Archive for the ‘Hermeneutics’ Category

Pope Francis on June 1, 2015 and the Failure of the Cross (with Bonus)

October 3, 2015

When you read the Pope’s comments about the “failure of the cross” in light of this homily from earlier this year, I think it sheds some light on the subject. Just as Scripture interprets Scripture, so also Francis interprets Francis:

Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day during morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, the Pope said the stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone; the scandalous executioner’s block that appeared to put an end to the story of hope, marked the beginning of man’s salvation.

And highlighting how the Scriptures speak to us today, the Pope said God builds upon weakness and waste; he said God’s love for mankind is manifested in the apparent “failure” of the Cross.

But above all – the Pope said – the story tells us of how Jesus’s death led to his ultimate triumph.

Let us not forget the cross – he said – because it is here that the logic of “failure” is turned upside down.

Jesus – Pope Francis said – reminds the chief priests, the scribes and the elders that although we can expect trials and rejection, in the end we will see triumph and he quotes the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

“The prophets, the men of God who spoke to the people, who were not listened to, who were rejected, will be His glory. The Son, His last envoy, was seized, killed and thrown out. He became the cornerstone” he said.

“This story that begins with a dream of love, that seems to be a love story, but ends up looking like a story of failures, ends with the great love of God who offers Salvation through the rejection of his Son who saves us all”.


Bonus Update:

Here’s what Francis said back on May 29, 2013:

“Triumphalism in the Church halts the Church. The triumphalism of us Christians halts Christians. A triumphalist Church is a half-way Church”. A Church content with being “well organized and with… everything lovely and efficient”, but which denied the martyrs would be “a Church which thought only of triumphs and successes; which did not have Jesus’ rule of triumph through failure. Human failure, the failure of the cross. And this is a temptation to us all”.



Solomon vs. Postmodernism and Her Roman Companions

July 23, 2012

Proverbs 22:17-21

Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge. For it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips. That thy trust may be in the Lord, I have made known to thee this day, even to thee. Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, that I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?

Does the written word communicate the words of truth with certainty to the individual (thee = you singular) reader?


Confessional Hermeneutic – What Man is to Believe about God and his Duty to Him

July 14, 2012

In my previous post, we saw that Jesus’ own hermeneutic with respect to the Old Testament is that all the law and the prophets hang on the two great commandments. One might wonder whether this treatment of Scripture is unique to TurretinFan, or whether others have had a similar idea. The latter is the case.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,[1] and to enjoy him forever.[2]

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments,[3] is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.[4]

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God,[5] and what duty God requires of man.[6]

[1] Psalm 86. Bow down thine ear, O LORD, hear me: for I am poor and needy. Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee. Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry unto thee daily. Rejoice the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. Give ear, O LORD, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me. Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works. All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name. For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone. Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name. I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore. For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell. O God, the proud are risen against me, and the assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul; and have not set thee before them. But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. O turn unto me, and have mercy upon me; give thy strength unto thy servant, and save the son of thine handmaid. Show me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, LORD, hast holpen me, and comforted me. Isaiah 60:21. Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified. Romans 11:36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. 1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s…. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Revelation 4:11. Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

[2] Psalm 16:5-11. The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Psalm 144:15. Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD. Isaiah 12:2. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. Luke 2:10. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. Philippians 4:4. Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Revelation 21:3-4. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

[3] Matthew 19:4-5. And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? With Genesis 2:24. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Luke 24:27, 44. And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself…. And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. 1 Corinthians 2:13. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 1 Corinthians 14:37. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. 2 Peter 1:20-21. Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 3:2, 15-16. That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour…. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

[4] Deuteronomy 4:2. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. Psalm 19:7-11. The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Isaiah 8:20. To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. John 15:11. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. John 20:30-31. And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. Acts 17:11. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. 2 Timothy 3:15-17. And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 1 John 1:4. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

[5] Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. John 5:39. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. John 20:31. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. Romans 10:17. So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. 2 Timothy 3:15. And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

[6] Deuteronomy 10:12-13. And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? Joshua 1:8. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Psalm 119:105. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Micah 6:8. He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? 2 Timothy 3:16-17. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

Notice that the catechism describes the primary teaching of Scripture as being what we should believe about God and about how we should act toward God.


