Showing posts with label Bible Interpretation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible Interpretation. Show all posts

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Inside the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9)

The Tower of Babel.  Lucas van Valckenborch, 1595
Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Ba'bel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (Gen. 11:1-9)
So what is the meaning of this strange account of a giant tower that reaches heaven? Why does it seem at first glance that God is against the people being "one"?

Let's rewind a chapter earlier:
Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." The beginning of his kingdom was Ba'bel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. (Gen. 10:8-10)
Nimrod is the ruler behind this kingdom which included Babel. It is Nimrod who commissions the construction of the Tower. Let's look at a few characteristics of this ruler.

The ancient Jewish Talmud collects traditions by Rabbis who devoted their lives to studying Scripture. Much of the value in this work includes Judaism's understanding of the Old Testament, itself written through inspired Jewish authors. The Talmud sometimes elucidates on Scriptural stories with related oral traditions passed through the centuries. Some of these teachings expound on the life of Nimrod.
Cush, the son of Ham and grandson of Noah, married in his old age a young wife, and begat a son whom he called "Nimrod," because in those days the people were beginning to rebel again against the Lord's command, and Nimrod signifies rebellion.  ... 
And Nimrod dwelt in Shinar in safety, and gradually became ruler over all the world; and at that time all the people of the earth were of one language and of one speech. Nimrod in his prosperity did not regard the Lord. He made gods of wood and stone, and the people copied after his doings. His son Mordon served idols also, from which we have, even to this day, the proverb, "From the wicked, wickedness comes forth." (The Talmud: Selections, translated by H. Polano, 1876)
This sheds light on the Genesis account why God might break up this people who were unified in "one language." The language of their unity was a "language" opposed to God, a language including idolatry.

The early Jewish text, 3rd Baruch, conveys a tradition of crude slavery during the construction of the Tower:
These are they who gave counsel to build the tower, for they whom thou seest drove forth multitudes of both men and women, to make bricks; among whom, a woman making bricks was not allowed to be released in the hour of child-birth, but brought forth while she was making bricks, and carried her child in her apron, and continued to make bricks. (3rd Baruch, 3:5-6)
The earliest Christians also viewed Nimrod as a wicked man. 
In regard of this, he says, it has been written that [Nimrod] was a mighty hunter before the Lord. And there are, he says, many who closely imitate this (Nimrod): as numerous are they as the gnawing (serpents) which were seen in the wilderness by the children of Israel, from which that perfect serpent which Moses set up delivered those that were bitten. (St. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 5.11)
St. Thomas Aquinas reveals Nimrod as the possible culprit to have invented idolatry.
Further, those things which have a cause in man are found among men at all times. Now idolatry was not always, but is stated [Peter Comestor, Hist. Genes. xxxvii, xl] to have been originated either by Nimrod, who is related to have forced men to worship fire, or by Ninus, who caused the statue of his father Bel to be worshiped. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2.Q94.4.O2)
Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, likewise includes Jewish tradition about the multitudes in that time and this character, Nimrod:
[T]hey, imagining the prosperity they enjoyed was not derived from the favor of God, but supposing that their own power was the proper cause of the plentiful condition they were in, did not obey him. ... Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. ... He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers! Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower... (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.4.1-3, ca 94 AD)
You notice in this excerpt an attitude in which God cannot "win." When things go well, the people take the credit. When things go bad, they give God all the blame.1

Understanding the prideful, powerful earthly character Nimrod makes greater sense of the rest of the Tower of Babel account. The phrases "Let us build ourselves...a the heavens" and "let us make a name for ourselves" (Gen. 11:4) reveal the godless orientation of a people turned toward themselves.
The family of man bands together to build a secular civilization that glorifies human achievement and the strength of social and political unity. ... [A]s the broader context of Genesis shows, the "name" coveted by the sinners at Babel is never acquired; rather it is Abraham and his descendants whom God promises to bless with a great "name" (12:2) ... 11:5 the LORD came down: Implies that man's attempt at reaching the heavens (11:4) has failed... (Hahn, Scott and Mitch, Curtis. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Genesis. Ignatius Press, San Francisco. 2006. p. 32)
Notice in the Genesis account, we are not quite told how God confused the language of the multitudes. Perhaps the best understanding is what Catholic theology would call God's "permissive will." (cf. Discerning God's positive and permissive will by Emily Stimpson, Our Sunday Visitor). God's "permissive will" is the idea of crediting God for an action even if He merely allows it. In the case of the Tower of Babel, the confusion of the multitude could be understood as the development of their own factions, languages, and loyalties due to their own free wills. The Old Testament writers appear to have employed this literary construct regularly, by attributing to God actions He merely permits, but are positively committed by another. If the OT authors wrote in accord with how they experienced God in their lives, then we must interpret the text in light of that understanding, culture, and modes of communication. 

