Monthly Archives: December 2006

Podcasted Mass Readings, NAB Old Testament Revision

The USCCB recently started podcasting the daily Mass readings. Check it out here.

Also, according to the NAB website, they are planning to roll out a revision of the entire Old Testament in 2007. The NAB was originally published in 1970. The New Testament was revised in 1986 and the Psalms were revised in 1991. Hopefully the OT revision will bring some welcome improvements.


Outline of 2 Timothy

I’ve found 2 Timothy to be the most personal of all the Pauline epistles, yet not as moving as 2 Conrinthians. Paul relates his suffering, his expectation of death and you can feel his physical discomfort when he asks that Timothy bring his cloak. I’ve done a brief outline, mainly because I couldn’t get my hands on Witherington’s new commentary just published on November 30, 2006. So I hope you find it useful. Let me know if you have questions or additions about it.

2 Timothy
1:1-2 – Epistolary Prescript
1:3-7 – Exordium
1:8-3:17 – Narratio
1:8-11 – Paul’s testimony and teaching
2:1-7 – Suffering: soldier, athlete, farmer
2:8-13 – The word of God is not bound
2:14-19 – End quarrels; the apostates
2:20-21 – Vessels: honorable and dishonorable
2:22-26 – Flee passions and quarrels
3:1-9 – Men who oppose the truth
3:10-19 – Hold fast; Scripture
4:1-8 – Exhortatio
4:1-5 – Preach and keep on preaching
4:6-8 – Paul’s faithful witness
4:9-21 – Closing Instructions
4:22 – Benediction


King on the Throne, Temple in Jerusalem, Justice in the Gate: An Analysis of Two Themes in Amos

I’ve been away from the blog for a few days because of final exams. My last one was today—Hebrew! It was probably the hardest exam I have ever taken. The prof. himself described it as “nasty.” Here’s a paper I wrote on the book of Amos for my class on the prophets. I get into the message of Amos as a call to abandon pagan worship in the Northern Kingdom and return to YHWH and his king in Jerusalem. I hope you enjoy it! I’ll respond to any comments you leave on this post.

King on the Throne, Temple in Jerusalem, Justice in the Gate:
An Analysis of Two Themes in Amos

Mark Giszczak
Dr. Timothy Gray
Augustine Institute

1. Introduction. The book of Amos presents yhwh’s judgment on the northern kingdom of Israel. I will focus in on two themes: Israelite worship and Davidic kingship. I will present a few representations of scholarly thought on Amos’ rejection of Israelite worship. Then I will examine passages regarding Israelite worship and show how scholars misrepresent the passages’ significance. I will argue that these passages reveal a categorical rejection of Israelite worship by yhwh through Amos. Next I will examine the theme of Davidic kingship in Amos. Amos completely rejects the politico-religious establishment of Israel as inherently corrupt. Yet his proposed solution for the corruption of Israel is the accession of a Davidic king who will bring true yhwh worship to the people by destroying the Northern sanctuaries and re-centering worship in Jerusalem. The reunification of the kingdom and the reestablishment of proper worship is a necessary precondition for social justice.

2. Israelite worship. The historical-critical process on Amos began with Julius Wellhausen’s assessments of the Israelite cult in his Prolegomena to the History of Israel. He claims that the prophets reject the Israelite cult not because there was more than one sanctuary or because the people worshiped at the wrong place. Rather the prophets’ “zeal is directed not against the places, but against the cultus there carried on, and, in fact, not merely against its false character as containing all manner of abuses, but almost more against itself, against the false value attached to it.”1 Elsewhere, Wellhausen states “The sin of the people is the cult—that is, the false estimation itself, the illusion, that through it Yahweh could be sought and found and connected with Israel. Of a foreign service or illicit practices Amos says nothing. He does not take Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheeba as idolatrous sanctuaries, but rather as the glorious places for the cult of Yahweh.”2 Other scholars have continued along this line of thought. For example Shalom Paul states:

Amos delivered a devastating diatribe against the nation’s disordered concept of the wholesale panacea of the cult—the opium of the masses. For him, as for many of the other classical prophets, cultic zeal could neither engender public weal nor atone for infringements upon the moral law. Ritual can never be a surrogate for ethics. ‘God requires devotion, not devotions,’ right more than rite. When the cult became a substitute for moral behavior, it was severely denounced and condemned.”3

Andersen and Freedman take a similar tack in their important commentary. They state that “the shrines and ceremonies, sacrifices and songs here denounced and renounced were, after all, instituted by Yahweh and expected by him. …It is when they establish justice in the gate that the Lord will be gracious (v 15); when righteousness rolls down Yahweh will listen, look, smell and accept their worship (v 24).”4 These commentators represent a general consensus on the spiritual significance of Amos’ sayings about Israelite worship. The consensus is that yhwh established the rites they practice, but the people overemphasize their importance, causing them to neglect social responsibility. If the people seek yhwh through proper social practices, then his judgment will be lifted. But I will show that Amos absolutely denounces the Israelite cult as inherently corrupt. He does not push for social or religious reform of the northern kingdom. Rather, he advocates a destruction of Israelite worship, the reunification of the kingdom and the re-centering of worship in Jerusalem.

3:14 …on the day I punish Israel for his


I will punish the altars of Bethel,

and the horns of the altar shall be cut off

and fall to the ground (ESV)

In this oracle, Amos rejects the altars of Bethel. The plural form indicates not only a multiplication of altars, but a multiplication of gods. Yet most commentators prefer reading the plural word as a singular.5 The people have forsaken pure yhwh worship for syncretism if not blatant paganism. The horns of the altar were a sort of asylum in ancient Israel. A criminal could grab hold of one of the horns in order to be protected from his pursuers.6 Therefore, if the horns are cut off, there is no safety for transgressors.

4:1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,
who are on the mountain of Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’

Scholars have debated what Amos means in context by “cows of Bashan.” Some have conjectured that this term refers to wealthy women in Samaria who do evil things.7 There is a textual difficulty since the grammar Amos gives is impossible—the addressee keeps switching back and forth from being 3rd person feminine plural to 3rd person masculine plural.8 The word translated as “husbands” in the ESV is ?donîm, the same word used for “my Lord” (?donay) to refer to yhwh elsewhere in the OT. Since this oracle falls right after an oracle against the “House of Israel” (3:13), I contend that the term “cows of Bashan” refers to the whole people o
f northern Israel and that ?donîm refers to their “husbands” or “lords”: the bull gods of the syncretistic sanctuaries of Bethel and Dan (cf. 1 Kgs 12)9.

4:4-5 Come to Bethel and transgress;

to Gilgal, and multiply transgression.

bring your sacrifices every morning,

your tithes every three days;

offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that

which is leavened,

and proclaim freewill offerings,

publish them;

for so you love to do, O people of


Here Amos categorically rejects the sanctuaries at Bethel and Gilgal. He mocks the sacrifices of the people and parodies their liturgical action. He rejects the offerings because of their illegality, they are offered at the wrong place by the wrong people. Instead of Levites and priests offering the sacrifices, they are offered by royally appointed “priests” who are not part of the tribe of Levi or the house of Aaron. For Jeroboam I “appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites” to staff the shrine at Bethel (1 Kgs 12:31). yhwh rejects the leavened offerings of the people as especially bad because of prohibitions against burning yeast (cf. Exod 23:18, Lev 2:11, 7:12). Amos insists that worshiping at Bethel or Gilgal is intrinsically sinful. He implies therefore that the Israelites should return to Jerusalem to worship yhwh who “roars from Zion.” (1:2)

5:4b-6 Seek me and live

but do not seek Bethel

and do not enter into Gilgal

or cross over to Beersheba

for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,

and Bethel shall come to nothing

Seek the Lord and live,

lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph,

and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel.