Christ’s Own Hermeneutic of the Old Testament

July 13, 2012

A lot of the Old Testament relates to God’s plan of salvation, and so it is understandable that the so-called “Redemptive Historical Hermeneutic” is popular. Moreover, it is true that Christ’s mission included bringing the fullness of revelation that was then inscripturated by the New Testament authors. Thus, the New Testament is a guide to understanding the Old Testament.

Nevertheless, Christ himself explained the key to understanding the Old Testament in response to a question by one of the scribes/lawyers of the Pharisees. This account is found in Matthew and Mark. Since the Matthew account is more familiar to most people, I’ll put it first, but note that the Mark account provides some additional detail that is not included in the Matthew account.

Matthew 22:34-40

But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said unto him, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind’ (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. Deuteronomy 7:9, 10:12, 11:1, 19:9; 30:6, 30:16, and 30:20). This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18; cf. Leviticus 19:34). On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Mark 12:28-33

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
And Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength:’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; cf. Deuteronomy 7:9, 10:12, 11:1, 19:9; 30:6, 30:16, and 30:20) this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Leviticus 19:18; cf. Leviticus 19:34). There is none other commandment greater than these.”
And the scribe said unto him, “Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he (cf. Deuteronomy 4:35, 1 Samuel 2:2, 2 Samuel 7:22, 1 Chronicles 17:20, Isaiah 45:5-6, and Isaiah 45:21): and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (cf. Hosea 6:6).

Notice that the key to understanding the Old Testament, “all the law and the prophets,” so that there is “none other” commandment, is love of God and love of one’s neighbor. Thus, it is written: “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).
If you want to properly understand the Old Testament, you need to keep this hermeneutical grid in mind as one of the primary hermeneutical grids. It is true that there is much about the person and work of Christ in the law and the prophets (Luke 24:44, John 1:45, Acts 13:15, 24:14, and 28:23), but when it come to saying what “all the law and prophets” hang on, Christ taught that it was “Love God” and “Love thy Neighbor.”

– TurretinFan

Scripture texts referenced above:

Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Deuteronomy 7:9
Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

Deuteronomy 10:12
And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,

Deuteronomy 11:1
Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway.

Deuteronomy 19:9
If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the LORD thy God, and to walk ever in his ways; then shalt thou add three cities more for thee, beside these three:

Deuteronomy 30:6
And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.

Deuteronomy 30:16
In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

Deuteronomy 30:20
That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

Leviticus 19:18
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19:34
But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 4:35
Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him.

1 Samuel 2:2
There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.

2 Samuel 7:22
Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

1 Chronicles 17:20
O LORD, there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

Isaiah 45:5-6
I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.

Isaiah 45:21
Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.

Hosea 6:6
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Luke 24:44
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.

John 1:45
Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

Acts 13:15
And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.

Acts 24:14
But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:

Acts 28:23
And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.

Romans 13:10
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Unto What Shall We Liken the Roman Hermeneutic?

February 5, 2012

Rome insists that she is an authentic interpreter of Scripture.  We can easily provide an example, within a document defining a dogma, of Rome making a clear blunder.  But let’s leave that aside for a second, and consider the effect of Rome’s claims on a conversation.

Christian: We should reject Marian devotion because the Bible teaches us to trust in God alone.
Roman apologist: You have wrongly interpreted the Bible.  Only Rome can authentically interpret the Bible.
Christian: That’s not true, the Bible was written to be understood.  Anyone can authentically interpret the Bible, and many do – some more, and others less, well than others.
Roman Apologist: No, you cannot understand the Bible without the Roman Catholic church.
Christian: That’s not so.
Roman Apologist: Look, it says so right here in Matthew 16:18.


Now, that appeal to Scripture looks an awful lot like the Roman Apologist conceding that people can understand the Bible without the Roman communion.  But behind that appearance lies a question about what this Roman hermeneutic entails.

1) Is it like special decoder glasses?

Is the Bible simply incomprehensible on its own, and one needs the Roman church to provide spectacles to make the incomprehensible, comprehensible?  If that were true, then it would make no sense to appeal to Scripture to anyone not already looking through the spectacles.

