Posted by: mattcolvin | July 12, 2016

OT Notes: Psalm 98 Cantate Domino

1: “O sing unto YHWH a new song!” — The use of this verse as a slogan in the “worship wars” is highly ironic, since Psalm 98 is itself a cento, a poem composed almost entirely of snippets of other poems. And this opening line itself is a formula used also in Isaiah 42:10, and in two other Psalms (96:1 and 149:1).

2: God’s salvation (יְשׁוּעָתוֹ) and his righteousness (צִדְקָתוֹ) are synonymous by the poetic structure of this verse. 

Verse 2 develops the initial idea of God’s victory from verse 1 by placing that victory in the context of what I call “covenant theatre”. It is a matter of God’s covenant-faithfulness, his righteousness, that he rescues his people and gives them victory over their enemies. This always involves public action on God’s part. That is why, when he does not save, his people are “put to shame” (cf. Ps. 44:9-19). I am reminded of Andrew Perriman’s excellent statement from The Future of the People of God, asserting that the definition of “God’s righteousness” is not any different in Paul’s letters from the definition at work here in Ps. 98:

“When Paul speaks of the “righteousness of God,” what he has in mind is not an abstract ethical quality which might, for example, be imputed or transferred to the unrighteous, but divine action at critical moments in the history of his people, in keeping with contextually appropriate commitments, interpreted with reference to paradigmatic biblical narratives, by which the God of Israel is publicly vindicated, shown to be in the right”

This keeping of his covenant promises is described as “winning a victory” (הוֹשִׁיעָה) by God’s strength (“right hand…holy arm”). In covenant history, this victory turns out to be the end of the exile as described in Isaiah 62. It also includes the sending of the Messiah in Luke 3:6 (“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God”), in which the words of Isaiah 52:10 (“The Lord has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”) are applied to John the Baptist’s announcement of Christ.

3: Structurally, 2a is parallel with 3a:

“The Lord has made known his salvation” (2a)

“He has remembered his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel” (3a)

And 2b is parallel with 3b:

“His righteousness he has revealed in the sight of the nations” (2b)

“All the ends of earth have seen the salvation of our God.” (3b)

Thus both verses move from what God has publicly done to the consequent beholding of His deeds by the nations in the “covenant theatre”.

4: By calling upon “all the earth” (כָּל־הָאָרֶץ) to “shout joyfully”, the psalmist is able to play upon the ambiguities of the word הָאָרֶץ, which may mean metonymically “the inhabitants of the world” (as in vss. 4-6) or else “the physical features of the world” (as in vss. 7-9). 

4b uses triple synonyms: פִּצְחוּ וְרַנְּנוּ וְזַמֵּרוּ — “break forth in song, and rejoice, and sing praises”. 

4-5: These verses are woven together using a “terrace” pattern (cf. W. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry, p. 208) in which each new clause begins with a catchword that ended the preceding clause:

Burst forth in song and sing (וְזַמֵּרוּ);

Sing (זַמְּרוּ) to the Lord with the lyre (בְּכִנּוֹר);

With the lyre (בְּכִנּוֹר) and the voice of a song. 

Yet despite such tightly knit composition, verse 5 is also bound with 6 by another device. To wit…

5-6: These verses are in a chiastic ABBA order, with the verbs (“Sing to the Lord…shout joyfully before the Lord, the King”) bookending a list of the musical instruments by which this song is to be accompanied.

7-8: The actions proper to the inhabitants of be world (roaring, clapping hands, and being joyful) are transferred to the personified physical features of the earth: the sea, rivers, and hills. We are reminded of Jesus’ answer to the indignant Pharisees at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “I tell you that if these [inhabitants] should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

9: The poem ends with the joyful expectation of the eschatological reign of YHWH that dawns when He comes “to judge” the earth or the habitable world (הָאָרֶץ/תֵּבֵל). This expectation of the “coming” of YHWH will turn out to be fulfilled in Jesus, so that Paul preaches precisely the same idea in his Acts 17 sermon (“[God] has appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has ordained”). 

98:9 is identical to 96:13. Both are the last verses of their respective psalms, leaving the worshiping Israelite to finish with a joyful hope in the victorious reign of Israel’s God. 

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 9, 2016

Begging the Question about Episcopacy

Above: Ambrogio Borgognone da Fossano (1453-1523), Ordination of Augustine of Hippo. 

A friend recently recommended Archibald Boyd’s Episcopacy, Ordination, Lay Eldership, and Liturgy: Five Letters as a good defense of jure divino episcopacy (of the plene esse persuasion). 

I’m a jure humano man. I believe what the REC believed when it was founded: 

“This Church recognizes and adheres to Episcopacy, not as of Divine right, but as a very ancient and desirable form of Church polity.” 

And again,

“This Church condemns and rejects the following erroneous and strange doctrines as contrary to God’s Word: First, That the Church of Christ exists only in one order or form of ecclesiastical polity.”

I want to point out the main methodological problems with Boyd’s book. He begins his discussion with these words:

“I conceive that the great Head of the Church did not intend to leave a matter so important as the church’s government to be settled by chance or expediency.” (p. 54)

Thus Boyd forecloses the question. Jure humano is ruled out ab initio with no reasons given other than the author’s prejudice that “so important a matter” as polity could not have been left to human devising. Nevermind that leaving polity to be devised by humans is precisely what God did with Israel of old. Their lower magistrates in the time of Moses were a suggestion of Jethro, not a prescription of the Lord. The monarchy that followed after Samuel was demanded by the people out of a desire to imitate the monarchies of the nations around them. God did not prescribe either of these polities, but accommodated the historical choices that arose jure humano.