In this oracle, the Lord demands a seemingly impossible feat: to seek Him, but not at any of the sanctuaries in Israel. Commentators have offered various explanations. The most common interpretation is that Israel was committing unjust social practices, so their worship was considered hypocritical. By changing social practice and doing “justice and righteousness” they could find yhwh “wherever they worship and on whatever terms”10 This perspective sidesteps Amos’ absolute rejection of the sanctuaries at Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba. He does not call for reform or change. Rather, he completely rejects these places and their modes of worship. Then Amos threatens that the Lord may “break out like fire in the house of Joseph,11/ and it devour” (5:6). The only notable time this has happened in Israel’s history is in Lev 10:2 when Nadab and Abihu are consumed by fire coming forth from “before the Lord.” In fact, linguistically the two scenarios are quite similar. In Lev 10:2 the fire “comes out” (y?s?a’, ?????) and “consumes” (’?kal, ?????) Nadab and Abihu. Similarly in Amos 5:6, fire is threatened to “break out” or “rush out” (s??lah?, ?????) on the house of Joseph and “devour” it (’?kal, ?????). The first verbs, y?s?a’ and s??lah? respectively, are not identical yet synonymous. The second verbs in each passage are exactly the same. The sons of Aaron were punished for liturgical disobedience—for offering “unauthorized” incense before the Lord. Amos’ focus is then on the impropriety of the Israelite’s worship, their liturgical disobedience of seeking the Lord at the wrong place. The sin for which Amos condemns them in 5:4-6 is specifically liturgical. The sin is the cult, as Wellhausen says, but the cult is the wrong cult. The Israelites are not participating in true yhwh worship, but have invested in false gods (5:26), a false priesthood (1 Kgs 12:31) and false sanctuaries (3:14, 4:4, 5:5-6, 7:10, 7:13, 8:14).

5:21-27“I hate, I despise your feasts,

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them;

and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,

I will not look upon them.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord whose name is the God of hosts.”

Amos 5:21-27 uses the most powerful language in the whole b
ook. Following Wellhausen’s lead, commentators have consistently asserted that in this passage “Amos demanded justice instead of worship, that is, a supplanting of cultic religion by correct behavior on the part of human beings freed from the obligations of external ceremonies.”12 Shalom Paul states the consensus position clearly in a footnote saying that “the entire attack here is leveled against the established authorized cult and not against any pagan practices.”13 But I argue directly to the contrary. This oracle is a rejection of the Israelite cult in toto. The prophet is not merely calling for a spiritual reformation of the people and a return to good social behavior. He is calling for a complete jettisoning of the established cult. For the established cult celebrates the wrong feasts, offers the wrong sacrifices and is represented by the wrong priests and even worships the wrong gods. The oracle rolls to a crescendo in vv.25-27. This prose section accuses the people not of overly elaborate cultic rituals, but of blatant pagan worship. While many historical-critics have attempted to “excise”14 this verse from the text, none have accomplished it without resorting to extreme revisions of the text.15 The accusation of idolatry is clear. The cult at Bethel where Amos prophesied indulged in pagan worship and perhaps mixed the worship of yhwh with that of other gods. The idolatry and whatever syncretistic worship that may have occurred was totally objectionable to yhwh. Again, the implication that Amos makes to the people is that they should worship in the right place (Jerusalem) with the right priests (the sons of Aaron).

7:9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,

and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,

and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.

This passage demonstrates another condemnation of Israelite worship as a whole. Yet commentators again shy away from the logical conclusion. Paul writes that “the ‘high places’ (????) that ‘shall become desolate’ (?????) do not refer to unauthorized sites of worship of the Lord or to high places that served as centers for idol worship.”16 Yet his position disregards the fact that the vast majority of the 105 times the term “high places” is used in the OT refer distinctly to pagan places of worship.17 Andersen and Freedman have established that the name “Isaac” v.9 refers to the “northern kingdom only.”18 Thus in this verse the prophet equally judges “the high places” with “the sanctuaries of Israel” and “the house of Jeroboam.” All three are set for destruction. The Lord intends to carry out his wrath on them all.

7:10-13 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,

“’Jeroboam shall die by the sword,

and Israel must go into exile

away from his land.’”

And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

Amaziah carries an official title as “priest of Bethel” (7:10). Andersen and Freedman state that his title “points to a head priest of a specific shrine.”19 He is the “official representative of the state priesthood.”20 The paradox is that Amaziah is not a priest at all in Amos’ theology, which is why Amos feels free to place an exacting curse upon him in v.17. Regardless of the curse, Amaziah sends Amos away from the Bethel sanctuary permanently. He thus fulfills the prophecy of 2:12 that Israel “commanded the prophets,/ saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’” Amaziah’s speech against Amos is fascinating. He gives two reasons for Amos’ banishment. First, Bethel is “the king’s sanctuary.” This phrase is unique in the OT and denotes the “personal sanctum sanctorum of the king’s cultic activities.”21 Amaziah’s rejection is not merely a religious statement, it is clearly political. The shrine at Bethel was a mode of uniting the people of Israel behind Jeroboam II. When that unifying factor is being disturbed by a pesky prophet, the king wants him removed in order to maintain the political advantage of peaceful worship. By stressing that it is the king’s sanctuary, the text implies that it is not yhwh’s. Even the name of the sanctuary takes on an ironic significance, for “Bethel” means “house of God,” but this temple is the house of a king. Second, Bethel is “a temple of the kingdom.” The lack of a definite article implies that Bethel was not the only sanctuary in the northern kingdom. Again, Amaziah emphasizes the political dimension of worship. The temple belongs to the king and kingdom, not to yhwh. Amaziah and Jeroboam through Amaziah show their true colors as rejecters of yhwh and his prophet.

8:14 Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria,

and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’

and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’

they shall fall, and never rise again.

Amos mentions three pagan deities in this verse. The “Guilt of Samaria” is variously interpreted, but most commentators mention that it may refer to the goddess Ashimah or Ashmat.
f=”” name=”sdendnote22anc”>22
The god of Dan is not named in Amos, but the verse “most likely refers to the worship of the Lord in the form of a bull image set up in Dan.”23 Archaeologists have uncovered a second century BC inscription in Dan that reads “To the God Who Is in Dan.”24 The third deity mentioned is the “Way of Beersheba.” There is controversy regarding the lexical meanings of these phrases and which ancient Near Eastern gods they should be associated with. Amos rejects the oaths sworn by the worshipers of the pagan deities at Samaria, Dan and Beersheba. He even quotes the oath formulas of the latter two. Swearing an oath by a particular god was an acknowledgement that the god sworn by was the god of the speaker.25 Thus to swear by another god was to substantively reject yhwh. Amos’ purpose remains clear: he condemns the Israelites for their worship of pagan gods and their improper syncretistic worship of yhwh. Again Amos implies by his condemnation that the Israelites should abandon other gods and illegal shrines to worship yhwh in Jerusalem, the proper center of religion and kingdom.

3. Davidic Kingship. Now we will move to discussing the importance of Davidic kingship as a theme in Amos. First, I will show the significance of Amos’ being a Judahite and the thematic importance of 1:2. Then I will discuss the role of the king as the establisher of worship. Next I will examine the phrase “justice and righteousness” and the king’s role in establishing social justice. Finally, I will present Amos’ vision of an ideally restored kingdom in 9:11-15.

Amos is from Tekoa in Judah, presumably a Judahite by birth since he has a secular occupation (7:14). Amos is called out of Judah to prophesy to Israel (7:15). It is not perfectly clear from the text, but it can be inferred that Amos maintained his residence in Judah and only came to the northern shrine at Bethel during important religious events. The theme of the whole book is captured by one verse, “The Lord roars from Zion/ and utters his voice from Jerusalem;/ the pastures of the shepherds mourn,/ and the top of Carmel withers” (1:2). Amos himself can be seen as the roar of the Lord, for indeed he is coming forth from the region of Zion to the north bringing yhwh’s message. From Tekoa, Amos probably would have even traveled through Jerusalem to get to Bethel. Lion and roaring imagery comes up a few other times in Amos and hearkens back to the Judahite lion of Gen 49:9 (cf. Amos 3:4, 8, 12; 5:19). Amos represents yhwh’s fierce lion-like rage to Israel.

Politics and religion were always linked in the ancient Near East. The king’s duty and his boon was to set up centralized worship under his patronage.26 This practice led to peaceful rule and a unified people. Hence, to establish his kingdom, Jeroboam I had to draw the northern Israelites away from worshiping at Jerusalem so he set up his rival shrines (1 Kgs 12). Jeroboam’s shrines more effectively divided the kingdom than any military action could have done. Not only did he reject the Jerusalem temple, but he reintroduced golden bull worship and he appointed non-Levites to be priests in these new sanctuaries. The northern shrines were politically charged sites. When Amos, as a Judahite, calls for their abandonment and destruction, he advocates not only a religious change, but a political act. This political act is accomplished quite forcefully by Josiah in 1 Kgs 23.

