Christ the Rock which is the Fountain of Life

“I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”   (St. Paul in his Epistle, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

We are at Mid-Pentecost, the middle point between the two Great Feasts of Pascha and Pentecost.  The two main hymns of Mid-Pentecost (the Troparion and the Kontakion) give us the theme of this Christian Feast:

In the middle of the Feast, O Savior, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as You cried out to all: “If anyone thirst let him come to me and drink!  O Christ God, fountain of our life, glory to You!”

Christ God, the Creator and Master of all cried to all in the midst of the Feast of the Law: “Come and draw the water of immortality!”  We fall before You and faithfully cry:  Grant us Your bounties, for You are the Fountain of our life.

The theme is related to thirsting and receiving a drink from the Fountain of Life.  It actually is making reference to a Gospel verse that we will read on Pentecost,  John 7:37-38:   “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.  He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”'”  John in his Gospel is proclaiming the same basic idea that St. Paul claimed in his First Epistle to the Corinthians.

I am going to explore this theme of the flowing living waters flowing from the Messiah by especially drawing from the work of James Aageson, “Written for our Sake: Paul’s Use of Scripture in the Four Major Epistles, with a Study of 1 Corinthians 10”, found in HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, edited by Stanley Porter.  It is worth noting,  as most biblical commentaries and biblical footnotes mention, the verse which Jesus proclaims as coming from scripture, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water”, is not found in the Old Testament.  So we have Christ attributing an idea to the Scriptures that is not a literal quote from the Scriptures.  The Evangelist John has Christ taking us beyond the literal word of the Old Testament to consider a theme which we can find there.

In Exodus 17:1-7 and then again in Numbers 20:1-13, we encounter two stories the Israelites having escaped from Egypt finding themselves in a desert wasteland, totally thirsty and with no source of water to drink.  In both cases Moses is told to take his staff and strike a rock, and miraculously a fountain of water pours forth from the rock to satisfy a thirsty people.  The two different stories both call the waters which came forth “Meribah” which caused ancient Jewish interpreters of Scripture to assume that it was the same rock in both places that Moses struck.   In Jewish tradition (the Targum), the rock which was a well of life-giving water was following the Israelites on their desert sojourn. The Jewish Midrash (ancient commentary) on Numbers 21:16-18, specifically connects the rock with a well that was moving and following the Israelites.  The Targum allegorically interprets these same verses to claim that the digging of the well means digging into the Torah.  Additionally because of the similarity in the Hebrew words for “well” (as a place to get water) and expound (as in explaining) – in Hebrew the words are cognates – Jewish tradition connected well with Torah and with the expounding (explaining) of Torah.

“It is interesting to note that in bar. Avot  6:1 (note: ancient Jewish commentary on Scripture) the person who concerns himself with Torah is likened to a flowing well: ‘And they reveal to him the secret meanings of the Torah, and he is made as a well that ever gathers force, and like a stream that never ceases.’” (p 167)

Philo (d. ca 41AD), writing about the same time as St. Paul (d. ca 67AD), and accepting the Jewish tradition which equated Torah with Wisdom, writes about the rock which followed the Israelites in the desert exodus:  “Again Moses leads the song at the well, and this time his theme is not only the rout of the passions, but the strength invincible which can win the most beautiful of possessions, wisdom, which he likens to a well.  For wisdom lies deep below the surface and gives forth a sweet stream of true nobility for thirsty souls.” (p 167)

“We have now established that early in the development of this tradition a number of symbols have come together: the rock, well, Torah, digging the well, and wisdom.  In virtually all cases, the implication is clear: something life-giving – water, wisdom, Torah – flows to the people who need to be nourished and sustained.  … Torah, often identified with wisdom, signifies the means by which God gives life to the people, just as water from the rock gave them life in the wilderness.  Torah stands between God and the people, and it flows with life-giving nourishment.” (p 168)

“The association of the rock with the well and the rock with Torah, the identification of wisdom with Torah, and the concept of spiritual drink all combine to form a symbolic constellation that makes possible Paul’s connection of the rock and Christ.  In the symbolic transformation of the tradition, he has simply substituted Christ for the rock, which as he already knew represented Torah.  … Christ as the source of spiritual drink has assumed in a figurative sense the role of Torah.  For Paul, the messianic Jew, Christ is the means by which God’s life-sustaining drink is given to the people. … As the wandering Hebrews drank from the rock that followed them in the wilderness, and as the Jews were nourished by the life-giving waters of Torah, so now, claims Paul, the people partake of the Eucharistic drink of Christ who is identified as the rock of the biblical story.”  (pp 168-169)

