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    Who is Jesus? Four Biblical Titles

    Thursday, March 25, 2010, 3:44 AM [General]

    Transfiguration of Jesus, among Elijah and Moses

    Who is Jesus? This is not, and never was, an easy question to answer, not even for Christian believers. Most heresies in the first three centuries of Christianity are Christological, that is "different opinions" (the literal meaning of the Greek word hairesis, whence heresy, is "choice") from the "Catholic orthodoxy" that was gradually consolidating in the meantime.

    Let's try to say something unquestionably biblical about Jesus.

    Messiah

    Although Jesus was reluctant to apply to himself the title of Messiah, the awaited "Anointed King" who would establish (or rather re-establish) God's Kingdom on earth, and only revealed it, secretly, to the inner circle of the Twelve Apostles (Mat 16:13-20), at the twofold trial by the Jewish Sanhedrin and by the Roman Governor, he was NOT evasive, but openly admitted his Messiahship both in front of the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas (Mat 26:63-64) and of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate (John 18:37).

    Son of Man

    The most frequent expression by which Jesus refers to himself is "son of man"(found 84 verses containing the phrase son of man in the Gospels, Matthew - John;  see @ ESV). Some modern scholars try to play this expression down, and affirm that it is, in Greek, a translation from a rhetoric idiomatic Hebrew ...bar enosh or ben adam), which would simply mean "man". But this is hardly reconcilable with the passage already mentioned, Jesus reply to the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas:

    Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mat 26:64)

    Jesus is clearly referring to Ps 110:1 and to a figure that is "like a son of man", BUT is MORE that human, in fact a heavenly figure, the mysterious "Son of man" of Dan 7:13.

    Son of God

    This is another expression used in the Gospels to refer to Jesus (although not as frequent as "son of man": found 26 verses containing the phrase son of god in the Gospels Matthew - John; see @ ESV). Again, here, some modern scholars try to play this expression down, by saying that it is a "honorific title", which can be found in the OT and that, there, it applies to kings, priests and even judges. At a superficial reading, Jesus himself seems to agree with this interpretation: 

    35 If those people to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ (and the scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:35-36)

    But the Nativity Accounts, both in Matthew and Luke, add to this expression, "Son of God", a very specific meaning:

    18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

    23Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” (Matthew 1:18, 23; cp. Isaiah 7:14; 8:8)

    30 So the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! 31 Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

    In conclusion, we can say that the expression "Son of God", far from being a mere honorific title, represents Jesus as God's Son in a "quasi-biological" way, through the miracle of the virgin conception by God's Holy Spirit, from the  Virgin Mary.

    Word of God

    If the expression "Son of God", far from being a mere honorific title, may still represent Jesus as man only, in spite of his being directly connected with God via the miracle of the virgin conception/birth, the Prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18) presents to us Jesus as more than connected with God: it is crystal clear that the Prologue of John speaks of God's Eternal Logos, and of Jesus as the Incarnation of God's Logos: 

    The Prologue to the Gospel

    1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was [fully] God.

    14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only [son], full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. (John 1:1,14)

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    These little ones

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010, 12:44 PM [General]

    “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones
    in the name of a disciple, I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward.”

     

    Matthew 10:40-42 is a very interesting pericope. The four "sequences" included in it are far less obvious than their familiar sound may lead to believe.

    First of all, let's look at them, once again. I will adopt the NETBible translation, because the way it renders the critical Greek expression εις ονομα (eis onoma + genitive) with "in the name of" is the most literal, and, at the same time, faithful to the sense of the original.

    Rewards

    40 Whoever receives you [Apostles] receives me [Jesus], and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me  [God].

    41a Whoever receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.

    41b Whoever receives a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.  

    42 And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward.”

    Two easy pieces

    The two "sequences" at v. 41 are quite evident, because they follow the same pattern:

    41a,b Whoever receives a X1 in the name of a X2 will receive a X3 ’s reward.
    [where: X  = prophet, righteous person; Xi = occurrences of X , with i= 1,2,3]

    So, the form of the sentence is evident, but what does it actually mean? Let's try to apply it to a term which is definitely more familiar, in our lives, of either  "prophet" or "irgteous person". Let's apply it to: X friend. Then we have

    [friend] Whoever receives a friend1  in the name of a friend2 will receive a friend3’s reward.

    Sounds like normal English, at least, but what does it mean?

    Well, suppose that there is a person, a person that you do not know particularly well (Whoever=W) and that you send to this person a friend of yours (X1 = friend1) hoping/trusting that W will receive (=r) X1 (=rX1)"as a friend", "in the name of friendship", "because he is a friend [of yours]" ...

    OIOW: in the name of a friend=> in the name of a friend  (and, formalizing and generalizing) => nX2; where n= "in the name of a ..."

    Surely the welcoming attitude (=r) of this person (W=Whoever) towards a friend of yours (X1 = friend1), in the name of friendship, because he is a friend of yours, "in the name of a friend" (=nX2) would be appreciated, and what better reward could he receive? Why, whatever befits a friend: he will receive a reward [worthy of] friend3 (g friend3=, and, generalizing gX3).

