Ang Dating Daan: An Old Path Incarnate AgainI. Introduction
II. A Brief History of The Church of God International
III. The Bible Predicted Me, and God Himself Teaches Me
IV. Soriano and the Stinkblossom
V. A Semi-Arian Apollinarian
VI. Confusing the Covenants
When a Filipino Catholic man first alerted me to the existence and activity of The Church of God International of Mr. Eliseo Soriano, which he publicizes through his popular television show Ang Dating Daan ("The Old Path" in Tagalog), my first instinct was that it was a bit absurd to refer to a religious group as the Old Path which has only been around for about 30 years. However, upon further study of its history and of the corpus of Mr. Soriano's teachings, I have realized that this is not the case. Rather, it is more ironic than absurd, because it really is an old path, simply not in the sense that Mr. Soriano thinks it is. For it is the same path that we see incarnate in the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and many other similar groups: a charismatic leader claims direct divine revelation, twists Scripture, preaches vigorously, and with the help of fortuitous social, economic, and psychological circumstances, manages to attract a sizable flock to follow him down to perdition. Fortunately, Soriano's claims are so easily falsifiable, so manifestly absurd, his exegetical incompetence so blatantly obvious, his self-contradiction so evident, that any person of good will who studies his teachings will be able to see him for the false prophet that he is and fly back to the bosom of Holy Mother Church to be reintroduced to the divine life of grace in the soul. A bit of background first.
Schisms are the plague of all schismatics. Once a group of factious men splits off from the Mystical Body of Christ to follow winds of doctrine more to their liking, little remains to bind them to each other. Hence, whenever someone comes to an irreconcilable doctrinal disagreement with the leadership of the schismatic church, or simply wants power and authority that they have but are not willing to give him, the first schism is followed by further schisms, and factions proliferate. This is the principle which underlies the history of Ang Dating Daan.
The story starts with a man named Felix Manalo, who left the Catholic Church as a teenager. He dabbled briefly in a cult called Colorum which claimed direct communication with God, and then joined the Methodist Episcopal Church and became a minister. As his Catholic mother lay dying he "rejected the last sacrament for her."1 He then spent a brief stint as a Presbyterian minister, then left them as well for the Christian Missionary Alliance, who impressed him because they baptized by immersion only. He then switched teams again after he lost a debate to a Seventh Day Adventist minister and decided that since he couldn't beat them he would join them. He left them as well after deciding they were wrong about observing a Saturday Sabbath, and briefly flirted with atheism and agnosticism. Finally, according to the account which he convinced his credulous followers to believe, in November 1913 he spent three days and nights in total seclusion studying the Bible and came out convinced that he was God's last messenger, the messenger from the Far East prophesied by Rev 7:2-3; Isaiah 43:5-6; 46:11; 41:9-11. In any case, in 1914 started a church for himself, which would later claim Protestants to be apostates, and itself to be the one true Church of Christ outside of which there is no salvation.2 But his own biographers give lie to these claims, relating that:
On December 25, 1918, ministers of the Christian Mission honored Felix Manalo as an outstanding evangelist. The certificate was signed by Ministers Leslie Wolfe and Higinio Mayor, attested by attorney V. Dimagiba. The affair, held at the Gloria Theater in Tondo, Manila was attended by Church members and several Protestant pastors... In August 1919 Manalo visited all local congregations before departing for the United States to advance his Bible studies. He advised the brethren to keep united and protect one another in his absence. One day in September that year he sailed for the U.S. and stayed at Berkeley, California, burying himself in Bible research and studies, and attending classes in a school of religion.3
So, either Felix Manalo was accepting awards and taking classes from men he regarded as apostates, or his claim to head the only true Church of Christ came later, and from 1914-1919 he believed himself to be the head of just another Protestant church.
While Manalo was away in America his church begat the grandfather of And Dating Daan, when two of his students whom he had passed over for ordination, Teofilo Ora and Januario Ponce, started their own church called the Iglesia Verdadero de Cristo ("The True Church of Christ" in Spanish) and drew away much of his fold with charges of immorality. True to the nature which this schismatic church inherited in its genesis, it soon begat the father of Ang Dating Daan with another schism. Nicolas Antiporda Perez founded the Iglesia ng Dios Kay Kristo Hesus, Haligi at Suhay ng Katotohanan ("The Church of God in Christ Jesus, Pillar and Ground of the Truth" in Tagalog), and attracted a following. The day before Eliseo Soriano turned seventeen, his parents took him to hear one of his sermons; the topic was, not surprisingly, the true Church of God according to the Bible, and Soriano was convinced. Perez baptized him, and made him a minister, the only other minister in the whole church. Hence, Soriano expected that when Perez died he would accede to the leadership of the Iglesia ng Dios Kay Kristo Hesus.4 However, when Perez died, a woman name Levita Gugulan in fact came to power,5 and Soriano, true to form, left and started yet another splinter church. He claims that he was forced out by former colleagues who "driven by extreme greed for power embarked on dark schemes against him and launched an underground plot to malign and discredit" him.6
Soriano further claims that this occurred in fulfillment of Zechariah 13:8-9, a claim with about as much credibility as Manalo's claim to be the angel ascending from the east of Revelations 7. Zechariah 13:7 is about the execution of Christ (cf. Matt 26:31) and the following two verses are about the persecution of the early Christian Church. For Soriano to apply it to his little group 2000 years later is wholly erroneous. Consider how mild the persecutions Soriano has endured really are compared to what the early Church went through. The early Christians were torn to pieces by lions while crowds of heathens laughed at them; Soriano got sued, and lost. They were crucified; Soriano got briefly kicked off television. They had the option of sacrificing to demons or losing their heads; Soriano's character is sometimes verbally attacked by the ministers he so frequently attacks himself. Soriano in fact has not endured any more persecution than Mohammed endured, whose persecution consisted of verbal abuse, a boycott, family pressure, and juvenile pranks like people dumping trash on his porch. This, compared to what Christians have endured, is child's play.
In any case, Bro. Eli, as he now likes to be called, registered his group as Iglesia ng Dios kay Kristo Hesus, Haligi at Saligan ng Katotohanan ("The Church of God in Christ Jesus, Pillar and Ground of the Truth"), a name almost identical to the name of Gugulan's group, Soriano having only replaced one word for "ground" (suhay, brace) with another (saligan, basis). Not surprisingly, Gugulan sued him, and the Philippine Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Soriano then changed the name of his group to Iglesia Ni YHWH at ni YHWSA HMSYH, and, most recently, to Members Church of God International.7 This is ironic because in one of his sermons which is posted at the Ang Dating Daan website Soriano chastises the Jehovah's Witnesses for having multiple names throughout their history, and he insists that the real name of the true church is The Church of God in Christ Jesus, and that if an organization does not bear this exact name it cannot be of God.8 I eagerly await Mr. Soriano's admission that his church no longer meets his own criteria for being of God.
And somehow, in spite of his ignominious origins, legal troubles, and self contradiction, Soriano has managed to draw a rather large following to himself, including many former Catholics. He apparently has an extraordinary memory, and amazes his listeners with his ability to regurgitate Scripture passages off the top of his head. One of his shows, in fact, is called "Ask Soriano, and the Bible Will Answer." However, he clearly does not understand much of what he has memorized, as will become evident throughout this essay. Soriano must be very charismatic as well, given the way his followers fawn over him.9 He also exploits the chaotic religious landscape of the Philippines with his constant harangues against false preachers, wolves in sheep clothing, who are only after money and don't really care about their flocks. He is thus a magnet for all those who are disillusioned and disaffected with their current churches, and who are willing to listen to a man claiming that he really loves them, and that he's "the only sensible and sincere evangelist"10 who cares for them and wants to lead them to salvation. Soriano also uses unethical debate tactics, such as heckling, setting up debates on his home turf where the audience can shout his opponents down, and recording his opponents' words so he can replay them to the audience and pronounce allegations of contradiction.11 Finally, he is adept at character assassination, and smears all apostates from his group.12 He uses, in sum, the tactics characteristic of a cult.
As noted above, Soriano claims to be the only sincere evangelist. Everyone else, besides his underlings, is a charlatan, according to him. Naturally, he also claims that he has been predicted by Scripture, specifically Ecclesiastes 9:15. He is, as he styles himself, the poor wise man who saved his city from destruction. Again, this is erroneous; it is simply another manifestation of Soriano's utter incompetence to interpret Scripture, for in Ecclesiastes 9:15, Solomon is not predicting anything, but simply illustrating a principle (i.e., that wisdom is better than strength, even though it is accounted as less in the eyes of the world), by relating an event from the past. A poor and wise man saved his city from being destroyed by the army of a great King, but afterwards no one remembered his name. This may be a parable, or it may refer to a real event (Scripture records similar occurrences in Judg 9:52-55; 2 Sam 20:14-22). But in either case, it is narrated as an event which was completed in the past. Moreover, Soriano has yet to turn aside any armies or save any cities, and given the way he dresses, he clearly is not poor, and given the way he preaches, neither is he wise. Finally, the poor wise man's name was forgotten in obscurity, but Soriano's fame is only growing. Indeed, his great ambition is that "before I die... all people from the different parts of the world would be able to hear me as I preach the Gospel of Christ."13 He should have realized, if he wanted to claim Ecclesiastes 9:15 for himself, that he would have to avoid professing ambitions to everlasting world renown. Clearly, if he were to preach his gospel to the entire world, his name would not be universally forgotten. In sum, no passage of Scripture refers directly to Mr. Soriano. He is simply one of the many false prophets contributing to the great apostasy predicted thereby.
