Is Jesus a “Second Moses”?

Moses and Cross

Note: this is my latest article for Catholic Answers Magazine (online). You can read it at the CAMO site here.  

As part of my graduate studies in New Testament, I had the opportunity to study in Israel and to work for two summers at an archaeological dig in Jerusalem. During my academic studies in the Holy Land, I focused in part on the many Jewish-Christian texts that were produced in the first few centuries A.D. Undoubtedly, the finest example of these works is the first book that appears in the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew.

Although the vast majority of scholars believe Mark was the first Gospel written, Matthew comes first in the Gospels’ canonical order. Why is this? One satisfying answer is that Matthew serves as a natural bridge between the Old Testament and the New. Matthew is certainly the most Jewish of the Gospels, written primarily to convince those from a Hebrew background that Jesus is the Messiah. One of the ways Matthew accomplishes this is by comparing of Moses with Jesus.

Indeed, Matthew makes heavy use of Moses typology in his Gospel, showing that Jesus is a new and greater Moses. The parallels between Jesus and Moses begin with Matthew’s infancy narrative.

Like the infant Moses, the infant Jesus experiences an attempt on his life by a ruler bent on preserving his own kingdom: Pharaoh, in the case of Moses, and Herod the Great in the case of Christ. Herod’s slaughter of the infant males in Bethlehem’s vicinity evokes Pharaoh’s attempt to kill the Hebrew males (Exod. 1:15-2:10).

Like Moses fleeing from Pharaoh (Exod. 2:11-15), Jesus was forced to flee into Egypt for safety from the wrath of Herod and emerged from there to deliver his people. Moses returned from his desert sojourn with his wife and sons to Egypt (Exod. 4:20). Joseph returned with his wife and son from Egypt to Israel (Matt. 2:21). Moses would deliver the Israelites from bondage to Pharaoh, employing signs and miracles. Jesus delivered his people from the power of a greater oppressor, Satan, also displaying miraculous signs. This is emphasized by Jesus’ healings and especially by his exorcisms.

Jesus fasted for forty days and nights before teaching the new Law of God on a mountain (Matt. 4); Moses did the same (Deut. 9:9). Just as Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Decalogue, Jesus ascends a mountain to bring forth a new Law from God in fulfillment of the Old Covenant.

As Moses was given Ten Commandments, Jesus presents his disciples with ten beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12). As Catholics, we are used to hearing about the “eight beatitudes”, but following what is traditionally numbered as the eighth beatitude, there are actually two more (Matt. 5:10–12):

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (traditionally, the eighth beatitude).

Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (ninth beatitude).

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you (tenth beatitude).

This tenth beatitude is in a somewhat different form than the others, beginning not with “Blessed” (Gr. makarios) but with the two imperatives “Rejoice and be glad.” The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin term beatus, which means “blessed” or “happy.” Since “rejoice” or “be glad” are synonymous with being “blessed,” we have in all likelihood ten beatitudes, consistent with Matthew’s Moses motif.

The five major teaching sections given by Jesus in Matthew (the Sermon on the Mount, in chapters 5-7; the Missionary Discourse in chapter 10; the Community Discourse in chapter 18; and the Eschatological Discourse in chapters 24-25) are meant to correspond to the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch. Even within the Sermon on the Mount, five “antitheses” are presented (“You have heard it said…but I say to you”), where Jesus demonstrates how his new law of the kingdom fulfills the law given to Moses.

It has also been proposed by some scholars that the entire Gospel has a five-book arrangement (3-7; 8-10; 11-13; 14-18; 19-25). Each “book” contains material on what Jesus said and did, followed by a formula of conclusion (7:28-29; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1), with the infancy and passion narratives, respectively, serving as bookends. This is far from a consensus view, as many alternative structures for the Gospel as a whole have also been proffered.

Read the rest of the article here.

 

Discoveries that Shed Light on Jesus and His World

Cale at CA Desk

Check out this interview I did with Catholic Answers Live about Jesus, the Bible, and archaeology. There’s so much to cover here, and I feel like we only scratched the surface. This stuff is important, because it helps us authenticate the New Testament’s portrait of Jesus of Nazareth, and fleshes out our understanding of the context in which Jesus lived. All in all, what archaeology has discovered concerning the Gospels reminds us of their verisimilitude – the fact that they are rooted in historical reality, and cohere with the way things actually were in first-century Galilee.

Here’s the audio stream:

Quick Q and A on the Trinity

TrinityQ. This past Sunday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Why is this doctrine so important?

A. There are many reasons, but most prominent among them is this: it’s who God is. God is a Trinity of Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is actually God’s “name”. In the Scriptures, one’s name defines a person’s identity.

