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Winter, 1999 - Vol.4, No. 1




Villa Park, IL, Jan - Mar., 1999. It's time to get back on my soapbox. I've been off it so long that I need a good spiritual cleansing. But first, some newsworthy items.

News from the Home Front.

Taking the Bible literally?

Who Takes the Bible more literally, the Catholic Church, or Evangelical Protestants? Let's examine some facts as I've encountered them.

When discussing the Eucharist with a friend, I asked "You say you believe in what the Bible says, but you don't believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist." Her response was that the Aramaic word that Jesus said - the "is" in "This is my body" - really means is like'. Yet, how many times in those same three Gospels do we read the words "The kingdom of heaven is like..."? It seams that the authors knew how to put together a simile. But at the time, I didn't realize that the one Gospel that didn't mention the words of consecration at the last supper drove home the point so much more succinctly. John, chapter 6, gives us the discourse about Jesus' flesh being real food and His blood real drink.

On another occasion, I asked the question about Matthew 16: 15-19, Peter being the Rock, etc. The answer was that in the Greek - Matthew was written in Greek - the name Petros (small pebble) was given to Peter, and that Christ would build his church on this Petra (large rock), so obviously the first rock was Peter's faith, and the second was Christ himself. I did mention that Christ and the Apostles spoke in Aramaic, and that the name given in other areas was Cephas, but, again, I didn't know enough to really challenge the point at the time.

Well, let's take on this second point first, cause it may impact the way we look at the first point as we look at it second.

Thou art Rocky.

The Catholic Church seems to take the Bible very literally in regards to Peter's primacy among the twelve, and in respect to his having successors. Let's look at the five verses from Matt 16 that I mentioned.

15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18 And so I say to you, you are Peter (rock), and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Ok, point a) the Greek word for large rock, Petra is a feminine noun because, like some other languages, Spanish e.g., Greek attributes gender to inanimate things, and to the Greeks, it just seemed more feminine than masculine - go figure. Anyway, the author, in rendering the name did not want to give Peter a feminine name so he used a masculine form, but he still wanted to emphasize that Christ named Peter "Rock", so he used both forms.

Point b) Petros can mean rock or stone, but there is a very good Greek word for stones - lithoi - which was used in the gospels to describe stonings for instance, and when the devil tempted Jesus in the dessert to "change these stones (lithoi) into bread." Still, lithoi are larger than pebbles. The concept of Petros meaning small pebble is probably an exaggeration of the difference between what petra and petros mean.

Point c) As I mentioned, in Aramaic, the word kepha (kephas or cephas as it's transliterated in Greek - c.f. John 1:42) does not have the problem of gender. So what Christ actually said was more like "You are Kepha and upon this kepha I will build my church".

Point d) God gives new names sparingly. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, and in both of these cases, God made of them patriarchs - fathers of nations. Is it too big a leap to believe that Simon, now Peter, was to be patriarch of Christ's church?

Point n) The last point I'll make about Jesus naming Simon the Rock is a few comments from other sources. W.F Albright, in his commentary on Matthew1, states; "Peter as the Rock will be the foundation of the future community, the church. Jesus here uses Aramaic, and so, the only Aramaic word which would serve his purpose. In view of the background to verse 19, one must dismiss as confessional interpretation, any attempt to see this rock as meaning the faith or the confession of Peter."

R.T. France, in his Matthew commentary2, states: ... "The word rock, or Peter, refers not to his faith, but rather to his function as the foundation stone of the church."

(W.F. Albright and R. T. France are considered some of the greatest protestant New Testament scholars of this century.)

The above was centered on Jesus' choice of words in naming Peter, but let's look at what He said next. In the second half of verse 18, Jesus says He will build His Church on this rock (Peter), and that the gates of hell won't prevail against it. A powerful and important promise. In verse 19, He makes a point by point reference to Isaiah 22:22, in which Eliakim is given the appointment as master of the palace, (or prime minister as we might say today). "I will place the Key of the House of David on his shoulder. When he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open."