Christ and Moses

So in Orthodoxy the feasts of Mid-Pentecost and of Pentecost tie in theologically the Law/Torah with Christ who is the fulfillment and thus replacement of Torah.  Moses gave the Law, but with Christ comes the Holy Spirit.    And the Scripture readings of the Orthodox Church for these two Great Feasts have at their root and basis an interpretation of Scriptures rooted deeply in ancient Judaism.  Orthodoxy continues in an unbroken line proclaiming and liturgically celebrating the truth which God first made known through Torah, and which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

“The link between the rock and Christ – as it was between the rock, well, Torah, and wisdom – appears to be grounded in the notion of the wellspring through which God brings forth life to his people.  … we see the interplay between the biblical images (rock, well, water) and the shifting religious symbols that come to be identified with God’s sustaining power (Torah and Torah interpretation, wisdom, and Christ). …    This is what occurred in 1 Cor 10:4, as Paul has come to perceive Christ as the wellspring of heavenly nourishment.  In the Eucharist, the people of God drink from the wellspring, and  they share in the life-sustaining power of God, which was also poured out upon the people in the wilderness of ancient Sinai.”  (pp 169-170)

See also my blog Christ the Rock Who Follows Us and Christ the Wisdom and Word of God

The Prophet Moses

Christ and Moses

Through Great Lent and Holy Week, excerpts from two books of Moses from the Torah are read: Genesis during the week days of Great Lent and Exodus during Holy Week.  Moses is portrayed in the Scriptures as God’s chosen servant, but He also serves as an intercessor for the chosen people before the Lord God.  He advocates for the people – despite their rebellious sinfulness, Moses intercedes with God that He will not judge and destroy them in His wrath but rather that He will save them from evil.  Even when God is wrathfully angry with the people, Moses intercedes for them.   Moses prefigures Christ, and is an advocate on earth for Israel.  Christ ascended into heaven as high priest and is once and for all our heavenly intercessor.  Christ reconciles us to God eternally.  So Christ indeed not only fulfills the prophecy that God will raise up for His people a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22), but one who exceeds what Moses was able to do.   Christ leads us not to an earthly promised land as Moses led the people, but as we sing at Pascha Christ leads us “from death to life and from earth to heaven.”

“Moses clearly perceives the seriousness of the situation, both the gravity of Israel’s sin and the burning rage of divine wrath. Yet as God’s chosen prophet he does no simply acquiesce to the script that lies before him. He does not kneel in obedience to the whims of the deity. He stands in the breach between God and his people and attempts to make amends. “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people,” he begins, echoing the words of God himself, “whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” These are not my people, Moses counters, they are yours, those you led out of Egypt. Moses does not stop there; this is not a matter of linguistic precision about the status of the elected nation. He launches a frontal attack on the very character of God. “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains…’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind,…Remember Abraham, Issac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land I have promised I will give to your descendants and they shall inherit it forever.’” With this Moses rests his case. And the verdict? “The Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”” (Gary A. Anderson, In Dominco Eloquio – In Lordly Eloquence, pg.22)  

Moses refuses to be saved apart from God’s people.  He does not want to be saved himself if God is not going to save all of His people.  In identifying himself so closely with the people, Moses wins God’s favor for the people because God is not willing to destroy His chosen servant Moses.  If Moses is choosing to identify himself with the people of God, then God will save the people in order to save Moses.

Christ too though He is God identifies with God’s people for our salvation.   Christ descends from heaven and becomes incarnate as a human to completely identify Himself with us in order to save us from sin and death.  He identifies Himself with us to save us from any impending judgment against us – through His life, death, resurrection and intercession, He cancels all of our debt to God and all the righteous judgment which could have been visited upon us.  He restores us to God, ending all enmity between us and making us again an object of God’s love by canceling the debt of our sin.


Free will and Freedom

This is the 15th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Free Will.

