When you come to the book of Revelation, there are three categories to how most people interpret it:
1. Preterism is the school of thought where everything was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70
2. Historicism makes Revelation about events throughout history.
3. Futurism makes everything about Christ’s second coming. Herb is convinced that the most damage is done here with misinterpretations of the book of Revelation.
Everyone here probably fits into one of these three schools of thought. However, Herb says that the book of Revelation doesn’t fully fit into any of those schools of thought. Instead, we must start with the ethical teachings of Jesus and the first audience and see how they would have interpreted the book of Revelation and that it was about whatever comes down the pike follow the Lamb.
Here’s a simple outline starting with Revelation 1:1-8
Revelation 1.1-8—The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw— that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who READS ALOUD the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who HEAR IT and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near . . .
The “time is near” produces problems for us but for those people at the time it inspires hope. The way it would have been communicated is through oral reading of one person to an audience. Revelation was not written as something people would read and study but rather as something to be listened to–this brings out different meanings in the text with auditory cues.
Revelation 22.6-21—The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” “Look, I am com- ing soon! Blessed are those who keep the words of the prophecy in this scroll.” I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things . . .
Two things repeated in the epilogue that is also in the prologue “his angle” and “things which must shortly come to pass.” Let’s use these two anchor points Rev 1:1-8 and Revelation 22:6-21 as reason to interpret these things
Revelation 1.9-11—I, John, your brother and companion in the SUF- FERING and KINGDOM and PATIENT ENDURANCE that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was IN THE SPIRIT, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
Suffering, being part of the kingdom, and patient endurance are all included in the present and are all associated with following Jesus. There are three audio transitions of “in the spirit” the first one in Rev 1:9-11. Try picking one of those churches and pretending you are listening to it from their perspective. The second here
Revelation 4.2—At once I was IN THE SPIRIT, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.
There are two branches in the book of Revelation:
1. The defeat of a Harlot:
Revelation 17.3—Then the angel carried me away IN THE SPIRIT into a wilderness . . .
2. The victory of a bride:
Revelation 21.10—And he carried me away IN THE SPIRIT to a moun- tain great and high . . .
There’s a repetition or parallel between Rev 17 and Rev 21
Revelation 17.1-3—One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth com- mitted adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.
Between these parallels you have the whole book of Revelation. You have 7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 plagues. You have the “in the spirit” in chapter 4, the next time is in Rev 17 and again in Rev 21. Not only are Rev 17 and 21 similar but look at Rev 19:9-10:
Revelation 19.9-10—Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to Jesus’ testimony. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.”
You’ll see Rev 22 is different than Rev 19 because this also serves as a repetition of the prologue with “that must soon take place”
Revelation 22.6-9—The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” “Look, I am com- ing soon! Blessed are those who keep the words of the prophecy in this scroll.” I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”
The end of the bride section is the end harlot section but John also throws in a parallel to the prologue “that must soon take place.” Don’t take Revelation chronologically, the vision actually starts in chapter 4. Right before the harlot section in Revelation 16 John hears “it is done” which is parallel with 21:
Revelation 16.17—The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “IT IS DONE!”
Revelation 21.6—He said to me: “IT IS DONE. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
It ends the same way where John tries to worship the angel. These were parallels that his audience would have heard.
Three Series of Sevens
Revelation 4.5—From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder.
Seven Seals 6:1-8:5
Revelation 8.5—Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rum-blings, flashes of lightning and an EARTHQUAKE.
Seven Trumpets: 8.6-11.19
Earthquake is taken for granted and a “a great hailstorm” is added:
Revelation 11.19—Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and A GREAT HAILSTORM.
Seven Bowls: 15:1-16:21
When we end the seven bowls there is nothing added but they are elaborated:
Revelation 16.18-21—Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since the human race has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, ell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.
Revelation 8.1-6—When he opened the SEVENTH SEAL, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and SEVEN TRUMPETS were given to them. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them
The three series of 7 end in parallel fashion. He takes the seven trumpets and interlocks them in the 7th seal. 7th seal introduces the 7 trumpets and at the 7 trumpets you would expect him to introduce the 7 plagues–but he doesn’t.
Revelation 11.19—Then God’s TEMPLE in heaven was OPENED, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
However, when he picks back up the plagues. He repeats here what he said under the seventh trumpet and adds the seven angels. 12,13,14 are an intermission and 15 snaps back in with the 7 plagues with the 7th trumpet.
Revelation 15.5-6—After this I looked, and I saw in heaven the TEMPLE— that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law—and it was OPENED. Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues
He actually does lock in the 7 plagues with the 7th trumpet. This has been an exercise of seeing parallels. The first half of the next presentation is the most important presentation (part 3) the first part of (part 4) is the second most important presentation. We will go into the ethical teachings of Jesus and how they relate to Revelation which will be key to unlocking the book.
There has been significant damage done using this book. Herb’s particular knee-jerk response hearing something about Revelation is for his eyes to roll. The book of Revelation Herb argues is not about winning people to following theLamb but to current followers of the Lamb to enable them to be more faithful.
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw . . . John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: (Rev 1:1-4)
Hence, Herb notes that this was written to God’s “servants.”
The chronology of transmission is God gave the revelation to his angle who gave it to John. Did Christ give this to John to predict the future or did Christ give this in order to encourage people who already believe? Herb argues the latter. Christianity in this time period meant to give up your life and face persecution. Nero was the first persecutor of Christianity with others to follow.
Today Christianity is presented as a way to improve your life. However, this was not how it was in the first century. If making a decision to follow Jesus meant giving up your life, would that make things different for you? Andrew gave a powerful testimony of what it means to follow Jesus, it was such a powerful argument that when he went to the chopping block where he would be executed a Roman soldier saw his faith and the Roman soldier said to the judge something like: “if you are going to execute him for following Jesus execute me too because I have become a follower of Jesus.”
There are several options when attacked with persecution 1 to fight 2 to flee or 3 to follow the lamb. Revelation was written to encourage the third option.
The book of revelation was not given to make wild predictions about the future. The book of Revelation was given to help those who heard its words to become more faithful followers of Jesus.
What did it mean to follow Jesus? To follow his example and teachings.
Matthew 4.23—Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their syna-gogues, proclaiming the good news [euangelion] of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
What does “the good news” mean? In society at that time it had a different meaning than for us today. A messenger would carry “the good news” or the eungaleon which meant that a new kingdom was victorious. It is a military term but be careful because the warfare of the lamb is not of this world but is spiritual.
John 18:36 New Revised Standard Version 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
STRONGS NT 3340: μετανοέω “repent” is also a military term in that day–when an officer yelled “repent” they would change direction. “repent” did not mean to “feel sorry” for the direction they were walking to begin with but to change directions.
Luke 4.43—But he said, “I must pro- claim the good news [euangelion] of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
This means “a new kingdom has come to town” you were walking in one direction now walk in another. This is a new way of doing life. And what you are going to find is this new way of doing life is based on a radically different way of seeing God. Jesus hung out with sinners–which meant something different in that day. Today everyone is a sinner but that makes it lose its strength. However, the term “sinner” had been coined by the religious people of that day for people who were living in opposition to the Torah–they were excommunicated or disfellowshipped from the covenant community. Jesus was accused of being friends with the tax collectors and other sinners who were in cohorts with Rome.
Jesus was living radically differently by hanging out with these people. This is what Jesus gives to us–a radical way of seeing God and ourselves through mercy. This idea threatened the religious leaders so much that they ended up crucifying him.
We have a more housebroken Jesus in a our churches today that is more comfortable to us–but this is not what we find in the first century.
Matthew 10.7-8—As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The KINGDOM OF HEAVEN has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have re- ceived, freely give.
The kingdom of heaven is not a kingdom in heaven but rather a kingdom of heaven to earth through Jesus and his followers. We do not see Jesus going around getting people to say a special prayer so that they can go to heaven when they die. He is not trying to promote a plan of getting people to heaven, rather he was bringing heaven to earth. There was not a lot of time spent on talking about people’s eternal destiny but rather he spent time with people making a difference in their lives.
Luke 10.9—Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Luke 9.6—So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news [euangelion] and healing people everywhere.
I am convinced that Jesus has given us a way to heal the world around us. If Jesus went out telling people to heal the sick there is an emphasis difference between that and many churches today. If we got back to the ethical teachings of Jesus we might have an empowerment to proclaim those ethics. Many people do not feel it is important to get involved in matters of social justice. However, this is different than Jesus who said to go out and bring healing. Jesus used the metaphors of watching seeds sprout and doe rise. The kingdom conquering will not be exciting–it comes gradually.
Matthew 13.31-32—He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the small- est of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
It is something that would remain underground until it surfaces and gradually takes over. How Jesus said to heal our world was through coming under people not through going over people or trying to overpower people but by coming under and doing things subversively–not through force or compulsion but through humble servant love. Kind of like a yeast that causes a lump of doe to gradually rise.
Acts 8.12—But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of THE KINGDOM OF GOD and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Acts 19.8—Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, argu- ing persuasively about THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
Acts 20.25— Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching THE KINGDOM will ever see me again.
Practically overnight during the time of constantine, Christianity went from a persecuted minority to a persecuting majority. We eventually found those bearing the name of Jesus executing heretics, Muslims, Jews, and witches.
Augustine has a lot of good in it but Herb is not a fan. What is in Augustine that is wrong is wrong to such a degree that it radically changed the course of Christianity. Who became marginalized during this? Jesus. The heroes of the church during the fourth century were warriors and there was such a difference that some secular historians like Rodney Stark say that the pre-Constantine and post-Constantine Christianity is a totally different religion.
Emphasis in Christianity changed from the ethical teachings of Jesus to belief in the virgin birth or Resurrection and other doctrines. In the apostles creed it goes from “born of a virgin” to “crucified by Pontius Pilate” with a comma. Is there anything that they skipped over?–The entire life of Jesus and his teachings. Out of the four versions of the Jesus story that we have only two of them mention the virgin birth. What does that say to you? Two of the authors of the Jesus story we have say that you could be a follower of Jesus and not even know about the virgin birth.
People never attack the teachings of Jesus when they attack Christianity–they attack doctrines like the Resurrection because you can’t just have these unique teachings come out of first century without there being a teacher. Herb does not care about the details but about the transformative power of these teachings, the wisdom of them, and that these are the way that the world will be healed. Rather than coming about believing in Jesus through doctrines Herb believes in Jesus through an affinity for his teachings–following Jesus means following his teachings not believing the doctrines. This is context that we will be looking at the book of Revelation in.
Luke 6.20-26—Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
Blessed are those who weep now–not in general–because you will laugh. This is about a radical rearrangement. It is taking society and turning it on its head. Those who would receive the blessing of what Jesus was coming to accomplish are what we would call the underdogs. The people who are benefiting from society at this time–Jesus is saying “woe” to them–not a cry a condemnation–but a cry of lament.
Luke 6.27-36—But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
The reason Herb believes that most people grossly misunderstand the book of Revelation is because they come from the post Constantine school of Christianity. However, if we actually return to the ethical teachings of Jesus as a backdrop to the book of Revelation and what it says you get a radical new understanding of the book and a flavor of what it meant to the very first audience who heard the book.
We have to start with this question: How did the very first audience take the message of John and how did it inspire them to be more faithful followers of Christ and his kingdom? After that other theories will be able to be made of double meanings and allusion to future events–but you have to first understand Revelation in its original context to know how to build off of it.
The lamb is mentioned 28 times in the book of revelation which is a significant number that we will learn about soon. However, for now know that the Lamb is the centerpiece of this book.
All Bible translations are in the NRSV unless otherwise noted.
This verse–read literally–would seem to indicate that all mention of idolatrous names are prohibited:
12 Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed. 13 Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. 14 Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. (Exodus 23:13 emphasis mine)
However, there are a few questions to ask:
1 Are there punishments for violations of this commandment?
2 Did this command apply to foreigners?
3 What does this command mean?
Not All Commandments Have Punishments
The Torah is known for having some harsh punishments but a lot of commands have no punishment–specifically you can make the case that only some of the negative commands have punishments and none of the positive commands have punishments. The ones that do appear to have punishments are really just a lack of obtaining the benefit gained from the command.
This Commandment Does Not Apply to Foreigners
It should also come as no surprise that some foreigners are explicitly permitted to break laws without punishments–an example–eating something that dies of itself:
The fat of an animal that died or was torn by wild animals may be put to any other use, but you must not eat it. (Leviticus 7:24)
You shall be people consecrated to me; therefore you shall not eat any meat that is mangled by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs. (Exodus 22:31)
It’s interesting in one verse it is thought to not be fit for human consumption (something that is only thrown to the dogs) but if there are aliens that disagree with that idea they can still partake in it.
You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to aliens residing in your towns for them to eat, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. (Deuteronomy 14:21)
I’m not arguing for moral relativism, I think all of God’s commands are good, I just think for practical purposes you couldn’t expect foreigners to follow a lot of the commands when they had not heard of them and it was not the Israelite’s domain of authority to make sure the foreigners obeyed them. Foreigners were given freedom in many regards, however there are some exceptions:
This shall be a statute to you forever: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall deny yourselves, and shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. (Leviticus 16:29)
All persons, citizens or aliens, who eat what dies of itself or what has been torn by wild animals, shall wash their clothes, and bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the evening; then they shall be clean. (Leviticus 17:15)
These laws give strong indication that not all the laws in the Torah apply to, or should be, enforced on aliens–otherwise why would it need to specify that laws applied to both? There is also some leeway with certain types of commands–for instance I think Lev 17:15 indicates that a foreigner can become unclean just like a native but no one is required to be clean–only with regards to interacting with the temple/tabernacle.
There are places where it says “the same law shall be for a foreigner and a native” however if we take this literally it would contradict with the laws about foreigners versus native servants and the laws about lending at interest to foreigners and natives in the land:
35 If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. 36 Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. 37 You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God.
39 If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. 40 They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. 43 You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God. 44 As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. 45 You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. 46 You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness. (Leviticus 25:35-46 emphasis mine) 
In addition “the same law shall be for a foreigner and a native” is only said in the context of certain laws:
48 If an alien who resides with you wants to celebrate the passover to the Lord, all his males shall be circumcised; then he may draw near to celebrate it; he shall be regarded as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it; 49 there shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.(Exodus 12:48-49)
21 One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death. 22 You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God. 23 Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel; and they took the blasphemer outside the camp, and stoned him to death. The people of Israel did as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Leviticus 24:22)
28 And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the one who commits an error, when it is unintentional, to make atonement for the person, who then shall be forgiven. 29 For both the native among the Israelites and the alien residing among them—you shall have the same law for anyone who acts in error. 30 But whoever acts high-handedly, whether a native or an alien, affronts the Lord, and shall be cut off from among the people. (Numbers 15:28-30)
14 An alien who lives with you, or who takes up permanent residence among you, and wishes to offer an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord, shall do as you do. 15 As for the assembly, there shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. 16 You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance. (Numbers 15:14-6)
13 But anyone who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet refrains from keeping the passover, shall be cut off from the people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at its appointed time; such a one shall bear the consequences for the sin. 14 Any alien residing among you who wishes to keep the passover to the Lord shall do so according to the statute of the passover and according to its regulation; you shall have one statute for both the resident alien and the native. 15 On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant; and from evening until morning it was over the tabernacle, having the appearance of fire. (Numbers 9:14)
Exodus 23:13 Means to Not Worship Other Gods
First lets agree on one thing, Exodus 23:13 cannot be taken as it is literally read:
Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. (Exodus 23:13)
There are multiple places where the titles of other gods are mentioned in the Torah such as “Baal” Jdg 2:11, Jdg 2:13, Jdg 3:7 etc . . . https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H1168&t=KJV and “Baal” was indeed the name associated with that god because the Biblical writers replaced names that had “baal” in it with “bosheth” to signal a rejection of “baal.” 
So what does this mean?
Do not “invoke” the names
Hebrew is a language more focused on action than english. “To invoke” in English when associated with a god has the idea of “invoking to worship.” “Invoke” is a better translation of the word than the KJV has (“remember”) but even “to invoke” doesn’t give the idea that this word seems to be associated with action almost all the time: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H2142&t=KJV
5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.” 6 The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. (Exodus 34:5-8)
do not let them be “heard“
Even “heard” can mean “heed” or “pay attention” with your actions:
But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their wickedness and make no offerings to other gods. (Jer 44:5)
17 And to the man he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; (Gen 3:17)
and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. (Gen 16:2)
And the angel of the Lord said to her,
“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has givenheed to your affliction. (Gen 16:11)
I would argue that none of this is about words or names but about actions and possibly worship. At most this restriction on speech would prevent you from “invoking” the name of another god in a worshipful way but it wouldn’t prevent you from talking about that god, the worship of that god, or possibly even advocating for such worship. There are other verses that imply that the “name on the lips” and “name being remembered” are indeed idioms for worship:
Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke h2142 the names h8034 of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. h6310 (Exodus 23:13)
For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, h6310 and they shall be mentioned h2142 by name h8034 no more. (Hosea 2:17)
On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names h8034 of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered h2142 no more; and also I will remove from the land the prophets and the unclean spirit. (Zechariah 13:2)
Another reason we can see this active worship interpretation is correct is because of the clear punishment for idolatry elsewhere and the fact that it only prohibits people advocating the worship of other gods “in secret” not openly:
6 If anyone secretly entices you—even if it is your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend—saying, “Let us go worship other gods,” whom neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 any of the gods of the peoples that are around you, whether near you or far away from you, from one end of the earth to the other, 8 you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. 9 But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 11 Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness.
12 If you hear it said about one of the towns that the Lord your God is giving you to live in, 13 that scoundrels from among you have gone out and led the inhabitants of the town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods,” whom you have not known, 14 then you shall inquire and make a thorough investigation. If the charge is established that such an abhorrent thing has been done among you, 15 you shall put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, utterly destroying it and everything in it—even putting its livestock to the sword. 16 All of its spoil you shall gather into its public square; then burn the town and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It shall remain a perpetual ruin, never to be rebuilt. 17 Do not let anything devoted to destruction stick to your hand, so that the Lord may turn from his fierce anger and show you compassion, and in his compassion multiply you, as he swore to your ancestors, 18 if you obey the voice of the Lord your God by keeping all his commandments that I am commanding you today, doing what is right in the sight of the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 13:6-18 emphasis mine)
2 If there is found among you, in one of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and transgresses his covenant 3 by going to serve other gods and worshiping them—whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden— 4 and if it is reported to you or you hear of it, and you make a thorough inquiry, and the charge is proved true that such an abhorrent thing has occurred in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or that woman who has committed this crime and you shall stone the man or woman to death. 6 On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. 7 The hands of the witnesses shall be the first raised against the person to execute the death penalty, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 17:2-7)
This command does not prohibit speech except possibly the worship of a god by invoking his name. However, advocating for worship or speaking about the god may not have been prohibited. Even if it was this would only apply to natives not foreigners. In addition advocating for worship elsewhere is only prohibited if it is done in secret and not allowed to be evaluated by the community.
1 Are there punishments for violating this commandment? No
2 Did this command apply foreigners? No.
3 What does this command mean? Not to worship other gods and possibly not advocate for such.
 Just to clarify, I don’t think the word translated “advance” interest is talking about something different than regular interest, see the following:
Two Types of Interest?
The Hebrew term for interest, נֶשֶׁךְ (nešekh), appears in all three of the Torah’s legal collections prohibiting interest, and in Leviticus, it is paired with תַרְבִּית (see also Ezek 18:8, 13; Prov 28:8), which also means interest. This seeming redundancy has led many commentators to understand these terms as two different types of interest.
* NJPS translates נֶשֶׁךְ as “advanced interest” (i.e., paid at the time of the loan or earlier) and תַרְבִּית as “accrued interest” (i.e., paid upon the repayment of the loan or after).
* The Mishnah (Bava Metzia 5:1), however, understands נֶשֶׁךְ as an advance agreement that the borrower will pay back more than the amount of the original loan and תַרְבִּית as paying back the loan of one form of produce with another form of produce that has risen in value, that the borrower did not have on hand at the time of the deal.
Although the verse in Leviticus may very well be including more than one form of interest, it is unlikely that the inverse is the case, namely that Exodus and Deuteronomy meant to forbid only one form of interest. Instead, these sources probably meant נֶשֶׁךְ as a catch-all term for interest. In all three sources, the point appears to be that an Israelite should not apply the “bite” of interest to loans given to his poor brethren.
 Ishbosheth, also spelled Isboseth, also called Ishbaal, or Eshbaal, (flourished 11th century BC), in the Old Testament (II Samuel 2:8–4:12), fourth son of King Saul and the last representative of his family to be king over Israel (the northern kingdom, as opposed to the southern kingdom of Judah). His name was originally Ishbaal (Eshbaal; I Chronicles 8:33; 9:39), meaning “man of Baal.” Baal, which could mean “master,” was a title of dignity. Because the name came to be increasingly associated with Canaanite fertility gods, Hebrew editors later substituted bosheth, meaning “shame,” for baal.
What you cannot do to a covenant would necessarily apply to the commandments. The commandments are just the instructions from an amalgamation of covenants. You can also have the same commandments in multiple covenants i.e. the law of pouring out blood for slaughter is in the Gen 9 covenant and the Sinai covenant of Leviticus 17.
27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. . . . 13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 3:1-4:13)
Romans 3:31 says positively that they “establish” https://studybible.info/strongs/G2476 the law (Sinai covenant) this is viewed as being opposed to καταργέω and “establish” is in this tense (note “law” is singular):
Based on Romans 3:31 and Galatians 3:17 it is hard to make the argument that Sinai can be λύω or καταργέω. Galatians 3:17 also says that a covenant cannot be made void G208 so to καταργέω the promise. This I think indicates that G208 has a similar meaning to καταργέω.
Romans 3:31 seems to be talking about properly interpreting the law . . . that is to say, they do not throw down Sinai but they establish it by proper interpretation since an improper interpretation would make it broken down. This idiom of interpretation only works if it is in parallel with the actual state of the law. If the law is broken down or in the process of being broken down Paul’s statements don’t make sense. The fact that it is used in this interpretive idiom can be evidenced by observing the parallels here: https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G208 Matthew 15:6 and Mark 7:13 use G208 as an idiom for properly interpreting or practicing and Galatians 3:17 uses G208 in parallel with καταργέω
Most of the time Paul uses covenants as analogies for soteriologies. See here:
However, I think in Hebrews Paul uses covenants as analogies for the priesthoods and ministries of those covenants. He uses kal-vahomer to argue that the new priesthood is greater than the old just like the new covenant is greater than the old. In fact, the new covenant priesthood is so much greater than the old priesthood that it is as if the old priesthood was “faulty” and “weak” because they could not perfect Israel. However, Paul does not mean this literally since he elsewhere states that the Levitical priesthood was never designed to take away sin:
1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin?
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
The first problematic chapter is 7:
11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood—for the people received the law under this priesthood—what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 Now the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
15 It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, 16 one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of him,
“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
18 There is, on the one hand, the abrogation of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.
(Hebrews 7:11-18 emphasis mine)
Notice the subject is the priesthood and the fact that the Levitical priesthood could not accomplish what Christ could. There is no indication of a change of rules that humans are supposed to follow rather a transposition of priesthoods. In verse 12 “change” means “transpose” and is used that way in Hebrews 11:5 to speak of Enoch being “transposed” into heaven: https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G3346
This same idea is stated more explicitly here:
23 Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
So the law was not changed from one thing to another but rather moved in practice from earth to heaven.
for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Following this new translation then in verse 18 Paul is speaking only in terms of the transgression of the laws of the Levitical priesthood. Those laws were transgressed either because the priesthood was made of imperfect humans unlike Christ or–more likely–the priesthood’s temple was destroyed and made them unable to carry out the laws. If the later, then this was because Israel was not perfected and God allowed the enemies of Israel to destroy the Temple. Observe the context which is all about the priesthood. If we translate Hebrews 9:26 and Hebrews 7:16-22 with the same meaning that the Greek has in 1 Samuel 24:11 then we end up with the following:
for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age [as an offering for] sin by the sacrifice of himself.