The Navarre Study Bible hints at this idea in its commentary on the Tower of Babel story:
We have here an instance of literary devices being used to expound deep convictions––in this case the view that disunion in mankind is the outcome of men's pride and sinfulness. (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch. Scepter Publishers. Princeton, NJ. 1999. p. 80
[I]t will be in the Church, the new Jerusalem, that men of all nations, races and tongues will join in faith and love, as will be seen in the Pentecost event (cf. Acts 2:1-13). There the phenomenon of Babel will be reversed: all will understand the same language. In the history of mankind, in effect, the Church is a kind of sign of sacrament of the union of God and men, and of the unity of the whole human race. (Ibid.)
Consider: "[T]he multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language." (Acts 2:6b) Whereas at Babel, the multitude scattered unable to understand each other, at Pentecost, the multitude is reunited, able to understand each other. And, whereas the multitude at Babel sought to make a name for themselves, at Pentecost, Peter announces: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38b)

Thus, the message of the Tower of Babel story is to teach the futility of man seeking to achieve some "heavenly" goal without the assistance of God. The story also emphasizes the underlying sin behind the world's confusion. And the antidote is Jesus Christ.

1This is an easy trap in which to fall. It is easy to attribute an act of nature, like a flood, to someone else. Yet, the multitudes did not attribute other features of nature, such as the very fertility of the soil or the resources of the earth, which enriched their prosperous condition, to God. Likewise, the story of the flood is one of theological value. In Christian thought, this account is understood as a cleansing from sin (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18-21). According to tradition preserved in the Talmud, Noah even warned others of the coming flood, shouting to those who did not make it on the ark: "For a hundred and twenty years I entreated ye to follow my words; alas, ‘tis now too late." Even according to the Biblical text, the flood was understood as a consequence of sin:
And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh..." "For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground." (Gen. 6:12-13a, 7:4)
The "Nimrod interpretation" of the flood story denies any sin by the multitudes. It misses the theological message that sin leads to destruction. Both the Jewish and Christian understanding of the story uphold this view.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Parable of the Great Feast: On marriage, God, and Pope Francis

Parable of the Great Banquet, Brunswick Monogrammist, (ca 1525-1545), 
acquired from Wikimedia Commons

16b A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; 17and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, "Come; for all is now ready." 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, "I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused." 19And another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused." 20And another said, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." 21So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, "Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame." 22And the servant said, "Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room." 23And the master said to the servant, "Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet." (Luke 14:16-24)
The context proceeds a moment later to the infamous line:
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (14:26)
As with many parables, there is a master and servants with the master representing God and the servants representing the people. The "invitation" to a banquet in the above parable corresponds to the eternal banquet (Rev. 19:9ff, CCC#1344, etc.).

In the parable, there are those who decline to attend. The passage refers to these "excuses." One points to his wife. The other two point to their professions. Of these persons, the master in the parable says they shall "[not] taste my banquet."

A cursory reading of the text may lead one to think one must follow God so "exclusively" that one cannot have a spouse, a family, a job, or even a "life." And that cursory reading would think the other of this text mad that any deviation from that exclusivity results in failure to attend the banquet––the figure of going to hell.

What could be so horrible about getting married or making a living or having a family? The answer is: nothing, in and of themselves.

I'll focus on the married servant, which I think will reveal the answer to each servant. We see Jesus opening his ministry in John's gospel account by attending a wedding and turning water into wine there at the prompt of his mother. (John 2:1-11). Jesus also affirms the sacrament of marriage as a divine event when he recalls Genesis:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19:5-6)
Is Jesus here contradicting what he said in Luke? If the parable's servant in Luke is to part from his wife for God's sake, isn't that a contradiction to Matthew 19 which states that the marriage was God's doing in the first place?

