Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stigmata

Q: 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 – Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and so do his servants.

How do we know if its from GOD or from the Devil? There are many miracles, strange events that take place across the world, i have read your post about Wondering Signs and wonders but i am still confused, i am not able to get a clear picture on how to distinguish which and what is right!!

For example:

STIGMATA - it's not mentioned in the bible, anyone receiving these marks or anything related to it or is it mentioned anywhere?..i don't remember coming across anything like that in bible.

There are quite few strange signs that is going around this world.

And i agree and stick with your point, anything that deviates from god and his words isn't genuine.

But what about stigmata?


A: If I am understanding your question correctly, you have read through P. Scott's post on Signs and Wonders, and agree that God's Word is the tool that we are to use in order to distinguish between genuine supernatural works of God and false signs which have their origin in the kingdom of darkness. However, the exact process of how to use God's Word to distinguish, particularly as it relates to stigmata, is where you'd like some direction.

Regarding the methodology, I think that P. Scott did a good job of presenting the purpose of signs and wonders throughout the Scriptures and showing that the best defense against false signs and wonders is a thorough understanding of the fullness of God's written word: the Bible. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to this process.

If you want to get to know the content of the Bible, the best thing you can do is read, read, read! And when you are finished, start over and read it some more.

It's impossible for us to give a shortcut to gaining a more thorough knowledge of the Scriptures here, but what we can do is try and work through an examination of stigmata in particular as it relates to the revealed Word of God as an exercise in our shared faith that the Bible is our source of truth and it is able to help us make sound judgments on these types of issues.

In the case of stigmata, we are fortunate that this particular sign seems to manifest itself in a particular segment of the "Christian" population: members of the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, we are able to gain an understanding of the purpose of stigmata from their perspective:

"...the substance of this grace [of stigmata] consists of pity for Christ, participation in His sufferings, sorrows, and for the same end--the expiation of the sins unceasingly committed in the world." (The full article on stigmata, from which the above is quoted, is available here)

According to their understanding of this "sign," it is a grace given to certain individuals to produce "pity for Christ," allow the individual to "participate in His sufferings, [and] sorrows" and has the result (or "end") of actually expiating sins.

This interpretation of the phenomena contributes to their official teaching that the Church (of Rome) is the dispenser of the "Treasury of Merit" to the world. The Roman Catholic teaching on Indulgences is worth reading in its entirety and was a huge factor in contributing to the Protestant Reformation according to Luther's 95 Theses.

Essential to these claims of Rome are that the "merits of the saints" (read: the good works of followers of Christ) are added to the infinite merits of Christ's work, and are distributed by the Church to those who need it. Therefore, the suffering of people like St. Francis with the stigmata are accruing "merits" that can then be distributed through the Roman Church to "expiate" sins. The Roman Catholic understanding of suffering as "purging" venial sins (as opposed to "mortal" sins which require Hell fire) is associated with this view and points to the need for the un-biblical Purgatory.

Indulgences can lessen or even eliminate the need to spend time in Purgatory as venial sins can be "purged" through suffering in the present life, according to this view.

Unfortunately, all of this contributes to the false gospel of Rome. As a "sign" that contributes to this false gospel, I can confidently assert that stigmata is a false sign which is very possibly still of supernatural origin, but that origin is not from God.

Some will object, however, and state that stigmata is, in fact, a biblical sign and that St. Francis was not the first to participate in this "grace" in the 12th-13th century. If you read the wikipedia page (which, contrary to popular opinion is not usually the best source of information!) on stigmata you'll see that the first name listed under "Notable stigmatics" is Saint Paul the Apostle!

Saint Paul the Apostle? A stigmatic?

According to some interpretations, Paul expressed that he participated in the "grace" of stigmata:

Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6:17, NIV)

This verse is a very important one to consider because the Greek word which is translated "marks" is stigmata.

If we simply transcribe that original word instead of translating it, the verse reads as follows:

...for I bear on my body the stigmata of Jesus."

Of course, as Paul was using this word originally, it did not have the same connotations as it does today. It is a mistake to assume that our current, modern usage of a word is the same as their usage. Language changes over time, and we have certain connotations that are associated with "stigmata" as a result of cases like Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio, and Hollywood movies. These things were not in Paul's mind as he originally wrote what we read in Galatians 6:17.

So how was this word used in Paul's day and time?

Stigmata in Paul's contemporary usage literally meant "mark" or "brand." In their culture, masters of slaves would often "brand" their slaves to denote ownership and this practice also occurred in some religious rites. This practice was common and "natural" in his day, so why should we assume that he is referring to some "supernatural" miraculous sign?

Paul experienced severe beatings and trials as a result of his following Jesus (read through 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 and notice that these physical trials follow his self-identification as a "servant" or "slave" of Christ in 11:23). These events would have likely left significant "marks" on Paul's physical body as a result of his service to Jesus. Why should we assume that these stigmata are supernaturally imposed when Paul would have had plenty of scars without them?

Nothing in the text indicates that Paul experienced a supernatural event in his flesh. In fact, the idea of followers of Christ suffering to "expiate" sin is contrary to clear biblical teaching (quoted from the Roman Catholic version, NAB):

For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18, NAB)

The idea of "adding" to the infinite merits of Christ's work is absurd scripturally, theologically, philosophically, and mathematically. Adding to "infinity" doesn't increase it! If the Scriptures tell Christ suffered for sins once for all, why would others need to suffer for sins too, in order to add to the infinite merits of Christ? This is needless suffering!

To conclude, examining the Scriptural teaching regarding the plan of salvation leads me to conclude that occurrences of the stigmata in the church of Rome serve to lend weight to the false gospel of works based righteousness and detract from the completed work of Jesus Christ through His death, burial, resurrection and exaltation. As a result, I conclude that stigmata are a false sign which either have their origin in the kingdom of darkness as a supernatural sign or that these marks have a natural explanation (e.g. they are fraudulent hoaxes or the result of some other physical, emotional or mental disorder).

No comments: