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Seasoned with Salt

I like to season my salads with salt, but the Bible has different ideas. I came across an odd connection here that I thought I’d share with you. St. Paul says:saltysalt

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one. (Col 4:6 RSV)

It is kind of a weird idea. I mean, how do you put salt on your speech? And if you could, what would that even mean? I know Jesus tells us “you are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). He seems to mean that believers, disciples, make the world tasty to God. That is, the followers of Jesus enhance the world, make it better, spread the tastiness of the gospel and shed light through their preaching. Even then, he warns that salt can lose its flavor and be good for nothing (Mark 9:50||Luke 14:34). In both cases, Jesus and Paul, salt indicates the relation of the believer with the world–enhancing one’s conversation with the world or enhancing the world as a whole.

Yet the connection I found was more textual. Only one other place in the Bible does the phrase “seasoned with salt” appear. Here:

and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; (Exo 30:35 RSV)

It’s part of one of the few recipes in the Bible. This recipe is for the incense which will be used in the tabernacle and temple sanctuary. If Paul is alluding back to this Exodus recipe, what could he mean? Is he highlighting the sacred nature of Christian speech, that conversation with unbelievers takes on an almost prayerful/worshipful aspect, so much so as being similar to the holy incense offered in the temple?

frankincenseSome offerings are also seasoned with salt (Lev 2:13) and the Lord even makes a “covenant of salt” (Num 18:19), but I think the main thrust in Paul here links up nicely with Exodus 30:35. Strangely, the Hebrew alone preserves the idea that Paul references. The Hebrew has memulach, which is a pual participle meaning “seasoned with salt.” This is rendered in LXX as memigmenon, which simply means “mixed.” Paul’s phrasing in Colossians 4:6 is halati ertumenos, which clearly relies on the Hebrew, not the Greek. The participle here is from artuo, which means “to make salty” and halati means “with salt.” So we could translate Paul’s phrase as “to make salty with salt.” (One could easily think up some late nineties references here.)

I think the point of Paul’s encouragement is relatively simple: that our spoken words be kind and Christlike, “in grace” and not in malice. The connection with incense highlights the holiness, purity and God-directedness of our speech, but the connection with Jesus’ salt sayings, like “have salt in yourselves” (Luke 14:34), emphasizes the good effects our salty words can have in the world around us.


Does Lust Need a Purpose?

Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #5)



Matthew 5:28 records Jesus’ famous saying about the sinfulness of lust. Often it sounds like you can seriously sin by accident. Usually, the translation sounds something like this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-28 NAB)

Greek Background

However, a closer inspection of the Greek and the various translations reveals a difficulty. The Greek does not say “look at a woman with lust.” Rather, it says “…look at a woman in order to lust [after her]” or “…look at a woman for the purpose of lust.” In Greek grammar, this is what we call a purpose clause, indicated by the short words, pros to, plus an infinitive in the Greek. A good example is in Ephesians 6:11 – “Put on the full armor of God in order that you may be able to stand against the scheming of the devil” (my trans.).

Aramaic Background

Recent grammarians have, however, relied on a hypothetical Aramaic background to this Greek saying. Rather than translating the phrase as a purpose clause, they have looked to a possible Aramaic construction, where the pros to represents an Aramaic lamed, a letter that functions as a particle indicating one of any number of things: a genitive relationship, direct object, indirect object, ethical dative, purpose, direction (See Alger Johns, A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic, p. 11). Fr. Maximilian Zerwick explains the supposed Aramaic background of pros to in his Biblical Greek:

“Indeed the sense need not even be consecutive; in the passage in question [Matt 5:28] one would expect the sense ‘with concupiscence’ simply, and this may in fact be the sense intended, if the προσ το [pros to] can be understood as a servile rendering of a Semitic (Hebrew or Aramaic) le + infinitive which, though of it means ‘to(wards)…’ and so has final or consecutive sense, may also be used without any such connotation and simply with the sense ‘…-ing.’ (p. 135, sec. 391)

Notably, Fr. Zerwick relies a lot on what “one would expect.” The difference between the two translation options might seem inconsequential, but I think there’s an significant theological principle at stake.

Theology of Intention

What’s important here from a moral theology perspective is intention. When this passage is translated based on a hypothetical Aramaic reconstruction, rather than on the actual Greek text, it sounds as if one can seriously sin by accident. The typical translation weakens the intentionality of the act being indicated by the Greek grammar, making lust sound like an almost unintentional part of “looking” since “with lust” (or in RSV “lustfully”) merely functions as an adverb modifying the verb “to look.” But if it is translated as a purpose clause, which follows the Greek grammar most closely, then the teaching indicates that a moral intention must be involved—a decision to look for the purpose of lust or in order to lust.