Again, a cursory reading of both texts may appear that way at first, but within them is the answer. A proper understanding of the totality of the teaching would recognize that a true marriage is indeed godly and bears mutual love, of giving oneself to the other (cf. Eph. 5:33). I also treated this teaching in a prior post, What did the Catholic Church teach about marriage, men and women in 1880?, in which we saw in Scripture and Pope Leo's words the beauty of a marriage which resembles Christ and the Church as bridegroom and bride, respectively.

If one's marriage bears those characteristics, if the partners love one another in the figure of Christ and the Church, then that marriage has not become an "excuse" to refuse God's invitation. Rather, that marriage is united with God and united with God's invitation. Choosing that kind of marriage does not result in excluding God.

The two most profound commandments of Christ are to love God and to love neighbor (e.g. Mark 12:30-31). There is not a dichotomy between the two. Thus, we can recognize that in The Parable of the Great Banquet, the married servant, by "refusing" the master's invitation, revealed that he had separated the two commandments. His marriage was ungodly. He chose his wife instead of God rather than his wife together with God. In a sense, in this servant's mind, his wife had replaced God, and thus became an idol of sorts.

Consider a couple views from the early Church. St. Basil (d. 379) writes of the verse in this way:
But he says, I cannot come, because that the human mind when it is degenerating to worldly pleasures, is feeble in attending to the things of God. (St. Basil, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
St. Gregory (d. 604) writes:
But although marriage is good, and appointed by Divine Providence for the propagation of children, some seek therein not fruitfulness of offspring, but the lust of pleasure. And so by means of a righteous thing may not unfitly an unrighteous thing be represented. (St. Gregory, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
Both of their points are that the foolish servant represented someone who took something good, marriage, and amputated it from God.

The decisions of the man with the field and the man with the oxen reveal the same. Their professions became something of a false god in place of God. There was no time for God in their work on the farm. The idea is the same here. Our work must not be something that we use as an excuse to avoid God's prompts. The same would go for the hyperbolic statement in Luke 14:26, that we must "hate" our family for God's sake, again shows how much we must keep God in the equation. The foolish servants in the parable all flocked to "good" things, but made them bad by refusing to consider God in their engagement with those good things.

St. Paul synthesized this idea well:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)
All this leads to a final thought on the mistake of seeing someone write a criticism of a particular category of a thing and presume he is criticizing the entire category. In the above examples, it is proper to recognize only the folly of participating in marriage or work if those things are absent of God. It is faulty to presume Christ condemned marriage and work categorically.

This past week, the media engaged in another poor representation of Pope Francis' words in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Various voices seem to think he categorically condemned free financial markets and capitalism. For example, the Pope writes the following:
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. ... In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. ... Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. (Evangelii Gaudium, 56-57)
You see if we read carefully, the Pope is not calling for categorical rejection of a free market. He is rather calling for a balance. He is calling for a market that includes ethics and due consideration of God––just as the master in The Great Banquet parable calls for those workers to still accept his invitation. What Pope Francis is condemning is a marketplace that has excluded ethics, excluded God. In other words, a business that commoditizes human beings commits offense against those persons. This can be seen, for example, in countries where workers are deprived of their due wage, or where there is price fixing, or monopolies, or collusion, etc.

Some opining in the media go so far as to brand the Pope a Marxist or Communist or that he wants a world government. But such representations of the document belie statements within it such as:
All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders. (#60)

If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just of a few.

It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility. (#240)
So these are just a few excerpts where the Pope condemns government corruption (not just financial corruption in marketplaces) and also emphasizes the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, which are concepts in Catholic thought based on the due freedom of an entity, whether individual, corporate, or public, such as a nation. He criticizes not free markets, but free markets which violate and manipulate persons. He criticizes not the wealthy, but the wealthy who exploit and debase persons. He even writes "The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike." (58)

In a 2011 book, On Heaven and Earth, the Pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio, clearly did not create a dichotomy between rogue economies and communist thought. 
[The Church] condemns economic liberalism. Everyone thinks that the Church is against Communism, but it is as opposed to that system as it is to the savage economic liberalism which exists today. That is not Christian either and we cannot accept it.
In other words, everyone already knows the Church is opposed to Communist thought, but not everyone knows that the Church is opposed to what Pope Francis here calls "savage economic liberalism." To recognize him to condemn one is not to understand him to embrace the other. Yet many in the media have committed that exact error in interpretation.

