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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:

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.

Sunday Scriptures: Christ the King

 

Q. This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. Can you explain how this relates to the second reading, which is taken from the Book of Revelation?

A. In the Old Testament, the Kings of Israel (think of David and Solomon) and the priests of Israel (think of someone like Caiaphas, the High Priest who condemned Jesus to death, along with Pilate), were different individuals with different roles. In fact, the Essenes (the Jewish sect that lived, among other places, at Qumran and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls) expected two different Messiahs to come: a Priestly Messiah, and a Kingly Messiah. They actually expected the Kingly Messiah to wage war against Rome, and that he would personally slay “The King of the Kittim” (the Roman Emperor himself) in the final battle.

Jesus radically combines (and redefines) the roles of King and Priest in his own person. In fact, Jesus is both Priest and Victim, the sacrifice and the one who offers it: “Jesus Christ is the faithful witness” (Revelation 1:5). The word “witness” in the original Greek text means “martyr” – one who offers one’s life for God. Unlike the Kingly Messiah envisioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jesus does not attempt to kill the Roman official, Pilate, but instead allows himself to be killed as a sacrifice for sin. This is why Jesus says to Pilate (as we read in today’s Gospel): “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36).

Jesus is indeed King – not just over Israel, but over all nations: “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5). Jesus received this kingship from God the Father, which is why Revelation says that “he is coming amid the clouds” (Revelation 1:7). This is actually a reference to today’s first reading from the Old Testament Book of Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14), which speaks of “one like a son of man” (remember, “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favourite self-designation on the Gospels), “coming with the clouds of heaven” to receive “dominion, glory, and kingship” from “the Ancient of Days” (God the Father). The Daniel text says that “all peoples, nations, and languages serve him”. This will indeed be fulfilled at Jesus’ Second Advent.

Q. How can we apply these truths to our lives today?

A. Today’s second reading reminds us that Jesus “has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6). By virtue of our baptism, we all share in Christ’s “offices” of King and Priest. And we must exercise these offices the way Jesus did: we don’t “Lord it over people”, but rather lay down our lives for others by serving them as Jesus did. Everything we do – in our spiritual life, our work, our relationships, and in sharing our faith – must be united by this concept of serving God and others. This is our priestly sacrifice for God. And in Jesus’ Kingdom, “to serve is to reign.”

Bible Study (Genesis) Thursday; The Faith Explained Conference this Saturday!

GenesisYou’ve no doubt heard about The Faith Explained Conference this Saturday, Sept. 27, featuring Cardinal Thomas Collins, Dr Craig Evans, and me. If you don’t have tickets yet, grab them at this link: http://goo.gl/Rdgl6M, but hurry, as online sales will end soon.

However, that’s not the only big event we’ve got this week: if you’re in the Toronto area and are looking for a Catholic Bible Study, join us this Thursday night at 7:30 at St Justin Martyr parish in Markham as we begin The Faith Explained Bible Study of the book of Genesis.

The Bible’s first book is endlessly fascinating, and we’ll be exploring a lot of important questions people ask about it. Just what does Genesis teach, for example, about creation?

One of the best Catholic scholars out there, Dr Brant Pitre, has put together a good shortlist of what we need to believe about creation, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). The axiom about Church teaching as an interpretation of Scripture holds here:

Fundamental Catholic Doctrines on Creation

1. Creation is a work of the holy Trinity (CCC 290-92)

2. The world was created for the glory of God (293)

3. God created the world from his free will and divine love (295)

4. God created the world ex nihilo (“out of nothing”) (296-99)

5. God created an ordered and good world (299)

6. God transcends creation and is present to it (300)

7. God upholds and sustains creation at every moment (301)

8. God’s providence guides creation towards its perfection (302-305)

9. God gives his creatures free will to share in his providence (306-308)

10. If Creation is good, why does evil exist? (309)

a. Reality of physical evil (310)
b. Reality of moral evil (311)
c. God can bring good out of an evil (312-314)

(source: BrantPitre.com)

For much more, join us for our series on Thursday evenings.

Q and A on Noah

Russell Crowe as NoahQ. The movie Noah, starring Russell Crowe, has inspired me to look into the biblical Noah. What does the Bible say about Noah and the Flood in Genesis 6:5-8:22?

A. It’s important to realize, as scholar John Walton reminds us, that the biblical account of the Flood has been “watered down” by the way most of us learned about it in Sunday School. Kids love boats and animals, so most childrens’ books and materials about the Flood focus on these things.

As we get older, we should realize that the main message about the Flood is not about Noah, the animals, the ark, or the water. It is about God. In fact, Noah never speaks at all in the account of the Flood. We only hear what God thinks about Noah – that he was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). This is the standard we should aim for, too. God notices and cares when people try to live for him in the midst of a depraved culture – like the one Noah lived in, or like the one we live in today.