A Better Translation?

And, if you really want to consider the Aramaic background, the le particle also works to indicate purpose, as I listed out above. So you can have your Aramaic cake and eat it too. The ESV translation, in my opinion, strikes the balance right, with this translation:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:28 ESV)

You can’t sin by accident. Lust involves an intentional choice to commit evil, to violate God’s commandments.


From Sea to (Shining) Sea

BlackBallDuring this Fourth of July Week, I thought a little reflection on an Old Testament conundrum that connects with some American patriotic poetics would be appropriate, so here goes: A mysterious phrase crops up three times in the Old Testament that has proved to be, well, a bit unsolvable. The phrase is “from sea to sea” and shows up in these passages. (I should note however, that the early Canadians tried to co-opt this phrase themselves in their coat of arms, which includes the Latin a mari usque ad mare. :-) )

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! (Ps 72:8 ESV)

They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8:12 ESV)

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zech 9:10 ESV)

The trouble with this little phrase is that it seems to denote a geographical reality, but scholars have pounded their heads against the wall to figure out exactly what geographical reality we’re talking about.

Exegetical Nitpicking

It wouldn’t be right to pass over the passages and on to the dictionaries to solve the problem, so first we have to engage in a little nitpicky investigation. Notice that in the Psalm 72 and Zech 9 passages, the phrase is appended by another stock phrase “from the River to the ends of the earth.” In each of those two cases we’re talking about a messianic king reigning from Jerusalem and establishing dominion. One would expect such passages to recall the ideal borders of the Holy Land (Deut 1:5; Josh 1:3-4) and say something like “He’ll have dominion from Dan to Beersheba!” But instead, we get these other features. The only easy one to identify is “the River”, which is the Euphrates–I don’t think any scholar dissents from this view. The “ends of the earth” which could just mean “everywhere really far away” has sometimes been identified with the Atlantic exit from the Mediterranean, Gibraltar. In the Amos passage, we have something different. We’re not talking about ideal reigns or borders, but starving people roaming for food and “from sea to sea” is a convenient way of saying “helter skelter” or “higgledy-piggledy.”

The Options

Ok, so what are the options for explaining “from sea to sea”?

1. The most common sense option, from my view, is to consider one of the seas to be the Mediterranean and one to be the Indian Ocean or one of its offshoots (Persian Gulf, Red Sea). We don’t have a complete understanding of how the ancient thought about their geography, but those two HUGE bodies of water seem to be the logical choices for me.

2. One could say: Mediterranean sea to Gulf of Aqaba

3. Or: Mediterranean sea to Dead Sea.

4. BUT, the problem is those seas are actual things. “The ends of the earth” may not be. You can’t go on vacation there. Othmar Keel offers an interesting perspective in his important book Symbolism of the Bible here:

Keel uses an artifact called The Babylonian Map of the Woooooooorld (cue big voice radio guy) to show how the ancients understood their geographic position. In a GPS-free world, things can get confusing! There’s a disk of land, surrounded by a circle of water–all land being like a big island. While there’s some truth to this–continents are really just enormous islands–it makes our “sea to sea” thing a bit different. The idea here might be more to say “everywhere in the whole wide world!” which would comport with the “ends of the earth” idea our phrase is combined with in Ps 72 and Zech 9. Another scholar has examined this point and defended this view further: Magne Saebø,  “Vom Grossreich zum Weltreich: Erwägnungen zu Pss 72:8, 89:26; Zech 9:10b,” Vetus Testamentum 28(1978): 83-91. Saebø digs deeper and tries to explain how an ancient formula for describing a territory using east-west, north-south terms (like we might say “coast to coast and border to border”) has now expanded to account for the entire world in a way that doesn’t exactly make sense.

To me, the last option, while not easy to arrive at is probably the best one. Perhaps more archaeological digs and research will give us more examples or clues to explain the “from sea to sea” phrase more closely. When we hear of the messianic king reigning from sea to sea, we should be thinking something like “everywhere!!” 

That’s your Independence Day edition of the Catholic Bible Student. Enjoy it from sea to sea!