Virtually every advocate of jure divino episcopacy begins with this same false assumption. Like the immaculate conception of Mary, it is a projection of its proponents’ sense of what God ought to have done. “Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit.” Well, no. Bring the Scriptures, please. Show us where this three-fold office was instituted. Demonstrate the laying on of hands being applied by the apostles, with instructions to pass it on. No, you say? It isn’t there? Of course not. Because neither Christ nor the apostles was in the business of reinventing the wheel. They were Jews. Jews operated with eldership. Jews had apostleship as a well-known and legally recognized social convention. Jews used the laying on of hands to delegate authority and to create shaliachim. None of these things was invented by the church. That is why there is no discussion of their institution, but only of filling these well-known offices with appropriate persons, by the appropriate ritual means. 

Boyd’s argumentation relies on false dichotomizing: either his opponent’s presbyterian interpretation is correct; or else, his own jure divino episcopalianism. Thus, about the letters to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation, he writes:

You are met here with endless difficulties. Your system cannot free you from them. On the system of episcopacy, …the letters to the seven churches are easy of comprehension ; but upon yours, they are confusion itself, they are documents addressed to individuals,—no one can tell who, and for reasons no one can tell why. (Boyd, p. 86)

Given a choice between presbyterianism and Boyd’s jure divino episcopacy, I choose neither.  Neither is able to account for the data of Scripture and history. Neither takes the Jewish background adequately into account.

Boyd glosses over a glaring problem with his own interpretation: namely, that to call the alleged bishops of the seven churches “angels” is a usage without precedent or parallel. The letters also shift freely between the singular and plural second person, a fact for which he has no explanation other than that “portions of them are addressed to the people.” He is unaware that the synagogue of NT times had an officer called the shaliach tsibbur, literally the “messenger of the congregation”. The job of this officer was to lead the congregation in prayers and to make announcements. The main qualification was a loud and clear speaking voice. The shaliach tsibbur was not invested with ruling authority, and was not a priest or Levite or rabbi. In theory, any layman could have filled the office. For our purposes, what matters is that this is precisely the person who would have read aloud such epistles as the ascended Christ commands John to write to the churches. But of course, this Jewish background is not taken into account by Boyd, who bids us rather choose between his claim that the “angels” were bishops, or else his opponent’s that they were presbyters. In support of his view, he cites fourth century church fathers like Augustine and Eusebius — men who were just as ignorant of the Jewish background as he is. (Lightfoot, on the other hand, is aware of it and cites Vitringa on the topic in a footnote, though he does not in the end approve.)

Boyd also claims that Timothy and Titus were bishops, and that 2 Tim 1:6 shows that Timothy was consecrated a bishop by the laying on of Paul’s hands. 1 Tim 4:14, by contrast, addressed to the same Timothy, speaks of the laying on of hands of the presbytery. We thus have a war of prooftexts: Boyd and his fellow jure divino episcopalians camp out on 2 Tim 1:6, while jure divino presbyterians wield 1 Tim. 4:14 as their weapon; and each side finds the other’s prooftext a “problem passage”.

Boyd again marshals his fourth-century church fathers — Ambrose, Jerome, Eusebius, Chrysostom, Leontius of Magnesia — in “proof” of the claim that Timothy was a bishop, all with plenty of taunting and 18th century smack talk directed at his presbyterian opponent.  Yet Lightfoot is clear:

It is the conception of a later age which represents Timothy as bishop of Ephesus and Titus as bishop of Crete. St Paul’s own language implies that the position which they held was temporary. In both cases their term of office is drawing to a close, when the Apostle writes. But the conception is not altogether without foundation. With less permanence but perhaps greater authority, the position occupied by these apostolic delegates nevertheless fairly represents the functions of the bishop early in the second century. They were in fact the link between the Apostle whose superintendence was occasional and general and the bishop who exercised a permanent supervision over an individual congregation. (The Christian Ministry, p. 199)


It requires some explanation to realize just how brilliant a paragraph this is. Lightfoot does not realize, as David Daube does (cf. “The Laying on of Hands” in CWDD vol. II) that there is only one ordination of Timothy, not as a bishop but as Paul’s emissary or shaliach; that the phrase ἐπιθέσεως τῶν χειρῶν τοῦ πρεσβυτερίου in 1 Tim. 4:14 is a direct translation of the Hebrew semikath zeqenim; that this genitive phrase never meant that the presbytery laid hands on a man, but designates the ritual used to make a man an elder. We may thus apply Occam’s razor and realize that the two dueling prooftexts, 1 Tim. 4:14 and 2 Tim. 1:6, actually refer to the same singular event. 

(I have discussed some of the phrases in 1 Tim. 1 in light of all this. See also my posts on the ordination of the Seven in Acts 6, and on the ordination of Timothy as Paul’s emissary.)

Lightfoot, I say, is ignorant of all this, but ‭‭he has nonetheless hit upon the very thesis that will make sense of all the data, and though it is not fully specified, it is the same thesis argued more fully in our day by Canon Roger Beckwith: namely, that though Paul did not make bishops, the men whom he had made his temporary shaliachim were natural choices to exercise oversight as the needs of the church and the deaths of the apostles made episcopacy a desideratum. In their earlier career as the emissaries of Paul, the shaliachim of a shaliach of Jesus, an apostle’s apostles, they were indeed “of less permanence, but greater authority” than a bishop. Lightfoot is precisely right. 

The Jewish background of the ritual of laying on of hands that is supplied by Daube not only accords perfectly with Lightfoot’s and Beckwith’s theory of the jure humano origin of episcopacy, but it also sheds new light on Acts 6 and makes clear the reasons behind many phrases and choices of words in that passage and in the pastoral epistles.

