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Tuesday, October 7, 2014, 2:11 PM
A problematic miracle
Many (most) miracles of Jesus seem to have in common these factors:
1. They are occasioned by sympathy and compassion for people in difficulty;
2. They are deliberately operated by Jesus to remedy the situation of difficulty, and, at the same time as an occasion to affirm that the coming of the Kingdom of God is made manifest in his miracles.
Is this picture complete?
As regards no.1, some miracles seem an exhibition of supernatural power not motivated by compassion: just think of Jesus Walking on Water (Matt 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21) and his Stilling of a Storm (Matt 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25).
As for no.2, all of Jesus' miracles can be read as an affirmation of the deliberate manifestation in Jesus of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.
There is a miracle, though, that I believe is an exception to no.2 and, unless I missed something from reading the Gospels, the only exception. I am talking about Jesus healing the Woman with an Issue of Blood, an episode that, in all three Synoptic Gospels, is almost casually interwoven with the Raising of Jairus' Daughter (Matt 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56).
Let me quote from Mark's Gospel, which makes even more evident than the other two the point I am trying to make:
25 Now a woman was there who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. 26 She had endured a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet instead of getting better, she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she kept saying, “If only I touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 At once the bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Jesus knew at once that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 His disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing against you and you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 But he looked around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, with fear and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:25-34)
Notice how the Evangeliest underlines the unintentionality of the miracle on the part of Jesus: “Jesus knew at once that power had gone out from him.”
Notice Jesus' evident surprise: “Who touched my clothes?”
More, notice how the reply of the disciples makes Jesus' question appear almost silly: “You see the crowd pressing against you and you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
To end with, notice how it is only from the "confession" of the woman that Jesus seems to learn that, apart from his will, she has "tapped" at his healing power.
All the above seems to make Jesus appear as though he is "charged" with power (in particular healing power), that flows spontaneously from him towards those who have faith in him.
A tentative explanation of the miracle
Let's consider the text again. As I have already done, I will examine Mark's text. As I have already noted, the narration of Jesus healing the Woman with an Issue of Blood ... in all three Synoptic Gospels, is almost casually interwoven with the Raising of Jairus' Daughter.
I believe that the explanation of this "casual interweaving" of the two narrations is very simple: the narrations of the two miracles are interwoven for the simple reason that things went exactly that way. The narration can be easily and naturally divided in its component parts, to which I will add my comments.
1. Fist Jesus was met by Jairus who “asked him urgently” to heal his “little daughter [who] is near death”. So, “Jesus went with him, and a large crowd followed and pressed around him.” (Mark 5:21-24). At this point, Jesus had already decided to operate a miracle on Jairus' little daughter, and, to that end, he was already, so so speak, in "healing mood", ready to send the gift and power of the healing Holy Spirit upon a person seriously ill, a person in need.
2. Then, a woman serioulsy and cronically ill (“who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years”), secretly approached him and, with faith (the same faith that moved Jairus), put herself, so to speak, "in the way" of the power of the healing Holy Spirit emanating from Jesus, so that, unbeknown to Jesus she got healed first. Both the woman and Jesus knew "at once" that the miraculous healing had taken effect. But Jesus "had to figure out" from the woman's confession who it was that had been actually healed: “Then the woman, with fear and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” (Mark 5:25-34)
3. Finally, Jesus resumed his way, to see Jairus' little daughter, and operated the healing miracle on her. Actually, the miracle became even more dramatic because, in the meantime, the girl had died, so Jesus raised her, but pretended that “the child is not dead but asleep”. (Mark 5:35-43)
Interestingly, while Mark does nothing to hide the unintentionality and the spontaneity of the miracle of healing of the Woman with an Issue of Blood, both Matthew and Luke minimize, to some extent, these aspects:
• Matthew (Matt 9:18-25) gives a short summary of the two miracles, and makes it appear as though Jesus is perfectly aware of what's happened, and in favor of whom, so much so that he doesn't need the woman's confession to recognize her, and proclaim, “Have courage, daughter! Your faith has made you well.”.
• Luke (Luke 8:40-56) is much more in line with Mark's account, but simply says that the woman “came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak” without mentioning explicitly the faith that motivated her gesture.
Sunday, June 23, 2013, 1:04 PM
Baptism of Neophytes by Masaccio, 15th century, Brancacci Chapel, Florence
Everybody knows (more or less) what Christian Baptism is ...
... or do they?
Let's see what the dictionary says, what Wikipedia says, and what the Catholic Encyclopedia says.
