Nigeria: Antidotal Notes on Femi Aribisala’s Falsification of Scripture
By: Justine John DYIKUK
I chanced across a piece titled, Article of Faith: The falsehood in the Book of Hebrews on Facebook – Written by one Femi Aribisala and published by Premium Times on July 27. The author’s bio made an interesting read: ‘‘…ARIBISALA is a scholar and international affairs expert. He is currently an iconoclastic church pastor in Lagos. He is also a syndicated essayist for a handful publications in Nigeria.’’ Did I hear you say that is big advertisement? Well, you wait!
To start with, if being an iconoclastic church pastor and a syndicated essayist for a handful publications in Nigeria is about a blatant disregard for the word of God and falsification of scripture, I am not attracted to his brand of Christianity. This is not the first time he is cooking this cook and bull version of Christianity. Since teaching old dogs new tricks is an exercise in futility, I am writing for the sake of the many souls he might be misleading. It is amazing that even when fellow Christians tried to make the pastor see reason and recant his stance through their comments, he stuck to his guns.
One does not need a course in Logic to decode that his opening remarks, ‘‘the fact that a book is in the bible does not mean everything in it is true’’ is fallacious. The essayist also argued that: ‘‘In the debate about sacrifices, Christians put great reliance on the book of Hebrews.’’ And so he declared: ‘‘However, Hebrews is very unreliable. It is one of those books in the bible that is full of falsehood. As a matter of fact, there is more falsehood in Hebrews than in any other book in the bible except Romans.’’
I was shocked at his guts but more worried about his theological pedigree. My prayer is that those he has misled come to the right path. It is important to state that, I am not easily taken by countless bible quotations without a sound theological explanation to back it. That is why I will not take to voracious quoting of scripture in this rejoinder. Faith, the scripture and the magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church) have a close relationship.
However, ‘‘All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’’ (2 Tim 3:16). St. Peter ‘‘proclaimed the certainty of the Scriptures and the necessity of heeding the unalterable and certain Word of God’’ (2 Pet. 1:16-21). Paul would insist that what he was writing was the Lord’s commandment (1 Cor. 14:37). The early Christians equally acknowledged same (1 Thess. 2:13). John too was more than convinced that his teaching was from God. As such, he exhorts that rejecting it was rejecting God (1 John 4:6). That said, a brief background on the Letter to the Hebrews is necessary.
One wouldn’t know whether Aribisala was trying to go academic or not. In any case, notwithstanding the debates about the authorship and canonicity of the Letter to the Hebrews, since the earliest days of the Church, it has been on record that ‘‘scholars of Greek consider its writing to be more polished and eloquent than any other book of the New Testament.’’ As if that is not enough, ‘‘It also has been described as an ‘‘intricate’’ New Testament book.’’ Because of its reputation, Mark Powell (2009) corroborates this view by when he asserted that the book is a ‘‘masterpiece’’ (Introducing the New Testament: a historical, literary, and theological survey; Baker Academic, 2009). What other prove does our pastor need?
It appears the writer is not at home with the Christological basis of the Epistle to the Hebrew. The Interpreter’s Bible 1955 has this to say: “We may sum up our author’s Christology negatively by saying that he has nothing to do with the older Hebrew messianic hopes of a coming Son of David, who would be a divinely empowered human leader to bring in the kingdom of God on earth; and that while he still employs the figure of a militant, apocalyptic king … who will come again…, this is not of the essence of his thought about Christ.
“Positively, our author presents Christ as divine in nature, and solves any possible objection to a divine being who participates in human experience, especially in the experience of death, by the priestly analogy. He seems quite unconscious of the logical difficulties of his position proceeding from the assumption that Christ is both divine and human, at least human in experience although hardly in nature. ”
From the indiscriminate citations in the presentation of Aribisala, one is curious to know whether the author suffers from a crisis of faith or lack of it. It could also be a case of being bewitched by what he thinks is the truth – Whichever is the case, it is clear he lacks theological roots in teachings on Mass as sacrifice and the Holy Priesthood. These sacraments (a sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace ordained by Christ) being the fountain of God’s grace among his people forms the nexus between Christ the High Priest (which the Letter to the Hebrews repeats unapologically) and the priestly people (both ministerial and common priests).
This brings us to the random selection of scripture by the writer to defend an unsophisticated thesis. This pertains to his scripture-twisting on Jesus’ Priesthood and sacrifice as stipulated in the ancient text. Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to accomplish them. The priesthood of Christ was foreshadowed by that of Melchizedek who had no beginning or end. Unlike levitical priests who had human pedigree, priests of the new and everlasting covenant brought about by Christ, no longer have to come from the loins of the levitical family.