It is dismaying to me to see the jure divino position making gains in our day even among Anglicans who ought to know better. There really have been no new arguments in its favor since the Oxford movement, and it was rightly weighed and found wanting by Lightfoot, whose scholarship vindicated the earlier jure humano view of the English reformation. Evangelical Anglicans in our day should be proud to profess the jure humano position. It has the best scholarship on its side; it clarifies the Scriptures rather than torturing them; and it has the blessed and beneficial result of encouraging respect and ecumenical charity toward the orders of non-episcopal clergy. 

Posted by: mattcolvin | March 11, 2016

Reading With and Against Biblical Narrative

As I prepare to teach the Bible and Biblical languages in Indonesia, I am pondering what the necessary lessons are for the clergy and seminarians of a fledgling Anglican diocese in the making. What is necessary in our day to equip a national church with a strong theological immune system, so that it can detect and refute errors, especially those being propagated by affluent churches in the West?

One of the most powerful theological developments in the last 60 years has been a greater emphasis on Scripture as narrative. I think, for instance, of chapter III.4 of N. T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, where Wright applies the heuristic diagrams of Algirdas Griemas in order to focus more precisely on different aspects of the parable of the wicked tenants. One of the fruits of such a method is a clear delineation of what roles are played by the various “actants”: viz. that the messengers and the son are on the side of the owner, and are opposed by the tenants; that the owner, his son, and his messengers are the “good guys” and the tenants are “bad guys”. This seems a simple enough point, and yet there are some who miss it.

Wright also uses the folktale about Little Red Riding Hood as a demonstration of his methods. Folk tales of this sort often have very clearly defined protagonists and antagonists, so that much humor can be had by inverting the usual focalization and telling them from the perspective of the antagonist. Indeed, there seems to be a burgeoning genre of inverted folktales: witness The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, “by A. Wolf, as told to Jon Scieszka”, or Eugene Trivizas’ The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, or Trisha Speed Shaskan’s Honestly, Red Riding Hood Was Rotten: the Story of Red Riding Hood as Told by the Wolf (the Other Side of the Story).

Now, we do not want to foist upon Biblical stories a moral clarity or black-and-whiteness that is alien to their own composition. Yet it should be clear in most stories just where moral true North lies. Biblical narrative marks it out for us by the arc of the story as measured by the fixed stars of God’s goodness and His commandments. It clothes its protagonists with virtues and sympathetic traits, and depicts the “bad guys” as being involved in wickedness.

A sensitivity to the ways in which the Biblical authors signal the moral allegiances of characters and actions is essential if we are not to be taken captive by bad theologians. For instance, the former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, preached a sermon on Acts 16, in which she offers a reading of the story of Paul exorcizing the “spirit of divination” (Gk. python) from a slave girl in Philippi:

Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it. It gets him thrown in prison. That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!

I have commented on this sermon before. The motives for this twisting of the story by the presiding bishop are fairly obvious: egalitarianism, feminism, an animus against conservatives who attempt to draw the boundaries of the faith, etc. But my concern is with the way she has trampled every moral signpost offered by the story’s text: far from being a deserved punishment, Paul’s imprisonment is justly overturned by God in a miracle; far from being a beautiful or holy gift, the slave girl’s demon keeps her in bondage, not only spiritually (by possession), but also physically: she is a slave owned by human masters who profit financially from her demon-possessed state. Far from doing her an injustice by trampling on her spiritual gift, Paul frees her from oppression. Pace Bishop Jefferts Schori, it is Paul, and not the slave girl’s owners or her demon, who affirms her participation in God’s nature. 

Jefferts Schori offers an attempt to justify her identification of the spirit of divination as a morally good and beautiful thing: she says that “[the demon-possessed slave girl] is telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.” Yet demons in the gospels always recognize Jesus accurately, and James 2:19 reminds us that demons are all orthodox monotheists. Yet for all that they are evil and to be driven out. 

 Jefferts Schori wonders “what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.” Yet it is clear from the story that this pneuma python was emphatically not the spirit of God, since Paul, when he exorcizes it, says “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” If Jesus had not approved and assented to Paul’s invocation of His name, the pneuma python would not have been driven out. Indeed, within the framework of the Book of Acts, this exorcism must be considered an act, not of Paul, but of the risen and ascended Jesus. Freeing this girl is one of the things that Jesus continued “to do and to teach” after His ascension. If questioned about it, Paul could have replied what Peter replied when asked about his healing of the lame man in Acts 3:

“Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus …”

‭‭(Acts‬ ‭3:12-13‬)

Jesus drove the spirit of divination out of this slave girl by the hand of the apostle Paul. Acts 16:18 marvels, “And it came out that very hour.” This is an acclamation of a righteous miracle. Similar words are used to acclaim miracles by Jesus by remarking on their immediacy (Matthew 9:22, 15:28, 17:18).  Yet KJS cannot abide this silencing of a female voice, even though its utterances are made by a demon. 

She claims that Paul’s attempt to “destroy” this girl’s “beautiful and holy” gift “gets him thrown in prison.” But attention to the text shows that Paul’s imprisonment is the work of the slave-owners who had been profiting from the girl’s demonic affliction: “But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.” (‭Acts‬ ‭16:19‬) Note also the persecution of Silas, unremarked by KJS.

What we have, then, is a classic instance of a postliberal theologian reading against the text in the service of a progressive/egalitarian theological agenda.

Secondly, consider the remarks of current Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the January 2016 gathering of the Primates of the Anglican Communion:

Curry told the primates that he was in no sense comparing his own pain to theirs, but “I stand before you as your brother. I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.