    So, now, not only the form is clear, but also the sense is clear. It can be easily seen that, [41a], [41b] and [friend] can be written in the same form:

    W rX1 nX2 gX3

    Ah, so far, so good, but how are we going to apply this formalism to [40] and, even more so to [42], which is the verse we are really interested in?

    It is clear that neither verse contains an evident sequence, with the same form an the same repeated "variable" (X).

    A not so easy piece

    Let's try and tackle [40], first. What do the Apostles and Jesus have in common, that would fit the form of the verse? They are both sent! They are both envoys (the Apostles by Jesus, Jesus by God, the Father Almighty).

    So, now, we have, tentatively,  X = envoy, or, to be more accurate, Xi = envoyi (i= 1,2)

    Can we extend  this to X3 = envoy3? And, more important, would it have some sense? Let's try (like we have done, previously, with X friend). This time, X = envoy. Applying the same formalism, to [40] we have:

    [envoy] Whoever receives an envoy1  in the name of an envoy2 will receive an envoy3’s reward.

    Does it make sense? What is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying that:

    Whoever receives an Apostle [=Jesus' envoy] in the name of Jesus [=God's envoy] will receive a reward worthy of an envoy.

    And what would be the "reward worthy of an envoy", in this case? Why, the envoyer Himself: God,

    “... and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

    A tough nut to crack

    Now that we have (quite) easily sorted out [41a=prophet] and [41b=righteous person] and with some more difficulty, [40= envoy], let's try and tackle what seems to be the toughest nut of them all, [42].

    Let's start with the easy parts. Of course:

    "gives only a cup of cold water to ..." = "receives [kindly and helpfully]"

    "I tell you the truth": a formula to call the attention of the listener to what follows

    "he will never lose his reward" = "he will receive an adequate reward"

    Let's now follow the same approach that we have followed for [40], asking if and what may there be in common between "one of these little ones" and a "disciple".

    Well, sometimes in life it is necessary to be daring, and this is one of them: I surmise that what "one of these little ones" and a "disciple" have in common is that they are both poor:

    "one of these little ones" in the obvious sense of being poor and destitute, of being "thirsty".

    "disciple" in the sense of recognizing in himself poverty, another form of poverty, spiritual poverty, and not being ashamed to admit his poverty, and his "thirst" for the spiritual "water" offered by Jesus (John 4:13-15)

    So, now, we have, tentatively,  X = poor, or, to be more accurate, Xi = poori (i= 1,2)

    Can we extend  this to X3 = poor3? And, more important, would it have some sense? Let's try (like we have done, previously, with X friend, envoy ). This time, X = poor. Applying the same formalism, to [42] we have:

    [poor] Whoever receives a poor man1  in the name of a poor man2 will receive a poor man3’s reward.

    Does it make sense? What is Jesus saying? I surmise that Jesus is saying that:

    Whoever receives one of these little ones  [=destitute] in the name of a disciple [=poor in spirit] will receive a reward worthy of the poor.

    And what would be the "reward worthy of poor"? Why, this is the answer ...

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 5:3)


    ... the very first of the Beatitudes. And the reward is no less than the Kingdom of Heaven!

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    "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation"?

    Saturday, February 6, 2010, 10:07 AM [General]

    Adoration of the Golden Calf, by Nicolas Poussin, 1633-34

    This was my starting point: my refusal to believe that these ...

    “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me ...” (Exodus 20:5)

    ... are the words of God.

    Of course, I know and firmly believe that idolatry is, if possible, the worst sin in the eye of God, because it gives to the creature, worse, to a fictional image of the creature, the worship that is only due to the Creator, to God.

    So, my first temptation would have been to re-formulate the Second Commandment, striking out the part that I refused to believe to be the words of God, inspired by God. Something like this:

    4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands [Or to the thousandth generation] of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)

    But I realized that this is not a very satisfactory approach.

    A look at the NETBible made me realize that their translation (Exodus 20:4-6 - NET) is significantly different from the ESV, and I also wanted to look carefully at their translation notes, and to look deeper into the Hebrew text.

    Let's first of all look at the NETBible translation, which, as noticed, shows some differences from the ESV. I will evidence, by bolding them, the "critical words", those that are most problematic for the sense of the whole passage

    4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous [#] God, responding [$] to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations [§] of those who reject me, 6 and showing covenant faithfulness [%] to a thousand [&] generations [§] of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
    (Exodus 20:4-6 - NET; cp. Ex 20:4-6 HIB)[&]

    It may be also useful to analyze comparatively the above passage with the parallel passage from Deuteronomy:

    8 You must not make for yourself an image of anything in heaven above, on earth below, or in the waters beneath. 9 You must not worship or serve them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous [#] God. I punish [$] the sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons for the sin of the fathers who reject me, 10 but I show covenant faithfulness [%] to the thousands [&] [thousand generations] [§] who choose me and keep my commandments.
    (Deuteronomy 5:8-10; cp. Dt 5:8-10 HIB)

    For the sake of completeness and for a further check I have also added the respective links to the Hebrew Interlinear Bible (HIB).