Soriano's arguments, while perhaps impressive on the surface, fall apart upon deeper analysis. But he impedes his followers from discovering this by forbiding them to interpret the Bible. Indeed, in an article aptly titled, "Should the Bible Be Interpreted" he declares "it is not correct for us to interpret the Bible! God did not give anybody the right to interpret the Bible! And nobody can claim, not even a person with a Bachelor's degree, like Law for instance, that he can explain the Bible, even if he follow the principles of hermeneutics or the formal study of methods of interpretation... the only thing that we have to do is, read the Bible. Do not interpret it." He then quotes Romans 16:25-26 and Colossians 1:24-26 and concludes "Now, can anybody claim that, God left a certain mystery unexplained for these pastors to clarify and interpret themselves? Doing this is a clear act of deception."14 Next, he further pronounces that "The Bible should no longer be explained by man inasmuch as the Bible already explains itself."15
On this point, Mr. Soriano is clearly inconsistent with his own rule. As the reader has probably already noted, and will continue to note throughout this essay, Soriano's arguments generally rest on tenuous, dubious, and even outright erroneous and incompetent interpretations of Scripture. We will see again and again that Soriano breaks his own rule and interprets the Bible, and does a poor job of it at that.
And of course, the idea that the Bible is so clear that no one needs to interpret it is itself unbiblical. 2 Peter 3:16 says, "As also in all [Paul's] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction." The Bible contains many things that are "hard to be understood," mysteries which need to be explained, a clear refutation of what Soriano states above. One would think, then, that Soriano would avoid this passage. However, he does not, for in a later article Soriano teaches that yes, the Bible does need to be interpreted after all. He quotes 2 Peter 3:16, then states:
We really should know how to use the bible. We should not perceive it as something so simple that anybody can readily interpret. In fact, it is the opposite! The Bible is not a plain as it may seem to be. The Holy Scriptures has the highest degree and the utmost quality of words and wisdom any book could offer that a man can read in his lifetime.... The Bible is unique and more special than any other book essential to our salvation. Hence, not anybody can just stand up and explain, elucidate, or even interpret the words of the Almighty Himself!16
Continuing in verse 16 and 18, this so-called 'worm' said that: '...dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me... For they pierced my hands and my feet, they part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.' These descriptions fit very well to our Lord Jesus Christ because Christ experienced all these at the time of His crucifixion and death. Therefore we can safely say that Jesus Christ, as He himself said, is 'a worm, not man;' but, in John 8:40, Jesus said to the Pharisees that He is 'a man hath told you the truth'. Still, in 1 John 5:20, it says that, 'Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life.' Here, we are faced with the dilemma of distinguishing the real nature of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is He a worm, a man, or a God? This is one of the greatest debates in the religious world; but how can we, in our humble being, be able to understand this seemingly complicated issue? Is it possible for us, human beings, to comprehend complexities such as these?17
Indeed, Mr. Soriano, that is why Jesus established a Church against which the gates of hell would not prevail (Matt 16:18), and promised to be with her "all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt 28:20), to send her the "Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever: The spirit of truth" (John 14:16-17) who, when He comes, "will teach you all truth" (John 16:13). That is why he told his apostles, "He that heareth you, heareth me" (Luke 10:16) and why the apostles appointed successors to perpetuate their ministry for future generations (cf. 1 Tim 5:19-22; 2 Tim 4:2-5; Tit 1:5; 2:1, 15). For although almost anyone could see that Psalm 22:6 is using a metaphor, not literally saying that Jesus is a worm, it did indeed take divine guidance to bring humanity to a proper understanding of the hypostatic union, the union of the divine and human natures in the single person of Jesus Christ. God guided the successors of the apostles, the bishops of the early Catholic Church, men like St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Athanasius of Alexandria, to explain to their flocks the mystery of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, true God, as the true man Jesus Christ, and this understanding, received from the apostles and transmitted and developed by the same bishops of the early Catholic Church, was finally codified at Catholic ecumenical Councils such as Nicaea and Chalcedon. Christendom has never been without authentic Christian teachers, the successors of the apostles.
But no, Soriano would have his followers believe that Christ abandoned his Church, and that for almost 2000 years there were no "sincere evangelists" who faithfully taught apostolic doctrine, or, rather, he would have them believe that these evangelists existed but there is simply no historical record of them because the mean old Catholic Church covered it up. How convenient. Incidentally, this is the same logic that Dan Brown uses in The Da Vinci Code to argue that Jesus was a mere man who taught peace and worshiped the sacred feminine. Once one decides to reject the entire historical record as a forgery written by power hungry men, one is free to project a narrative onto the past which is in reality one's own personal creation. This is how Soriano convinces his followers to believe that his doctrines, so foreign to Christian history, actually represent authentic apostolic teaching.
Let's return to the developing contradiction. Soriano concludes this article by relating the means of properly interpreting the Bible. First, one must have the Spirit of God, which requires one to fear the Lord and keep His commandments. He reconciles his statements thus far with his dictum that no man may interpret the Bible by insisting that the Bible interprets itself, and that if one has the Spirit of God and searches the Scriptures diligently, one will find the explanation of the passage one does not understand in some other passage somewhere else.
Incidentally, he further insists that one must not refer to any book besides the Bible itself in the endeavor of Biblical interpretation, and that anyone who does so is flirting with damnation (I suppose he would except his own sermons and his "book" (I put "book" in quotation marks because I printed it on 16 pages of 8-1/2 x 11 inch paper) Leaving Behind the Fundamental Doctrines of Christ. Sure, it's alright to refer to those writings in order to understand the Bible). This is absurd. Tremendous insights can be gained into biblical interpretation through historical, grammatical, and linguistic analysis, and this often requires reference to non-biblical literature. Try figuring out what archegos means, for instance, without referring to extra-biblical Greek writings (it is used only once in the entire New Testament: in Hebrews 12:2). Archeology and geography also throw light on much of what is obscure in Holy Scripture. Finally, the Church Fathers, who held on to the traditions which they received from the apostles (2 Thess 2:15), which included the proper understanding of many passages of Scripture, likewise provide for us a sure guide for understanding God's Word.
But Soriano would cut off his flock from these tools, and from education in the methods of biblical exegesis, and leave them adrift all by themselves to try to interpret these ancient texts, written in a language and culture far removed from their own, and expect them to just be able to read and understand. And naturally, they will fail. Without knowing the first thing about Greek and Hebrew exegesis, and being ignorant of the Church's theology of things like salvation, the Trinity, and the hypostatic union, they will simply be unable to understand these deeply complex texts. Then, they will have to turn to Bro. Eli. This is where his self-contradiction reaches its consummation. The following is from an article entitled "Three Colors of Death Green & White & Red" in Soriano's Old Path Magazine:
Firstly, parables, as parables, were not meant to be understood by most people... Secondly, Jesus used minute details which were intended to hide the truth of the text from the non-spiritual, but to reveal truth to God's people... Thirdly, symbols (such as the woman, merchant man, wind, angel, dove, water, fire, and others) frequently appear in texts of the Bible.
As attested to by many, God is really with Bro. Eli Soriano. He is remarkably an extraordinary individual – unschooled by the world's standards but unbeatable in biblical matters. He can see what others do not and has the understanding of the Word of God not found in anyone even among sages. And for that, how blessed is the Philippines! ...It is then no surprise that he claims he is being taught by God which explains his deep understanding of God's Word and the revelations given to him... Anyone thirsting for the knowledge of God would make sure he is in the right path – the Old Path. And if you truly care for truth, you must make sure you are being led by someone with an understanding given by God, and teaching things of God – like a spring that never runs dry.18
There is no secret in the Bro. Eli's being unique, singular, and distinctive. The Bible gives its own explanation in John 3:34 as him being sent, therefore speaks the words of God, who gave him unlimited spirit - For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.19
The irony of it all is that God has equipped the faithful preacher with full knowledge of the Bible with unmeasured Spirit, then warned him what not to do that he may finish his work, and yet allowed him to be fair game to wicked people and their evil designs. But God is faithful, this mysterious set-up may be the strength of God's design in preserving His nation through His Faithful preacher - one whom none can beat in unlocking the mysteries of the Bible...
As Bro. Eli preaches, he makes distinctions between quantity of the word, its quality, its direction, time, construction of meaning, and extent of meaning. He goes as far as explaining the source and the intended receiver to place the message in proper context... Truly, none can compare with the understanding that Bro. Eli has that symbolisms in the Bible are effectively expounded to his congregation and to his hearers in bible expositions. While he has not formally studied so-called hermeneutics that are the fare of secular schools, his level of understanding shows an awesome depth that each topic - unheard of before from all corners of this world - is as valuable as his next topic would be. Indeed, Bro. Eli preaches faithfully. Foremost, he unlocks mysteries from the Word of God like nobody. The faithful one whom God has assigned would do his task God's way – like Bro. Eli.20
Now Soriano's true colors come out. Before, anyone who feared the Lord and patiently worked at it could interpret the Bible. Now, only he can. Before, "God did not give anybody the right to interpret the Bible!" Now, Soriano is divinely commissioned to interpret the Bible. Before, he asked "can anybody claim that, God left a certain mystery unexplained for these pastors to clarify and interpret themselves? Doing this is a clear act of deception." Now, he is "unlocking the mysteries of the Bible" for his flock who eagerly lap up every word that falls from his lips. The contradiction could hardly be clearer. Now I am eagerly awaiting Mr. Soriano's admission that, in addition to his group not being a true church, he has also perpetrated "a clear act of deception" on his poor unfortunate followers. For he has left them utterly dependent on him to learn anything at all about Sacred Scripture. Indeed, how dare they question he who is receiving direct revelation from God. How dare they think to read what competent Bible scholars and exegetes have to say about Sacred Scripture! Soriano is the only faithful preacher! All who oppose him are charlatans!