Here we can see not only the authority, the office that Peter was being given, but the succession of the office as well; the keys were being passed on to someone new. The keys of authority are never buried with a man who had held them, rather, they are passed on to another.

Another point of contention is whether Peter alone or all twelve apostles were receiving the keys. R.T. France, in the same work, says: "Verses 17 through 19 are addressed to Peter. They have been claimed by some to be a late addition to support an early claim to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Whether or not they give any such support, there is no textual evidence for their addition to the gospel after its original composition."

W.F Albright says; "To deny the pre-eminent position of Peter among the disciples, or in the early Christian community, is a denial of the evidence." Peter's pre-eminence is well supported by scripture. He is - by an order of magnitude - referred to by name in the gospels more than any other apostle. Very often, the group is called "Peter and the twelve". Peter is mentioned by name over 100 times. John is a distant second at about 30 times. In all four gospels, Peter is the first one mentioned when the twelve are listed, just as Judas is always last.

The very mention of Peter's faults - his three denials, his refusal to allow Jesus to wash his feet - points to his position and the respect he was held in by the New Testament authors: if he was of less importance, we wouldn't have heard so much about him. In fact, in reference to his three denials, Christ asks him three times to "Feed my lambs". Not all twelve, but Peter. In other words, Peter was being asked to be the primary shepherd of Christ's flock. In keeping with this, Peter's authority was shown when he was given the instruction to bring the church to the gentiles (cf. Acts 10) even if, again, God had to ask him three times (cf. Acts 10:9-16).

The disciples - the church at the time - still held that Christ's revelation was a fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, and as such, for the Chosen People alone. The only way that this gentile inclusion could have flown with the rest of the apostles, is if they considered Peter's word authoritative (cf. Acts 11:1-18).

This is like My Body?

Now that we've discussed the second issue, we can get back to the first: Is Christ really present in the Eucharist? Perhaps you noticed that my friend referenced the Aramaic words in the first issue and the Greek in the second issue. I find it interesting that she didn't think of the Aramaic argument when looking at the Petros, petra, Kepha difficulty, even though the Aramaic form can be found even in English translations. I don't believe she studied either of these languages, so she must be basing her interpretation on some authority other than herself or the "Bible alone". As the saying goes, every church has it's "pope". But what does this have to do with the Eucharist? Well, if you know which Church's Pope was put there by Christ, you can know that what it says about the real presence is founded on solid "Rock".

So how does the Church interpret the scriptures in connection with the last supper and John 6? The answer is literally! It's easy to leave room for a simile interpretation in the synoptic Gospels' accounts of the last supper, but you can't do it with John 6. It's too obvious that Jesus was pushing the issue.

Did it seem that the disciples were taking it as symbolic? Perhaps they did at the beginning,(cf John 6:34-42)where their chief complaint was that He said He came down from heaven, but then Jesus pushed the issue: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." (Jn 6:51)

They started to quarrel among themselves, and Jesus could have straightened everything out and let them know it was only a parable if that was the case, but at the risk of loosing many of his disciples, He chose to push it further by bringing His blood into the conversation:

53:Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 54:Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55:For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56:Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him."

An interesting point was made by Scott Hahn in a talk he gave on the Eucharist titled "The Fourth Cup"3. Gospel accounts of the last supper point to Jesus celebrating a Passover feast with the apostles, except that He didn't drink the last cup until just before He died on the cross. (the Hyssop soaked in sour wine was offered to Him and then He said "It is finished.") So his entire passion was part of the passover sacrifice for His Church. In other words, He was the unblemished lamb that was slain, but in the Passover ritual that lamb had to be not only slain and the blood sprinkled on the doorpost and lintels, but the lamb had to be consumed (eaten) in order to complete God's instructions about the feast.

Now that we've covered the first point second, I'd like to expand on the first point by bringing in a third point.

Sola Scriptura or Sola Verbum Dei?