Q. What does the Flood account teach us about God?

A. Saint Peter, writing in the New Testament, teaches that the Flood reminds us of the approaching final judgment (2 Peter 2:5; 3:5-6). Walton points out four facts we can learn from this:

1. “The Lord knows how to rescue godly people from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9).

2.  The only reason God is delaying the final judgment is to allow more people time to turn back to God. But this is a “limited-time offer” that will not last forever: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

3. The Flood meant destruction for the wicked, but a new world for those who were saved. The same will occur in the future: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).

4. These future realities should impact the way we live our lives today: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11).

3 Simple Steps to Kickstart Your Faith in Lent

images-1A question I get asked a lot, especially because of my work with new converts, is “What are the things I should be doing to live an effective Christian life?” What these people are essentially looking for is a skeletal structure for their life, so that their faith becomes integrated into it, not an add-on.

So, here’s my 3-Step short list (Lent is a perfect time to start):

1. Daily prayer. “Love is deeds, not sweet words”. If you said you loved your spouse, or your best friend, but never spent any time with that person, it would ring hollow. Likewise, we must enter into God’s “orbit” by taking time out for the most important person in our lives. Start with 5 minutes; work up to two 15-minute sessions, once in the morning, and once in the afternoon or evening. Two 30-minute sessions is the ultimate goal, but baby steps at first.

2. Frequent the Sacraments. Sunday Mass is not heroic, it’s the bare minimum. If you truly believe that Jesus is substantially present in the Host – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – than why not receive him more frequently? Daily would be the ultimate goal, but again, baby steps at first. Try attending one daily Mass outside of Sunday, and see the difference it makes in your day. Confession should be monthly (at barest minimum). Every two weeks is ideal, and weekly would be the ultimate goal. Judging from the length of the Communion lines, and the brevity of the Confession queue, we’re either living in the greatest generation of saints ever seen on earth, or the most delusional folks ever.

3. Study your Faith. Be formed. Be informed. Most people have fallen for a caricature of the Catholic faith, or of Jesus himself. Why not get the info “straight from the horse’s mouth”, so to speak? Read the Catechism. Read the Bible – not from cover to cover, either! At least not at first. Start with one of the four Gospels, the biographies of Jesus’ life. You’ll meet the real Jesus there. Move on to a couple of Paul’s letters. Read the New Testament first. Then tackle the Old. Don’t try to read the OT from cover-to-cover either, or you’ll get bogged down somewhere around the diteary laws of Leviticus. Join a good Catholic Bible Study program (I teach one at St Justin Martyr Parish in Toronto – just sayin’. You’d be most welcome.).

3.5 (Bonus!) Get a Spiritual Director. If someone has a (good) spiritual director, I don’t worry about them. Friend, you need a coach. And so do I. You are not objective about yourself! Ask your parish priest for a recommendation. Opus Dei priests are superb at tailoring a Christian life plan for people who live in the middle of the world. Worth checking out.

What do you think? It’s not an exhaustive list, of course, but what would your own list look like?  

 

Jesus: Lawmaker, Not Breaker

Q. In this Sunday’s Gospel, we have the most important section of the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Why is this material so crucial?

A. Matthew is a very Jewish Gospel. It was not the first Gospel to be written (that, in all likelihood, would be the Gospel of Mark), but it is placed first in the New Testament canon because it is a natural bridge between the Old and New Covenants (in fact, the words “testament” and “covenant” mean the same thing).

Matthew highlights the mission of Jesus to Gentiles, to be sure (cf. 28:19-20). But he is striving to show to his fellow Jews that Jesus was not, as he had been accused of being in Jewish circles, a lawbreaker – that is, he did not circumvent the law of the Old Testament. This is why Matt 5:17 is so crucial: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

In fact, when Jesus says, “Do not think…” he is referencing the Maccabean martyrs, who also preserved the law, despite hideous tortures at the hands of the pagan tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes: “But do not think that you will go unpunished for having tried to fight against God!” (2 Macc 7:19).

Q. But if Jesus isn’t “changing”, or altering the law, why does he give a series of examples prefaced by the formula, “You have heard it said…But I say to you…”?

A. What Jesus is doing here is bringing out the true meaning of the law – its correct interpretation, contra the erroneous takes on the law given by popular teachers of Jesus’ day. These examples are known as the “antitheses” of the Sermon on the Mount.

Far from abolishing the law, Jesus’ demands are even more strict than what was commonly taught in the Judaism of that time. Jesus deals with the inner attitudes of the heart, from which sins spring (cf. Matt 15:19). In this way, he highlights the true intent of the law, which was to transform the inner person, not simply to outlaw certain behaviors.

In one of the antitheses, for example, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Ex 20:14 = Deut 5:18). But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28). Jesus then brings up the topic of divorce and remarriage in 5:31-32 (which Jesus says is adultery). This is very interesting in light of John the Baptist’s criticism of Herod Antipas’ illicit marriage to his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, for which John paid with his life (Matt 14:1-12). Jesus strikes at the heart of the issue by correctly pegging the cause of adulterous divorce and remarriage as lust, from which indeed much sexual sin springs.