16 one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of him,“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” 18 There is, on the one hand, the [transgression] of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God. 20 This was confirmed with an oath; for others who became priests took their office without an oath, 21 but this one became a priest with an oath, because of the one who said to him,
“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever’”—
22 accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.
(Hebrews 7:16-22 emphasis mine with the translation changed to the Hebrew meaning of “abrogation” in verse 18)
This is one of the quirks of Hebrew where “transgression” can mean “offering for transgression” which makes the “offering” literally become the “transgression” being consumed on the alter.
Finally, we see that the reason the priesthood in verse 18 was weak was because of the ministry of the Levitical priesthood that was not designed to take away sin unlike the new covenant ministry. Paul does not mean this literally though because he is aware that the Levitical priesthood was never designed to take away sin—just to point to Christ and bring the knowledge of sin. Observe the parallels here:
(for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.
1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.
This understanding will help us with the most problematic chapter 8:
1 Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They offer worship in a sanctuarythat is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But Jesus has now obtained a more excellentministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. 7 For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.
8 God finds fault with them when he says:
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. 10 This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
13 In speaking of “[a] new [covenant],” he has made the first [one] obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.
(Hebrews 8:1-13 emphasis mine)
I have put in brackets where the word “covenant” is supplied in the NRSV. In verse 13 most Christians interpret the covenant as a whole as growing old and disappearing. However we must look at this in light of the subject of the previous verses:
6 But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. 7 For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.
8 God finds fault with them when he says:
(Hebrews 8:6-8 emphasis mine)
1. The new covenant is said to be better only to the degree that Jesus is a more excellent minister, this implies that the law/instruction remains the same for humans who aren’t priests.
2. God finds fault with a plural entity: the Levitical priesthood and Israel, not a singular covenant.
4. Verse 7 has parallels implying it is about the priesthood:
For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one (Hebrews 8:7)
Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood—for the people received the law under this priesthood—what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron?
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,
So moving on to verse 13:
In speaking of “[a] new [covenant],” he has made the first [one] obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear [i.e. be destroyed].
(Hebrews 8:13 NRSV with my changes in brackets)
The focus of the “fault” is on the priesthood and the ministry of that covenant which just was not designed to take away sin: it only brought knowledge of that sin and was used to point to the one that makes an offering for sin. However, you could even say that inserting/supplying “covenant” is correct because of Paul’s use of the “law” analogy to refer to the priesthood and ministry (as we see elsewhere e.g. Hebrews 7:17-19). However, “covenant” could even be literally supplied correctly if Paul is using the idea of “covenant” in the broader sense of the rules and administration of those rules under the priesthood. This would be in contrast to 2 Corinthians 3 where he makes a distinction between the ministry and the covenant:
In speaking of “new,” he has made the first obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon be destroyed.
(Hebrews 8:13 NRSV with my changes)
So it is entirely consistent with Torah to say literally that the “covenant” will be destroyed in the broader sense that it will become obsolete because the ministry that is part of it will be destroyed and is already in the process of being made obsolete by the Holy Spirit. Once the law is written on the heart by the Holy Spirit and is obeyed the curses incurred by Israel at Sinai become obsolete by their lack of a sinful target. However, Paul is probably just using the idea of “covenant” as an analogy for the priesthood. Either way I think he is using the idea of “covenant” in Jeremiah to explain the destruction of the Temple and the eventual destruction of the priesthood’s ministry. (there is some evidence that the sacrifices continued after the temple was destroyed) What is interesting is that Paul never supplies the word “covenant” why not? We shall see later.
Hebrews implies this destruction elsewhere:
8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing. 9 This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,
To shore up the fact that Hebrews 8:13 is indeed focusing on the priesthood and not the covenant rules you can observe the parallel in Hebrews 10:9 where it implies God is in the process of “taking up” the old sacrifices to replace it with the new ministration (probably the Holy Spirit). However, notice that when Paul talks about the “sacrifice” of Christ on the cross he uses the past tense perfect “sanctified” in contrast to him progressively “taking up” the priesthood in Hebrews 10:9 or the old covenant ministration progressively becoming obsolete in Hebrews 8:13. This is because the law takes time to be written on Israel’s heart in contrast to the discrete death of Christ on the cross.
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He [takes up] the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
(Hebrews 10:8-10 NRSV with my modification in verse 9)
Why does Paul leave out the word “covenant” in Hebrews 8:13? The entire context is about the priesthood but as an extra percaution Paul I think leaves out the word “covenant” because he doesn’t want you to think that the “covenant” in the more specific sense of God’s rules at Sinai will be done away with. God’s Sinai covenant is fine and its Levitical priesthood acted as the shadow to point to the greater priesthood of Christ. The Levitical priesthood can only be said to be “faulty” in that it did not accomplish what the new covenant priesthood will. Paul is using the covenants as analogies for the priesthoods: in a sense the new priesthood is so great that it is as if the Levitical priesthood was faulty. (kal-vahomer!)
Finally, Paul says it is becoming obsolete. This is at variance with those who insist this is related to the discrete work of Christ on the cross or in his resurrection:
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,”
Rather, what Christ did on the cross was only the beginning of a process of the ministry of the Holy Spirit writing the law on our hearts which is better than the human priests who cannot actually take away sin:
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.
The first covenant only becomes obsolete in the sense of its ministry because of the work of Christ through the holy spirit to write the law on Israel’s heart makes pointing to that work obsolete. However, that process was started by the discrete event of Christ going to heaven to send the Holy Spirit:
For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.
” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”
17 he also adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
The last problematic chapter is 10:
1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He [takes up] the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
(Hebrews 10:1-10 NRSV with my modifications)
In verse 10 I’ve changed the word “abolishes” since it can also mean “take up” like how Pharaoh’s daughter “took [Moses] up” in Acts 7:21 https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/337/start/60 so it could mean that God took up the ministry of the covenant into heaven with a heavenly priesthood or it could mean that the ministry of the earthly priesthood is destroyed in order that the second ministry is established: to explain the destruction of the Temple. I suspect that the Temple was destroyed to take away a distraction from the heavenly priesthood because Israel did not see the end to which it pointed. However, once Israel as a whole sees this, the priesthood will be reestablished to elucidate the heavenly priesthood to other nations since Israel is a priesthood to the world.
Paul well knows that the Levitical priesthood will be reestablished in Ezekiel 44-48. Also Zechariah 14 talks of the festivals being reestablished at Jerusalem (so presumably the priesthood and the Temple is again in action) This is just Paul’s way of reassuring people in a time where it looked like the world had ended for Jews. The Temple was destroyed and the sacrifices ceased (or were soon going to) and people were wondering if they could still carry on. Maybe the Levitical priesthood was destroyed because Israel did not see that it pointed to the heavenly priesthood. Maybe once Israel as a whole sees this, the priesthood will be reestablished to elucidate the heavenly priesthood to other nations. Regardless, it doesn’t matter because God’s plan will carry on for his people. Paul tells them that this could have been completely expected and that it really isn’t a big deal after all since what the Temple pointed to was the true Temple in the heavens. I hope you are also reassured.
I think we see throughout this that the focus is on the priesthood being changed and that the “law” is just used as an analogy for it’s ministry and priesthood. The old covenant could only be said to become obsolete in the sense that the ministry of it (death) is no longer needed to bring awareness of sin with the new covenant perfecting people. Paul leaves no room in the context to say he is speaking of anything but the priesthood and even goes so far as to leave the word “covenant” out when making his analogy–yet people still misunderstand him.
The new covenant is said to be better only to the degree that Jesus is a more excellent minister, this implies that the law/instructions remains the same for humans.
Paul uses covenants as analogies for priesthoods just like he uses covenants as analogies for soteriologies or ministries in his other works.
God finds fault with a plural entity: the priesthood or Israel, not a singular covenant.
Paul knows that the Levitical priesthood was never designed to take away sin. If he calls it “faulty” it is only because of the failings of that priesthood or more likely because it is so inferior to the new priesthood that it is “faulty” by comparison.
Paul is reassuring people. He does this by saying that the Temple could be expected to be destroyed since Christ had just come to inaugurate the new covenant and that when the old priesthood ceases to operate completely we will have an even better priesthood so take heart!
Let start with some context. When the elders said to Paul “Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law” (Acts 21:24) What this says (if you read the context) is the following:
1 Paul was not telling Jews to forsake the mosaic law
2 He was showing he was not doing this by his personal example of following the law
3 Paul himself observes and guards the law
It can be inferred from this that Paul thought the law was still valuable at least for Jews. What we have Paul say in 2 Corinthians 3 cannot contradict that. In addition Paul says that “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (Romans 2:25) “we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31) “having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (Romans 2:20) “I delight in the law of God” (Rom 7:22) Paul connects sinning with being lawless and needing forgiveness: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:7) To say the law is no longer relevant or truthful or defines what sin is at the time of Paul’s writing is to make Paul contradict himself.
Paul also says a covenant cannot be annulled and he often uses “law” as synonymous with “Sinai law” as he does in the following:
15 Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. 17 My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.
19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. 20 Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one. 21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22 But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Gal 3:15-22)
However many people state that Paul declared an “end to the law.” This is a misconception that Jason Staples corrects in a comment on his blog referencing Romans 10:4. His response will give us context for interpreting 2 Corinthians 3:
Good question. This is a very difficult and controversial verse, as the word telos can mean a range of things, including “goal,” “end,” “culmination,” “climax,” etc.
I think the verse is best translated “For Christ is the culmination of the law for righteousness in everyone who trusts.”
What Paul’s referring to here is that Christ’s death and subsequent sending of the spirit has enabled righteousness in those who put their trust in Jesus, facilitating the righteousness the prophets had promised God would grant to Israel (e.g., Jeremiah 31:31–34, Ezek 36:24, Deut 30:1–10). That’s why he proceeds to explain that Jesus is the “one who does these things” and thereby lived by them—the resurrection is the proof that Jesus is the righteous one of the Torah, and it’s why he then quotes Deut 30 to explain that those who believed Israel needed to be sufficiently righteous to bring the messiah had things backwards—it’s not that Israel’s righteousness would bring the messiah, it’s that the messiah came to make Israel righteous.
Paul often uses the idea that the law brings death and knowledge of sin which allows Israel to accept grace and life under the new covenant. Paul seems to apply this idea to individuals in these passages using crucifixion as analogous with death and life in the new covenant as analogous with Israel’s and our righteousness/justification by faith. Essentially our failure to keep the law (similar to Israel) makes aware of our need for grace and allows us to be humble and accept it–we have faith in God and his grace and practice the law in thankfulness for being saved, rather than rely on the law itself:
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; (Gal 2:19)
21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22 But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longersubject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal 3:21-26)
For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. (Romans 4:15)
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21)
12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. 20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:12-23)
4 In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. 7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10 and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. (Romans 7:4-12)
Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3
1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we?
I think David Guzik said it well on enduringword.com:
a. Epistles of commendation: Such letters were common and necessary in the early church. A false prophet or apostle could travel from city to city and easily say, “Paul sent me, so you should support me.” To help guard against problems like this, letters of recommendation were often sent with Christians as they traveled.
2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; 3 and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
3 . . . you are a letter of Christ: Letters of commendation are good but we having living commendations: you! (kal-vahomer)
5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God: We do not rely on ourselves for commendation just as we do not rely on ourselves to keep the letter of law (Sinai) to save us. We rely on Christ for commendation just as we rely on Christ to make Israel able to keep the law. Paul is using this an analogy to “works of the law” (an Essene teaching of purity and that keeping certain works distinguishes and saves you) compared with a soteriology of grace: the law simply makes you aware that you need to be saved so that you do works out of thankfulness to God for his grace.
6 . . . To be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life: The ministration of the law would bring death on its own since Israel broke Sinai just like a works of the law soteriology. However, Christ enables us to achieve the blessings of Sinai–life–by enabling Israel to keep the law by writing it on our hearts through the holy spirit (a down-payment of the coming fullness of the promises of Abraham)–a soteriology of grace. In fact, in the dead sea scrolls the “new covenant” refers to “the exact interpretation of the law” of the law. ( see: https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592104.001.0001/acprof-9780199592104-chapter-4 )
To quote from the book:
The oldest reference to the new covenant (CD 6:19) occurs in a document that is essentially a list of precepts (CD 6:19) occurs in a document that is essentially a list of precepts (CD 6:11-7:4) followed by a hortatory epilogue (CD 7:4-8:3). The way in which a number of the precepts are formulated indicates that their function was to server a reminders of points in a more detailed body of legal material, namely, the laws contained in CD 9-16. Thus, for example, the admonition ‘Keep the sabbath day according to its exact rules’ (CD 6:18) is meaningless without the precise legislation of CD 10:14-11-18. This legislation mentions two other covenants, the ‘covenant of Abraham’ (CD 12:11) and the ‘covenant which Moses concluded with Israel’ (CD 15:8-9). The relationship between these two covenants need not detain us here; it has been discussed thoroughly by R. F. Collins. What is important is the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant.
The context of the allusion to the Mosaic covenant furnishes a partial answer:
Likewise is the ruling during the whole epoch of wickedness with regard to everyone who turns from his corrupt way. On the day that he speaks to the overseer of the Many, they shall muster him with the oath of the covenant which Moses concluded with Israel, namely, the covenant to return to the Law of Moses with all his heart and all his soul. (CD 15:6-10)
page 55 Keys to Second Corinthians Jerome Murphy-O’Connor https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592104.001.0001/acprof-9780199592104)
It is evidently a question of the reception of a new member into the Essene community, an interpretation that is confirmed by the renntetion of the central element in the recption ceremony at Qumran:
When they join the community, let whoever comes to the council of the community enter into the covenant of God in the presence of all the volunteers, and let him undertake by oath of the obligation to be converted to the Law of Moses according to all of his commands with all his heart and all his soul (1QS 5:7-9)
. . .
In essence the new covenant was but a renewal of the Mosaic covenant revitalized by the exploitation of its virtualities (cf. CD 5:8-11).
The intimate connection of the Essene new covenant with the law is confirmed by the other reference in the later stratum of CD:
All who entered the new covenant in the land of Damascus and who returned, and who acted treacherously and departed from the well of living water, shall not be reckoned in the council of the people and shall not be written in their records from the time the Teacher is gathered in until the arrival of the Messiah from Aaron and from Israel. (CD 19:33-5)
The shall receive the same judgment as their companions who turned back with the men scoffing, for they spoke heresy against the ordinance of righteousness and rejected the covenant and bond which they affirmed in the land of Damascus, that is, the new covenant. (CD 20:11-12)
(page 56 Keys to Second Corinthians Jerome Murphy-O’Connor https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592104.001.0001/acprof-9780199592104)
It should be noted however that the “The new covenant in CD is not thought of as the fulfillment of prophecy of Jer 31:31, and it is doubtful that it had any eschatological connotation in pre-Qumran usage.” (pg 55 ibid)
This makes sense since the new covenant will teach all men the law through Christ and write it on their heart so that they will not even need to teach each other. It has to be teaching more than just the words of the law if they are not teaching each other–since just knowing the words they would still need to interpret and teach the exact interpretation of those words.
Here we start seeing that it is talking about the “ministry” of the new and old covenants and not the covenants themselves:
7 Now if the ministry of death, [chiseled] (just means “impressed”) in letters on stone [tablets], came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8 how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10 Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11 for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory! (2 Cor 3 NRSV with my modifications)
7 . . . came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside: I thought for a while that “came in glory” (in verse 7) and “came through glory” (in verse 11) might be making a distinction. Maybe one is talking about the covenant and the other is talking about the ministry of the covenant. However, I think that would be too confusing even for Paul. I think the subject is the ministry of the covenants throughout 2 Corinthians 3:3-13.
The fact is that the “ministration” (διακονία) of the old covenant is the subject here, not the covenant itself and this is referring to the same thing that is spoken of in 2 Cor 3:7-10 since Paul does vary his prepositions to express the same relation and it would be at variance with the context. Even Christian commentators have agreed with this, such as Meyer’s N.T. Commentary which also says that this cannot refer to the “mosaic religion in general”
τὸ καταργούμενον] that which is in the act of passing away. This the reader was to apply to the διακονία of Moses spoken of in 2 Corinthians 3:7-10, in so far, namely, as this ministry is in the course of its abolition through the preaching of the gospel by means of the διακονία τῆς δικαιοσύνης. . . .
διὰ δόξης] sc.ἐστι. διά expresses the situation, condition, and so is a circumlocution for the adjective. Stallbaum, ad Plat. Phileb. p. 192; Bernhardy, p. 235; Fritzsche, ad Rom. I. p. 138. ἐν δόξῃ (2 Corinthians 3:7) is not different in sense; but the supposition of Estius, Billroth, Olshausen, Osiander, Neander, Hofmann, that διά indicates only what is transient, and ἐν what is abiding, is mere fancy. Paul is fond of varying the prepositions in designating the same relation. Comp. Romans 3:30; Romans 5:10; Romans 15:2; Galatians 2:16; Philemon 1:5. Comp. also Kühner, II, p. 319.
 Not to the Mosaic religion in general, which ceases through Christ (Theodoret, Theophylact, and many others, including Emmerling and Flatt),—which is quite at variance with the context. See vv. 7–10.
Interestingly the form of the word indicates the glory of Moses face is in the process of being set aside which means it’s not literally talking about Moses’s face but rather the ministry of death. Once Sinai brings death and makes Israel aware of it’s sin, Israel can then accept grace and humbly repent allowing the law to be written their hearts.
8 how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory: If the ministry of death was awesome the ministry of the new covenant will be even better because it redeems from death. Kal va-homer!
Note that it contrasts the ministry of death with the ministry of the Spirit. Thayer’s in fact defines the word “ministry” as:
1) service, ministering, esp. of those who execute the commands of others 2) of those who by the command of God proclaim and promote religion among men 2a) of the office of Moses 2b) of the office of the apostles and its administration . . .
The Spirit writes the law on our hearts but it is not the law itself. The ministry of death is the ministry of Sinai but is not Sinai itself. Sinai brings death because of transgression, yet it is not death itself: so the separation between the covenant and the ministry spoken of here is of two degrees: death not being Sinai, and the ministry not being death itself. Later Paul in fact parallels himself with Moses a minister of a covenant:
12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. (2 Cor 3:13)
So why does it refer to the “the ministry of death, [impressed] in letters on stone?” It might be referring to the giving of the law by mediators at mount Sinai of which Moses was one:
19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. 20 Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one. (Galatians 3:19-20)
2 For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, (Hebrews 2:2-3)
You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” (Acts 7:53)
However, the word “chiseled” could be translated “impressed” (as the ABP) and the word “tablets” is supplied, so I think this language is not even referring to the giving of the law at Sinai but talking about the symbols used for the work of the ministry of Sinai as opposed to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in other places. The word “letters” has already been used by Paul in 2 Cor 3 to speak of the ministry of Sinai https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G1121 and it uses the same language to contrast the “stone” with the “Spirit” in Ezekiel:
19 I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Even if it is really talking about the covenant and not the ministry we are left with the fact that Paul is using ministry of death as a symbol. If this is a symbol then Paul could be using the ministry of death as a symbol for the covenant’s effects or for works of law like he does in other places in Galatians and Romans. However, I have taken the ministry view since it is repeated consistently throughout 2 Corinthians 3:3,7,8,9a,9b, 2 Corinthians 4:1,2 and Corinthians 5:18 and Paul seems to be drawing attention to this qualifier to avoid talking about the covenants themselves.
9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory!: The ministry of Sinai came in glory and it brought death, how much more glorious is the ministry of the new covenant that will bring life? Again this could be an analogy for comparing a soteriology of works of law to faith/grace which Paul does in his other writings. Notice, that the glory of that ministry is in the process of being “set aside” that is associated with the ministry of Sinai not the covenant of Sinai itself. It is set aside by the natural reason that Israel no longer needs to experience the curses of Sinai if they have been perfected under the new covenant and are following the law–instead they will achieve the blessings of Sinai–life–through the promises of Abraham and through the Moabite covenant. I talk about this in more detail here:
11 for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!: The glory of Moses’s face faded after he talked with God and his ministry (the ministry of the old covenant) will be set aside but in the new covenant everyone will have direct access to God through the holy spirit and the glory of the new covenant will never fade because that ministry is forever!
According to Galatians 3 and Romans 7 the old covenant curses must still apply–otherwise why do we need to be saved from it? In addition, we will see why the old covenant cannot be set aside because of Matthew’s statements and by what is implied by Paul in Ephesian 2 and Colossians 2. The fact is what is being “set aside” here is not the old covenant.
We will see the journey of Israel being used as an analogy for the journey individuals as we move on in 2 Cor 3. However, the analogies used here are more subtle than they are in Romans and Galatians:
12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside.
We do not hide the glory of the ministry of the law like Moses did but preach the correct understanding of the law boldly! This is because the ministry of the new covenant brings us closer to God unlike the ministry of the old covenant which only had the letter and not the spirit. The ministry of the new covenant allows us to come more boldly to God and have confidence in our understanding of the law because of the holy spirit writing it on our hearts.
14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
Only Christ through the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the new covenant allows you to break the barrier between the law and your heart (what the NRSV more accurately translates as “mind”) which is the hardness of our hearts so we can receive the law in our hearts.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:1-18)
Christ allows us to keep the law and have freedom from the Curses of Sinai. The new covenant through the holy spirit makes us more into an image of Christ who fulfilled the law.
Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4
1 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
We do not water down the gospel by saying (as some of Paul’s opponents have said) that works of the law are necessary along with Christ for salvation. To put your trust in keeping the law well enough or certain works of the law (like circumcision) well enough is to veil the gospel and make Christ useless.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The gospel can also be misunderstood just like the law and this will cause people to perish.
5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
This is a quote from Isaiah 9:2 in the context of the Millennial kingdom and the return of the lost tribes (both things that Christ started the process for with his sending of the holy spirit) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+9 the NKJV notes also include Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78 and 2 Peter 1:19 which I think have similar messianic themes. Meyer’s N.T. Commentary also includes Isaiah 60:1
 Ewald, following the reading λάμψει, supposes an allusion to Isaiah 60:1, Job 12:22, or to some lost passage.
There are some parallels to observe with Isaiah 60 and Paul’s mission to Israel and the lost tribes here:
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
This same word for “clay jars” is used in Jeremiah 19:1,19:11,19:14. This is right after chapter 18 which speaks of the Israel as clay being shaped by a potter and evil being intended for Israel in the form of exile from the land and loss of nationhood:
6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
Jeremiah 19 speaks of the breaking of these vessels, hence the exile of Israel and hence the lost tribes:
10 Then you shall break the jug in the sight of those who go with you, 11 and shall say to them: Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended. In Topheth they shall bury until there is no more room to bury. 12 Thus will I do to this place, says the Lord, and to its inhabitants, making this city like Topheth. 13 And the houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah shall be defiled like the place of Topheth—all the houses upon whose roofs offerings have been made to the whole host of heaven, and libations have been poured out to other gods. (Jeremiah 19:10-13)
Likewise the same word for clay jars in 2 Corinthians 4:6 is used in Isaiah 30:14 and in Isaiah chapter 29 it speaks also of Israel as clay vessels:
13 The Lord said: Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote; 14 so I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing. The wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.
15 Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?” 16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay? Shall the thing made say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of the one who formed it, “He has no understanding”? (Isaiah 29:13-16)
Likewise Isaiah 30 speaks of the breaking of these vessels:
12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel: Because you reject this word, and put your trust in oppression and deceit, and rely on them; 13 therefore this iniquity shall become for you like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant; 14 its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a sherd is found for taking fire from the hearth, or dipping water out of the cistern.
Similar language is used to refer to Israel in Hosea as vessels of wrath (Israel who was exiled) and vessels of mercy (Judah who stayed in the land) Paul uses this language also in Romans 9 to refer to the same thing.