The media also seems deluded that Pope Francis' teaching here is revolutionary. The media did not have the same sort of frenzy when Pope Benedict XVI said:
It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. (Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, January 2013)
This statement by Pope Benedict encompasses a point Pope Francis drives home in Evangelii Gaudium––that a market which is "selfish and individualistic" (i.e. disregarding God) is what should be criticized.

So, once again, one should not make the false assumption that the Pope has "categorically" condemned free markets or all forms of government or all persons with wealth. Rather he is exhorting those entities to do what the master in The Parable of the Great Banquet asks of everyone––to include God in all that they do.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Is the Eucharist only a symbol of Christ's body?

In Biblical typology, the authors of the New Testament often relate things of the NT in light of the Old Testament. This is called typology. You see Paul speak of this in Romans 5 when he identifies Jesus as the superior antitype of Adam. You see the Pauline tradition in Hebrews (ch 8) speak of this when he compares the sacrifices of the OT to the corresponding superior sacrifice of Christ. You also see Jesus speak of this earlier in the John 6 discourse when he spoke of the bread, the manna, that fell from heaven. One consistent characteristic in the order of typology is that the New Testament antitypes are superior to their Old Testament types. Jesus is superior to Adam. Christ's sacrifice is superior to the OT sacrifices. And the Bread of Life in the NT is superior to the manna that fell from heaven.

Catholics believe the Bread of Life, of which Christ spoke in John 6, is the Eucharist, the true body and blood of Christ in sacrament (cf. CCC#1374). Some faith traditions believe that the Eucharist is symbolic-only.1 They believe the bread is ordinary bread, and participating in the Eucharist is a memorial in the sense of "calling to memory" Christ's sacrifice (not in the sense of the re-presentation of the event according to the Jewish understanding of anamnesis2).

Now, if we apply a "symbolic-only" understanding to John 6, we cause a fatal problem in the order of Biblical typology. The NT Bread suddenly becomes inferior to the OT manna. After all, the OT manna was 1) of supernatural origin and 2) of benefit for physical life. When we insist the Bread in John 6 is symbolic-only, we make it inferior to the OT manna because we say its origin is less-than-supernatural, while denying that it is of benefit for eternal life.

It is Christ himself who made the typological comparison between the Bread of Life and the OT manna in John 6:49-51. And therefore, the symbol-only interpretation must be rejected, among other reasons, on the grounds that it violates the superior nature of NT antitypes over their OT types.

1For example, the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 endorsed the following: "The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming." In Catholic theology, the Eucharist does have symbolic attributes, but not only symbolic. For examples see Council of Trent 13.3; Pope Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, et al.

2See for example, Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann's explanation of the Jewish idea of anamnesis in the article Seeds, Weeds, and Walking the High Wire: The Role of the Remnant - Embodying Israel’s Destiny. He writes in one example: "The holy past is no mere collection of data to be recalled, but a continuing reality to be honored or desecrated."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

St. Paul taught one Savior for Gentile or Jew

Following is a paper I did in my Pauline Soteriology master's class. It is a critique of the book Reinventing Paul by John S. Gager.