    I have copied herebelow the relevant NET © Notes. I have also embedded  in the notes a "Small Hebrew Lexicon", with the link to the critical Hebrew words, at Blue Letter Bible

    [#] (Ex 20:5)6; [Dt 5:9] sn The word “jealous” [קַנָּא, qanna' <07067>, jealous (only of God)] is the same word often translated “zeal” or “zealous.” The word describes a passionate intensity to protect or defend something that is jeopardized. The word can also have the sense of “envy,” but in that case the object is out of bounds. God’s zeal or jealousy is to protect his people or his institutions or his honor. Yahweh’s honor is bound up with the life of his people.

    [$] (Ex 20:5)7; [Dt 5:9]  tn Verses 5 and 6 are very concise, and the word פָּקַד (paqad) is difficult to translate. [פֹּקֵד, paqad <06485>, to attend to, muster, number, reckon, visit, punish, appoint, look after, care for] Often rendered “visiting,” it might here be rendered “dealing with” in a negative sense or “punishing,” but it describes positive attention in 13:19. When used of God, it essentially means that God intervenes in the lives of people for blessing or for cursing. Some would simply translate the participle here as “punishing” the children for the sins of the fathers (cf. Lev 18:25; Isa 26:21; Jer 29:32; 36:31; Hos 1:4; Amos 3:2). That is workable, but may not say enough. The verse may indicate that those who hate Yahweh and do not keep his commandments will repeat the sins their fathers committed and suffer for them. Deut 24:16 says that individuals will die for their own sins and not their father’s sins (see also Deut 7:10 and Ezek 18). It may have more to do with patterns of sin being repeated from generation to generation; if the sin and the guilt were not fully developed in the one generation, then left unchecked they would develop and continue in the next. But it may also indicate that the effects of the sins of the fathers will be experienced in the following generations, especially in the case of Israel as a national entity (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 243). God is showing here that his ethical character is displayed in how he deals with sin and righteousness, all of which he describes as giving strong motivation for loyalty to him and for avoiding idolatry. There is a justice at work in the dealings of God that is not present in the pagan world.

    [§] (Ex 20:5,[6])8; [Dt 5:9,10] tn The Hebrew word for “generations” is not found in v. 5 or 6. The numbers are short for a longer expression, which is understood as part of the description of the children already mentioned (see Deut 7:9, where “generation” [דּוֹר, dor] is present and more necessary, since “children” have not been mentioned).

    [%(Ex 20:6)10; [Dt 5:10] tn Literally “doing loyal love” (עֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד, ’oseh khesed). [עֹשֶׂה, `asah <06213>, to do, fashion, accomplish, make; חֶסֶד, checed <02617>, goodness, kindness, faithfulness] The noun refers to God’s covenant loyalty, his faithful love to those who belong to him. These are members of the covenant, recipients of grace, the people of God, whom God will preserve and protect from evil and its effects.

    [&(Ex 20:6)11; [Dt 5:10] tn Heb “to thousands” or “to thousandth.” [אֲלָף, 'eleph <0505>, a thousand] After “tenth,” Hebrew uses cardinal numbers for ordinals also. This statement is the antithesis of the preceding line. The “thousands” or “thousandth [generation]” are those who love Yahweh and keep his commands. These are descendants from the righteous, and even associates with them, who benefit from the mercy that God extends to his people. S. R. Driver (Exodus, 195) says that this passage teaches that God’s mercy transcends his wrath; in his providence the beneficial consequences of a life of goodness extend indefinitely further than the retribution that is the penalty for persisting in sin. To say that God’s loyal love extends to thousands of generations or the thousandth generation is parallel to saying that it endures forever (Ps. 118). See also Exod 34:7; Deut 5:10; 7:9; Ps 18:51; Jer 32:18.

    And, now, having prepared this "apparatus", let's ask few ...

    Questions

    1. How does YHWH God (who is NOT "jealous" in the anthropomorphic sense of "morbidly possessive") express His “zeal”? Perhaps punishing NOT ONLY the people who reject Him, who "betray" him with idols of false "gods", BUT also their sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons? Why? Would this be a Just God, a Loving God, a Merciful God?

    2. OTOH, would this be a Just God, who NOT ONLY "shows mercy" to those "who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments", BUT ALSO "to a thousand [generations]" of their offspring?

    3. Is "to punish" (or the old fashioned "to visit", or the rather free expression used by NETBible, "to respond ... by dealing"), in the context of the Second Commandment, the right translation of the Hebrew verb פֹּקֵד, paqad <06485>? Or, among the many meanings (to attend to, muster, number, reckon, visit, punish, appoint, look after, care for) there is a more appropriate one?

    4. If the word "generations" is NOT in the Hebrew text, BUT is an interpolation of the translators, are we sure that it should have been interpolated at all? Are we sure that it is the right word to be interpolated, anyway, according to the sense of the passage, and to parallel expressions in other verses of the OT?

    Instead of an answer

    Instead of answering in detail the above questions, I will boldly say that NOT ONLY the translators have mistranslated those verses, BUT EVEN the Hebrew readers have misunderstood their real sense.

