Answering the rebuttals of a Catholic apologist, #20: “Cornelius Received the Spirit First”

Today, we continue with our series responding to “Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs” (2019), written by Karlo Broussard. With this next chapter, the Catholic apologist continues his twelve-part section on the Sacraments. Broussard wrote about baptism in the two previous chapters and this week he continues by countering evangelical Protestants’ objection to baptismal regeneration, as they note that “Cornelius Received the Spirit First,” before he was baptized.

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The Roman Catholic church teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation (CCC 1257). In contrast, evangelical Protestants believe that salvation is by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone and that baptism is an ordinance for new believers to publicly profess their faith in Christ. Broussard points out that evangelicals often use Acts 10:45-48 as a proof text for their position against baptismal regeneration:

45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

The passage shows that Cornelius and the other Gentiles who were with him were filled with the Holy Spirit and were therefore saved before they were baptized.

Broussard rolls out three arguments to refute the evangelical position:

Firstly, he argues that the Old Testament records several instances of the Holy Spirit working through/empowering people who he alleges were not necessarily believers. He offers as examples the tabernacle craftsman, Bezalel, (Exodus 31:3-5), Sampson (Judges 14:6), and Saul (1 Samuel 11:6). For an example from the New Testament, Broussard points to Matthew 7:22-23 and claims that the false believers mentioned therein are performing miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit.

For his second point, Broussard takes a step back and states that while the RCC teaches baptism is the ordinary means (author’s italics) of salvation, it does not teach it is the absolute means of salvation. The RCC concedes that “God can work beyond his sacraments” (p.112). Therefore, Broussard argues, God could have granted salvation to Cornelius and his Gentile companions prior to baptism, which he boasts renders evangelicals’ argument a straw man. He claims an exception was “fitting” in the case of Cornelius and company because it provided visible proof to doubtful Jewish believers.

Finally, Broussard claims that baptism must be the ordinary means of salvation because the Bible “clearly” indicates it as such. He offers four proof texts:

John 3:5: “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Ezekiel 36:25-27: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (v.25). 

Romans 6:3-4: “3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Okay, let’s address Broussard’s arguments one at a time.

Firstly, Broussard presumes much by alleging that Bezalel, Sampson, and Saul were not believers. Besides that, many theologians, including Catholic theologians, agree that the Holy Spirit did not work in the same way among God’s people in the Old Testament as He did in the New. Did the Spirit indwell or only rest upon OT believers? Was the indwelling/resting of the Spirit permanent or only temporary (as several passages might indicate)? These questions are still being debated. However, Acts 2 records a new event in human history, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all believers, which only happened after Jesus’s ascension. As for Broussard’s claim that Matthew 7:22-23 is referring to unbelievers performing miracles empowered by the Holy Spirit, this is an egregiously faulty interpretation. Scripture records elsewhere that Satan performs impressive signs and lying wonders (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9).

Secondly, Broussard and the RCC hedge their bets by arguing that while baptism is essential for salvation, it is dichotomously NOT essential for salvation. The Roman church always conceded that the unbaptized who died desiring baptism were de facto baptized via baptismus flaminis (Latin): baptism of desire. As modernism entered into Catholic theology in the 20th century, this “baptism of desire” was also applied to “good and sincere” non-Catholic religionists and even atheists who were not aware of the importance of baptism “through no fault of their own.” With these accommodations to modernism/Universalism, Catholics have undercut their own doctrine mandating the essentiality of baptism. Broussard guilefully omits any mention of Roman Catholicism’s universalist teachings regarding the unbaptized.

Thirdly, the correct meaning of Broussard’s proof texts must be understood through careful examination and in the context of other Scripture. In several examples, such as with John 6 and the reference to eating Jesus’s flesh to attain eternal life, Catholicism takes an incorrect literal approach rather than the figurative one that’s intended. In other cases, Catholicism pulls words and phrases out of context. For the sake of brevity, let’s examine only the last proof text. Catholics are quick to use 1 Peter 3:21 because it starts off with Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, but they gloss over the full text and the context. The verse is actually saying it’s NOT the water that saves a person (“not as a removal of dirt from the body”), rather it’s what baptism represents that saves (“an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”). The refutation of Catholicism’s claim to baptismal regeneration is actually included in the proof text that Broussard presents!

There are several Bible verses and passages that “seem to” support baptismal regeneration when taken out of context. But such verses must be examined in the entire context of the Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, which runs as a “red thread” throughout the Old Testament and is elucidated in the New Testament.

See the helpful articles below for more information:

Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?
https://www.gotquestions.org/baptism-1Peter-3-21.html

Is baptism necessary for salvation?
https://www.gotquestions.org/baptism-salvation.html

Next week: “Not to Baptize but to Preach”

35 thoughts on “Answering the rebuttals of a Catholic apologist, #20: “Cornelius Received the Spirit First”

    1. Thanks, Kent, for the encouragement and support! A soul saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone knows full well the error of baptismal regeneration.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Tom, the first and only time I did explain that to an RC friend way back in 2016, he freaked out and a conversational wall was built instantly as not to pursue that topic. I used to invite RC close friends/peers/”barkada” on church plays/musical productions in early 2000s but it was my first time to discuss that it was GOD’s grace that we are saved through faith in JESUS CHRIST alone. I’m learning from your series as almost all my friends and half of my relatives on both sides are RC.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kent. I think the prevailing attitude among many evangelicals these days is something like, “Sure, Catholics have some quirky beliefs, but they love Jesus, too, and are certainly Christians.” I appreciate books like this one because they clarify the irreconcilable differences between Catholicism and Gospel Christianity.