“In other words, ‘Paradise is the state of being in which there is no valuation or distinction’ between good and evil: likewise, the kingdom of God is ‘beyond’ good and evil.  … One can say, Berdyaev continues, that  ‘it is bad that the distinction between good and evil has arisen, but it is good to make the distinction once it has arisen; it is bad to have gone through the experience of evil, but it is good to know good and evil as a result of this experience.”  (John Witte & Frank Alexander (eds), THE TEACHINGS OF MODERN CHRISTIANITY, p 583)

The effects of Eve and Adam having exercised their free will are obvious in the Book of Genesis.  Keeping in mind that Adam’s story is also a typology, and that Adam represents all who are human, we recognize that Eve and Adam’s use of free will to reject God’s lordship is the story of each of us.  We each behave this way.  We make choices which are self serving rather than loving God and neighbor.  The effect of our choices breeds even more choices, each of which also can lead us further away from God, or not.  That choice, that exercise of the free will, is still ours.  Though admittedly now with the image and likeness of God in us being buried under the mud of sin, it becomes increasingly difficult to recognize let alone choose the good.   Melitio of Sardis (d. ca 170AD) notes:

“But when Adam tasted of the tree… His legacy is ‘not chastity but promiscuity, not imperishability but decay, not honor but dishonor, not freedom but slavery, not royalty but tyranny, not life but death, not salvation but destruction.’”  (Peter Bouteneff, BEGINNINGS: ANCIENT READINGS OF THE BIBLICAL CREATION NARRATIVES, p 67)

Humans now must navigate their way through a world in which no choice we make might necessarily lead us to God.  Torah for the Jews was one answer to this dilemma – simply obey the Law rather than making choices and one can find one’s way back to God and to following God’s will.  Christianity recognized a further difficulty with this – something was still wrong with human nature.  Whether or not humans follow Torah, humans still die, and the effects of sin, namely death, are not dealt away with by either obedience to Torah or by repentance.  Something more needed to be done to save humanity from its own sinfulness and from death.

“For we must always remember this—neither the world nor the devil can violate our freedom; they can only subject us to temptation.” (Jack Sparks, VICTORY IN THE UNSEEN WARFARE,  p 75)

Even following Torah completely did not automatically regenerate in humans a love for God and for one’s neighbor.   Humans might follow Torah selfishly – to get God’s favor or even to try to manipulate God into “having” to bless the person.  Humans might use Torah to condemn others who they feel don’t live up to Torah’s standards.  Humans might use Torah to argue that they have nothing to repent of or change in their hearts.

“We were not created by our heavenly Father to sin but to share in His goodness and life.  Therefore, sin is profoundly unnatural!  Sin is a distortion of living that is especially beneath the dignity of those who are called to follow Christ. … Yes, the gift of freedom can be abused.  The story of the fall in the Book of Genesis points to the tragic consequences of the abuse of freedom.  When Adam and Eve chose to disobey the commandment of God, they sinned.  Their action expressed a self-centered desire to live apart from God, to live autonomous existences.  Unfortunately, their sin- their abuse of freedom—has consequences that effected their relationship not only with God but also with each other and the whole of creation.  The story points to the danger of seeking to live apart from God.  As such, it is a story that has a profound significance for everyone.  … Sin can distort our identity and can harm others as well.  As St. Gregory of Nyssa says, sin creates ‘an ugly mask over the beauty of the image.’”  (Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald, PERSONS ON COMMUNION, pp 32-33)

Christianity understands Christ as not simply forgiving past sins, but restoring humanity to the glory God had given it from the beginning.  Christ brings an end to all that separates humans from God – to healing what was distorted in the human heart.  Christ also ends death’s tyranny over humanity.  Death no longer holds humans captive, for Christ is risen from the dead, destroying death and Satan.

Next:  Sin and Death

Adam’s Fall

This is the 9th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam and Eve (2).

“We had become accursed through Adam’s transgression and had fallen into the trap of death, abandoned by God.”  (Cyril of Alexandria, ON THE UNITY OF CHRIST, p 105)

The effects of the sin of Adam and Eve on not only humankind but on all creatures on earth, at least in the Christian tradition since the time of St. Paul’s interpretation of the Fall,  is very profound.   The understanding of Adam through the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God, places the impact of the sin as the central event which altered humanity’s relationship with God and with all creation.  For through sin, death became part of the human condition.  While in the Old Testament Jewish tradition God provides Torah to instruct humans how to live rightly on His earth, Torah cannot overcome mortality.  So despite Torah, despite righteous adherence to the details of the Law, humans continue to die as they did before Torah was given.

