One Mediator Between God and Men

March 24, 2013 | 10 comments

A surface reading of I Timothy 2:5 would seem to eliminate the idea of Christians “mediating” graces to one another: “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.” Protestants will argue, “If Jesus is our one mediator, then Christ alone mediates grace. In saying anyone else can, Catholics are usurping and thereby denying Christ’s singular role as mediator. That’s blasphemy!”

THE CATHOLIC RESPONSE:   

Much to the surprise of many Protestants I have spoken to over the years, the Catholic Church actually acknowledges Christ to be our one and absolutely unique mediator who alone can reconcile us to the Father in a strict sense. In his classic, The Catholic Catechism, Fr. John Hardon explains:

… the Incarnation corresponds to mediation in the order of being, and the Redemption (remission of sin and conferral of grace) is mediation morally.

This kind of mediation is incommunicable. No one but the Savior unites in himself the divinity, which demands reconciliation, and the humanity, which needs to be reconciled.

Protestants generally agree with us on this point. However, Fr. Hardon goes on to say:

Nevertheless, lesser and subordinate mediators are not excluded. The question is what purpose they serve and in what sense do they mediate. They can help the cause of mediation in the only way that human beings (or creatures) can contribute to the work of salvation, namely, by their willing response to grace; either better disposing themselves or others for divine grace, or interceding with God to give his grace, or freely cooperating with grace when conferred.

The “lesser and subordinate mediators” is where the trouble starts. And yet, the context of I Timothy 2:5 demonstrates Fr. Hardon’s point. In the first two verses, St. Paul commands “supplications, prayers and intercessions to be made for all men...” Intercession is a synonym for mediation. Hebrews 7:24-25 refers to Jesus acting as our one mediator at the right hand of the Father and refers to him as intercessor:

But [Christ] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently, he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Christ is our one mediator/intercessor, yet, St. Paul commands all Christians to be intercessors/mediators. Then notice the first word in verse five: “For there is one God and one mediator…” And then in verse seven he says, “For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle.” What is an apostle if not a mediator? The very definition of apostle, according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, is “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.” That’s an essential part of what a mediator is. In short, St. Paul says we are all called to be mediators because Christ is the one mediator and for this reason he was called to be a mediator of God’s love and grace to the world!

Is this a contradiction? Not at all! The fact that Jesus is our one mediator does not preclude him from communicating this power by way of participation. The Bible also declares: “But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher, (Gr. – didaskolos) and you are all brethren.” This text cannot be any clearer, yet James 3:1 and Ephesians 4:11 tell us we have many teachers (Gr. – didaskoloi) in the Church. The key is to understand that the many teachers and mediators in the body of Christ do not take away from Christ as the one teacher and mediator because they are, in a sense, Christ on this earth and they serve to establish his offices of teacher and mediator in him. As members of the body of Christ graced with a specific task by Christ they can say with St. Paul in Galatians 2:20, “It is not I, but Christ who [teaches] in me…”

And remember, we are not talking about necessity here. The Church is not claiming Christ couldn’t get the job done so he needed help. Of course not! He could do it all—and all by himself—if he wanted to. He could come down here right now and write this blog post much more effectively than I ever could. But he chooses not to do everything himself, strictly speaking. He delights in using his body to communicate his life and love to the world.    

THE BODY BEAUTIFUL

Perhaps the most important image for the People of God in Scripture for understanding our topic, whether we are talking about the “mediation of all grace” with reference to the Mother of God, or the mediation of graces through the prayers and sufferings of other members of the Church, is given to us in I Corinthian 12, when St. Paul describes the Church as a body. CCC 753:

In Scripture, we find a host of interrelated images and figures through which Revelation speaks of the inexhaustible mystery of the Church. The images taken from the Old Testament are variations of a profound them: the People of God. In the New Testament, all these images find a new center because Christ has become the head of this people, which henceforth is his Body. Around this center are grouped images taken from the life of the shepherd or from cultivation of the land, from the art of building or from family life and marriage.

The Old Testament has beautiful images for the People of God. They are shown to be God’s bride (cf. Jer. 3:1-14); They are children of a God who is revealed to be their “father” (cf. Mal. 1:6), and more. But with the advent of Christ these analogies were brought to a whole new level unthinkable to the Old Testament mindset (cf. CCC 239-240).   

God was revealed to be “like” a father in the Old Testament. In the New, he is revealed to be Father within the eternal relations of the godhead. Through our mystical union with Christ through baptism, we become sons and daughters of God whereby we can truly call God “Abba”—father (cf. Gal. 4:4-7). We become brothers and sisters of Christ and true sons of Mary (cf. Romans 8:14-17; John 19:27—Rev. 12:17). The concept of “bride” reaches new heights when we speak of the Church as the “bride” of Christ (cf. Eph. 5:24-32). But even more radically, “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5), whereby we are caught up into the very inner life of God as members of Christ’s body by grace (cf. Eph. 2:5-6), and by virtue of that fact we have been made to be “partakers of the divine nature” as II Peter 1:4 says.

