Is Belief Always a Prerequisite for Baptism?

One of the more contentious issues in the church, for centuries, has been about the nature of baptism. Must baptism be reserved for only believing adults (or older children), or can babies be baptized, too? A targeted study in Acts 16 shows us why this issue can be difficult to resolve.

Two key individuals in Acts 16 become believers, resulting from the Apostle Paul’s preaching: Lydia and the Philippian jailer. But what generates confusion is that for both Lydia and the jailer, not only were they individually baptized, the text tells us that all in each “household” were then baptized as well (Acts 16:15, and Acts 16:30-34, respectively).

Were there infants in the households of each? Unfortunately, the text never tells us, as the original word for “household” is ambiguous.

Advocates for infant baptism look to the broadest interpretation of household, assuming that infants would have been implicitly present in those houses. Advocates of believer’s baptism argue less broadly, saying that without explicit reference to infants being in those houses, we have no warrant to baptize infants.

What really throws a wrench into the whole thing can be seen in the account of the Philippian jailer. Look at what we read in the ESV (English Standard Version translation), and see if you can see the issue:

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God (Acts 16:30-34 ESV).

First, you can see that when the Philippian jailer asked about what he must do, Paul and company instructed that he should believe, in order to be saved. Interestingly, we find that his “household,” is included here. Paul and company preach to the entire household. However, aside from the jailer himself, we know little about the state of belief among the others. Did they believe, along with the jailer?

A question is raised here: Does this mean that the other members of the Philippian jailer’s household would be saved, on the basis of the jailer’s faith, a kind of “salvation by proxy?”

I have heard a similar argument before, but this is hard to square with the rest of Scripture. As Paul teaches elsewhere in the New Testament, salvation comes by believing in the Lord, with no exceptions mentioned, as in Romans 10:10-13. More likely, it means that as the Philippian jailer was head of his household, God would providentially use the Philippian jailer’s influence to bring the others in his household to believe in the Lord Jesus, and experience salvation. This happened quite frequently in the ancient world, when the believing faith of the leader in the home would eventually lead to believing faith among others in that same home, including slaves and servants.

But how long would it take for that to happen? Would the others believe in Jesus right away, or at some future time? Specifically, if there were infants or other small children in the home, does this imply that they would come to faith at a later time, under the instruction of the Philippian jailer? The text is unclear at this point.

What we do know from what follows is that the entire “household” was baptized (the ESV translates “household” here as “family,” as some other translations do, too). But notice how the ESV ends the episode: “He rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” The rest of the household rejoices, along with the jailer, that the jailer had believed in Christ. But it is not clear if the others themselves had believed in Christ at this point…. even though they had all been baptized!

A paedobaptist; that is, someone who believes in the validity of infant baptism, might be affirmed in their view. Presumably, this would allow for the practice of infants to be baptized, assuming that as the children grow up in the home, with proper instruction, they might eventually come to believe in Jesus.

A credobaptist; that is, someone who rejects the validity of infant baptism, and insisting that belief is a prerequisite for baptism, would object to this ambiguity. Does this not suggest that the entire household rejoiced for the jailer, because they all themselves believed, as well? The credobaptist might contend that infants would not have been in the position to rejoice for the jailer’s belief. But then, if a young child sees that the parent is rejoicing, would that child not also rejoice together, despite knowing the reason?

This is where looking at another Bible translation might give us some further insight. Here is that last verse again in that passage, from the Kings James Version:

And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house (Acts 16:34 KJV).

Notice how the KJV not only has the household members rejoicing, they had all come to believe, along with the Philippian jailer! This chimes in well with the theme of how baptism was practiced earlier in Acts, as in Acts 2:38, where the order was established, “Repent, and then be baptized.” But before you score a point for the credobaptist, consider what is going on with these different translations.

In the world of Bible translations, some translations are more word-for-word oriented; technically called, formal equivalence, whereas other translations are more thought-for-thought oriented; technically called, dynamic equivalence.  But the relationship between word-for-word and thought-for-thought translations is actually pretty fluid within translations themselves. For example, the KJV has the reputation for being a more word-for-word oriented translation. But here the KJV takes a more thought-for-thought approach, as opposed to the ESV, which follows the original Greek word ordering more tightly.

