Category Archives: Bible

History and Geography: Two Antiochs

Now that we are reading about the missionary journeys of St. Paul to many places Father Linsky has also traveled, I was inspired to do a little research and make sure that I at least know the locations of Antioch of Syria and Antioch of Pisidia. We have been to Rome, Athens, and Corinth but never to Egypt, Turkey, or Israel.

I’ll start with this map which is a screen shot from Google Maps and covers the whole area as it is today from Jerusalem to Rome (~1400 miles) and from Alexandria to Istanbul (~700 miles). As we look at this map, we can meditate about the difficulties and suffering involved in traveling those distances 2000 years ago to spread the Gospel of Jesus.

I found excellent maps coordinated with Paul’s journeys and the letters he wrote at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, a totally digital library of Christian Classics including the works of Albert the Great, Pope Alexander, Ambrose, Anselm, Athanasius, and Augustine just to pick a few from the A’s. So, don’t be turned off by the fact that the library offices are housed at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan and that they publish works of Reformers as well. If you are suspicious or curious about the site, you can read about it and its founder here.

Anyway, geography is geography and history is history even though coastlines, borders, and even continents move around, countries change names, and history can certainly be slanted by the winners who write it.

So here is a link to the information I found. I includes 21 maps illustrating all the travels of Paul and associated verses from The New Testament,  putting Paul’s epistles in context with respect to where and when they were written.

Just as a teaser, I am copying and pasting below the very first map in the series and the first one that shows both Antiochs. It is easy to scroll back and forth between this map and the Google shot for comparisons.

And below is the first map in the series which shows both Antiochs. Note the caption which refers to what we learn from today’s 1st reading.

Please don’t feel that I am being patronizing. This is very educational and helpful for me. And, I may not remember much of this but at least from now on will have a quick and easy way to look it up. Besides that, in spite of how much easier the travel would be now than it was when St. Paul made the trip, I really don’t have any desire to follow his paths.

Feb 19th – Advice From St. James & Faith vs. Works

Father Linsky shared thoughts and led discussion on the New Testament epistle by St. James, a letter from, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion:” The New Testament – New Catholic Version I distributed to you a year or so ago has a nice essay about the epistle of James on pages 376 and 377.

Martin Luther famously objected to the epistle. You can read his reasoning here as expressed in this screen shot of the quote found at that link.

Luther’s rhetoric seems a bit Trump-like, and he was, of course, incorrect in his conjecture about the authorship and author motivation. I guess he was still upset about that indulgences controversy.

As Father Linsky pointed out, this book is comparable to the OT wisdom literature such as Proverbs and Sirach, lots of Godly advice on how to live. As such, it is not a Gospel, proclaiming fundamental theology but is addressed to converted Jews who have suffered persecution and rejection and have scattered. They have believed and are believing, having paid a high price, and James is giving practical advice on following the instructions by Jesus to love God and neighbor and to obey his commands. That is the main piece of advice we have from Mary also: “Do whatever he tells you.” – John 2:5. And it is the example set by the Apostles.

St. Paul is often credited with claiming faith alone is adequate for salvation while James proclaimed that works are key. Neither is true and neither position was claimed by either of those men. Here is the most famous “faith alone” theological statement by St. Paul (Ephesians 2:8-10)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;  it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

And here is the wisdom of St. James (James 2:14-17):

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

It seems to me both are saying that faith and works are opposite sides of the same coin, a perfect example of the “because – therefore” principle, God, of course, being the cause.

I have always liked the James epistle because it seems clear and easy to understand. I have thought about the faith – works issue and wrote a short paper about it and about Luther and Pope Leo X while at the Lutheran seminary 18 years ago and then posted it on my blog, with some introduction, shortly after being received into the Catholic Church. If interested, you can find it here: http://www.lastofall.net/2012/02/luther-good-works-and-favorite-bible.html It’s a ten or fifteen minute read.

In case you think Luther was nothing but a grouch, the paper includes this quote from him about a book in the Bible which he valued highly:

I don’t even have Psalm 95 memorized so don’t plan to tackle Romans.

 

February 5 – King David

The name of David shows up 27 times in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The posting of the Catechism at the Vatican website enables easy generation of a list of those 27 times, and this is a screen shot of the list which has hot links to the paragraphs. The list can be generated HERE.

 

Here are four of the Catechism statements about David (and Jesus), all supported by Bible references covering the promise of Jesus, forgiveness, prayer, and the identity of Jesus.