What I think Paul is doing in 2 Cor 4:6-7 is talking about the light of Christ in the new covenant that would have been hidden in Israel if the lost tribes had not been exiled and suffered. It is only by the suffering and exile of the lost tribes that the clay vessels are broken and the light of Christ is revealed to all the nations:
6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
(2 Corinthians 4:6-7)
For more information on these symbols see:
8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak,
It continues on talking about the suffering of Israel and the lost tribes. “I believe, and so I spoke” is a quote from Psalm 116:10 and Psalm 116 is about the millennial kingdom where all peoples will worship God:
It is a question of the praise of the Lord by all peoples. The second verse expresses the reason for the first verse: the goodness of the Lord has been experienced in the past, and his faithfulness will last forever. If we take into consideration the whole book of psalms, we see that this psalm comes to sum up and conclude all the psalms of the hallel, and even all the preceding psalms since Psalm 107, for they invite Israel and all nations to praise ‘Eternal.
Psalm 116:10 specifically refers to speaking of the deliverance from death that was received in verse 8-9:
8 For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. 9 I walk before the Lord in the land of the living. 10 I kept my faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”; (Psalm 116:8-10)
Moving on in 2 Corinthians 3:14-15:
14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
The Resurrection of Israel in the millennial kingdom will be extended to more and more people from other nations with the deliverance from the ministry of death.
16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:1-18)
This present life is temporary and is a forshadowing of life with God since we are saved through the new covenant enabling Israel to keep the law and by having the law written on our hearts.
Paul compares Moab to Sinai in Romans 10 and the Abrahamic Covenant to Sinai in Galatians 3–as an analogy for faith and works of law. In 2 Corinthians 3 I believe he is comparing Sinai (specifically its curses) to the new covenant an analogy of works of law verses faith .
What is Set Aside?
Ephesians 2:15 uses the same language for “set aside” as in 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:11, and 2 Corinthians 3:13. Ephesians cannot be referring to the law being “set aside” because it has a parallel in Colossians 2:14 which specifically talks about human philosophy and elemental spirits not law. Therefore the language of “set aside” must refer to something human there and I believe it does refer to that in 2 Cor 3 too: salvation by works of the law.
If the law is καταργήσας [in Eph 2:14] then it is no longer in effect at all–it is not just surpressed. This is because the “law of commands and ordinances” is referred to as the “hostility between us” and it says that he has “broken down” or “loosed” the hostility between us:
“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” (Eph 2:14-15)
This is the same word used in Matthew 5:19, 6:19
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (matthew 16:19)
It can’t use the same word to describe what has been done to the law that it uses to say in Matthew 5:19 will never be done to the law. Therefore, in Ephesians 2:14-15 it can’t be referring to the law and if you look at the parallel in Colossians 2 this is evident since it refers to proto-gnostic human teachings:
Paul described the heresy in Colossae as a “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world” (Col. 2:8 cf. Col. 2:4, 18). Gnostics believed that they alone had wisdom (sophia) and knowledge (gnōsis). Paul stated, however, that true wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (Col. 2:3).
A pre-gnostic or syncretistic heresy was also being taught in the church at Ephesus. Paul addressed aspects of this heresy in his letters to Timothy. Timothy was caring for the church at Ephesus at that time.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. (Colossians 2:8-22)
So to sum up 2 Corinthians 3 I believe it is talking about an understanding of the law. Just as a true understanding of the law can be veiled and misunderstood so can a true understanding of the gospel and hence salvation. Observe the following:
2 Cor 3 is referring to the ministry of the covenants and not the covenants themselves.
. “NOT OF THE LETTER but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” The letter without the work of the spirit will bring death since we cannot keep the law without the holy spirit writing it on our hearts.
“the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone” refers to the curses of Sinai (Sinai had blessings too)
Paul uses the Sinai covenant as an analogy to compare a soteriology based on works of law (since that understanding would lead to death since Israel broke the Sinai covenant and needed redemption from it’s curses) to a soteriology based on faith (since Christ would enable Israel to be righteous under the Sinai covenant through the holy spirit writing the law on our hearts) I talk about some of these ideas here: https://hebrewroots.intentionalcommunities.world/2018/11/04/the-two-covenants-of-galatians-4/
“the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside” Notice it is the glory that is “set aside” not the old covenant itself since through the work of the holy spirit Israel will attain the blessings of the old covenant.
As we have already discussed the language of “set aside” is used in Ephesians and Colossians to talk about human teachings being set aside.
For a kal va-homer argument to work the thing you are comparing needs to be good already. I can’t say that my living room is well-lit because “my basement has no lights how much brighter is my living room?” The argument is meaningless. Maybe my living room is brighter than my basement but it doesn’t mean my living room well-lit because there is literally no light in my basement. For the new covenant to be great the old covenant has to be good at least and not something that is just set aside.
All verses are in the NRSV unless otherwise noted. The first occurrence of the word “torah” H8451 in the Bible is here:
because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” H8451
That is parallel with Deuteronomy 11:1 which uses all those words but replaces “torah” with “mishpat” (judgments) and that word “mishpat” is also used in Gen 18:19:
No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; H4941 thaso that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
We also have Moses instructing the Children of Israel in these concepts before Sinai, specifically “torah” H8451 and “choq” H2706
15 Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes H2706 and instructions H8451 of God.
So there’s a parallel between Gen 26:5 and Deut 11:1 and these words are used to describe what Abraham obeyed from God and they are all used to describe what God gave the children of Israel at Sinai. In addition, the one-word “tsadaka” in Gen 18:19 that doesn’t occur in the places we already mentioned is used here:
No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; H6666 so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
And it will be righteousness H6666 for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’
(Deu 6:25 ESV)
In addition the word mitzvah used in Deu 6:25 is also in Gen 26:5
because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, H4687 my statutes, and my laws.”
I’m not saying that every law in the Torah was known or followed before Sinai, the tabernacle did not exist and the levitical priesthood was not setup so there are plenty of laws that just didn’t apply at that time. What I am arguing however is that the law does not change unless the situation changes.
The Festivals Were Setup in Genesis
In addition the word “Moed” in Genesis 1:14 can be argued to be referring to “festivals” see the following paper:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons H4150 and for days and years,
Shavuot Was Celebrated by Noah
The idea that Shavuot (one of the festivals) was observed before Sinai appears early in the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jubilees according to britannica.com:
Jubilees, in its final form, was likely written about 100 BC, though it incorporates much older mythological traditions.
Here is the passage from Jubilees:
17* Therefore, it is ordained and written in the heavenly tablets that they should observe the feast of Shebuot in this month, once per year, in order to renew the is covenant in all (respects), year by year. 18* And all of this feast was celebrated in heaven from the day of creation until the days of Noah, twenty-six jubilees and five weeks of years. And Noah and his children kept it for seven jubilees and one week of years until the day of the death of Noah. And from the day of the death of Noah, his sons corrupted it until the days of Abraham, and they ate blood. 19 But Abraham alone kept it. And Isaac and Jacob and his sons kept it until your days, but in your days the children of Israel forgot it until you renewed it for them on this mountain.
20 And you, command the children of Israel so that they might keep this feast in all of their generations as a commandment to them. One day per year in this month they shall celebrate the feast, 21* for it is the feast of Shebuot and it is the feast of the first fruits. This feast is twofold and of two natures. Just as it is written and engraved concerning it, observe it. 22 This is because I have written it in the book of the first law, which I wrote for you, so that you might observe it in each of its appointed times, one day per year. And I have told you its sacrificial offering so that the children of Israel might remember them and observe them in their generations in this month one day each year.
23* And on the first of the first month and on the first of the fourth month and on the first of the seventh month and on the first of the tenth month are the days of remembrance and they are the days of appointed times in the four parts of the year. They are written and inscribed for an eternal witness. 24 And Noah ordained them for himself as feasts for eternal generations because they were a memorial for him. 25 And on the first of the first month, he was told to make an ark. And on it the land dried up, and he opened up and saw the land. 26* And on the first of the fourth month, the mouths of the deeps of the abysses which were beneath were shut. And on the first of the seventh month, all of the mouths of the depths of the earth were opened, and the water began to go down into them. 27 On the first of the tenth month the heads of the mountains appeared, and Noah rejoiced. 28 And therefore he ordained them for himself as feasts of remembrance forever, and thus they are ordained. 29 And they set them upon the heavenly tablets. Each one of them is thirteen weeks from one to another of the remembrances, from the first to the second, and from the second to the third, and from the third to the fourth. 30 And all of the days which will be commanded will be fifty-two weeks of days, and all of them are a complete year. 31 Thus it is engraved and ordained on the heavenly tablets, and there is no transgressing in a single year, from year to year.  (Charlesworth, J. H. (1985).
The Old Testament pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom, and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works (Vol. 2, pp. 67–68). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.) (Jubilees 6.16–31)
Genesis Had the Same Dietary Laws
Changing the subject slightly there are a few places where people say Genesis implies that the dietary laws changed, one is here:
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so (Gen 1:28-30)
I think this is a misconception. In Gen 1 God creates the food chain (in general) from the bottom up: Gen 1:11 (vegetation), Gen 1:20 (sea creatures and birds), Gen 1:20 (cattle and creeping things and wild animals), Gen 1:26 (humans). It even says that man shall:
“. . . have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28)
So this seems to be about God giving sustenance to all animals through his provision of plants. In addition it seems that either the accounts in Gen 1 and 2 are contradictory (since God in Gen 2 has not yet made animals at all) or that God had not actually provided animals in the garden for Adam at first. (hence Gen 1 is an account of creation overall and Gen 2 is more specific to the garden) Therefore when God says “I give you every green plant for food” he is speaking to a state where there are no animals to choose from yet so he can’t be said to imply “you can’t eat meat.” See below:
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. (Gen 2:18-20)
There are a couple arguments against the idea that this was a state where there are no animals yet:
1 The ESV translates 19 as “Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field . . .” This suggests that it is referring to the creation of animals in Gen 1
2 “I will make him a helper as his partner” actually refers to Eve and not the animals.
The problem is that “So” (in my preferred translation the NRSV) at the beginning of the verse connects the creation and presentation of the animals with finding a helper for Adam and that verse 18 “I will make him a helper as his partner” is parallel with verse 20 “but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner,” so we have the animals being presented as possible helpers to Adam
Also compare with the fact that it focuses on the garden at the beginning of the chapter:
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. . . . 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)
Interestingly enough the story in Genesis 2 seems to have the order of creation differently (if you try to say it is talking about the same thing that Gen 1 is and is not just talking about the garden)
. . . In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:4-9)
This shows it must be talking about specifically the land of Israel or the land around Eden, not the entire earth.
What about the dietary requirements in Gen 9:3?
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. (Genesis 9:3)
No, the context is clearly about having the power and ability to eat said animals, not about being given permission. The phrase “just as I gave you the green plants” merely means “you will have the ability to eat ALL the animals just as you have with the plants.” Obviously not all plants or animals are good to eat:
1 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.
6 Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind.
7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.” (Gen 8:1-7)
If you don’t believe me then why could Israelites as far back as they can remember eat mushrooms? https://www.aish.com/atr/Mushrooms-Kosher-Status-Blessing.html The mushroom’s unkosher status should have been restated later in the Torah or there should be at least some traditions saying that mushrooms are non-kosher if the lists in Genesis were exclusive. Yet the lists in Genesis are not exclusive, they are merely declaring God’s provision in different ways.
Genesis Had Similar Sacrifices
Why did God tell Noah specifically to take extra “clean” animals on the ark and why did Noah sacrifice them? Many sacrifices require the priest who is sacrificing them to eat some of the animal. In addition the same word that is used for “clean” animals that Noah took on the ark is only used in reference to animals to talk about dietary cleanness:
46 This is the law pertaining to land animal and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms upon the earth, 47 to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, H2889and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.
1 Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of all clean H2889 animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, H2889 the male and its mate; 3 and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. 4 For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” 5 And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.
Abel Drained the Blood and Separated Fat Portions
Now it is possible that the specific sacrifices that Noah gave are simply whole burnt offerings that weren’t eaten. However, offerings are elsewhere always food and it would break the pattern if Abel and Noah were offering animals that weren’t supposed to be food. In addition Abel seems to separate the fat portions from his flock, which is parallel with later laws in the Torah:
and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat H2459 portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering,
9 You shall present its fat H2459 from the sacrifice of well-being, as an offering by fire to the Lord: the whole broad tail, which shall be removed close to the backbone, the fat H2459 that covers the entrails, and all the fat H2459 that is around the entrails; 10 the two kidneys with the fat H2459 that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver, which you shall remove with the kidneys. 11 Then the priest shall turn these into smoke on the altar as a food offering by fire to the Lord.
Then the priest shall turn these into smoke on the altar as a food offering by fire for a pleasing odor. All fat H2459 is the Lord’s.
Interestingly the word used for Abel’s sacrifice is also used to describe a non-bloodly sacrifice :
This means that draining the blood may have been known at this time, possibly from the law expressed in this verse:
“Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”
Why would Abel know about this if he wasn’t eating animals? Even though this isn’t explicitly stated in Genesis we must remember that Genesis leaves a massive amount of information out of the story: let the reader investigate this on their own. Once again I don’t believe the law changes unless the situation changes since the law is good and unless the situation changes there is no reason to suggest a different law would be good. If people or animals changed in a way that was relevant to dietary laws at some points in Genesis this would be a good reason to say that maybe the dietary laws changed. However, we just don’t have the information to decide this. In addition, I think I’ve found information that implies that this wasn’t the case.
Laban The Priest Avoids Becoming Unclean
There’s multitude of evidence for other laws being practiced before Sinai: Laban (a priest) avoids looking in the baggage that Rachel is sitting on when she is menstruating. This is similar to the laws of the priests of Aaron for having to purify themselves if they touch anything unclean. However, since Rachel says she cannot rise and Laban could have purified himself and continued serving as a priest the next day this particular parallel with Sinai law is weak:
34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. Laban felt all about in the tent, but did not find them. 35 And she said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.” So he searched, but did not find the household gods.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Direct Aaron and his sons to deal carefully with the sacred donations of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to me, so that they may not profane my holy name; I am the Lord. 3 Say to them: If anyone among all your offspring throughout your generations comes near the sacred donations, which the people of Israel dedicate to the Lord, while he is in a state of uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from my presence: I am the Lord. 4 No one of Aaron’s offspring who has a leprous disease or suffers a discharge may eat of the sacred donations until he is clean. Whoever touches anything made unclean by a corpse or a man who has had an emission of semen, 5 and whoever touches any swarming thing by which he may be made unclean or any human being by whom he may be made unclean—whatever his uncleanness may be— 6 the person who touches any such shall be unclean until evening and shall not eat of the sacred donations unless he has washed his body in water.
Finally we have Exo 19:22 where priests are talked about before the laws for priests are given:
Even the priests who approach the Lord must consecrate themselves or the Lord will break out against them.”
We have many examples of the law being practiced before Sinai:
Abraham followed a parallel of the requirements in Deuteronomy 11:1. Also, all the same words were used to describe God’s laws and statutes before Sinai. In addition Moses taught the Israelites the law before Sinai.
The feasts being practiced before Sinai based on “moedim” translated as “festivals” in Genesis 1 and the book of Jubilees saying that Shavuot was kept as far back as Noah
Sacrifices in Genesis
Clean and not clean animals in Genesis
Sacrifices in Genesis that respect these distinctions
Implied dietary laws in Genesis based on the distinction of clean and not clean and the fact that Abel poured out the blood and distinguished the fat portions in his sacrifices just as the levitical priesthood did
Laws regarding priests with David and his servants eating the showbread and Tamar being ordered to be killed and burnt with fire which is the punishment for a priest’s daughter who engages in harlotry
Here I’m not going to attempt to give rules of interpretation for when something in the Bible is or is not ordering genocide. However, I will point out a few problems with concluding that a verse that looks like it is commanding genocide is actually commanding it.
The language in the Bible is often imprecise and different than how we would use it today. For instance, the word for male “zakuwr” (H2138 ) sometimes just means men older than “infants” (see below)
13 and Jehovah thy God hath given it into thy hand, and thou hast smitten every male H2138of it by the mouth of the sword. 14 Only, the women, and the infants, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, all its spoil, thou dost seize for thyself, and thou hast eaten the spoil of thine enemies which Jehovah thy God hath given to thee. 15 So thou dost do to all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. 16 `Only, of the cities of these peoples which Jehovah thy God is giving to thee [for] an inheritance, thou dost not keep alive any breathing; 17 for thou dost certainly devote the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, as Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee, 18 so that they teach you not to do according to all their abominations which they have done to their gods, and ye have sinned against Jehovah your God.
(Deuteronomy 20:13-18 YLT)
“Am” (H5971) for “people” can just mean “men” (seeming to exclude infants and very young children). It is also used in synonymously with “iysh” H376 (men) see below:
Before they lie down, the men H5971 of the city — men of Sodom — have come round about against the house, from young even unto aged, all the people from the extremity;
And Absalom and all the people, H5971 the men H376 of Israel, have come in to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him,
(2 Sa 16:15)
And the people, h5971 the men H376 of Israel, strengthen themselves, and add to set the battle in array in the place where they arranged themselves on the first day.
Here’s another example in war of “all the people coming out” when it is really all the men:
`And we turn, and go up the way to Bashan, and Og king of Bashan cometh out to meet us, he and all his people, H5971 to battle, [to] Edrei. (Deu 3:1)
Also this kind of implies that the “am” (literally “people” but here meaning “men”) were counted separately from the women especially in wartime:
and he bringeth back the whole of the substance, and also Lot his brother and his substance hath he brought back, and also the women and the people. H5971
Here the Amalekites come back later, so H5971 “am” “all the people” must not have been destroyed (king Agag is killed by Samuel later as well) First: Samuel hears a word from the lord that night then, second: Samuel rises early the next day to condemn Saul and kill Agag. This means Agag would have to impregnate a woman during the one day he was captured:
and he catcheth Agag king of Amalek alive, and all the people H5971 he hath devoted by the mouth of the sword;
(1 Sa 15:8)
Joshua uses “am” (h5971) or “people” to talk about the destruction of Ai which is a bit ambigous as to whether everything was destroyed or not:
16 And all the people h5971 that were in Ai were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city. 17 And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel. 18 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city. 19 And the ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand: and they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire. … 24 And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants h3427 of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. (Joshua 8:16-24)
(it does not mention anything about the women or the children being slain when they go into the city, it is fighting men, or people of fighting age, that are drawn out of the city and are slain) However, it gets a little ambiguous in the next few verses:
24 And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants h3427 of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. 25 And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai. 26 For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. 27 Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua.
The argument for “yashab” (H3427) “inhabitants” (which is used in Joshua 8:24) being just the men is much weaker, but there is still a possibility, such as here where it seems to separate out women and infants from the “inhabitants.” Also if they separated out women and infants in the command it shows that they did not normally kill women and infants in war which would go contrary to a lot of what is assumed about this bronze age culture in the Bible:
9 And the people numbered themselves, and lo, there is not there a man of the inhabitants H3427 of Jabesh-Gilead. 10 And the company send there twelve thousand men of the sons of valour, and command them, saying, `Go — and ye have smitten the inhabitants H3427 of Jabesh-Gilead by the mouth of the sword, even the women and the infants.
Below you could read it as “smite the inhabitants” but “utterly destroy everything else in the city including the animals” In most translation the pronoun “it” is used instead of “them”, meaning the rest of the verse, could be referring to other things in the city. And in most translations it says “all that is therein” instead of “all who are therein”, meaning it is probably referring to people’s possessions. The word for smite is mostly used to talk about partial destruction, or attacking.
`Thou dost surely smite the inhabitants H3427 of that city by the mouth of the sword; devoting it, and all that [is] in it, even its cattle, by the mouth of the sword;
Ok so this is super controversial. First there is the opinion from Finny Kuruvilla at http://www.watchmangospelsigns.com/ (which is rather well thought out) that divorce is permitted but only in extreme circumstances and remarriage is forbidden in all circumstances:
I endorse Finny’s critique of the literal Erasmian interpretation which I think has multiple problems. However, there are a few problems I have with Finny’s view:
1. To hold Finny’s view you need to interpret Deuteronomy 24 as regulating something that is wrong under all circumstances.
While this is possible, it seems unlikely due to the fact there is no punishment listed for the behavior except not marrying your previously married wife. Also, we must assume that if divorce and remarriage are wrong under all circumstances then remarriage to the original husband is worse:
1 Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2 and goes off to become another man’s wife. 3 Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); 4 her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
I will add the caveat that divorce is certainly something that is wrong under many circumstance, or is at least more wrong than some of the offenses that people often have divorced over:
13 And this you do as well: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. 14 You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. 16 For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless. (Malachi 2:13-16 NRSV)
2. Finny’s view implies that the certificate of divorce has no effect
The certificate of divorce has the effect of separating you from your spouse. This is because it has the effect of making it impossible for your wife to come back after marrying someone else according to Deuteronomy 24. If you can’t remarry after a divorce then the divorce certificate seems to have no effect: you are still tied to your spouse. This does not fit with a whole law written regulating the certificate of divorce. If all it does is allow you to leave then you are still married to them; therefore what is the problem with remarrying the same person?
3. If you take literally what Mark 10:11-12 says that remarriage after divorce for any reason is adultery . . .
If you take literally what Mark 10:11-12 says then you must believe that what Jesus says in Mark 10:5-9 means that divorce for any reason is unlawful. However, Paul explicitly states that in some cases divorce can happen even though it should not happen:
10 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Cor 7:10-11)
4. The context in which Finny argues “eunuchs are divorced people who can’t remarry” doesn’t fit.
The only place where this occurs is in Matthew 19 and here we see what they are objecting to is the difficulty of divorce in the context of not being able to divorce your wife for “any cause.” They aren’t afraid of marrying then getting divorced and having to be Eunuchs (which they would be without marrying anyway), they are afraid of marriage itself:
3 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” . . .
8 He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”
10 His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
(Matthew 19:3-12 NRSV)
5. Matthew tends to clarify Mark.
The fact that Matthew makes the context of Jesus’s statement about being able to divorce for “any reason” means that Jesus was reacting to a lax standard of divorce. His response therefore would be in the context of frivolous divorces.
Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” (Matthew 19:3)
Another example of possible clarification is the following:
As another example, within Matthew’s community unchastity was evidently recognized as legitimate grounds for divorce. It may have been in the communities of Mark and Luke as well, but they failed to stipulate the exception in this particular saying of Jesus. Matthew clarifies the issue by inserting the phrase “except for unchastity:”
Some may respond that Jesus’s statement would have to be summarized as “you may not divorce your wife for any cause but only except for unchastity” This makes sense but it seems like he still had a strict view on it. What about if one spouse was trying to kill the other? Well, this author https://www.divorce-remarriage.com/ argues that Jesus was only addressing a certain type of divorce. See the Pharisees had split up the grounds for divorce of “some indecency” in Deuteronomy 24:1 into “adultery” and “a cause.” Jesus was addressing only this type of divorce and saying you couldn’t divorce for any cause. When he says “except for porneia” (“porneia” is the word translated “adultery”) it is literally “not porneia” https://studybible.info/interlinear/Matthew%2019:9 That is, he is implying “any cause” by saying “not porneia” because that is how those divorces were split up: into “adultery” and “a cause.” It is just a restatement of the “any cause” phrase in their earlier question: “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” These divorces were the most common since you didn’t have to prove anything in court but only present “a cause.” Jesus does not address the other types of divorce where other grounds are presented like in Exodus 21:10-11 Also, the cultural context backs this up:
By the first century there was general agreement concerning most aspects of divorce and remarriage within rabbinic Judaism. According to divorce law, the decision to end the marriage contract was that of the husband, because he had to write the divorce certificate. A wife could force a husband to divorce her if she could prove to a rabbinic court that he had broken the marriage contract, but it seldom happened. The author claims that one development during these times influenced almost all divorces among Jews. The Hillelites introduced a new interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 by which they allowed divorce for “any matter”, while the Shammaites interpreted the same text as saying “for a matter of indecency”. Most Jewish divorces therefore took place on Hillelite grounds, because there was no need to prove anything in court. It is worth noting that the Shammaites accepted the validity of this type of divorce even though it was contrary to what they would have decided. Meanwhile, in the greater Greco-Roman context it became easier for both men and woman to initiate a divorce, and anyone could divorce simply by separating from one’s spouse.