Looking at another translation, in this case the NET Bible, shows this difficulty more clearly:

At that hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized right away. The jailer brought them into his house and set food before them, and he rejoiced greatly that he had come to believe in God, together with his entire household (Acts 16:33-34 NET).

The NET Bible follows the KJV more closely than the ESV, moving a phrase around, and gives the reason in a footnote:

The phrase “together with his entire household” is placed at the end of the English sentence so that it refers to both the rejoicing and the belief. A formal equivalence translation would have “and he rejoiced greatly with his entire household that he had come to believe in God,” but the reference to the entire household being baptized in v. 33 presumes that all in the household believed.

So, is the NET correct in presuming that all in the household believed? As we have seen, making such a presumption is not always made clear by the evidence given in the text.

Back to the main question: Is belief always a prerequisite for baptism? Unfortunately, a targeted look at Acts 16, as we have done here, does not really resolve the issue. Paedobaptists read the text one way. Credobaptists read it another. An examination of Scripture as a whole is necessary to make progress here on this debate.

The question of infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism has been a source of division among Christians for generations. By default, today many evangelical churches that defer to one’s conscience on the matter, publicly celebrate believer’s baptism, for adults and older children. Nevertheless, they offer “baby dedication” for infants, a workable solution that fulfills some of the intentions behind infant baptism, while technically not being “baptism,” and yet where the whole idea of “dedication” is surprisingly lost on most parents. Thankfully, this is not an essential issue that impinges upon one’s salvation. It is a non-essential matter in which different Christians will continue to “agree to disagree” on. Let the conversation continue.


The Bible, Rocks and Time, A Review

The Bible, Rocks and Time. Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley make a definitive and exhaustive case for Old Earth Creationism, from a geologist perspective.

I remember the day I stumbled across Davis A. Young’s, Christianity and the Age of the Earth, tucked away on the “new books” shelf of my college library, in the spring of 1983. Friends had invited me to attend a Wednesday night Bible study, studying the Book of Genesis, in the home of a local pastor. My head was swirling with confusion, as I learned all about the idea that the earth was only 6,000 years old. But in my science classes, ever since falling in love with science as a first-grader, I was learning a quite different story, of the modern scientific consensus, that the earth was 4.54 billion years old.

My college pastor was (and I am sure, still is) one of the sweetest and kindest of men I have ever met, a genuine, sincere and godly person. He did not have much of a science background, but he was passionate about the truthfulness of God’s Word, and I was eager to learn. He just “knew” that the “days” of Genesis were literal 24-hour periods, which for him, implied a Young Earth.

My science professors at college, on the other hand, several of whom told me that they were Christians, had relatively little knowledge of the Bible, as compared to my pastor. But they assured me that the great antiquity of the earth was well established, beyond a reasonable doubt, a reality that I had known at least something about since elementary school.

So, who was right? My pastor? My science professors? How was I to sort this whole thing out?

My questions had landed me into having a full-blown crisis of faith. I had not grown up in an evangelical church, so I had no background in skepticism about radiometric dating methods, that so many kids today in home-schooled families regularly ingest, from their online science curriculums.  But I had also become a follower of Jesus in high school, having realized that my nominal church upbringing was pretty weak when it came to understanding the Bible and its authority. So, here I was in college, confused as to whom to believe. Do I trust my pastor? Do I trust the scientists? Is the truth of Christianity tied to a belief in a 6,000 year old earth, contradicting the modern, scientific consensus? Continue reading


The Flat-Footed Failure of Flat Earth “Christianity”

Many evangelical Bible scholars accept that the ancient Hebrews viewed the world as a disk floating on the waters, supported by pillars. But does this mean that God’s Word is “teaching” us today to believe in a “flat earth?”…. Apparently, some people think so… This is pure crazy talk. (credit: Logos Bible Software, the FaithLife Bible).

 

I keep hearing about this stuff, so I decided to check it out.  Apparently, there is a tiny yet growing movement of Christians who believe that the earth is flat.

Seriously?

My cringe-worthy meter just went to the red zone.

What really bothers me about this stuff is that these so-called “Flat-Earthers” use much of the same rhetoric I hear used by other Christians to defend their view of the Bible. These overlapping talking points are disturbing, when you translate what those talking points mean to flat earth advocates.