The king’s established place of worship served as the foundation for social justice. “Justice and righteousness” is used as a phrase several times in the OT to denote the accession of a new king. In 1 Kgs 10:9 the queen of Sheba praises Solomon for his kingship by telling him that yhwh “has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness” (cf. 2 Chr 9:8). Jeremiah refers to King Josiah as he who did “justice and righteousness” (Jer 22:15). Jeremiah also prophesies of a future Davidic king saying, “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 23:5; see also 33:15). Ezekiel calls on the “princes of Israel” to execute justice and righteousness in the land (Ezek 45:9). Many other OT passages associate justice and righteousness with kingship.27

The theme of justice and righteousness surfaces three times in Amos: 5:7, 6:12 and 5:24. Also, in 5:15 the prophet calls for the house of Israel to “establish justice in the gate.” Most commentators simplify Amos’ meaning. For example, Andersen and Freedman state that “the true search for God…begins in the heart…and in the practice of justice and righteousness….It is the people who, following this prescription, will transform the sanctuaries, beginning with Bethel; and only then will it be possible to find Yahweh at those places in which his name is hallowed.”28 Jeremias refers to justice and righteousness as “internally established qualities.”29 Yet these interpretations fall short of the full picture that Amos presents. Justice and righteousness are lacking in the land of Israel, not simply because people are behaving poorly, but because there is no king. Amos refers Jeroboam II as the king of Israel (1:1; 7:1, 10, 13), yet these references carry an ironic tone. For if Jeroboam were truly the king and acted as such, there would be justice and righteousness in the land. Yet justice and righteousness are lacking because the wrong cult is practiced and the wrong king is ruling. Justice and righteousness have been perverted by the false leaders of Israel. When Amos calls for justice to “roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” (5:24) he is not making abstract moral statements, but calling for the reunification of the kingdom under a Davidic king.

The final oracle 9:11-15 presents Amos’ vision of the reunited kingdom.30 On this idyllic day the people will be united under a Davidic king for his sukkah will be repaired and rebuilt. They will dwell securely in the land and eat its fruit. Amos does not merely pour out judgment on the people of Israel. Rather, he calls them back to fidelity to yhwh. After the famine (8:11) and exile (5:5; 5:27; 6:7; 7:11) the people will be brought back to the land and dwell peacefully under the Davidic king. v. 9:11 is very important in relation to the other political language in Amos. In 7:9, yhwh promises to bring the sword against the house of Jeroboam. This phrase can be taken as simply referring to Jeroboam II, the current ruler. On the other hand, it could easily refer to Jeroboam I and
his whole dynasty. The phrase may be best interpreted as a double-entendre. The contrast between the house of Jeroboam and the booth of David is stark. While some commentators cite the assassination of Jeroboam II’s son Zechariah as the fulfillment of the oracle in 7:9,31 Amos prophesies not simply for the end of the Jeroboamite dynasty, but the end of the northern kingdom as a political establishment. He hopes for the full reuniting of the kingdom under the proper and true king. Once the Davidic king is fully empowered he can reunite the worship of Judah and Israel in the Jerusalem temple, the proper and true sanctuary. Once the worship is established, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it” (9:13). The king will establish justice and righteousness in the land so that the poor will not be trampled (2:7, 5:11, 8:4) or defrauded. Rather there will be abundance of food and land.

4. Conclusion. Amos is not an innovator. He calls the people back to fidelity to yhwh and his law. Yet historical-critics often limit Amos to calling for social reform. Jeremias summates the consensus that the core of Amos’ message is that he “demanded justice instead of worship, that is, a supplanting of cultic religion by correct behavior on the part of human beings freed from the obligations of external ceremonies.”32 But Amos was not simply citing “universal moral principles.”33 Rather, he views himself as from within the traditions of Judah and Israel, from within the Mosaic covenant. Therefore he does not call for mere social reform nor for a reorientation toward acceptable religious practices. He denounces the northern cult as inherently corrupt and calls for its destruction. He calls for an end to syncretistic and pagan practices and the reunification of the kingdom. Amos desires political reunification under one Davidic king. He sees this kingship as the only road to the legitimate establishment of true yhwh worship. As long as there is political division, religious practices will be corrupted in the north. The Davidic king is meant to bring about a religious reunification in the one temple at Jerusalem. Once these reunifications have occurred, oppression and inequality will cease and justice will be established in the gate (5:15).


Works Consulted

Andersen, Francis and David Freedman. Amos. The Anchor Bible v.24a. New York: Doubleday, 1989.

Carroll R., M. Daniel. Amos—The Prophet & His Oracles. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002.

Jeremias, Jörg. The Book of Amos. The Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998.

Mays, John Luther. Amos. The Old Testament Library. Philadephia: Westminster, 1969.

Möller, Karl. A Prophet in Debate: The Rhetoric of Persuasion in the Book of Amos. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament series, v.372. New York: Sheffield, 2003.

Park, Aaron W. The Book of Amos as Composed and Read in Antiquity. Studies in Biblical Literature, v. 37. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.

Paul, Shalom M. Amos. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991.

—————. “A Literary Reinvestigation of the Authenticity of the Oracles Against the Nations of Amos.” In Maurice Carrez, Joseph Doré and Pierre Grelot, eds. De la Tôrah au Messie. Paris: Desclée, 1981. 189-204.

Wolff, Hans W. Joel and Amos. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977.


1 Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel (Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1885) 23.
2 Julius Wellhausen, Die kleinen Propheten übersetzt und erklärt (1898 ed.; reprint, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1963) 73-9; quoted in M. Daniel Carroll R., Amos—The Prophet & His Oracles (Louisville: Westminster, 2002) 6.

3 Paul, Shalom M., Amos, Hermeneia, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991) 2.

4 Andersen, Francis and David Freedman, Amos, The Anchor Bible v.24a, (New York: Doubleday, 1989) 529. Hereafter: AF.

5 See Paul 124.

6 Mays, John Luther, Amos, The Old Testament Library, (Philadephia: Westminster, 1969) 70.

7 Wolff, Hans W., Joel and Amos, Hermeneia, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) 205.

8 AF 420.

9 AF 842-3 and Paul 270-1

10 AF 482.

11 The Northern Kingdom. cf. AF 55.

12 Jeremias, Jörg, The Book of Amos, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998) 101.

13 Paul 188. Footnote 3.

14 Paul 194.

15 There is an alternate reading of “Sikkuth your king” which amounts to “tabernacle of Molech.” The difference in the text is just a matter of the Hebrew vowel points. It is very telling to note that the LXX and the Vulgate translate the text as “tabernacle of Molech.” Whether Amos intended Sikkuth or Molech does not matter for our interests. Both are pagan gods.

16 Paul 236.

17 Cf. Mays 133.

18 AF 116.

19 AF 766.

20 Paul 239.

21 Paul 243.

22 Cf. Paul 269 and AF 828.

23 Paul 270.

24 Ibid.

25 AF 706.

26 Cf. AF 775.

27 See Ps 72:1-2; 89:14; 97:2; 99:4; Isa 9:7; 16:5; 32:1.

28 AF 482.

29 Jeremias 90.

30 Many scholars have argued for a late date for this section, but Shalom Paul deftly undercuts their arguments on a linguistic basis. See Paul 289.

31 Wolff 302.

32 Jermias101.

33 Carroll R. 5.


Ultimate Greek Cheat Sheet #1: Nouns and Adjectives

For all you Greek students out there: I compiled a few very helpful spreadsheets for translating Greek when I was taking my initial course in the language. I’ll post them in the sidebar under “resources.” Here is the Ultimate Greek Cheat Sheet: Nouns and Adjectives. It includes endings for all declensions, contractions, the article, some pronouns, a few irregular forms, etc. I hope you find it useful. If you find any mistakes on it, please let me know. (The pdf version is not perfect. I used PDFCreator to make it from Excel. If anyone knows of a better conversion process for .xls files, comment below.)


The Historical-Critical Method and Epistemology in Biblical Hermeneutics

(This is a paper I submitted for my Hermeneutics Class.)

Mark Giszczak
Dr. Tim Gray
Augustine Institute

1. Introduction. In 1988 Cardinal Ratzinger pinpointed the discussion of a Catholic hermeneutic as a “philosophical debate.”1 Raymond Brown responded in a self-defensive manner even though Ratzinger’s comments were not directed specifically at him. Brown insisted that philosophy has little or nothing to do with historical-critical exegesis and that Ratzinger’s arguments were directed at European schools of thought spawned by Dibelius and Bultmann. Brown even trotted out his M.A. in philosophy to present himself as worthy to comment on the subject.2 I am not concerned with the ad hominem attacks or defensive rhetoric of the past, but I am concerned with capturing that elusive prey called “The Catholic Hermeneutic.” And I am convinced that I am not on a snipe hunt.

In this paper, I will examine one corner of the debate: epistemology. Though I am a student in biblical studies, I will employ philosophical methods to sort through this problem. I will not bore the reader with a lengthy summary of historical-critical exegesis, but only introduce representative examples where necessary. I will focus in on the epistemological question to the exclusion of other, perhaps more pressing, questions.