I have reached my conclusions mostly just by comparing the texts of the gospels and the Hebrew Bible and being aware of the tendency of Matthew to clarify things. Here we see that a scholar has reached similar conclusions by looking at the cultural context of the first century:
Instone-Brewer approaches the problem of Jesus’ radical teaching about divorce and remarriage from an interesting angle. An important investigation in this regard concerns the abbreviated texts that we find in the Gospels. He claims that usually the exegesis was largely absent from these debates because these text were regularly used in the synagogue and because it was widely known at the time. By the second century what used to be common knowledge was quickly disappearing, largely because of the disappearance of the Shammaite group. Commonly understood phrases were also removed, but would have been mentally added by first century readers. The added phrase “for any matter” as it appears in Matthew 19:3 which does not appear in Mark or Luke, is one such example.
This phrase referred to the Hillelite interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1, an interpretation Jesus did not agree with at all – hence the view that remarriage after this type of divorce is invalid. As far as this issue is concerned, Jesus differed from opinions within Judaism, including that of the Shammaites. Furthermore, the author concludes that in instances where the Gospels are completely silent about an important matter like the silence about remarriage after the death of a spouse or Jesus’ opinion about the grounds for divorce in Exodus 21:10-11, Jesus’ silence can be ascribed to the fact that on these points he agreed with the unanimously held opinion of Judaism. One such example is Jesus’ silence about the Old Testament grounds for divorce. The author claims that the assumption that Jesus regarded the exception of porneia as the only ground for divorce is wrong, because it would mean that the Shammaites too had allowed divorce only on the grounds of adultery, which is simply not the case. At first these arguments appear to be rather weak but the author’s extensive research is convincing. The author delicately adds to the exegeses and arguments from their abbreviated forms and concludes six separate matters about which Jesus taught.
6. What about Paul’s sayings in 1 Corinthians 7? Do they imply remarriage is impossible after a divorce?
10 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)
Paul’s sayings may only apply to the Roman custom of divorce through separating since he was writing to people living in the secular city of Corinth:
Chapter seven shows that the world in which Paul lived was completely different from that in which Jesus lived. It is shown that Paul reacts mainly to the practice in the Greco-Roman world in terms of which anyone could divorce simply by separating from one’s spouse. Like Jesus, Paul emphasized ways to stay married, rather than ways to divorce.
7. Jesus as the New Covenant Mediator may have been focusing on the heart
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
In context, Jesus’s statements could be more about intent than about the physical requirements of a divorce. For instance, above where Jesus says “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus is not literally saying that they are guilty of adultery but that as the New Covenant Mediator he trying to allow the law to be written on people’s hearts and coveting in your heart is against that purpose. (you have to take your thoughts captive as Paul says) Similarly, Jesus is not saying if your eye or your hand causes you to sin once then you have to cut them off because your eye or your hand can’t cause you to sin. He is saying to value your eternal existence more than your present existence in your physical body.
Therefore Jesus’s comments on divorce may be about divorce that was caused by a heart intent/condition that was not concerned with trying to keep the marriage together. Also, maybe the context is a heart intent that wanted to divorce in order to marry someone else.
Why is this important?
I talked to a woman whose husband was beating her (and if I remember correctly–threatened to kill her) and she felt she couldn’t divorce him until he committed adultery because of Matthew 19:8. Luckily he did eventually commit adultery. Let me ask you this, what if she was one of the very early Christians who didn’t have access to all the gospels and only had access to Matthew or Luke? (Mark is also supposed to have been written before Matthew) If she only read Mark and read it literally (like she did Matthew) she might be dead.
Threatening to kill someone violates the marriage covenant because if one person dies the covenant is nullified and shows you are willing to break it yourself. Beating someone I would think is worse than committing adultery. (I know the law says you can stone someone for adultery but this seems to have only been done in rare cases and forgiveness seems to be allowed, such as the case of Hosea)
I definitely think you can divorce for more causes than adultery. I think if your life is in danger or your emotional health is in danger those are reasonable causes. Emotional abuse can be physically dangerous to you–it can be unhealthy and take years off your life. It can make you at risk for suicide. I’m not as sure about remarriages after divorce. However, I’ve presented some evidence that remarriage is justified in certain cases as well.
One thing that has bothered me about marriage is the question of “what is it and for what purpose?” Does marriage begin when you have sex with someone because you are “certainly” supposed to marry someone afterward according to Exodus 22:16-18? If that is it then why is remarriage allowed upon death according to Romans 7? It would seem that if marriage is started with sex and it lasts forever then having sex with multiple people during your lifetime would be wrong. Yet if someone had multiple spouses die during their lifetime they would be able to do this. Therefore, limiting sexual partners isn’t of the utmost importance for the intent of marriage. In fact, there is no part of the Torah that prevents you from going into a cancer ward and marrying people one right after the other as they are dying. In addition, sex with a betrothed woman is treated just like adultery in the Torah, so marriage has to be about more than just regulating sex or commitment to one person for each individual.
More likely, it seems that marriage is a combination of sex and a covenant (betrothal), although if you have the sex you are supposed to make the covenant. Marriage then is not primarily concerned with limiting the number of people you have sex with during your life (although that tends to be one of its effects) but marriage may be primarily concerned with maintaining societal health, providing a stable environment for children, and ensuring people and households are emotionally/financially stable. If a marriage is so bad that it damages those things more than it upholds them then maybe it should be terminated.
Based on my own observations the following conclusions and summary are likely correct:
The Bible’s message for those suffering within marriage is both realistic and loving
Marriage should be lifelong, but broken marriage vows can be grounds for divorce
Biblical grounds for divorce include adultery, abuse and abandonment
Jesus urged forgiveness but allowed divorce for repeated unrepentant breaking of marriage vows
Only the victim, not the perpetrator of such sins, should decide when or whether to divorce
Anyone who divorces on biblical grounds or who is divorced against their will can remarry.
Very quick summary:
This book interprets the words of Jesus and Paul through the eyes of first century readers who knew about the ‘Any Cause’ divorce which Jesus was asked about (“Is it lawful to divorce for ‘Any Cause’” – Mt.19.3). Christians in following generations forgot about the ‘Any Cause’ divorce and misunderstood Jesus.
The ‘Any Cause’ divorce was invented by some Pharisees who divided up the phrase “a cause of indecency” (Dt.24.1) into two grounds for divorce: “indecency” (porneia which they interpreted as ‘Adultery’) and “a cause” (ie ‘Any Cause’). Jesus said the phrase could not be split up and that it meant “nothing except porneia”. Although almost everyone was using this new type of divorce, Jesus told them that it was invalid, so remarriage was adulterous because they were still married.
The Old Testament allowed divorce for the breaking of marriage vows, including neglect and abuse, based on Exod.21.10f. Jesus was not asked about these biblical grounds for divorce, though Paul alluded to them in 1Cor.7 as the basis of marriage obligations. This book argues that God never repealed these biblical grounds for divorce based on broken marriage vows. They were exemplified by Christ (according to Eph.5.28f) and they became the basis of Christian marriage vows (love, honour, and keep).
I want to examine two paradoxes here. 1. The poor being rich. 2 The law not saving you and saving you.
In the story of the rich young ruler, the commandments are sufficient for attaining eternal life. However, notice that even though the rich young ruler says he keeps the commandments he still believes that he isn’t doing something right. Maybe it is his method of keeping them that may be at fault? Could it be that the commandments naturally lead to a communal life? (love your neighbor as yourself) This may especially be the case after the holy spirit came at the church in Acts. The holy spirit writes the laws on our hearts. The holy spirit dwells in the body of believers. To attain selflessness and have the law written on our hearts we may need to act as one part of a greater body. I argue in detail for similar things here: https://hebrewroots.intentionalcommunities.world/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Unless-He-Gives-up-All-His-Possessions.pdf There may have been a tendency to use “poor” to mean people who lived communally in the Greek scriptures (Christian writings)
The term “Ebionite” was widely used in proto-orthodox and orthodox sources to refer to “Jewish-Christian” groups, or at least one group (it is likely that there were lots of these groups, and it may be that the church fathers assumed they were all the same group when in fact they had different views, different theologies, different practices, and so on). Some of the church fathers indicate that the name came from the founder of the group Ebion. But that’s a legend. Almost certainly the term came from the Hebrew word “Ebyon” which means “poor.” The normal hypothesis is that these Jewish-Christians accepted the early Christian policy of giving away their possessions for others and so took on lives of voluntary poverty. The church fathers who know the linguistic meaning of their name claimed that they were called “the poor ones” because they were “poor in faith.” (!)
The Ebyonim were the original Christian movement. It was a community that was centered in Jerusalem, led by James the brother of Jesus and Peter, who looks to have been one of Jesus’s closest companions. Their name (ebyonim is Hebrew for “the Poor”) would seem to be reflective of their communal life (as reflected in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament). All who entered the community called the Ebyonim “sold everything they had and gave it to the Poor.” We can glean a sense of who they were, in part from the condemnations of Irenaeus and others in the Apostolic Christian movement, in part from their own writings, and in part by reading between the lines of the New Testament. Today, an increasing number of scholars are asking whether Ebionite tradition is the closest follow-up to the real Jesus.
44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:45 NRSV)
34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35 NRSV)
29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:25-34 NRSV)
Notice the kingdom is associated with selling your possessions and living communally in Luke. It is interesting that the same terminology could have been used for the “poor” in the Greek Scriptures. Jesus actually says that those who leave everything will receive a hundredfold more in this life which matches the paradoxical language here:
As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, G4434 yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (2 Corinthians 6:10)
The same word may be used in these verses to speak of the “poor” who live communally (although this is by no means certain and some may have double meanings)
For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor G4434 saints which are at Jerusalem. (Rom 15:26 KJV)
Only they would that we should remember the poor; G4434 the same which I also was forward to do. (Gal 2:10 KJV)
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: G4434 for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luk 6:20 KJV)
Blessed are the poor G4434 in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:3 KJV)
Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: (Act 11:29 KJV)
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor G4434 of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? (James 2:5)
The same paradoxical language is used in a negative way in Revelation. Previously, poverty on paper through communal living is meant to convey greater real material riches and spiritual riches, while here the opposite is meant:
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, G4434 and blind, and naked: (Rev 3:17 KJV)
The following parallels include everyone who joins the kingdom of heaven movement being rewarded a hundredfold with houses and other material possessions. This means that they would have hundreds of people that would share their houses and possessions with them and ensure that the would never lack their basic needs including food or drink, see: Matthew 6:31-33 and Luke 18:29-34. Also pay attention to the what Yeshua says about keeping the commandments:
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
(Mark 10:17-31 NRSV)
16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
27 Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
(Mattthew 19:16-30 NRSV)
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”
28 Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
(Luke 18:18-30 NRSV)
Compare this to the following:
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
(Galatians 2:15-21 NRSV)
I think we need to consider three things for this second paradox:
The language is different “keep” as opposed to “work” In Luke 18:21 “keep” is G5442 in Matthew 19:17 “keep” is G5083 in Mark 10:20 “keep” is G5442
The Essene context that “works of the law” has https://www.jstor.org/stable/4193122 suggest this was obtaining salvation through observances and purity rather than Mathew’s list of substantial matters and heart/attitude conditions Matt 19:18-19 (Jesus the new covenant mediator focuses on heart: Matthew 5:38~, Jer 31:33) This may also be why communal living is emphasized since living communally requires putting the community first rather than yourself.
Galatians is using “law” for “Sinai law.” Paul’s not comparing the “old” and “new” covenants but the unconditional-blessings given to Abraham with conditional-blessings at Sinai (which Israel broke). He’s using the covenant of Abraham as an analogy for repenting and accepting mercy (Jeremiah 3:12-14) with the work of Christ and grace compared with justifying yourself through “works of law” and being susceptible to Sinai curses: Gal 3:16-18, Gal 3:10-12, Deuteronomy 27:26. Likewise in Romans 10:5-10 Paul compares the Moab covenant to Sinai with quotes from Lev 18:5 and Deut 30:11-14. Some Jewish tradition considers Sinai lacking and hence the need for Moab: https://www1.biu.ac.il/indexE.php?id=15430&pt=1&pid=14638&level=0&cPath=43,14206,14376,14638,15430 Paul uses a similar analogy in Galatians 4:21~ See the following article:
The Covenant on the Plains of Moab By Haggai Ben-Arzi*
At the end of this week’s reading, the Torah summarizes Moses’ orations, emphasizing that another covenant was made between the Holy One, blessed be He, and the people of Israel: “These are the terms of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to conclude with the Israelites in the land of Moab, in addition to the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb” (Deut. 28:69).
This raises a fundamental question: why was there need for another covenant? After all, when the covenant was made at Mount Sinai the people of Israel undertook to obey the Torah and its commandments, as we read in Exodus:
“Then he [Moses] took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!’ Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord now makes with you concerning all these commands’” (Ex. 24:7-8).
An answer to this question is given in Tractate Shabbat (88a). Regarding the verse, “and they took their places at the foot of the mountain” (Ex. 19:17), Rabbi Abdimi said, “This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, ‘tis well; if not, there shall be your burial.’” In other words, according to the gemara, the covenant at Mount Sinai was made under duress, and any agreement made under duress is not legally and morally binding.
Indeed, that is what the gemara concludes: “This furnishes a strong protest [modaa rabba] against the Torah.” Modaa rabba signifies legal grounds for cancelling a contractual agreement; “If the Holy One, blessed be He, were to take them to court on charges of not upholding their undertakings, they could answer: we agreed under duress” (Rashi, loc. cit., s.v., “moda`a rabbah”).
The coercive element in the covenant at Mount Sinai can be interpreted in various ways. Rabbenu Tam ascribes the coercion to Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai: “For it was by the Word [of G-d], lo, under duress” (loc. cit., Tosefot, s.v., “moda`a rabba le-oraita). In other words, direct Revelation of the Lord created a situation in which there was no free choice, for who can refuse the direct word of G-d?
The element of coercion can also be explained in terms of the emotional state of the Israelites at Mount Sinai. They were still in a state of shock and utter confusion; having left Egypt only seven weeks earlier, they were still agitated by the dramatic events of fleeing the country, being chased by the Egyptians, the Red Sea being split, and encountering tremendous hardships in the wilderness. In such an emotional state any consent or undertaking could have no “resolve,” a necessary condition for making consent binding. For this reason they accepted an undertaking whose terms and implications they barely knew.
If the covenant at Mount Sinai was faulty and lacking, then another covenant was needed that would not have the deficiencies of the previous covenant. Indeed, the covenant on the Plains of Moab was made at the end of the trek through the wilderness, forty years after the exodus from Egypt. During these forty years the people learned the entire Torah and knew exactly what obligations they were taking upon themselves. During these forty years they learned the significance of obeying the commandments, both as individuals and as a nation.
The covenant on the Plains of Moab was thus concluded with full awareness and clarity of mind. This covenant is the one that binds later generations, and not the covenant at Mount Sinai. Only here does Scripture say, “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our G-d and with those who are not with us here this day” (Deut. 29:13-14). The midrash (Tanhuma 3, and Rashi, loc. cit.) learns from this: “[The covenant was made] also with future generations.”
Regarding the covenant on the Plains of Moab one can ask where the people’s consent appears. At Sinai, the Israelites declared their consent three times: “All the people answered as one, saying, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do!’” (Ex. 19:8); “and all the people answered with one voice, saying, ‘All that things that the Lord has commanded we will do!’” (Ex. 24:3), and “Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!’” (Ex. 24:7).
In the covenant on the Plains of Moab, which as we said was binding on the people for future generations as well, only Moses spoke and the people remained silent. What sort of covenant is this if the people do not express their explicit consent to be party to it?
The people’s response turns out to have been given in actions, not in words. Immediately after the covenant on the Plains of Moab they crossed the Jordan River to the Plains of Jericho, where a great circumcision ceremony took place for all the Israelites born in the wilderness. “This is the reason why Joshua had the circumcision performed…none of the people born after the exodus, during the desert wanderings, had been circumcised…and it was these that Joshua circumcised, for they were uncircumcised” (Josh. 5:4-7). The people’s consent to the covenant found expression in their agreeing to observe the commandment of circumcision, just as Abraham entered a covenant with G-d by circumcising himself and his son:
God further said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring to come throughout the ages shall keep My covenant. Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and You…Thus shall My covenant be marked in your flesh as an everlasting pact.” (Gen. 17:9-13)
Indeed, immediately after the covenant of circumcision at Jericho, the Holy One, blessed be He, told Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt” (Josh. 5:9). The process of the exodus from Egypt and forging the bond between the Holy One, blessed be He, and the people of Israel, did not reach its conclusion at Sinai, rather in the covenant on the Plains of Moab, which begins with Moses, on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and concludes with Joshua son of Nun, on the western side of the Jordan River.
The covenant on the Plains of Moab is what created mutual accountability within the Jewish people. Regarding the verse, “Concealed acts concern the Lord our G-d; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching” (Deut. 29:28), Rashi says, based on the gemara (Sanhedrin 43b): “Even for overt acts [transgressions committed openly] He did not punish the people collectively until after they crossed the Jordan River…and became accountable one for another.”
This mutual accountability, which requires that we care and be responsible for every Jew, is what turns us from a collection of individuals into a well-formed national entity. The Israelites became a people in the full sense of the word only after the covenant on the Plains of Moab: “to enter into the covenant of the Lord your G-d, which the Lord your G-d is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your G-d, as He promised you” (Deut. 29:11-12). We became a people neither with the exodus from Egypt, nor at Mount Sinai, but only upon entering the land that we were to settle.
Actually, one could also argue “moda`a rabba le-oraita” regarding the covenant on the Plains of Moab. According to Rabbenu Tam, the covenant at Mount Sinai was lacking because there was no free choice in the face of Divine Revelation. But revelation did not come to an end at Mount Sinai. Throughout their wanderings in the wilderness the people witnessed overt miracles—the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud that went before the people and protected them; the manna, the quail, and Miriam’s well, which fed the people in an unnatural way. Although a distinction should be drawn between direct Revelation at Mount Sinai and the miracles in the wilderness, as Maimonides notes (Sefer ha-Mada, Hilkhot Yesodei Torah, ch. 8, halakhah 1 and 2), does not latter state of ongoing miracles in which the Israelites lived for decades essentially deprive a person of free choice?
This is apparently why Joshua did not make do with the covenants of Moses, and towards the end of his life arranged a ceremony renewing the covenant in Shechem: “Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned Israel’s elders and commanders, magistrates and officers; and they presented themselves before G-d” (Josh. 24:1). On this occasion he gave them anew the choice whether to stand by the Lord and His Teaching or to abandon the Lord and go in the ways of other peoples: “Now, therefore, revere the Lord and serve Him with undivided loyalty…Or, if you are loath to serve the Lord, choose this day which ones you are going to serve” (Josh. 24:14-15). As in the covenant at Mount Sinai, here too the people rose to the challenge placed before them by their leader and undertook to worship the Lord:
But the people replied to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord.” Thereupon Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses…” And the people declared to Joshua, “We will serve none but the Lord our G-d and will obey none but Him.” (Josh. 24:21-25)
The advantages of the covenant at Shechem are clearly evident. By the end of Joshua’s life the people had experienced decades of fighting for conquest of the land, most of the battles being in difficult conditions and without supernatural intervention. Here the people not only knew the Torah but also were familiar with the combination of the Promised Land and the Torah, not only with overt Divine Providence, but also and primarily with covert Providence, operating through nature and history. Here the people were no longer “a people that dwells apart,” rather a people that rubs up against the peoples of Canaan and is influenced by their culture.
This is where the true test came, and the Israelites stood it with flying colors, evincing the highest level of faithfulness to the Lord and adherence to the Torah: “We will serve none but the Lord our G-d, and we will obey none but Him” (Josh. 24:24). Henceforth the relationship between God and His people does not end with Revelation at Mount Sinai, rather it begins there, continues with the covenant on the Plains of Moab and the Plains of Jericho, concludes with the covenant of Joshua at Shechem. This city was rightfully dubbed “the city of the Covenant,” for there alone was the covenant between the people and their G-d concluded.
Translated by Rachel Rowen
Dr. Haggi Ben-Arzi teaches at the Center for Basic Jewish Studies, as well as Yellin College and Lifschitz College in Jerusalem. His book, Megillat Sheshet ha-Yamim was recently published.
 “Resolve” requires an emotional state of consciousness enabling a person to make a decision on the basis of responsible consideration. Therefore the Halakhah stipulates that any agreement made without absolute and complete resolve is not legally binding. For further reading, cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Sefer Kinyan, Hilkhot Mekhirah, ch. 11, esp. hal. 2 and 6.
 The place where this covenant was made is called Gilgal, based on the Hebrew verb, galoti (= “I have rolled away”). Some people identify biblical Gilgal with the Deir Hajla (the monastery of St. Gerasimos), situated one kilometer west of the Jordan River, near Kibbutz Beit Ha-Arava and the outpost Beit Hogla. Near the monastery on the Jordan River is a prominent hill that some people identify as Gibeath-Ha’araloth (“Hill of Foreskins”).
 This invocation is reminiscent of the invocation introducing the covenant on the Plains of Moab: “You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your G-d—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel” (Deut. 29:9).
 Save for the miracles that accompanied the first stage of crossing the Jordan River and the people entering the land (at Jericho, Beth Horon, and the Valley of Ayalon).
The answer is nothing directly. However, there are a few things that are quite suggestive.
There are three positions I’ve seen people argue from the Bible: 1. Personhood begins at conception. 2. Personhood begins at some point in the womb. 3. Personhood does not exist in the womb.
I’ve used the term “personhood” because there may be cases where the fetus was not treated as a “person” but was still considered valuable (maybe partially as valuable as a “life”) as we will see. First an overview of some verses:
A. Verses Implying Personhood in The Womb
8 Your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me. 9 Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again? 10 Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? 11 You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. 12 You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. 13 Yet these things you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose. 14 If I sin, you watch me, and do not acquit me of my iniquity. 15 If I am wicked, woe to me! If I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look upon my affliction. 16 Bold as a lion you hunt me; you repeat your exploits against me. 17 You renew your witnesses against me, and increase your vexation toward me; you bring fresh troops against me.
18 “Why did you bring me forth from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me, 19 and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave. 20 Are not the days of my life few? Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort 21 before I go, never to return, to the land of gloom and deep darkness, 22 the land of gloom and chaos, where light is like darkness.”
(Job 10:8-22 NRSV)
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me— 20 those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. 24 See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:13-24 NRSV)
Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
(Isaiah 44:2 NRSV)
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth;
(Isaiah 44:24 NRSV)
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
(Luke 1:41 NRSV)
For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
(Luke 1:44 NRSV)
Did not he who made me in the womb make them? And did not one fashion us in the womb?
(Job 31:15 NRSV)
I’ve left out one that I don’t find as convincing. Jeremiah 1:5 seems to say that God knew Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb. This seems to be an argument for life starting before conception.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
You might argue that Jeremiah 1:5 destroys the previous arguments since it implies life before conception which is not possible. However, I think it is used metaphorically and there are less metaphorical indications of personhood beginning in the womb just like the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumped. (indicating he was already aware of the Holy Spirit) These verses overall count against position 3. “Personhood does not exist in the womb”
B. Torah Ignores Fetal Personhood in Punishments of Sexual Immorality
When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death.
(Leviticus 21:9 NRSV)
No caveat is added to say “make sure she is not actually pregnant when you kill her.” Tamar’s father is assumed to be a priest since Judah declares this judgment on her and other than this case there is no other place where there is an example of this punishment:
About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the whore; moreover she is pregnant as a result of whoredom.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “It was the owner of these who made me pregnant.” And she said, “Take note, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26 Then Judah acknowledged them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not lie with her again.
(Gen 38:24 NRSV emphasis mine)
The punishment is not executed but the context shows it would have been carried out while she was about three months into her pregnancy. There are other examples of laws that seem to make no provision for when the woman is pregnant:
13 Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her 14 and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” 15 The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; 17 now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. 18 The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; 19 they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
20 If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, 21 then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
(Deuteronomy 22:13-21 NRSV)
1 while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”]]
(John 8:1-12 NRSV)
23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
What if God assumed that every time the Israelites carried out an execution it was before an egg would be fertilized? However, it turns out that this is impossible:
Conception may take place as soon as three minutes after sexual intercourse, or it may take up to five days. Implantation occurs five to 10 days after fertilization, which means anywhere from five to 15 days after you had sex.