  • If you believe the Bible is inerrant, then you must believe everything it says about scientific matters, such as the [flat earth]” (translation: Scientifically, Christians should believe in a flat earth because the “Bible teaches it”. The “Bible teaches” a flat earth, because we said so. ).
  • To deny the biblical teaching on the [flat earth] is to elevate man’s word over against God’s word.” (translation: God’s special revelation in Scripture contradicts God’s natural revelation in creation, but that is OK!)
  • To compromise on the Bible’s teaching on the [flat earth] is to compromise the authority of the Bible” (translation: the “real” Christians are the ones who accept a flat earth, and everybody else is either inconsistent, deceived, a liberal, or a non-believer. Trust us. Flat-Earthers are the real believers in the Bible. Every other so-called “Christian” is a compromiser.)
  • If Scripture is false about scientific matters, such as the [flat earth], then what Scripture says about salvation falls with it.” (translation: how can you trust what the Bible says about the Resurrection, if you do not believe what it says about the flat earth? In other words, you do not need to examine the evidence for yourself, just trust us Flat-Earthers!)

You can pretty much replace “flat earth” above with just about any supposed “scientific teaching of the Bible,” that rips the Bible out of its historical context, and get the same result.

Folks, we need to set the record straight.

With very, very few exceptions, no Christian through the course of church history believed that the earth is flat. Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell painstakingly has shown the idea that Christians have believed in a flat earth to be an invention of modern thinkers, over the past couple hundred of years.

Christians are not the only ones who have bought into this type of nonsense. As one of my “favorite atheists” Tim O’Neill puts it, a lot of atheists buy into this garbage as well.

Some ancient cultures did subscribe to flat earth cosmologies, arguably including the Hebrew culture. But certainly by the early years of the medieval church, such views had died out. Overwhelmingly, Bible scholars today contend that neither God, nor the human authors of the Bible themselves, were trying to teach science, with respect to a flat earth cosmology, back in the ancient era, nor should we try to apply such logic today to our cosmology. Sadly however, some Christians today think they know better, and perpetuate misinformation.

Columbus was not trying to test the idea that the earth was flat, by trying to sail around the world. Columbus, just like any other medieval European, believed that the earth was spherical. That old canard was an invention in the mind of writers like Washington Irving (ever heard of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?”), and propagated by such thinkers as John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White, in the late 19th century. For some strange reason, the Internet has made it possible to revive these ideas, and a growing number of Christians are buying into this.

I would not even bother with “Flat-Earth Christianity,” except that it raises serious questions that Christians should consider. For example, flat earth rhetoric mimics a lot of the talk I hear coming out of the Young Earth Creationist movement. Thankfully, Young-Earth Creationist groups like Answers In Genesis have wisely tried to put the “kabash” on such wild-eyed thinking. Thank goodness! But the “cringe-factor” gets elevated at times when both “Flat Earthers” and Young-Earth Creationists start talking alike.

To be clear, though I am not persuaded myself, I am all for the possibility that the earth is indeed young. God could have created the earth any way He wanted, during any time frame: 6,000 years ago, according to the traditional view, or 4.34 billion years ago, according to the contemporary scientific consensus. But when some Christians resort to a rhetorical style of argumentation, with examples like what I gave above, that equates their own interpretation of Scripture, with the authority of the Bible itself, then that is manipulative at worst, or just plain idiotic at best.

Responsible Young Earth proponents may make the philosophical argument that the character of the Creation story, in history, is such that our current scientific knowledge can not adequately describe what happened in the past. Old Earth Creationists reject this view, arguing in favor of the scientific consensus, that the present indeed is the key to understanding the past. But no matter how one views the past, this is all very different from our ability to make scientific observations here in the present. And this is where flat earth thinking goes completely awry.

The flat-footedness of flat earth thinking has all of the characteristics of a conspiracy theory:

Yup. It is that silly.

OK. It can be really tough for scientifically-trained people to accept a Young Earth, but this “Flat Earth” businesss goes way beyond the age of the earth issue. It is bad enough for some Christians to still argue that Copernicus and Galileo were wrong about the non-stationary characteristic of earth, and favor the older, Ptolemaic view that the earth is a fixed object in space, where the sun, and all of the rest of the stars and planets revolve around the earth. But to claim that the Bible teaches a flat earth, when only an obscure handful of Bible interpreters, mostly within the early years of the church, have ever made such claims, only to be refuted by others long ago, is an example of “the-Bible-says-it–I-believe-it–and-that-settles-it” type of thinking gone off the rails.