In the book Reinventing Paul, John S. Gager proposed the admittedly novel idea that Paul taught two paths to eternal salvation. For Jews, this path remains unchanged from the Old Covenant. For Gentiles (aka. Greeks), this path is rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. “Paul does not conceive of Israel’s salvation with reference to Christ,” wrote Gager (46).
The path for salvation Gager posited for the Jews was not entirely clear. He cited a fourth century Rabbi’s opinion that “[t]he word of the Lord went forth in two aspects, slaying the heathen who would not accept it, but giving life to Israel who accepted the Torah” (56). In a negative way, Gager more often advanced the idea that Israel is not saved through faith in Christ (e.g. 46).
To stick close to the three-to-four page parameter of this assignment, I will just present a few of the more glaring errors in Gager’s conclusions. These should suffice to dismantle his premises that Jews can attain salvation apart from Christ.
Paul only preached to Gentiles in the synagogues?
One of Gager’s mantras is the claim that Paul’s audience was invariably Gentile, and therefore when Paul rejected such Israelite practices like circumcision, he only meant it applied to Gentiles (e.g. 52). Gager insisted Paul only ever focused on Gentiles (51, 68) to support his theory that Paul was not condemning OT ordinances for Jews since his audience was always Gentile. Yet Gager does not address Acts 18:4 which reads: “And [Paul] argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks.” Furthermore, Gager never considers that the reason Paul rejects OT ordinances for Gentiles could be because they neither save Gentiles nor Jews.
Christ not the Messiah for Jews?
Gager denied that Paul understood Jesus as the Messiah anticipated by the Jews. “For Paul, Jesus is neither a new Moses, nor the Messiah, he is not the climax of . . . God’s dealings with Israel, but he is the fulfillment of God’s promises concerning the Gentiles” (142). This is problematic. For example, in Acts 17, Paul preached in the synagogues “of the Jews” (v.1) that “[t]his Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (v.3). This resulted in some of them being persuaded as well as “many of the devout Greeks” (v.4). The context distinguishes part of the audience from the Greeks who were also there. Both parties were persuaded. To validate the notion that Jews were included as the intended audience of Paul’s preaching of Jesus as the Christ anticipated by the Jews, we can continue in Acts 17 when Paul and Silas preached to the Berean Jews. The Bereans searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul said about Christ was true. These Berean Jews, again distinct from the “Greeks” (v.12) present, believed.
Gager’s dismissal of Galatians 3:28
One of the more straightforward verses supporting the traditionalist view is Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is stated immediately after Paul teaches that baptism unites one to Christ. Gager denied that the Jew has any such connection to Jesus Christ, and certainly wouldn’t be bound to Christian baptism.
Gager expends few words on this verse, dismissing it by quoting his theological ally on this matter, Lloyd Gaston. Gaston says the purpose of this verse is to affirm that “as women do not need to become men . . . so Jews do not need to become Gentiles nor do Gentiles need to become Jews” (90). Gager adds: “It is a formula of inclusion, not exclusion” (90). Gager is correct that the verse is one of inclusion. But it does not mean what Gager argues throughout the book – that salvation for Jews is not in Christ. Gager’s brief dismissal does not reflect what the text says. The text says the Jews are among the “all” who are “one in Christ,” which is damning to Gager’s position. He gives these words in the verse no attention.
The irony in Gager’s escape here is that he insisted that traditionalists, ever looking at the text with “Western” (51) or “modern” (e.g. 72) bias “complete [Paul’s] sentences for him, to supply missing words, and . . . make explicit what he leaves unspoken” (23, cf. 110). Yet, this is precisely what Gager does to the text of Romans 3:28. The traditionalist view is consistent with the text. Jews are included – in Christ.
Gager’s dismissal of Romans 3:30
I will include the pertinent Greek words in the verse that reveal the flaw in Gager’s interpretation. Using Gager’s translation, Romans 3:30 reads: “God will justify the circumcised out of faith (ek pistis) and the uncircumcised through faith (dia pistis).” In verses 22, 24, and 26, Paul described faith as being “in Jesus.” However, Gager denies that verse 30’s two mentions of faith both refer to faith in Christ. He claims the different prepositions preceding the word faith indicate the different kinds of faith necessary to Jews and to Gentiles. He does not believe Paul is simply using different ways of saying both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith in Christ.
Gager wrote: “[T]he use of different prepositions (ek and dia) with pistis points to different paths for Jews and Gentiles . . .” (121). The rule Gager imposed on the text is that ek pistis is faith for Jews and dia pistis is faith for Gentiles.
But this rule becomes extremely problematic when applying it to other verses. We see Paul using the term ek pistis in both Romans and Galatians to specifically refer to faith “in Christ” (e.g. Rom. 5:21, Gal. 3:22). Paul also uses the term dia pistis elsewhere to mean faith “in Christ” (e.g. Eph. 2:8). In other words, citing the Greek in Romans 3:30 only hurts Gager’s position because Paul used the terms ek pistis and dia pistis interchangeably to mean faith in Christ.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How can Mary crush the serpent's head? A look at Genesis 3:15