The question that got much debated, especially in the Christian West, was whether the sin of Adam somehow changed human nature, leaving humans powerless in the face of sin.

“Adam is not actively responsible for the indwelling of sin in the whole world, but rather was a sort of door which opened the way for sin.  … although sin did not enter into the world by means of Adam’s deed alone, but only through it, still this deed was the cause of each man’s death.  …  Thus men are not condemned for Adam’s sin (cp Jer. 31:29 and Ezek 18:2), but for their own sinfulness, the consequence of which (death) began with Adam di enos (as through one); but all have sinned, not in Adam, not en o (in whom), but eph o (because).”  (Antony Khrapovitsky interpreting Romans 5:12, THE MORAL IDEA OF THE MAIN DOGMAS OF THE FAITH, p 185)

What is very clear in the writings of St. Paul and in Orthodox tradition is that Christ, not Torah, was the cure for what ailed humanity from the time of the Fall.

“More specifically, in the Greek tradition theosis signifies the transposition of the believer from a state of corruption and mortality to one of incorruption and immortality.  Here again the Eastern tradition has a different emphasis from that in the West.  In the Greek fathers the tragedy of Adam’s fall is not that all people inherit his guilt, as in the Augustinian tradition.  They hold, most certainly, that all people are sinful, and that the fall was an incomparable disaster.  But we all sin freely and incur our own guilt.  Rather than guilt, in Adam we have inherited death, mortality, and corruption. ‘The first man brought in universally death,’ writes Cyril of Jerusalem.  Sin originates, Basil the Great insists, in our own free wills: ‘Do not then go beyond yourself to seek the evil, and imagine that there is an original nature of wickedness… Each of us, let us acknowledge it, is the first author of his own vice.’

Panagiotes Chrestou elaborates on this important distinction: ‘The descendants of Adam inherit him in his entirety, including his nature and his weakness.  They did not inherit Adam’s guilt, as St. Augustine taught in the West; for, according to the view of the Greek fathers, sin is a personal problem.  Adam and Eve on one side, and their descendants on the other, interpenetrate each other in such a way that every man bears by birth that nature which Adam and Eve corrupted. … In this way humankind has fallen from the road to life onto the road to death, from incorruption to corruption.’  According to Anastasius of Sinai, we are heirs of Adam’s corruption, but ‘we are not punished for his disobedience to the Divine Law.  Rather, Adam being mortal, sin entered into his very seed.  We receive mortality from him…. The general punishment of Adam for his transgression is corruption and death.’” (Daniel Clendenin, EASTERN ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY: A WESTERN PERSPECTIVE, pp 132-133)

Next: Adam in St. Gregory Palamas

Adam in Paul’s Letter to the Romans

This is the 6th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam in the Writings of St. Paul.

In much current discussion on St. Paul and St. Augustine, Romans 5:12 plays a prominent role when contrasting what is cast as the more Western understanding of ‘original sin’ versus the Orthodox preference for using the term ‘ancestral sin.’    Whether one looks at the human condition and human problem as more related to sin or to death shapes how one understands the role of Adam in history.  I do not intend to debate here the merits of ancestral sin thinking versus original sin thinking here.   My intention is to just briefly consider St. Paul’s thinking on Adam in Romans.

“Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned—sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.  (Romans 5:12-14)

In Romans 5:12, St. Paul clearly pins the entrance of death into the human condition on Adam’s sin.  God is not to be blamed for human mortality.  Death spreads to all humans, not because Adam sinned or because we are descendants of Adam, but because each of us sins.  Adam did sin, even before Torah existed.  So though sin is the cause of death, death is the problem which infects human nature and which is spread to each human.  Of course the problem with this thinking is that even babies and fetuses die, so is there death related to someone else’s sin?

Even if Torah did not yet exist, death reigned over humanity, despite the fact that sin is not counted where there is no law.   Death has gained some hold on humanity regardless of whether individual sinful culpability existed.  All humans will die.

Note:  Adam is a type of the one to come –  not a type of all humanity but of Christ.  We find our humanity either only in the first Adam (and thus subject to sin and death) or in the new Adam, Jesus Christ (and thus both righteous and having overcome death’s reign in us).