Do not listen to this man. He is incompetent to interpret the Bible, and he contradicts himself. This alone should be enough to disqualify him in the eyes of any Christian who would diligently "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1). But if that still is not enough, let us examine his repeated appeals to his allegedly exemplary character as proof of his divine commission. Let us even grant that what he says about his life is true. Even so, do not the Catholic saints far exceed him in holiness, sacrifice, labor, and love? Has he stared down a barbarian at the head of an army of the same, as St. Leo the Great did? Did he resist a threat to be boiled in oil when he was but nine years of age, as the Fatima children did? Has he reduced his sleep to three hours a night to attend to the spiritual needs of his children, as St. Pio did? Until he has, he cannot claim the holiness of his life as a reason why anyone should embrace his doctrine instead of the doctrine of the Catholic Church. In sum, to all followers of this old path, I want you to know that Soriano is not the only one who loves you. The Catholic Church loves you, and wants you back. Moreover, she will welcome you back with open arms.
The more one reads of Soriano, the more his ignorance is manifest, and the more it grieves one to consider how very many people he has led astray. Take, for example, Leaving Behind the Fundamental Doctrines of Christ. The entire "book" is based on one gargantuan blunder. In fact, if I were to write a book about every blunder in history that was larger than this blunder, it might still be a shorter book than Leaving Behind the Fundamental Doctrines of Christ. He somehow completely misreads Hebrews 6:1-2, which states, in the KJV: "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ [i.e. the first rudiments of Christian doctrine], let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment." As the following quotes demonstrate, Soriano actually thinks St. Paul is telling his readers to forget about or ignore these fundamental doctrines:
But why did Paul admonished the first Christians that they (including Paul himself) must leave behind these fundamental doctrines of Christ? The fundamental is more on the material! Jesus wants us to attain, not only physical, but spiritual blessings. The fundamental purpose of laying on of hands is to heal the physical or material body of the subject person. But Christ, in his capacity, wants us to seek for the spiritual significance of His teachings because this is the way to learn more of Him...
But why did Paul said, in his dispensation, that Christians must leave the fundamental doctrine of the resurrection of the dead? ...A saint who died in this dispensation, particularly in this time will not be delighted to be resurrected, to inhale again polluted air, to drink polluted water, and to eat chemical-laden foods and to be subjected to harsh brutality and gory death again... One thing is sure, the many glory-hungry and money-hungry preachers (it is against my conscience to call them preachers) of our times, who pretend to have power to resurrect the dead are all liars, which further belies their stand of being God-sent. It only displays their total ignorance of what Saint Paul have said almost two thousand years ago that perfection can be attained by leaving the fundamental doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.22
Soriano's interpretation here misses the mark completely. All St. Paul is saying that once his audience has sufficiently mastered the basics of the Christian religion, it will be possible for his discourse to advance to more lofty themes. Analogously, a math teacher might tell his students that once they have mastered arithmetic they can move on to algebra. St. Paul is absolutely not telling his audience that they ought to forget or abandon the "fundamental doctrines of Christ." These are the foundation of Christianity; they support the entire soaring edifice, and without them the religion has nothing on which to stand. The foundation can never be forgotten. St. Paul's only point is that once it has been laid properly once, the Christian teacher can move on from teaching these subjects and start building upon them the superstructure of more advanced theology. To risk mixing metaphors, once the new Christian has been nursed to a certain degree of maturity on spiritual milk, the teacher can then begin to give him solid food (Heb 5:12-14). It would be silly to keep "laying the foundation" over and over again, by teaching nothing but the basics, and never graduating Christian students from ecclesiastical kindergarten, just like it would be silly to hold back school children in the same grade year after year. Once we learn how to read, write, and do basic math, we can move on to history, philosophy, engineering, etc. But that does not mean we can forget about reading, writing, and basic math, or the more advanced subjects will become impossible. So too, should a Christian forget about repentance, faith, baptism, the laying of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, he will turn his religion into nonsense.
There are many more errors in Soriano's "book." As a side note, for one who blasts the Catholic Church for using a little bit of Latin in her liturgy, he has no problem with using the Latin phrase prima facie himself in the very first paragraph. Don't you see, Mr. Soriano, that learning the meaning of a few words of Latin, whether prima facie or dominus vobiscum is really not that hard?
In any case, following his opening harangue against false preachers, a feature almost ubiquitous in his works, Soriano quickly jumps into a fairly odd theological disputation: he constructs a dichotomy, as false as it is sharp, between the idea of Jesus as the personal Lord and Savior of the Christian, and His operation through the corporate body of the Church. But as one who is so famed for his ability to memorize the Bible, he should know that both concepts are present in Scripture. See for example the Magnificat, wherein Our Lady exclaims "My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47; cf. John 20:28).
It seems Soriano is led to a false conclusion because he starts out from a faulty philosophical premise, namely that that which is "personal" cannot be shared. Indeed, he challenges that if Jesus were the personal savior of anyone, it would be unethical to let Him be someone else's savior as well. He makes an analogy to a man sharing his wife, his "personal property" as Soriano describes her. This is clearly an instance of equivocation regarding the meaning of "personal," as the word does not necessarily imply exclusivity or possession, but merely a relationship. Jesus has an intimate and direct relationship with each individual soul consecrated to His service, and jealousy need not ensue. That Soriano thinks jealousy would ensue from such a relationship merely demonstrates once again that he is incompetent to interpret Scripture. He has projected his own erroneous presuppositions onto the Word of God, and his exegesis has been clouded accordingly.
A little while later, Soriano makes yet another exegetical blunder when he states that the primary purpose of the laying of hands is "to heal the physical or material body of the subject person"23 (this is allegedly why we ought to "leave behind" this fundamental doctrine; Jesus wants us to forget about temporal things like bodily health and move on to the spiritual realm). One wonders if he is reading the same Bible as the rest of us. Scripture frequently records that the Apostles laid their hands on persons in perfect bodily health, in order to confer a spiritual gift. "The Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands" (Acts 8:17; cf. 19:6). St. Paul likewise urges St. Timothy to kindle afresh the charisma, the spiritual, supernatural gift which he received through the laying of hands (2 Timothy 1:6). That gift was his ordination to the episcopacy. The Apostles, through the laying of hands, also ordained St. Stephen and six other men to the diaconate (Acts 6:5-6). So, one sees that in Scripture the laying of hands is ordered primarily to supernatural and spiritual realities, not mere bodily health as Soriano says. And the Catholic Church is ever faithful to the Bible. In fact, the phrase "the laying of hands" is simply the biblical manner of denoting the Catholic sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders.
Moving on, it does not take Soriano long to make another obvious mistake: he uses Hebrews 11:13, 35-40 in attempts to prove that the saints resurrected in Matthew 27:50-53 are not currently in heaven. Hebrews 11 is about the era before the Cross, the era of the Old Covenant. Men like Abraham and Noah died in faith, but did not go immediately into heaven. As St. Paul says in Hebrews 11:40, they "received not the promise; God providing some better thing for us, that they should not be perfected without us [the saints of the New Covenant]." However, that era is over, for on Holy Saturday, Christ descended to the abode of the righteous dead and "preached to those spirits that were in prison" (1 Pet 3:19). His mission was successful, and "ascending on high, he led captivity captive" (Eph 4:8). This means He brought the souls of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, et al to heaven with Him, where they now comprise the "cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) who, as St. Paul informs us, watch over the lives of Christians. Should we die in a state of grace, we will follow them. There is no period of "soul sleep" as Soriano believes. We will not lie senseless in our graves until the general resurrection on the last day. Rather, "it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). We will be judged immediately and sent to either heaven, purgatory, or hell; on the last day this judgment will merely be publicly declared.
Next, leaving behind Leaving Behind the Fundamental Doctrines of Christ, let us go on to Soriano's sermons, not sparing them from critical scrutiny, but likewise demonstrating their bankruptcy and internal contradiction. Let's start with his sermon on "the salvation which is being taught by the Bible", in which he chastises his ecclesiastical great grandfather, the Iglesia ni Cristo of Mr. Felix Manalo, for teaching that outside of it there is no salvation.24 He is, of course, quite right in decrying this claim as false. However, excepting his provision for the salvation of those who never hear the Gospel, Soriano in effect makes the exact same claim, for while he does reject any form of extra ecclesiam meam nulla salus (outside my church there is no salvation) in theory, this is essentially what his doctrine amounts to in practice. Although he teaches that the true Christian church existed before him, that he joined it, and did not create it, and is emphatic that it is forbidden for preachers to create their own churches, on the other hand he teaches that the only means of joining the true church is to assent to the whole body of apostolic doctrine as recorded by the Bible.25 And who possesses the whole body of apostolic doctrine? Who is the only preacher who properly understands the Bible and teaches all its commandments without addition or deletion? Who is the only preacher who uses only the Bible to interpret the Bible, without referring to other books? Soriano, of course. He is, recall, the "only sensible and sincere evangelist," and has been divinely commissioned to unlock the mysteries of the word of God. He "holds the key," to use the headline of one of his magazines, to the meaning of Sacred Scripture, and thus he holds the key to eternal salvation. His literature reminds his followers:
I care for my fellow Filipinos. As former President Joseph Estrada once said, nobody will care for the Filipinos but the Filipinos themselves. Many foreigners have come to our country but they only deceived us. We can have no other ally except our fellow Filipino... a Filipino, who speaks clearly... a Filipino who knows every righteous thing that the Bible says. I am extending you whatever I can offer, my countrymen. That is what I am here for.27
So, Soriano can on the one hand avoid making the preposterous and untenable claim that his 30 year old group is the one true Church of Jesus Christ outside of which there is no salvation, and on the other hand he can tell people that he is the only preacher who can lead them to salvation. How convenient.
Errors abound in this sermon. Soriano soon begins to inveigh against "vain repetition" and other alleged errors in Catholic prayer, and he makes basically the same wrongheaded comments as any fundamentalist Protestant would. More on this below. But in addition to the standard Protestant fare, he also says something so uniquely absurd and incompetent that I have to mention it here. He quotes a large section of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, including the lines "Tower of David, pray for us. Tower of ivory, pray for us. House of gold, pray for us. Ark of the covenant, pray for us. Gate of Heaven, pray for us." Then, he exclaims:
Even towers, which are without tongues, are petitioned to pray for them. Even the house of gold, even the tower of ivory, even the Ark of the Covenant, even the tower of David! Could they pray? Where did you get those ideas? Why are you also urging the gate of heaven to pray for you? Can they pray? They could perhaps produce a squeaking sound, but to pray to... that is impossible! The gate of heaven could not pray! That is not found in the Bible. Why are you calling on so many things to pray for you?29
Now, surely any competent person reading this litany would realize that Catholics are not literally asking towers, houses, gates, and arks to pray for them; these are simply titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How did Soriano miss this? Is it because of ignorance, dishonesty, or spiritual blindess that he cannot grasp the obvious meaning of these prayers? Should he not be able to infer, given that the previous 27 lines of the prayer invoked Mary under a different title, that this is the meaning of these lines as well? And could he not at least have asked a Catholic to explain this prayer to him before he started expatiating with such ridiculous pronouncements?
And it does not take Soriano long to ram his foot even deeper down his throat. He asks, incredulously, "If you were a woman, how would you feel about being addressed as 'ginoo' (mister)? Wasn't she the wife of Joseph? Why don't you call her 'Ginang Maria' instead?"30 Here, Soriano's error stems from a lack of knowledge of the history of his own language. Filipino apologist Marwil Llasos explains:
During the 19th century, "ginoo" (gentleman) or "maginoo" (gentlemanly) was applied to both men and women. In fact, our national hero, Jose Rizal (a true-blooded Tagalog from Calamba, Laguna) wrote to the women of Malolos (Malolos, Bulacan, also a tagalog-speaking town. Until now, Bulacan is known for its high-sounding or classical Tagalog) addressing them "Mga Maginoong Babae ng Malolos" ("gentlemanly women of Mololos"). Soriano, in his ignorance, does not understand classical language.31
So, one begins to notice a pattern here. When Soriano is in ignorance, instead of having the humility to ask someone more knowledgable to enlighten him, he just assumes he is right and merrily blunders his way along. He quite confidently makes his bombastic pronouncements on all manner of subjects, and it never quite dawns on him what a fool he is making out of himself, that he does not know what he is talking about, that he is the proverbial Emperor who has no clothes. Pray God some day he will look at himself and realize he is naked. Lastly, though it has been corrected at some point, this sermon used to say that 6x6=39.32
Errors abound in others of his sermons and teachings as well. First, for one who habitually thrashes those who consult the dictionary when they have trouble understanding the Bible (recall he cuts off his followers from any means of understanding the Bible besides himself), he has no problem starting off his sermon on whether religion is necessary with, "if we are going to consult the dictionary for the meaning of the word 'sect', it means religious 'faction.'"33
Second, he claims in his sermon on whether it is God's will that we join a Church that, "Everything that the Apostles saw and heard had been written down."34 This is just a blatant and explicit contradiction of Scripture. It is written, "But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written" (John 21:25). Has Soriano not read this verse?
Third, in another sermon35 he quotes Proverbs 22:1, which says "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches," and makes yet another exegetical blunder. He actually thinks it is referring literally to a person's appellation, e.g. John, Eliseo, Jude, Elizabeth. He doesn't realize that "a good name" in this context is a metaphor for a good reputation. Perhaps he should have let the Bible interpret the Bible, and read Proverbs 10:7: "The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot." Clearly, the second clause of the sentence is the converse of the first; the righteous will be remembered fondly, but the wicked will be remembered in infamy. Their reputation will remain foul forever. See also Ecclesiastes 7:1; Sirach 41:12-13; Proverbs 18:10; 21:24. This is really quite simple! Literally every competent, published biblical commentator understands this passage. Jew and Christian, Catholic and Protestant, conservative and liberal: everyone sees what only Soriano is too blind to see.36 Incidentally, Soriano also manifests his inability to recognize a literary device when he quotes Matthew 6:9, "Hallowed be thy name" and concludes that we ought to worship the name of the Lord. "Hallowed be thy name" is simply a poetic way of saying "Hallowed are you."
[O]xygen and hydrogen are abundant in our atmosphere. And if you combine two molecules of hydrogen with one molecule of oxygen, the result is water. Put some ice in a glass. After a while, there would be moisture outside the glass. That is because the molecules of hydrogen had combined with the molecule of oxygen.37
This is entirely wrong! The reason water condenses on the outside of a glass of ice water is not because new water molecules are being formed through the combination of atmospheric hydrogen and oxygen. The true explanation is as follows: the atmosphere contains a large amount of water in vapor form. If the air becomes saturated with more water vapor than it can hold, some of the water will precipitate out as moisture. Furthermore, hot air is capable of containing much more water vapor than cold air. If hot air containing a large amount of moisture is rapidly cooled, the air suddenly will no longer be able to hold that moisture, and the water vapor will condense. Thus, when a cold glass of ice water causes a drop in the temperature of the surrounding air, water precipitates out of that air, and condenses on the side of the glass. Soriano really should learn his elementary atmospheric science before he presumes to teach people about it.
Galileo was expelled by the Pope because of his adherence to the Copernican theory, which was in contradiction to what the Pope believed in. There were so many things that they disagreed on, and one of them was on the shape of the earth. The Pope believed that it was flat. Actually, that was a common belief that time. They thought that the earth was flat and if you reach the edge of the earth, you will fall. They also believed that, based on the horizon, wherever the earth ends, there also is where the sky ends. But Galileo believed otherwise. He believed that the earth is round. And because of upholding a belief that was contrary to the belief of the Pope, he was expelled from the Catholic Church. And eventually, it was proven that what Galileo believed in was true.38
There are three glaring errors here. First off, "the Pope" did not believe in a flat earth, and this belief was not common among scholars at any point in Christian history. This was a calumny against Christendom invented by 19th century rationalists like John W. Draper.39 All educated people at the time of Galileo recognized that the earth is a sphere. Second, Galileo's trial before the Inquisition had nothing to do with the shape of the earth; it concerned his opinion that the sun is fixed and immobile at the center of the universe, and that the earth revolves around it. The proposition that the sun is immobile was condemned as heretical, and the proposition that the earth moves was condemned as at least erroneous in faith. Third, Galileo was never excommunicated. He was held vehemently suspect of heresy, and so forced to sign an oath of abjuration, consigned to house arrest, and made to recite the seven penitential psalms each week. But he was never expelled from the Catholic Church. Soriano cannot seem to get anything right.
"A rose by any other name will still be sweet." That is not true! If somebody gives you this quotation, that would mean that, that person is out of his mind. Why say that, a rose by any other name is sweet? In the Philippines, there is a flower called, katuray. By the mere sound of its name, we can already tell that this flower is not sweet, even if you call it "rose". Using the name "rose" for a "katuray" will not make it any sweeter. Misnaming anything is not good.40
Soriano has completely missed Shakespeare's point. The point of the phrase "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" is that a thing, objectively, is what it is. The name one applies to it does not change its intrinsic nature. A rose will still be a rose, and thus will still smell sweet, even if you call it a stinkblossom. Similarly, the Catholic Church will still be the Church founded by Christ, even if you call it awful names like the whore of Babylon, and the holy sacrifice of the Mass will still yield an aroma of spiritual fragrance which is pleasing and acceptable to the Lord even if you call it an abomination. Conversely, as Soriano points out, calling a katuray a rose will not make it sweeter. Calling a stinkblossom a rose will not make it less foul. Thus, no matter whether Soriano calls his church "the Church of the living God, Pillar and Foundation of the Truth," "Members Church of God International," or "Ang Dating Daan," it will never be the pillar and foundation of the truth, it will never be the church of God, and it will never be the same "old path" referenced in Jeremiah 6:16. So, we certainly grant to Soriano, that misnaming things is not good, and that calling evil good and good evil will neither make evil good nor good evil. But that is exactly what Shakespeare is saying in the phrase Soriano rejects. Soriano thus uses an argument which proves that misnaming something does not change its nature, in order to refute a phrase which teaches that misnaming something does not change its nature.
In order to deal with Soriano's wider argument here, viz., that the true Church of God has to have the proper, biblical name, and cannot bear an invented name such as "Catholic," suffice it to note that the Bible freely applies at least 45 names to the Church: Temple of God (1 Cor 3:16); spiritual house (1 Pet 2:5); body of Christ (Eph 1:22); household of God (Eph 2:19); Israel of God (Gal 6:16); congregation of saints (Psalm 149:1); bride of Christ (Rev 21:2); etc. There is nothing to prevent the same Church from freely applying new names to herself, so long as these new names accurately describe her, now that the Bible is finished.41 And "Catholic" most certainly does accurately describe her. She is universal; she is the whole Church, and she counts among her members men from every race and nation under heaven, to which, God willing, might one particularly ornery Filipino soon be added.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will state it again: Soriano is incompetent. He ought to be embarrassed at the utterly foolish things that he has said. Moreover, his followers ought to realize that one who so frequently sticks his foot in his mouth might not be the most reliable guide to the finer points of Christian theology and biblical exegesis, and that it might not be the safest thing to place one's eternal salvation in his hands. For if he can be so wrong about something so simple as recognizing a metaphor, he can be wrong about something difficult like the nature of God or of salvation as well. Indeed, one would expect his errors to be all the more grievous as the subject of his expositions grows more grave. This is, in fact, the case, as I will demonstrate below.
Soriano states the principle quite well when he says, "If a religious organization teaches wrong doctrines, that means that the Holy Spirit is not guiding it, and therefore, it is not of God."42 Or again, "the Church, which is headed by Christ, does not teach any wrong doctrine. Instead, it teaches indestructible and undefiled doctrines."43 These are the standards to which we will hold Mr. Soriano. If it can be proven that he teaches wrong doctrines, he must then admit that the Lord has not sent him (cf. Jer 28:15), that he is not of God. His teachings must be weighed in the scales, and if they are found wanting (cf. Dan 5:27), rejected. He must then repent and take his flock back to the bosom of Holy Mother Church. I am informed that one of his favorite tactics in debate is to ask his opponent if, supposing he can prove such and such a doctrine from the Bible, his opponent will admit he is wrong and convert then and there to his church. With this essay, I propose the selfsame bargain to him.
There is some difficulty in pinning down Soriano's doctrine of God. He has not published a thorough exposition, so the reader must glean his doctrine from statements here and there, on his website and in his television programs. I've found, also, that whenever he speaks concerning the doctrine of God, he devotes most of his time to attacking "Oneness" evangelicals, who hold that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the same person, and the doctrine of the Iglesia ni Cristo (or Iglesia ni Manalo, as he likes to call it, and I concur), which holds that Jesus is mere man, not God. He spends relatively little time attacking the Trinity (he'll maybe cite John 10:29; 14:28; 1 Cor 15:28, and then move on), and expounding his own peculiar doctrine.
As far as I have understood it, this doctrine is basically semi-Arian. Soriano clearly believes in some form of subordinationism, as he emphatically denies that the three persons of the Godhead are co-equal. Hence, for all his protestations that Jesus is "a true and Mighty God,"44 he cannot maintain the true divinity of Christ. God is absolutely perfect, a purely simple Spirit (John 4:24) of charity (1 John 4:8). If the Son and Holy Spirit do not share these perfections equally with the Father, they are not "God," according to the Bible's definition.
Soriano affirms that the Son was begotten, not created, so he avoids the error of the strict Arians and the Jehovah's Witnesses, which asserts that the Son is merely a creature. His doctrine is less false, if perhaps less logically consistent, than theirs. Soriano properly asserts, if I am not mistaken, that the Son and Holy Spirit receive their being from the Father from eternity, and were not created out of nothing at a particular point in time. The Father never existed without the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is correct, though unfortunately as noted above he concludes that because the Son and the Holy Spirit receive their being from the Father they must be less than Him. Soriano also tends toward the error of tritheism (that there are three gods), as he denies that the three persons of the Godhead are one in all their works in creation (in the language of theology, their operations ad extra). Indeed, he adduces as one of his arguments against the "Oneness" position that because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are described in Scripture as performing different roles, we may therefore conclude that they are three separate entities. More on this below. Soriano's tritheistic leanings are expressed very clearly in the first article of his formulation of the basic doctrines of Ang Dating Daan:
We believe in the Almighty God, the Father, the Creator of the universe, in Christ Jesus, the Father's begotten son, a true and Mighty God, the only savior of mankind and the only way to the Kingdom of God in heaven ( Acts 14:15; I Cor. 8:5-7; John 14:6; 14:1 ).45
Soriano also holds to a highly flawed Christology, which states that Christ did not truly become Incarnate, did not truly become a man, but only took on the appearance of being a man. He thus revives the ancient heresy of Apollinarianism. Next, his belief that the persons of the Godhead are not one in all their works leads him to a rather bizarre doctrine of salvation. And finally, as a result of his incompetence to interpret Scripture, demonstrated above, Soriano misunderstands the attributes of God, and denies such a fundamental doctrine as His omnipresence. Let us then test the spirits to see whether they are from God (1 John 4:1), and compare Soriano's doctrine to the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, using, as he likes to say, the Bible as our basis.
Soriano objects that there is "no such word as Trinity in the Bible." However, he will use the word Godhead, because he reads it in three places in his King James translation, which he is so heavily dependent upon. As an aside, if he took a more modern translation as his primary version, he might think it was unbiblical to talk about "the Godhead" as well, since neither the NIV nor the NASB ever use the word. In any case, Soriano understands the word Godhead in the same sense it is commonly used in theology, that is, to denote the union of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the three divine persons taken together. This is clear from his affirmations that there are three persons in the Godhead. Now, as noted above, Godhead is used three times in KJV. In Acts 17:29 it translates theion, the accusative of theios, meaning divine nature or divinity. The context says nothing about multiple persons or entities; in fact, St. Paul introduces "God that made the world and all things therein" in v. 24. From Soriano's perspective, then, this sermon is about God the Father, and theion in v. 29 must refer to the Father's nature as God. Next, in Romans 1:20 Godhead translates theiotes, or divine nature. Again, the context contains nothing about multiple persons; it is about the divine attributes knowable by reason alone. Finally, in Colossians 2:9 it translates theotetos, the genitive of theotes, the essence of divinity. Soriano, reading the translation "Godhead" from his KJV Bible, and interpreting Godhead the way it is commonly used in theology, takes this passage to mean that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all dwell in body of Jesus Christ. However, the meaning of the Greek is that the fullness of the essence of the divinity dwells in Christ, that is, that the Son is fully God, participates fully in the divine nature of the Father, and is therefore co-equal with Him. In this context, theotetos denotes the divine essence, not the persons of the Godhead. So, Soriano is once again hoisted by his own petard. If the word Trinity is never used in the Bible, neither is the word Godhead, at least in the sense Soriano takes it to mean.
"Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father;" not in any ordinary manner, but how? "Making Himself equal with God." For we all say to God, "Our Father which art in heaven;" we read also that the Jews said, "Seeing Thou art our Father." Therefore it was not for this they were angry, because He said that God was His Father, but because He said it in quite another way than men do. Behold, the Jews understand what the Arians do not understand. The Arians, in fact, say that the Son is not equal with the Father, and hence it is that the heresy was driven from the Church. Lo, the very blind, the very slayers of Christ, still understood the words of Christ. They did not understand Him to be Christ, nor did they understand Him to be the Son of God: but they did nevertheless understand that in these words such a Son of God was intimated to them as should be equal with God. Who He was they knew not; still they did acknowledge such a One to be declared, in that "He said God was His Father, making Himself equal with God." Was He not therefore equal with God?46
Next, we saw above that the Trinity is taught in Colossians 2:9 as well. All the fullness (Gk. pan to pleroma) of the essence of divinity dwells in Christ. Since Soriano is a subordinationalist, he does not confess that all the fullness is in Christ; he can only confess that some of the nature of the Father's divinity is in Christ, otherwise he would have to admit that the Son is equal to the Father.
Moving on, we see the same doctrine once again in Philippians 2:6, which the Douay-Rheims renders as "[Christ Jesus] being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." More modern translations render the last clause as "[Christ] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped" (NAS), however, when we consider that "grasped" (Gk. harpagmon) carries the connotation of seizing that which is not rightfully one's own, the meaning is essentially the same. Now, we have two possibilities for the correct interpretation of this verse: (1) Christ is naturally and properly equal to the Father, so He knew that He did not have to attain such a state by robbery, and was perfectly justified in teaching the Jews as much (cf. John 5:18), or (2) Christ is less than God, and he knew that He ought not to exalt Himself and seize for Himself a status of equality which was not properly His. The Catholic Church holds the former, whereas the Arians, and most likely Soriano following them, hold the latter. So, many of the arguments that the Holy Fathers adduced against the Arian position might be applied to Soriano as well.
In this vein, St. John Chrysostom observes that for an inferior God to attempt to seize the power of a superior God is absurd and intrinsically impossible: "Tell me now... if [Christ] were little, as they say, and far inferior to the Father in power, how could He possibly have seized to Himself equality with God? For an inferior nature could not seize for himself admission into that which is great; for example, a man could not seize on becoming equal to an angel in nature; a horse could not, though he wished it, seize on being equal to a man in nature."47
Furthermore, according to the Arian interpretation of this verse, in which St. Paul praises Christ for not desiring to snatch for Himself the possessions of his Father, St. Paul is essentially praising Christ for abstaining from the behavior of Satan. Obviously, there is nothing especially praiseworthy about this! Indeed, it is the bare minimum demanded by justice. Additionally, in this case, St. Paul's appeal to the example of Christ is inappropriate for the lesson he is attempting to teach the Philippian Christians about humility. In the Catholic interpretation, on the other hand, Christ's example does illustrate extraordinary humility: He for whom it was not robbery to be equal to God (because He was equal to God by right) so abased Himself as to take on the form of a servant, a mortal man.
Finally, Revelations 1:8 likewise contradicts Soriano's distinction between the Father, who alone is "almighty God" and the Son, who is allegedly just "a mighty God." In this verse Jesus Christ tells St. John, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (cf. Rev 15:3). Kurios ho theos is how the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament which the Apostles used) translated YHWH Elohim, the Lord God, one of the divine titles of the one and only God in the Old Testament. Likewise, the title Almighty (Gk. pantokrator) is used in Scripture exclusively of the Most High (cf. 2 Cor 6:18; Rev 4:8; 11:17; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22). Jesus could not properly be called "the Lord God almighty" if He were subordinate to the Father, who alone is almighty. The Scripture only makes sense if Jesus is consubstantial with the Father, if they are two co-equal persons in one God, if everything the Father is, the Son is as well.
Testimonies to the true nature of the Holy Spirit, the third co-equal divine person of the Blessed Trinity, are less numerous and explicit. However, the doctrine is taught in Scripture nonetheless. Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott summarizes the biblical evidence:
The name "Holy Ghost" and the name "God" are used alternately. Acts 5, 3 et seq.: "Ananias, why has Satan tempted thy heart that thou shouldest lie to the Holy Ghost? Thou hast not lied to men, but to God." Cf. 1 Cor. 3, 16; 6, 19 et seq. In the Trinitarian Formula of Baptism, the Holy Ghost is made equal to the Father and the Son who are truly God. Again, divine attributes are ascribed to the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost possesses the fullness of knowledge: He teaches all truth, presages future things (John 16, 13), searches the innermost secrets of God (1 Cor. 2, 10) and has inspired the Prophets of the Old Covenant (2 Peter 1, 21; cf. Acts 1, 16).48
Next let us examine the verses which Soriano alleges against the equality of persons within the Trinity. The first is John 10:29, which reads "My Father, who has given [my sheep] to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." According to Soriano, because the Father is greater than all, that means He must be greater than the Son and the Holy Spirit.