I've run across an accusation against the Catholic Church that goes something like this one from Christian apologist Keith Thompson:
One example of distortion of scripture to support Catholic exaltation of Mary has to do with the translation of Genesis 3:15....Genesis 3:15 [says...] "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”...“He” (הוּא) in the original Hebrew is masculine. It is pronounced “hoo” and can also mean “it.” Many think it means “it” in reference to collective offspring of the woman crushing the head of the serpent. In the LXX, however, it is rendered autos “he,” indicating that the passage should be understood as a Messianic prophecy about Jesus Christ alone crushing the head. “He [Jesus] will crush the serpents head.”

However, Jerome (342-430) in his Latin Vulgate translation made a major error changing “it” or “he” into “she” using the feminine pronoun ipsa in the Latin. Roman Catholic scholars who accepted the Latin Vulgate then translated Genesis 3:15 in their Douay-Rheims Bible as:

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
First we begin with the term for "he/it/she" in question. Thompson notes that the Hebrew word is masculine and translated as "he" or "it." Several Protestant translations do use the word "it" including the fairly literal King James Version. Catholic apologists such as Jimmy Akin or Robert Sungenis acknowledge the masculinity of the Hebrew word as well, which admits to "he" or "it." There is an artistic sense in which the Hebrew word could be copied as feminine, and that is in the case of poetry, which the Jewish Encyclopedia states sometimes uses masculine and feminine interchangeably. But for the sake of this apologetic, according to my research, I am going to agree that "he" and "it" are the most accurate translations.

Before I move on, I just want to point out that the term "she" was not a corruption that came about because of Jerome. Jerome's translation is circa 400 A.D. Yet we can find at least one early Christian interpreting the same verse with "she," such as Tertullian writing around 205 A.D. in his work On the Apparel of Women.

Now, no one disputes that the principle defeater of Satan is God, as even Romans 16:20 echoes: "the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." However, both Protestants and Catholics alike recognize that the "he" and "his" in the phrase "he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" refers back to the word "offspring." Thompson also admits "many" interpreters recognize this meaning in the structure of the text. And I think the text demands that the "offspring" of the "woman" includes the Church.

Let's look again at Romans 16:20: "the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." Satan is crushed "under the feet" of the Roman church, albeit by God through them. Thompson's objection to this understanding due to the Septuagint's use of the word "he" does not preclude the Church as a participant in Christ's work because the "he" could be understood as "the 'he' who crushes through the Church" just as Romans 16:20 suggests.

John MacArthur, whose contra-Catholic ideas I previously discussed, wrote:
Believers should recognize that they participate in the crushing of Satan because, along with their Savior and because of His finished work on the cross, they also are of the woman's seed.1
Protestant "Reformer" John Calvin, in his commmentary on Genesis, wrote similarly of this verse:
[I]t comes to pass that, in the same manner, the whole Church of God, under its Head, will gloriously exult over him. To this the declaration of Paul refers, “The Lord shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly,” (Romans 16:20.) By which words he signifies that the power of bruising Satan is imparted to faithful men, and thus the blessing is the common property of the whole Church.
There are Catholic sources that agree with these sentiments, such as the New American Bible's footnote:
He will his heel: since the antecedent for he and his is the collective noun offspring, i.e., all the descendants of the woman, a more exact rendering of the sacred writer's words would be, "They will their heels."
Or the Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition footnote:
he shall bruise your head: i.e., the seed of the woman, that is, mankind descended from Eve, will eventually gain the victory over the powers of evil. This victory will, of course, be gained through the work of the Messiah who is par excellence the seed of the woman.2

Even in Revelation 12:7-8, Michael the archangel and his angels are said to have vanquished the devil from heaven, but this does not trump Christ's ultimate victory over the serpent. The angels are, after all, fellow members of the Church as well. So anyway, a variety of Catholics and Protestants alike agree that Jesus is the primary force striking the head of the serpent, but this does not preclude the Church as a secondary agent as well.