Whether literally or otherwise, how do we know that the Bible is the inspired word of God? If you were to ask most Bible believing Christians why the bible is their sole authority on matters of faith, they are likely to point to some bible verses that support their position, but that's circular logic. It's sort of like a perpetual motion machine. As the song says, "How do I know? The Bible tells me so."

How does a Catholic know that the bible is the inspired word of God? Because the Church tells him so. But isn't that double circular logic? I mean, the bible says that Christ founded the Church etc., therefore the Church can decide which books are in the canon of Sacred scripture, which in turn says that Peter is the rock, and so on. But the bible is not the only thing the Church goes by. The church also accepts Sacred Tradition (the teaching of the Apostles as handed down through the millennia) as part of the Word of God.

Herein lies the beauty of Sola Verbum Dei: a reasonable man, Christian or not, can take the bible first of all as an historical work. He can examine it's literary style for authenticity as a record, see that the existing manuscripts are even closer in age to their original composition than say the writings of Cicero or Caesar.

Having established it's historical veracity, he can see what the books say that Jesus said and did, and decide from reason whether or not Jesus was who he said he was. For example, He is said to have risen from the dead, and if He didn't, then why were the first few centuries full of martyrs if it was just a hoax?

Having accepted the sayings as true, it can be used to demonstrate that Jesus established his church as we discussed way back in point number two, and see that this church has the authority to establish which books should be considered inspired. No circles here, just a direct reasonable line of thought.

So anyway, I hope you've enjoyed points 2 1 and 3. Its getting close to time to close this time around. For your continued reading enjoyment, I present the following references:

  1. Title: Matthew: Introduction, Translation, and Notes by W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann. Published: Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday; 1971
  2. Title: The Gospel according to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary, by R. T. France. Published: Leicester, England, Inter-Varsity Press; 1987
  3. Title: The Fourth Cup: The Sacrement of the Eucharist. Transcript of a taped address by Dr. Scott Hahn, former Presbyterian minister and Professor of Theology at The Fransiscan University of Steubenville. The original tape was distributed by Catholic Answers. The text can be found at:

The Scriptural quotations above were taken from the New American Bible.

On the personal side...

Sometimes we're afraid of hurting others with the truth, but if we lir to ourselves to avoid that discomfort, what do we gain? I know that with my kids, for instance, talking to them about the faith I'm trying to hand on to them can sometimes be like talking to a brick wall. They don't want to hear it, they don't want to go to church on Sunday morning when they've stayed up till 3 in the morning, and they'd rather I didn't object to some of the movies they watch and the language they use.

Just let it lie. You don't want to be an old fuddy-dud, do you? If I give in, then I've lost them to a culture that drives them into themselves, and that's the opposite direction from God's love.

What can one do in the midst of the assualt of the late 20th century? I remember in my youth that Dick Biondi, Chicago's #1 DJ, was kicked off the air for a joke that wouldn't even phase the youth of today. They hear so much worse in the song lyrics, in the bash talk on the radio today, in the general media assualt: movies, TV, radio, ads, etc..

I have to ask myself - when did this become OK? I don't remember any specific instance of the overthrow of morality, but here we are almost numbed to the child models in the perfume and jeans ads. We almost don't hear the stream of four letter words that come out of the mouths of the tough "good guy" heros in the movies as they kill off all the bad guys so no trial will be necessary. It's comming from every corner, and what is one to do?

Two things come to mind: Stand for the truth, and pray.

Loving God, Holy Spirit, grant me

In Closing...

As always, Toes newsletter is published on very rare occasions to a very limited audience of very inteligent people who won't take exception to my run-on sentences and my verbal pun-ishmentality. Not to mention my making words up on the fly, and if you've ever tried it, you know that you need a very fine tipped pen to make up words on a fly.

Subscriptions cost a lot more than I'm comfortable printing in this issue, so if you're interested in receiving this on a regular basis, we can discuss it over coffee.

The next issue will feature an article on the effects of the age of relativism on religion, but I wouldn't bet on it.


©1999, James A. Croteau - e-mail: Back to my home page . . . Back to TNL Index