Do you think this is all incredulous? Well, try this one out: One popular Christian Flat-Earther paid a visit to Colonial Williamsburg a few months ago, and recorded this video. You can see the problem here in this 2-minute video:

Amazing.  Perhaps you have seen enough already (If so, stop reading at this point, and save yourself some time)…..

….. However, the same Flat Earther, takes apart a sermon by well-known evangelical preacher, David Platt, and the results are horrifyingly cringe-worthy. I respect David Platt, but in this sermon he did set himself up to be manipulated by Flat Earth promoters. Here is twenty minutes of cringe-worthy commentary:

Folks, the propagation of such nonsense only casts ill-repute upon the Gospel. It is time to set such bad Bible interpretation aside, and read the Bible responsibly. I will have some follow-up posts on related topics, but this really gets my goat.

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A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War: a Reflection

Machine gunners in the Battle of the Somme. A young British soldier, J.R.R. Tolkien, served in this most grueling battle of the “Great War.”

Veterans Day, in 2018, marks a special day in world history, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. This war is often overshadowed, for Americans, by WWII, despite the fact that the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, in the closing weeks of the “Great War,” killed more Americans than either the Battle of the Bulge or the D-Day Normandy Invasion.

In July, 1914, European powers acted upon long-held treaty agreements, to create military alignments, following an assassin’s bullet that killed the Archduke Ferdinand. The nations of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russian, Britain, and France, among others, were fully mobilized for war. Yet as Barbara Tuchman tells it, in her gripping The Guns of August, this was an age of optimistic progressivism. Despite the growing conflict in 1914, people thought that the war would be decided quickly. Everyone would be home by Christmas.

Recent technological advancements, like the inventions of the electric light bulb, radio, and the airplane, gave people the impression that humans have unlimited potential to solve real world problems. The benefits of science could be employed to make life better.  But the war demonstrated that the same technological power to improve things also gave us the horrors of the machine gun, trench warfare, and mustard gas. By the time the war ended in November, 1918, millions lay dead. Most soldiers survived the war, but even afterwards, many succumbed to the Spanish Flu epidemic.

As I have listened  to episodes of the Imperial War Museums, First World War Centenary podcasts, (a great website, if you like history), chronicling the progress of the war over those four years, it is apparent that life for millions during the Great War proved the progressive optimism of a swift, positive solution to the war to be misguidedly wrong. This is where Joseph Loconte’s book, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918, comes in.

C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were young soldiers in the British army, serving on the Western front in France. Both men endured the stench and horror of this most terrible slaughter. Lewis was injured by an artillery blast, that eventually took him out of the war. Tolkien suffered from trench fever, spread by lice, which finally rendered him unfit to continue in frontline duty. Tolkien himself recollected that by the end of the war, nearly all of his army friends were dead.

Armistice Day arrived November 11, 1918, what Americans remember now as Veterans Day. Many celebrated the end of the war, but for weary soldiers like Tolkien and Lewis, it was probably more a sense of relief, and an opportunity to mourn the loss of good friends.

Tolkien and Lewis finally met several years later, as professors at Oxford. They had both taken up the scholarly calling to study English literature and the great stories of the medieval period. Both men were extremely gifted with their imaginations, and used their talents to provide the world some of the best fantasy literature of the 20th century.

These men formed a remarkable friendship. Tolkien was instrumental in persuading Lewis to give up his atheism and embrace the Christian faith. Lewis, in turn, encouraged Tolkien to continue in completing his magnificent The Lord of the Rings trilogy, when the author became weary of the endeavor over the years.

For both men, the experience of the Great War proved to be the crucible that fired up their imagination to produce their separate works, which uniquely gave complementary visions of the world, grounded in a Christian theological framework. The aftermath of the Great War inspired others to embrace, either a reactionary, nihilistic response to humanity’s plight, rejecting Christianity in the process, or a liberal  wishful dream, that the “War to End All Wars” would usher in a new age of peace, making the truth claims of orthodox Christianity unnecessary.

Joseph Loconte makes the case that Lewis and Tolkien took a different path, striving to revive a vision of classic Christian thought, as an alternative to the more popular outlooks, that sought to embrace together both the valor and dignity of humanity, with a sober appreciation of the depths of human depravity and evil. This thoroughly Christian perspective, combining the biblical themes of creation and fall, that so saturated the medieval Christian mindset, were given a fresh, new imaginative expression through the worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth. Many have appreciated the literary contributions of Lewis and Tolkien, while missing the profound theological and spiritual realities, which both writers point towards.