But to answer this interpretation one need only look at the immediate context. Jesus is here assuring the Jews that no wolf is able to snatch His sheep out of His hand, that is, no wicked person, man or demon, is able to take down to perdition one of God's elect whom He has predestined for eternal glory. The reason the wicked are unable to do so is because Jesus' Father is "greater than all," that is, He is greater and more powerful than any creature who might try to steal His sheep. So, in context, Jesus is saying that His Father is greater than all creatures, not that He is greater than the other uncreated persons of the Trinity.
This is especially clear given that in this passage Jesus is simultaneously teaching that He is one God with the Father. He states in v. 28 "no one will snatch [my sheep] out of My hand," then adds in v. 29 "no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand," and concludes in v. 30 by saying "I and the Father are one." As St. Cyril of Alexandria points out, "'the hand,' in the Divine Scripture, signifies 'the power.'"49 So, Jesus may be paraphrased as saying, "no one will snatch my sheep out of my hand... No one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Now, Soriano claims that when Jesus says "I and the Father are one," he means only a union of affection or desire only, and he appeals to John 17:11, where the phrase is used in this sense. However, this meaning cannot be imposed in the context of John 10:30, for the phrase "I and the Father are one" derives its meaning from the immediately preceding verses wherein Christ spoke of His own power and the power of the Father interchangeably. The meaning is "I and the Father are one in power." I will defer once more to the master of Greek exegesis, St. John Chrysostom:
Then that thou mayest not suppose that He indeed is weak, but that the sheep are in safety through the power of the Father, He addeth, "I and the Father are One." As though He had said "I did not assert that on account of the Father no man plucketh them away, as though I were too weak to keep the sheep. For I and the Father are One." Speaking here with reference to Power, for concerning this was all His discourse; and if the power be the same, it is clear that the Essence is also. And when the Jews used ten thousand means, plotting and casting men out of their synagogues, He telleth them that all their contrivances are useless and vain; "For the sheep are in My Father's hand"; as the Prophet saith, "Upon My hand I have pictured thy walls." (Isa. xlix. 16.) Then to show that the hand is One, He sometimes saith that it is His own, sometimes the Father's. But when thou hearest the word "hand," do not understand anything material, but the power, the authority. Again, if it was on this account that no one could pluck away the sheep, because the Father gave Him power, it would have been superfluous to say what follows, "I and the Father are One." Since were He inferior to Him, this would have been a very daring saying, for it declares nothing else than an equality of power; of which the Jews were conscious, and took up stones to cast at Him. (Ver. 31.) Yet not even so did He remove this opinion and suspicion; though if their suspicion were erroneous, He ought to have set them right, and to have said, "Wherefore do ye these things? I spake not thus to testify that my power and the Father's are equal"; but now He doth quite the contrary, and confirmeth their suspicion, and clencheth it, and that too when they were exasperated. For He maketh no excuse for what had been said, as though it had been said ill, but rebuketh them for not entertaining a right opinion concerning Him.50
This last observation must be the nail in the coffin for Soriano's interpretation of this verse. To adapt the saying of St. Augustine, behold the Jews understand what Soriano does not. The Jews well understood what Jesus meant when He said, "I and the Father are one," that is, He was making Himself equal to God (cf. John 5:18), so the picked up stones to execute Him for blasphemy. And Jesus made no effort to correct their opinion. He never said, "I and the Father are one by a union of affection only, in the same sense that my disciples are one with another." No, He was saying exactly what the Jews thought that He was saying.
According to the common exposition, Christ here speaks of himself, as made man, which interpretation is drawn from the circumstances of the text, Christ being at that time, going to suffer, and die, and shortly after to rise again, and ascend into heaven, all which agree with him, as man, and according to his human nature... The enemies of the divinity of Christ here triumph, and think they have the confession of Christ himself, that he is less than the Father. But if they would distinguish the two natures of Christ, their arguments would all fall to the ground. Jesus Christ, as man, and a creature, is inferior to his Father, the Creator; but, as God, he is, in every respect, equal to him.51
The other solution is to posit that Jesus is here speaking in the category of authority. The Father is the higher authority, to which the Son submits, because the Father is the principle from whom the Son receives His being. However, the Father communicates His entire being to the Son, holding back none of the divine perfections, so the Father and Son are equal in essence and in goodness, regardless of this distinction.52 Incidentally, by these two arguments we have already sufficiently answered Soriano's attempts to use 1 Cor 15:28 against the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.
And having answered Soriano's subordinationism, let us now answer his false Christology. Recall, he is an Apollinarian; he does not confess that Jesus Christ is truly a man, merely that he has taken on the appearance or form of a man. He uses Philippians 2:6-7 in support of this belief, which refers to Jesus, who was in the form of God, assuming the form of man. Of course, the major problem with this argument is that Soriano believes that Jesus really is a God, so to be consistent he would have to admit that if the phrase "the form of man" means Jesus is not truly a man, the phrase "the form of God" means he is not truly a God. St. John Chrysostom pointed out the inconsistency of Arians who did not apply this phrase equally in both instances:
Tell me now, what means, "He took the form of a servant"? It means, He became man. Wherefore "being in the form of God," He was God. For one "form" and another "form" is named; if the one be true, the other is also. "The form of a servant" means, Man by nature, wherefore "the form of God" means, God by nature.53
Moreover, St. Paul explicitly calls Jesus Christ a "man" in Rom 5:15; 1 Cor 15:21; 1 Tim 2:5. And the parallelism in the first two of those verses between Adam, the one man through whom death entered the world, and Jesus Christ, the one man through whom came life, would make little sense if Jesus were not truly, actually a man. Also, the whole point of St. Paul in calling attention to the fact that Jesus is a man in 1 Tim 2:5 is to explain why He can mediate between God and man: He is truly God and at the same time He is truly one of us. Moreover, the way we interpret "man" in this verse when it is used with respect to Christ (i.e., actually a man, or just in the appearance of man?) must be controlled by the immediately preceding usage, in which it refers to real, actual men. To switch our interpretation of "man" in the middle of this verse is to do violence to the text. Next, Hebrews 2:17-18 sounds a similar theme to 1 Tim 2:5: "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest... For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." If Christ only took on the appearance of manhood, He would not be like us in "all things"; He would only be like us in appearance. In order to be like us in "all things" He must be like us in nature. And finally, Matthew 9:8 refers to a group of "men", and Jesus is one of them. If Jesus had only the appearance of manhood he would not be a true and proper man in the same sense as the rest of them.
The last false christological belief of Bro. Eli which I will tackle is the idea that Christ is not immutable. Soriano teaches that the Father could not have become incarnate since the Bible says He cannot ever change (Jas 1:17), whereas Jesus allegedly "changed" when He became a man. But "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb 13:8). The Son is immutable according to His divinity. He did not change in His absolutely simple, spritual essence when He joined Himself to a human nature.
And now, having sufficiently answered Soriano's false Christology, let us answer his tritheistic beliefs. According to the orthodox faith, the faith once for all delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 3), "The works of the Trinity are inseparable."54 Whatever the Father does, so does the Son and the Holy Spirit, and vice versa. All three Persons participate equally in every divine act in the world. For the biblical evidence, again Ludwig Ott:
Christ testifies to the unity of His working with the Father, and bases it on the unity of Nature. John 5, 19: "What things soever (the Father) doth these the Son also doth in like manner." John 14:10: "But the Father who abideth in Me, He doth the same works." Holy Writ asserts the unity of the operations of the Divine Persons also by ascribing the same works, for example, the realisation of the Incarnation, the bestowal of the supernatural gifts of grace, the forgiveness of sins, to different persons. Cf. Luke 1, 35; Mt. 1, 20; Phil. 2, 7; Hebr. 10, 5 (Incarnation); 1 Cor. 12, 4 et seq. (gifts of grace); Mt. 9, 2; Luke 7, 48; 23, 34; John 20, 22 (forgiveness of sins).55
Even without the explicit biblical testimony of John 5:19; 14:10, Ott's Catholic logic is conclusive. According to Luke 1:35; Matt 1:20, the Holy Spirit produced the Incarnation; according to Phil 2:7, the Son produced the Incarnation; according to Heb 10:5, the Father produced the Incarnation. Therefore all three Persons produced the Incarnation, as in all their other operations.
Soriano does not believe this, because he reads in certain places of Scripture that one person of the Blessed Trinity is described as doing something, and the other two Persons are not explicitly named. This is because he does not understand the principle of appropriation, that is, we commonly associate certain kinds of works, which are in actuality common to all three Persons, with one particular Person, because it expresses some truth about the inner life and divine relations of the Trinity. Thus, because the Father is the ultimate origin from which the other two Persons receive their being, we commonly attribute to Him the creation of the world. Thus, because the Holy Spirit is the love or sanctity of God, who proceeds from the Father and the Son as the terminus of their will to love one another, we commonly attribute to Him the outpouring of the grace, the mercy, and the love of our God.
Now we can easily see the fallacy of one of Soriano's arguments against "Oneness" evangelicals. Although he is correct to denounce their doctrine that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one person, he is wrong when he claims we can prove they are distinct persons because they perform different works. If the Bible commonly attributes creation to the Father, it does not neglect to mention that the Son participated equally (cf. John 1:3; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16-17). If the Son saves us, so also do the Father and the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 1:21; 1 Tim 1:1; 2:3; 2 Tim 1:8-9; Tit 1:2-4; 2:10; 3:4-6; Jude 25). And if the Holy Spirit helps and comforts us, so also do the Son and the Father (cf. Psalm 71:21; 86:17; 119:76; Isa 12:1; 49:13; 57:18; Rom 8:34; 2 Cor 1:3-5; 7:6; 2 Thess 2:16-17; Heb 7:25). Inseparabilia sunt opera Trinitatis.