Brown asserts that philosophy has no bearing on objective scientific methods of biblical research and that historical critical methods of themselves require no philosophical underpinning. To avert general critiques of the historical-critical method, Brown suggests “that more frequently we should speak of the philosophy of the practitioners of the method rather than the philosophy of the method itself.”3 But every field of study is backed up by philosophy. Philosophical models form the bedrock on which every discipline is based. Metaphysics, epistemology, logic, etc. are the unintentional accomplices of every science. Mathematics, for example, is firmly implanted in traditional rules of logic. The Law of Non-Contradiction is taken as a given from the first day an elementary school student learns how to add. If he gets a question wrong, his teacher marks him down with a big red “X.” The child does not have the philosophical sophistication (or imbecility?) to argue with the teacher that his answer to the question is equally as valid as other answers since the Law of Non-Contradiction no longer holds according to some of the highest-ranking philosophy professors of our day. Few disciplines explicitly study their philosophical roots. Students are expected to absorb the ethos of the subject in the course of studying it and reading manuals and textbooks. Nevertheless, philosophy reigns as king in the deep reaches of every discipline.

Therefore epistemology, as a key piece of philosophy, is crucial in all the sciences. Epistemology is the study of “how people know things.”4 Epistemology defines the borders of knowledge. It lays out what is accessible to man’s mind and what is not. The historical-critical world has misunderstood the foundations of knowledge. This is the epistemological piece of Ratzinger’s “philosophical debate.” I will proceed to examine the foundations of biblical knowledge by beginning with a discussion of historical views of biblical epistemology. Second, I will pursue a philosophical meditation on knowledge. Third, I will present the specific nature of historical knowledge and a brief philosophy of language. Finally, I will examine “biblical knowledge” itself. In my conclusion I will propose the need for a better epistemological framework for Catholic hermeneutics and point toward the ultimate goal of exegesis.

2. Historical views. N.T. Wright presents a helpful dichotomy in sorting through the dung-heap of historical-critical epistemologies.5 First, he gives us the Enlightenment “positivist” view. Second, we encounter the pessimistic “phenomenalist” view. This simplification is extremely helpful. The first epistemological perspective is arrogant, brash and assertive. It claims the ability of man to not only encounter reality, but to know things for certain. This optimistic perspective invests great faith in empirical science which produces supposedly verifiable results. The results are always objective, discovered by an objective observer. This view also led late 19th century intellects to pursue the origins of everything: species, the Bible, languages, diseases, etc. For the exegete, the positivist perspective offers a welcome invitation to objective empirical study. He can not only discover the literal meaning of a text, but he can discover who wrote it, who edited it, when it was written, how many redactions it endured and so on.

The second perspective Wright presents is what he calls the “phenomenalist” view. I dislike Wright’s terminology on this view because it misrepresents the people it is attempting to label: the phenomenologists. Specifically, Wright’s label applies to early 20th century non-theistic existentialist phenomenologists. I will therefore extend his term to name a “phenomenologist” perspective. This perspective is pessimistic in comparison with the first. It embraces a limited epistemology wherein the knowing subject can only truly know his own sense perceptions. The subject is stuck within himself knowing only the confrontations his senses experience, but not knowing whether they relate him to a reality beyond himself or not.6 This epistemology was originally developed by Edmund Husserl in his Logical Investigations (1900/1901, revised 1913-21) and it was brought to its logical conclusion by his student, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger happened to be a colleague of Bultmann. Wright’s dichotomy breaks down two general views. I will next offer historical perspectives to orient us to biblical questions.

3. Three Epistemological Mistakes of the Historical-Critical School. To introduce the problem of biblical knowledge, I will briefly outline three views of biblical epistemology in the Historical-Critical School. First, we will visit Hermann S. Reimarus, the father of the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Then we will encounter Rudolf Bultmann, arguably the most influential exegete of the 20th Century. Finally, I will present the views of Raymond E. Brown, the renowned Catholic scholar. The Quest for the Historical Jesus suffered from an over-weening epistemological pride. The leaders of this intellectual movement—Reimarus, Strauss, Renan and later, Schweitzer—insisted on the ability of the observer of history to sort through all the historical evidence and determine what really happened, the classic “positivist” view. Reimarus posits that the disciples stole the body of Jesus and taught doctrines foreign to his message.7 He describes the Resurrection event as “either ce
rtain fact or deception.”8 In Reimarus’ view the first disciples decided to create their own religion after their messianic expectations were disappointed. He claims that “the disciples yielded to the temptation of employing fantasy to make of Jesus’ followers a fellowship totally at their disposal.”9 Therefore the object of Christian faith and by implication, biblical knowledge, is a fictional story devised by the apostles for their own goal of religious power. The biblical authors do not relay history to the reader, but they recreate history according their own new philosophy. In his view, the New Testament is inherently deceptive.

Second, Rudolf Bultmann embodies the inverse of the Quest’s weakness. If the Quest operates with over-weening pride, then Bultmann errs in over-weening humility. He rejects our ability to know what happened in the life of Jesus—the “phenomenologist” perspective. Bultmann set forth his program of “demythologizing” in the early 20th century. For him, the New Testament authors tried to teach a theological method through the use of myth. Their “myth objectified the transcendent into the immanent and thus also into the disposable.”10 The so-called “histories” in the New Testament are created for a pedagogical purpose: to teach eternal truths. For him, the text of the Bible does not have an objective meaning, but it rather speaks to the historical situations in which man finds himself. For him, “because the text speaks to existence, it is never definitively understood.”11 The biblical text is only intelligible insofar as it relates to a man’s particular life. It cannot have an abiding, unchangeable meaning. He takes this view so far as to say that “the scheme of subject and object that has validity for natural science is not valid for historical understanding.”12 Certainty in historical matters is permanently elusive. The primary purpose of the text is to speak to the life-situations of its readers, so for Bultmann the historical question loses its central importance. Even for secular historical texts, research does not center on the object of historical events, but on the way in which the text instructs the reader. One of Bultmann’s central claims is the unintelligibility of the New Testament “mythical world picture.”13 For him the three-story worldview of heaven, earth and hell is no longer a valid, relevant or even an understandable view. If Christians embraced the New Testament authors’ worldview, it would only be at the expense of “making the Christian proclamation unintelligible and impossible for our contemporaries.”14 For him, the New Testament does not present historical events, but a religious message created by the disciples that is given in the context of a mythical worldview. The object of biblical knowledge is reduced to a mythical concept.

Third, Raymond Brown is very concerned over ecclesiastical issues in relation to hermeneutics. His work is explicitly for the Church. Yet he draws a sharp distinction between the historical meaning of a text and its meaning for today’s Church. He claims that “what a passage means to Christians is the issue for the Church—not the semi-historical issue of what it meant to the person who wrote it.”15 For him, the author’s intentional meaning and the meaning for the Church are distinct. Thus the way that the text relates to its contemporary readers is more important than the author’s intent, which is very similar to Bultmann’s phenomenologist view. The author’s intent is mostly inaccessible, though it is a matter for research. For Brown, the exegete’s task is to discover the author’s intent, but the author’s intent is not the same as the meaning for the Church. He is not simply making a distinction between the literal sense and the moral sense. Rather, he is asserting that the intelligible content of the Bible is different for the human author than it is for the Church today. He distinguishes between a “literal sense” and a “canonical sense,” which each offer a partial insight into the text’s meaning.16 But ultimately the “quest for meaning is open-ended.”17 The text itself is the object of interpretation for both the Church and the exegete. But the intelligible content for each, i.e. the meaning of the text for each, is distinct. For Brown, “the way in which the Church in her life, liturgy, and theology comes to understand the Bible is constitutive of ‘biblical meaning.’”18 The meaning of the text is the intelligible content on which the Christian reader focuses, but it is shaped by the life and practice of the Church in such a way as to make it different from the scholar’s object of research. Biblical knowledge is divided at its core.

4. Nature of Knowledge. In order to resolve the conflict of the various theories presented above, we must engage in a philosophical analysis of knowledge. I will briefly outline the essential dimensions of knowledge and then relate them to historical and biblical knowledge. Knowledge is essentially relational. The subject (the knower) relates to the object (the known). He does not create, project or in any way devise the object. Rather, he encounters the object in its own independent existence with its own essential dimensions. The object presents itself to the subject as real and intelligible. The object is distinctly other (except in the case of self-knowledge in which a subject knows himself through his acts). All knowledge of objects is also essentially transcendent. The subject goes beyond himself in the act of knowing. The act of knowing forces the subject to encounter reality beyond himself. The transcendent nature of knowledge brings to light the true contact with reality had by the subject. The subject does not stay trapped in himself, but actually comes to know something other than himself. Knowledge cannot be reduced to knowledge of sense perceptions (late Husserl, Heidegger, et al.) nor can knowledge be reduced to a passive impression on the intellect as a wax tablet is impressed by a stylus (Aristotle, Aquinas). Knowing is an act of the person. The person goes out of himself, transcends himself to truly make contact with reality, to encounter other beings in their existential significance. This transcendent act is essentially receptive. The knower receives reality through his act of knowing. The knower does not make the object he knows through his act of knowledge. Rather, the knower receives the essence of the object he knows. The object presents itself to the subject as real and the knower transcends himself to receive its essential reality. In sum, knowledge is essentially 1.) relational, 2.) transcendent, 3.) an act of the person and 4.) receptive. I will return to these principles throughout our study.