Nine Biblical Metaphors for Sin

This topic has received magisterial treatment (in the scholarly sense) in Gary Anderson’s book, Sin: A History, but I wanted to offer a brief post on the biblical metaphors for sin. I find them fascinating and life-changing in terms of the way we conceive of ourselves and our moral mis-steps.

1. A Burden


Anderson insists that the concept of sin as a burden in the OT is the most important, foundational metaphor. For example, we find “a people laden with iniquity” (Isa 1:4), the idea of “bearing sin” (Lev 20:20, 22:9, 24:15; Num 9:13, 18:22, 32), and iniquities “like a heavy burden” (Ps 38:4). But also Jesus says “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).  So sin is a burden to be borne.

2. A Stain

Anderson emphasizes this idea, which shows up in Jer 2:22 as “the stain of your guilt,” but also in Isaiah 1:18 “though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” There’s also the possibility of a “spot” clinging to Job’s hands (Job 31:7). The idea shows up elsewhere too (Sir 11:33, 44:19; 1 Tim 6:14). Sin is like a stain that is really hard to wash out. So redemption then is a “cleansing” or a “washing” (Ps 51:4; Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5).

3. A Debt

Sin is mentioned as a “record of debt” that was nailed to the cross by St. Paul (Col 2:14). Jesus uses the idea of debt to explain the forgiveness of sins in parables (Matt 18:21-35; Luke 7:41-50). It’s important to note that sometimes in the ancient world people would literally “sell themselves” into slavery in order to pay back debts, so these two metaphors for sin are connected. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “Master Card.”

4. A Lion


One of the first mentions of sin is in Genesis 4:7 where it is “crouching at the door” hoping to devour Cain. The posture of crouching is specifically linked with lions in the OT (Gen 49:9; Num 24:9; Deut 33:20; Job 38:40; Ezek 19:2). This idea re-appears in 1 Pet 5:8 as the devil “prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” So sin is a lion: Look out!

5. Leprosy

Leprosy, a skin disease, made a person ritually unclean and unable to enter the Temple and in fact, had to live in exile separated from other people (see Lev 13-14). The connection between sin and leprosy is not as explicit in the Bible, but both of them make a person “unclean” and therefore unfit for God’s presence. Two famous lepers appear in the OT: Naaman the Syrian (2 Kgs 5:1), and King Azariah/Uzziah (2 Kgs 15:5; 2 Chr 26:21-23). Notably, one is delivered by God from leprosy and the other is afflicted by God with the disease. When Jesus cleanses lepers (Mark 1:41 || Matt 8:3, Luke 17:14, Matt 11:5 || Luke 7:22), he is not only healing them physically, but symbolically pointing to his power to forgive sins. Notably, the ten lepers cry out for him to “have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13). He does. So sin is like a debilitating skin disease which makes a person unclean, unable to enter the presence of the Lord.

6. Slavery

Slavery links sin to the Israelites’ plight in Egypt. This particular situation of slavery is the controlling one for biblical metaphor here (just search “house of slavery” in the OT), but slavery in general is linked to sin. This concept is mentioned in Heb 2:15, which mentions the “lifelong slavery” of sin by which we were enslaved to the devil. St. Paul mentions the “spirit of slavery” (Rom 8:15) and the “yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1; see also Gal 2:4). In Galatians, he’s more specifically talking about slavery to the ceremonial precepts of the Mosaic law, but the main idea is that Christ has freed us from slavery to sin and some would have us go back into slavery.

7. Slavemaster

St. Paul tells us that it is possible to be “enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6), portraying Sin as a slavemaster. I like to think of this very similar to the way drug addiction works–one can become enslaved to drugs or alcohol. Sin has the same allure, but induces a person into subservience, sacrificing their free will to feed their destructive desires.

8. KingNorweigen Crown

According to St. Paul, sin used to “reign through death” (Rom 5:21) and he urges us not to allow sin to “reign in your mortal body” (Rom 6:12). Also, much earlier, God urges Cain to “rule over” sin which “desires” him (Gen 4:7). Sin can be a king or we can be king over it.

9. Military Conscriptor

St. Paul talks about how one who succumbs to sin makes his body parts “weapons for unrighteousness” (Rom 6:13). Also, he describes how the “wages”–the Greek word ὀψώνια originally referred to a soldier’s pay–“of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). So, the army-pay of sin is death and the one who pays it is Sin, who makes our bodies into “weapons” for his evil designs.

There you have it. Sin, fundamentally a choice against God, an act of disobedience, is pictured many different ways throughout the Bible. The Bible portrays sin as a burden, a stain, a debt, a lion, leprosy, slavery, a slavemaster, a king and a military conscriptor. If you find any more metaphors for sin in the Bible, leave a comment.


