As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"It / he / she will crush your heel" - Genesis 3:15

The following table will help you understand the discussion of 3:15 below.






it will crush your head


Eve’s offspring

2)Greek LXX

he will crush your head


Jesus is the New Adam

3)Latin Vulgate

she will crush your head


Mary is the New Eve

1) (Hebrew text) In 3:15 it will crush your head, God is telling the serpent that Eve’s offspring will bruise/crush its head. It tells of the struggle between humankind and evil in which we will be finally victorious over evil. Our Bibles, and our Mass texts, are translations of the Hebrew text.

2) (Greek LXX text) he will crush your head This verse was interpreted in a messianic sense, ie as predicting the Messiah, by many Latin fathers of the Church because the LXX translation (Greek OT ie the Septuagint) does not have ‘it will bruise your head’ but ‘he will bruise your head’. S. Mowinckel He That Cometh page 11 rules out the Hebrew ‘it will bruise your head’ as a messianic passage and Becker Messianic Expectation in the Old Testament page 35 says only the LXX text is messianic. In other words, the Hebrew text does not refer to Jesus while the Greek text does.

Paul in Rom 5:12-21 develops this christological reading of Gen 3 in conjuction with the doctrine of original sin. Rom 5:19 states ‘Just as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience are many to be made upright’. 1 Cor 15:21-22 is similar. The first sin was committed in the Garden of Eden and this was rectified by Jesus, the New Adam, in another garden, Gethsemane, who also was tempted in the garden; ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it’ (Matt 26:39). The sin of disobedience in the first garden was rectified by the obedience of Jesus in the second garden. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 412 states that what Jesus won for us was greater than what Adam lost for us. Reading Gen 3 from a christological perspective we see Jesus as the New Adam who atoned for the first Adam. The Exultet (Easter Proclamation) which is proclaimed just after the lighting of the candles on Holy Saturday night says:

What good would life have been to us,
Had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
Which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

3) (Latin text) she will crush your head As well as reading Gen 3 christologically there has been a tradition in the Church since the early centuries to read Gen 3:15 mariologically, regarding Mary as the New Eve just as Jesus is regarded as the New Adam. The Latin Vulgate translation is different again, ‘she will crush your head’ and in the context of the text’s messianic interpretation by Latin fathers ‘she’ is taken to refer to Mary. That is the reason why this excerpt of Genesis is chosen as our First Reading on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The struggle between Mary and the devil is therefore what Gen 3:15 is said to be alluding to, see CCC 411. However this verse hints at ultimate victory. Because that verse in Genesis is the first announcement in the Bible of our salvation by Jesus it is referred to as the Proto-evangelium, meaning the ‘first Gospel’, the first glimmer of salvation. The different translations have different meanings.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Faith, Works, Love and Obedience

Pursuant to a greater understanding of the faith vs. works debate, I sumbit a new wrinkle. Protestants cry Sola Fide with Luther and St. Paul in Ephesians, meaning that grace comes through faith and not by our own efforts, or works. Yet, this seems to be negated in James when he says, "You see, then, that a man is justified by his works and not by faith only." Hence, Luther's description of James as an "epistle of straw".

It is significant, I believe, that the Church chose both of these epistles, probably to act as a counterpoint to one other in a debate that might have been raging even then. Are we justified by faith or works? To their credit, today's Protestants (and even Luther) did not entirely discount works. Works are the evidence of faith, or the love gift we return to God in gratitude for His free gift of redemption.

Once I had become unhinged from the three pillars of the Reformation, I began looking for the unifying theme for faith and works. Scripturally, they are both equal. Works don't "come from" faith, but are an integral part of it. They are two sides of the same coin, two oars on a boat. The debate between the two is pointless because they are part of the same whole. I called the whole Love. Interestingly, when my very Protestant father talks about marital love, he doesn't say, "The feelings come first, and then the actions flow from the feelings." Rather, he says, "Act lovingly and the feelings will follow." Or, in the words of DC Talk, "Love is a verb." If we love God, faith and works will both be a part of that. Indeed, love is above and more important than both faith or works. 1 Corinthians 13 says:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body *to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing ... And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
It doesn't matter if we have faith OR works, because if we don't have love "it profits me nothing." Love, then, is the source from which both faith and works flow. The description of love in the remaining verses covers all faith AND works. I believe this is important because it changes how we approach the salvation of others. At its worst, medieval Catholicism placed doing the actions above all else. Luther was right to call them on it. There was no love. Likewise, at its worst the Reformation (and modern Protestantism) placed belief (which is the modern definition of faith) above all else. You can see it in the way they approach evangelism. Get the word out, confront the unbeliever, drop tracts, etc. Get them to believe.