    So, with amazing gall, with unbelievable chutzpah, I will propose herebelow the real sense of the Second Commandment, and in particular of the two critical (and mistranslated, and misunderstood) verses:

    4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous passionately caring God, responding to ceaselessy correcting the transgression of fathers all people by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, until the end of their earthly life [even if they get as old as to see the fourth generation of their offspring, their great-grandsons] 6 and showing covenant faithfulness Mercy to a thousand generations unto Life Everlasting [miriads of generations] for  those who love me and keep my commandments.
    [Exodus 20:4-6, freely but truthfully rendered by Miguel_de_Servet]

    The "generations", which seemed the most suspect word, because they are not in the Hebrew text, are indeed, after all, a correct interpolation ...

    ... as a figurative expression of the brevity of the life of those who reject God (even if they get as old as to see the fourth generation of their offspring, their great-grandsons), after which follows eternal death (what Revelation calls the "second death").

    ... as a figurative expression of the eternity of life of those who love God and keep His commandments, who will enjoy God's Mercy unto Life Everlasting (miriads of generations)

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    Ἕλλην (Hellēn): Greeks, Gentiles OR Hellenist Jews?

    Saturday, January 9, 2010, 3:18 PM [General]

    ΑΛΛΟΓΕΝΗΣ (allogenēs) NO CLOSER!

    Let's examine the Greek adjective Ἕλλην (Hellēn - G1672). As can be seen, it is used in 27 verses in the NT.

    The Blue Letter Bible (following the Thayer's Lexicon) gives these two main meanings:

    1) a Greek either by nationality, whether a native of the main land or of the Greek islands or colonies

    2) in a wider sense the name embraces all nations not Jews that made the language, customs, and learning of the Greeks their own; the primary reference is to a difference of religion and worship

    As a partial correction to 2), Thayer's Lexicon says that ...

    "The Hellēnes spoken of in John 12:20 and Acts 17:4 are Jewish proselytes from the Gentiles"

    ... that is Gentiles who have converted to Judaism.

    But do the above 1) and 2) really represent the uses of  Hellēn in the NT?

    Let's examine more closely the first instance, John 7:35, at NETBible, which provides also the Greek text. A (clumsy) word by word translation of the Greek text gives:

    ειπον  ουν οι ιουδαιοι προσ εαυτους που ουτος μελλει πορευεσθαι οτι ημεις ουχ ευρησομεν αυτον μη εις την διασποραν των ελληνων μελλει πορευεσθαι και διδασκειν τους ελληνας

    said then the Jews/Judeans to one-other [:] where this [man] is going to go that we not will find him [?] not to the diaspora of the [1] Hellēnes [he] is going to go and to teach the [2] Hellēnes [?]

    Most translations, misleadingly and deceptively render "diaspora of the [1] Hellēnes" as "Jewish people dispersed among the Greeks", but [2] Hellēnes simply as "Greeks", as though, the Jews/Judeans of Jerusalem were wondering if Jesus was about to leave Jerusalem and its Jews to go to the "Jews dispersed among the Greeks", but then, for some peculiar reason, Jesus would not make of the "Jews dispersed among the Greeks" his new pupils, but the Greeks.

    This is simply absurd.

    In fact Ελλενης ( Hellēnes) at John 7:35 are NOT "Greeks" or (as the NLT translation rather freely proposes) "maybe even ... the Gentiles", BUT,  in both instances ([1] and [2]) the are ALWAYS the Hellenist Jews, Jews who had assimilated into the Roman-Greek culture and language.

    If ever John 7:35 wanted to refer to the "Greeks", "maybe even ... the Gentiles" there was available the proper word, ἀλλογενής (allogenēs - G241), which corresponds perfectly to the Hebrew גּוֺי (gowy  -  H1471)

    In fact ΑΛΛΟΓΕΝΗΣ (allogenēs —"another genus") is exactly the word used on an inscription on one of the surviving stones from the Soreg, "a giant stone structure separating the public area from the area [of the Temple] where only Jews could enter". (See Wikipedia > Herod's Temple > The Court of the Gentiles) as a warning to the Gentile visitors NOT to trespass: in fact, to stay away. (see photograph)

    It is an easy extrapolation (I leave it for you as an exercise) that, also at John 12:20 ("Now some Greeks [Hellēnes] were among those who had gone up to worship at the feast."), Hellēnes, contrary to what the NET © Note sn says, does NOT mean "Greeks", BUT Hellenist Jews.

    Likewise, it is easy to see how misleading it is to translate Hellēnes as "Greeks", rather than Hellenist Jews, in all the 10 instances in Acts.

    So, how did the ambiguity, the confusion arise? Simple: it was Paul who made a point of blurring NOT ONLY the ethnic difference between Jews and Greeks, BUT ALSO the religious one, as can be seen from his use of Hellēn: Rom(6), 1Cr(5), Gal(2), Col(1).

    But God found some use also for Paul and for his "push" ...

    (added Jan 17, 2010)

    Acts 18, where Paul's real "turning point" occurs ...

     

    It is interesting to look at Acts 18, where Paul's real "turning point" occurs:

    Paul in Corinth

    And they [KJV: Greeks] all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (Acts 18:17 )

     

    Take good note of this as a spectacular example of how the KJV "translators" tried, even by crassly and clumsily manipulating the text, to contrast the "stubborn" Jews with the "open" Greeks, to give more "oomph" to what is, actually, Paul's real "turning point":

    And when they [the Jews in Corinth] opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” ( Acts 18:6 - emphasis and underlining MdS)

    Take good note: "From now on" ... NOT before

    N.B. For the full discussion of this subject, see thread "Ἕλλην (Hellēn): Greeks, Gentiles OR Hellenist Jews?" that originated this Journal post.