The Great War technically ended on that Armistice Day, in 1918. But one hundred years later, the same intellectual and imaginative challenges that Lewis and Tolkien experienced in their era, continue to plague the postmodern world of the 21st century. Loconte makes a compelling case that Lewis’ and Tolkien’s work remain just as relevant and necessary as ever.

The Great War finally did come to an end. Life continued on.

But for what purpose?

Lewis and Tolkien did much of the hard work in their generation, to rethink such a profound question. Today, we need a new generation of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s to carry on the task of reimagining the world, within the context of a robust Christian perspective.

Loconte is currently working on a documentary film project, that explores the themes of his book, that fans of Lewis and Tolkien should consider supporting. A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War has encouraged me to revisit the great work of both Lewis and Tolkien, as companions to rethink the cultural challenges of our day and age. The trailer for the film in progress is below:

BONUS: Peter Jackson, the film director behind the movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, has restored and colorized hours of Imperial War Museums archive film to produce a new documentary on the Great War:

 


Bigamy, The Reformation, and the Slippery Politics of Expediency

Philip I, Landrave of Hesse (1504-1567). Does the scandal of Philip’s marriage provide any lessons for Christians today? (credit: Wikipedia, portrait by Hans Krel, 1490-1565)

Is it ever right to ignore the moral failure of leaders, for the sake of political expediency? I first started writing this article about a year ago, to remember the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It just seemed like a sobering but important message to consider, a year later.

16th century, Europe: Philip of Hesse, an influential political leader in Germany, was in a rather unhappy marriage. His first marriage to one Christine of Saxony, was a completely political arrangement, and Philip did not find her attractive. He soon lived a rather promiscuous life, to relieve him of his domestic stalemate with Christine. Philip was also a supporter of the Reformation, as articulated by Martin Luther. He suffered pangs of conscience, as he sought to reconcile a respect for the Bible, with his marital difficulties. So, in order to address his guilt and try to move forward, Philip sought the Wittenberg Reformer for advice.

Strangely, Luther had some unconventional ideas about marriage, that will probably sound odd to us today:

I, for my part, admit I can raise no objection if a man wishes to take several wives since Holy Scripture does not forbid this; but I should not like to see this example introduced amongst Christians. … It does not beseem Christians to seize greedily and for their own advantage on every thing to which their freedom gives them a right. (Martin Luther, Works).

Though Luther was not endorsing polygamy, neither did he expressly forbid it. He did seem to allow bigamy under certain circumstances. For example, if the wife was unable to bear a child, then this might allow permission for the husband to take a second wife.

This seems rather startling to modern Christians, who view polygamy as something only fundamentalist Mormons do. But Luther viewed procreation as one of the purposes of marriage. Given the high rate of infant mortality, and devastating impact of the “Black Death,” during the late Middle Ages, the ability to carry on a lineage to the next generation was not something to be taken for granted. So, if the wife was unable to conceive, then that could be ruled to be a legitimate exception, thus allowing one to take up another wife.

Christine of Saxony (1505-1549), Philip of Hesse’s wife #1. She remained married to Philip, after he had take wife #2 (credit: Wikipedia)

Luther’s younger protege, Philip Melanchthon, and the Swiss Reformer of Strasbourg, Martin Bucer, held much to the same opinion. They supported the idea that King Henry VIII of England, could marry Anne Boleyn, while keeping Catherine of Aragon as his first wife, so that the King would be able to father a male child, and thus secure his family’s line for the throne of England. This was not ideal, but at least, it would keep Henry from breaking his marital vows with Catherine. Henry, was not content to keep his first wife, so he ignored the Reformers’ advice, and divorced Catherine, anyway.

However, Philip of Hesse’s position was not as precarious, when it came to having children, for Philip had ten children by his despised Christine. It would seem that the Reformers would not be pushed to support Philip’s plans to secure a “legitimate” second wife.

Philip of Hesse would try to push, anyway. Philip would not divorce Christine, as Henry VIII had done with Catherine. Instead, he proposed to marry a second woman, privately, but he intended to seek the support of the Reformers, despite any moral objections, that they may have had.