• Baptism: (n.) 1. A religious sacrament marked by the symbolic application of water to the head or immersion of the body into water and resulting in admission of the recipient into the community of Christians. (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language)
• Baptism: (from the Greek noun βÎ¬πτισμα baptisma; itself derived from βαπτισμÏς baptismos, washing) is a Christian rite of admission (or adoption), almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also a particular church tradition. Baptism has been called a sacrament and an ordinance of Jesus Christ. In some traditions, baptism is also called christening, but for others the word "christening" is reserved for the baptism of infants. (Wikipedia)
• Baptism: "Holy Baptism holds the first place among the sacraments, because it is the door of the spiritual life; for by it we are made members of Christ and incorporated with the Church." (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Aspects of Baptism that are mentioned are "cleansing of sins", "following Jesus in his path of death and resurrection".
Does any of the above catch the essence? Not really. A much better approach is to look at the Greek origin of "to baptize".
βαπτá½·ζω (baptizÅ - G907) 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk) 2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one's self, bathe 3) to overwhelm
"This word should not be confused with baptô (911). The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' (baptô) into boiling water and then 'baptised' (baptizô) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change."
We are now getting closer to the essence: to be baptized "into the name" (Greek: eis to onoma) of the Lord Jesus Christ means to become essentially his, part of his body, his Church.
But there is another important aspect, about the expression "into the name":
• "(5) The phrase eis (to) onoma tinos is frequent in the papyri with reference to payments made "to the account of any one" ... (J.H. Moulton and George Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, 1914, page 451)
• "Through baptism eis to onoma tinos those who are baptized become the possession of and come under the dedicated protection of the one whose name they bear." (Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2000, page 713)
In conclusion, to be baptized "into the name of the Lord Jesus" (see Acts, e.g. Acts 19:5) means to chose him as Lord of one's life. This must be seen, in particular, in the context of the baptism of heathens, who, through baptism, renounced any allegiance to demons, and chose Jesus instead.
How about the "trinitarian baptismal formula" ("... baptizing them in the name [eis to onoma] of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit ...", Matt 28:19)?
Well, NOWHERE in the NT do we find any example of its application ...
Thursday, April 25, 2013, 4:09 AM
Let's pretend ...
Let's pretend that the notion of "trinity" makes some sense, and is not just a "toy for theologians" (as Kant must have said, somewhere).
Let's assume that God subsists as a "Trinity of Persons", and that, in the Incarnation in Jesus, human nature has been united to the divine nature of the "Eternal Son" so as to constitute one Person.
How is Jesus, resurrected and sitting on the right hand of the Father, posited with respect to this Trinity?
Two only are the possibilities:
a. either the divinity of the Son has been changed and somehow “enriched” by the humanity of Jesus,
b. or the humanity of Jesus has been entirely “absorbed” into the divinity of the Son.
(Sorry, no third option, I am afraid ...)
In the former case (a.) it is God’s immutability which is questioned; in the latter case (b.) it is the very reality, value and meaning of Resurrection which dissolve into a haze. (Sorry, no third option, I am afraid ...)
Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 3:58 AM
In the Gospel of John, we read:
52 Then the Judeans responded, “Now we know you’re possessed by a demon! Both Abraham and the prophets died, and yet you say, ‘If anyone obeys my teaching, he will never experience death.’ 53 You aren’t greater than our father Abraham who died, are you? And the prophets died too! Who do you claim to be?” 54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worthless. The one who glorifies me is my Father, about whom you people say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 Yet you do not know him, but I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him, and I obey his teaching. 56 Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.”
57 Then the Judeans replied, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” 59 Then they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out from the temple area. (John 8:52-59)
This is what a highly respected theologian says:
“To say that Jesus is “before” him [Abraham] is not to lift him out of the ranks of humanity but to assert his unconditional precedence. To take such statements at the level of “flesh” so as to infer, as “the Jews” do that, at less than fifty, Jesus is claiming to have lived on this earth before Abraham (8:52 and 57), is to be as crass as Nicodemus who understands rebirth as an old man entering his mother’s womb a second time (3:4).” -- J. A. T. Robinson, The Priority of John, 1987, p. 384.
Jesus existed, somehow, “before Abraham came into existence”. The question is, HOW?
w. Some claim "in the Father's mind", from eternity;
x. Some claim, before creation, even before the beginning of time, BUT as an "inferior deity" (deuteros theos);
y. Trinitarians claim, as a "pre-existing, co-eternal, co-equal person".
z. I claim, as God's Eternal Logos, an Essential Attribute of God.
w and x are, respectively, inadequate (w) and incompatible with scriptural monotheism (x).