18 The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. 19 Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. 20 But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you,” 21 —let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—“the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; 22 now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”
23 Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24 He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. 25 The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.
(Numbers 5:18-28 NRSV)
This one has varied interpretations. Some commentators interpret this ritual to induce an abortion and others do not: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1291&article=2888 While it seems more likely to me that she is just made unable to have children, (which was indeed a curse in that culture) if she had a fertilized egg when she did the ritual then she would not be able to carry the pregnancy–hence the fetus would die regardless. If the wife could tell she was pregnant it would be unlikely for the husband (as suspicious as he was) to want to destroy his wife’s child since it could still be his even if she did commit adultery. I would also think this would be looked down upon given what we had discussed in A. but my point is she could still have a fertilized egg.
The issue that might make this inconclusive is that this is a punishment from God and God can abide by different rules, like when God killed David’s son as a result of his sin with Bathsheba right? True, but the timing of this ritual is dependant on man. God could have specified that they were to wait a month or so from the time of the alleged adultery to see if she was pregnant. Maybe God would take care not to kill an already fertilized egg but this would require waiting nine months and there’s nothing in the ritual to indicate to wait this long before you assumed she was innocent.
There is one decent argument I have thought of in response to the things I have put in B. It is that the Torah sometimes skimps on detail and the detail of not hurting a fetus may have been assumed just like I assumed that the husband wouldn’t want his fully pregnant wife to go through this ritual. Here are a few of examples of evidence for this idea:
We can even imagine a scenario where an acceptable practice of stoning was slinging the stones at the criminal. This practice could have been forgotten during a period of exile. Indeed Exodus 19:13 groups archery and stoning together: “No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; whether animal or human being, they shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.”
You can interpret the Torah in many ways without an instruction manual of how to interpret it. Even with the Talmud you can interpret it in different ways. This to me is not a problem and I think this shows that there is some flexibility in interpreting the Torah. However, it is just interesting how the Jewish tradition has insisted that the Torah needed an Oral Torah tradition to help in coming to more conformity:
The law given in Ex. xviii. 2 says that a Hebrew slave acquired by any person shall serve for six years; but it does not state why and how such a slave may be acquired. The law furthermore provides that if such a slave has served for six years, his wife, if he has one, shall go free with him; but it does not state that the wife of the slave accompanies him to his master’s house, nor does it define her relation to the master. The law in Deut. xxiv. 1 et seq. says that if a man dismisses his wife with a bill of divorce (“sefer keritut”), and she marries again but is dismissed with a bill of divorce by her second husband also, the first husband may not remarry her. The fact that a woman may be divorced by such a bill has not, however, been mentioned, nor is it stated how she is divorced by means of the “sefer keritut,” or what this document should contain, although it must have had a certain form and wording, though possibly not that of the later “geṭ.” These examples, to which many more might be added, are held to imply that in addition to and side by side with the written law there were other laws and statutes which served to define and supplement it, and that, assuming these to be known, the written law did not go into details. It appears from the other books of the Old Testament also that certain traditional laws were considered to have been given by God, although they are not mentioned in the Pentateuch. Jeremiah says to the people (Jer. xvii. 21-22): “Bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.” In the Pentateuch, on the other hand, there is only the interdiction against work in general (Ex. xx. 9-11); nor is it stated anywhere in the Torah that no burdens shall be carried on the Sabbath, while Jeremiah says that the bearing of burdens, as well as all other work, was forbidden to the fathers. It is clear, furthermore, from Amos viii. 5, that no business was done on the Sabbath, and in Neh. x. 30-32 this prohibition, like the interdiction against intermarrying with the heathen, is designated as a commandment of God, although only the latter is found in the Pentateuch (Deut. vii. 3), while there is no reference to the former. Since the interdictions against carrying burdens and doing business on the Sabbath were regarded as divine laws, although not mentioned in the Pentateuch, it is inferred that there was also a second code.
Given the evidence in A. that life was thought to start at some point in the womb we may argue that the Torah does not speak of executing women who are pregnant beyond the point life was thought to start. It would also be unusual for a woman far along in her pregnancy to commit adultery and since executions seem to happen immediately after someone is found guilty we don’t have evidence against 2. “Personhood begins at some point in the womb.” However, while we could try other explanations, Judah’s command to kill Tamar is given three months later but this is only one case and cannot be used to make sweeping generalizations. This coupled with the fact that there is no command or example in the Bible to delay an execution based on pregnancy provides evidence against point 1. “Personhood begins at conception.”
C. Argument From Nature
So admittedly this is the naturalistic fallacy: that because something happens in nature it is good. However, if we want to argue that humans are specifically designed by God and not completely the product of random mutation and evolution we would expect the body to avoid killing a person inside it:
Around half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among women who know they are pregnant, about 10% to 25% will have a miscarriage. Most miscarriages occur during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. The rate of miscarriage drops after the baby’s heartbeat is detected.
Hence, maybe a fertilized egg is not a person after all. However, this is one of the weaker arguments in my opinion.
I don’t think this gets us anywhere but maybe it does for other people and I thought it was good to get the reader thinking on this subject.
D. The Infamous Verse About Two Men Fighting
We can use this verse to support almost all three positions depending on the translation. I will point out that since this is just talking about an accidental abortion and not an intentional one this verse is not conclusive either. In addition it is uncertain whether the damages refer to the woman or the child or both:
1. Personhood begins at (close to) conception:
22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-24 ESV)
She wouldn’t know she was pregnant till some time after conception and wouldn’t experience a miscarriage unless the pregnancy progressed further than conception (as we observed, around 50% of fertilized eggs don’t survive and the woman doesn’t notice this)
2. Personhood begins at some point in the womb.
22And if [3should do combat 1two 2men], and should strike a woman [2in 3the womb 1having one], and should come forth her child not completely formed, with a fine he shall be penalized, in so far as [5should put upon him 1the 2husband 3of the 4woman], and he shall give by means of what is fit. 23And if [2completely formed 1it should be], he shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25 ABP)
3. Personhood does not exist in the womb.
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-24 NRSV)
The difference between the NRSV and the ESV is just translational (and ill explain that later) but the difference between the LXX and the MT are possibly a little more interesting.
There’s basically five positions in regard to this difference.
1. The LXX is not trying to be consistent with the Hebrew at all. 2. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario of miscarriage 3. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios) 4. The LXX is a paraphrase that only covers the scenarios the Hebrew does 5. The LXX is an accurate literal translation of the Hebrew.
In favor of 1. is Daniel Schiff citing Richard Freund.
1. The LXX is not trying to be consistent with the Hebrew at all.
How did the Septuagint arrive at this widely variant rendering? In each of the three Genesis occurrences of the Hebrew term ason, the Septuuagint employs a form of the Greek noun malakia, generally translated as “affliction,” for ason. Had the Septuagint utilized malakia in Exodus 21:22-25, it would have conveyed a sufficiently similar sense to the original Hebrew that it would have been highly unlikely to have become the cornerstone of a wholly divergent approach to the status of the fetus. But, in Exodus 21:22-25, instead of malakia, the Septuagint twice uses the Greek participle exeikonismenon to translate ason. A scholar of Hellenistic Judaism, Richard Freund, has made the case that the translator of these verses, who either deliberately bypassed or was ignorant of the translation used elsewhere, arrived at this version through a process of homophonic substitution. This technique was not uncommon in both Greek and rabbinic texts. According to this explanation, the translator probably transliterated ason into some form of the Greek word soma, meaning “human life,” and then replaced this Greek transliteration with a synonymous term that offered a more profound theological resonance. This resonance can be readily apprehended through the literal translation of exeikonismenon: “made from the image,” which evokes an immediate connection to the wording of Genesis 1:27, “In the image of God, God created man.” Freund posits that the usage of the verb exeikonizein in the Septuagint and Philo establishes a strong connection to the “made from the image” metaphor. This remarkable textual allusion led Freund to conclude that “[i]t is clear from the LXX use of exeikonizein in Exodus 21:22-23 that the transator had some idea, principle, or presupposition in mind, which made him deliberately violate a literal translation in favor of a more complex formulation.
It is possible, moreover, to conjecture why this “more complex formulation” was preferred by the translator. Using exeikonismenon, the tranlator’s literal rendering of verse 23 would be “If it be made in the image, he shall give life for life.” This implies that one who kills a fetus that is already “made from the image” deserves death. But the translator must have been aware of the fact that one of the Torah’s six references to being “made from the image” explicitly calls for capital punishment of a murderer on the grounds that he had destroyed a being “made from the image”: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in God’s image did God make man.” It is, therefore, reasonable to deduce that the Septuagint translator, through the employment of exeikonismenon, intended to create a link between feticide and homicide by way of the “made from the image” formulation. As a result, “formation” became critical because it was only when the fetus had attained a form that could be considered to be recognizably “in God’s image” that it would be considered sufficiently human that its destruction would become the equivalent of homicide.
The nature of the impact of Hellenistic thought on this section of the Septuagint has been much discussed. The scholar Victor Aptowitzer contends that the Septuagint’s portrayal of the status of the fetus effectively compromised between two schools of Greek philosophy, Plato (the Academy) and the Stoics. While the Stoics saw the fetus as being an integral part of the mother’s womb, the Academy regarded it as an independent living being. Hence the compromise entailed viewing the fetus either as dependent or as independent, contingent upon formation. Others have pointed to the similarities between the Septuagint’s focus on the pivotal role of formation and the Aristotelian thought which held that full human status was conferred at formation, since it was at that juncture that the soul was thought to infuse the body.
But perhaps the most significant Hellenistic idea of all was to be found in the notion that the willful abortion of a formed fetus was to be considered one of the most serious transgressions imaginable, deserving of the death penalty. From a range pagan and Hellenistic sources, Moshe Weinfeld, a prominent thinker in a the field, has demonstrated that the Assyrian attitude of dermined opposition to the woman who self-aborted was generally dominant in the Hellenistic world. Thus, bringing about the loss of a fetus was cited regularly alongside witchcraft, murder adultery, and theft as principle societal crimes. In contrast to the strong stance against feticide, however, the Hellenistic world often legitimated a relaxed attitude of “complete lawlessness” to infanticide, especially for children who were in any way defective.
It’s would be a bit disturbing for people who hold both the Hebrew and Septuagint in high regard if this were true. However, this is not the only idea I can present about what is going on with the LXX’s translation. Also to my knowledge, Freund and Schiff present no direct evidence of Soma being the transliteration or of the LXX writers needing to compromise between Stoicism and Platonism. Even if the Hebrew is covering more scenarios than the LXX i.e. both live birth, miscarriage, and whether or not the woman was harmed, the transliteration would be unnecessary given that the LXX could by clarifying what the Hebrew meant by “no harm” in the case of miscarriage–that the child is not completely formed. (it wouldn’t be considering harm to the woman) This will be discussed in the next section.
2. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario of miscarriage
If the Hebrew is ambiguous and refers to both “live birth” and “miscarriage” the Septuagint could be only trying to translate and clarify one of the scenarios covered–that of miscarriage. These two diverging interests in the course of their writings derive naturally from the different situations of the LXX translators and the writer of the Masoretic text. Chapter 21 of Exodus is near the beginning of the legal code given in the Hebrew Bible (having just started in chapter 19 at Sinai) The original author of the Hebrew text would not have a whole corpus of later law to draw on to explain the cases of live birth and cases of harm to the mother. However, the writer of the LXX already had the whole legal corpus of the Hebrew Torah to draw on. Therefore I speculate that the writer of the LXX didn’t feel the need to cover all the situations but instead chose to clarify one ambiguous one.
To outline an argument for the position that the Hebrew includes multiple scenarios (including live birth and harm to the mother) I will quote William H. C. Propp in his Bible commentary “Exodus 19-40 A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary” which states:
21:22. men fight. In a somewhat confusing and still comprehensible manner, 21:22-25 treats at least three ambiguities raised by the preceding laws (cf. Loewenstamm 1977; 246-57): What happens when a third party is injured in the course of a fight? If the third party is a pregnant woman who miscarries, is the abortion manslaughter? How does one redress non-deadly injuries? Rather than resort to textual dissection, as in most critical treatments, I regard this complexity as an original characteristic of the First Code. Unlike the cuneiform law collections, which delight in listing numerous eventualities, Israelite legal scholars proved their virtuosity by posing a small number of cases possessing broad implications.
Thus the basic question, that of the innocent bystander, is not answered directly. We are not told what happens should a male onlooker suffer such-and-such an injury. Rather, a pregnant woman is posited. From her case, we are presumably meant to extrapolate for all unintended harm (so Mek. nəzîqîn 8). Combatants who hurt a bystander are subject to punishment, depending upon the nature of the injury.
The second issue this law treats is more philosophical: is a fetus a person? Is a pregnant woman comparable to, say, a woman carrying her infant in her arms? Is the death of the fetus manslaughter, so that he who jostled the mother is subject to blood vengeance? Is he entitled to asylum?
The answer to the third question, what is the punishment for nonlethal injuries, is simple: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” etc. I will discuss the Torah’s famous lex talionis below.
Although many ancient Near Eastern law codes treat injury to a pregnant woman and her fetus (or even gravid livestock; see Hittite Laws §77, 84), this surely cannot have been a common occurrence. Paul (1970: 71 n. 1) infers that we have a case of literary interdependence among the codes and Finkelstein (1981: 19 n. 11) rather simplistically posits an origin in a single, real case of premature labor and miscarriage. But these suppositions do not answer the question: why among all crimes and accidents likely and unlikely should the codes have borrowed and shared legislation concerning miscarriage? The answer is that, like legal scholars everywhere, ancient legislators were attracted to the unusual and ambiguous (e.g., on Roman law, see Watson 1991: 12).
they stike. Either of the men, not both together (Luzzatto).
a pregnant woman. I assume that the woman is an innocent bystander, not a participant as in Deut 25:11-12. (I find unwarranted Daube’s [1947: 108] inference that she is wife to one of the parties, and that the blow is therefore deliberate.)
her child. My translation follows Sam, LXX, etc. wəlādād ‘her child’ (see TEXTUAL NOTE). MT, however, reads yəlāde(y)hā ‘her children.’ This must be taken as referring either to the potential for multiple pregnancies–“(all) her babies, (however many)”–or else to all the stuff of childbirth: water, blood, child(ren), afterbirth.
comes out. The minority view is that the verb yāṣā(‘) here connotes a successful abeit premature birth (Jackson 1975: 95, 99; Durham 1987: 323). The majority view is that yāṣā(‘) indicates a miscarriage (most recently Houtman 20000: 161. It is true that the ancient Near Eastern parallels (quoted below envision an aborted pregnancy, and it is true that the expression “come out” (yṣ’) is used apropos of abortion or the immediate death of a newborn in Num 12:12; Job 3:11 (Schwienhorst-Schönberger 1990: 94). But, as we shall observe, the cuneiform law codes have a different aim than the First Code. In fact, the Hebrew verb yāṣā(‘) more often refers to live births (e.g., Gen 25:25-26; 38:28-30).
The text seems deliberately ambiguous. Something comes out of the pregnant woman. There are four possible outcomes: healthy mother and child, dead-or-injured mother and healthy child, healthy mother and dead-or-injured child, and dead-or-injured mother and child. The following clauses attempt to address these eventualities.
injury. The disputed noun ‘a̅sôn otherwise appears only in Gen 42:4, 38; 44:29; Sir 31/34:22; 38:18; 41:9. Both the biblical context and the Arabic cognate ’asiya ’be distressed’ suggest the meaning “harm” (e.g., Baentsch 1903: 193). Some claim, however, that the meaning is more specifically “fatality” (e.g. Josephus Ant. 4.8.278). The Rabbis, for example, think that ’a̅sôn here refers to the woman’s death (Mek. nəzîqîn 8). (For more discussion of the history of interpretation, see Isser  and TEXTUAL NOTE.)
Even though the argument that ‘a̅sôn implies a fatality draws support from the ancient Near Eastern codes, which cosider only the death of mother or child, I think this approach is incorrect. As observed above, the First Code is in one important way not comparable to the cuneiform documents. The Hittite Laws contain 200 clauses and the Code of Hammurapi 282. treating all manner of torts. In contrast, the technique in Exodus 21 is to compress multiple legal issues into a small number of complex, paradigmatic cases. In my holistic reading, 21:22-25 is about all injuries caused to third parties, and indeed about all injuries. If the biblical writer wished clearly to describe the death of the woman or her offspring, he would have used the verb mwt ’die.’ On the contrary, he makes it explicit what constitutes ’a̅sôn: death; damage to an eye, a tooth, an arm, a leg; a burn, a wound or a stripe (Schwienhorst-Schönberger 1990: 93). Not all of these can occur during childbirth to either mother or offspring, but, again, the case is intended to have broad application.
It remains unclear whether “injury” applies only to the mother, or to mother and child. By the theory that v 22 describes a miscarriage, ‘a̅sôn can only connote the mother’s death or injury; the baby is already dead. But if, as I think, v22 describes premature labor, then the “injury” would be to either the mother or the infant. If the child is viable and the mother is unharmed, then the man who accidentally justled her owes the women’s husband a modest fine for endangerment and inconvenience (Durham 1987: 323).
3. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios)
If I were to take this position I would have to argue that the Hebrew text really only speaks of miscarriage. More specifically we know that damages to a person are covered elsewhere in the Torah so the Septuagint is focusing on the situation of no harm being done to the mother. This position is made easier by the fact that the singular “child” is the lectio difficilior.
Propp says that the singular form of “child” is the lectio difficilior. This means “more difficult reading” and in textual criticism, this is called “lectio difficilior portior” or “the more difficult reading is stronger.” The theory is that it is more likely the original reading due to the scribes being more likely to change a text to an easier reading than to change it to a harder reading. “Child” in the singular is also the reading of the Samaritan Pentateuch. See Propp:
21:22. And if. Kenn 650 B lacks “And.” men. See TEXTUAL NOTE to 21:18
her child comes out. Reading a singular verb and subject with Sam, LXX, Tg. Neofiti I and probably Vg: wyṣ’ wldh, vs. MT wyṣ’w yldyh ‘and her children come out.’ The alternation between wyṣ’ w- (Sam) and wyṣ’w y- (MT) may reflect the similarity of waw and yodh in Roman-period script (Cross 1961a; Qimron 1971). The plural subject of MT is hard to understand–unless it refers, not just to children, but to all that comes forth during parturition. More likely, however, yldyh has simply been copied from 21:4. The noun wālād used by Sam et al. is paralleled only in Gen 11:30 and 2 Sam 6:23 (Kethibh in many MSS), making it lectio difficilior. Syr appears to conflate the aforesaid variants: wnpqwn ‘wlh ‘and her fetus (sing.) come out (pl.).’
pg. 121, “Exodus 19-40 A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary”
However, how do we get the following to be what is translated by the LXX? (see also LXX below)
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.
(Exodus 21:22 NRSV)
22And if [3should do combat 1two 2men], and should strike a woman [2in 3the womb 1having one], and should come forth her child not completely formed, with a fine he shall be penalized, in so far as [5should put upon him 1the 2husband 3of the 4woman], and he shall give by means of what is fit.
(Exodus 21:22 ABP)
The following lex talionis must in the Hebrew apply to both the woman and fetus and apply to the fetus on a sliding scale. Therefore, apply to stages of fetal development like in LXX:
23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25 NRSV)
23And if [2completely formed 1it should be], he shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25 ABP)
Assuming that this law doesn’t cover a delayed miscarriage, there is also some medical evidence that a live birth in this situation would have been unheard of in the ancient setting.
First, it is important to note that injury to the fetus in utero may be direct or indirect. Direct injury is rare, mainly occurring late in pregnancy when the head is deep in the pelvis and major trauma causes fetal skull fracture. A recent review of the obstetric literaturerevealed only 19 such reported cases. The outcome was almost uni-versally fetal demise, except when cesarean section was performed.There is no report of that particular surgical procedure having beenperformed in the ancient Near East.
Indirect injury to the fetus occurs when there is disruption of the oxygen supply coming through the umbilical cord. Rarely trauma may result in uterine rupture with grave consequences for mother and infant without immediate surgical intervention. Such event occurs in less than one percent of trauma. More commonly, in six percent of blunt trauma during pregnancy there is an overt disruption of the normal connection between the placenta and the uterus. Fetal mortality in such cases, given the best obstetric and neonatal care available in the United States, is 34 percent. Another reference cites 30to 68 percent fetal mortality. Without intravenous methods of fluid therapy for the mother and surgical intervention, it is obvious that the fetal outcome in the vast majority of these cases would be death. Timms states that “following uterine rupture or significant placental separation, rapid exploration [surgically] and fetal delivery provide the only chance for fetal survival.”
Less severe abdominal trauma may result in smaller disruptions of the placenta from the uterus, and less catastrophic outcomes. It is unknown how often an occult (self-limiting) placental separation takes place in these situations, but it may be the cause of common complaints such as “increased uterine activity” or slight cramping. Most of these cases progress to a normal outcome. In an excellent study of trauma in pregnancy Crosby suggests that if fetal oxygenation is impaired, labor or fetal death will occur within 48 hours.
Premature labor is a serious problem after trauma and is aggressively treated in appropriate cases these days with medication to stop uterine contractions. The lungs of the developing infant are not ready for life outside the womb until 33 to 34 weeks gestation (out of 40 weeks in a “full-term” pregnancy). In a nonhospital setting, themortality rate of these infants is very high.
There are only a few instances, in a nontechnological era, in which blunt trauma serious enough to cause abortion of the fetus would result in a viable birth. If medical data has anything to sayabout Exodus 21:22, it indicates that the overwhelming probabilityfor such a situation is an outcome of trauma-induced abortion withfetal demise.
4. The LXX is a paraphrase that only covers the scenarios the Hebrew does
This position is similar to the last one but here “harm” (ason) must only be applied to the fetus and the woman must be unharmed even in the Hebrew. ‘a̅sôn would have to be interpreted as only referring to a “death” (as Propp mentioned that some take this position based on the context of the word and of other law codes covering just the death of the fetus). The following paper assumes a contradiction between no harm (ason) and a miscarriage but this can be resolved by saying the fetus may only be described as having “died” when it was “fully formed” as it the Septuagint explains. The idea that the LXX covers all the scenarios the Hebrew does is made difficult because there isn’t direct evidence that “harm” only applies to the mother.
B. Is the Harm to the Woman or the Fetus? The RSV renders the word אָסֹ֑ון in v 23 as kill and attributes it solely to the mother. Other translations render it as “mischief”, “serious injury” or “harm”.1 That אָסֹ֑ון means some form of harm is well attested. אָסֹ֑ון occurs only three other times in the Hebrew Bible.
3 Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him.
38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”
27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’”
In each case it refers to Jacob’s fear that Benjamin will be harmed as his brother Joseph was. In the narrative, the harm that befell Joseph (or at least that Jacob thought had befallen him) was being killed by a wild animal. Moreover, its use later in the narrative is associated with the fear that he will be executed in prison.
The question is whether in this context it refers to harm to the mother. Some translations render the passage as “no further harm”. However, nothing in the Hebrew grammar demands this. In the Hebrew it is unspecified who the harm applies to and several arguments have been proposed suggesting that the harm is harm to the fetus and not the woman.
Westbrook argues that the word אָסֹ֑ון means “a disaster for which no one can be held responsible”. He then suggests אָסֹ֑ון is predicated of the child. Verse 22 deals with a case where one can assign responsibility and v 23 a case where one cannot. This interpretation has the added advantage of explaining the change from the third person “he shall pay” in v 22 to the first person “you shall pay” in v 23. In the first case the person responsible pays. In the second case, where the perpetrator is unknown, the whole community does.