Curry was responding to the vote of the Primates to affirm Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference upholding the Bible’s teaching that sexual relations can only be morally approved within the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman, and to censure the Episcopal Church for its unilateral and unrepentant flouting of that resolution and the Biblical doctrine behind it. 

In Curry’s narrative, the “pain” of sexually active homosexuals at being excluded from the church is of a piece with the pain inflicted on black Americans by racism and slavery. Curry chose his narrative pointedly, since the impetus for upholding Biblical sexual morality in the Anglican Communion comes largely from African bishops. They share his skin color, but they are wholly unpersuaded by his implicit claim that active homosexuals are a righteous group of victims.

Curry’s narrative is the favorite one of the modern Social Justice Warrior: “the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice” (in the words of abolitionist Theodore Parker). Yet what evidence is there in the Bible for plotting homosexual liberation as a point on that arc? Instead, we have the apostle Paul’s promise that “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (‭‭I Corinthians‬ ‭6:9-10‬) So the very exclusion that Bishop Curry says will “cause pain” is in fact Biblically warranted and will, in the end, be accomplished. If the church does not exclude these unrepentantly immoral persons, then God himself will exclude them at the last.

Rather than simply misreading the Bible’s narrative as Schori did, Curry frames the issue of homosexual sex acts by removing homosexuals from their role in the Bible’s stories (e.g. Genesis 19 or Judges 19, where societies full of homosexuals are depicted as radically depraved and broken) and casting them as protagonists in the Whig history favored by progressive political and theological liberals: homosexuals are righteous victims of oppression, heirs to the mantle of liberation worn in turn by African-Americans, women, and nations under the yoke of colonialism.

Yet in the eyes of the African bishops and their churches in those very ex-colonial nations, the Episcopal Church occupies a quite different role: the African bishops see the pushing of acceptance of homosexuality as a continuation of Western condescension and colonialism. That is why the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa has repudiated TEC’s Good Friday offering since 2003: 

One of our clergy in Ethiopia states our situation in graphic terms: “We rather starve and not receive money from churches whose actions contradict the scriptures.”

Finally, we turn to the masterpiece of narrative misappropriation: the speech delivered by homosexual TEC Bishop Gene Robinson at the fifth annual prayer breakfast for Planned Parenthood. I quote only a few brief passages:

Our defense against religious people has to be a religious defense… We must use people of faith to counter the faith-based arguments against us…We have allowed the Bible to be taken hostage, and it is being wielded by folks who would use it to hit us over the head. We have to take back those Scriptures…You know, those stories are our stories. I tell this to lesbian folk all the time: The story of freedom in Exodus is our story… That’s my story, and they can’t have it.

Here the liberation of YHWH’s bride from bondage in Egypt — the Bible’s master pattern of salvation, in terms of which even the Christ-event is interpreted in the pages of Scripture — is compared to modern homosexuals’ triumphant escape from the deserved stigma of social opprobrium and the constraints of traditional Biblical sexual morality. In the name of the Exodus accomplished by the hand of Moses, Robinson claims the right to violate the moral laws delivered by Moses (Lev. 18:22, 20:13). Thus, he pits the Biblical story against itself.

It is important that seminarians in fledgling Anglican dioceses in the majority world be equipped to diagnose and refute such abuses of narrative theology coming from leaders of the affluent churches of the West. By learning how to recognize such tricks, they will build a strong immune system and be empowered to resist the specious misinterpretations of North America’s modern Nicolaitan heretics. They will also have a bulwark against other errors and be empowered to read the Scriptures accurately and exposit them faithfully to their parishioners. It is partly to equip the Anglican church in Indonesia with these abilities that I will be going to Bandung, West Java later this year. 

Posted by: sorac | January 10, 2016

The Gospel in Harry Potter

[At the request of our friend Michael Jones, I’m reposting this old gem by Sora, originally published on her old Upsaid blog, called “Parah”. It was written on July 22, 2005, just after Sora had finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I’m listing her as the author of this entry. Note that she pretty much predicted the ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before it was written. – MC]

I consider the Harry Potter books to be Christian novels not merely because they “have the theme of a battle between “good” and “evil” but also because I find that both the overarching themes and the carefully chosen historical and literary symbols throughout all 6 books published so far tell a very clear story, one that I believe is quite intended on Rowling’s part. In Fantasia: The Gospel According to C.S. Lewis Michael Nelson writes:

Like the Chronicles, the Harry Potter books are infused with a Christian worldview: Both Lewis and Rowling celebrate courage, loyalty, friendship, compassion, forgiveness, persistence, and self-sacrifice with a compellingness that puts William Bennett’s Book of Virtues to shame. She’s a member of the Church of Scotland and, whenever she’s asked, says, “I believe in God, not magic.” In fact, Rowling initially was afraid that if people were aware of her Christian faith, she would give away too much of what’s coming in the series. “If I talk too freely about that,” she told a Canadian reporter, “I think the intelligent reader — whether ten [years old] or sixty — will be able to guess what is coming in the books.”

In Looking for God in Harry Potter John Granger points out that in each book, Harry dies a figurative death and is resurrected (after three days in book 1). Granger adds that “Harry never saves himself but is always saved by a symbol of Christ [for example, the phoenix] or by love.” He notes that Rowling’s books grapple with the “big questions” of change, death, love, and what it means to be human, and that the books are “both consistent with Christian answers to these questions and written in implicitly Christian language.”

(I do not agree with all of Granger’s speculation and “Harry Potter exegesis”, but his book is an edifying read. I have had my 10-year old read it, and would recommend it for young Harry Potter fans as well as their parents.)

In her comments on this post Carmon asked: Why is HP okay when Deuteronomy 18 specifically prohibits believers from the activities spoken of approvingly in the books?