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus urges his followers to “(g)o therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:19-20, emphasis mine).

Notice Jesus says, “name”, not “names”. There are not three Gods here; there is one God, but three divine Persons within the Godhead. Their essence – what they are, essentially, is divine. Divinity is what they are “made of”, so to speak. In the case of Jesus, of course, who was the divine Logos from all eternity, he “wedded” a human nature to his preexisting divine nature at the moment of the Incarnation.

Q. So many still find the Trinity difficult to understand or believe in.

A. I’ve got two pieces of news for you, which may be surprising: first, one must believe in the Trinity to hold the Catholic faith. It is a truth revealed by God. On a somewhat practical level, if you have the question of God wrong, you’ll never get anything else right about the faith. To use a management term, it’s a “top-down” process.

Secondly, don’t worry if you don’t completely understand the Trinity, because no one does. That’s right – no saint or theologian – not even the great St Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelic Doctor” – has ever claimed that they fully understood the Trinity. In fact, if they had claimed that they did, they would have been guilty of heresy. Why?

If you could completely understand the Trinity, that would mean that you were greater than God, which is obviously not the case. Your finite, created mind, however intelligent it may be, cannot comprehend God in his infinity. However, that does not mean that we can’t know anything about the Trinity.

One can know something is true without being able to perfectly understand or explain it: for example, I know electricity works: I flip the switch, and the room lights up. Can I explain it? No. I don’t know how the energy moves throughout the circuitry, etc. I just know the truth of electricity, that it works. In the same way, we can be certain about whatever God chooses to reveal about himself, even if we can’t fully comprehend it – and what he has revealed is that he is a Trinity of persons.

Pentecost Primer

Pentecost2

Q. This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. Could you explain its background?

A. When Pentecost arrives each year in the liturgical calendar, most Christians immediately think of the dramatic gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on the Church, Peter’s impassioned preaching, and the mass conversion occasioned by this event, as recorded in Acts 2.

Many people are surprised to learn that the feast of Pentecost did not originate at this time. It has its roots in the Old Testament period. It’s actually one of the great Jewish festivals in the liturgical cycles of Israel’s worship. It was during this feast that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to believers in Jesus the Messiah.

Q. Was the festival of Pentecost known by another name during the Old Covenant period? What was its original purpose?

A. This feast was also called the feast of Weeks. It arrived seven weeks after the festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread came to an end. The name “Pentecost” is a Greek word that refers to the fifty-day period (Lev 23:15-22; Deut 16:9-12).

What the festival of Weeks/Pentecost celebrated was the great wheat and barley harvest that took place in the summertime (Lev 23:10-15). The Hebrews has different names for the months of the year at that time, but this took place roughly at the end of April and the beginning of May.

Q. How can we relate the Old Covenant feast of Pentecost to that of the New?

A. There is much that could be said here, but let me focus on just a few points. In the New Testament, Jesus is presented as a new and greater Moses. Just as Moses dispenses the Spirit on his elders (Num 11:11-29), Jesus imparts the Holy Spirit to his Apostles (Jn 20:19-23, which is the Gospel reading for today).

Weeks/Pentecost was also linked in the Jewish tradition with the covenant made to Noah, which sheds light on how the Holy Spirit was gifted to humanity as a whole (Acts 2:5-11). Pentecost also, of course, is a celebration of the “first fruits” of the grain harvest, given by God. Jesus often spoke in agricultural parables of the world as a “field of souls”. Those early believers in Christ were indeed part of the “first fruits” of people harvested from the world, to belong to God for all eternity.

The Importance of the Old Testament

OT-NT

It’s so very important for Christians to study the Old Testament. When learning the Scriptures, many people want to “skip to the good part” in their view. They want to go right to the end of the book, the New Testament, the part of the Bible that speaks directly of Jesus.

This view is shortsighted for several reasons.

First, the ultimate subject of all of Scripture is Jesus Christ. He is the living Word of God, after all. As St. Augustine so famously said, “The New Testament is in the Old, concealed; the Old Testament is in the New, revealed.”

Secondly, just because it’s called the “Old” Testament, doesn’t mean it’s old news.. Our society doesn’t like anything that’s labeled “old” – and sadly, this can refer to people as well as products. Marketers are always seeking to promote what is “new” and allegedly improved. This is why many now refer to the Old Testament as the “Hebrew Scriptures” instead. They may speak of events that happened long ago, but God still speaks to us in a fresh way, as relevant still to our time as this morning’s newspaper. Much more so, in fact, because it is a message from the Almighty.