439 – Many Jews and even certain Gentiles who shared their hope recognized in Jesus the fundamental attributes of the messianic “Son of David“, promised by God to Israel. Jesus accepted his rightful title of Messiah, though with some reserve because it was understood by some of his contemporaries in too human a sense, as essentially political.

1481 – The Byzantine Liturgy recognizes several formulas of absolution, in the form of invocation, which admirably express the mystery of forgiveness: “May the same God, who through the Prophet Nathan forgave David when he confessed his sins, who forgave Peter when he wept bitterly, the prostitute when she washed his feet with her tears, the Pharisee, and the prodigal son, through me, a sinner, forgive you both in this life and in the next and enable you to appear before his awe-inspiring tribunal without condemnation, he who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.”

2616 – Prayer to Jesus is answered by him already during his ministry, through signs that anticipate the power of his death and Resurrection: Jesus hears the prayer of faith, expressed in words (the leper, Jairus, the Canaanite woman, the good thief) or in silence (the bearers of the paralytic, the woman with a hemorrhage who touches his clothes, the tears and ointment of the sinful woman). The urgent request of the blind men, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” or “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” has-been renewed in the traditional prayer to Jesus known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”86 Healing infirmities or forgiving sins, Jesus always responds to a prayer offered in faith: “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

590 – Only the divine identity of Jesus’ person can justify so absolute a claim as “He who is not with me is against me”; and his saying that there was in him “something greater than Jonah,. . . greater than Solomon”, something “greater than the Temple”; his reminder that David had called the Messiah his Lord, and his affirmations, “Before Abraham was, I AM”, and even “I and the Father are one.”

It is quite reasonable that the Catechism references to David are from the Bible because the Bible, with three minor exceptions, is our only source of information about David. The online searchable Bible linked at this website, quickly provides a list of the 57 New Testament mentions of David.

He is mentioned 944 times in the Old Testament, but that may not be surprising since most are in 1, 2 Samuel (470) and 1, 2 Kings (91), 1, 2 Chronicles (223), and Psalms (90). David was, after all, a hero, the greatest King of Israel, and a musician to boot.

But after those history books and Psalms, the song book of the people, we next find him most often in the writings of the prophets Isaiah (13) and Jeremiah (15), prophets living in the Old Covenant and foreseeing the New Covenant. The promise of the Messiah is closely linked to David.

Clearly, the belief of those inspired to write Sacred Scripture and the authors of the Catechism is that David, Son of Jesse and lover of God is an important figure in Salvation History.

Theology and the place of David in the Story of Salvation History are the focus of the Biblical accounts of the life of David. But isn’t it interesting that recorded secular history of the Middle East has nothing to say about such an important ruler and leader as David except three obscure references including one, by an 8th or 9th century king of Damascus, to the “House of David?” The three historical references are included in the King David Wikipedia article, an excellent and well-organized summary of what the Bible says about David and about how he is viewed today by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, the three Abrahamic religions. Check out the art in the article, one example of which is the depiction of David spying Bathsheba at the top of this post.

Two personal things we clearly learn from the life of David are our need for a Savior and the importance of loving God (and behaving ourselves).

 

 

 

Jan 22 -David and Goliath, and the Four Senses of Scripture

david-goliath-82604-gallery

Nice picture from LDS Website.

On a website called Integrated Catholic Life, there is a post about using the four senses of Scripture to find the full meaning, to us 21st century beings, of the ancient story of David and Goliath, a story probably committed, in ancient Hebrew, to animal skin, about 500 years before Christ describing something that had happened about 500 years earlier.

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the four senses of Scripture, literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical:

four senses

The story of David and Goliath is a favorite and tells us something about the earthly ancestry of Jesus. Beyond the simple story, it includes a shepherd tending and defending his sheep, a 40-day challenge from a follower of Baal, and an army of “chosen people” fearful and reluctant to step forward. Then a lad, an underdog, steps forward quickly in faith with the only skills and tools he has and confronts the enemy. And, finally, there is victory of good over evil.

The blog post by Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg on application of the “Four Senses” Bible study principles to the story of David and Goliath seems clear and helpful and not too long, an excellent followup to and reinforcement of Father Linsky’s discussion on Wednesday. It is available for reading HERE.