The problem with this argument is that Westbrook’s claim that אָסֹ֑ון means “a disaster for which no one can be held responsible” is not well attested by the evidence. Moreover, as noted by Sprinkle several uses of אָסֹ֑וןin both the Hebrew Bible and in later Hebrew Apocrypha suggest the contrary. For example, the fear that Benjamin would be killed in Genesis does not have this feature. His brothers agreed to take responsibility and his execution by Egyptian officials is not an event in which one is unsure of who is responsible. In addition, Jacob believed a wild animal caused Joseph’s death so it is doubtful that אָסֹ֑ון carries the nuance that Westbrook suggests.
A second line of argument claims that the nuances of the word אָסֹ֑ון fit more naturally with the death of a fetus than the death of the mother. Kline argues,
A calamitous loss involving serious injury or even death is denoted by ason. In the only other Biblical context where ason is found it describes the grievous calamity that Jacob fears will befall Benjamin on the Journey to Egypt. (Gen 42:4, 38; 44:29). The choice of this unusual word in Ex 21:22 (problematic if the reference were to injury or death of the woman, for which the more common terminology would be expected) is readily explained if ason refers to the less everyday circumstance of the calamitous loss of offspring by violently induced miscarriage.
Similarly, Jackson argues,
[W]hy should an unusual word like aswn be used in Exod. xxi 23 to refer to death, when the ordinary verb mwt would appear to have served equally well? Fatal injuries are a common enough topic in the Misphatim, but on every other occasion the normal verb is used. There must be some reason why it is not used in Exod. xxi 22, 23. Part of the reason is that the word aswn, as is evident from the Jacob- Benjamin narrative, stresses the effect on the happening on some person other than the direct victim. Perhaps the best translation is “calamity”…
Later on in the same work he adds,
Had it [aswn] referred to the woman, it would be impossible to understand why the normal word for death was not used. But where a foetus is concerned, any hesitation to use the normal terminology of death is quite reasonable…We have seen that elsewhere it emphasizes the effect of the death or serious injury upon someone other than the victim himself.
Neither of these arguments is compelling. Jackson appeals to Gen 42:4, 38 and 44:29 where Jacob stresses that harm to Benjamin will cause him to die of grief and infers from this that אָסֹ֑ון means a harm that affects someone other than the direct victim but this does not follow. The fact that I note that the death of someone close to me will devastate me does not mean that the effect on a third person is written in to the meaning of the term ‘death’.
Moreover, both Kline’s and Jackson’s arguments suffer from the fact that the word אָסֹ֑ון is so rare in the Hebrew Bible that the samples they appeal to are too few to be decisive. The fact that the few references that occur have a special nuance is insufficient to ground an inference that this nuance is part of the meaning.
There is a more serious problem in attributing the harm as applicable to the fetus. The translation only makes sense if the passage refers to a premature birth and not a miscarriage. If the passage refers to a miscarriage then a miscarriage has occurred but the fetus did not die. This renders the text self-contradictory. I argued earlier that this text does refer to a miscarriage and that the premature-birth interpretation was subject to serious criticisms. In light of this, the argument ceases to be tenable. Once it is established that the text refers to a miscarriage the question of whom the mischief refers to is easily solved. If the blow has killed the fetus, it cannot be the fetus that is not killed in v 23. Further, if already dead, the fetus cannot be said to have undergone further harm.
Another way to make this position is if the difference in punishment between verse 22 and 23 deals with a level of intent. “The Janus Face of Prenatal Diagnostics: A European Study Bridging Ethics, Psychoanalysis, and Medicine” says:
(When translating Exodus 21:22, the Septuagint, i.e., the early Greek translation of the Old Testament introduces a distinction between a “formed” and an “imperfectly formed” foetus, not present in the Hebrew original (Childress & Macquarrie, 1986). This difference has been interpreted as indicating a difference in the evaluation of the life of a foetus and a living human being (Ferngren, 1987). However, such an interpretation is not the only possible one. The different judgements can be explained by reference to the different kinds of act. The first act is a non-intended accident, while the second is a deliberate killing.
The Gemara asks: Granted, according to the Rabbis, who say that if one intended to kill this individual and he killed that individual he is liable, there is support for their opinion from that which is written: “If men struggle and they hurt a pregnant woman so that her child departs from her, and there is no tragedy, he shall be punished, as the husband of the woman shall impose upon him, and he shall give as the judges determine” (Exodus 21:22). It can be inferred form the verse that if there is a tragedy, i.e., if the woman dies, there is no payment of restitution. And Rabbi Elazar says: It is with regard to a quarrel that involves the intent of each to cause the death of the other that the verse is speaking, as it is written: “But if there shall be a tragedy then you shall give a life for a life” (Exodus 21:23). This is proof that in a case where one intended to kill one individual and he killed a pregnant woman instead, he is liable to be executed, which is why he does not pay restitution.
I find it interesting that this view on the Hebrew and on the LXX can be unified (to some extent) with the idea of intent by speculating that it makes sense for the two men fighting to be held responsible for the fetus if the woman appeared pregnant. If she did not then it wouldn’t make sense to say that they were aware of this and hold them responsible for any negligence that they might be accused of in regards to the fetus itself.
5. The LXX is an accurate literal translation of the Hebrew.
This position is outlined below by Thomas F. McDaniel:
When Nina Collins (1993: 290) concluded with reference to Exod 21:22 “Yet the verse as a whole fails to make sense” she was referring to the Hebrew Masoretic text of this verse and its many variant translation, not to the Hebrew Vorlage behind the Greek translation in the Septuagint (250 B.C. to 132 B.C.), a translation which makes perfect sense.
. . .
In addition to the well recognized אָסוֹן which was related to the (asaya) “he grieved, mourned,” there was, as noted above, also the word אסון which was related to the (sawaya) “he made it equal, he became full-grown in body” and “of regular build and growth.” This אסון is a perfect match for the Septuagint’s έξεικονισμένον, “to make like, to be perfectly fully formed.” Thus the אסון in the Vorlage of the Septuagint could have been read as אֶסְוֹן (eswon) or אֶסְוָן (eswan) from the stem סוה — with (a) a prosthetic א, (b) an affixed ן, and (c) the ו of the אסון being a consonant rather than a vowel letter. Contra the MT plural וְיָצְאוּ יְלָדֶיהָ “and her children come out,” the Septuagint has the singular καί έξέλθη τό παιδίον αύτῆϛ, “and her child came out,” which is in agreement with the Samaritan Pentateuch which has the singular ויצא ולדה. Once the singular ויצא ולדה “and her child came out” is in focus it becomes obvious that the subject of the masculine singular verb יהיה in the phrase ולא יהיה אסון (v. 22) and ואם אסון יהיה (v. 23) is the singular ולדה “her child,” permitting the following translation of these phrases: “. . . her child come out but HE is not fully formed, . . . but if HE is fully formed.” The masculine “child” is obviously gender inclusive like the אדם “man” in Gen 1:27 and 5:2.
Simply by substituting the antecedent noun child for the pronoun HE the Septuagint text in 21:22–23 stipulated: “And if two men strive and smite a woman with child, and her CHILD BE NOT FULLY FORMED, he shall be forced to pay a penalty as the woman’s husband may lay upon him, he TRANSLATION OF EXODUS 21:22–23 7 shall pay what seems fitting. But if the CHILD BE FULLY FORMED, he shall give life for life.” This law was so perfectly clear that Sprinkle (1993:247) well noted:
The penalty paid is assessed on the basis of the stage of the development of the dead fetus. The rationale for this view is that the later the stage of pregnancy, the more time has been lost to the woman, the greater the grief for the loss of a child, and the more difficult. This may have been the view of the LXX, which paraphrases וְלֹא יהְיֶה אָסוֹן as “imperfectly formed child” and translates בִּפְלִלִים “with valuation.” Furthermore, Speiser’s view gains credibility in that penalties for miscarriage actually do vary with the age of the dead fetus in the parallel ancient Hittite Law §17, which states, “If anyone causes a free woman to miscarry—if (it is) the 10th month, he shall give ten shekels of silver, if (it is) the 5th month, he shall give five shekels of silver and pledge his state as security.”
A fetus aborted in an accidental miscarriage which is not fully formed—nor equal to an infant born prematurely—was to be treated as property. 19 However, if the aborted fetus was fully formed—and equal to an infant born prematurely—it was to be treated as a person. A property which is accidentally destroyed called for a fine to be paid by the destroyer. But the lex talionis became applicable when a person—including a fully developed fetus—was accidentally injured or killed. Accordingly, in Mosaic law a woman’s fertilized egg or an imperfectly formed fetus was not considered to be a vp,n, a person. 20 Only a fetus that was אֶסְוָן / אֶסְוֹן (eswon / eswan) “fully formed” was recognized as a נפֶשׁ, a person.
While I find Propp’s analysis interesting for point “2. The LXX is only trying to be partially consistent by clarifying part of the Hebrew” and McDaniel’s argument tempting for perfect harmony between the LXX and the Hebrew I have to disagree. Propp does not delve into the language used in the parallel legal codes he cites which also use generic terms for “go out” in reference to a miscarriage. I also tend to bias ancient consensus interpretations of a text against the later non-consensus of scholars which would make me more inclined to follow “3. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios).” Russell Fuller deals with the premature birth interpretation in his article “EXODUS 21:22-23: THE MISCARRIAGE INTERPRETATION AND THE PERSONHOOD OF THE FETUS”
For the past thirty years most evangelicals have argued that Exod 21:22 does not refer to a miscarriage but to a premature birth. These evangelicals have offered the following points as evidence: (1) Biblical Hebrew has a technical word for “miscarriage” (sakol). If the author had intended to write about a miscarriage, he would have most likely used this word. Since, however, the author chose yasa, a word usually found with normal births, he probably envisioned a premature birth induced by the assault. Jack Cottrell affirms: “There is absolutely no linguistic justification for translating v. 22 to refer to a miscarriage.” (2) Biblical Hebrew has a technical word for “miscarried fetus” (nepel). Since the author chose yeled, he probably had live children—or at least the possibility of live children—in view.
Again, this suggests a premature birth. (3) Hebrew Däsön (“harm, damage”) is indefinite, and therefore should apply equally to both mother and fetus. Again, had the author intended to limit this word he could have inserted läh to clarify that the harm referred only to the mother and not to the fetus. (4) Although recognizing analogues between ancient Near Eastern literature and the Bible, adherents of the premature-birth view suggest that in Exod 21:22 the ancient Near Eastern legal tradition adds little or nothing to the understanding of the passage.
The first three points are actually one argument: the technical language argument. If Exod 21:22 refers to a miscarriage, why does the author employ such general language? Why not use more precise, technical terms? An author of course chooses a given word over another for his own reasons, leaving the interpreter only to speculate about the author’s decision. In Exod 21:22 the author chose yasa, a general term, meaning “to go/come out.” It specified normal births (Job 1:21; Jer 1:5) and a miscarriage (or perhaps a stillbirth, Num 12:12). There are, however, no passages in the HB where yäsäD clearly refers to a premature birth. Interestingly, the laws of Hammurapi and the Middle Assyrian laws described the miscarriage in general terms (nadû, “to cast down”; saläDu, “to cast, to drop”).
Hebrew säköl (like its cognates in Arabic, Ugaritic, Aramaic and Syriac), on the other hand, means “to bereave the loss of a child.” Although säköl is used in the context of miscarriages (or stillbirths, or perhaps even infant deaths) the word does not mean “to miscarry” or “miscarriage.” In Exod 21:22 the assailant is guilty of inducing the children (fetuses) to come out of the womb (a miscarriage, I believe), not of causing a mother “to bereave the loss of her child.” Why Moses chose yeled instead of nepel is more difficult to determine. Perhaps he desired a more euphemistic term, and he may have chosen yeled, at least indirectly, to indicate the personhood of the fetus. Similarly the laws of Hammurapi and the Middle Assyrian laws employed a euphemistic circumlocution, sa libbisa, “that of her womb,” instead of the technical words for fetus (izbu, kübu) or nid hbbi, a miscarried fetus. Why Moses did not further define Däsön by adding läh or lähem (läm) is uncertain. Perhaps he simply did not deem it necessary.
Although the “technical language argument” may, at first glance, seem to support the premature-birth view, upon further reflection the general language of Exod 21:22 actually favors the miscarriage interpretation. In fact the language is so general that there must have been a broader, cultural context to prevent doubt as to the law’s intent. The ancient Near Eastern analogues all supply that broader context. Indeed, in all Biblical and ancient Near Eastern legal literature and in almost all the general literature there are no references to premature births. It simply was not directly addressed. Therefore if Moses were introducing a new, unique law, previously unknown (at least from the sources we now possess) to the general society and culture, concerning a premature birth, he would have avoided ambiguity and misunderstanding by using precise language, especially if similar laws from the broader society, such as laws concerning miscarriage, might confuse the issue. Moses, on the contrary, by using general language in Exod 21:22, most likely intended his readers to understand this law according to the broader context of society. therefore he considered it unnecessary to insert läh after Däsön (or to write nepel instead of yeled) since that society and culture understood to whom the ason applied. Moreover the ancient Near Eastern law codes also employed general, nontechnical language. Thus the general language of Exod 21:22 actually supports the miscarriage interpretation rather than the premature-birth interpretation.
The interpretational history of Exod 21:22 also favors the miscarriage view. The miscarriage interpretation, despite its general language that could have misled later interpreters, held unanimous consent from the LXX to Martin Luther—some 1800 years. John Calvin was the first to suggest the premature birth view. He was later followed by the nineteenth-century German scholars such as Keil, Geiger and Dillmann. Yet none of these scholars had the complete picture. The ancient Near Eastern evidence was still underground. We cannot of course say whether this evidence would have changed their position. Nevertheless, they probably would have reexamined their opinions. Since the 1970s, the decade of the Roe v. Wade decision, the premature birth view has captured most of evangelicalism. But notwithstanding the recent ascendancy of the premature birth interpretation, at least among evangelicals, the miscarriage interpretation has the most impressive interpretational history and the securest exegetical foundation.
To me the LXX is merely trying to clarify part of the situations described: unharmed mother and miscarriage. Additional evidence for the LXX being consistent with the Hebrew might come from Josephus who knew both Hebrew and Greek and seems to have no problem following the Hebrew:
33. (277) If men strive together, and there be no instrument of iron, let him that is smitten be avenged immediately, by inflicting the same punishment on him that smote him: but if when he is carried home he lie sick many days, and then die, let him that smote him escape punishment; but if he that is smitten escape death, and yet be at great expense for his cure, the smiter shall pay for all that has been expended during the time of his sickness, and for all that he has paid the physician. (278) He that kicks a woman with child, so that the woman miscarry, let him pay a fine in money, as the judges shall determine, as having diminished the multitude by the destruction of what was in her womb; and let money also be given the woman’s husband by him that kicked her; but if she die of the stroke, let him also be put to death, the law judging it equitable that life should go for life.
(Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged (p. 122). Peabody: Hendrickson.)
Assertions range from the statement of Tachauer that Josephus employed only a Hebrew text to that of Schalit that Josephus used only the Greek Bible. The overwhelming majority of scholars, however, have taken an intermediate position, suggesting that Josephus used both, in addition to, perhaps, an Aramaic targum.
However, this is also not certain since it also argued that the LXX wasn’t available to him at the time he wrote this summary of the law and he–like any other author–can be unreliable:
The general result of the study can be outlined briefly at the outset: as he stated himself( AJ 1:5 f., CAp 1:54) he did translate from much-used library books in Hebrew containing many learned corrections and glosses; this source will be termed H. The first library in which the scrolls were written, stored, corrected and used until the 70 war is most probably the Temple archive; the text-type is quite close to the Hebrew source of the Septuagint (hereafter) but, strangely enough, this supposedly well known Greek translation of the Pentateuch was not available to him, at least not before the last stages of his work, though he knew and quoted the Letter of Aristeas, which expounds at length the story of this translation and gives it all due authority.
In many cases Josephus’ paraphrase is at odds with all the biblical witnesses we know, though he stresses his faithfulness to his sources (AJ 1:17): he adds speeches or omits whole chapters; he reshapes his material, not only by formal changes, but also by adducing many exegetical traditions, no less than laws and customs, which cannot have been extracted directly from the biblical letter. Moreover, the archetype of all the extant mss of the Antiquities is most probably two or three centuries later than the original scrolls, written by Josephus and/or his assistents. It has many alterations, either mistakes or learned corrections; the latter are more misleading, since they give way to granting Josephus pieces of information he never uttered. Of course, it is impossible to deal properly with Josephus’ Bible before an identification of all these alterations.
If a man intentionally struck a pregnant woman for the purpose of killing the fetus, the punishment would be most severe—probably death. Therefore to claim that the fetus is not a person and that the Bible permits abortion simply on the grounds of an unintentional but negligent assault on the mother and fetus in Exod 21:22 is reckless if not disingenuous.
Scholars have considered Josephus’ comments on Exod 21 22 and on abortion an ìnterpretational crux. On the one hand, Josephus held to the traditional Jewish interpretation in Ant4.278. “He that kicks a pregnant woman, so that the woman miscarry, let him be fined by the judges as for having destroyed in the womb (and) having diminished the multitude, and let money be given to the husband of the woman for it (ι.e. the fetus).” On the other hand, in Ap.2.202 he holds that intentional abortion is murder. “The law commands (us) to rear all (of our offspring), and forbids to abort the fetus, neither to destroy (it after birth), but she will appear to be a child killer (teknoktonos) if she destroyed a soul and diminished the race.” V Aptowitzer claims that these two statements are a “gross contradiction” and that “in the first case a law is reproduced, hence the language of the lawgiver, in the second case a moral valuation is involved, hence the language of the moralist.” “Observations on the Criminal Law of the Jews,” JQR.15 (1924) 87 η 117 This explanation, however, will not do Josephus clearly appeals to the law and indicts the one who commits an intentional abortion as a “child killer.” (Josephus used the cognate word teknoktonia to describe Herod when he murdered his sons Ant 16.392, J W 1 543 ) Perhaps he considered the Exodus case as an unintentional assault, although his loose paraphrase of Exod 21.22 does not directly indicate this since he considers intentional abortion as murder. If so, Josephus’ views are not contradictory. Indeed they parallel some of the ancient Near Eastern laws Josephus’ statement in Ap.2.202 curiously resembles Did 2.2 and Barn 19.5 “You shall not kill a child by abortion, neither will you kill (the child) after it is born ” Could these statements reflect a common axiom of both Jew and Christian concerning abortion in the late first and early second centuries?
For Exod 21:23, a question immediately arises. Is this not an accidental injury? It is, but evidently not one exempted by 21:13. In other words, we are to interpret 21:13 in the manner of Num 35:22-23; Deut 19:5: “acts of God” are true accidents like workplace injuries, not the unintended consequences of animosity. The same might be inferred from Exod 21:18: two men fight and one kills the other without previous intent. If the stricken party recovers, his assailant is cleared. The tacit assumption is that, if he does not recover, his adversary is a murderer, even in the absence of premeditation. In other words, what we reckon as manslaughter, the Bible considers murder. If people wish to brawl, they may, but they risk incurring capital charges if either participant or bystander dies.
Exodus 21:23 mandates execution should the pregnant woman die. But execution of whom, the male combatant or his wife? Strict talion in a patriarchal society would require the latter (Houtman 20000: 165). Hammurapi §§116, 210, 230 and Middle Assyrian Laws §55 offer examples of a man’s wife or children being mharmed for his offenses against another’s wife or children. Still, we cannot be certain.
On Propp’s last statements, it seems the Bible did not practice this type of retributive talion, it rather only punished the person responsible. It is uncertain if Josephus’ statements are indeed contradictory but maybe we could posit four levels of intentionality to reconcile them: 1. fully intentional, 2. negligent (partially intentional), 3 unintentional but directly following from your actions (go a city of refuge), 4. completely unintentional. (no need to go to a city of refuge) Maybe this verse then falls into covering “2. negligent (partially intentional)” they were fighting with the intent to hurt and ended up hurting someone nearby. Propp seems to not include item 2. or 4. as a possible category. The idea that these verses are addressing negligence (2.) is backed up by the context afterward. Contrary to Propp there is no evidence that Exod 21:18 would necessarily result in capital punishment if one man died. It could also be a case of negligence since the verse about a slave being monetarily compensated for his damages appears right after and negligence seemed to punished with equal retribution or equivalent monetary compensation that was laid on the perpetrator by a representative of the victim. An example of this idea occurs in the following context with an ox that is and is not known to gore where there seems to be 2. and 4. levels of intentionality covered i.e. 4. you are either killed or have to pay monetary compensation because of negligence when your ox is known to gore (no going to city of refuge), 2. there is no need to go to a city of refuge when your ox gores someone because the ox’s action is not your action:
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
26 When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. 27 If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth. 28 When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29 If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. 31 If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32 If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
(Ex 21:22-32 NRSV)
As can be seen from this and the context, negligence is repaid either with literal lex talionis retribution or with monetary compensation depending on what is laid on the perpetrator. However, another idea must be considered the term “life for life” or other such phrases in a lex talionis cannot be taken literally at all:
1. Is the Death of the Woman a Capital Offence?
One influential interpretation argues that this phrase merely expresses a legal formula which is expounded in proverbial form. The principle is that whatever punishment is imposed (and in this immediate case the punishment is a fine) must be proportionate to the harm inflicted on the victim. Sarna notes “[r]abbinic tradition understood the biblical formulation to mean monetary payment and not physical retaliation” and he defends this interpretation. Drazin notes that the Halacah in b. B.K 84a and Sanhedrin 79a and Mekach understand the phrase to refer to a principle of commensurate compensation. Plaut states that “few passages in the Torah have been so thoroughly misunderstood” and suggests the text is best understood as requiring “the value of an eye for the loss of an eye”, “the value of a limb for its loss and so on”. Rachels, Harrison, et al. do not engage with this tradition of exegesis. They appear merely to assume a literalistic reading without argument.
There are, I think, good reasons for accepting the traditional, rabbinic exegesis on this point. Here I will provide six. While none of them may be decisive in themselves, jointly, I believe, they provide a strong case for reading v 23 in the traditional fashion.
The first reason is how phraseology such as that found in v 23 functions in such a genre as Exodus is written in. As noted above, this section of the book of Exodus in terms of its structure, literary form and language parallels the structure and language of Ancient Near Eastern (A.N.E.) legal texts. Interestingly enough, the legal formulas such as ‘an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth’ are not uncommon in such codes. In Old Babylonian law the hand that assaults is severed, a man who kisses another’s wife has his lips cut off, a person who steals bees is to be stung by bees. A person who had thrown his victim into an oven was to be thrown into an oven. A man who raped another’s wife would be sentenced to having his own wife or daughter raped. A negligent builder whose house collapsed and killed another’s son would be sentenced to having his own son killed. In act, the Code of Hammurabi states that if a man knocks out the eye of one of the upper classes, his eye must be knocked out.
Westbrook notes that such laws “reflect the scribal compilers’ concern for perfect symmetry and delicious irony rather than the pragmatic experience of the law courts”. The method used in legal texts was “to set out principles by the use of often extreme examples”. He goes on to note “[s]ome law codes impose physical punishments and others payments for the same offenses, while some codes have a mixture of the two. There is not necessarily a contradiction.” He explains that “in highlighting one or the other alternative, the codes are making a statement as to their view of the gravity of the offence”. Westbrook argues that serious wrongs “gave rise to a dual right in the victim or his family, namely to take revenge on the culprit, or to make composition with the culprit and accept payment in lieu of revenge”. He goes on to note, “[t]his right was a legal right, determined and regulated by the court”. The courts could “fix the level of composition payment” making “revenge a contingent right, which was only revived if the culprit failed to pay”. When talionic legal formulae occur in A.N.E. legal texts they merely express that the punishment be proportional to the crime. This could involve punishment in kind (which would be proportional to the crime) but in most cases it would probably involve monetary compensation. The phraseology is compatible with either.
J Finkelstein makes a similar point reflecting on what appears to be very harsh capital (and sometimes vicarious) sentences in the code of Hammurabi and the absurdity and impossibility of putting them into practice. He states that Mesopotamian penalty prescriptions,
[W]ere not meant to be complied with literally even when they were first drawn up, [But rather they] serve an admonitory function. If one would be bold enough to restate Hammurabi’s 230 as a direct admonition it might run to this effect: “woe to the contractor who undertakes construction and in his greed cuts corners”.