5. Nature of Historical Know
Historical knowledge is a particular problem in epistemology. If knowledge is like a horse then historical knowledge is like a mule. The horse is pure-bred, virile and unadulterated. The mule, however, has a sadder story. It is the unhappy result of the union of a horse and a donkey. It does not really have an identity as horse or donkey, but it is caught somewhere between the two. And on top of all that, it is impotent! Historical knowledge is a combination of “standard knowledge” with the complicated web of an historical author. Historical knowledge is any knowledge that is acquired second-hand (or third-hand or fourth-hand, etc.). For example, if my friend tells me that he got in car accident, I have acquired a piece of historical knowledge from the eye-witness. On the other hand, if he tells me that the traffic jam I am in is caused by an accident at a particular intersection his testimony is more dubious. Yet I have still acquired a piece of historical knowledge. If he backs up his testimony by saying that he saw the accident himself or that he heard a radio report about it, I will be more likely to believe him. Historical knowledge is essentially based on the testimony of an individual, whether he be a witness, a writer or an artist.

So when I gain historical knowledge, what it is that I am actually knowing? Do I come to know the events described? Do I come to know only the author/witness? Do I come to know only a text/testimony which has its own peculiar meaning unrelated to real events?

Here we face the mule-nature of historical knowledge. The skeptic (Bultmann) would argue that I cannot know the events described by the historian unless I contact them myself. That Julius Caesar was assassinated or that Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor or that Abraham Lincoln gave an address at Gettysburg are not events that can be known. For our skeptic, they are intrinsically unknowable because I cannot have direct contact with the events. Yet then what do I come to know when I read a historical book which describes past events? I can learn all about the historian’s style and ability. I can identify the vocabulary of Plutarch or Suetonius. I can even analyze the intentions of Stephen Ambrose by a careful review of his works. So I can come to know the author at least in a limited fashion. Beyond that, the text itself has a meaning. If I cannot know the events and I do not know anything about the author, then I am left with an historical text. I can learn the inner contours of the text, its quality of prose, its grammatical forms, etc. But what the text “says” is not my concern, just what it “means.” That is, I keep myself busy about the detailed meanings of the words, but do not venture to suggest that the text says something about real life and real events. That would be to dishonor the text’s integrity. It would remove the text from it’s milieu and strip it of its museum-piece quality to make it relate to human life in an inappropriate way. The text would move beyond being an interesting old book to being a real record of real events.

The skeptic’s approach falls short of experience. When I learn something from an historian/witness I actually come to know some thing. I acquire a piece of historical knowledge. When my friend tells me he got in a car accident, I do not simply know the fact that he told me he got in car accident. I actually grasp the car accident event itself. The object of my knowledge is not his saying. The event itself is the intelligible object of my act of knowing. I receive the essence of the event. This does not mean that my friend is infallible or that I can trust every historian/witness, but it does mean that such a witness is merely a lens to realities beyond. The lens may be dirty or partially broken, but it does not point to itself. I have not personally witnessed the car accident, but my knowledge extends to that real event. I apprehend it when I come to know it.

6. Knowledge, Language and Interpersonal Communion. This brings us to the philosophy of language. Since we readers of histories are not the eye-witnesses of the historical events about which we read, we must rely on the testimony of others. Testimony of events is given by eye-witnesses through language. If an event is vocally told to me or related to me through a letter, book or other text, I am the recipient of language. Rather I am the recipient of a meaning conveyed through language regarding historical events. But can language actually convey knowledge? Again the skeptic can insert himself into the discussion. From his perspective, knowledge cannot truly be communicated from one person to another through language. Knowledge is only available through direct experience. For the Husserlian phenomenologist, language only inserts sense perceptions into my milieu. I may find black and white ink symbols in my sight or listen to certain wavelengths with my sense of hearing, but the coherence of such sounds or symbols is an imposition on my sense perceptions. I do not make contact with the realities discussed by language, I only encounter my own sense perceptions.

Yet I hold that these perspectives are short-sighted, not doing justice to the experience of knowledge and language. Language can communicate real knowledge. If my friend tells me that Notre Dame lost its football game, I gain real knowledge—as long as my friend is not lying. The skeptical and phenomenological views do not recognize my ability to gain knowledge of real events through linguistic communication. From the skeptical perspective, I may be able to gain knowledge about my friend: how fast he is talking, whether he is showing signs of happiness or sadness, etc. Yet I cannot really know the event of the game itself. It is removed from my experience, so my knowledge is necessarily unsure, instable and incomplete. The intelligible object of my knowing, from the skeptic’s view, is my friend’s language itself or my sense perception of his language. The game, as an event, is unintelligible to me because I did not experience it. I cannot truly know it.

Again, I assert that language can truly communicate knowledge of real events. When someone communicates a fact to me, I gain true knowledge. I do not merely come to know the contours of his voice, the patterns of his writing or the style in which he communicates. Nor am I limited to gaining knowledge about the communicator’s perceptions, worldview and philosophic outlook. I actually come to know the events he communicates. I myself have contact with the events. The intelligible object of my knowledge is identical to the intelligible object of the communicator’s knowledge. Yet with history there is always limitation. The limitation is this: when I encounter reality through the language of the historian (vocal or written) I have a necessarily secondary encounter. Though the object of my knowledge is identical to that of the historian, my vision is obscured, limited and conditioned by his honesty, eloquence and humanity.

Therefore the attainment of historical knowledge invariably puts me in a relationship with the historian. The historian not only invites me to behold historical events and gives me the vision of them, he actually invites me to view the events through his eyes as it were. I am welcomed into his very own personal vantage point to view the events of history. Language itself includes an invitation. When someone speaks to me or writes to me (whether to me specifically or to readers in general), he invites me not only to behold reality together with him, but to come to know him. Language is essentially communicative. Language does not merely transmit ideas or even point to realities. Through language, the speaker/writer personally invites the listener/reader to come t
o see reality with himself, in community with him. Language is also essentially interpersonal. Non-persons cannot use language. The very existence of language implies the existence of a community of persons. For communication itself can only exist between persons. Language is used to convey personal knowledge of events and realities. Because of its nature as communicative and as personal, language brings about an interpersonal communion. If the persons involved in the language-situation comprehend one another, they form a communion with one another. Though they are centuries-distant, a student can come to know intimately the great minds of the past: Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, etc. The language of the writers is the only doorway into their thoughts and through it they deliberately open themselves to a real interpersonal communion with their readers. In the case of the philosophers and historians, this communion is strictly intellectual. Yet in the case of the playwrights like Aristophanes or Shakespeare, the communion attained can extend to the emotions. And in John of the Cross or Teresa of Avila, the reader even comes to a spiritual interpersonal communion with the author. Interpersonal communion is the highest goal of language. The reader of history is led from himself through a text to real events viewed in the context of interpersonal communion with the historical author. Biblical knowledge, to return to our central topic, is characterized by a few unique conditions which set it apart from other forms of historical knowledge.