I do not agree with y, because I don't think it is objectively attested in the Scripture, but, even more so, because I believe, and I have amply argued, that it is incompatible EITHER with the reality of the Resurrection, OR with the unchangeability of God.
Monday, March 25, 2013, 6:04 PM
Jesus Enters Jerusalem - Gustave Dore 1832-1883
Triumphal Entry of the Messiah in Jerusalem
This is Zachariah’s original prophecy
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9:9 - NIV)
And this is Zachariah’s prophecy as quoted by Matthew:
This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet:
"Say to the Daughter of Zion,
'See, your king comes to you,
gentle and [Greek: kai] riding on a donkey,
and [kai] on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' "
(Matthew 21:5 - NIV)
Apparently, in his zeal, Matthew has misinterpreted the original Hebrew and/or mistranslated in Greek. And this is the disconcerting result:
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. (Matthew 21:6-7 - NIV - emphasis by MdS)
EITHER a physical impossibility, OR something absurd and silly. This, much more than the discrepancy with Mark, Luke and John, all speaking ONLY of one donkey (Mark 11:7; Luke 19:35; John 12:14-15), is the real problem.
In fact there is quite a straightforward explanation: Matthew did not translate Zechariah 9:9 from the original Hebrew, but cited from the Septuagint, which apparently makes exactly the same “mistake” as Matthew, viz. of mentioning two donkeys (see Zechariah 9:9 in original HEBREW and in the Septuagint translation in Greek LXXM).
Some may claim that there are differences between Matthew and the Septuagint, but a careful comparison of the texts shows that the differences between Matthew and the Septuagint are not so relevant, and they can all be easily explained. Let’s order the two Greek texts (transliterated) by corresponding stich (source Zechariah 9:9 – NET; Matthew 21:5 – NET):
1. [LXX] Idou o basileus sou erchetai soi (See, your king comes to you)
[Matt] Idou o basileus sou erchetai soi (See, your king comes to you)
2. [LXX] dikaios kai sozwn autos (righteous and having salvation)
[NOTE] stich entirely missing in Matthew: perhaps a copying error, quite common
3. [LXX] praus kai epibebekos epi hypozygion (meek and riding on an ass [lit. “beast of burden”])
[Matt] praus kai epibebekos epi onon (meek and riding on an ass)
[NOTE] the “beast of burden” of LXX has been shifted to stich no.4 in Matthew
4. [LXX] kai pwlon neon (and a young colt)
[Matt] kai pwlon uion hypozygiou (and a colt, the foal [lit. “son”] of an ass [lit. “beast of burden”])
[NOTE] see NOTE at stich no.3
It is also possible that both Matthew and the Septuagint translators were working from a different Hebrew original than the one which made its way into the Masoretic text (this would be confirmed by similar parallel findings at Qumran). But the main point remains that LXX and Matthew closely mirror each other. This happens only with Matthew, and not with Mark and John, and also with Luke (only John, besides Matthew, quotes Zachariah 9:9)
From the above analysis, the similarities between Matthew’s and the Septuagint’s rendering of Zechariah’s 9:9 far outweigh discrepancies:
i. LXX has hypozygion (“beast of burden”) in stich no.3 and Matthew in stich no.4, whereas they both have pwlon (“colt”) exactly in the same position,
ii. Only Matthew uses onon (“ass”, generic, without explicit reference to sex), but this may be Matthew’s choice to specify clearly that it is an “ass”, and not, generically a “beast of burden”. In fact, by not using the Greek word for “ass”, rather than the LXX “beast of burden”, Matthew may want to underline that in fact the “beast” upon which Jesus rides, being a “young colt”, is not yet, properly speaking, a “beast of burden”.
iii. Only Matthew uses uion (lit. “son”), but that can be easily explained (it is witnessed in Greek codices as a mistaken copy of neon - “young”).
What is unique to LXX and to Matthew, with respect to the original Hebrew Zachariah 9:9, is that while Zachariah 9:9 apparently speaks of ONE donkey (“riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass”), both LXX and Matthew speak of TWO donkeys (“riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass” - a physical absurdity-impossibility). This is even more remarkable, bearing in mind that neither Mark, nor John, nor even Luke follow LXX and Matthew in the same apparent “mistake” or absurdity.