2) Is it like the answer key to a Rubik’s cube?
Is the Bible simply highly complicated, and one needs the Roman church to show the map of the way through to get the solution?  If this were the case, the appeal to Scripture might make sense.  This is just the first breadcrumb along a trail that eventually leads to Rome.  In fact, though, all of Rome’s attempts to prove her distinctive doctrines from Scripture fail.  When you get an answer key to a Rubik’s cube, you can see the parts all come together to form the solved puzzle, even if you couldn’t have done it on your own.  But with Rome, you don’t get satisfactory answers like that.  You get alleged solutions, but even knowing the supposed solutions, one cannot arrive at these solutions from Scripture.

3) Is it like the person who showed you how to look at “Magic Eye” 3D pictures?
Sure, at first it was just a weird bunch of lines and patterns, but once you were taught how to change your focus, suddenly the beautiful stereoscopic patterns emerged.  Some of Rome’s converts stories make it sound like they feel Rome’s hermeneutic is similar to this.  The two problems are – first, they don’t seem to be able to teach us how to see the butterfly amidst the squiggly lines – and second, until we see the butterfly, appeals to Scripture are just appeals to squiggle lines, and consequently futile.

4) Is it like Humpty Dumpty?
In Alice Through the Looking Glass, she encounters the character Humpty Dumpty who insists on making words mean what he wants them to mean, even when that meaning is quite distant from any conventional sense of the word.  Some of the arguments from the Roman side favor this interpretation.  After all, some Roman apologists try to approach the Bible as though it were the creation of the Church, rather than being God’s word delivered to the churches (and CCC 111 and 113 seem to encourage them to take this approach).  If the Bible were the product of the Church, then the authorial intent behind the words becomes important, and we need to let Humpty Dumpty use words like “only mediator” in a far from conventional sense.  One problem with that is that it turns the text of Scripture into such a “living document” that the document itself has no particular significance.  Matthew 16:18 might as well teach the papacy as it teaches the bodily assumption of Mary, so long as Rome says that is what it means.  The fact that we don’t see it in the actual meaning of the words doesn’t matter.

Ultimately, no matter what we liken the Roman hermeneutic to, we should realize that the Roman hermeneutic boils down to sola ecclesia: what Rome says goes.  If the Bible appears to say the same thing, and that convinces someone that Rome is right – great.  If the Bible appears to say the opposite, the Bible’s apparent meaning should be subordinated to what Rome teaches.

But if that’s Rome’s hermeneutic, then the appeals to Scripture as an authority are really disingenuous.  Honest Roman apologists shouldn’t argue that we should believe them because (to use their lingo) we interpret the Bible the same way they do.  After all, when we interpret the Bible differently, we’re supposed to just set that aside, no matter how clear the Bible is.

Yet, I welcome comments from Roman apologists, clergy, and even laity.  To what do you liken the Roman hermeneutic, and to what shall I compare it?  And when you try to quote the Bible to me, do you think I’m just unaware that your church teaches that “all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God”  (CCC 119, quoting Dei Verbum 12, 3rd paragraph)?


P.S. Oh, and by the way – the alternative is that the Bible is the very word of God, and that God made it clear enough to serve as a rule of faith and life for his church.  Not all parts are equally clear, however, and sin blinds the minds of some men so that even the most clear parts become dull.  Nevertheless, core doctrines (like the contents of the Apostles’ creed, for example) are plainly and unmistakeably set forth in the Scriptures, without the need for any special glasses, tricky eye techniques, or authoritative lexicography.

The Thomas Jefferson + Creed Hermeneutic

April 7, 2010

I was (at first) amused to read a post by Mark Olson (Orthodox Church in America) titled “Noetic Noah and the Fluffy Hermeneutic.” Olson rejects large swaths of the historical text of the Old Testament with fluffy statements like “Giants are mythic or noetic creatures” and, referring to the location of the garden of Eden, he describes it as “the juncture of four rivers. Real rivers which however in reality are nowhere near each other.”

As to Olson’s latter claim, Noah’s flood dramatically altered the landscape of Earth. The rivers we call by the names of the four Eden rivers are rivers named after those rivers. Likewise, the giants of Scripture are real beings.

As explained at 1 Samuel 17:4-7, Goliath was six cubits and a span (about 9 ft. 4 in.) tall, his armor weighed 5,000 shekels of brass (about 150 lbs.), and the head of his spear weighed 600 shekels of iron (or nearly 20 lbs.). This is a real, though very large, human being. Likewise Og, king of Bashan, had a bed that was nine cubits long and four cubits wide (Deuteronomy 3:11), made out of iron, suggesting that he too was a prodigiously large man.