7. Biblical Knowledge. Biblical knowledge has become its own special category. Biblical critics approach their text with a much higher degree of skepticism and distrust than any other group of historians or literary critics. Though many critics want to see the Bible as merely an historical relic, they do not treat it as such. Biblical knowledge takes on peculiar dimensions that cause it to differ from other types of historical knowledge. Biblical knowledge also has a unique relationship with biblical faith. When a person reads Tacitus and believes what he writes about Roman history, critics put this in one category. But when someone reads the Bible and believes what the Deuteronomist or Matthew or Paul writes, this is placed in a totally different category. Both actions of assent are kinds of faith. The first is what I term “secular faith.” This sort of faith is employed anytime a person encounters a newspaper article, a newscast or the work of a secular historian. The second, belief in a biblical writer’s account, I will term “divine faith.” Divine faith is not only belief in an historical account; it includes a recognition of the divine origin of the text being read. It also expands the metaphysical horizon of the reader. What a naturalist/atheist would discard a priori—like miracles or divine intervention in history—is able to be embraced through divine faith. Therefore the kind of knowledge derived from a secular historical account differs from the kind of knowledge derived from the biblical account specifically because of the nature of the biblical account as the word of God. Even if an interpreter’s metaphysic prevents him from accepting this theological account, he still must grapple with the object of the first disciples’ or the early Israelites’ belief and the object of faith-knowledge for contemporary people of faith.19

Historical knowledge gleaned from the Bible has been a hot topic over the past few decades. The object is the matter. The debate about the resurrection of Jesus between John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright is not about text-critical issues nor about traditionally historical issues. Their debate is an epistemological one. Crossan insists that the object of the first disciples’ faith—I narrowly define faith here as intellectual assent, a type of knowledge—is the “absolutely unique assumption or extraordinarily heavenly exaltation of Jesus.”20 Wright insists their object is the actual event of Jesus bodily rising from the dead.21 Thus we must investigate what the true object of biblical knowledge is. I will present a few diagrams that outline a schema for understanding different views of biblical knowledge.

The diagram I first present is my outline for secular historical knowledge in Figure 1. In

this figure I show the epistemic relationship between historical event and the reader of an historical text. First, the author of the text observes the event occurring. At this point, there can be multiple permutations. For example, the author might not have personally witnessed all the events he records. He too may be relying on someone else’s testimony. Also, his observations are peculiar to his own perspective. For example, if the historian is watching a battle from one side of the lines, his view of what happens on the other side will not be as complete.

Second, the author writes down his text. This moment is also full of controversy. Here the author can distort the observations he has made. He can add his own opinions. He can select particular material to insert or omit. He absolutely controls the text. He may even write total fiction without indication. Even if the author is sincere and genuine in his presentation, he cannot help but be conditioned by his experiences and allow that experience to shade his writing. There is no truly objective observer. Beyond this lack of objectivity, the historical author always writes with a purpose. The events he encounters are meaningful to him for particular reasons, which may or may not be the true meaning of the events. Every historical account offers an interpretation of the events it describes and this interpretation can help or hinder the readers apprehension of the events.

Third, the text itself does not lie. The text may be modified or adulterated by editors and copyists of varying skill, but it still presents itself to the reader as the writing of the author. Next the reader approaches the text with all of his presuppositions and philosophical biases. He can read the text honestly enough as long as he is familiar with the language employed. Yet he cannot help himself when he interprets the text, to see it in light of his own experiences. Even his access to the language is colored by his own experiences and mental associations. He cannot render an objective interpretation. To do so would be to undermine the identity and autonomy of the interpreter. As Ratzinger states, “pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction.”22 The reader is left with the very difficult task of understanding the text as honestly as possible and interpreting its meaning. For example, the reader of Thucydides must determine what archaeological sites should be identified with the cities and ports mentioned in the text. He must determine the place of various historical figures in harmony with other historical documents from that period of Greek history. The challenge is immense. Yet the reader does access the events themselves.

The reader, if he is to read the text as an historical one and not as fiction, must intellectually assent to the historicity of the text. That is, he must acknowledge the veracity of the text in rendering an account of real events. He must believe that the events relayed in the text really occurred and that the historian attempts to present those real events. Thus if the reader reads an account of a battle or
the life of an ancient person, he must accept the actual occurrence of that battle or the events in the life of the ancient person. With sober acknowledgement of the limitations of the recorder of history, the reader must accept the historicity of the document. Yet the perspective of the author is always limited, as discussed above. All historical accounts are incomplete.

Second, I present my outline of the historical-critical epistemology for Bible reading in Figure 2. In this scenario, the basic outline of the secular historical schema is maintained, but

the inner workings of the epistemic process are significantly altered. In contrast to the first figure, the author forms a concept and then produces a text. In the secular schema this moment

is implied, but never highlighted. In the academy of biblical exegesis the moment of concept-formation is intensely scrutinized. This is the moment when the author determines the meaning of the events he has encountered. It is the reflective process after the reception of knowledge. It

is only after the author has evaluated his experiences and come to philosophico-theological conclusions that he is able to write a text. This fact allows the biblical critic to highlight and even attack the author’s personal evaluation of historical events. In the view of historical-criticism, the author’s opinion or evaluation always obfuscates the presentation of the events. The author never helps, but only hinders the reader’s understanding.

After the text is produced by the author, it is read and redacted by an editor or an editorial community. Intense debate rages among exegetes over the significance of redactions of different biblical texts. Some books are said to be pieced together from multiple sources, in which case our diagram should include a multiplicity of authors. In other cases, exegetes tell us that an individual author’s work was corrupted, edited, redacted and adulterated by later redactors. In such a situation, the above schema works well, although the number of redactors and intervening texts may be increased or decreased. One aspect of historical-critical scholarship finds that each text has an independent meaning. Traditional literary criticism emphasized the author’s intent when writing as the absolute norm of interpretation. More recently in literary and biblical criticism, some scholars have held firmly that the text has a “life of its own.” Once the text and author part ways, the text has a meaning unto itself apart from the author’s intent. This meaning is what is represented in the trapezoids in Figure 2. The meaning is not necessarily intended by the author or the redactors, it is the de facto, objective meaning of the text.

The last step is the most difficult. The reader encounters the written and redacted text. While the simplicity of the secular historical epistemology would be welcome, it is not allowed by the method. The historical reader is charged with a near impossible task: to get back to the event through the text. (I say the “historical reader,” because canonical and rhetorical readers are not necessarily interested in the relation of the text to actual events.) First, the reader must encounter the text in itself and attempt to determine its meaning, which he can only have limited access to. The limit to his access is created by his distance in time from the author, his linguistic difference, his lack of cultural context and his inability to obtain pure objectivity. Then the reader must begin to peel away the redactions of the text and find the original text or texts that were produced by the author. This process is laborious and inherently inaccurate. Without text-critical evidence, pericopes and sayings can only be torn from the text on the weakest arguments. Yet redaction-critics insist on the importance of their task and try to continually distinguish between “earlier” and “later,” “less developed” and “more developed.” After discovering the original text through redaction-criticism, the reader must peel away the perspective of the author. Thus, he attempts to define and label the author’s persuasions as best as possible. This analysis is used to roll back the curtain shrouding the actual events of history, which can finally be seen.

Unfortunately, by the time the reader has reached this stage, there is not much left of the text. He must use his historical belief to reach back to the events hidden by all these layers of texts, redactions and concepts. The reader is then left to interpret the text as he wishes.

In Figure 3, I will attempt to encapsulate the traditional Christian and Catholic perspective of Bible reading. This traditional epistemology is much closer to the secular history perspective in Figure 1 than it is to the historical-critical perspective of Figure 2. There are only three differences. First, the writing of the text is aided by divine inspiration so much so that we speak of a divine author. God actually works with the author to produce the text. The psychological intricacies of the process of inspiration are beyond the scope of this project, but inspiration dramatically affects the way the text is written. Second, the reader is aided by God in his reading of the text. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit functions as a Greek dictionary or a concordance for the convenience of the reader. Rather, God aids the reader’s understanding spiritually through faith. Faith is a gift from God and this gift is maximally employed in the reading of Scripture, the word of God. Faith helps the reader accept the divine origin of the words and to see God as their author. Third, this faith connects the reader to the events in a stronger manner than simple belief in secular history. The faith-reader gains an expansive divine perspective to see the events of the Bible. He does not gain mere historical knowledge of the events, but is given insight into their meaning and a supernatural acceptance of their reality. In this way, biblical knowledge can be heightened beyond all other historical knowledge—yet it is a spiritual occurrence.

8. Conclusion. We find ourselves at the end of this analysis in need of a new epistemology that honestly approaches the text with an historical interest and an existential openness. I agree with Stephen T. Davis’s assessment that we should “see the act of interpretation primarily (not entirely) as the discovery of something that is there in the text rather than the creation of something new.”23 The historical texts of the Bible are about historical events, not the mental projections of a faith-community (Reimarus). Neither can the historical texts of the Bible be stripped of their historicity in the assertion that they point to a higher non-immanent reality (Bultmann). To do so would deny the connection between history and transcendent reality. We need not erect a wall between the author’s intention and the meaning for the Church (Brown). This proposition makes biblical meaning unnecessarily divided in a fundamental way. It separates the original meaning from the contemporary meaning so completely as to propose two separate objects of knowledge. Regarding the above positions, I agree with C.S. Lewis’ assessment that “These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.”24 Splicing reality into pie
ces eliminates our ability to apprehend it.

