Thursday, July 28, 2011

RKIA's Guide to Reading the Bible... part 9



Back in episode 7, I mentioned the brothers of the Lord and who they might have been. Whoever they were, they seem to have been very important in the early Church and rather difficult. Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and took the surviving members of the royal House of David into exile. When the Persians conquered Babylon a few years later, they let the Jews go back to Judea. A few members of the royal family of David returned to Jerusalem. Zerubabel, a prince of the house of David, (Haggai 1:1) who was the grandson of king Jehoiachin of Judah was appointed governor of Judea by the Persians. He led the first group of 42,000 Jews back to Judea from Babylon around 530 BC. He also laid the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem not long after.

It seems that much of the family of David stayed in Babylon, preferring not to return to the dangerous pile of rocks that Jerusalem had become. Some of the family of David who had returned to the Holy Land skedaddled back to Babylon when the Maccabees took over around 160 BC. The Judean community had become settled and prosperous in Babylon, which was in effect, the New York of its time, though I suppose you still couldn’t get good “deli” there. Pastrami had not even been invented!

Life was good in Babylon. A descendant of the royal House of David was always formally installed as “exilarch” which means “leader of the exiles.” In fact, there was always an exilarch in charge of the sizable Jewish community of Babylon until perhaps 1000 years (yes, one thousand) AFTER Christ!! They knew a good gig when they found one. After 2,550 years in Babylon, (the ruins of which are in modern Iraq) the Jews have finally been driven out and most emigrated to the state of Israel. There are now about 7 or 8 Babylonian Jews still living in Iraq. Thus the Babylonian exile is over, almost.

Things started getting even more interesting around 150BC when groups like the Essenes rejected the Maccabees' claims to the monarchy and the high priesthood. The Essenes and those like them started to fume about the coming of the Messiah, how he would straighten everything out and purify the priesthood and the monarchy and the temple and put those Maccabees and their Roman and Greek friends in their place. This meant something to the Davidic family still in exile in Babylon: job opportunities!

Along with the Messiah, born of the royal House of David, the opportunities for boodle, as they call it in Chicago, would be numerous! It seems that some of the family of David returned to two little towns Little Shoot (Nazareth in Hebrew/Aramaic) and Star-ville (Kochaba in Hebrew/Aramaic) the first on the west side of the Jordan and the other on the east. The names seem to refer to Messianic prophecies, “a shoot will spring form Jesse” (Is.11:1) and “a star will rise from Judah” (Numbers 24.17)

Little Shoot wasn’t much to write home about. It was a town of about 200 threadbare aristocrats, who lived mostly in caves, (cool in summer warm in winter, really very nice). This is why Nathaniel, when told about Jesus said “What good can come out of Little Shoot (Nazareth)!?!” (John, 1:46) Joseph of the House of David and his wife Mary, also of the royal House of David seem to have settled down there after spending time abroad. And there, among his many cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws etc., they raised their boy, Yeshu, (spelled “Jesus” in Greek) and an amazing child He most certainly was.

He was an odd one. He never married; there were after all certain questions about His suitability, and then at the age of thirty He left home and started hanging around with odd people, like that cousin, Yochanan the Baptist down near the Dead Sea. Soon He was back and had left the family construction business. He was working as a rabbi and had accumulated some followers. There was a buzz in town about him possibly being the Messiah. Why not? He was, after all, a member of the family and most certainly descended from David on both sides. There was even talk of miracles! I imagine his relatives were thinking about government jobs after the revolution. That upstart Herod and his clan! They would have to go! Not descendants of David, not even really Jewish!

There is an interesting document called the Gospel to the Hebrews. It is very ancient, and was respected by many early authors, though it didn’t become part of the canon of Scriptures. It talks about the brothers of the Lord, “Behold, the mother of the Lord and his brothers were saying to him: John the Baptist is baptizing for the remission of sins. Let us also be baptized by him. But he said to them: How have I sinned, that I should go and be baptized by him? Unless perchance this that I have just said is ignorance.” Why, pray tell, would Jesus’ relatives have wanted Him to go get baptized? There is another interesting verse in the canonical Gospel according to John, the seventh chapter. Jesus’ brothers are urging him to go down to the feast of Booths saying, “Show Yourself to the world.” (John 7:4) I suspect they were anxious for the revolution. Jesus had a different revolution in mind.

At first they seemed to be big backers of Jesus and his messiah-ship. But, as it became clear that He is not about to declare their kind of revolution, they seemed less anxious for Him to be traveling about embarrassing them. “Then He went home and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When His family heard it, they went out to restrain Him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of His mind.’” (Mark 3:20-21)

Jesus' kindred seemed a little ambivalent about Him. In St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the risen Jesus appears first to the Twelve, among whom there was a James, or perhaps two, and then to his kinsman (brother?) James. Seeing cousin Jesus risen from the dead seems to have convinced James and the rest of the family because James eventually became the first bishop of Jerusalem. He was finally stoned to death around 63AD.

After his death, Simeon, son of Cleophas also called the brother of the Lord in Matthew 13:55), succeeded him. He was bishop at the time of the Roman siege but escaped with the rest of the Jewish Christian community to Pella east of the Jordan river, having been warned by the Lord (Luke 21:20)and by people in the Church who had the prophetic gifts. Bishop Simeon was crucified by the Romans around 106AD and was apparently succeeded by relatives of Jesus until Bishop Judah Kyriacos, a name which means “Judah, who belongs to the Lord” was killed during a riot in Jerusalem, in 133. That was toward the beginning of the Bar Kochba revolt which declared Simon Bar Kochba Messiah.

Any one who claimed Jesus as the Messiah was killed or expelled from the territory held by the rebels. The revolt ended with the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem until our own times. With the death of Judah Kyriacos, the line of bishops descended from the House of David ended as did the Jewish Church of Jerusalem. From that point on, it was clear that Christianity was not a movement among the Jews, but a universal Church claiming to be the true and spiritual Jerusalem, led by the spiritual heirs of Peter and the Twelve.

But before then, it seems that there was a role played by those who claimed kinship to the Lord, and there seems perhaps to have been some question about who should be running things, Jesus relatives or His disciples. I suspect that’s why St. Paul has issues with “apostles” (1Cor. 9:1)and with those who “came from James” (Gal.:12), but never with Peter and the others of the Twelve. (Gal.2:9) The “Brothers of the Lord" were a very distinct group called the “Desposyni” (a Greek word, as I’m sure you guessed, meaning, the family of the master). It seems that they traveled accompanied by their wives and managed to make their presence known. (1Cor.9:5)

What seems to be a dispute between Peter and Paul really is nothing more than Paul urging Peter to be the authority that Jesus had called him to be. It’s as if Paul is telling Peter that he, not James had been given charge of the Church throughout the world. Jesus had established a universal summons to all humanity, not just a sect to be controlled by the family of the founder.

I really think that this fundamental dispute regarding the nature of the Church is the problem that created the New Testament Canon. Paul’s letter for the most part and even the Gospels, were written against the backdrop of a Davidic family feud. Also, wouldn’t Zerubabel be a fine name for a new-born?

So here is Bible reading principle # 10 THE BIBLE IS ABOUT PEOPLE, NOT PLASTER SAINTS.


Friday, July 22, 2011

RKIA's Guide to Reading the Bible... part 8



Don’t assume you know what a word means in English. English is a very complicated language. Still, English speakers are always telling everyone in the world what things mean, even if we don’t know that we don’t know what our own language means. “Why,” you may ask “is this at all important in understanding the Bible?” Since around 1600 when all those swashbuckling heroes like Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Pocahontas and Errol Flynn sailed throughout the world making the world English, the English language has been the language of evangelization. Wherever an Englishman buckled his swash, it seems he left a copy of the King James Bible in his hotel room. Thus, the assumptions and errors of English speaking people have become the errors and assumptions of much of the Christian world.