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.   (Romans 5:15-21)

Adam serves as a type for Christ – whatever Adam is or represents, so too Christ is and represents.  Our lives are all connected in some way to Adam’s life – his story is not ancient history, but is the story of each of us in our relationship to God.  We experience existence through Adam and his sin and death, but also through Christ and His righteousness and resurrection.  Our relationship to God is thus determined by whether we are merely sons of Adam or whether we have become sons through Christ Jesus.   Adam’s sin does not condemn us in God’s eyes, but participating in Adam’s life does.  Similarly being in Christ and living through Him makes us righteous in God’s eyes.

Paul is talking in very broad terms about humanity, humans, humankind, about types, and about people capable of sinning.   To take his words and then apply them to specific cases of innocent children or unborn babies is to stray away from his main point.  St. Paul is defending the goodness of God, and clearly blames the existence of sin and death on human choices and behavior.  Unlike the author of 2 Esdras, St. Paul does not see God working out His plan through imposing death on humans.  When humans choose away from God, they bring death into the world.  The creation is not faulty either – humans are in God’s image and likeness, but we have a free will to choose away from God.

St. Paul’s contention is that the Torah in the end failed to make us righteous in God’s eyes, because it ends up defining more and precise ways in which we fail and sin.  The Law thus didn’t stop sin or death, but increased unrighteousness because human failure and sin became all the more obvious.  God finds a different way to make humans righteous – the faithful obedience of Jesus Christ proves righteous in God’s eyes.    God saves us, we cannot save ourselves, though we can embrace His salvation and live accordingly.

Thus Adam as that type of human who sins and dies is overcome by Christ that type of human whose faithfulness to God causes Him to die to overcome sin.  Believers live in Christ and through His faithful obedience to God.  This is what defeats death.

Next:  Adam (and Eve)

Adam in 2 Esdras (B)

This is the 4th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam in 2 Esdras (A).

2 Esdras does not flinch away from the fact that humans sin, not just Adam;  sin is endemic in humanity.  The explanation for why humans created as good by a good God are so evil is that God allows humans to freely struggle to produce virtuous fruits by following Torah.  Free will is real; humans must choose between good and evil and evil is as viable a choice as is the good.   Torah and evil reside side by side in the human heart, and Torah is not able to remove the evil in the human heart.

“Yet you did not take away their evil heart from them, so that your law might produce fruit in them. For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him. Thus the disease became permanent; the law was in the hearts of the people along with the evil root; but what was good departed, and the evil remained.”  (2 Esdras 3:20-22)

Continuing the look at Adam in the First Century document known as 2 Esdras, we now encounter a stream of Jewish nationalism interpreting Adam.   For now the author of 2 Esdras sees the Jews as the chosen people as the descendants of Adam and the heirs of his life.  All the non-Jewish descendants of Adam are claimed to be nothing in God’s eyes, and yet the author of 2 Esdras laments that it is these Gentiles who domineer over the Jews, not the other way around.   His argument is that God said the world is for His chosen people who should dominate the earth.  This understanding of Adam is directly opposed to how St. Paul reads the Genesis text, for St. Paul ultimately wants to tie in all humanity with God’s plan for salvation, and St. Paul sees Adam as a type of all humans.  We each can understand our own story and the human condition in the story of Adam.

“On the sixth day you commanded the earth to bring forth before you cattle, wild animals, and creeping things; and over these you placed Adam, as ruler over all the works that you had made; and from him we have all come, the people whom you have chosen.  All this I have spoken before you, O Lord, because you have said that it was for us that you created this world.  As for the other nations that have descended from Adam, you have said that they are nothing, and that they are like spittle, and you have compared their abundance to a drop from a bucket. And now, O Lord, these nations, which are reputed to be as nothing, domineer over us and devour us. But we your people, whom you have called your firstborn, only begotten, zealous for you, and most dear, have been given into their hands. If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?”    (2 Esdras 6:53-59)

The fact that evil and Torah exist in the human heart justifies God’s ultimately judging humans – for the humans must make a choice.