It is this image of “the Body of Christ” that aids us in understanding how one member of the body can aid another in the communication of the divine life to one another without diminishing the role of "the head." For example, if I pick up a pen here on my desk would we say “the head,” or “I,” would have had nothing to do with it? “Oh no, your hand did that, Tim, not you!”    

So it is with Christ and his Body. Eph. 1:22-23 goes so far as to say the Church is, “The fullness of him who fills all in all.” Thus, the Church is Christ in this world. This does not take away from Christ's unique mediation; it establishes that unique mediation. Different members of the Church mediate various graces in accordance with their respective gifts while the whole body functions to bring Christ to the world. Romans 12:4-6 says:

For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.

And this radical union with Christ and with the other members of the Body of Christ does not cease at death. Romans 8:35-38 tells us, among other things, “neither death nor life… shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ.” Thus, those alive on earth can still benefit from—they are still connected to—the other members of the Body of Christ in heaven.

Is Christ our one, true mediator? Absolutely! And it is this same Christ who has chosen to use his Body to mediate God’s grace to the world in and through him.


Tim Staples is Director of Apologetics and Evangelization here at Catholic Answers, but he was not always Catholic. Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian...

God's Perfect Plan: Purgatory And Indulgences Explained
In God's Perfect Plan: Purgatory And Indulgences Explained, his dynamic five-part audio course, Tim Staples takes on two of the most controversial and misunderstood teachings of the Church.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  julia ford - campbelltown, New South Wales

What I don't understand is this ,why would you be converted to Catholicism isn't there one body and we may worship in different ways but isn't it Christ we are converted to .And I think you are saying a lot of words that might stop some questions but we all ,who are Christ's have His Spirit leading and teaching us and we all have different gifts of ministering in the love of God ,for through this we become like Him ,experiencing His heart .But my problem is this ;why would you give any option other than going straight to God in a personal way ? Surely this should be encouraged in all the body .For there is nothing else that compares with that relationship .The presence of God is always with us for He indwells us ,we are to know Him intimately.It is the churches obligation to cultivate this .Jesus will say to many on that day I never knew you to many.It will be very sad .God wants relationship with us ,He walked with Adam before sin and we have access to Father through the precious blood.This is eternal life prayed Jesus to know you Father.It starts now we don't need anyone but the name of Jesus to come to the Father.

August 26, 2013 at 12:57 am PST
#2  Tricia Heath - Hammond, Indiana

Let me tell you what blasphemy is....it's adding to the Word and God to twist it to meet your needs. God gave us His word to live by, not to change it to make us feel better. God does use His children to help other people and to pray for then but He did not give the power to forgive sins and absolve people of their punishment for sin to another human being!!! The Catholic priests have no Heavenly power to forgive sin, therefore going to a priest for confession is not taught in the Bible. Going to any man of God for counsel and direction is one thing, going to one in the expectation that he can forgive you the sin is wrong, misleading and many good people will be in hell because they thought the priest had the power to forgive and, thereby allowing them into Heaven.
So, there is only ONE MEDIATOR between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ! Not a Catholic priest or a Baptist Pastor or any other man on this earth. For the Catholics to teach their people any different is wrong.
All human being are sinners, including the Pope and any other Catholic priest:
Romans 3:10
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Romans 3:23
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
John 14:6
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

I will take what the Bible says over what some human says every time. God is the only one I can trust for my eternal salvation.

September 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm PST
#3  Jose Santana - Dayton, Ohio

Tricia, how do you then explain John 20:23? -- "If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

September 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm PST
#4  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Staff

Julia and Tricia, the Catholic Church has never taught that we cannot "go to God directly and in a personal way." However, we also acknowledge that God chooses to use men to communicate his message as well as his mercy, even though those men are sinful. God works through sinful men! As Jose said above, we see that clearly in John 20:21-23 in the forgiveness of sins. We can see that in the New Testament that we read. God used sinful men like St. Peter and St. Paul to communicate his inspired word of God to us. It is not somehow lessened because God used men as his messengers.
The reason why I am Catholic is because, as a matter of historical fact, the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus Christ established to be "the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." To hear the Church is to hear Christ. To reject the Church is to reject Christ (see Luke 10:16; Matt. 10:40; Matt. 18:15-18; Matt. 16:18-19; Eph. 3:10; I Tim. 3:15).