There is evidence then to suggest that when talionic formulae occur in A.N.E. legal texts they do not necessarily function as commandments to inflict literal mutilation in kind. They rather function as a kind of hyperbolic, ironical way of denouncing the crime and expressing a principle of proportionality.
The second reason for understanding the lex talionis in this fashion follows on from the first. A careful reading of the Hebrew Bible suggests that something like what Westbrook and Finkelstein argue is true of the Torah. Verses 29-32 deal with a case where an ox gores another person to death due to negligence on the part of the owner. This is a case of negligent homicide as opposed to premeditated killing; the penalty rendered is that the negligent person shall be put to death. However, immediately proceeding this, provision is made for a monetary fine to be paid instead of execution. This suggests that the command to execute was not considered incompatible with payment of monetary compensation proportional to the offence. The phrase “he shall be put to death” is not always to be taken literally.
This brings into question the very distinction of the lex talionis from the fine in verse 22, is one necessarily more serious than the other?
I would argue that the ox is a different situation because of the level of intent. In addition, I would argue that “life for life” is often used literally, although lesser punishments like “eye for eye” are not based on the servant who goes free based on any significant damage. Yet the servant who is killed is not covered by monetary compensation see misconception 8: https://hebrewroots.intentionalcommunities.world/2020/04/09/a-list-of-torah-misconceptions-in-short/ Also the death of someone “life for life” is demanded based on man being made in the image of God:
Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. (Gen 9:6 NRSV)
life for life. This NOTE and the following treat the Old Testament’s notorious lex talionis or “law of ritribution” (Exod 21:23-25; Lev 24:17-22; cf. Deut 19:19). In this context, “life for life” almost certainly prescribes a capital punishment (Luzzatto). (Hypothetically, nepes tahat nepes could also indicate giving the aggrieved part a child or a wife to replace the deceased–cf. Gen 4:25–but such recompense would be impossible with eyes, teeth etc., and so probably is not intended here, especially since no recipient is specified.)
The principle “life for life” appears also in nonjudicial contexts. Jehu admonishes his guard, 2Kgs 10:24, “The man who escapes from among the men I am about to bring upon your hands–his life for his life (napso tahat napso),” apparently meaning that anyone who lets a Baal-worshipper escape will forfeit his own life. And in 1 Kgs 20:39, a prisoner is entrusted to a soldier with the words, “Your life for his life (napseka tahat napso); or you must weigh out a talent of silver.”
. . .
Exodus 21:23 mandates execution should the pregnant woman die . . .
What if the pregnant woman merely miscarries? If fetal death counts under “injury,” then someone must die. But who? It must be either the assailant (cf. Middle Assyrian Laws A §50) or perhaps his youngest child, in the true spirit of talion. (One might argue that Deu 24:16 “Fathers shall not be put to death on account of sons; and sons, they shall not be put to death on account of fathers,” attacks this very practice, but, more likely, the subject is vicarious punishment; e.g., if a murderer fled abroad, his son was executed in his stead.)
“Life for life” raises one other question: the term nepes technically refers to both human and animal life. Obviously, one cannot compound a murder or manslaughter just by killing a sheep. But if I kill your sheep, is my punishment to kill one of my own? Or do I owe you a sheep? Lev 24:17-18, 21 explicity addresses these issues:
And a man, should he strike (dead) any human’s life (nepes), must be put to death, death. And should one strike (dead) an animals’s life, he must repay it, life for life (nepes tahat nepes). . . . And whoever strikes (dead) a beast must repay it, but whoever strikes a human must be put to death.
I think you see by now that the interpretation of the text is uncertain enough that we may not be able to make any definite conclusions about it with regard to the ethical nature of abortion. You may also notice that none of these ideas help us get to where exactly conception begins. Philo does have some commentary on it:
(135) Thus the souls which are already pregnant are naturally likely to bring forth children, rather than those which are now receiving the seed. But as the eyes of the body do oftentimes see obscurely, and often on the other hand see clearly, so in the same manner does the eye of the soul, at times, receive the particular impressions conveyed to it by things in a most confused and indistinct manner, and at other times it beholds them with the greatest purity and clearness; (136) therefore an indistinct and not clearly manifested conception resembles an embryo which has not yet received any distinct character or similitude within the womb: but that which is clear and distinctly visible, is like one which is completely formed, and which is already fashioned in an artistic manner as to both its inward and its outward parts, and which has already received its suitable character. (137) And with respect to these matters the following law has been enacted with great beauty and propriety: “If while two men are fighting one should strike a woman who is great with child, and her child should come from her before it is completely formed, he shall be muleted in a fine, according to what the husband of the woman shall impose on him, and he shall pay the fine deservedly. But if the child be fully formed, he shall pay life for life.”
For it was not the same thing, to destroy a perfect and an imperfect work of the mind, nor is what is only likened by a figure similar to what is really comprehended, nor is what is only hoped for similar to what really exists. (138) On this account, in one case, an uncertain penalty is affixed to an uncertain action; in another, a definite punishment is enacted by law against an act which is perfected, but which is perfected not with respect to virtue, but with reference to what is done in an irreproachable manner, according to some act. For it is not she who has just received the seed, but she who has been for some time pregnant, who brings forth this offspring, professing boasting rather than modesty. For it is impossible that she who has been pregnant some time should miscarry, since it is fitting that the plant should be conducted to perfection by him who sowed it; but it is not strange if some mishap should befall the woman who was pregnant, since she was afflicted with a disease beyond the art of the physician. (Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 316). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.)
(108) But if any one has a contest with a woman who is pregnant, and strike her a blow on her belly, and she miscarry, if the child which was conceived within her is still unfashioned and unformed, he shall be punished by a fine, both for the assault which he committed and also because he has prevented nature, who was fashioning and preparing that most excellent of all creatures, a human being, from bringing him into existence. But if the child which was conceived had assumed a distinct shape in all its parts, having received all its proper connective and distinctive qualities, he shall die; (109) for such a creature as that is a man, whom he has slain while still in the workshop of nature, who had not thought it as yet a proper time to produce him to the light, but had kept him like a statue lying in a sculptor’s workshop, requiring nothing more than to be released and sent out into the world. (Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 605). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.)
This should be interpreted in light of this information (note Flannigan follows a non-literal lex talionis interpretation unlike me in the case of death)
The LXX’s teaching about an assault upon a woman does not contradict the MT’s teaching on this question. While the LXX does not mention harm to the mother in this passage, causing harm to the mother falls readily under the other laws dealing with assault where an assailant is required to compensate his victim for damages suffered. Hence, its teaching on this question is essentially the same as the MT’s even if the presentation of it differs.
Nor does the teaching of the LXX regarding feticide contradict the teaching of the MT. The MT states that if a person kills a fetus he or she must pay a fine based upon an assessment. While the mode of assessment is not specified, evidence suggests that there existed a practice that based it upon the age of the fetus. The LXX does not contradict this. It states that if a person kills a fetus he or she must pay an assessment and it bases the assessment upon the age of the fetus.
The difference between the two is that the LXX specifies exactly how this assessment is to be carried out. It claims that when the conceptus is formed the payment must be a payment for homicide. The Hebrew is silent as to how the assessment is to be carried out so it does not deny that this is the correct way to carry out the assessment. Hence, the LXX is entirely compatible with the Hebrew here. As Scott notes, “This Greek interpretation of the passage reveals how the law had come to be applied over centuries of use, at least in the Alexandrian, Jewish community”.
The distinction made between a formed and unformed conceptus strengthens this conclusion. The distinction appears to be drawn from Greek natural philosophy. Kapparis notes, “Formation was a crucial concept in connection with the human identity of the unborn in Hippocratic medicine”. He adds,
In the understanding of many, [Hippocratic doctors] the acquisition of human identity was not something that happened at birth but well before that, when the foetus was sufficiently formed to be considered a human being.
Kapparis draws attention to numerous examples of the formed/unformed distinction in numerous, ancient, embryological writings. Galen for example noted that two contemporary studies, The Commentaries on the Demonstration and On the views of Hippocrates and Plato, defended the view “[t]hat what is in the womb is already a living being when it is formed in all its members”. Similarly, the Hippocratic study On the Nature of the Child, affirms that a conceptus “becomes a child” when it attains form. A similar view appears to be expressed by Socrates in Platonic dialogues.
The formed/unformed distinction appears in numerous other works. Soranus mentions the distinction and suggests that abortions should be performed only when the conceptus is unformed.
Interestingly, authors who mentioned the formed/unformed distinction tended to place its occurrence at roughly the same time, though they differed on the precise details. Diogenes Laertius informs us of the Pythagorean view.
This first creation [the conceptus] is formed in forty days, and then, in accordance with the law of harmony, the baby is perfected and born after seven, or nine, or maximum ten months.
Empedocles similarly argued that formation started on the 39th day and was completed on the 49th. Asclepiades noted the formed/unformed distinction and suggested that for males formation occurred between the 26th and 50th days and females were formed around 60 days. The tract, On the Nature of the Child, states a male fetus is formed
after 30 days and female fetuses were formed on the 42nd day. The author of On Seven Months Child, states a male conceptus is formed at 40 days while a female is formed after this.
Perhaps the most influential of Greek biologists was Aristotle. Aristotle developed the Hippocratic views with more sophistication. He argued that the soul was the life principle of the body. A conceptus began with a vegetative soul and then gradually acquired a sensitive soul. It became fully human when it achieved form, which occurred 40 days after conception for a boy or 90 for a girl. Aristotle’s views were based on empirical investigations. Other biologists from the period also based their views on empirical observation either from miscarriages and abortions that had occurred in humans or on analogy with the embryological development with animals.
There appeared then to be an established distinction in ancient Greek embryology between a formed and unformed fetus. The similarity between the Hippocratic/Aristotelian position and the LXX can hardly be a coincidence. It appears Alexandrian Jews utilised the biological information of their day, concluded that a formed conceptus was a human being and hence applied the law accordingly. In many ways this is unsurprising because even with Palestinian Rabbinical Judaism, Aristotelian embryology was often appealed to by Jewish scholars. Several examples bear this out.
The first comes from Nid. 3:2-7. Here the question arises about how the cleanliness laws recorded in Leviticus 12 apply to a woman who has miscarried. The law prescribes that a woman who has given birth to a child is unclean for forty days if the child born is a boy and eighty days if it is a girl. The question raised is when does miscarrying a fetus constitute giving birth to a child?
The answer given is that a miscarriage qualifies as the birth of a child if the conceptus has the form of a human being. It is stated that this happens on the forty-first day after conception. The justification provided for this ruling is precisely the kind of empirical studies that Greek biologists had appealed to.
A second example occurs in Ker. 1:3-5. The law requires that after a woman has undergone her post-birth period of uncleanness she is required to make a sacrifice. The question is asked, does this apply if she miscarries a fetus? The answer is the same as in the previous case, after forty-one days the conceptus has form. At this stage, a miscarriage is considered the birth of a child.
The third example comes from Bek. 8:1. Here the issue is the application of Exodus 13:12 where it states that a woman must redeem her first-born son with an offering. The question arises as to whether a child born to a woman who had miscarried previously is considered the first-born son. The answer is yes but only if the miscarried conceptus had not been formed which occurs at forty-one days after conception.
Four things then are evident. Firstly, in translating the LXX Alexandrian scholars aimed at “a gloss or commentary rather than a literal rendering of the Hebrew text”. They were “attempting to embody — in a widely accessible form — then-current applications of the Scriptures”. Secondly, it was common practice even in Rabbinical Judaism to utilise Greek natural philosophy in applying the Torah to various issues. Thirdly, the dominant, Greek, natural philosophy placed an important stress upon form in determining the human status of a conceptus. Fourthly, the LXX appears to utilise this distinction in applying the Torah to the question of feticide.
The best explanation appears to be that Alexandrian Jews utilised Greek embryology in an effort to apply the Torah to the question of feticide. The law told them that if a person killed a fetus they had to be punished based on an assessment of the maturity of the fetus. The science of the day taught them that a conceptus was human when it attained human form around 40 days post-conception. Hence, they concluded that if a person killed a formed conceptus this was homicide.
Consequently, the LXX is perhaps best seen as simply complementing the MT and offering an interpretation as to how to apply the law that it prescribes. The scribes behind the LXX did not so much attempt accurate translation of the text but rather faithful interpretation of it to explain its requirements to others. The Hebrew text taught that if a man killed a fetus one was to base the punishment upon an assessment based upon its level of development. This is precisely what the Alexandrian Jews did. Utilising the empirical information of the day they made such an assessment and concluded that early in the pregnancy it constituted homicide. In order to determine if their conclusion were mistaken or correct, the time of hominisation must be assessed. It is not determined by examining the text. The text simply demands that the assessment be made. The question is whether it was made correctly. Are there good grounds for holding that a formed conceptus is a human being? If there are then the LXX does propose a faithful application of the law.
I take position 3. “The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios)” so harm could apply to the woman. The LXX only addresses a scenario where the woman isn’t harmed. I take lex talionis as an additional punishment to the fine and I take it literally in the case of “life for Iife” and non-literally in the case of lesser mutilations. I take Exodus 21:22-25 as speaking to “negligence” where a literal “life for life” or monetary compensation can be applied to the offender based on what the husband of the woman demands.
While we can see some implications with regards to fetal personhood in the case of miscarriage in Ex 21:22-25 they do not appear certain to me especially given that the uncertain nature of the lex talionis and intent in this case. Josephus interestingly was against intentional abortion and yet interpreted the passage as a miscarriage along with all the other commentaries of his time. Hence, I prefer to weight the evidence in sections A and B more heavily.
The conclusion I can come to is that fetal personhood happens at some point during pregnancy. Josephus interestingly elevates an intentional abortion of any type to be punished with death but this is not consistent with the evidence in section B. The only way to make it consistent is to say that the timing of justice is paramount and invalidates fetal personhood in executing perpetrators of sexual immorality. However, I think that exceptions were made for pregnancies if the fetus was thought to be “fully formed” or similar based on my tentative understanding of the lex talionis in Ex 21:22-25. I think this is possible because many details on how to carry out punishments could be left out of the Torah and fetal personhood is elsewhere supported in the Bible. Fetal personhood is also supported by the extra-biblical sources which indicate that believers did value fetal personhood: https://glanier.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/abortion-in-the-scrolls-and-the-didache/
The value of the fetus before being “fully formed” would then be up for debate at different stages. A newly fertilized egg seems to not be considered valuable but later stages seem to be since a fine is imposed in Ex 21:22 even before it was called “fully formed” (even this is not certain if it were only about compensation for trauma but is itself made complicated by the fact that this may have been an unintentional act). What I have drawn from all this is that these topics are nowhere near as easy to decide as I had once thought. This does not suggest there isn’t value in the fetus before it attains a status of personhood so abortion (after the time of conception and before it is “fully formed”) is difficult to comment on with certainty.
What on earth am I talking about? Well, in a former post, I described a theory that David had the priesthood of Melchizedek because he was able to eat the show-bread and offer sacrifices: https://hebrewroots.intentionalcommunities.world/2019/05/19/yeshua-and-the-heart-of-sabbath-law/ In addition, David’s son’s are called “priests” in 2 Samuel 8:18. The question I answer in this post is: where did David get that priesthood? Here’s the first mention of Melchizedek in the Bible: (All verses are in the NRSV unless otherwise noted)
17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. (Gen 14:17-20)
Here’s what Hebrews says about the previous passage:
1 This “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him”; 2 and to him Abraham apportioned “one-tenth of everything.” His name, in the first place, means “king of righteousness”; next he is also king of Salem, that is, “king of peace.” 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.
4 See how great he is! Even Abraham the patriarch gave him a tenth of the spoils. 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to collect tithes from the people, that is, from their kindred, though these also are descended from Abraham. 6 But this man, who does not belong to their ancestry, collected tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had received the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 In the one case, tithes are received by those who are mortal; in the other, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. (Hebrews 7:1-10)
The Christian Courier has this to say about Hebrews 7:3:
None of the expressions in Hebrews 7:3 is to be assigned a literal meaning. Rather, they are terms that depict the nature of Melchizedek’s priesthood, in contrast to the Aaronic priesthood, as such prevailed under the Mosaic regime.
A careful consideration of the context is essential in the interpretation of these expressions.
It was not that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother” literally, or that he had no genealogical background.
No, the truth being conveyed was this. Whereas the Aaronic priesthood resulted from being a part of a family line (i.e., the descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother) the priesthood of Melchizedek was bestowed directly by God.
And it was precisely in this manner that the Lord Jesus was appointed as our High Priest. He did not inherit it by means of a physical lineage (cf. Hebrews 7:14).
An Example of Ancient Language There is an interesting text from one of the Amarna letters (more than 350 clay tablets from the Royal Egyptian archives, cir. 1400-1360 B.C.) that illustrates this matter. These letters were produced by scribes in Canaan, Phoenicia, and southern Syria.
In one of these letters (No. 286) there is the claim of Abdu-Heba, king of Urusalim [Jerusalem], which says:
“Behold, as for me, it was not my father and not my mother who set me in this place; the arm of the mighty king brought me into the house of my father!” (Pritchard, 1958, pp. 269-270).
This is not to suggest that Abdu-Heba was Melchizedek, only that the circumstance of bestowal in the former’s case is strikingly similar to the language regarding Melchizedek.
Melchizedek was not without physical parents. The reality was, he did not owe his position to them. The same was true with reference to Christ. It was not his Hebrew lineage that brought him to the priesthood. It was by means of a direct appointment of Jehovah.
For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. (Hebrews 7:14)
However, im going to modify their approach slightly. What if this priesthood is bestowed by God like the priesthood of Phinehas but is also for his descendants?
7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he got up and left the congregation. Taking a spear in his hand, 8 he went after the Israelite man into the tent, and pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. So the plague was stopped among the people of Israel. 9 Nevertheless those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. 10 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites. 12 Therefore say, ‘I hereby grant him my covenant of peace. 13 It shall be for him and for his descendants after him a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the Israelites.’” (Num 25:1-13 NRSV emphasis mine)
They also go on to quote F. F. Bruce who notes that what is left out of scripture may be treated as divinely inspired in the same way as scripture itself:
No beginning of days or end of life Nor is the phrase, “having neither beginning of days nor end of life,” to be pressed literally. Surely no one contends that Melchizedek is still alive somewhere upon the earth! Here is the reality of the situation.
According to the biblical record, the Levitical priests served in the tabernacle from the time they were twenty-five years of age, until they were fifty (Numbers 8:24-25), but no such limit is suggested in the scripture record regarding Melchizedek.
As far as the Genesis narrative reveals, there was neither beginning nor end to his administration. And, as F. F. Bruce observed, in this respect “the silences of the Scripture were as much due to divine inspiration as were its statements” (1990, p. 160).
In the case of Christ, our “High Priest” (this designation being used seventeen times in the epistle to the Hebrews), the Lord will serve in this capacity throughout the span of his entire reign, until such fades into that eternal administration (cf. Revelation 5:13b).
Where else do we see someone without a genealogy? In fact, there’s someone mentioned without even a name, Tamar’s father:
Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up”—for he feared that he too would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went to live in her father’s house. (Gen 48:11 NRSV)
We might say of him “he is without father and mother and without name just as God answered the question of his name with ‘I am.'” This isn’t to suggest that he is God just a typology of God. When Judah finds out that she has become pregnant he gives the same punishment for her that was given for the daughter of a priest:
When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NRSV)
About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the whore; moreover she is pregnant as a result of whoredom.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” (Gen 38:24 NRSV)
Tamar means “palm tree.” https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H8559&t=KJV Palm branches are symbolic of victory in the Bible and are used in John and Revelation:
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” (John 12:13 NRSV emphasis mine)
4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel:
5 From the tribe of Judah twelve thousand sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand sealed.
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:4-17 NRSV emphasis mine)
This imagery of victory and judgement is also used in Psalm 110 to speak of Melchizedek and you can see that his priesthood was a priesthood to the world rather than to just the house of Israel:
1 The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 The Lord sends out from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes. 3 Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day you lead your forces on the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you. 4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter heads over the wide earth. 7 He will drink from the stream by the path; therefore he will lift up his head. (Psalm 110:1-7)
Keil and Delitzsch note:
The New Testament also assumes elsewhere that David in this Psalm speaks not of himself, but directly of Him, in whom the Davidic kingship should finally and for ever fulfil that of which the promise speaks. For Psalm 110:1 is regarded elsewhere too as a prophecy of the exaltation of Christ at the right hand of the Father, and of His final victory over all His enemies: Acts 2:34. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/kad/psalms/110.htm
A priesthood–as we saw with Phinehas–can be an intercession for man before God in order to abolish sin and prevent wrath from falling. Since Tamar’s treatment fits a priest’s daughter we may speculate that Tamar’s father was a priest even though Moses said nothing about priests being in Judah.
For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. (Hebrews 7:14)
Tamar is also in the genealogy of David and hence Christ. The priesthood of Melchizedek is messianic in nature and so it may have descended from Eve.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:15)
Hence Tamar may be able to carry on the priesthood since it descends through the female line as well as the male line. This priesthood may have originally started with Adam but then been given to Eve after the fall: https://sbts-wordpress-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/equip/uploads/2018/10/SBJT-22.2-Adam-as-Priest-Beale.pdf Even if the women weren’t priests themselves it may be the case that it could be passed through the female line. Also, the interventions that God does to make sure Tamar conceives (such as killing Onan) seems to oddly focus on her rather than Judah (since Judah had other descendants) This passage from Ruth is also interesting: (bolded words are mine)
9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have acquired from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are witnesses.” 11 Then all the people who were at the gate, along with the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem; 12 and, through the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”
13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. 17 The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.
18 Now these are the descendants of Perez: Perez became the father of Hezron, 19 Hezron of Ram, Ram of Amminadab, 20 Amminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon, 21 Salmon of Boaz, Boaz of Obed, 22 Obed of Jesse, and Jesse of David. (Ruth 4:9-22 NRSV)
Obed means “to serve” and he is the ancestor of the suffering servant who brings victory over the serpent and makes his enemies his footstool. Perez means “breach” and is used for an invasion into a city and sometimes where the wrath of God fell in judgement:
7 The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. 8 David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah; so that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day. (2 Samuel 6:7-8 NRSV)
Here Moses has a priestly function by turning away the wrath of God:
Therefore he said he would destroy them— had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them. (Psalm 106:23)
Richard Bauckham also has this to say on pages six and seven of his article: “Tamar’s Ancestry and Rahab’s Marriage: Two Problems in the Matthean Genealogy” showing that the view I presented of Tamar was in Jewish tradition:
In addition ‘The Encyclopedia of Jewish Women” states:
According to the Biblical account, Tamar was most likely a Canaanite. The midrash is relatively silent on her life before she married into the family of Judah. One tradition asserts that she was an orphan and was converted in order to marry (BT Sotah 10a), while another claims that she was the daughter of Melchizedek, king of Salem, who was “a priest of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18). Consequently, Judah judged her according to the laws pertaining to the daughter of a priest (which are set forth in Lev. 21:9) and ordered that she be burnt when he thought that she had become pregnant as a result of an illicit tryst (Gen. Rabbah 85:10).
11. Misconception “A woman’s vows in her father’s house could only be annulled when she was young.”
This may not be a misconception but I thought I’d add my alternate interpretation here as well. The verses in question are here:
3 When a woman makes a vow to the Lord, or binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house, in her youth, 4 and her father hears of her vow or her pledge by which she has bound herself, and says nothing to her; then all her vows shall stand, and any pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. 5 But if her father expresses disapproval to her at the time that he hears of it, no vow of hers, and no pledge by which she has bound herself, shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her, because her father had expressed to her his disapproval.