I believe that NOT ONLY my attempt to explain the Matthean oddity (of “riding on two donkeys”) by recourse to the LXX is perfectly reasonable and satisfactory, BUT ALSO that, if one chooses not to resort to this explanation, one ends up in really deep waters as to why Matthew (and ONLY Matthew, NOT Mark, Luke and John) would have consciously reported this awkward image of the Messiah riding on TWO donkeys.
It seems reasonable to assume that Matthew drew his Zechariah 9:9 from a Hebrew text with “two steeds” similar (but perhaps not identical) to the one used as a basis for the LXX.
And it is precisely at this point that the visionary nature of Zachariah’s prophecy at Zech 9:9 appears.
Zechariah’s "gradual" Vision
Let’s suppose that the prophet Zechariah had a gradual vision of the Messiah and of two donkeys, an ass and her colt, and of the Messiah riding on the colt, possibly tied to his mother. Let’s examine again the LXX translation of Zechariah 9:9, stich by stich (ST1:ST4)
Zechariah probably, in the fuzziness of the vision, first saw the Messiah:
[ST1] “Behold, your king comes to you”
Then, like in a film, closing in on the Messiah, he had a strong impression of his majestic aspect:
[ST2] “righteous and having salvation”
Then the image “expanded” and he saw that the Messiah was humbly riding an ass:
[ST3] “meek and riding on a he-ass” [Hebrew: rwmx chamowr <H2543>, masculine (“he-ass”)]
We can perceive here that the vision is confused, that the seer “knows” there is more to the vision, and yes, he realizes that, in fact there are two animals, a colt (“young male he-ass”) [Hebrew: rye ’ayir <H5895> and its mother, a she-ass [Hebrew: Nwta 'athown <H860>]:
[ST4] ”and [on] a colt, the foal [lit. “son”] of a she-ass”.
Note on the Vision
More comments on “Zechariah’s Vision”.
i. The uncertainty and “graduality” of the vision is hinted at by the Hebrew prefix conjunction we (“and”), before bkr rakab <H7392> (“riding”), which makes it appear as bkrw (we-rakab) and repeated before the conjunction rye ’al <H5921> (“on”, “upon”), which makes it appear as lew (we-‘al).
ii. Also the LXX translates perfectly the Hebrew text of Zechariah 9:9, because the Greek conjunction και (kai <G2532>), in this verse, bears NOT the meaning of “and” BUT of “even”.
iii. The two English translations that are most faithful to the Hebrew text are NASB and NLT. They are the only ones that NEITHER omit the second vav/we (the one before rye ’al <H5921> “on”, “upon”, which transforms it into lew - we-‘al), NOR translate it (as the KJV does) with a misleading “and”, BUT correctly express the sense of surprise proper of the vision with “even”.
Matthew's awkward verse 21:7
Now that the quotation of Zehariah's vision is over, Matthew proceeds on his own, and we can safely say that what he writes at verse 7 ...
They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. (Matt 21:7)
... is awkwardly phrased
There is no doubt that the Greek phrase epeyhkan ep autwn ta imatia (“[they] placed their cloaks on them”), which obviously refers to BOTH animals, is already misleading enough, even if not wrong.
But the last part of the sentence, kai epekaqisen epanw autwn is more than just misleading, because:
1. epikayizw (epikathizo <G1940>) is used only once in the whole NT, at Mat 21:7. And we do not fare much better considering Greek literature in general. The most authoritative Liddle-Scott A Greek-English Lexicon records only 6 (six) occurrences throughout ancient Greek Texts (approx 5 million words). Besides epikathizô can be both transitive and intransitive, and, because the 3rd person singular is identical to the 3rd plural, epekayisen epanw can be translated equally as “[they] sat [him] thereon” (KJV) or as “he sat on top”: they are both equally legitimate, and the grammar does not allow to decide.
2. epanw (epano <G1883>) means “above”, “on top” as adverb, but occasionally it can be also preposition + GEN. This is certainly the case at Mat 21:7, where autwn is the GEN. plural of autoV (autos <G846>).
3. autwn (autos <G846>), being a pronoun, could refer to the immediate noun (more grammatically correct), therefore refer to the imatia (“cloaks”), or refer to more remote nouns (less common and also less correct), thn onon kai ton pwlon (“the ass and the colt”)
In conclusion, the probable meaning is ...
“[Jesus] sat on top of them [the cloaks]”
... BUT Matthew has phrased it so awkwardly that, from a lexical-grammatical POV, it could equally well mean “they sat [him] on top of them [the ass and the colt]”. Which, of course, would be total nonsense.