October 18, 2013 at 3:42 pm PST
#5  Eryn Kane - El Cajon, California

Speaking as a Protestant, the most useful illustration I have been offered on this viewpoint is this: we as Christians don't think twice about going to our fellow brothers and sisters and asking them to pray for us. Why? Is it because we don't think that God has heard our own prayers through Christ? No. But we know that "the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." So the more righteous people you have praying for you, the more will be accomplished! The gap that so many of my fellow Protestants are unwilling to cross is the recognition that death does not separate us from those saints that have gone before us. It stands to reason that we are not going to find a more righteous believer than the ones that are already in heaven! Why wouldn't we want their prayers??

January 3, 2014 at 2:36 pm PST
#6  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Staff

Wow, Eryn! You're sounding Catholic! But I think your reference to Romans 8:35-38 and "death does not separate us from those saints that have gone before us" is right on. I would only add that we also need to meditate about what it means to be members of "the body of Christ" as St. Paul describes it in I Cor. 12 and Romans 12. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you' (I Cor. 12:21)." We do not cease being members of the body of Christ when we die, so of course we have need of the prayers of the members of the body of Christ who are in heaven.

January 18, 2014 at 8:13 am PST
#7  john Ap - Monteverde, Florida

Tim, I think you are making some steps that are not biblical. Your main argument that we can pray to others apart from God is the 1) "Body argument" 2) that the Scripture refers only to a "Greater mediator", and that less mediators can be prayed to. On argument (1) What it means to be body is that Christ is the Head (no-one else can be, not Mary, not any of the other saints- that is Biblical). Other parts are arms, legs, etc. That means we have different functions. In the NT, it is explicit- that the functions other people have in the Bible, are to pray for one another to help one another, but that our focus is on God. It is Him alone who can step in the spiritual "gap" (as described in the Bible). To seek anyone else to do that. Here's the challlenge from the Bible, every single instance of the word pray: http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=pray&version1=NKJV&searchtype=all&limit=none&wholewordsonly=no&resultspp=500&displayas=long&sort=bookorder . I lay down the challenge to you: can you find a single instance in which prayers are rightheously directed at anyone else apart from God, from Jesus in the Bible? No, it is not there. That is different from me saying "I will pray for you". Yes, I can pray and mediate for you in that sense, but this difference is that 1) I am alive 2) We are commanded not to contact people who have passed into the next life. Deuteronomy 18:9-11 says that to contact people who are dead is an abomination. That's because the source of our prayers (whether you pray for someone, or I pray for them) spiritually, is God alone, who is the Head. You should not seek someone else who is not the Head to perform the function of the Head. Your second argument that there is a greater mediator and lesser and subordinate mediators is tantamount to interpretations that "Hear O Israel the Lord Our God, the Lord is One" (Deut 6:4) means that there is a Greater God and then lesser gods (the Jehovah Witness, in blasphemy, interpret John 1 to mean that Jesus was a lesser god by the way). Its not the case in either situation. The Bible is clear. One Mediator. Any cursory looking at anywhere in the New Testament, and you realise: the focus spiritually is on Jesus, on God. Don't you know, the reason Catholics look to saints and Mary to stand in the gap, to mediate, when the Bible explicity forbids idolatry, forbids anyone else to be mediator? It is because when the first Roman Emperor came over to Christianity and declare the Roman Empire Christian (you cannot declare people Christian of course!), then all the pagans incorporated pagan practises into Christianity, substituting their gods and godesses for the saints and Mary to pray to (see article: http://www.gotquestions.org/origin-Catholic-church.html ). That's why you have these practises which are so alien to the Bible, yet in practise by the Catholic and Orthodox church. Go back to the Bible, and you will see its not there. The whole focus is on Jesus, on God, on the Head. There are so many verses from the Bibel that talk about this, but here's one from Ephesians 4:15 " Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Notice the very important words "from him" and in other translations it says it is He who "causes" this growth. Of course we support one another whilst on this earth, that is Biblical, but to look for support outside this world other than God is not Biblical- the whole focus has to be "from Him". I encourage you to get rid of these idols. I did, I used to go to Catholic church. When I did, I saw amazing blessing in my life.

April 10, 2014 at 8:24 am PST
#8  john Ap - Monteverde, Florida

Moreover, the word that there is "one" mediator used in 1 Timothy 2:5 is exculusionary of all others. We know that because it is the same word used in the same verse to say there is "one" God. Now, if we don't disagree that there is exclusively only one God, then we should not agree that there is exclusively only one Mediator of the type Jesus is. But (as you rightly say) alive people can pray (in some sort of meaning of the word mediation) for you. What is the difference? The answer (although shown elsewhere many times in the Bible) is shown explicitly in that same passage: it says there is "one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus". What this means is, explicitly, only one can mediate specifically between you and God: Christ Jesus. Not the saints (which the bible says everyone is who has believed in Jesus by the way), not Mary (Jesus had the opportunity to elevate her to that position in the Bible when he was asked about her, but he didn't do that). The Bible is explicit- we should follow God's words, not the doctrines and traditions which came afterwards which conflict with God's word, and are not from Him.