Soriano's denial of the unity of the works of the Godhead leads him, as noted above, to a rather bizarre doctrine of salvation. He believes that in the time of the Old Testament, only God the Father was the savior. Jesus Christ His Son was only appointed savior when He was born and began to preach the gospel, and even then, he had only a limited jurisdiction of salvation, namely the Church. (Soriano appeals to such texts as Eph 5:3, which do say that Jesus is the savior of the Church.)
As implied above, Soriano denies that the Church is the only instrument of salvation. This is because he believes that it would logically follow that everyone who did not hear the gospel preaching of the Church would be damned, which is contrary to Romans 2:13-16. He appeals to all the peace loving Chinese people who never heard the name of Christ. Such people, according to Soriano, may still be saved under the Old Testament system, by God the Father and not by Jesus Christ. Supposedly, these two parallel paths of salvation will still be valid for the rest of history; God the Father is a savior from the beginning to the end of humanity, and Jesus Christ is the savior of the Church. To substantiate the Father's alleged independent salvation plan, Soriano appeals to 1 Tim 4:10, in which St. Paul states "we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." He lays great stress on the word "all" to emphasize that the Father is the savior of those who never hear the gospel.
Now, the first step in refuting this doctrine we have already accomplished, when we noted that the Bible describes both God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son as saving Christians, the Church. "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope" (1 Tim 1:1; cf. vv. 2:3-5). God the Father is "our savior," the savior of St. Paul, St. Timothy, and the rest of the Christian Church. "God... has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 1:8-9). Titus 1:3-4 mentions "God our Savior... and Christ Jesus our Savior" (cf. v. 2:10; Jude 1:25). Again, "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Tit 3:4-6). This is very explicit. All three Persons of the Godhead save all who ever will be saved. Soriano might counter that he admits that the Father deserves overall credit since He is the one who sent Jesus Christ as savior, however, in the last verse we cited the Father was described as having a very direct, immediate, and active role in salvation; He saved us "by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly." He did not simply let Jesus go off and do it Himself.
Secondly, Soriano's doctrine does not conform to the statement in 1 Tim 4:10 that God the Father is "especially" the savior of believers. Recall, according to him, the Father is directly the savior of those who do not hear the gospel, and only indirectly the savior of those who do. Soriano's emphasis is the opposite of St. Paul's; to teach Soriano's doctrine, St. Paul should have said that God is the savior of all men, especially those who do not believe (i.e., never hear the gospel, but live according to their conscience). In reality, the meaning of this text is that God bestows more abundant graces on those who are formally united to His Son in the Church, through a visible sacramental communion, though He may also, "by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace,"56 save those to whom no man ever preaches the gospel.
Finally, Soriano is wrong to assert that anyone at all may be saved without Christ. "Neither is there salvation in any other" (Acts 4:12). There are no two parallel paths of salvation. Those who are saved having never heard a man preach the gospel are saved the same way as those who have, namely through Christ and his Church, for "by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer."57
Let us move on to Soriano's errors concerning the attributes of God. As alluded to above, he does not believe that God is omnipresent. In his sermon on "the salvation that is being taught by the Bible" he adduces a few facile arguments in support of this claim. (1) Because we lift our eyes to heaven and pray "Our Father who art in heaven" he alleges that God is not everywhere, but in heaven only. (2) He quotes "Hail Mary, Full of grace, the Lord is with thee" and asks the following incredulous questions: "Where is God, this time? Which is true now? Is He everywhere? Is He in heaven? Or, is He in Mary? You are fooling yourselves!" (3) He attempts a reductio ad absurdum: "If you are claiming that God is everywhere, it follows that He is also in cabarets, night clubs, sauna baths, and gambling dens because your God is everywhere." (4) He quotes Acts 17:24: "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands."58
Before refuting him point by point I will note that Soriano is here contradicting the overwhelming testimony of Sacred Scripture to the omnipresence of God. God is simultaneously in heaven and on earth: "He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other" (Deut 4:39). The heavens cannot contain Him: "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built! (1 Kings 8:27) His presence extends from heaven to earth: "Thus says the LORD, 'Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool." (Isa 66:1) God's presence fills all space from the highest heaven to the depths of sheol (hell) and everything in between: "Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? They are high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea" (Job 11:7-9). Again: "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me" (Psalm 138:7-10). God fills the entirety of the heavens and the earth: "'Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?' declares the LORD. 'Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?' declares the LORD" (Jer 23:24). He is omnipresent; we live and move in Him, and He sustains and holds all things in existence by a continual act: "For in Him we live and move and exist" (Acts 17:28). Again: "He [Christ] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:17; cf. Heb 1:3).
Next, in order to resolve the apparent contradiction between these verses and the passages which Soriano alleges against the omnipresence of God, it is necessary to provide some theological background. There are many senses in which God can be "present" in a place, and He may be present in one sense of the word but not present in another. Ott distinguishes as follows:
Since the time of Petrus Lombardus (Sent. I 37, 1) theologians more closely determine the omnipresence of God as a presence according to power (per potentiam--dynamic presence), according to knowledge (per praesentiam sive scientiam--ideal presence), and according to essence (per essentiam--essential or substantial presence). Through this essence He is present substantially in all things, including the created spiritual essences (angels, demons, human souls), as the immediate origin of their existence. Cf. S. th. I 8, 3. The substantial omnipresence of God is to be more closely defined as a repletive presence, that is, the whole Divine Essence fills the whole created space and every one of its parts...
In addition to this general, natural, presence of God, there is also a special supernatural presence or indwelling of God, by the supernatural efficacy of His grace, in the soul of the just man (John 14:23; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19), in the house of God (Ps 131:13 et seq.) and in Heaven (Mt 6:9).59
Now we are ready to counter Soriano's contentious claims. (1) We direct our prayers heavenward because that is where the saints and angels see God as He is, face to face, where God is present according to His grace and love to the fullest extent. This does not mean that He is not also present elsewhere, as is clear from Soriano's objection (2), wherein he quotes from a Catholic prayer which is lifted directly from the pages of Sacred Scripture: "Hail [Mary], full of grace, the Lord is with thee" (Luke 1:28). Obviously, if the Bible tells us that God is both in heaven and with Mary, both are true. God indwells the soul of Mary just as He dwells in heaven. (3) Of course, God does not spiritually indwell the souls of great sinners in places of sin. However, He is there in the three senses that He is everywhere, enumerated above, namely according to power, knowledge, and essence. Recall that God fills the earth (Jer 23:24), that is, there is no place on earth that He is not. The psalmist could not escape the presence of God by going down to sheol (Psalm 138:7-10); neither can we escape the presence of God by going to a brothel. Indeed, God might be operative by His grace in the souls of the patrons of places of sin, leading them to repentance and regeneration in Christ. Nowhere is beyond His reach.
(4) Finally, Soriano has wrenched Acts 17:24 from its context and construed it to mean something wholly foreign to the intent of St. Paul. St. Paul is dealing with pagans who believed, like Soriano, in finite gods who could be circumscribed in a certain place. They believed that their gods dwelt in the temples and idols that they carved for them, as though the gods needed these things (v. 25) for homes. St. Paul proclaims to them, on the contrary, that God cannot be thus confined, that he does not need anything from us, and that He is omnipresent, for "in Him we live and move and exist" (v. 28). That having been said, as noted above God may choose to spiritually indwell a temple in order to receive the prayer and worship of the faithful who pray and worship there. "For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. 'This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it'" (Psalm 132:13-14; cf. Gen 28:22). God does not dwell in houses of pagan worship, but He does indeed dwell in legitimate houses of worship established according to His desires. These are Catholic Churches.
In previous installments of this series, I have accused Soriano of being incompetent to properly interpret Sacred Scripture. I will now go further, and accuse him of being incompetent to even read it. In his sermon on "The Real Church of God," he quotes Acts 15:16-17: "After this, I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down, and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things." He concludes: "Therefore, whenever the Bible uses 'will build', it suggests that something has fallen down."60 Essentially, Soriano is saying that "build" in the Bible always means "rebuild," restoring something that previously existed, but had been destroyed. He sets this in opposition to the word "establish" which he believes is the biblical way of saying that someone is building something new. He sets up this dichotomy in order to support his notion that the New Testament Church is merely the restored Israel, and not a new institution founded by Christ. But his argumentation here is erroneous on so many levels that one hardly knows were to begin.
First, Soriano ought to realize that just because he can find one instance where a word is used in a secondary sense, that does not mean he can interpret it in the secondary sense everywhere he finds it. "Build," whether in English, Tagalog, Greek, or Hebrew, usually just means build, and if context determines that we must interpret it as "rebuild" in one instance or another, that one instance does not therefore become an overriding principle which determines our exegesis everywhere. Indeed, if we make it one we render a great many biblical passages unintelligible. Anyone with access to a program that searches the Bible for passages containing a given word (incidentally, Soriano's website provides its patrons with one) can see this quite clearly: search for passages using the word build and you will find that it usually just means build. To cite just a few examples: Num 32:16; 1 Sam 2:35; 2 Sam 7:27; 1 Kngs 5:5.
But what is most astounding, Soriano seems to have missed the word "again" in his King James translation. "I will build again the ruins, etc." It is amazing that one who claims to read the text of Scripture so closely and pay attention its minutest details could have overlooked something so conspicuous. Not only would Soriano's argument prove nothing, if he could find an instance where "build" meant "rebuild" in the Bible, but this is not even such an instance! The Greek is anoikodomeo, the regular word for "rebuild," the word for build being oikodomeo.