Third, in order to understand the New Testament properly, we must have at least a basic understanding of the Old Testament. So many times in the New Testament, we read that Jesus came to “fulfill” Scripture. What is meant by that, obviously, are the Scriptures of the Old Covenant, more commonly known as the Old Testament (the word “covenant” means the same thing as “testament”; testamentum is the Latin translation of “covenant”). Just as in mathematics, one must understand basic calculus before moving on to trigonometry, one must understand the Old Testament before one can fully understand the New.

Why Are the Bible’s Easter Accounts Different?

Empty Tomb

Note: This is my first article for Catholic Answers Magazine Online (or CAMO for short), and I hope you enjoy it. Catholic Answers is an organization I’ve long admired, and it has been a privilege getting to know the staff there over the past year, especially during the time I guest hosted Catholic Answers Live. Many thanks to the team there for publishing this piece.

Anyone who has read the Gospels in a more than cursory manner has come across what appear to be contradictions between them as they report the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. This is no less true when we consider how they describe the most important event of all: the resurrection of Christ. If this event is not historical, says St. Paul, “our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Speaking of St. Paul: before we consider apparent contradictions in the Gospels’ Easter accounts, we must remember that the Gospels are not our earliest written accounts of Jesus’ resurrection: those would be the letters of Paul. Even if the Gospels had never been composed, there would still be plausible literary testimony of the event, evidence with which a skeptic must deal. 1 Corinthians 15, which discusses the Resurrection, was written as early as A.D. 53, most likely prior to the publishing of at least some of the Gospels. What’s more, this chapter contains an even earlier ancient “creed” of sorts, crystallizing Easter faith in just a few lines (1 Cor. 15:3–7).

Even though the Gospels are not our earliest or only written sources on Easter, discrepancies in how they report resurrection phenomena have caused many to call into question their historical authenticity.

The empty tomb accounts

In Mark (which the majority of biblical scholars contend was the first Gospel composed), when the women disciples of Jesus arrive at the tomb early on Easter Sunday, the stone has already been rolled away. A “young man” in dazzling raiment (in all likelihood an angel) is inside the tomb. In Luke’s account, two men are inside. Matthew’s account has Mary Magdalene and another Mary arriving at a still-sealed tomb, but an earthquake suddenly occurs, whereupon an angel descends and rolls back the heavy stone. Three Gospels, and seemingly three different accounts.

Mark, Matthew, and Luke also give us slightly different lists of exactly which women were present. Mark has these women respond in fear, and states that they said nothing about this to anyone. In Matthew’s account, the two women meet Jesus on their way to inform the disciples of the Easter news. Luke does not say they ran into Jesus but rather that they immediately told the disciples, who didn’t buy their story. Same Gospels, and again, the accounts seem to differ.

So, why the differences?

Ancient biographies

As much as we might want the Gospels to conform to our modern conventions of history writing, they don’t read like contemporary police reports. But that doesn’t mean they don’t contain reliable accounts. In fact, they are perfectly consonant with how the ancients recorded history. The key is to understand the literary conventions of the time, which was  the mid-first century A.D. ,  and how the Gospels fit that mold.

Read the rest here.

5 Reasons to Believe in Jesus’ Bodily Resurrection

Risen

Q. This Easter season, how can I convince my friends that Jesus physically rose from the dead? It’s been especially difficult for me to do this because my friends are either a) not Christians, or b) they don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God. They simply think it’s a merely human book that contains things Christians believe.

A. The good news is that it is possible to show your friends plausible evidence that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. And you can do this without even appealing to the authority of the Church, or to the Bible as the Word of God. It’s called the “Minimal Facts” approach, popularized by Dr. Gary Habermas. There are five historical facts concerning the Resurrection of Jesus that must be accounted for, no matter what one believes. They are:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion. This is an event of history that is recorded outside the Bible. Many non-Christian historians, such as Josephus and Tacitus, wrote about it.

2. The tomb of Jesus was empty on Easter Sunday. All parties, both Christians and the enemies of Christ, agree that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on Easter Sunday. The fact that opponents of the Christian message admit this gives us the very best type of evidence for our case, called “enemy attestation”.

3. Jesus’ disciples were willing to suffer and die for their belief in the Resurrection. While many people are willing to die for what they believe is true, no one willingly dies for what they know to be a lie. The Apostles knew whether or not they had encountered the Risen Jesus in the flesh.

4. The Church persecutor known as Saul the Pharisee converted to the Catholic Christian faith, became Paul the Apostle, and was martyred for his faith in the Risen Jesus. This is an unimpeachable historical fact.

5. The skeptic James, a relative of Jesus, converted because the Risen Jesus appeared to him. James became the Bishop of Jerusalem and a martyr.