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      1. Ecumenism is making deep inroads into conservative evangelical churches and seminaries here in the U.S. Nonconformists are increasingly viewed as “backwater fundamentalists.”

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      2. It is unimaginable for me, prior to this that that situation is going on in America, even the conservative ones. The more you evangelize, Tom. GOD will encourage you in making us aware on the differences.

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      3. Thanks, Kent! It saddens me to see conservative evangelicals embracing Roman Catholicism, but the Lord is still on His throne and we will continue to serve Him no matter what others may do.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. GOD has a reason and a purpose for everything, Tom. He is always in control of His creation, including His elect. Philippians 6 gives us an assurance. No matter what man decides for the flock, the SHEPHERD’s will prevails [and HE opens their eyes].

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder if Boniface VIII or the Council of Florence would agree that “good” Muslims or “good” Atheists can be saved???

    Boniface VIII , Unam Sanctam: ………….This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven” etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. Pope Boniface VIII , November 18, 1302, Unam Sanctam

    The Council of Florence (1441) Bull Cantata Domino: It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church. See Henry Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, trans. Roy J. Deferrari, Thirtieth Ed. (Powers Lake: Marian House, published in 1954 by Herder & Co., Freiburg), #714, p. 230.

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  3. Hey, Tom! I agree with Kent, I love these posts! I have a beef with anyone who uses Saul and receiving the Holy Spirit because no one talks about how the Holy Spirit LEFT/ABANDONED/DEPARTED from Saul. If one followed what happened to Saul into the NT, specifically Hebrews 6, one would have to come to the conclusion that you can lose your salvation. Saul was an apostate just as much as those who were written about in Hebrews. I am looking forward to your next Thursday edition!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mandy! Saul is definitely a tricky commodity. I have seen many views presented on his status, whether he was ever a genuine believer, etc. I’ve read Saul was the poster child for a very backslidden believer. I’m one who believes in the eternal security of the genuine believer and think of 1 John 2:19 to “explain” apostates. I truly appreciate your support and encouragement in regards to these Friday apologetics posts because they take a lot of work. And I welcome questions/concerns/suggestions regarding my rebuttals because I strive to be Biblical.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Mandy! No, need to apologize. I didn’t take your comments as being confrontational at all. I dialogue regularly with believers who don’t believe exactly as I do on a number of secondary and tertiary doctrines, but we can focus together on our salvation in Christ. Some personal detail: My wife and I attended a fundamentalist church way back in the 80s and early 90s, but I became so fed up with the legalism and judgementalism that I walked away from church and the Lord for 23 years. Most would agree that a believer could backslide for a short “season,” meaning a few weeks or months, but certainly not 23 years! Many would have called me an apostate. But while I had walked away from the Lord, I felt that He never left me. I finally returned to Him in 2014 after He kept nudging me all that time. So my own experience was outside the realm of what’s “acceptable” in church culture.

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      2. Wow, going from the RCC to another form of legalistic church would be difficult. Maybe the Lord needed you to wander for 23 years to get the other experiences out of you (thank God it wasn’t 40 years in a movable tent in the desert!). All I can say Tom is that I am glad we are in the fold! Praise Jesus!

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      3. I think I’ve written about 15 posts about my 8 year experience in independent Baptist fundamentalism. A lot of good things (including the Gospel) but also a lot of bad hyper-judgemental churchy stuff including the pastor being a megalomaniac.

        RE: I am glad we are in the fold! Praise Jesus!
        Amen and amen!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Brother good post. Loved how you summarized for us his view and arguments. Also good look at 1 Peter more thoroughly than this RC apologist did. I can see why your response take a lot of time.

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      1. I imagine its quite a “workout.” It seems their obsession with baptism and other sacraments as a means of grace shows clearly its a different gospel than than in the Scripture of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone

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      2. RE: sacraments as a means of grace…a different gospel

        Yup, I appreciate this book because it’s a mostly-unvarnished view of how the Catholic system really works rather than the “We all love Jesus so let’s just all get along” window dressing of pope Francis.

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      3. Re: a different gospel

        Jim/Tom,
        Not only is it a different gospel, it’s been placed under an anathema by the Apostle Paul (Gal 1:6-9)

        I’ve shown Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate to both Protestants and Romanists and it’s never failed to stun everyone into either silence or denial (zealous Romanists).

        The Quran denies the crucifixion ( Quran 4:157), which thus denies the resurrection, thus rendering our faith in vain (1 Cor 15:2). The Quran also teaches that the Trinity consists of the Father, Son and Mary (Quran 5:116). How in the world can the God of Israel send down such nonsense revelations, contradicting the NT? Allah is more akin to Baal, and Muhammad is like the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-46).

        The fact that Rome teaches Yahweh = Allah and makes it a dogmatic constitution, is utter blasphemy and abhorrent. Not only do they preach a different gospel, but they worship a different God (Allah) and different Jesus (2 Cor 11:4). Which is why it is my conviction that the Roman church is *apostate*.

        Quran 4:157
        And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

        Quran 5:116
        And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?'” He will say, “Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen.

        Paul VI: 3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. DECLARATION ON THE RELATION OF THE CHURCH TO NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS, NOSTRA AETATE, PROCLAIMED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON OCTOBER 28, 1965

        Vatican II: But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Moslems, these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day. Nor is God Himself remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25–28), and since the Saviour wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). Those who, who through no fault of their own, do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation. Vatican Council II The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, O.P., General Editor (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1980), Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium II:16, p. 367.

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