 

Oct 16 – St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

From now through Nov 5th Mass readings include selections from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the longest and most theologically comprehensive of his works. Much of his writing was targeted at specific current issues in the churches he served, but Romans has a great deal to say about the theology of Salvation, the Big Idea, the Main Point. For a good introduction and improved understanding, read the section on Romans in the front of The Catholic Study Bible (sample snip below). If that is not readily available, the Wikipedia article on Romans is good and includes the outline below:

Romans

outline

St Paul was brilliant, sometimes inspired, inspirational, and positive, and sometimes crabby and defensive, a Jewish Pharisee well versed in and observant of The Law and The Prophets, a man singled out and confronted by the post-resurrection Jesus for persecuting Him (The Church), a missionary to the Gentiles and founder and Father of several Churches, a persistent servant of God who planned to visit Rome, perhaps on the way to establishing more churches in Spain. Well, he made it to Rome, but as a prisoner rather than as a traveling missionary. Wikipedia also has a very scholarly article about St. Paul.

On October 16th Father Linsky focused on Romans Chapter 2 from which the Mass readings for the day were taken. As can be seen in the outline above, it is in a section about the universal corruption of Gentiles and Jews, God’s judgment, and hypocrisy. Father mentioned the first word in Romans 2, therefore, which reminded me of a pastor of a few decades ago who liked to advise his flock, “Whenever you see “therefore” in the Bible, be sure to look to see what it is there for.

Well, in this case, it is there for the purpose of humbling those who think they are superior and can’t think of anything to confess, those “who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” Paul has just completed a blistering critique, in Chapter 1, of those who had rejected God and now tells the people in the Church in Rome, Jews and Gentiles, that they are no better, that those who pass judgment on each other for perceived failures are without excuse, that they condemn themselves by doing the very same things.

The major current issue seems to have been mutual cross condemnation of the Jewish converts and the Gentile converts over whether circumcision was required of Christian Gentiles. It is informative and sobering to read these words from Paul in Romans 2:25-26: “Circumcision, to be sure, has value if you observe the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Again, if an uncircumcised man keeps the precepts of the law, will he not be considered circumcised?” It wasn’t just circumcision that divided the Church. There were also dietary and personal effort and behavior regulations.

The writings of St. Paul are challenging because apparent contradictions can be identified. For example, they contain one of the primary passages used to defend a Protestant position that we are saved by grace through faith (alone) and not by good works. (Ephesians 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. (Please note that the passage does not say saved by faith but by grace, through faith. And, there might be interesting discussion over whether the phrase, “and this is not from you; it is the gift of God,” refers just to “faith” or to having been saved by grace through faith.)

But, in Romans 2:16, St. Paul seemed to support a more Catholic emphasis on good works. He wrote that, “God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.” St. James chimes in later with some clarification: James 2:14-17  What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (It is also worth considering how the Jewish “works of the law” are different from what we identify today as “corporal and spiritual works of mercy” aligned with the Two Greatest Commandments and other direct instructions of Jesus.)

And, by the way, the Wikipedia article on Romans has a section labeled Catholic Interpretation. Check it out and see if you agree.

Questions and issues such as these can be used to illustrate the difference between Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. Here is an article with helpful discussion of the difference. I  love it because I always say that I enjoy looking at the Bible from 50,000 feet more than digging into short passages or verses. So, 15,000 feet is about the same. I recommend the entire article.

“…another way to imagine systematic theology is that it is a 15,000 ft view of the Bible. Imagine you are on top of a mountain, and below you is scripture laid out from beginning to end. You can make a lot of connections this way!”

“But biblical theology takes a different approach. This time, you are seeing the Bible from the ground. You traverse hills, wander in the desert, and cross rivers. Instead of plucking ideas from Genesis, Matthew, and Revelation to make one statement about God, you only make statements based on what is right in front of you at a given moment.”

I have clear memory of the instructions of the Greek/NT professor at the seminary explaining that when writing a paper on Romans Chapter 2, for example, don’t include references to anything but Romans 2 except perhaps parallel writings of the same author. Focus on what that text says, it’s literary form and structure, any translation or grammar issues, important words, the context within which it was written, and what the words meant to those who wrote and read them. So, looking at James while writing about Romans would be a violation of that principle and more Systematic rather than Biblical theology.

Both approaches have great value, but some of us are just big picture folks and some love digging into the details. I would point to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a good example of Systematic Theology based on Sacred Scripture and other early traditions and teachings of the Church (which, by the way, do not violate Sacred Scripture).

It will be helpful when reading from Romans over the next few weeks to remember who Paul was and consider whatever we are reading in the context of the full Epistle and in the context of all of Sacred Scripture, the full revelation of God, the whole story from chaos through creation, the fall, the call of Abraham, the progress from polytheism through henotheism to monotheism, the Law and the Prophets, the Incarnation, the Passion and Resurrection, to The Church.