According to Julian Kinkaid (1999), ‘‘the purpose of the author is to establish the finality of the Gospel, and therefore Christianity, by contrasting it with all that precedes it (the Levitical cultus in particular) thereby demonstrating the supremacy of the person and work of Christ’’ (The Christology of Hebrews 8-10). As such, ministerial priests are chosen and ordained by the Church to continue the sacrifice that Jesus established on Holy Thursday.
Meaning therefore, that Jesus as God has no beginning or end. Mind you, He is the second person of the blessed Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) – Not three gods but one Triune God; a mystery that is incomprehensible to the human mind. So, Jesus inaugurates a new priesthood by his sacrifice on the cross through his death. His bloody sacrifice is one and the same with the Eucharist sacrifice wherein he gives us himself as food under the appearances of bread and wine. The Mass is one and the same with the sacrifice of Calvary.
Unlike the blood of rams and bulls of the old dispensation, the blood of Christ (which pleads more insistently than Abel’s) brings about expiation of sins. The major theme of the Epistle is the teaching about Christ and his role as mediator between God and humanity. Scholars believe it was written for Jewish Christians who lived in Jerusalem to exhort them to persevere in the face of persecution. The Letter presents Jesus as both exalted Son and High Priest. This is referred to as a unique dual Christology.
In the authors confusion, he cites Hebrews (Hebrews7:12) “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law” to make a case that ‘‘the New Covenant does not imply a change of the law.’’ He argues further that God says in (Jeremiah 31:33): “I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” His conclusion on the matter namely, ‘‘It is a new covenant but the same old’’ is even more contradictory. In case anyone is in doubt, the New Covenant abrogated the old sacrifice, an eye for an eye – tit for tat with love for/of enemies. The new law in the hearts of those who will worship the Lord in spirit and in truth forms the basis a covenantal people of the new dispensation.
While making an attempt at ‘‘doctoring the Scriptures’’ our erring brother undoctored the scripture; in his bid to make a case for ‘‘unnecessary sacrifices’’ he has made unnecessary sacrileges; in trying to bombard us with his ‘‘concatenation of falsehood’’ he confused biblical truths; in ‘‘falsifying the New Covenant’’ he laid bare a fasle connection. From the foregoing, it is safe to say that fraudulent theologies such as these are capable for misleading wavering sheep from the fold of Christ. It is, therefore, the responsibility of pastors of souls to guide and guard the sheep from erroneous doctrines such as these.
Aribisala’s conclusion is even more outrageous. In what sounds like a categorical imperative he says: ‘‘Do not be deceived. The fact that a book is in the bible does not mean everything in it is true.’’ Amazing! Is he talking about historical facts or truths of faith? About the former, the bible is not a history book; so, reading or quoting it literally (which the author does) smacks of ignorance. On the latter, the scripture teaches truths of faith as such, there is no error in it. An indepth study about the origin and use of the bible in the church, inerrancy and canonicity of the scripture (which this thesis will not address squarely) will help.
However, the Church teaches that: ‘‘the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation’’(Vatican II: Dei Verbum – Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, 11) This is called the ‘‘doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.’’ Some biblical inerrantists hold that the original texts of scripture were ‘‘perfectly preserved and passed down through time.’’ Vincent McCann (2001) confirms this by revealing that the copies of the original language texts which modern translators use as source for translations of the books of the Bible are reconstructions of the original text. Current versions are based on scholarly comparison of thousands of biblical manuscripts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and numerous biblical citations in the writings of the early Church Fathers (The Bible: Inerrant and Infallible?; Spotlight Ministries).
As formulated in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Geisler and Roach (2012) opine that the Bible ‘‘is without error or fault in all its teaching’’ (Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation; Baker Books). In Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine, Wayne Grudem (1994) affirms the doctrine of biblical inerrancy thus: ‘‘Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact’’ (Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press). Although the signatories to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy admit that ‘‘inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture’’’ it remains true that ‘‘the autographic text of Scripture… in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy.’’
Besides, the authentic authority of holding and teaching the faith falls to the magisterium. This is the secret that has kept the Church alive and relevant for over two thousand years – in which case we talk about the unbroken apostolic succession. With self-styled doctrines such as this, this author has only succeeded in carving a niche for himself in mediocrity – a sure case of being on the wrong side of history.
Fr. Justine John DYIKUK, a Catholic Priest & Freelancer wrote in from Lagos –