The English language belongs to the Anglo-Frisian sub-group of the West Germanic branch of the Germanic language family. If it were just Anglo-Frisian that would be fine, but it seems that at one time everyone in the neighborhood wanted to invade England. I suppose it had something to do with the lovely climate and the wonderful cuisine. The Celts lived there at the time of Christ, and then came the Romans, then those pesky Anglo-Frisians, after them came the Norwegian and Danish speaking Vikings. Then more Latin came with Christian missionaries and then more Vikings who spoke French and finally a smidgen of Greek during the Renaissance. Finally, in the USA we have such all-American words as taco, pizza, canoe, rodeo, boondocks and schmooze. English never met a language that it didn’t want to absorb.

We have grafted words from everywhere onto our Anglo-Frisian grammar, so that everything has five different names, as seen above: cuisine, a fancy-schmantzy French word for food. Because English is so malleable (a fancy-schmantzy Latin word for changeable) the meanings of words change constantly. When I was a boy in a former century, “cool” had to do with the weather and “gay” referred to Paris in the 1890's. Who knows what they will mean in another 20 or 30 years? The mind boggles. This is why I want to fall on the floor howling with laughter when someone asks me for the best translation of the Bible.

The big words in Catholicism are still in Greek: Eucharist, Baptism, Pentecost, Liturgy, Canon, Ecclessial, Bishop, Priest, Deacon, Chrism, Monk, Martyr, Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Apocalypse and almost all the other names of books in the Bible. Bible, too, for that matter. They are all Greek words.

For instance we all know what the Bible is, right? As mentioned, it’s that big book on the coffee table. Nope. It’s a Greek word that means “Books.” Apocalypse. We all know what that means. It’s the Beast and Armageddon and the rapture and people running around screaming and lots of cheap made for TV movies, right? Nope. “Apocalypse” means “unveiling” and for Greek speaking Jews it often referred to a wedding. (Certainly, I have known some marriages that were apocalyptic in the modern sense, with the running around and the screaming, but that is not what is meant here.) We assume that we know what words mean and we don’t. We know what we use them for now, not what they meant in their historical context. Reading an ancient text as if it were a TV Guide is called “anachronism.” You guessed it, a Greek word meaning “up (or out) of proper time.”

There are three words that you need to know in Greek in order to even begin to make sense out of the New Testament. One is “apostle” which we have never bothered to translate from Greek, “The Twelve” an Anglo-Frisian phrase (in Greek “hoi Dodeka”) and the third “disciple,” a Latin word. We assume that all three have the same meaning, The Twelve, Apostles, Disciples, it’s all the same thing, right? Nope. Three different words, three different meanings, three different groups of people, which overlapped.

By the by, you need to know that Greek did the same thing that English does. It makes verbs (action words) into nouns (persons, places and things). We bus people in a bus to a school where we school them in the English language. Don’t pretend to be confused. You actually talk this way if you speak English.

Back to apostle. In Greek, it is both a verb and a noun. It means missionary, or better still delegate, or in Anglo-Frisian, “someone sent out with the right to tell you how to do things.” The noun apostle (a delegate, or one sent out) appears about 80 times in the New Testament. As a verb (“to delegate” or to “send out”) it appears about 125 times. The word disciple means “student” and it appears about 216 times. The phrase “the twelve” appears around 24 times, but "twelve apostles" appears only four times and "twelve disciples" appears only twice. (BOY, THIS IS SURE BORING AND POINTLESS!!!) Hold on a minute! It’s not boring if you really want to understand the Bible.