Let’s put the generally quoted verses — Deut 18:10-12 — into a little bit more context.

Deuteronomy 18:9 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, 11 or a charmer, or one that consulteth a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer. 12 For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the LORD; and because of these abominations the LORD thy God is driving them out from before thee. 13 Thou shalt be whole-hearted with the LORD thy God. 14 For these nations, that thou art to dispossess, hearken unto soothsayers, and unto diviners; but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

In this passage, God is warning his set-apart people not to fall into the evil religious practices of the idolatrous Canaanites. It is my understanding that all of the practices refered to involve the invocation of demons, spirits, or false gods (or of the dead) with the intention of either predicting (divining) the future (think Saul and the witch of Endor) or causing harm / calling down curses upon others (think Balaam.)

Rowling has a name for “causing harm / calling down curses” in her books. It is called “the Dark Arts.” It is what the bad guys do. The Dark Lord and his followers torture, murder, and terrorize with magic, but their activities are absolutely not spoken of approvingly. (I’ll address divination in Harry Potter a little further down.)

Further, magic in Rowling’s invented universe is mechanical. It is the manipulation of natural (not supernatural) forces that some people (wizards) have the ability to do and others (Muggles) do not. It never involves calling in demonic powers a la Dr. Faustus. If you say the right words or mix the right potion ingredients you get the desired effect — something that involves training and practice, like baking a cake or programming a computer. My sons never walk through the automatic door at the grocery store without pointing their fingers (or pencils, or knitting needles) at it and shouting “Alohomora!” in imitation of Harry Potter. They like to pretend that it is their “spells” and not the motion detector that causes the door to open. I click the remote control on my keychain when approaching my locked minivan. The spells in Harry Potter are much more akin to the motion detector or the remote on my keychain than they are to ancient Canaanite sorcery. There are no “occult forces”, no demons, and no idolatry involved.

I think I can fairly safely say that no ancient Jebusites, Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, etc. were riding broomsticks, wearing cloaks and pointy hats, brewing potions, or pointing wands at things and speaking Latinate words to transform one object into another, make an object or person float into the air, or open a locked door. The “witchcraft” Rowling portrays is a literary device that has little or nothing to do with the prohibited religious acts of Deuteromy 18 and everything to do with our shared, post-medieval Western literary tradition.

“But isn’t divination one of the subjects taught at Hogwarts?”

Yes, divination is taught at Hogwarts. But divination is hardly spoken of “approvingly” in the books. Indeed, it is mocked. The divination teacher, Sybil Trelawney, is a caricature, a quack and a fraud whose interpretations of tea leaves, palm readings, and crystal gazing are repeatedly exposed as the meaningless ear-tickling of “cross-my-palm-with-silver” style fortune tellers throughout the ages. When the teacher actually makes a real prophecy in Book 4, she is entirely unaware of it. We later learn that the headmaster “was against having the subject continue” and keeps Trelawney at Hogwarts as an act of mercy, to protect her from the Dark Lord. Later, a star-gazing centaur (a figure of great literary renown, found in ancient Greece and Narnia as well as at Hogwarts) is likewise taken on as a divination teacher, partly because the school is the safest place for him. He tells his students “…that humans were hardly ever good at [divination], that it took centaurs years and years to become competent, and finished by telling them that it was foolish to put too much faith in such things anyway, because even centaurs sometimes read them wrongly. He was nothing like any human teacher Harry had ever had. His priority did not seem to be to teach them what he knew, but rather to impress upon them that nothing, not even centaur’s knowledge, was foolproof.”

I’m not too worried about my children getting into Tarot cards, I Ching, or compulsively reading their newspaper horoscopes because they’ve read Harry Potter. Rather, the books reinforce these “divination” practices as superstitious nonsense. Genuine prophecies do exist in Rowling’s stories — there have been two in the 6 books so far — and these real prophecies, far from being forces that wizards and witches can call upon on demand or control, are “mysteries” studied in the Department of Mysteries along with death, time, and love.

My conscience is no more troubled when my children read Harry Potter than when they read C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, Howard Pyle, George MacDonald, or many traditional fairy tales. I realize that other families have chosen not to read any of the abovementioned authors because they believe that all fictional portrayals of magic are out of bounds according to the Bible. I don’t expect to convince any of them otherwise! If you love Narnia and The Lord of the Rings but have been avoiding Harry Potter, however, you might do well to actually read the books before deciding whether or not Harry belongs in your home.

Michael O’Brien claims that there is a dangerous difference between the use of “magic” in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein’s fantasies (which he approves) and in Harry Potter (which he warns against). He writes:

Harry resists and eventually overcomes Voldemort with the very powers the Dark Lord himself uses. Harry is the reverse image of Frodo. Rowling portrays his victory over evil as the fruit of esoteric knowledge and power. This is Gnosticism. Tolkien portrays Frodo’s victory over evil as the fruit of humility, obedience and courage in a state of radical suffering. This is Christianity. Harry’s world is about pride, Frodo’s about sacrificial love.

Frankly, I don’t think O’Brien could be any more wrong. In book after book, Harry’s triumphs are not the result of his “esoteric knowledge and power” — he is not a particularly great or powerful wizard, certainly nowhere near a match for the evil Voldemort. Again and again, sacrificial love — identified in the latest books as “the power the Dark Lord knows not” — is all that saves him. In Book 1, Harry is saved (twice) by the power of his mother’s sacrificial love, a love which took the curse meant for him and saved him from death.