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    The Incarnation as Mystery and Miracle

    Monday, January 4, 2010, 5:59 PM [General]

    Beato Angelico, Annunciation, Saint Mark, Florence

    Question

    If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God (as all Christians who accept the Apostles' Creed do - NOT an imaginary God-the-Son, a later elaboration which had its crowning with the doctrine of the "trinity" at the end of the 4th century), was it necessary for God, the One and Only, the Father Almighty, to resort to the Virgin Birth for the Incarnation of His Eternal Word in/as the God-man Jesus Christ?

    Answer

    No, strictly speaking it was NOT necessary: in the Incarnation of God's Eternal Word in/as Jesus, the Son of God, the are two distinct elements:

    The mystery, which consists in God's Eternal Word getting incarnated in/as the real man Jesus Christ. This is the essence of the Incarnation, and it is difficult enough to accept it, let alone understand it.

    The miracle, which consists in God resorting to His Holy Spirit so that His Eternal Word would, somehow "work" as the functional equivalent of a man's seed in procreating a human being (a male, Jesus) in the Blessed Womb of the Virgin Mary. Put is more modern terms, the Word of God, by the mysterious and miraculous work of God's Holy Spirit, acted as the functional equivalent of a male sperm (even the Church Fathers use the expression λογος σπερματικος, logos spermatikos, literally, "Seminal Word"). To be even more accurate, and resorting to the terminology of our days, God's "Seminal Word", by joining itself with the ovum of the Blessed Virgin Mary, acted as some sort of "divine DNA", which, by joining itself with the human (female) DNA of the Blessed Womb of the Virgin Mary, produced the God-man Jesus.

    If "Virgin Birth" (better, Virgin Conception) means anything at all as fact (NOT just as a symbol), it MUST mean what I have above described, or something similar.

    Is the miracle of the Virgin Conception important? I believe it is, and for at least two reasons:

    1. It is immediate, self-explanatory evidence that God, the One and Only, the Father Almighty is NOT an "idea", or a "force", BUT (in the most obvious sense of the word) a Personal God, who can intervene in His Creation as He pleases.

    2. God wants everybody to know that, in Jesus He has fully relealed His Will, His Word. The "humble and simple", unlike the "learned and prudent", would certainly find it hard to confront, let alone understand the metaphysical sophistications of the Incarnation, but everybody, even a child, can perfectly well understand the miracle of the Virgin Conception ...

    ... of course one has to be ready to accept the Supernatural, miracles, and that ...

    34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” [since I do not know a man]

    35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born [of you] will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant [bondservant] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:34-38 - emphasis MdS)

    ... nothing will be impossible with God.

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    What did Abraham think to himself? (Genesis 22)

    Sunday, December 6, 2009, 6:09 PM [General]

    Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah (Gustave Doré)

     

    1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. (Genesis 22:1-8)

     

    What di Abraham think to himself? We can only speculate, because the Bible says absolutely nothing. At most we can see some hints at Gen 22:5 and Gen 22:8.

    To attribute Abraham some kind of "rational ethical thought", as though he was a Greek philosopher like Aristotle, or even a post-Illuminist philosopher like Kant, is rather anachronistic. At most we can imagine that Abraham's "ethical thinking" may have been something like this:

    “I did not know You, and You have revealed Yourself to me. You are great and all-powerful, and nevertheless You have made me the object of Your favour, and do me the incomparable privilege of treating me as Your friend. But how could You be my friend if You are demanding from me to give back to you the most precious thing that You have given to me, my beloved son Isaac, who impersonates the promise that You have made to me, that in him (and nobody else), I will be the "the father of a multitude"?

    Still I treasure Your friendship and our covenant, and therefore I am going to have faith in You, that You are not going to break the covenant that You have taken the initiative of established with me, a mere humble human being. Out of the love that I still believe You have for me, I will obey your demand and do what You are asking, even if I am puzzled and horrified. If you really intend to carry Your demand to the ultimate conclusion, I will have lost my son, that I owe entirely to You, but I will have also lost You, because our covenant will be broken, and, if You would not consider it broken, I would, anyway.

    I can only hope that this is, on Your part, a test of my faith in You, and love/obedience for You, and that You are not deeming the gift that You have made to me, my son Isaac, so worthless that you can ask it back, without giving any reason, other than you want me to offer him to You in sacrifice. If I am wrong, nothing would matter to me any more, anyway. You are all-powerful: all I have left, beside my faith in you and love for you, for my son Isaac and for my wife Sarah, is my hope that you are not a tyrant, playing with people's lives, for whom human life is so expendable as the life of any ram.”
    [Abraham's thoughts, freely but truthfully attributed by Miguel de Servet]

    To claim, as some do, that God did speak to Abraham, but that it was some sort of 'playful' demand, that God never seriously meant to put Abraham to the test, and that Abraham understood the 'playful' nature of the demand, seems like a (bad) joke to me.