He answered me and said, “When the Most High made the world and Adam and all who have come from him, he first prepared the judgment and the things that pertain to the judgment. But now, understand from your own words—for you have said that the mind grows with us. For this reason, therefore, those who live on earth shall be tormented, because though they had understanding, they committed iniquity; and though they received the commandments, they did not keep them; and though they obtained the law, they dealt unfaithfully with what they received.”   (2 Esdras 7:70-72)

Now we get to the despairing attitude found in 2 Esdras.  For humans have sinned, and despite having been promised immortality and paradise, we have been denied both because we each sin.  In the passage below we come to understand St. Paul’s claims about the new Adam, Jesus Christ.  For Christ came not just to be obedient to the Father, to obey Torah, but to die for our sins, and in this death to defeat and destroy all that death represents to humanity: eternal separation from God.

I answered and said, “This is my first and last comment: it would have been better if the earth had not produced Adam, or else, when it had produced him, had restrained him from sinning. For what good is it to all that they live in sorrow now and expect punishment after death? O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants. For what good is it to us, if an immortal time has been promised to us, but we have done deeds that bring death?  And what good is it that an everlasting hope has been promised to us, but we have miserably failed?  Or that safe and healthful habitations have been reserved for us, but we have lived wickedly?  Or that the glory of the Most High will defend those who have led a pure life, but we have walked in the most wicked ways? Or that a paradise shall be revealed, whose fruit remains unspoiled and in which are abundance and healing, but we shall not enter it because we have lived in perverse ways? Or that the faces of those who practiced self-control shall shine more than the stars, but our faces shall be blacker than darkness? For while we lived and committed iniquity we did not consider what we should suffer after death.”  (2 Esdras 7:116-126)

Old Testament in St. Paul's Epistles

The author of 2 Esdras is basically told that the rewards of God are still there for those who faithfully keep the Law of Moses.   Esdras begs God for mercy as he recognizes all humans sin and fall short of God’s commands.   What St. Paul recognizes is that God has solved this dilemma in Christ.  Humans do sin, and the Law is not able to correct this basic human problem, but God provides the means of overcoming BOTH sin AND death.  Nothing can separate us from God, even our failure to keep the Law, which has proven impossible anyway.  For now God responds with the mercy Esdras begged for – God forgives our sins and embraces us if we come to him as penitents not the perfected.  God has answered all human thoughts about the need for perfection or for sacrifice and ended that thinking in Jesus Christ, who has gone even to the place of the dead – to the resting place of everyone who sins – and raised them up to the Kingdom.

Next:  Adam in the Writings of St. Paul

Reading the Old Testament with Christ

This the conclusion to the blog, Jesus the Key to Understanding Torah.

Some scholars and some Christians want to read the Old Testament as if it has no relationship to Christ and to proclaim the Law of God without Christ. But the basic understanding of Christians from the beginning was you cannot understand the Old Covenant without Christ.  As the Lord Jesus said to the Jews, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf” (John 5:39). Christians claim the Old Testament is understandable and interpretable only in Christ, for the Old Testament speaks about Him, not just literally, but in symbols, shadows, prophesy, poetry, history, foreshadowing, spiritually, anagogically, allegorically, prototypically and in every way that the Scriptures can be properly understood.

 But to read or proclaim the Old Testament without Christ is to deny Christ and His role in salvation.  Thus the Orthodox don’t subscribe to “sola scriptura” as believe the Scriptures are not to be read alone, but rather in and through Christ, the Word of God.  We read the Scriptures with Christ, in Christ, through Christ, and by Christ. Of course Old Testament scripture can be read literally, but in doing so we may not see Christ in them. For if one can read the Old Testament only and exactly the same (literally or legally) with or without Christ, then perhaps we have not really understood Christ or the Old Testament, and perhaps we have embraced neither.

Christ has come and opened our hearts and minds to the scriptures – showing us how they witnessed to Him, not just literally, for some of what Christ claimed the Old Testament says about him cannot be found in a purely literal reading of the Old Testament.  But when one reads the Old Testament believing in the promises of the Messiah and the Kingdom, recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of the prophecies and the promises, accepting Christ’s interpretation of the Scriptures because He is God’s Messiah and Son and the Rabbi par excellence, one realizes the entire Old Testament Scriptures were pointing to the One who would fulfill them and in so doing replace them with something entirely new. He opened us to the new revelation, what God had hidden previously but had prophetically hinted at and promised.

See also my blog series Reading Scripture:  The Old Testament, the Torah, and Prophecy, which is also available as one PDF file  Reading Scripture: The Old Testament, the Torah, and Prophecy (PDF).