There are many more facts that we could mention, such as the evidence of the appearances of the Risen Jesus in his physical body to various individuals and groups , including 500 people at one time. This shatters the erroneous theory that Jesus’ disciples were ‘hallucinating” when they thought they saw Jesus. Hallucinations are individual occurrences and cannot be shared. Plus, they do not account for the empty tomb.

Whatever explanation one comes up with to attempt to explain our “minimal facts” listed above, one’s explanation must account for all of these facts, and must do so more persuasively than alternative arguments. The only explanation that accounts for all of these facts in such a manner is the conclusion that Jesus was Resurrected.

My EWTN Journey Home Program Re-air

Many thanks to everyone who reached out to me from places far and wide this past week, after EWTN rebroadcasted Marcus Grodi’s interview with me on the Journey Home program. I’m very humbled and thankful that my story has been helpful to so many of you who are on your own journeys of Catholic discovery. Every now and again EWTN re-airs the episode, and I’m always amazed by how many people – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – watch this show worldwide. I’ve been having some particularly great conversations with a Protestant pastor from my own hometown, who is very thoughtfully considering the claims of the Catholic Church. The Journey Home has been marvellously used by the Lord to draw people closer to him and to his Church.

Marcus Grodi is an absolute prince of a guy, and his passion for souls is so evident to anyone who’s ever interacted with him. He’s truly one of those people who are even more impressive in person than what you imagine they might be like.

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is what empowered the early Christians to be his witnesses in the world. The Journey Home program’s enduring popularity testifies to the power of personal encounters with Jesus, and their ability to inspire others to seek him. In these days when we are about to commemorate the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection, people are often more open than usual to discussing spiritual things. Consider God’s artistry in weaving the tapestry of your life, and how sharing your story with someone you care about might draw them to the Master during the upcoming Easter season.

New Parish Mission Talks: Homecoming

At the Homecoming event at St Mary's (with Fr. Tom Lynch)

At the Homecoming event at St Mary’s (with Fr. Tom Lynch)

We all have loved ones who have left the Catholic Church.

They are our children. Our grandchildren. Siblings and other relatives. Friends, neighbours and coworkers. Our hearts break for them as they brave the wilderness of life, outside the hearth and home of the Catholic Church.

How do we bring them home? And why did they leave in the first place?

Understanding the answer your loved one gives to that last question is just as important as the first — if we don’t grasp the real reasons people leave the Church, we’ll never be effective in our attempts to help them home.

This is the subject of my band-new parish mission event called Homecoming: How to Bring Family and Friends Home to the Catholic Church.
I just returned from giving this Mission for the first time at one of Canada’s most beautiful and historic parishes, Saint Mary’s Church in Lindsay, Ontario. I’ll be hitting the road again very soon to give it again at two more parishes this spring. And now, you can schedule this event at your parish. Just contact me and we’ll get the ball rolling. I expect that available dates will fill up quickly, so don’t wait — the eternal souls of your loved ones are worth every effort we can make to help them. And I’m confident that what you’ll learn from these presentations will help.

I look forward to connecting with you, and speaking for your parish or group!

“Hail, Full of Grace”: On the Solemnity of the Annunciation

Annunciation di Corciano

Today’s Gospel on this Solemnity of the Annunciation is the famous account of Mary’s encounter with Gabriel from Luke 1:26-38. It includes some indirect proof for two major Marian dogmas of the Church – the Immaculate Conception (which was recently celebrated on Dec. 8), and the perpetual virginity of Our Lady. It also gives us part of the biblical roots of the “Hail Mary”.

When the archangel Gabriel greets Mary, it marks the only recorded incident in scripture that an angel greets someone by their title, not their name. “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). This, of course, is the first line of the “Hail Mary”, with the second line, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”, from Luke 1:42. So much for the ridiculous argument that the prayer is “unbiblical”.

But what of those dogmas? Speaking of the phrase, “Full of Grace”, in the original Greek of Luke’s Gospel, it is an interesting term: kecharitomene. It means, literally, “one who has been made full of God’s grace” (biblical translations that render this term “highly favored one”, or something to that effect, don’t cut it) . It’s a past perfect term, meaning that, at some point in the past, Mary was made perfectly full of God’s grace. This condition extends out into the future, into eternity. This is exactly what the Immaculate Conception is all about – that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin. If one is perfectly full of the grace of God, there is no room for sin.

With respect to the perpetual virginity, Gabriel explains to Mary that she will bear the Messiah, and at this point he has said nothing about Jesus being conceived by the Holy Spirit. Yet, Mary says, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Lk 1:34). A very strange question for a young woman to ask, who, as we have already been told, was engaged to be married. Unless, that is, she had already intended to remain a virgin, consecrating herself wholly to God.

This post was originally published as “Mary of the Annunciation”