And it is at this point we turn to Mary. Can she be said to play a special role as well in striking the head of the serpent?

Along with the Church, which participates in the victorious sufferings of Christ (e.g. 1 Pt 4:13), Mary's suffering is specifically tied to the sufferings of Christ in the prophecy of the Holy Spirit through Simeon:
Luke 2:25,34-35 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. ... and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."
A second reason Mary can be seen to have a special role in striking the serpent's head is because, typologically, Mary is understood as figure of the Church, which we have established as a very fair understanding of the "he/it" that strikes the serpent's head. Among many reasons, Mary is understood as a figure of the Church due to the Spirit coming together with her to bring forth a child. Nuptually, children are brought forth via the union of husband and wife, and thus, Mary in this sense is the "spouse" of the Spirit. And Scripture often refers to the Church as the spotless, virgin bride of God as well (e.g. Mt 25:1, Eph 5:27-32, Rv 21:9-10) thus the Virgin Mary is the Church's figure. Pope John Paul II recognized this, as well as the bishops at Vatican II, and even in antiquity from the likes of St. Ambrose in the 4th century (see Pope John Paul II, Mary is Outstanding Figure of the Church).

There are also other strong places in Scripture overlapping Mary and the Church such as Revelation 12 which uses imagery much like Genesis 3:15.

Revelation 12:5-6a,17 [S]he brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness...Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.
Verse 9 in between also calls the dragon "that ancient serpent," tying it even further with Genesis 3:15. The woman in this passage is Mary because she brings forth the one to rule all nations. And like ancient Israel fleeing through the "wilderness" to Egypt, Mary also fled to Egypt with Joseph (Mt 2:13-14). In turn, Israel is the prefigurement of the Church of the new covenant (e.g. Jer 31:31-33). And coming full circle, Mary can be seen to strike the serpent's head in her role as figure of the Church.

Finally, I'd like to look at two other women in the Old Covenant who struck the head of the enemy on behalf of the people. In what other way can the "he" or "it" term in Genesis 3:15 be understood to include Mary specifically? I think the following is perhaps the most compelling evidence.

The first woman described to "strike the enemy's head" is Jael. In Judges 4:21 and Judges 5:26, she is described killing the oppressive king's general Sisera by driving a tent peg into his head.

The second woman is Judith. In Judith 13:8-9, she is described cutting off the head of Holofernes, who is called later in the chapter the "leader of...enemies," and whose name means "stinking in hell."3

Before I proceed, it should be noted that the Old Testament also includes stories like the one of David, who strikes the head of the enemy Goliath. David, as a figure of Christ, reflects Christ's role in smiting the enemy's head.

Now back to the women. So in what way is Mary connected to these women who struck the enemy's head? One very strong connection is that all three women, Jael, Judith, and Mary are called "blessed among women."

Jael is called "blessed of women" in Judges 5:24. Judith is called "blessed...among all women on earth" in Judith 13:18. And Mary, of course, is called "blessed...among women" in Luke 1:42.

Mary's weapon is not a peg, like Jael, or a sword, like Judith. Rather can Mary's weapon be considered her very immediate offspring––Jesus Christ? I think the typology here supports that understanding.

Therefore, we can better see that Mary in a very real sense strikes the enemy's head when we study the text of Genesis 3:15 in light of the totality of Scripture. We needn't worry if the word "she" is incompatible with the Hebrew text of Genesis 3:15 because Mary's role is deducible without forcing the translation. She is a figure of the Church as well as the women in the Old Testament, all whom are said in Scripture to strike the enemy's head. And none of this participation detracts from the ultimate victor over the serpent––Jesus Christ.

1MacArthur, John, The MacArthur Study Bible, Thomas Nelson (publisher), 1997, p. 20-21.2Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1965-1966, p. 985.3Many Protestant traditions do not recognize the book of Judith as Scripture. However, I think the strength of the argument can be drawn from the Jael story alone, or by acknowledging the historical tale of Judith as part of Jewish tradition even if one denies its Scriptural quality.