Jesus the Key to Understanding Torah

One of the Resurrectional Gospel Lessons used in Orthodox worship is Luke 24:13-35, which is read as part of the recurring readings for Sunday Matins.   In this reading, our Lord Jesus risen from the dead is speaking with two of His disciples as these disciples are leaving Jerusalem following the crucifixion of Christ.  The disciples had hoped Jesus was the Messiah, but his execution had dashed their hopes.  They leave Jerusalem despondently, though puzzled by what to make of the rumors they had heard about His being risen from the dead.  Jesus joins them in their walk, though they do not recognize their Risen Lord. After listening to their disappointment in what had happened, Jesus spoke to them, and here I’ll mention only two things He says to these despairing disciples:

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you: that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:42‑47)

 Basically what the Risen Lord reveals to these two disciples of His is that the Old Testament indeed is a treasury of God’s riches. But it remains locked in its vault until the key is given to open the vault. That key is Christ Himself.  (see also Christ is the Key to Open the Scriptural Treasury).  The key to understand all the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments and all 613 laws of the Torah, including the history, the psalms and the prophecies is Jesus the Messiah.  That of course is going to be one of the main points of disagreement between Christians and Jews to this day. Christians accept the notion that Jesus is more important than either Torah or Temple, and that in fact He replaces both of them in by fulfilling their original purposes, thus enacting a New Covenant/Testament between God and His People.

The Evangelist John records Jesus saying to His fellow Jews:  “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf” (John 5:39). As in the Gospel lesson of Jesus with His two traveling disciples in Luke 24, so too in John 5 Jesus teaches that the Scriptures – the entire Old Testament – serve the purpose of helping to reveal or point out the Messiah.  Jesus fulfills all the promises, prophecies and apocalyptical sayings found in the Jewish Scriptures.

Next: Reading the Old Testament with Christ

Prophecy in the Ancient Church

This is the 10th and final Blog in this series which began with Reading Scripture: the Old Testament, the Torah and Prophecy.   The immediate preceding blog is A Christian View of Prophecy.

This final blog in the series looks at how a few Christian writers from the Post-Apostolic and Patristic periods understood prophecy, especially that found in the Old Testament.  Because the ancients Christians tended to read the Old Testament as typology or a prefiguring of Christ, they actually read much of the Old Testament as prophecy.  They called Moses and King David prophets, and tended to view the importance of both Torah and Psalms as prophecies of Christ.  They got their cue from Jesus Himself who in his Post-Resurrectional appearance interpreted the Jewish Scriptures precisely in this way:   “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself”  (Luke 24:27).    

First, we can consider the view of the Second Century Christian apologist St. Justin the Martyr (d. ca 166AD).

 “One will remark the complexity of the very notion of prophecy in St. Justin’s  view:  it is the eternal Word himself who, through his Spirit and through a human instrument, announces in advance the mystery which he will himself accomplish later in time.  Christ is at once both the supreme Prophet and the reality prophesied: the supreme Prophet as eternal Logos, the reality prophesied as incarnate Logos.  He gives in prophecy a sign that makes it possible for one to recognize him when the prophecy is fulfilled.”  (Bertrand de Margerie, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF EXEGESIS V 1, p 37)

St. Justin holds to a very sophisticated view of prophecy:  it is God’s Word who speaks to the prophets through the Holy Spirit.   The prophets are thus giving form, though in shadow and foretype, to the Word.  This was done so that when God’s Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ, He (His voice – that of the Good Shepherd) would be recognizable.   Many of the Fathers believed that the Old Testament descriptions of the saints and prophets encountering God were actually encounters with the pre-incarnate Word, namely, the Son of God.  God used this method of revelation to help the people of God recognize the incarnate Word when the fullness of time had come.

“Justin also uses Scripture differently in his two works.  As the APOLOGY is written for pagans, he does not appeal in it to the Scriptures as an authoritative source of truth.  Rather he appeals to them to provide evidence that the Gospel believed in by Christians is not simply the latest claims, but ancient prophecies, written in publicly available books, which have now been fulfilled in Christ.” (John Behr, THE WAY TO NICEA, p 94)

Thus prophecies show that God’s plan of salvation was being revealed throughout the history of the Jews.  Jesus claiming to be God incarnate was thus not unexpected but had been revealed through the prophets.   St. Irenaeus (d. 202AD), a generation after Justin, acknowledges God was revealing his plan through the prophets, yet before its fulfillment a prophecy remains in the shadows, not fully understood until the revelation comes to light when it happens.