In Book 5, Harry, after the murder of his godfather by one of the Dark Lord’s followers, attempts to use the “very powers the Dark Lord uses” — one of the forbidden “unforgivable curses” — against her. She mocks him for his inability to do so effectively: “Never used an Unforgivable Curse before, have you, boy?” she yelled. …”You need to mean them, Potter! You need to really want to cause pain — to enjoy it — righteous anger won’t hurt me for long — I’ll show you how it is done, shall I? …” And a few pages later, Harry, about to die, is overwhelmed with love for his godfather and joy at the prospect of being reunited with him again in death — and this is the power that saves him from possession by the Dark Lord, who “could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests.”

Two further notes: Rowling does portray what one might call “typical teenage behaviour” (but not at all typical for what we expect from ourchildren!) in her books. For this reason, we have not allowed our 8 and 10 year olds to read books 5 and 6 yet and will supervise and discuss these readings when the time comes. In fact, I’m thinking of having them write a series of essays on “Stereotypical Teenage Behaviour in Harry Potter” when they’re finally allowed to read the last few books.🙂

Lastly, those who feel the books are “getting darker” and “blurring the line between good and evil” will, I hope, be reassured by the release of book 6 (if they get that far!) After some very human struggles in books 4 and 5, the innocent child hero of book 1 has matured into a man with drive, mission, and principle. Far from a Gnostic battle of esoteric forces, I expect book 7 to bring us an imaginative and compelling portrayal of the Gospel, in which the red lion crushes the head of the serpent and evil, sin, and death are conquered by sacrificial love.

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 31, 2015

The Eye is the Lamp of the Body

I had a major “Aha!” moment some months ago when preparing for my men’s Bible study. The passage in question was Matthew 6:22ff:

Ὁ λύχνος τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν ὁ ὀφθαλμός. ἐὰν οὖν ⸂ᾖ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου ἁπλοῦς⸃, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου φωτεινὸν ἔσται· ἐὰν δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρὸς ᾖ, ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου σκοτεινὸν ἔσται. εἰ οὖν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἐν σοὶ σκότος ἐστίν, τὸ σκότος πόσον. (ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 6:22, 23 SBLG)

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22, 23 ESV)

Most of the evangelical interpretations of this passage have applied it to pornography and other occasions of lust. Connections are made with Psalm 101:3 (“I will set nothing wicked before my eyes”) and Proverbs 4:25 (“Let your eyes look directly before you, and your gaze be straight ahead”).

Such applications are certainly wholesome. Yet they have always struck me as forced, robbing Jesus’ sermon (or Matthew’s report of it) of any flow. Neither the preceding passage (“Do not treasure up for yourselves treasures on the earth…”) nor the following one (“You cannot serve both God and Mammon”) has anything much to do with sins of sexual lust. Where’s the train of thought?

The answer – and it is readily available in good commentaries, so I cannot claim to be the discoverer of it – is that the OT and Jewish background gives a very different meaning to Jesus’ words in 6:22-23.

Deuteronomy 15:9 warns the Israelites against stinginess during the advent of the Sabbath year:

Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, “The seventh year, the year of release is near,” and your eye be evil (wera’ah ‘eynekha) toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. (Deuteronomy 15:9)

Likewise Dt. 28:54-56, speaking about the horrors of cannibalism in the straits of a siege:

The man who is the most tender and refined among you, his eye shall be evil (terah ‘eynow) to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, her eye shall be evil (terah ‘eynah) to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter… (Deuteronomy 28:54, 56 ESV)

The eye here is not the receptacle of bad influences coming in, but the portal of malice going out. (And such emissionistic theories of the eye’s operation were not unusual in be ancient world: Empedocles, for instance, compared the eye to a lantern with sides of horn, DK 31 B84, 87.) Jesus is talking about miserliness, begrudging, envy – Latin invidia, from in + videre, to look against, to give someone the evil eye. Pirke Avoth is the Rabbinic source that has the most to say about it, and all its uses are consistent with Jesus’ mention here in Matthew 6:

“he who desires to give, but that others should not give, his eye is evil toward what appertains to others; he who desires that others should give, but will not give himself, his eye is evil against what is his own…” m.Avot 5.15

“R. Joshua said, “The evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of his fellow-creatures, put a man out of the world.” m.Avot 2.16

““A good eye, a humble mind, and a lowly spirit (are the tokens) of the disciples of Abraham, our father; an evil eye, a haughty mind, and a proud spirit (are the signs) of the disciples of Balaam, the wicked.” m.Avot 5.19

We may fairly conclude that Jesus’ saying is about one’s attitude toward one’s fellow men. What, then, is meant by “if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light”? Those who are generous to their neighbors are themselves in a good state with God: if you with your own lamp give light to others by giving generously to them, God will shine the light of His countenance upon you. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

The result of understanding this background in Hebrew idiom is  a newly revealed consistency and rhetorical force to Jesus’ arrangement of His sermon, in perfect agreement with other statements from the same sermon. (And if you need to preach against looking at pornography, there are plenty of other passages to use.)

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 31, 2015

Ancient Jewish Zwinglianism

I am not myself a Zwinglian, and I am sympathetic to the critique of Zwinglianism, advanced by Charles Taylor and Peter Leithart, among others, that says it is typical of modernity to divorce symbols from efficacy and from the signified, and to reduce their operation to mere indicative signs.

Yet though this desacralizing tendency may be typically modern, the Zwinglianizing impulse also appears to be  very old. We find it even in 2nd Temple Judaism, in a contemporary of the Apostle Paul:

Johanan ben Zaccai explained that neither did a person become really unclean by a corpse nor did he become really clean by the “water of separation,” but that the relevant provisions must be observed because it was the will of God. (Num. Rab. on 19.2; P. de R. K. 40a f.)