But Olson goes from merely fluffy to blasphemous when he writes:

Did everything recounted in Exodus take place exactly as the text recounts? Well, as a comparison there may have been a historic King of rocky Ithaca named Odysseus but that does not mean he killed a giant man with one eye. That also does not mean that nothing recounted in the Odyssey took place or that the story contains no great moral truths because Polyphemus is purely or mostly noetic.

While we might expect an atheist like Dan Barker to make such a comparison, it should shock us to hear a person who professes to be a Christian making such a comment.

While Olson writes that, Justin Martyr wrote:

Do not suppose, you Greeks, that my separation from your customs is unreasonable and unthinking; for I found in them nothing that is holy or acceptable to God. For the very compositions of your poets are monuments of madness and intemperance. For any one who becomes the scholar of your most eminent instructor, is more beset by difficulties than all men besides. For first they say that Agamemnon, abetting the extravagant lust of his brother, and his madness and unrestrained desire, readily gave even his daughter to be sacrificed, and troubled all Greece that he might rescue Helen, who had been ravished by the leprous shepherd. But when in the course of the war they took captives, Agamemnon was himself taken captive by Chryseis, and for Briseis’ sake kindled a feud with the son of Thetis. And Pelides himself, who crossed the river, overthrew Troy, and subdued Hector, this your hero became the slave of Polyxena, and was conquered by a dead Amazon; and putting off the god-fabricated armour, and donning the hymeneal robe, he became a sacrifice of love in the temple of Apollo. And the Ithacan Ulysses made a virtue of a vice. And indeed his sailing past the Sirens gave evidence that he was destitute of worthy prudence, because he could not depend on his prudence for stopping his ears. Ajax, son of Telamon, who bore the shield of sevenfold ox-hide, went mad when he was defeated in the contest with Ulysses for the armour. Such things I have no desire to be instructed in. Of such virtue I am not covetous, that I should believe the myths of Homer. For the whole rhapsody, the beginning and end both of the Iliad and the Odyssey is— a woman.

– Justin Martyr, Discourse to the Greeks, Chapter 1

Read also this testimony:

Men of Greece, when I came to examine the Christian writings, I found not any folly in them, as I had found in the celebrated Homer, who has said concerning the wars of the two trials: “Because of Helen, many of the Greeks perished at Troy, away from their beloved home.” For, first of all, we are told concerning Agamemnon their king, that by reason of the foolishness of his brother Menelaus, and the violence of his madness, and the uncontrollable nature of his passion, he resolved to go and rescue Helen from the hands of a certain leprous shepherd; and afterwards, when the Greeks had become victorious in the war, and burnt cities, and taken women and children captive, and the land was filled with blood, and the rivers with corpses, Agamemnon himself also was found to be taken captive by his passion for Briseis. Patroclus, again, we are told, was slain, and Achilles, the son of the goddess Thetis, mourned over him; Hector was dragged along the ground, and Priam and Hecuba together were weeping over the loss of their children; Astyanax, the son of Hector, was thrown down from the walls of Ilion, and his mother Andromache the mighty Ajax bore away into captivity; and that which was taken as booty was after a little while, all squandered in sensual indulgence.

Of the wiles of Odysseus the son of Laertes, and of his murders, who shall tell the tale? For of a hundred and ten suitors did his house in one day become the grave, and it was filled with corpses and blood. He, too, it was that by his wickedness gained the praises of men, because through his pre-eminence in craft he escaped detection; he, too, it was who, you say, sailed upon the sea, and heard not the voice of the Sirens only because he stopped his ears with wax.

The famous Achilles, again, the son of Peleus, who bounded across the river, and routed the Trojans, and slew Hector—this said hero of yours became the slave of Philoxena, and was overcome by an Amazon as she lay dead and stretched upon her bier; and he put off his armour, and arrayed himself in nuptial garments, and finally fell a sacrifice to love.