Yet what epistemological approach brings us to the text with the honesty required? The text must be read with a hermeneutic of trust rather than suspicion. The historical content of the Bible must be understood to relate real events as other historical texts are understood. The reader should embrace the historicity of the events presented, though colored by the author’s perspective. Beyond believing in historical events, the reader should come to a level of interpersonal communion with the author. In this way, the reader comes to know not only the human author, but the Divine Author who writes the text. Reading the Bible then becomes not merely an intellectually informative event, but a spiritual communion with God himself. For ultimately He is the Author of the Scriptures and the object to whom they point.

Works Consulted

Aquino, Frederick D. Communities of Informed Judgment: Newman’s Illative Sense and Accounts of Rationality. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2004.

Brown, Raymond E. The Critical Meaning of the Bible. New York: Paulist Press, 1981.

—————. “The Sensus Plenior of Sacred Scripture.” S.T.D. diss., St. Mary’s University, 1955.

Bultmann, Rudolf. New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

Crossan, John Dominic and N.T. Wright. The Resurrection of Jesus. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2006.

Frei, Hans W. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974.

Harrisville, Roy A. and Walter Sundberg. The Bible in Modern Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1995.

Herberg, Will. Faith Enacted As History. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976.

Johnson, Luke T. and William S. Kurz. The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Josipovici, Gabriel. The Book of God. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.

Kaplan, Grant. Answering the Enlightenment. New York: Crossroad, 2006.

Kelly, George. The New Biblical Theorists. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1983.

Kümmel, Werner G. The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems. New York: Abingdon, 1972.

Lewis, C.S. Fern-seed and Elephants and Other Essays on Christianity. Glasgow, England: Collins, 1978.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1981.

Moreland, J.P. and William L. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2003.

Neuhaus, Richard J., ed. Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989.

Padgett, Alan G. and Patrick R. Keifert, eds. But Is It All True?: The Bible and the Question of Truth. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.

Robinson, Robert B. Roman Catholic Exegesis Since Divino Afflante Spiritu: Hermeneutical Implications. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 111. Atlanta; Scholars, 1988.

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992.

1 Ratzinger, Joseph, “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the Question of the Foundations and Approaches of Exegesis Today,” in Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church, Richard J. Neuhaus, ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989) 16.
2 Brown, Raymond E. “The Contribution of Historical Biblical Criticism to Ecumenical Church Discussion.” in Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church, Richard J. Neuhaus, ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989) 44-6.
3 Ibid. 46.
4 Wright, N.T., The New Testament and the People of God, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992) 32.
5 See Wright 32-34.
6 This is an extreme abbreviation of a very complicated philosophical position, but I believe that it is adequate for our discussion.
7 Kummel, Werner G., The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems, (New York: Abingdon, 1972) 89-90.
8 Harrisville, Roy A. and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1995) 60.
9 Ibid. 61. This is a paraphrase of Reimarus’ views.
10 Bultmann, Rudolf, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 99.
11 Ibid. 152.
12 Ibid. 150.
13 Ibid. 3.
14 Ibid. 5.
15 Brown, Raymond E., The Critical Meaning of the Bible, (New York: Paulist Press, 1981) 40.
16 Ibid. 35.
17 Ibid. 35, footnote 20.
18 Ibid. 34.
19 Some (Bultmann, et al.) argue for the unintelligibility of the faiths of the Israelites and the disciples. Yet this position side-steps the central issue. The disciples believed in something. Whether they were correct about that thing is not the point right now. That “something” they believed in had to have been intelligible for it to become the object of their faith-knowledge. Not only that, but contemporary people of faith have faith in something. The argument of faith’s opponents should not propose that the object of such faith is unintelligible. Rather, it should acknowledge that faith’s object is intelligible, yet unreal. The argument for unreality is much stro
nger than the argument for unintelligibility. Challenging something’s existence is much easier than charging that that something has no essence.
20 Crossan, John Dominic and N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of Jesus, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2006) 177.
21 Ibid. 16-23.
22 Ratzinger 7.
23 Davis, Stephen T., “What Do We Mean When We Say, ‘The Bible Is True?’” in But Is It All True?: The Bible and the Question of Truth, Padgett, Alan G. and Patrick R. Keifert, eds., (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006) 97.
24 Lewis, C.S. “Fern-Seed and Elephants” in Lewis, C.S. Fern-seed and Elephants and Other Essays on Christianity, (Glasgow, England: Collins, 1978) 111.


The best free Bible software in the world!

Check out This the best free Bible software available. The only Catholic translations available in it are the Douay-Rheims and the Vulgate (which is in Latin). But the ESV is a very good translation and is available, without the deuterocanonical books. E-sword also has the original King James Version available with the deuterocanonicals at the end.

FYI: Deuterocanonical books are the ones that Catholics, Orthodox, Episcopalians and some Lutherans have in their Bibles, but other Protestants don’t have these books. Weird, I know. The books were booted by Martin Luther because they were not preserved in Hebrew, only in Greek translation and they were rejected by the “Council of Jamnia.” The Council of Jamnia was a convention of Jewish rabbis after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Historians are not sure whether the event even happened, but they rejected the deuterocanonical books. They include parts of Daniel and Esther, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch, Sirach (a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus), Wisdom, Tobit and Judith. All of these books are in the Septuagint (LXX) the 3rd Century BC Greek translation of the Old Testament. Whew, that’s a lot of info in a tiny space. Oh yeah, Catholics have always kept the deuterocanonical books since the Canon (the list of biblical books) was formed in the 3rd and 4th centuries. No one removed them from the Christian Bible until Luther.


A Run-down of the Quest for the Historical Jesus

Jesus-Research has been dominated by four major periods. Stephen T. Davis gives a great summary of its history here. I’ve outlined his summary below. His article, “Why the Historical Jesus Matters was originally published in 1999 in Theology News and Notes, but appears to have been republished in his 2006 book, Christian Philosophical Theology.

Here’s the summary:
The Quest for the Historical Jesus
H. S. Reimarus (1694-1768)
Johann Friedrich Strauss (1835)
Ernest Renan (1863)
Albert Schweitzer (1909)

No Quest
Rudolf Bultmann (1921)

New Quest
Ernst Kasemann
Gunther Bornkamm
James M. Robinson
Edward Schillebeckx
Marcus Borg
Burton Mack
John Dominic Crossan
Jesus Seminar

Third Quest
John P. Meier
Martin Hengel
E.P. Sanders
Ben Witherington
N.T. Wright


Jonah and Jesus: Descending to the Abode of the Invisible Fish of Death

A recent paper I handed in for my class on the Prophets.

The Early Church Fathers read the story of Jonah being swallowed by the fish as a type of Christ’s burial and resurrection. Paulinus compares the fish’s belly to the tomb of Jesus, while Ambrose compares it to the womb of Mary. Theodoret and Cyril highlight the hell-like nature of the fish’s innards to find a type of Christ’s descent into hell. Finally, in a crude analogy, Tertullian compares the vomitting of Jonah out of the fish to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly, the Fathers’ readings are based on the words of Jesus in Matthew and Luke:

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (40) For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (41) The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Matt 12:39-41 ESV)

An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. (Matt 16:4)

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. (30) For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. (31) The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (32) The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:29-32)

The Fathers’ interpretations underscore their Cristo-centric hermeneutic. Yet they also reveal an interpretive tradition which cites Jesus as its first exegete. The validity of their reading depends wholly on Christ’s teaching. For them, all of Scripture points to Christ and Jonah is merely an example. It is fascinating that especially in this instance it appears that Jesus himself relates all Scripture to himself as the ultimate point of reference.

Paulinus of Nola comments that Jonah “walked in the cavern of the whale’s body, a prisoner both captive and free….and though physically incarcerated, the prophet emerged in spirit to return to God.”1 The prophet was prisoner in that he was trapped inside the whale, but free in that he was floating on the open waters, albeit in a rather confined way. Paulinus pulls out a brilliant spiritual understanding of the passage: Jonah transcended his situation by going out of himself through prayer in order to “return to God.” The disgruntled prophet who had rejected his calling and run away from God makes his return in a spiritual manner though he is physically limited. According to Paulinus, Jonah “broke out of his prison by prayer and reached God’s ears” (ACCS 138). This interpretation effectively demonstrates the Fathers’ understanding of Christian life and Christian prayer as a transcendant act. Jonah “believed that the Lord was with him even inside that whale” (ACCS 138). The transcendant nature of of Jonah’s prayer connects with Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus goes beyond his own suffering in order to return all of mankind to God. His physical confinement in the tomb cannot restrict the spiritual return which his sacrifice effects. For Jonah, “who typifies the holy mystery, foreshadowed the death which lasted three days and the salvation it restored” (ACCS 138). The Fathers’ read the life of Jonah through a Christological lens which opens a deep allegorical interpretation.