Below: Johanan ben Zaccai, from the Knesset Menorah (Wikipedia). 


Posted by: mattcolvin | July 31, 2015

Jacob’s Rods

Here’s a fun story from Numbers Rabbah:

An Arabian prince complained to Rabbi Akiba against his wife, who, being an Arabian woman, gave birth to a perfectly white child. The Rabbi, who was always anxious to establish good and friendly relations among men, especially among those who should live in peace and in harmony, knowing the beams on the ceiling in the Arabian’s house to be dazzling white, mentioned Jacob’s contrivance of obtaining speckled sheep, and pointed out that the phenomenon of his child might be due to the extreme whiteness of his ceiling at which the princess gazed.

One of the features of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is its inclusion of the Declaration on Kneeling, or Black Rubric, which explains that Anglicans kneeling to receive Communion are not doing so to worship a presence of Christ in the elements, but to express their gratitude.

The Declaration was changed in 1662 from its original phrasing of 1552. The words “real and essential presence”, which were denied in 1552, are replaced with the words “Corporal presence”:

…thereby [sc. by kneeling] no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacra-mental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.

It is alleged by some that this rubric does not actually close the door on Eucharistic adoration, since…

… this change in language from 1552 to 1662 allows for someone to adore the real and essential presence while rejecting adoration of the corporeal presence, that is adoration of the elements in a transubstantiated sense.

Now, on the face of things, this seems to me to be stretching logic and the English language to the breaking point. It is not the first time it has been tried, though. Nathaniel Dimock already sufficiently refuted this argument back in 1897:

Does not the very structure of the rubric itself render a purpose of changing the doctrinal statement absolutely inconceivable ? Let it be carefully considered what such a change would amount to. It would be a designed rejection of the previous statement, admitting its contradictory. But the contradictory of the previous statement would be that adoration may be done to a real and essential Presence there being of Christ’s natural flesh and blood, the amended statement still declaring that no adoration ought to be done to any corporal Presence of Christ’s natural flesh and blood. The effect of the change of statement would obviously be to make a distinction between a real and essential Presence (not to the soul, but upon the table), and a corporal Presence there, allowing adoration to the one, and refusing it to the other. But the whole argument of the rubric will be found to apply as much to the exclusion of adoration to the one as to the other. If the rubric allows adoration to a real and essential Presence in the elements, then the order of kneeling is certainly not well meant for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ given in the Lord s Supper to all worthy receivers; and further, not only is it foolish to argue from the statement of Christ’s natural body and blood being in heaven, but it is actually untrue to declare that they are in heaven and not here. And then, further still, it cannot be maintained that it is against the truth of Christ’s natural body to be at one time in more places than one. On the hypothesis of the doctrinal statement being thus changed to admit of the teaching of the adorable Presence of Christ’s Body really and essentially present after the manner of a spirit in the elements, it will be found that there is a cause for the statement appended to the statement, which alleged cause is not only inapplicable to the statement, but is actually destructive of it. But further: looking at the object of the rubric, it cannot be denied that, upon the supposition of such an intentional change of the doctrinal statement, the whole rubric would have been a miserable delusion, an attempt to put to rest men’s suspicions by a declaration, which declaration in its changed form (with the change so understood), instead of removing suspicions, would not merely have aggravated them, but have raised the fiercest opposition. Such an attempt at public deception is not only incredible, it would have been worthy of infamy. — N. Dimock, History of the Book of Common Prayer in Its Bearing on Present Eicharistic Controversies, 1897, p. 71-72. 

In other words, if adoration is directed to a presence of Christ’s body and blood, and this is excused by the qualification that it is not a corporal presence, then what use is it to mention the location of Christ’s natural body “in heaven and not here”? The logic of the Declaration is that since the natural body is in heaven and not here, therefore the kneeling that we do is not an act of worship directed toward a presence of that body in the elements on the table, but is only an gesture “for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgement of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers”. To claim that the change of words was intended to give room for practices condemned by the earlier version 110 years before is to impute to the 1662 revisers the shady trickery of an unscrupulous lawyer hiding phrases in fine print that clandestinely and subtly vitiate a document of which everyone thought they knew the intent and meaning. This is why Dimock says that, if that were what was intended by the change of “real and essential” for “corporal”, it would be “worthy of infamy”.

We ought never to forget that Englishmen died to rescue the Lord’s institution of Holy Communion from the multitude of abuses under which it was hidden in the Renaissance era: processions, elevation, display of the elements for worship by staring at and “adoring” Christ locally present in them. The fruit of the Reformers’ labor and sacrifice was an English church that “duly used” the Lord’s Supper by eating and drinking the elements of bread and wine and thereby receiving Christ’s body and blood by the means of faith, the res of His body and blood being conveyed by the Holy Spirit to worthy receivers.

Against this hard-won achievement, some would turn the clock back to pre-Reformation practices, willfully “mistaking” the BCP and the Articles of Religion’s plain and historical sense in order to make room for the very practices that provoked the prohibitions and condemnation of our Reformers.

Christ’s body, being located in heaven and not here, is really given to us by our right use of the elements of Holy Communion. Let us then eat and drink with faith, and not wrest Christ’s institution to purposes He never intended, and which our tradition has always condemned.