Thus much concerning your great “men;” and you, Homer, had deserved forgiveness, if your silly story-telling had gone so far only as to prate about men, and not about the gods. As for what he says about the gods, I am ashamed even to speak of it: for the stories that have been invented about them are very wicked and shocking; passing strange, too, and not to be believed; and, if the truth must be told, fit only to be laughed at. For a person will be compelled to laugh when he meets with them, and will not believe them when he hears them. For think of gods who did not one of them observe the laws of rectitude, or of purity, or of modesty, but were adulterers, and spent their time in debauchery, and yet were not condemned to death, as they ought to have been!

– Ambrose a chief man of the Greeks (contemporary with Origen c. 185–254), Memorial

That is the historic approach to Homer, to condemn its wickedness, not to liken the Holy Scripture to its idle and wicked tales. Such should be reserved for scoffers like Dan Barker or Thomas Jefferson.

Olson doesn’t go quite as far as Barker or Thomas Jefferson, though. He accepts those things that are mentioned in “the Creed,” but since there are lots of historical passages of the Old Testament that are not specifically he listed in the creed, he views them as adiaphora (a thing indifferent, which one can accept or not).

In essence, the only thing that prevents Olson from denying the virgin birth as a myth is the fact that it made it into the creed. Pontius Pilate? Well, he’s in the creed. Herod better watch out though! We’re not sure whether “maker of heavens and earth” is enough to get Olson to believe Creationism (we seriously doubt it), and Olson plainly denies the flood. His comment in that regard provides the basis for our conclusion:

Finally, you wonder that a person who does believe in the literal flood and I, who does not, can be said to worship the same religion.

Notice how he speaks of worshiping a religion. For us (Reformed Christians) we do not worship a religion – we worship God. Whether we rightly or wrongly worship God is judged by how closely we follow God’s instruction for worship.

Two quick further words of caution. While Olson is attending an OCA parish, and while he is apparently studying to serve in that church in a minor way (as a “reader”), he’s not an official spokesman for his religion. Also, while rejecting the historical narratives of the Old Testament as such is a serious error, it may be that the error falls short of being, in itself, a denial of the gospel.


Mahershalalhashbaz and Immanuel

December 20, 2009

Mahershalalhashbaz has a name that is quite a handful. Recently, my attention was brought to a claim that Mahershalalhashbaz was the one and only fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, “… a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel … .” The claim that Mahershalalhashbaz is the one and only fulfillment is plainly mistaken, since Matthew’s gospel connects the prophecy to Jesus:

Matthew 1:22-23
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”

One might ask why Mahershalalhashbaz is even brought into the matter. The reason is the following flow of the passage (keep in mind that the chapter divisions are not original):

Isaiah 7:10-8:4
(10) Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, (11) “Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.”

(12) But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.”

(13) And he said, “Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? (14) Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (15) Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. (16) For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. (17) The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria. (18) And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. (19) And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes. (20) In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard. (21) And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep; (22) And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the land. (23) And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, it shall even be for briers and thorns. (24) With arrows and with bows shall men come thither; because all the land shall become briers and thorns. (25) And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briers and thorns: but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of lesser cattle.”

(8:1) Moreover the LORD said unto me, “Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz.”

(2) And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. (3) And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son.

Then said the LORD to me, “Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz. (4) For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.

Notice that the child of the prophetess (or wife of the prophet) is described as being young at the critical point (“For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother”) and there are also two kingdoms (Damascus and Samaria) who are being conquered by Assyria.

This link suggests that Mahershalalhashbaz is a primary fulfillment of the prophecy, though not the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy. What’s interesting though, is that in being the primary fulfillment, Mahershalalhashbaz also serves as a type (i.e. foreshadow) of Christ.

I noticed this in a particularly striking way when reading Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on Isaiah. In that commentary he practically ignores the historical person Mahershalalhashbaz. One reason is that apparently his version of the Old Testament in Greek did not transliterate the Hebrew name, Mahershalalhashbaz, but rather translated it. The English translation of the Greek translation that Cyril had was “Quickly plunder, rapidly pillage” which is similar to Strong’s proposed translation of “hasting (as he (the enemy) to the) booty, swift (to the) prey.”

It may be that Cyril was way off, and he himself views the passage as difficult, but he makes an interesting observation. The wise men from the east who came to Jesus brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Jesus received this booty, prey, or plunder at time when he was quite young, before he could speak.

I’m not totally convinced by Cyril’s explanation, as you can probably tell. Yet, it is an interesting idea. Those who are fond of the redemptive-historical hermeneutic should especially enjoy it.


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