Est. May 2008

24 May, 2013

What’s In A Name?

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”  But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  For the one who is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:38-40)
Pope Francis, in a homily he delivered this past Wednesday, said the following regarding this passage of Scripture:
“They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.”
We can see that the disciples were wrong in trying to bar this man from exorcising demons, but not for the reasons Pope Francis gives; it didn’t have anything to do with ‘doing good’ – it had everything to do with the fact that he was ‘not following us’.  In the eyes of the disciples, this man wasn’t an ‘official’ disciple because he wasn’t following Jesus the way they were.

It’s critical, though, to figure out how this man was able to exorcise the demons.  The disciples and Jesus both tell us: ‘in his name’.  And names back then (and long before, and even not long ago) meant something.

When kings of long ago sent ambassadors to other kings, those ambassadors went ‘in the name of’ their king; that meant they were authorized by their king to speak on his behalf – they were, for most practical purposes, the king himself in a foreign land.  So, too, were Jesus’ disciples – and anyone else who spoke ‘in his name’.

But what did it mean, particularly when it came to Jesus, to speak ‘in his name’?  For this you have to understand the Judaic concept of names – particularly the name of God. 

As explains:
In Judaism, a name is not merely a conglomeration of letters put together as a convenient way to refer to someone. Ideally, it is a definition of the individual - a description of his personality and an interpretation of his traits. It may even be a portent of the person's future, or perhaps a prayer that the person bearing this particular name shall live up to the potential expressed in the name.
The Bible shows this quite often, particularly in the Old Testament, where we see things like this in most Bibles:

When it comes to the name of God, it’s difficult to encompass everything that He is with a label; that’s why, when Moses asked for God’s Name so he could give it to the Israelites when they asked who’d sent him, God said, ‘”I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you”’ (Exodus 3:14).  I AM is about as all-encompassing an idea as you can get within the strictures of language.

Which is why Jesus’ name is so important.  The name ‘Jesus’ (or Yeshua) is who Jesus is: it encompasses His humanity and His deity.  It also is a name of power, as the disciples and the ‘unofficial’ disciple discovered when they were using it to exorcise demons from people.  Even Caiaphas, Annas, John, and Alexander demanded to know from Peter and John, ‘“By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4)  They had to have known the disciples were healing and doing other miraculous things in Jesus’ name (the word was all over town), and they associated Jesus’ name with power – power that could only have come from God.

Which leads to this second statement by Pope Francis:
"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can... "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!".. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
At the end of Peter and John’s encounter with the Sanhedrin, Peter told the Council, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (emphasis mine)”  To be saved, one must believe in that name – the name of Jesus.

As Roman Catholicism has a long tradition of teaching works as an adjunct to faith, it’s not surprising to me that the Pope would mention it; what is surprising is that he would say that good works alone is sufficient for salvation (after all, atheists won’t have the faith part – all they’d have is the ‘good works’).  The apostle Paul is crystal clear on the efficacy of good works to save: they don’t, period, end of discussion.  In fact, good works don’t do anything even for believers, save to show up as fruits of their salvation by belief; even James – who’s been falsely tagged as endorsing works-based righteousness – says that  good works are the fruit of preexisting faith and are a way of working on our sanctification, nothing more (see James 2).

And none other than the very first Pope – Peter – said (as I pointed out) that salvation comes only through faith in the name of Jesus Christ.

So, from a Protestant viewpoint, atheists – though they can do good works the livelong day and be praised for it – aren’t going to get saved by those works.

Sorry – that’s what the Bible says.

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