

This is the understanding of Christ's mediatorial role that is missing from Dave's post - that leads to his confused claims that somehow these instrumental means whereby men are saved (such as the preaching of the Gospel in items (1), (2), and (4)-(7) above) are the role of the mediator.

Instead, Dave's concept of mediation is asking God for more grace for people (in an interesting, but largely irrelevant tangent, Dave seems to be under the misapprehension that the Protestant Reformed position on the definition of "grace" is the main view out there). Of course, that is not what Jesus does as mediator of the new covenant, as we have discussed above.

The actions of believers in wishing grace of God on others, or in seeking to bring that about by preaching the gospel or by repentance, faith, and new obedience are in an entirely different category. The mediating of Christ is done: He has sat down at the right hand of God:

Hebrews 1:13 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?

As it is sung:

Psalm 110

A Psalm of David

1 The Lord did say unto my Lord,
Sit thou at my right hand,
Until I make thy foes a stool,
whereon thy feet may stand.

2 The Lord shall out of Zion send
the rod of thy great pow'r:
In midst of all thine enemies
be thou the governor.

3 A willing people in thy day
of pow'r shall come to thee,
In holy beauties from morn's womb;
thy youth like dew shall be.

4 The Lord himself hath made an oath,
and will repent him never,
Of th' order of Melchisedec
thou art a priest for ever.

5 The glorious and mighty Lord,
that sits at thy right hand,
Shall, in his day of wrath, strike through
kings that do him withstand.

6 He shall among the heathen judge,
he shall with bodies dead
The places fill: o'er many lands
he wound shall ev'ry head.

7 The brook that runneth in the way
with drink shall him supply;
And, for this cause, in triumph he
shall lift his head on high.

No, Jesus is not simply the central distribution point of "grace" (the view of grace in Catholicism, of course, being different from that in Biblical theology) as Dave seems to think ("Jesus is ultimately the mediator of grace. It all comes through Him. But He also clearly uses human beings to distribute the grace, as these passages establish beyond any doubt.") but Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life:

John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

What's being described there is not Jesus' role as example (though he is an example) or his role as preacher (though he is a preacher) but instead Jesus' role the one who obtains a heavenly place for his people.

John 14:1-4
1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.

The persevering reader who has made it this far may be interested in reading more about the implications of Jesus' having prepared mansions for us, which I've discussed in a previous article (link).

Perhaps someone will ask - do not we ourselves intercede to God for our fellow believers and for the lost? In doing so, are we not in some sense mediators? I cannot think of a better response than that given by Charles Hodge (link to selection from Hodge). The short answer is - no, we are not. We simply intercede in the sense of praying for the person. We are not mediators - we do not reconcile God to man.

In summary, recall that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 We are not mini-mediators, but spokesmen: declaring the good news so that men who were spiritually dead may live. 1 Peter 4:6


P.S. One kind reader has noted that some people believe that the term for mediator in English, Latin, and Greek is used in Galatians 3:19-20 and refers in that place to Moses. While I would disagree that the term used there refers to Moses, it is mostly a moot point, since (if it refers to Moses) it would relate to Moses' role as law-giver. Furthermore, if it were the case that the mediator in verses 19-20 were Moses, the context ("herefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" vs. 24) would lead us to recognize that Moses foreshadowed Christ (cf. Acts 3:22 For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.) the one mediator of the New Covenant. Nevertheless, since verse 19 refers to "angels" (plural), it seems better to refer the term "mediator" in verse 19 either directly to the promised Messaiah or to the Messiah as portrayed by the Old Testament priesthood.

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