“For any prophecy, before it is fulfilled, is nothing but enigmas and ambiguities.  But from the moment that the prediction is fulfilled, it finds its proper interpretation.”  (St. Irenaeus  quoted in BEGINNINGS: ANCIENT CHRISTIAN READINGS OF THE BIBLICAL CREATION NARRATIVES, Peter Bouteneff, p 74)

Two Centuries later, the archbishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD), offered some thoughts on his own understanding of prophecy and inspiration.

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) says: ‘a thinker speculates on the future out of his great wisdom and personal experience.’  And he goes on to say that speculation is one thing and prophesy is another.  The prophet speaks in the Holy Spirit ‘contributing nothing of his own’; whereas the thinker employs his own understanding.  Thus there is a great difference between the Prophet and the thinker, ‘as much difference there is between human wisdom and divine grace.’”  (Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos,  THE ILLNESS AND CURE OF THE SOUL IN THE ORTHODOX TRADITION, p 43)

A contemporary and antagonist of Chrysostom’s, St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444AD) understood Christian prophecy to be one who properly interprets the Old Testament in the light of Christ.

 “Prophecy means for Cyril the divinely given capacity to interpret the Old Testament. Indeed the Christian prophet is one who has received the charism of recognizing the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in the New.”  (Brevard Childs, THE STRUGGLE TO UNDERSTAND ISAIAH AS CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURE, p 125)

The ancient Christian theologians saw Old Testament prophecy as a foretelling of Christ.  But not all prophecies predicted future events; many prophecies occur in the form of typology, prefiguring, or foreshadowing the coming of Christ.  So the Old Testament as a whole is largely prophecy, even though many of the Old Testament authors were not aware that they were being prophets.  As the author of Hebrews says of the saints of the Old Covenant:   “These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth”  (11:13).   They could not see Christ clearly, He was distant and they were in shadow, but they remained faithful to the hope.   This is the sense of  prophecy held by the ancient Christians.   As St. Peter writes: 

“The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory.  It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”  (1 Peter 1:10-12)

Prophecy, forth telling God’s Word, has to do with Christ, God’s Word become flesh.   Thus the Old Testament, whether Law or history or Psalm, is prophecy.  It all points to Christ, was all written by those inspired by God to be prophets.  The faithful reader of the Old Testament is also a prophet whenever he or she recognizes Christ in the words of the Old Testament.   Thus the Old Testament is inspired by God in order to reveal Christ, and it inspires those who read it in Christ to recognize God’s Word.

Feast of the Meeting of our Lord in the Temple (2011)

"By the breath of God ice is given..." (Job 37:10)

Festal Greetings to all!   I wish each of you a blessed Feast Day.  The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple celebrates the events described in Luke 2:22-40.

Unfortunately we’ve canceled our Liturgy and Matins for the Feast due to the covering of ice that a winter storm brought to us.   Still, there is beauty all around us, so the Psalmist sang:  “Praise the LORD from the earth … snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!” (Psalms 148:7-8)

What follows below is a hymn from Vespers  for the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple.  It shows good Byzantine poetry style – excellent imagery about the mystery of the Incarnation of God.  Many ancient Orthodox theologians thought that the implication of Christ being the Son of God is that in the Old Testament when anthropomorphic imagery is used to describe various encounters people have of God, what actually was happening is that the saints were encountering the pre-incarnate Christ.    

Meeting of the Lord in the Temple

“Simeon, receive Him whom Moses once beheld in darkness,

Granting the Law on Sinai.

He has now become a babe subject to the Law,

Yet this is He who spoke through the Law!

This is He whose voice was heard in the prophets!

For our sakes He has taken flesh and saved man.

Let us worship Him!”

We see in the hymn the playful yet theologically true imagery:    Moses, God’s friend, was granted to see the Lord only partially, obscured by the veil he wore and by the darkness.  Now Simeon holds in his arms and sees God face to face as a man sees his friend.  It is Christ who gave the law to Moses, and Christ who obeys the law when He comes to walk on earth.  Christ is both prophet and law giver as well as prophecy and law.  He indeed fulfills all that the law represents.