Ambrose’s comments about Jonah and the fish are unique among the Fathers, but give a useful insight into Christ’s life. He delicately compares the “belly of the fish” to Mary’s womb in this prayer: “Like Jonah when he was in the belly of the fish, I prayed to you on behalf of the people. Similarly Christ was with God from his mother’s womb” (ACCS 138). Ambrose takes Jonah’s “return” to God in the belly of the whale as a spiritual example. This example is fully typified in Christ’s oneness with God in Mary’s womb. Therefore Ambrose uses a typological reading of Jonah through Christ to make a tropological application. As Jonah was with God in the belly of the fish, so Christ was with God in the womb, so should the Christian be with God in prayer. Significantly, the word for “womb” in the NT is ??????,2 which is the word Jesus uses when referring to the “belly of the great fish.” (Matt 12:40) It is also the same word used for the fish’s belly in the LXX version of Jonah (Jonah 1:17; 2:1,2 – Hebrew numbering). This lexical connection strengthens Ambrose’s reading and the link he draws between the fish’s belly and Mary’s womb.

While meditating on Jonah’s prayer, Theodoret makes an insightful observation about Christ’s mention the prophet. He brings out the fact that Jonah calls the fish’s stomach the “belly of Sheol,” (Jonah 2:2) but Jesus compares the “belly of the fish” to the “heart of the earth” (Matt 12). Jonah becomes a dual type. First, he foreshadows those redeemed by Christ. For he was “already presumed dead” but “survived only by God’s grace” (ACCS 138). He is saved from the belly of the fish, but more significantly from the belly of Sheol, from Hell itself. Second, he is a type of Christ for the three days he spent in the fish like Christ’s three days in the tomb. Yet Theodoret draws out the fact that Jonah was an imperfect type. He was in the “belly of Sheol” but Christ was in the “heart of the earth” (ACCS 138). This difference exists “because the life of Jonah was beyond his control, while in the case of the Lord both his death and resurrection were voluntary” (ACCS 138). Jonah’s lack of freedom indicated his powerlessness and dependence on God’s grace. But Christ’s entombment was his own choice. The one is in need of grace because of his confinement, while the other gives grace through his confinement.

Cyril uses this comparison to illustrate the nature of Jonah’s prayer as a type of Christ’s words. Jonah “prophesies in the person of Christ” (ACCS 138). Similar to Ps 22, Jonah’s prayer can be read as Christ’s own prayer. Just as Jonah sought the Lord from the belly of the whale, so Christ sought the Lord from his tomb. Cyril brings Jonah’s typological example to the fore by drawing out the fact that he says that he is in the “netherworld” (2:2) and that he went down to the “roots of the mountains” (2:6) while he was “in fact in the fish” (ACCS 138). Cyril goes so far as to suggest that Jonah was conscious of his typological role. He even quotes the prophet’s supposed thoughts, “I know…that I am a type of him who is to be laid in the sepulcher hewn out of rock” (ACCS 138). Cyril sees Jonah’s prayer as giving a clue to the reader that the story should be read in an allegorical manner. Jonah’s story does not exist for his own sake, but for Christ’s.

Tertullian, more than any other Father commenting on this passage, draws out details in Jonah to piece together a more comprehensive interpretation. He highlights Jonah’s flight from his “duty of preaching” to the Ninevites (ACCS 134). He argues that “it was because of a pagan city, which did not yet know God and which sinned i
n ignorance, that the prophet was almost lost. And he would have been lost, were it not for the fact that what he endured was a type of the Lord’s suffering, by which pagan penitents also would be redeemed” (ACCS 135). Tertullian’s comments emphasize the similarity of Jesus’ and Jonah’s callings. Cyril concurs that “Jesus was sent to preach repentence. So was Jonah” (ACCS 135). Jonah ran from his calling, but Jesus embraced his. In a paradoxical manner, Jonah’s unwillingness to fulfill God’s call prefigures Christ’s willingness. God would have eliminated Jonah, but for the fact that he was meant to be a type of Christ. Since Jonah avoided preaching to the pagans, God sent him to suffer. But since Jesus embraced his suffering and “descended to the abode of the invisible fish of death,”3 many pagans would be saved. Jonah is the only OT prophet who is sent exclusively to the Gentiles for their conversion. His calling is to reach the Ninevites with the message of repentence and begin the in-gathering of the nations mentioned throughout the prophetic books. This unique vocation aptly prefigures Christ’s redemptive suffering for all mankind, which frees both Jew and Gentile, prophets and pagans alike.

The story of Jonah is often deemed an “ironically didactic novella”4 without a shred of historicity. Modern commentators avoid even discussing the historicity of the book. Yet Augustine sets up an apt dichotomy which deals with the miraculous aspect of Jonah’s encounter with the big fish. He states that “either all the divine miracles are to be disbelieved or there is no reason why they should not be believed. We should not believe in Christ himself and that he rose on the third day, if the faith of the Christians feared the laughter of the pagans” (ACCS 135). Augustine senses the disintegration of biblical allegory if it is not based on factual history. If the stories are not true, they lose their power. We have seen how the Fathers view Jonah as a type of Christ. The belly of the fish prefigures Mary’s womb and the rock-hewn tomb. Jonah’s vocation as prophet to the Gentiles is a type of Christ’s vocation as Savior of the world. Jonah’s exaggeration that he is in the “belly of Sheol” (2:2) serves to strengthen his typological relationship with Jesus. Just as Jonah’s unrighteousness landed him in Sheol, so Christ’s righteousness will save many souls from Sheol. From the Fathers perspective, Jonah clearly though awkwardly acts as a type of Christ. The main point of confluence is the three days in the belly of the fish compared to Jesus’ three days in the tomb. This, of course, is the “sign of Jonah” which Jesus mentions in the gospels. The sign comes to a not-so-glorious end when Jonah is “vomited out again safe and sound”5 as “a symbol of the future mystery”6 of Christ’s resurrection.

1.Ferreiro, Alberto, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: The Twelve Prophets, Old Testament v. XIV (Downers Grove, IL: Innervarsity, 2003) 138. Henceforth ACCS. Matt 19:12; Luke 1:15,41,42,44; 2:21; 11:27; 23:29; John 3:4; Acts 3:2; 14:8; Gal 1:15.
3.Cyril of Jerusalem, ACCS 135.
4.Wolff, Hans W., Obadiah and Jonah: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Augusburg, 1986) 85.
5.Tertullian, ACCS 139.
6.Ambrose, ACCS 139.


Thomas Aquinas’ “16 Precepts for Acquiring Knowledge”

Since I am a student and a Catholic one at that, I try to learn how to be a better student constantly. Thomas Aquinas once wrote a letter to a certain Brother John about the principles of good study. Aquinas lays out his philosophy of how to study. A lot of it has to do with avoiding social contact, which I find more applicable to a more monastic approach to study. It should be noted that Aquinas was not a monk, but a mendicant. Yet he did live a religious life in community as a priest. Despite the hermit/monk flavor of some of the precepts, this list is extremely helpful in learning to think like a professional. Some of the shortest maxims are the most helpful. Let me know what you think of it.

“My Very Dear Brother,
Since you have asked me how you ought to study in order to amass the treasures of knowledge, listen to the advice which I am going to give you.
As a mere stripling,

1. Advance up the streams, and do not all at once plunge into the deep: such is my caution, and your lesson. I bid you to

2. Be chary of speech,

3. Slower still in frequenting places of talk:

4. Embrace purity of conscience,

5. Pray unceasingly,

6. Love to keep to your cell if you wish to be admitted into the mystic wine-cellar.

7. Show yourself genial to all:

8. Pay no heed to other folk’s affairs:

9. Be not over-familiar with any person, because over-much familiarity breeds contempt, and gives occasion to distraction from study.

10. On no account mix yourself up with the sayings and the doings of persons in the outside world.

11. Most of all, avoid all useless visits, but try rather to walk constantly in the footsteps of good and holy men.

12. Never mind from whom the lesson drops, but

13. Commit to memory whatever useful advice may be uttered.

14. Give an account to yourself of your every word and action:

15. See that you understand what you hear, and never leave a doubt unsolved:

16. Lay up all you can in the storehouse of memory, as he does who wants to fill a vase. ‘Seek not the things which are beyond thee’.

Following these ways, you will your whole life long put forth and bear both branches and fruit in the vineyard of the Lord of Sabaoth. If you take these words to heart, you will attain your desire.”

-Sixteen Precepts for Acquiring the Treasure of Knowledge by St. Thomas Aquinas