Papal Election Rules for the Conclave

The rules for electing a pope are, shall we say, a bit complex. Here’s just a few links to help you navigate the legal intricacies:

Universi Dominici Gregis, John Paul II, February 22, 1996
(This document lays out the official rules for the conclave completely.)

De aliquibus mutationibus in normis de electione Romani Pontificis, Benedict XVI, June 11, 2007 (Latin only, sorry! This document re-establishes the requirement for a 2/3 majority vote in all cases. In the 1996 document linked above, the requirement was for a simple majority only after a certain number of inconclusive votes.)

Motu Proprio Normas Nonullas, Benedict XVI, February 22, 2013 (I linked the English text at NCReporter, but you can get the Italian and Latin on the Vatican website. The main thrust of this short document is to allow the conclave to convene earlier than Universi Dominici Gregis requires.)

Code of Canon Law on the Cardinals might also be helpful.


Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs Now Published

A while back, I wrote a post on Hippolytus’ commentary on the Song of Songs, which is the first extant Christian commentary on the Song. Unfortunately, it has never been published in an English translation…until now. Yancy Smith wrote his dissertation on this topic and incorporated a translation of the commentary, including translations from the Georgian texts. Now, he has thoroughly revised and changed the dissertation into a book being published for 2013, but now available from Gorgias Press. So, if you are studying the Song of Songs or its interpretations and are in the market for ancient Christian commentaries, you can purchase the book, which is available now with a big discount from the Gorgias Press website. The book is entitled, The Mystery of Anointing: Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Contexts.



Fr. Francis Martin points out in a homily how our world’s contemporary view of knowledge sees knowledge as “access to power”: building bridges, making money, having influence in the company, etc. But he says, “that’s the lowest form of knowledge. Knowledge is contact with the truth and rejoicing in the truth! But we can only do that by the mercy of God.”

Amen. It is good to remember that knowledge is not for the amassing of power or the oppression of others–though it is often used that way. Knowledge is for access to God, admiring the beauty and wonder of the truth. Rejoice with the truth!

And check out Fr. Francis Martin’s website here.


Church Fathers Links

Here are the best online editions of the writings Church Fathers that I can find and that are free. Note especially the Patrologia Latina and the Patrologia Graecae, the most complete original language editions of the Church Fathers. Unfortunately the Corpus Christianorum is not yet available online.

CCEL (English)
Fathers of the Church Series (English)
Patrologia Graecae – Version 1 (Greek)
Patrologia Graecae Version 2 (Greek)
Patrologia Latina (Latin)


Dumbed-Down Christianity?

I was reading a bit of Ravi Zacharias this morning and came across this observation:

“Sometime in the 1980’s, Christians in the West began to label evangelistic techniques and reconfigure church services to reduce the message to the lowest level of cognition in the audience. As nobly intentioned as that was, the end result was th lowest level of writing and gospel preaching one could imagine. Mass media was brought to aid this purpose, and before long evangelicals were seen to be masters in entertainment and minimalists in thought. As this was happening, the intellectual arenas were being plundered and young minds gradually driven away from their “faith” in the gospel message. Christians are paying our dues today and likely will pay for an entire generation.” (from the Introduction to Beyond Opinion)

While I don’t think that Zacharias’ observation applies equally to Catholics as to evangelicals, I do think that it is incisive. I see a deep alienation between the community of faith and the scholarly community on issues of theology, Bible and practice in both Protestant and Catholic groups. It seems that this has been brought about by certain anti-intellectual tendencies in the community of faith and by results-oriented evangelism that counts quantity but not quality–not to mention the sweeping problems in the scholarly community! There is a proliferation of Catholic and Christian TV shows, websites, radio stations, etc. But there are fewer and fewer people to watch them, donate to them or listen to them.

The evangelization of our generation must be a deeply personal activity involving friendship, grassroots community, deep conversations and lovingly shared home-cooked meals. Our generation is not starving for more Christian media or more entertaining worship services, but we are starving for love, friendship, deep connection with others–for a life that is personally meaningful because it is full of persons with whom we can love and share and draw near to God. But this deeply meaningful type of evangelization can only be carried out on the most solid of intellectual foundations, a sincere and honest approach to the Bible, a reflective and fully obedient attitude to the Magisterium, and a full embrace of the Faith with all of its complexities, controversies and paradoxes.