Disciples, Apostles and The Twelve were not all the same people. The three words denote increasingly exclusive categories. Jesus had lots of disciples. The Bible talks of his appearing to “more than 500 of the brethren at one time.” (1Cor:15,6) So Jesus had lots of students. He sent some of them out. (In Greek, He “apostled” them) “And when it was day he called His disciples to Himself and chose twelve whom also he named apostles.” (Luke 6:13)

There were also a lot more apostles than just twelve. “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others and sent (“apostled” or “delegated” same word in Greek) them in pairs before Him into every city and place where He Himself would come.” (Luke 10:1)

So, you have hundreds of disciples, but maybe less than 100 delegated missionaries and among them an inner circle of twelve, appropriately called “The Twelve.” By the way, Twelve was an important number in Hebrew, it denoted the governing authority. Twelve tribes, twelve patriarchs, twelve judges etc. So you have a governing nucleus of twelve in the Bible. This is important because it clears up a lot of problems. Everybody talks about the “twelve apostles.” The Bible almost never called them the “twelve apostles” it just calls them “The Twelve.” There were lots of apostles, but only twelve of The Twelve.

It’s clear that Jesus established leadership and structure in the Church. Have you ever wondered how Paul got to be an apostle? He was not one of the original twelve. It’s simple. He was an apostle because Jesus delegated him on the Damascus road. He wasn’t one of the Twelve, but he was an apostle. If you don’t understand this you might end up thinking that Paul and the leadership of the Church didn’t get along. He always seems to be at odds with the apostles, especially James. He had no problem with Peter and John and the other members of the Twelve, but he certainly took issue with self appointed delegates, and the James he is at odds with is not the Apostle James who died in 44AD, but James the Brother of the Lord, who seems to have been the leader of the Jerusalem Church and its very kosher conservative adherents.

When you understand who’s who you begin to realize that the books and letters of the New Testament were written in a very human context, a struggle about the nature of the Church and her leadership. God did amazing things with a crew of schlubs who are not unlike us.

You also have another group, a much more irritating group, called the “Desposyne.” You don’t hear much about them and with good reason. We’ll talk about them later.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

RKIA's Guide to Reading the Bible... part 7


It’s not meant to confuse you, but it’s very confusing….


In reading the New Testament one might get the impression that Mary and Joseph were just the couple next door with a lot of kids and that Paul was having a feud with James, and the other apostles. For instance, what’s 1 Corinthians 9:1 all about? Paul writes “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord!”

Part of the problem is that Jesus, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (or as they would say: Yeshua, Yakob, Yose, Shimon, and Yehudah) were among the ten most popular names among Jews at the time of Christ, and Mary (or as they would say it Mariam or Miriam) was just about the most common name for girls. If you don’t understand who’s who, it is impossible to tell what’s actually going on in the New Testament.

It is important to understand that there were three (or least two) major players named James (Yakob) in the New Testament.

1) James, son of Zebedee (died 44 AD) was one of the Twelve appointed by Jesus. He was a son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of John the Evangelist, also one of the Twelve. He is also called James the Greater.

2) James, son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. He is often called James the Less and commonly known by that name in Church tradition.

3) James the brother of the Lord, first bishop of Jerusalem (died 62 AD) also called James the Just, James the Righteous and even James of Jerusalem. He was known for his piety and was said to have the knees of a camel since he spent so much time kneeling in prayer. (Scholars since the first centuries disputed whether or not James the Less and James the brother of the Lord are the same person. I am of the opinion that there are three James, not two. I may change my mind. Who knows?)

When we read a text such as Galatians 2:12-16 “Before certain men came from James, he (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to (the orthodox Jewish party of) the circumcision.” Which James is Paul talking about? It certainly is not James the Greater. He was dead by this time, martyred by one of the innumerable Herod’s (That’s another issue. There was Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Phillip and a host of others, all of whom seem to marry their relatives.) It was James, the brother of the Lord, almost certainly. He was respected for his piety, remember? He led the Jerusalem Church, and seems to have been the leader of a faction in the early Church that thought one had to be an observant Jew before one could become a disciple of the Lord. Peter seems to have gone back and forth between the two factions until he had a vision (Acts 10:13) which showed him clearly that Paul was right and James was wrong.

Let’s clear up this issue of the Brothers of the Lord before we go any farther. People are always telling me that the Catholic Church is wrong and that Mary had other children than Jesus. It says so in the Bible! “Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matt. 13: 55.56). Look at the fine print. The Bible says that Jesus had brothers and sisters, not that Mary had other children. This gets complicated. Pay attention.