This, then, is the shaky ground, the shifting sands, upon which Soriano bases his entirely unique exegesis of Matthew 16:18. He uses a false example, to prove a non-existant principle, in order to overturn the plain meaning of the text that Jesus Christ established a Church upon the rock of St. Peter, and argue instead that He merely rebuilt Israel.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has the explicit teaching of the Bible to reinforce the plain meaning of Matthew 16:18. The reader has already seen Hebrews 10:9 quoted above: God did not "rebuild" the Old Covenant, but took it away in order to "establish" (there's the word Soriano was looking for in Matt 16:18) the New. See also 2 Cor 3:6-14; Eph 2:15; Heb 7:18; 8:7, 13. Ephesians 2:15 calls the Church of Christ a "new man," which Jesus made from both Jews and Gentiles after He had abolished the Old Testament Law. Jesus did indeed establish a Church on St. Peter; He both established and built (cf. Psalm 89:4) and Soriano is clearly opposed to the teaching of the Bible when he denies this.
Soriano adduces additional facile arguments in support of his contention that Jesus did not establish a Church. One of them is his misunderstanding about "name" being used as a metaphor for reputation, or person, which I have documented above. Another argument runs along the lines that we need to find the very first church in the Bible, because "Nothing could be better than the original."61 Curiously, he attempts to justify his principle that the original is always the best by citing 1 Corinthians 15:45, which refers to Adam as the "first man" and Genesis 3:20 which calls Eve "the mother of all the living." He then concludes, "If, in matters like this, there are 'originals', when it comes to the church, there is also an original, or the first church."62 One wonders if Soriano maintains that the first Adam is better than the second Adam, Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 5:14-15). He must not, as he has proclaimed on his television network that he believes that Adam was damned.63 If, then, this is the case, his appeal to Adam and Eve proves only the inherently obvious proposition that there can be a first, or original, of something; it in no way follows from this that the original is best. His argument here is a blatantly fallacious leap of logic, which is actually hard to miss if one simply refuses to be enraptured with Soriano's passionate style and fiery denunciation of false, heretical teachers.
Soriano continues to argue that Jesus did not establish a Church by attempting to identify "the church of the firstborn" mentioned in Hebrews 12:23 with Israel. Unfortunately for him, the context of this passage is a direct contrast between the Christian Church and the covenant God established with Israel. St. Paul sets up the contrast as follows: "For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, 'If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.' And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, 'I am full of fear and trembling'" (Heb 12:18-21). Clearly, St. Paul is emphasising the great fear involved in the establishment of the covenant of Moses at Mount Sinai. He then opposes to this fear the tremendous spiritual blessings which Chrisitans are priveleged to receive in Christ: "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:22-24). Thus, Christians have been recieved into the spiritual Mount Zion, and the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Rev 3:12; 21:2), where we have fellowship with God Himself and all the hosts of heaven because of the redemption and mercy wrought for us by Jesus Christ. The great Catholic exegete Dr. Witham draws out the meaning of the text quite well:
But you are come to Mount Sion, where not a law of fear, like that of Moses, but a new law of love and mercy hath been given you, preached by our Saviour himself, and by his apostles, testified by the coming of the Holy Ghost, and by the effusion of God's spirit upon the believers. Here you are called to the city of the living God, (to the Christian Church on earth) and even to the celestial Jerusalem, there to be for ever happy in the company of many millions of Angels; to the church of the first-born, who are written in heaven, (ver. 23.) to be happy with those who have been chosen by a special mercy of God, and blessed with an endless happiness; to be there in the presence of God, the judge of all men, with all the celestial spirits and souls of the just and perfect in the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ is the mediator of this new testament, the redeemer of mankind by his death on the cross, by the sprinkling and effusion of his blood, which speaketh better than that of Abel: the blood of Abel cried to heaven for vengeance, and the blood of Christ for mercy and pardon.64
Now, regarding the specific question of what St. Paul means by "the church of the firstborn" we have a few options. Clearly, it refers to some group of the inhabitants of heaven, with whom Christians have entered into fellowship in Christ. If we grant to Mr. Soriano that it refers to the Jews, then it refers to the saints of the old covenant, whom Christ took with Him to heaven when He Himself ascended (cf. Eph 4:8). But it does not follow therefore that Jesus Christ did not establish a Church, as He said He would do (Matt 16:18). Rather, the righteous Jews would have joined His Church when Jesus came to their resting place to preach to them (cf. 1 Pet 3:19). Or, "the church of the firstborn" may refer to the very first Christians who died in Christ, those who had already passed to their reward at the time St. Paul penned this epistle. Or, it may refer to the occupants of heaven who are most eminent in sanctity, such as the patriarchs and prophets. Or, it may refer to the holy angels. In any case, St. Paul's intent has little to due with the superficial exegesis of Mr. Soriano, who thinks that because he can find a verse talking about the "church of the firstborn" and another verse that calls Israel "firstborn" and another verse that calls Israel "the church in the wilderness," he has therefore proven that Jesus did not establish a Church, but that the New Testament Church is Israel.
Soriano also makes a non sequitur appeal to James 1:18. Of course, the Jews were the first hear the gospel and join the Christian Church, but it simply does not follow that Jesus did not establish a Church.
It seems the best that Soriano can do is to quote the prophetic imagery of Amos 9:11 about rebuilding the tabernacle of David, in attempts to establish that Jesus merely restored a fallen Israel. He contends that "the tabernacle of David" refers to the Jewish Church, which is one and the same with the Christian Church which we are allegedly supposed to join by imbibing the doctrines of Ang Dating Daan. However, it might just as easily apply to the Jewish people, a remnant of whom God spiritually restored by integrating them into the new covenant through Baptism in the Church of Christ. This is the Church which Christ established on the rock of St. Peter. It is the Catholic Church. If one wishes to be restored from the ruin of sin and built up into a new creation in Christ, he must forsake his errors and join.
 "By this world's standards, it is not surprising that those being expelled would group together where they are tolerated. As bonus for them, they get the chance to tell the world in their own terms that they are innocent, in effect making their excommunication appear an injustice. From their appearances alone on television one could tell, they have gone back to the ways of this world – cutting their hair, using make up, dressing immodestly, and from their mouths speak out lies about those they said they believed in before. Rather than engaging in self-introspection to see where they have gone wrong and in humility ask pardon from God, they have preferred to attend to what this world would think about them, never mind God. Now come the cosmetics to supposedly blot out or suffocate the reasons why they were expelled. In so doing, they resort to all sorts of shenanigans" (Ang Dating Daan, "Three Colors of Death Green & White & Red," The Old Path Magazine Vol. 1 No. 3 2005).
 Eliseo Soriano, "Is religion still needed? Who practices pure religion?" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/biblicaltopics/bib_expo_4_pf.htm
 Eliseo Soriano, "Is it God's Will that We Join or Become a Member of the True Church of God in the Bible?" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/biblicaltopics/bib_religion_1_pf.htm
 Eliseo Soriano, "The Official Name of the Church in the Bible" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/biblicaltopics/bib_religion_2_pf.htm
 E.g., "It was the hope of every Israelite that he would be remembered for the good which he had done and that his name, that is, his good reputation, would endure permanently" (R. N. Whybray, The Book of Proverbs (London: Cambridge University Press, 1972) p. 62). This is from his commentary on Proverbs 10:7, to which he refers the reader on p. 124 in his note to verse 22:1. Cf. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p. 1481; Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005) pp. 198-199; Michael A. Machado, The Book of Proverbs: The Wisdom of Words (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2003) p. 134; Leo G. Perdue, Proverbs (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2000) p. 188; William McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach (Philedelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1975) pp. 422-423, 566; Richard J. Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999) pp. 194-195; Fr. George Haydock, The Douay-Rheims Old Testament (Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1992) p. 820.
 Eliseo Soriano, "This is about the time of Noah" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/ask/ask_broeli_2d.htm
 Eliseo Soriano, "Existence of God: Fulfillment of the Word of God" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/segments/seg_focus_2_pf.htm
 Cf. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1997).
 Eliseo Soriano, "The Name of God" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/segments/seg_focus_1_pf.htm
 The first recorded instance of the term "Catholic Church" is in St. Ignatius of Antioch's epistle to the Smyrnaeans, written ca. 110 A.D.
 Eliseo Soriano, "The Jesus and Christ of the Bible is not God, the Father" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/biblicaltopics/bib_christ_1_pf.htm
 Eliseo Soriano, "Questions and Answers" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/ask/ask_broeli_2b.htm
 Ang Dating Daan, "Church General Declaration and Doctrines" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/about/about_doctrines.htm
 St. Augustine, Tractate 17 on the Gospel of John, 16
 St. John Chrysostom, Homily 6 on Philippians
 Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, Il: Tan Books, 1974) p. 58-59
 St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, Book 7
 St. John Chrysostom, Homily 61 on the Gospel of John
 Fr. George Haydock, The Douay-Rheims New Testament (Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1991) pp. 1421-1422
 cf. Ibid.
 St. John Chrysostom, Homily 6 on Philippians
 "Inseparabilia sunt opera Trinitatis." St. Augustine, Sermo 213, 6, 6 in Ott, op. cit., p. 72
 Bl. Pius IX, Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, 7
 Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, 103
 Eliseo Soriano, "The salvation that is being taught by the Bible" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/biblicaltopics/bib_expo_1_pf.htm
 Ott, op. cit., p. 38
 Eliseo Soriano, "The Real Church of God" http://www.angdatingdaan.org/biblicaltopics/bib_religion_3_pf.htm
 He appeals to 1 Tim 2:14, and argues that Adam knew full well what he was doing when he ate the forbidden fruit, whereas Eve's culpability was mitigated by her ignorance.
 In Fr. George Haydock, The Douay-Rheims New Testament (Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1991) p. 1598