Posted by: mattcolvin | July 23, 2015

Bishop Cosin on Real Presence

Here’s another nice quotation on the classical Anglican doctrine of the Eucharist by one of the leading Caroline divines, John Cosin, Bishop of Durham: 

“Because the body and blood is neither sensibly present (nor otherwise at all present, but only to those who are duly prepared to receive them, and in the very act of receiving them and the consecrated elements together, to which they are sacramentally united), the adoration is then and there given to Christ Himself, neither is nor ought to be directed to any sensible object, such as are the blessed elements.” (In Nicholls’s Additional Notes on Communion Service, p. 49)

Here we have a leading Caroline high churchman stating that the body and blood are not locally and objectively in the elements, but are only present to those with faith, and only in the very act of receiving the consecrated elements. The elements are not transformed. They are used in a ritual action, and it is in the doing of that ritual action (eating and drinking) that Christ is personally and really present to the faith of the believer. Without the believer’s faith, and apart from the doing of the ritual, there is no presence of Christ. Christ is present to us via our participation in the ritual consumption of bread and wine, but not in the elements as they sit on a table. 
Two more quotations from Cosin:

“The body and blood of Christ are united sacramentally to the bread and wine in such a way that Christ is truly presented to believers, to be beheld not, however, by any sense or reason belonging to this world, but only by faith resting upon the words of the Gospel. But Christ’s flesh and blood are said to be united to the bread and wine because in the celebration of the Eucharist His flesh is presented and received along with, and at the same time as the bread; and His blood along with, and at the same time as the wine.” — Cosin, Works IV, p 46. (1851)

“These two things become one by the divine ordinance in such a way that, although their union is not natural, or substantial, or hypostatic, or local (by the existence of one thing in another), nevertheless it is such a joining and so true that in the eating of the consecrated bread the true body of Christ is communicated to us, and the names of the signs and the things signified are mutually exchanged back and forth, and it is attributed to the bread what belongs to the body, and on the other hand to the body what belongs to the bread, and they are together in time which are separated in space.” — Cosin, Works IV, p 48 (1851)

Notice some of the phrases here: the sacramentum and res are “separated in space”. They are not together in location (the “union” is not “local”), so worship should not be directed to the elements. There is no union of substance or essence. Cosin uses the specialized theological vocabulary of communicatio idiomatum that was developed by Cyril for explaining the incarnation and the predicates of Christ’s two natures, but this is only an explanation for the theological manner of speaking about the elements as the body and blood. (This is a far cry from simplistic claims that “the word ‘is’ means ‘is'”.) Cosin also explicitly denies a hypostatic union between bread and body, thereby undercutting a favorite Anglo-Catholic analogy with the incarnation.



Posted by: mattcolvin | July 23, 2015

Quotations on Real Presence and Eucharistic Adoration

I have long suspected that the rise of Anglo-Catholicism in North American Anglicanism can be partly attributed to the fact that the literature of the Oxford Movement and ritualism is in English, while many of the sources of classical Anglican doctrine and the works of the Caroline Divines and Reformers, many of them, remain in Latin.

I would like to help mitigate this problem by reproducing and, where necessary, translating some of the quotations collected in the pages of Nathaniel Dimock’s On Eucharistic Worship in the English Church.

We start with his opening quotation from Bishop Jewel, the main defender of the Elizabethan Settlement:

Now, touching the adoration of the sacrament, M. Harding is not able to show neither any commandment of Christ nor any word or example of the apostles or ancient fathers, concerning the same. It is a thing very lately devised, by Pope Honorius, about the year of our Lord 1226; afterward increased by the now solemn feast of Corpus Christi day, by Pope Urbanus, anno 1264; and last of all, confirmed forever by multitudes of pardons in the Council of Vienna by Pope Clement V, anno 1316. The church of Asia and Grecia never received it until this day. The matter is great, and cannot be attempted without great danger. To give the honour of God to a creature that is no God, it is manifest idolatry.” — Bishop Jewel

I would add that it is idolatry even if the theological ontology undergirding it is changed from Aristotelian/Thomistic to modern Nouvelle Theologie, or even to no ontology in particular.

Next, we have every high churchman’s favorite Caroline divine, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes:

“In the words the worship of the Sacrament he badly stumbles at the very threshold. Of the sacrament, he says, that is, of Christ present in the sacrament in a marvelous, but true way. But avaunt! Who granted him this? Of the sacrament, that is, of Christ in the sacrament. Nay, rather Christ Himself, the res of the sacrament, is to be adored in and with the sacrament, and outside and without the sacrament, wherever He is. The king, however, has decreed that Christ, being truly present in the Eucharist, ought also to be truly worshiped — the res, to be sure, but not the sacramentum, the earthly part, as Irenaeus calls it, or the visible, as Augustine terms it. Nor do we ever eat His flesh, but that we first worship Him, with Augustine. And nonetheless, we none of us worship the sacramentum. Let that be done which Christ wanted to be done when He said, ‘Do this.’ Nothing else shall be done that a priest might show, or the people worship, from a pyx.” — Bp. Lancelot Andrewes

(A pyx is a special box used for transporting consecrated Eucharistic hosts.)

Finally, another quotation, but one that was in English and needed no translating. It is from Thomas Morton, Bishop of Durham, whose 1618 Defense of the Innocencie of the Three Ceremonies of the Church of England is one of the most famous rebuttals against the Puritans:

“ I may ask any ingenuous man whether he ever heard (I do not say our Church, but) any approved Doctor therein, teach, that we do, or ought to kneel before the Sacrament; that by it, or in it, we may personally worship Christ, as if He were really present.” —Bp. Morton’s Defence of the Ceremonies, p. 285, London, 1619: ”Published by Authority.”)”

More to come later. As long as the quotations in Dimock remain untranslated in their original Latin, the erroneous opinion can be more plausibly put about that the practice of adoration directed at an alleged real presence in the elements is a permissible Anglican practice. But no one who can read and understand Latin could possibly harbor that opinion after reading the book. 

Perhaps I can help remedy this lack with more translations in the days to come.

Older Posts »