Q. In St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he talks about Christ appearing to many people after the Resurrection and “last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me” (15:8). What does he mean by being born “abnormally”? — P.R., Massachusetts.
A. Other translations make the meaning of this clearer when they have Paul saying that he was “one born out of due time” (Douay-Rheims) or that he was “one untimely born” (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition). Paul means that because he was not with Jesus from the beginning, as were the Twelve, he is “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9). He goes on to say in the next verse, however, that “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me.”
Earlier in the same letter, Paul asserted his right to be called an apostle. “Am I not an apostle?” he asked. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? Although I may not be an apostle for others, certainly I am for you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (9:1-2).
Q. Today, our seminary professor proclaimed as false the notion that the Old Testament made prophecies or predictions about Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection. Rather, she said, these seeming prophecies are due to a “retrospective rereading of the Old Testament.” She added of these “alleged” prophecies that “none of it holds any water, but it makes them happy at the parish level.” She also stated that we recognize the “same work of God in the Christ event” that is evident in the Old Testament. However, as the attached document shows, there are at least 351 Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ! It is mathematically impossible that this is just a coincidence, or is just our projecting onto the Old Testament text what is not really there. What do you think of this? — Name and State Withheld.
A. We think your professor is wrong. Of course, some of the Old Testament prophecies did not become clear until they were fulfilled in Jesus, but to call false the notion that there were many prophecies (more than 300) in the Old Testament that pointed to the life, death, and Resurrection of our Lord is contrary to what the Church teaches. For example, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) says this (cf. nn. 15, 16):
“The principal purpose to which the plan of the Old Covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming both of Christ, the universal Redeemer, and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy (cf. Luke 24:44; John 5:39; 1 Peter 1:10), and to indicate its meaning through various types (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11). . . . God, the inspirer and author of both testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New. For though Christ established the New Covenant in His blood (cf. Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), still the books of the Old Testament with all their parts, caught up into the proclamation of the gospel, acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament (cf. Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:27; Romans 16:25-26; 2 Cor. 3:14-16) and in turn shed light on it and explain it.”
Speaking of questionable insights into the Bible, we got a flier the other day about a talk on the Gospel of Matthew that was to be given at the Paulist Center in Boston. The flier said that the speaker, Dr. Michael O’Laughlin, would demonstrate that “Matthew was not an eyewitness account, but was based on two documents from an earlier stage of reflection on the meaning of the Christ event.” The reason this flier caught our attention was that we had some disagreements with Dr. O’Laughlin 24 years ago (!) when he came to our parish to present a six-week series on “The New Testament for Beginners.”
The very first night in that series back in 1989, O’Laughlin informed the attendees that the evangelists were not eyewitnesses to the events in Jesus’ life, that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not write the four Gospels, and that St. Luke did not know St. Paul and was probably not a physician. Because it is difficult to challenge a speaker without all the facts at hand, we wrote to O’Laughlin later and quoted from Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, which said that the Gospels were the work of apostles and “apostolic men” and were “handed on to us in writing . . . according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” (n. 18).
One footnote to that passage said that “apostolic men” referred to Mark and Luke. Another footnote cited the second-century writings of St. Irenaeus, who wrote in Against Heresies that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were indeed the authors of the Gospels. He also wrote that “Luke, also, the companion of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him.” Irenaeus would have learned this from his teacher St. Polycarp, who knew John, the apostle and author of the fourth Gospel.
Dr. O’Laughlin responded that while “the points you raise are valid ones,” we had misinterpreted him and misquoted Dei Verbum, which he said “carefully avoids saying that the apostles wrote the Gospels.” But paragraph seven of that document says that Jesus’ commission to preach the Gospel to all nations “was faithfully fulfilled by the apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by ordinances, handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing.”
There were other places where we thought O’Laughlin was off base, but suffice it to say that he put more credence on what biblical scholars think than on what the Church teaches. He saw little hope in bridging “the gulf that stretches between my position as a scholar and your own as an apologist. We will most likely never agree on what it is permissible to say in a class. I, however, am quite willing to accept and honor your basic input, which in this case I believe boils down to a plea to put greater emphasis on the teachings of the Magisterium. I would ask you to afford me the same openness.”
Q. An evangelical friend and I have been visiting a man in the hospital who says that he is an atheist. When my friend and I talked about Baptism for the man, she said that it would have to be by immersion. I told her that pouring water on the man’s head would be sufficient, but she told me to “prove it from the Bible” that this manner of Baptism is legitimate. Is there anything in the Bible about immersion being the only way to baptize someone? — A.A., Massachusetts.
A. We are not aware of anything in the Bible stating that the only way to baptize someone is by immersion. Although Jesus was baptized by immersion in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (a Baptism that He did not need), He never talked about immersion when He said that one must be “born of water and Spirit,” i.e., baptized, in order to get to Heaven (cf. John 3:5), or when He said that the formula of Baptism is “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
Baptism by immersion was commonplace in the early Church and up until the 13th century, but it was not the only method of Baptism. The first-century document known as the Didache, or the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, makes this clear when it says:
“In regard to Baptism — baptize thus: After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water; and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
So the pouring of water was acceptable in apostolic times. It is also implied in the Bible. For example, when the apostles baptized 3,000 persons in the city of Jerusalem on the first Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:41), how likely is it that all those converts were immersed in water?