    How could Abraham know, anyway? Where would Genesis 22 suggest anything of the kind?

    If one really wants to see Abraham's Trial under the category of "game", all I can say is that one has obviously not understood that this was, for Abraham, a mortal game, in which he was putting at stake all he had.

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    Mary's expensive perfume vs Judas' cheap betrayal

    Saturday, December 5, 2009, 10:21 AM [General]

    Jesus at Bethany (Eastern icon; painter unknown)

     

    1Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

    4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5"Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

    7"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. " It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."

    9Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.

    (John 12:[1:1],1:2-8,1:9-11 - NIV)

     

    Even on a superficial reading level, if, as the Gospel of John explicitly says, the one who poured the "pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume", was Mary, one of the two sisters of Lazarus, "whom Jesus had raised from the dead", she had all the reasons to spend all she had, even to the last penny, to express her thankfulness to Jesus.

    Anyway, it is rather ironical that some "intellectual unbelievers", who don't even consider the existence of a historical Jesus, but prefer to indulge in the the (minority) scholarly myth of the ... Christ myth theory, have the gall, the chutzpah, of commenting on the passage of John at face value, without any effort of comparative reading with the parallel narrations in the Synoptics and with the OT passages that are explicitly associated with the figure of Judas and of the 30 pieces of silver of his betrayal.

    If one wants to try and understand what is going on, what is behind the scene, it is necessary, to begin with, to read the passage of Jesus’ Anointing, preferably, in a translation like NETBible (John 12:1-11 - NET), not forgetting the very useful footnotes.

    Also, you it is important to compare John's passage on Jesus’ Anointing with the parallel Synoptic narratives, extended enough as to include the immediate context (The Plot Against Jesus and The Plan to Betray Jesus by Judas), present even in Luke (although Luke omits the narration of Jesus’ Anointing): see Mat 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11; Luke 22:1-6.

    More, it is important to understand that, in particular in Matthew, the theme of the "three hundred pieces of silver" of Jesus’ Anointing, is echoed by the "thirty pieces of silver" of Judas' betrayal, in a prophetic perspective (like saying, “Judas deemed Jesus less that 10 times worthy than the perfume he was anointed with”). Read Mat 27:9 and compare it with Jeremiah, that Matthew explicitly cites, probably confusing, in his quotation, Jer 32:9 with Zech 11:12-13.

    To end with, my personal opinion: money is a straw-man, both in Matthew and in John, as an explanation of what kept Judas ticking, and that money would have been the ultimate motive behind his decision to betray Jesus.

    IMSO, Judas probably admired Jesus, but did NOT love him. The "thirty pieces of silver" are just an excuse, a smokescreen for the real reason of his betrayal: confronted with Jesus actions, that he understood less and less, he wanted to put Jesus to the ultimate test, to force him in an impossible situation, whereby either Jesus would have been compelled to reveal himself as the "Mighty Messiah" that only interested Judas, or Jesus would have succumbed.

    (What I am here describing is, of course, my view of Judas' foolish scheme.)

    Jesus did indeed succumb (but believers know that this is NOT the "end of the story" ...), and Judas, although "he regretted what he had done and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders", probably never realized that his betrayal had been instrumental to God's plan. (Mat 27:3-10)

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    El Eyon, El Shaddai, Yahweh

    Monday, November 30, 2009, 10:22 AM [General]

    (Many "names" of God: only One Proper Name)

    The critical passage in the Bible is this:

    18 Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (Now he was the priest of the Most High God.) 19 He blessed Abram, saying,
    “Blessed be Abram by the Most High God,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
    20 Worthy of praise is the Most High God,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
    Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything.
    21 Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and take the possessions for yourself.”  22 But Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I raise my hand to the LORD, [Hebrew, יהוה (Yĕhovah - H3068 )] the Most High God, [אל עליון ( 'el 'elyown  - H410 + H5945)] Creator of heaven and earth, and vow 22 that I will take nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal. That way you can never say, ‘It is I who made Abram rich.’
    (Genesis 14:18-23)

     

    So, at verse 22, Abraham solemnly declares that YHWH (Yĕhovah, Yahweh) and the "Most High God" ( 'el 'elyown, El Elyon) are one and the same God.

    The identification established by Abraham, though very strong, is rendered somewhat problematic by what we read in Exodus, viz. that Yahweh, having revealed to Moses His Proper Name ...

    God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘The LORD [ יהוה, Yĕhovah ]– the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you. This is my name [that is, יהוה, Yĕhovah] forever, and this is my memorial from generation to generation.’ (Exodus 3:15)

    ... and having therefore identified Himself as one and the same as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob", in a later couple of verses of Exodus ...

     2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. [ יהוה, Yĕhovah ] 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, [אל שדי ('el Shadday - H410 + H7706)] but by my name ‘the Lord’ I was not known to them. (Exodus 6:2-3)

    ... declares that His Proper Name (יהוה, Yĕhovah) "was not known to them".

    It is therefore evident that the name יהוה, must have been "retrofitted" in Genesis 14:22. In this respect, the NET © Note 5tn/sn, appended to Exodus 6:3 (too long to be examined here) is worth examining in detail. (#)

    All we can say, in conclusion, is that the relationship between the appellatives El Elyon, and El Shadday, and the Name Proper Yahweh  is a complex one, not fully explained.