April 10, 2014 at 11:47 am PST
#9  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Staff

John,
In response to your #7:
I do not believe Jesus is "the greater mediator," nor do I believe St. Paul teaches Christ to be "the greater mediator" in I Tim. 2:5. That is not what the text says. I believe Jesus is "the one mediator between God and men."
As Paul said in II Cor. 3:5-6, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God, who has qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant..." This principle applies to any "ministry" in Christ. We can only mediate grace because we are in Christ, the one mediator. We do not take anything away from Christ's mediation anymore than my hand takes away from me when I use it to pick up my coffee cup sitting here beside my computer.
I agree with you that each member of the body of Christ has "different functions," but what you are not seeing is that it is the one mediator, Jesus Christ, who acts through each of those members so that they can bring anything of eternal value to another, or as St. Paul says, so that they might be able to "save souls" (I Cor. 9:22; I Tim. 4:16, Rom. 11:14, I Cor. 7:16; Col. 1:24; II Cor. 1:6; cf. James 5:19-20, etc.).
As far as no one being "the head" goes; it is true no one can replace Christ. But St. Paul tells us that just as there are visible "hands" and "feet," there is also a visible "head" as well (see I Cor. 12:21), when it comes to Christ extended into this world. But whether we speak of the visible head or other members of Christ, all are efficacious only because of Christ.
You say there are no "prayers" directed at anyone except God. That is not true. Revelation 5:8 and 8:2-5 reveals prayers being communicated to both men and angels. Hebrews 12:18-24 tells us that we "approach" or pray to "an innumerable company of angels" as well as "spirits of just men made perfect" in heaven. Jesus himself communicated with those who have gone before us as well (that's all prayer is, essentially, when we are talking about prayer to the saints) in Luke 9:30-31.
These texts don't use the "term" prayer, but these Scriptures give us the concept, much like the word "Trinity" is not in the Bible, but the concept is.
Deuteronomy 18:9-11 is not speaking of praying to saints; it is speaking of going to mediums and such. The Church condemns this.
As far as your "greater of lesser" argument goes. Scripture teaches, and Jesus taught, that children of the covenant are "gods," but only because they are in the one true God (see John 10:35-Psalm 82:6). This does not mean they are "lesser gods." It means they participate in God by grace. Jesus is "the only begotten Son" (John 1:18; 3:16), but that does not mean Christians are not truly "sons of God" (Gal. 4:4-6; Romans 8:14-17) and "begotten of God" (I John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1). This does not mean we are "lesser sons of God," it means we are in the one, true and "only begotten Son." We could say the same of "teachers" (Eph. 4:11; James 3:1) in the "one teacher" (Matt. 23:8), "leaders" (Heb. 13:17) in the one "leader" (Matt. 23:10), "bishops" (I Tim. 3:1; Acts 1:20) in the one "bishop" (I Peter 2:25), "shepherds" (Eph. 4:11), in the "one shepherd" (I Peter 2:25), etc.
We do not commit idolatry with regard to the saints, we just recognize that we are a body and Scripture says we need each other (I Cor. 12:21). We need the intercession of the saints in heaven and we must honor them for the great men and women that they are (I Tim. 5:17; Rev. 5:8; I Thess. 5:12-13; Luke 1:48).
There were no pagan practices that contradict Scripture that were introduced into the Catholic Church. That is a popular myth propagated by the "reformers," but it has no basis in reality.
We agree with you that Christ is the head of the Church. But what you fail to see is that he established the body of Christ, his Church, that is the whole Christ (who is invisible to us) extended into this world visibly (Eph. 1:22-23).
You say "we [Christians] support one another whilst on this earth" and claim we don't after we die. That is another myth. Romans 8:35-39 tells us that death does not separate us from Christ, nor does it separate us from the body of Christ. We support one another in accordance with our needs whether in the body or out of the body (meaning, on the earth or in heaven).
I would encourage you to consider the true Faith that you left. It is obvious you did not know it to begin with. When I investigated the Catholic Faith from Catholic sources, instead of from the perspective of my Protestant bias, I found the truth and the Scriptures were opened to me like I had never known. And the peace of Christ has inundated my life and my family's life ever since.

April 13, 2014 at 9:23 pm PST
#10  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Staff

John,
See above for the response to your #8. You simply repeated what was in #7.
God Bless!

April 13, 2014 at 9:25 pm PST

You are not logged in. Login or register to leave a comment.