But if it is love (which I am interpreting in the context of relationship) more than either belief/faith or action/works that is primary, then evangelism becomes building relationships with the lost (really, with everyone) and facilitating the creation of a loving relationship with God. Once that occurs, then everything else will follow.

Ok, I spent too long on that. Now to my real point. I was sitting in the All Saints rector's class and we were discussing this issue. Some had rung in on the faith side, others on the works side. I gave my thoughts about love. Then, an elderly, Egyptian gentleman (he was Coptic Orthodox, but attended this parish to with his Episcopalian wife) spoke up. He told one of my favorite stories of all time about St. John the Dwarf:
One of the best-known of the fifth-century desert saints was a man called "John Kolobos;" that is, John the Little, of John the Dwarf. He was a young man when he entered the monastic wilderness of Skete in northern Egypt. There he would pass his whole life in prayer and manual labor.

Little John had a beautiful simplicity of character. On his arrival, he was assigned to an old, experienced hermit as tutor. The tutor straightway gave John a walking stick. "Plant this in the ground," he ordered, "and water it every day." The command was a test as well as a task. John obeyed at once, without question or delay. Even though the river from which he fetched the water was at a distance, he watered the stick dutifully every day. In the third year the walking stick put forth buds and flowers and fruit. John had passed the test. His tutor collected the fruit and distributed it among his companions. "Take," he told them, "and eat the fruit of obedience."
"It is not about faith or works or getting saved. We should just be obedient to God." What an absolutely radical concept! We're trying to do that which saves us when we SHOULD just be trusting God and doing what He says. And, by being obedient, we show both faith and works (because you won't be obedient if you don't have faith in the one giving the orders, and you won't be obedient if you don't actually follow the orders). It's so simple! We need to be like children, Christ said, and children obey their parents. They trust them. And Christ showed us that very path, the path of obedience, with His own life.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
- Philippians 2:5-11
The glorification of Christ came as a result of His obedience to His own father. It was obedience, not faith or works (or, rather, both of them together), that justified the OT fathers. Abraham left home and almost killed his son out of obedience. That is some serious obedience, right there. That is what the Church should be emphasizing. Just obey God. The priest, Samuel said to King Saul when the latter disobeyed the Lord:
Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
- 1 Samuel 15:22
Further, obedience directly connects to love as well. Jesus says again in the Gospel of John (14:15):
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
So, if we love God, we will obey Him. If we obey Him, then we, by our works, show that we have faith in Him. If we obey Him, then like St. John the Dwarf and like Christ, we will taste the fruit of obedience.

Questions and Types of Christ

One of the criticisms I've heard of "Western" theology is that they don't incorporate the wide range of OT pre-figurings of Christ and His work, but limit themselves to a few. I was wondering if you would all help me compile a list of all of them and how they show Christ. Before I begin, two quick questions:
  1. Was it the blood of the sacrifices that covered the sins of the people, or was that more like an OT sacrament, participating in the redemptive act of Jesus?
  2. If Christ paid for our sin-debt, to whom was the payment made? God? The enemy?
  3. If the Church is the Bride of Christ, but the wedding feast is still to come, does that mean we are still betrothed, or are we already married?
Here is my list so far:
  • The serpent shall bite His heel, and He shall crush his head.
  • Blood sacrifice from Abel to the temple. (Hbr 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.)
  • Noah's ark (more an image of the Church, I guess)
  • The Exodus from Egypt - rescue from bondage to sin
  • The serpent on the staff - healing
  • Manna - Eucharist
  • The scapegoat - placing sins on another victim
  • The mercy seat - covering sins
That's all I can think of off the top of my head. Thanks for whatever assistance you can render.