Philip needed the sanction of the Reformers, to go through with his plans. Philip of Hesse had recently pushed through legislation to regard the death penalty as punishment for adultery. Having the blessing of the Reformers would give him a way personally around the very law he sought to enforce.

But the Reformers needed Philip, too. Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer were leaders of the magisterial Reformation, for they intended to carry out their reforms of the church, with the civil support of the magistrate, including Philip of Hesse. Without Philip’s support, as the secular ruler, it would have been very difficult to conceive how the Reformation might continue, without putting their own lives at further risk.

The message was subtle, but clear. The Reformers could count on Philip of Hesse’s support, if they would but grant their approval of Philip’s bigamist intentions. If the Reformers failed to support Philip of Hesse, Philip would turn to the Pope and the Emperor for support instead.

Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer were in a bind. This was no mere theological posturing. This was a life and death matter. Thousands had already died, due to the turmoil of the Reformation. The Pope was working the political levers of medieval Europe, urging Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, to crush the Reformation, with force, if necessary.

Margarethe von der Saale (1522-1566), Wife #2 of Philip of Hesse (credit: Wikipedia).

The medieval church had become woefully corrupt. The sale of indulgences had made a mockery of the Christian Gospel, encouraging the gullible to hand over large sums of money to a greedy clerical aristocracy. The Reformers knew that something had to be done. If the Reformers would grant their support to Philip’s bigamy, this would secure them the support needed to make Germany a fully Protestant, governed entity. If they refused to stand by Philip of Hesse, the Pope and the Emperor would move against the fledgling Protestant movement. So, if they would but overlook this one moral failure of Philip of Hesse, this pivotal political leader, it would set Germany on the right course for the future, and make Germany a truly Christian nation.

Philip of Hesse met privately to secure the support of Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon. Bucer and Melanchthon, seeing this as an opportunity to push forward with their reforms, granted a permissive level of support. But they wished that the whole matter be settled cautiously and quietly.

Yet unbeknownst to Bucer and Melanchthon, Philip of Hesse had already previously selected his new wife, and they married with Bucer and Melanchthon as onlookers. Bucer and Melanchthon were blindsided and stunned.

Philip had dangled the prospect of power and influence, all for a good cause, mind you, in front of Bucer and Melancthon, and the Reformers had taken the bait. But matters soon got out of Philip’s control. The news was leaked and spread among the royal court, and the Reformers’ and Philip’s actions were exposed.

The scandal rocked all of Europe.

Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), a leader of the magisterial Reformation in Germany (credit: Wikipedia)

Luther distanced himself from the entire affair, claiming that his conversations with Philip of Hesse were held in the confessional, and that he never counseled his direct approval of Philip’s bigamy. Melanchthon was so scandalized that he physically became ill. The Roman Catholic opponents of the Reformation pounced on Luther, Bucer, and Melanchthon as undermining Christian values.

It would appear that the efforts of the magisterial Reformers, that took the path of political expediency, had backfired. By appearing to endorse Philip of Hesse’s bigamy, the leaders of the Protestant Reformation had lost some of their moral high ground in their efforts to build a “Christian” Europe.

In the end, the results of the whole debacle were mixed. Philip of Hesse got what he wanted, with his bigamous approach to marriage, and kept on supporting the Protestant movement within Germany. But his posture as a Protestant leader was weakened, due to his moral difficulties, and he was forced to try to find a compromise between the Roman Catholic and Protestant Reform movements. A peaceful resolution to the conflict proved to be elusive, and Philip of Hesse suffered defeat, along with other German princes, in the Schmalkaldic War, against the Emperor, Charles V.

For their participation in Philip of Hesse’s marital failure, the Reformers themselves, Luther, Bucer, and Melanchthon, suffered at least some loss of prestige throughout Europe. Surely, it helped to set many traditional Roman Catholics, who were at once on the fence about the Reformation, against the efforts of the magisterial Reformation.

It is difficult to assess how much the bigamy controversy compromised the magisterial Reformation, in the long run, but I can not imagine it helping the situation either. The following centuries, with “Wars of Religion” dividing Protestant and Roman Catholic throughout Europe, showed that the intertwining of theological with political concerns, in late medieval and early modern Europe, would become an extremely bloody affair, leaving a distaste for Christian theological controversy, in Europe, even down to the present day.


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