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Pope Pius IX, who defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854)

Pope Pius IX, who defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854)

Today’s great Solemnity of the Immaculate conception of Mary is usually celebrated on December 8. However, due to the second Sunday of Advent falling on that date yesterday, the Solemnity was communicated to today this year. And it’s certainly a doctrine that is misunderstood by many.

The Immaculate Conception is not the Virginal Conception of Jesus. Nor does it have anything to do with this, sports fans.

Here’s the actual definition, from Blessed Pope Pius IX, “Pio Nono”:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX solemnly defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 1854.

the basis for the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the New Testament is well-known, but today I’d like to share about one of the ways the doctrine is foreshadowed in the Old Testament. In his masterful devotional series, In Conversation with God, Francis Fernandez writes about Mary as the new Temple in which God dwells:

In the litany of Loreto we call upon Mary, House of Gold, the abode of greatest conceivable splendor. When a family turns a house into a home by taking up residence there, the place reflects the individual qualities of the people. They accentuate the beauty of the dwelling place. Just like the Holy Spirit dwelling in Our Lady, the home and its inhabitants make up a particular unity, in much the same way as the body and its garments do. The foremost Tabernacle in the Old Testament, later to be the Temple, is the House of God, where the meeting of Yahweh and his people takes place. When Solomon makes the decision to build the Temple, the Prophets specify that the best available materials are to be used – abundant cedar wood on the inside and clad with gold on the outside. The most highly skilled craftsmen are to work on its construction.

Before God made known his coming into the world in the fullness of time, He prepared Mary as the suitable creature within whom He would dwell for nine months, from the moment of his Incarnation until his birth in Bethlehem. Evidence of God’s power and love show forth in his creation. Mary is the House of Gold, the new Temple of God, and is adorned with so great a beauty that no greater perfection is possible. The grace of her Immaculate Conception, including all the graces and gifts God ever bestowed on her soul, are directed towards the fulfillment of her divine Maternity.

God’s gift of supernatural life to her exceeds that of all the Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins combined. It reaches far beyond the experience of anyone who has ever lived, or ever will live, until the end of time. God dwells in Our Lady more than in all the angels and saints, since the foundation of the world, taken together. Truly God has prepared a human vessel in keeping with the dignity of his eternal Son. When we say that Mary has an almost infinite dignity, we mean that among all God’s creatures she is the one who enjoys the most intimate relationship with the Blessed Trinity. Her absolute honor is the highest possible and her majesty is in every way unique. She is the firstborn and most highly favored daughter of the Father, as she has often been called throughout the history of the Church, and as has been reiterated by the Second Vatican Council, Our Lady’s blood relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, leads her to a singular relationship with him.

Mary is indeed the new Temple and Tabernacle of God.

The Israel Chronicles: The Tel Dan Inscription

imagesOver the next while, I’ll be sharing some things I learned on my recent study trip to Israel this past summer. As well as taking a course taught by my program supervisor, the world-famous Dr. Craig Evans, I also had the chance to travel around “the land” with the good professor and another grad student, Greg Monette. The three of us worked on an archaeological dig at Mt. Zion (more on that later), and met with scholars and archaeologists at universities and at other digs, like the impressive project at Magdala.

For starters, I’d like to talk about the Tel Dan inscription, which we saw at the very impressive Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This important archaeological discovery, an inscription referring to King David, was found during the 1993-94 excavations at Tel Dan (in modern-day northern Israel). Some scholars had argued in the past that King David, his son Solomon, and indeed the entire line of Davidic kings chronicled in the Old Testament are nothing more than fictional characters, invented by the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures. These critics alleged that David did not preside over a kingdom that originated circa the 10th century BCE, as the Bible states. They further contended that there would be no possible way people of that time would have been literate enough to record the chronicles of the period. Archaeology, however, has firmly put these critics in their place.

The inscription at Tel Dan seems to have been commissioned by the King of Syria, and dates to the 9th century BCE. Written in Aramaic, it refers to the “House of David”. The Syrian King is essentially boasting about how his army defeated that of the the legendary House of David. Why would he do that if no such person as David, and no such kingdom existed? Clearly, this is good evidence – written in stone, no less – of the existence of a Davidic line of kings.

Skeptics have also denied David’s vast kingdom, contending that David was nothing more than a local, tribal chief. The fact that the Tel Dan inscription is from northern Israel (near today’s disputed Syria-Israel border), far from the Davidic dynasty’s headquarters in Judea and Jerusalem, would seem to mitigate against that assertion. As well, excavations in the oldest part of the city of Jerusalem have uncovered a vast, centralized, government complex. Artefacts within have been dated to the 10th century BCE, the era of David and Solomon.