    Personally, I refuse as a Jewish-Gnostic heretic myth the idea that  El Elyon would be the "father" of the "degenerate" son Yahweh, and that Jesus, the "holy son" of El Elyon, (or himself an incarnation of El Elyon?) would have come to earth to re-establish the "truth and order" of El Elyon, against Yahweh.

    It is clear that one of the implication of this Gnostic idea is to lead straight to anti-Semitism. It is a real irony of history that the remote and obscure Jewish-Gnostic heretics, are the ones who, in a remote past, have paved the way to anti-Judaism and prepared one of the most formidable weapons against their own people, for the following 2000 years, and in particular for the 20th century.


    (#)

    tn The verb is the Niphal form נוֹדַעְתִּי (nodati). If the text had wanted to say, “I did not make myself known,” then a Hiphil form would have been more likely. It is saying, “but by my name Yahweh I was not known to them.”

    sn There are a number of important issues that need clarification in the interpretation of this section. First, it is important to note that “I am Yahweh” is not a new revelation of a previously unknown name. It would be introduced differently if it were. This is the identification of the covenant God as the one calling Moses – that would be proof for the people that their God had called him. Second, the title “El Shadday” is not a name, but a title. It is true that in the patriarchal accounts “El Shadday” is used six times; in Job it is used thirty times. Many conclude that it does reflect the idea of might or power. In some of those passages that reveal God as “El Shadday,” the name “Yahweh” was also used. But Wellhausen and other proponents of the earlier source critical analysis used Exod 6:3 to say that P, the so-called priestly source, was aware that the name “Yahweh” was not known by them, even though J, the supposed Yahwistic source, wrote using the name as part of his theology. Third, the texts of Genesis show that Yahweh had appeared to the patriarchs (Gen 12:1, 17:1, 18:1, 26:2, 26:24, 26:12, 35:1, 48:3), and that he spoke to each one of them (Gen 12:7, 15:1, 26:2, 28:13, 31:3). The name “Yahweh” occurs 162 times in Genesis, 34 of those times on the lips of speakers in Genesis (W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:340-41). They also made proclamation of Yahweh by name (4:26, 12:8), and they named places with the name (22:14). These passages should not be ignored or passed off as later interpretation. Fourth, “Yahweh” is revealed as the God of power, the sovereign God, who was true to his word and could be believed. He would do as he said (Num 23:19; 14:35; Exod 12:25; 22:24; 24:14; 36:36; 37:14). Fifth, there is a difference between promise and fulfillment in the way revelation is apprehended. The patriarchs were individuals who received the promises but without the fulfillment. The fulfillment could only come after the Israelites became a nation. Now, in Egypt, they are ready to become that promised nation. The two periods were not distinguished by not having and by having the name, but by two ways God revealed the significance of his name. “I am Yahweh” to the patriarchs indicated that he was the absolute, almighty, eternal God. The patriarchs were individuals sojourning in the land. God appeared to them in the significance of El Shadday. That was not his name. So Gen 17:1 says that “Yahweh appeared…and said, ‘I am El Shadday.’” See also Gen 35:11, 48:2, 28:3. Sixth, the verb “to know” is never used to introduce a name which had never been known or experienced. The Niphal and Hiphil of the verb are used only to describe the recognition of the overtones or significance of the name (see Jer 16:21, Isa 52:6; Ps 83:17ff; 1 Kgs 8:41ff. [people will know his name when prayers are answered]). For someone to say that he knew Yahweh meant that Yahweh had been experienced or recognized (see Exod 33:6; 1 Kgs 18:36; Jer 28:9; and Ps 76:2). Seventh, “Yahweh” is not one of God’s names – it is his only name. Other titles, like “El Shadday,” are not strictly names but means of revealing Yahweh. All the revelations to the patriarchs could not compare to this one, because God was now dealing with the nation. He would make his name known to them through his deeds (see Ezek 20:5). So now they will “know” the “name.” The verb יָדַע (yada’) means more than “aware of, be knowledgeable about”; it means “to experience” the reality of the revelation by that name. This harmonizes with the usage of שֵׁם (shem), “name,” which encompasses all the attributes and actions of God. It is not simply a reference to a title, but to the way that God revealed himself – God gave meaning to his name through his acts. God is not saying that he had not revealed a name to the patriarchs (that would have used the Hiphil of the verb). Rather, he is saying that the patriarchs did not experience what the name Yahweh actually meant, and they could not without seeing it fulfilled. When Moses came to the elders, he identified his call as from Yahweh, the God of the fathers – and they accepted him. They knew the name. But, when they were delivered from bondage, then they fully knew by experience what that name meant, for his promises were fulfilled. U. Cassuto (Exodus, 79) paraphrases it this way: “I revealed Myself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in My aspect that finds expression in the name Shaddai…I was not known to them, that is, it was not given to them to recognize Me as One that fulfils his promises.” This generation was about to “know” the name that their ancestors knew and used, but never experienced with the fulfillment of the promises. This section of Exodus confirms this interpretation, because in it God promised to bring them out of Egypt and give them the promised land – then they would know that he is Yahweh (6:7). This meaning should have been evident from its repetition to the Egyptians throughout the plagues – that they might know Yahweh (e.g., 7:5). See further R. D. Wilson, “Yahweh [Jehovah] and Exodus 6:3,” Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, 29-40; L. A. Herrboth, “Exodus 6:3b: Was God Known to the Patriarchs as Jehovah?” CTM 4 (1931): 345-49; F. C. Smith, “Observation on the Use of the Names and Titles of God in Genesis,” EvQ 40 (1968): 103-9.

