Saturday, July 2, 2011

RKIA's Guide to Reading the Bible -- part 6

“TRADITION! (Cue the sound of klezmer music, as in Fiddler on the Roof ) TRADITION!”

So, the question becomes, “If the Bible is not a self interpreting book, but a library full of poetry and history and a host of other literary forms, how do we know what it’s really saying?” The answer: Tradition!

Tradition is a dirty word among some Christians. They quote texts like “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition..... rather than on Christ.” (Col 2:8), or Mark 7:3 “For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, don't eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders.” They never seem to quote passages like, 2 Thess. 2:15 “Hold on to the traditions which you have been taught,” and 2Thess 3:6 “Keep away from every brother that behaves in a disorderly way and not after the tradition which he received from us.”

St. Paul seems to differentiate between human tradition and the tradition that he had received in his instruction in the faith. Remember that he had not been an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus, but was in that sense, a second generation Christian. He received a tradition given him by the first disciples of the Lord.

Perhaps you have read that Paul was taught directly by Christ, as Galatians 1:12 would seem to indicate. “For I neither received it of man neither was I taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” If you look closely at the passage, St. Paul is saying that he received good news, (the Gospel) and this Gospel is very simple: “We have been reconciled to God by the physical death of Jesus the Messiah!” (Colossians 1:22-23) Paul received amazing mystical revelations it seems, but he also got to know Peter. Cf. Galatians 1:18 “Then after three years I (Paul) went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.”

The word “see” in the text is an interesting one. In Greek it is “historesai” from which our word “history” comes. Its primary meaning is “to inquire.” In other words, he went to learn a few things from Peter. He may have received the good news of redemption on the Damascus road, but he was humble enough to want to know what Peter had to say. What he received from the Lord seems to have included the idea of the Eucharist which he handed on to the Corinthians. (1 Cor 11:23) “For I have received from the Lord that which also I handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus the same night on which he was betrayed took bread.....” The very word “hand on” is the verb form of the noun “paradosis” “tradition.”

Since the first days of the Church we have believed that just as God instructed Moses and the elders of Israel with an oral tradition, (which became the Mishnah), so too, Jesus instructed His disciples in the meaning of what He had said and made them the guardians of the correct meaning of His words. The Catholic concept of sacred tradition simply means that the Church, in particular, the pope and bishops, guarantee that there are no novel interpretations of what Jesus said and did. We don’t add to the Scriptures, we just guard the consistent and universal explanation of what these things mean. Here is an example:

The word “epiousion” is almost impossible to translate. It appears in the phrase usually accepted as “daily bread” but we aren’t quite sure what the word actually means. For almost 2,000 years there has been no other known example of the use of the word other than it’s one time use in the Our Father. It appears no where else in all of ancient Greek literature, only in the Our Father. People get very mystical over it, deciding it must have been a very unique and theologically significant word. I suspect that the opposite is true. Copyists preserve fancy stuff like Cicero or Shakespeare. It may be that it appears no where else because it is such a common word, like "ain't it" or "gotcha!"

In the twentieth century, an archaeologist claimed that he had found the word in a 5th century AD shopping list found in ancient Egyptian garbage dump. The word is written next to the names of several grocery items. It had the sense of "enough for today," or “necessary.” The shopping list is now at the Yale Beinecke Library, but it seems that the word epiousion isn’t there, so we are back to the problem of having no other example of the word. (My personal suspicion is that this particular scholar, like many scholars I have known, couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. He probably put the scrap with epiousion in his right coat pocket instead of his left pocket and it ended up on the floor of some Cairo laundry).

Back to “epiousion.” Epiousion derives from Epi and Ousia which mean “Upon” and “Essence” (sort of? The word doesn’t appear in the form ousion as far as I can tell) So, how can we possibly understand what we are saying in the “Our Father” if there is no other reference to the word we normally assume to mean “daily”????

Well, you are just going to have to wait for next week to find out!

(To be continued......)

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