There were three Mary’s at the foot of the cross. (John 19:25) “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, His mother (Mary), and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, (or Clopas) and Mary Magdalene.” Remember, Mary was as common a name in the Holy Land as it is in an Irish girl’s school; Mary Margaret, Mary Catherine, Mary Bridget, etc., etc., etc..... Now read Matthew 27: 56 “Among (those at the cross) were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee's children. Now read Mark 15:40 “There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome.” It would seem clear that Mary the mother of James and Joses, was Mary the wife of Cleophas, (or Clopas) and not Mary Mother of the Lord.

There are three points of view. Mary and Joseph had other children than Jesus. This is not the traditional opinion, nor is it my opinion. If Mary had other children than Jesus she certainly would not have gone to live with St. John after the crucifixion. (John 19: 26,27) A mother of small children once told me that Jesus certainly had no younger siblings. If He had, He couldn’t have stayed behind in the temple. They would have snitched on Him!

The second opinion was held by Origen, Eusebius, St. Ambrose, St Gregory of Nyssa and St. Epiphanius, the “oracle of Palestine,” is that the brothers of the Lord were the children of Joseph by a former marriage. Joseph, after the death of his first wife, married Mary, a close relative, also from the family of David, to protect her vow of chastity. (This was in fact an ancient practice, especially among the Essenes.) This theory infuriates many of the pious, who prefer...

The third option: The so called Brothers of the Lord were close relatives. St. Theophylact (725AD, rather late in the game) was of the opinion that they were the children of Joseph by a levirate marriage, with the widow of his brother, Clopas or, as others have held, nephews of Joseph by his brother Clopas. After Clopas died Joseph adopted them, and so they were counted as the children of Joseph and Mary. This is a rather far fetched and late theory, but who knows? That’s the point! We can’t assume that “the Bible says....” With three James and at least three Marys a bunch of Simons and a busload of Herods, we may come to some perfectly obvious conclusions that are absolutely wrong. By the way, after James the Just was martyred, Simeon the son of Cleophas/Clopas became the bishop of Jerusalem. The bishop of Jerusalem was always a relative of Jesus until sometime in the second century. This will be important in our next exciting installment.



Friday, July 8, 2011

RKIA's Guide to Reading the Bible... part 6b

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

(The following will be even more incomprehensible than usual if you have not read last week's action packed installment.)

There seem to be four possible meanings for the word epiousion: 1) necessary for existence 2) daily requirement 3) for the next day 4) deriving from epienai: for the future, for the coming existence. In St. Jerome's translation in 405 A.D. we read (Mat 6:11): “Give us this day our supersubstantial bread" which means “over-being," but in the Our Father the Latin phrase “panem quotidianum” means daily bread. It was understood that way from the earliest times. In the very ancient Aramaic version, the Syriac "Peshitta" the phrase is translated "give us the bread of which we have need today." So even if the grocery list was lost or badly translated, the Greek phrase “ton arton ton epiousion” means "bread necessary for the day." The only definitive way we have of knowing that epiousion means “daily” is, you guessed it! TRADITION! I could come along with a theory that epiousion really means “whole wheat” and if you are in the sola scriptura crowd, you have no way of refuting me unless of course you refer to TRADITION!

People regularly ask me for the most accurate translation of the Bible. There is no such thing. I tell them that they should learn Greek. It’s easy. Every three-year-old in ancient Athens could speak it. (Actually I learned beginning ancient Greek by teaching it for 25 years at a university, but I’m a little slow.) Even if you learn ancient Greek, you’ve still got a problem. The world has changed. You can never put yourself back into the context of those times.