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    Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the myth of the "Jesus myth"

    Saturday, November 21, 2009, 6:54 AM [General]

    (Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1753)

    The best answer ever to the advocates of the "Jesus myth" (or Christ myth theory) is what Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the great philosopher from Geneva, wrote 250 years ago ...

    “Shall we say that the gospel story is the work of the imagination? My friend, such things are not imagined; and the doings of Socrates, which no one doubts, are less well attested than those of Jesus Christ. At best, you only put the difficulty from you; it  would be still more incredible that several persons should have agreed  together to invent such a book, than that there was one man who supplied  its subject matter. The tone and morality of this story are not those of any  Jewish authors, and the gospel indeed contains characters so great, so  striking, so entirely inimitable, that their invention would be more  astonishing than their hero. With all this the same gospel is full of incredible  things, things repugnant to reason, things which no natural man can  understand or accept. What can you do among so many contradictions? You  can be modest and wary, my child; respect in silence what you can  neither reject nor understand, and humble yourself in the sight of the Divine Being who alone knows the truth.

    -- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile Or, On Education, p. 256 [emphasis MdS]

    ... respect in silence what you can neither reject nor understand ...

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    Is there a "Platonic influence" on Philippians 2:5-11? NO!

    Thursday, November 12, 2009, 7:42 AM [General]

    (Plato, detail from The School of Athens, Raphel, 1509–1510, Vatican City)

    There are serious objections (historical, philological and philosophical) to reading Philippians 2:5-11 as the total or partial result of "Platonic influence". 

    [Historical] As already remarked in my textual analysis,[#] most scholars (and I with them), consider Philippians 2:5-11 a hymn of the Earliest Christianity, quoted by Paul. Paul's conversion is date by many scholars in the period  AD 33 - AD 36 (see Wikipedia > Paul of Tarsus > Conversion and mission), quite early after the death of Jesus, the first Pentecost spoken of in Acts and the birth of the Church in Jerusalem. There is no evidence, either factual or circumstantial, that in this period there had been any Greek philosophical influence, not to mention Platonic, on the budding Christian movement (the "Way"), which, in the beginning, was strictly Palestinian Jewish.

    [Philological] As already remarked in my textual analysis,[#] two words, both meaning form appear in this passage:

    μορφή (morphē - G3444) used in the sense of "strong resemblance".

    σχῆμα (schēma - G4976) used in the sense habitus, "aspect", "fashion".

    In the NT, two other words expressing the notion of form are employed.

    ἰδέα (idea - G2397) (which, in Trench's Synonyms (lxx. μορφή, σχῆμα, ἰδέα) is presented as a synonym of morphē and morphē) in the NT is used only once (in Matt 28:3: "His [of the angel that appeared to the "pious women" when they went to the tomb of Jesus "at dawn on the first day of the week"] appearance [ἰδέα, idea] was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.").

    εἶδος (eidos - G1491), , used in John 5:37 ("And the Father who sent me has himself testified about me. You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form [εἶδος, eidos] at any time, ...").

    Now, both the above words, ἰδέα (idea) and εἶδος (eidos), are extensively used by Plato: in fact they are the very "watermark" of his philosophy (see Wikipedia > Platonic realism > Forms).

    Yet, in spite of both words being used in the NT, neither of them is used in Philippians 2:5-11, whereas they could have easily and equivalently been used instead of μορφή (morphē) and σχῆμα (schēma).

    [Philosophical] Philo of Alexandria, aka Philo the Jew, joined Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics with his Middle-Platonic philosophy. In his works he developed the notion of the Logos as "Second God". Considering his lifespan (20 BCE - 50 CE), he could be considered a "suspect" of "Platonic influence" on Earliest Christianity, and consequently a potential "influence" on the hymn at Philippians 2:5-11. But there is no historical and/or textual evidence that he influenced any Christian author before Justin Martyr.

    Besides, while the philosophical notion of Logos (λόγος, logos - G3056, see also logos at LSJ, A Greek-English Lexicon) reaches as far back as Heraclitus (c. 535–c. 475 BCE), who was the first to use this term in a philosophical sense, the notion of "Incarnation of the Logos" is totally alien to the Greek thought, and is first found in the Prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18).

    Conclusion

    Having substantially established that There are serious objections (historical, philological and philosophical) to reading  Philippians 2:5-11 as the total or partial result of "Platonic influence", I think that it is a matter of projection, started by the Greek Church Fathers and culminated in the heavily Platonizing Christianity of people like, e.g.  Augustine of Hippo, in the West, and the "Cappadocian Rascals" (aka "Cappadocian Fathers") in the East.

    [#] See article “... Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:5-11)

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