For instance, the Scriptures talk about the denarius. It was one day’s wage for an average worker at the time of Christ. That should make it a simple equivalent to about, say $70 to $90 bucks. If a person is making around the minimum wage these days, he can probably go to a big box store and buy a couple shirts. At the time of Christ, a man may have owned only a few shirts in his whole life. Cloth was not made on machines by slave labor as in our times. It was made inch by inch on homemade looms and was incredibly expensive. The Bible talks about wheat and barley and oil and water, all of which were in short supply. There was no middle class to speak of. It was a different world. Words change meaning in ways deeper than we can fathom.

Let’s take love, for instance. It’s a fairly important word in the Bible. Ancient Romans believed what we call love was immoral. Yes, you heard me, immoral! They were stoics and love made you vulnerable to the control of another, hence it was immoral. Much of what we call love today is, even by our own standards, immoral. The Bible tells us that “God is Love” and “Love one another” “Love endures forever.” It would seem to be very important to understand what love is.

I remember back in the groovy sixties, which I can vaguely remember, there was a new religious group on campus at Watsamata U. Called the “Children of God.” They were very popular. They stressed the texts of Scripture that taught “God is Love.” Their founder, David Berg, who called himself Moses David, was quite fond of discipling charming under-grads of the non-male gender. He taught the “Law of Love.” If a person's actions were not intentionally hurtful to others those actions were allowed by the Bible. So, if it was real, unselfish love, it was okay. They practiced what they called “polyamory” which means lots of partners. Same gender “intimate” relationships between women were allowed because they were not specifically forbidden by the Bible, but similar male relationships, clearly prohibited by the Bible, were sinful. It seems that the Rev. Berg had some interesting issues.

You may now pick your jaw up off the floor. I can hear you saying, “How ridiculous! That’s absurd. Everybody knows that the Bible doesn’t say that!” Why is Rev. Berg wrong? Who’s to say that he is misinterpreting the word “love” or “agape”? His interpretation is every bit as good as mine. He can define the word “love,” that central word of the New Testament, as well as I can, as well as you can or as well as Billy Graham can. Who’s to say? The exact same thing happened during the reformation.

"In 1534, the Melchiorites, a group of Anabaptists, captured the German city of M√ľnster. They immediately burned all books except the Bible, banned the use of money and seized the property of non-believers. They killed Protestants and Catholics and practiced polygamy and sexual excess. Their leader, John of Leyden, had sixteen wives. As to be expected, they proclaimed the Day of Judgment was close at hand.” (Quoted from ‘Early Modern History, Lecture 4: The Impact of Luther and the Radical Reformation’) And why not? Luther had declared every man his own pope, and so it remains today.

If you are Catholic, your answer to these questions is very easy. We have a consistent history of teaching which is carefully guarded by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. As our Lord Jesus intended and still intends, the Pope is the guardian of meaning. The words may change, but the meaning is unchanging and the teaching authority that Christ gave Peter tells us what the meaning is and has always been.

People are fond of saying “just the Bible. I only want to believe what the Bible says! No new doctrines!!!” If you adhere to the precise words of Scripture as it was written, you lose meaning as the meaning of words shift. In the Scriptures “agape” meant a certain type of love. Christians used the word to mean sacrificial love. In modern Greek, agape can mean a lot of things. A young Hellenic swain might use the word in a way that the apostle never intended, “S’agapo” can mean “I love you.” If you assume that word meanings remain the same, you are going to have problems.

“I want to know what the word meant at the time of Christ!” Scholars argue endlessly about the topic, but the soft spoken Bavarian in Rome, who is actually a very accomplished scholar, has the right and the duty to tell us what it means. This is what it always meant. This is what it will always mean, though the words may change. I have known people who search for scholars and pastors who will let them marry their eighth wife because that scholar or pastor has found a new meaning for an ancient word. You can choose the scholar or the preacher or the snake oil salesman who agrees with you. I will take the quiet, white-haired Bavarian who sits on the throne of Peter.

Remember, Jesus said “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” Jn 6:12 and that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” Jn 21:25 These words and deeds were entrusted to St. Peter and his successors, and despite their many human weaknesses and even sins, they have passed down the faith unchanged from the very first century of Christianity.

So, Principle #7:


Next Week:


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......)