6 If she marries, while obligated by her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, 7 and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her at the time that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. 8 But if, at the time that her husband hears of it, he expresses disapproval to her, then he shall nullify the vow by which she was obligated, or the thoughtless utterance of her lips, by which she bound herself; and the Lord will forgive her. 9 (But every vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, by which she has bound herself, shall be binding upon her.) 10 And if she made a vow in her husband’s house, or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, 11 and her husband heard it and said nothing to her, and did not express disapproval to her, then all her vows shall stand, and any pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. 12 But if her husband nullifies them at the time that he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning her pledge of herself, shall not stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the Lord will forgive her. 13 Any vow or any binding oath to deny herself, her husband may allow to stand, or her husband may nullify. 14 But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he validates all her vows, or all her pledges, by which she is obligated; he has validated them, because he said nothing to her at the time that he heard of them. 15 But if he nullifies them some time after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her guilt. 16 These are the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses concerning a husband and his wife, and a father and his daughter while she is still young and in her father’s house. (Numbers 30:3-15)
What if “youth” here just means “under authority” like a “servant.” Indeed some people are more mature than others regardless of their age. The fact that it speaks about the woman’s vows being able to be annulled by her husband later means there isn’t necessarily a concern for the woman’s youth or inexperience just a concern for the authority structure in the household and of protecting the woman from making rash vows (men are not protected in this way at any point) However, women and men are always allowed to run away from any authority. (as we have learned in my previous post)
In other places boy is rather the name of function, and denotes servant . . . Gen. 37:2 נַעַר הוּא “he (was) servant with the sons of Bilhah,” etc. . . 2 Kings 5:20; 8:4: Exod. 33:11; 2 Ki. 4:12; used also of common soldiers . . . 1 Kings 20:15, 17, 19; 2 Kings 19:6
Indeed, it uses the same term for “youth” when a woman returns to her father’s house when older “as in her youth” and says she can eat the same things she could in her “youth.” In addition, along with the family, it was only servants bought with money that could also eat these holy things:
10 No lay person shall eat of the sacred donations. No bound or hired servant of the priest shall eat of the sacred donations; 11 but if a priest acquires anyone by purchase, the person may eat of them; and those that are born in his house may eat of his food. 12 If a priest’s daughter marries a layman, she shall not eat of the offering of the sacred donations; 13 but if a priest’s daughter is widowed or divorced, without offspring, and returns to her father’s house, as in her youth, she may eat of her father’s food. No lay person shall eat of it. 14 If a man eats of the sacred donation unintentionally, he shall add one-fifth of its value to it, and give the sacred donation to the priest. 15 No one shall profane the sacred donations of the people of Israel, which they offer to the Lord, 16 causing them to bear guilt requiring a guilt offering, by eating their sacred donations: for I am the Lord; I sanctify them. (Leviticus 22:10-16 NRSV)
The annulling of vows by the father may have partially been to prevent the curse in Genesis from taking place, compare the following:
To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16 NRSV)
16 When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17 But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins. (Exodus 22:16-17 NRSV)
A woman may rashly vow to marry a controlling husband but think better of it later as this research may show:
Even worse, these masculine men often embody the Dark Triad, a personality constellation that encompasses Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. So, what in the world is appealing about these objectionable individuals? Quite simply, they possess high-quality genes that they will pass down to their future children.
. . . What did the researchers find? Women preferred aggressive men as short-term mates, and particularly during ovulation. This finding builds on previous work demonstrating that women find male characteristics such as dominance and masculine facial features especially attractive when they are fertile.
We have also learned the following in my previous post:
A. Even sons in their father’s house had no income of their own and had to follow all the orders of their father. (Luke 15:11-32)
B. Good sons are said to “serve” their fathers with the same word used for “servant” in Malachi 3:17.
C. That a servant is not different from a son until inheritance. (Galatians 4:1-3)
D. That sex with the capability of producing children is an obligation of men to women.(Ex 21:10) (Gen 30:14-18) (Gen 38:8-10)
In addition to D. one of the Jewish interpretations of Leviticus 19:29 in the Talmud is to not deny your daughter her right to get married when she is young:
(Fol. 76) You shall not profane your daugher (Lev. 19, 29). R. Eliezer says: “This refers to one who marries off his [young] daughter to an old man.” R. Akiba says: “This refers to one who leaves his daughter unmarried until she enters the age of womanhood.” R. Cahana in the name of R. Akiba said (Ib. b) Who is to be considered poor and shrewd-wicked? He who has left his daughter unmarried until she enters the age of womanhood.”
Ein Yaakov (Glick Edition), Sanhedrin 9:1
Gesenius has this for the word used in Leviticus 19:29:
(3) to lay open, to give access to [“to profane, from the idea of opening”], hence—(a) חִלֵל הַבַּת Lev. 19:29, to prostitute one’s daughter, comp, Lev. 21:7,14.
So these things about making sure the father lets his daughter get married may fit with my interpretation but it would also fit with the standard interpretation of “youth.” If that standard interpretation is correct then by specifying “in her youth” it’s implying the father should make sure she doesn’t have to remain in his house afterward. Given what we know about household authority and not being able to resolve “why are her vows able to be annulled when she is older by her husband” this would make some sense.
The last question is “could the word be interpreted both “youth” and “under authority” in this case?” If that was the case the associated meanings I have come up with for both interpretations would seem to apply.
Here I’ve compiled a list of common misconceptions about the Torah. The number comes first with the misconception in quotes and my response follows below. These are ordered in a way so the later responses are based on the previous but other than that the order is arbitrary.
1. Misconception: “The Torah endorses slavery.”
Calling servants in the Torah “slaves” in the modern sense is an anachronism. Servants are free to run away. (Deuteronomy 23:15-16) This today would be called “a job” but with a long contract. The servant was free to break that contract but would face consequences from not being trusted to keep contracts with other people or employers. Indeed owners of actual slaves sometimes prevented slaves from reading parts of the Bible that were against what they were doing: https://www.history.com/news/slave-bible-redacted-old-testament
2. Misconception: “You could force your daughter to marry someone.”
Although there are cases where women seem to be promised in a way that treats them like property, e.g. ‘Then Caleb said, “Whoever attacks Kiriath-sepher and takes it, I will give him my daughter Achsah as wife.”’ (Judges 1:12) this is not endorsed anywhere in the Torah. While women may have felt cultural pressure to comply with their father it follows from 1. that you couldn’t force someone to marry you or someone else because they could run away even if they were only a servant. How much more a daughter? In addition, you couldn’t capture someone in the first place and hence you couldn’t force anyone physically to do anything without a legal reason, see Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7. Later in Jewish law this principle still remains: there is no such thing as “jail” in Jewish law, only a temporary holding for judgment. This is incredibly libertarian for ancient law which was usually less individualist than today. I would argue that jail today is immoral according to the Torah, just give someone their punishment and let them go.
3. Misconception: “After a waiting period you could rape captives and force them to marry you.”
The passage in question follows:
10 When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you take them captive, 11 suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, 12 and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, 13 discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her. (Deu 21:10-14)
It follows from the previous that Deuteronomy 21:11 does not mean you can force someone to marry you. Marriage was arranged with the father of the woman and this law states that you are still allowed to marry someone that has no father. The phrase in Deuteronomy 21:13 “go in to her” does not describe sexual relations as you might think from reading other parts of the Bible because the Hebrew words there are literally “go in” and “husband” and are not elsewhere used to imply sex. Therefore there is not even a possible implication that you can have sex with her simply because the time is over. The word translated “dishonor” is used in Deuteronomy 22:24 for consensual sex so there is no implication of rape.
4. Misconception: “Rape wasn’t taken very seriously in the society of the Bible.”
This idea is often used in order to make excuses for interpretations of the Bible that are rape-friendly but nothing could be further from reality. There’s no case in that Bible where rape was taken lightly. The rape of the concubine in Judges was avenged by a national civil war. (Judges 19-21) The rape of Tamar by Amnon was avenged by Amnon’s death and possibly was the cause of another national civil war because David didn’t punish Amnon. (2 Samuel 13) What’s commonly called the rape of Dinah in Gen 34:2 was avenged by genocide. (Gen 34:25-31) According to this article, it may have even been consensual, but the crime was just taking advantage of an inexperienced young woman: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/dinah/ Do we even take rape that seriously today? I think not.
Women were protected from having their conjugal duty diminished “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.” (Ex 21:10) and Rachel and Leah were able to trade a night with Jacob for mandrakes Gen 30:14-18. Also note that it’s the less attractive Leah that tells Jacob: “‘You must come in to me; for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he lay with her that night.” God killed Onan for not having sex in a way that would cause pregnancy when he was supposed to perform the duty of the Levarite in Genesis 38:8-10. Rather than sex being an obligation of women, it seems that it was an obligation of men especially for the purpose of giving women children. This probably breaks a lot of the preconceptions most people have about the Biblical culture.
5. Misconception: “A virgin was supposed to marry her rapist.”
Given that Israelite culture tended to avenge rape with genocide and civil war, slipping this idea into the law would be difficult. The passage in question follows:
28 “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days. 30 “A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor uncover his father’s bed. (Deuteronomy 22:28-30)
The word in Deuteronomy 22:28 (“taphas” Qal Perfect form in Hebrew) is never used for rape elsewhere and is totally different and unrelated to the word used in Deuteronomy 22:25 for rape “chazaq” which is also in the causative form the “hiphil.” If they wanted to say this was rape they could have easily used the same word with the same form again to describe it in the previous case. In verse 28 it says “and they are found out” implying both are responsible and consenting in contrast to the rape in Deuteronomy 22:25-27 which refers to the man and the woman separately. The location (town or city) is not specified, unlike the situations before making this a seemingly different situation than the rape that is described before. “Taphas” is used in the same form in Gen 4:21 for playing the lyre and pipe . . . Here “taphas” is translated “seize” but is used in the context of persuasion:
Someone will even seize a relative, a member of the clan, saying, “You have a cloak; you shall be our leader, and this heap of ruins shall be under your rule.” (Isaiah 3:6)
He is holding onto him in order to persuade him. Any forcible seizure would be short-lived given the power of kings in that day and age. In addition, Num 5:13 uses the “niphal” stem (Aspect: Perfect) as a reflexive to mean a woman who “caught in the act” (NRSV) of adultery. In Deu 21:19 it is used in the Qal Perfect form to mean “take hold of him” to bring to the judges.
While “taphas” is used in contexts of war for the “capture” of people in battle or otherwise (hence probably why the NRSV above translates it as “seize”) it does not by itself imply force was used on those people (the threat of force is only implied by the situation). The question is: do we know how it is used in the context of a sexual encounter with a woman? No, it is only used in that context here in Deuteronomy 22:28. However, even if Taphas means “capture” or “non-consent” in this case there are other options besides interpreting it as rape which I will explain.
While Taphas is a different word than that used for rape immediately prior, it is also not used in Deuteronomy 22:22,23 to describe consensual sex. Instead of “hold” (taphas) H8610 and “lie with” (shachav) H7901 in Deuteronomy 22:28; the words used in verses 22 and 23 are “find” (matza) H4672 and “lie with” (shachav) H7901. So why the difference? If “taphas” implies a lack of consent or a “capture” then we may answer that both the father and the daughter had to consent to the marriage. The father’s authority can be established in many different places. The daughter’s authority to refuse can be established if you read the entirety of this blog post. If the father didn’t consent then that implies a “non-consent” or “capture” of the daughter which would fit with the word “taphas” being used to describe the non-consensual (but not necessarily violent) capture of people. In fact, the parallel of Deuteronomy 22:28 in Exodus 22:16 is in the context of damages to the household possessions via theft or negligence and Keil and Delitzsch say of Exodus 22:16:
The seduction of a girl, who belonged to her father as long as she was not betrothed (cf. Exodus 21:7), was also to be regarded as an attack upon the family possession. Whoever persuaded a girl to let him lie with her, was to obtain her for a wife by the payment of a dowry (מהר see Genesis 34:12); and if her father refused to give her to him, he was to weigh (pay) money equivalent to the dowry of maidens, i.e., to pay the father just as much for the disgrace brought upon him by the seduction of his daughter, as maidens would receive for a dowry upon their marriage. The seduction of a girl who was betrothed, was punished much more severely (see Deuteronomy 22:23-24).
This is backed up by the following verse Exodus 22:17 “But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins.” Therefore, if “taphas” H8610 in Deuteronomy 22:28 is used at all to describe a “capture” or “non-consent” then verses 29-30 give the context of what the “capture” or “non-consent” was from:
29 the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives. 30 A man shall not marry his father’s wife, thereby violating his father’s rights. (Deuteronomy 28:29-30)
If it is a “capture” it is a “capture” from the father’s authority not from the woman’s own will since both the father and the woman must be willing to accept the man. The rights of the father are not randomly started in verse 30 but are a continuation of the right of the father to not have his daughter taken away (“captured”) without his consent and his right to the bride-price. In addition, this law is merged with the law about seduction in Exodus 22:16-17 in Philo, Josephus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (11Q Temple Scroll). This law is merely specifying the bride-price that was mentioned in Exodus and as a common-law addition, it is clarifying that you couldn’t use the loop-hole of divorce for the marriage commanded in Exodus.
All that being said there are plenty of examples where “taphas” is used to mean “wield” or “play” which seems like a much more likely association for a sexual encounter. I’m just giving an argument that even if you take it in the stronger ways it is used it doesn’t necessarily imply rape. This article has more details on the Hebrew in question: https://cbmw.org/2018/03/05/did-old-testament-law-force-a-woman-to-marry-her-rapist/
6. Misconception: “Masters could treat their slaves like animals and break up marriages once they got children.”
The verses in question:
1 These are the ordinances that you shall set before them: When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” 6 then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life. (Ex 21:1-6)
You also couldn’t break up a marriage even if you were the employer of a servant. The servant that is said to go out in Ex 21:4 is clearly just becoming an independent (non-servant) if you read the context. This says nothing about the status of his marriage. He would want to stay employed with you so he could see his wife and kids consistently. Also according to Jesus:
3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:7-9 emphasis mine)
7. Misconception: “You could trick someone into being your servant forever by giving him a wife.”
You couldn’t trick someone into serving you forever by setting them up with a wife they wanted to be around consistently, see Exodus 21:1-6 and Deuteronomy 15:16-17.
then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life. (Ex 21:6)
Although it says “serve him for life” this doesn’t tell us exactly how their relationship changes. A son is also said to serve the father. Consider the following:
B. You are taking him to the doorpost where the law of God was posted.
C. God gave the Israelites the right to stay on the land and own the houses and land they had. (Leviticus 25:22-34)
D. Sons are said to serve the father. The same word for servant is used in Malachi 3:17 and a son is not different than a servant until inheritance comes into play Galatians 4:1-3
E. Sons had to follow all the commands of the father and did not have their own source of income as implied by Luke 15:11-32.
F. A servant is said to become an heir if he is pampered in many translations of Proverbs 29:21, see ESV and YLT for examples. However, the Hebrew is uncertain and different translations render it differently.
G. The only other examples of blood being put on the earlobes in a ceremony is of a transfer from a lower status to a higher one: the cleansing of the leper and the consecration of the priests: Lev 14:1-4, Leviticus 8:1~
H. Karel van der Toorn is a secular theologian who has studied the Biblical ceremony of piercing the ear with an awl and has concluded that it is was an adoption ceremony. (see the book “God in Context”)
8. Misconception: “You could beat your servants for no reason and you weren’t punished unless they died within a day.”
The relevant verses follow:
20 When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. (Ex 21:20-21 NRSV)
Now it’s obvious you couldn’t beat someone to death as it says here where the same word is used for “strikes:” “Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:12) Actually, if you did any significant (or maybe permanent) damage to your servant they would become an independent: Exodus 21:26-27 The reason you could punish servants (assuming you were the head of a household) is that you were part of the legal system. Just as today we might post the law of the land on the courthouse so in that time the laws of God were posted on the gates (where the elders sat) and on the doorposts of houses: Deuteronomy 6:9 and Deuteronomy 11:20. Regardless of whether you agree with the implications of where the law was posted, it is a fact that the legal system was much more distributed in the Torah than in most modern societies. Take for example the avenger of blood in Deuteronomy 19:11-12 which was just a person in the victim’s family.
The mention of the servant as “property” is literally “money” and there is a curious similarity to the previous verses which talk about compensating individuals for loss of work and cost of recovery in a fight:
18 When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, 19 but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery. (Exodus 21:18-19)
The case in verse 21 for the servant living one or two days is not for when it looked like they had died of their injuries because beating someone near death would do significant (and by definition permanent) damage and hence make the servant an independent causing the death of the servant to be avenged as an independent person. (just for those who think Ex 21:12 didn’t apply with servants for some reason) Rather verse 21 is for a case where it is unknown what killed the servant.
However, is there a connection to the two independent men fighting and compensation? I think verse 21 simply specifies that since the servant was a source of income and value to the employer that any uncertainty in what caused the death should be decided in the employer’s favor since he is presumed to have suffered a loss from this. This seems to not be the case with independent men since nothing is said about whether the victim dies a day or two later.
Another view (that I’m not in favor of) is that the employer would not be liable for the loss of time of the servant unlike the two men fighting since the employer suffers a loss from having to support the servant while recovering. If this were the case it would suggest that the punishment for a servant could be rather harsh. I don’t agree with this for several reasons: 1. The passage does not specify what to do when the servant is confined to bed but recovers. It only specifies what to do if the servant is confined to bed and then dies. It would be nonsensical to assume anything about compensating the servant in a case where he dies. 2. The Bible also prevents harsh beatings even if they would only be “degrading:” “Forty lashes may be given but not more; if more lashes than these are given, your neighbor will be degraded in your sight.” (Deuteronomy 25:3 NRSV) Life-threatening beatings would seem to be excluded by preventing “degrading” beatings.
9. Misconception: “The Torah Condones Burning People Alive”
The relevant verses follow:
When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NRSV)
This wasn’t actually “burned to death” but “burned after death.” Compare this more literal translation with the story of Achan in Joshua 7 where he is condemned to be burned with fire but is stoned then burned with fire:
`And a daughter of any priest when she polluteth herself by going a-whoring — her father she is polluting; with fire she is burnt. (Leviticus 21:9 YLT)
See the excerpt on Achan below:
15 And the one who is taken as having the devoted things shall be burned with fire, together with all that he has, for having transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and for having done an outrageous thing in Israel.’” . . . 25 Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord is bringing trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him to death; they burned them with fire, cast stones on them, 26 and raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore that place to this day is called the Valley of Achor. (Leviticus 7:15-26 NRSV)
10. Misconception: “The punishments in the Torah are exact.”
The punishments in the Torah are actually maximum punishments. For instance, the punishment for adultery is said to be death (Leviticus 20:10) but Hosea was able to not punish his wife for adultery (possibly by just not reporting it–which is another thing the Torah did not mandate) and it also speaks of accepting compensation for adultery in Proverbs:
32 But he who commits adultery has no sense; he who does it destroys himself. 33 Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away. 34 For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge. 35 He will not accept any compensation; he will refuse a bribe, however great it is. (Proverbs 6:32-35)
It also states that the owner of an ox that is accustomed to gore shall be put to death–but then states right after that payment can also be required of him:
28 When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29 If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. 31 If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32 If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. (Exodus 21:28-32)
David also gives deviant judgements from the letter of the law based on circumstances:
4 When the woman of Tekoa came to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and did obeisance, and said, “Help, O king!” 5 The king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead. 6 Your servant had two sons, and they fought with one another in the field; there was no one to part them, and one struck the other and killed him. 7 Now the whole family has risen against your servant. They say, ‘Give up the man who struck his brother, so that we may kill him for the life of his brother whom he murdered, even if we destroy the heir as well.’ Thus they would quench my one remaining ember, and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.”
8 Then the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.” 9 The woman of Tekoa said to the king, “On me be the guilt, my lord the king, and on my father’s house; let the king and his throne be guiltless.” 10 The king said, “If anyone says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall never touch you again.” 11 Then she said, “Please, may the king keep the Lord your God in mind, so that the avenger of blood may kill no more, and my son not be destroyed.” He said, “As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.” (2 Samuel 14:1-33)
The penalty in the above should have been death but David may have in mind principles of taking care of the widow and the orphan that are also in the law.
1 and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” (2 Samuel 12:1-5)
The following has a good explanation of the above:
Recall the parable of the poor man’s ewe in the book of Samuel.4 David has slept with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his soldiers on the battlefront. The prophet Nathan wishes to compel the errant king into an awareness of his misdoing. He brings up a fictitious case in which a man blessed with large flocks steals and slaughters the ewe of his neighbor, a poor man who owned nothing but the ewe, which he loved very much.
The king does not realize that the parable is a metaphor of his own lust for women, of whom he has had many. Asked by Nathan to adjudicate this hypothetical case, he imposes a punishment on the thief. Now, if biblical law were statutory law, David would need only to consult Exodus 21:37: “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” David, however, deviates from this ostensible statute. In addition to obligating the thief to four-fold restitution—as per Exodus—he also sentences him to death.
Also, the phrase “an eye for an eye” in the lex talionis passages could be literally translated as “an eye under an eye” and there is a different phrase used in Deuteronomy (where a false witness attempts to incriminate someone) to say that the same punishment should be implemented on that witness.
From a statutory perspective, David’s actions are out of line, a violation of the cardinal tenet of strict construction: interpreting the law as literally as possible. Seen as common law, however, the proposal in Exodus of four-fold restitution for a stolen and slaughtered sheep is not prescriptive but rather an example of justice in the given circumstances: presumably, a case of the thief’s need for food or cash. David, clearly aware of the Torah’s teaching, applies it to a case in which the thief’s actions are flagrant and contemptible in the extreme. The thief is not some poor person desperate to feed his family, while the victim is not only poor himself but has been brutally robbed of his only, beloved possession. Such avarice and callousness warrant the perpetrator’s death.
All verses are in the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Karel van der Toorn compares the writing of the Bible to the Bible’s description of creation:
According to the first chapter of the Bible, separation and ordering were essential to the act of creation. God did not create the world out of nothing, but he turned chaos into cosmos. As a creator, God edited the world. He followed the modus operandi of a master scribe, whose art consists in the creation of something new out of preexisting elements. God brought order to the disparate elements that he found. The outcome was the world as we know it, not just a haphazard compilation of everything that went on before, but an orderly arrangement of all the elements available. He produced a text we can read and live in.
The scribes that were responsible for the creation of the canonical works of the ancient world, the books of the Bible as much as the classics of the Mesopotamian tradition, were not really authors but editors. Most of the scribes mentioned in the Babylonian Catalogue of Texts and Authors were the editors of the compositions put to their name.
(Page 221 “God in Context: Selected Essays on Society and Religion in the Early Middle East” by Karel van der Toorn)
Using the documentary hypothesis as an analogy Toorn says the Bible describes separating and organizing rather than ex-nihilo creation. Let’s keep this in mind when reading Genesis. Here I present my views on the creation story and attempt to reconcile it with a 13.772 billion-year-old universe and the 4.543 billion-year-old earth. My argument will work with or without evolution and common ancestry being correct. (that’s not my main concern here) It’s beyond the scope of this post to show why I basically accept these calculations. My argument, therefore, will be primarily theological.
For those who view the material in Genesis to be mythological, this will be a silly exercise. I find some of the details in Genesis hard to take in a mythological way, maybe I need to study ancient mythology more. However, from watching Shaye Cohen’s online class even secular Bible scholars have a problem with the non-mythological surface of Genesis 1 since it does not conform to the pattern of other creation myths where conflict results in creation. They need to read between the lines to extract the idea that it is a battle between God and Tiamat and I haven’t found this convincing.
In addition, I know ancient people believed a lot of weird things about the world and it would be pedantic if God magically changed their thinking just so they could make some theological point without misrepresenting an aspect of creation they were basing it on. However, consider the prophecy of Caiaphas:
50 You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, (John 11:15-51)
The relevant point is: it is possible for someone to speak in a way that is inspired even if they do not know the way God intended their words. Therefore, I’m not claiming that all the statements in the Bible were meant to support a later scientific understanding when they were written; just that they are compatible with that understanding due to the ambiguity of language. This may seem like I’m holding too high of a standard to the Bible but my experience has taught me to have respect for the Bible’s general veracity when it is properly interpreted so I thought I’d at least try this interpretation.
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time arguing against young-earth creationism. However, I will point this out: so many Christians say that belief in a literal Genesis is critical but are in conflict about the meaning of Genesis 1 and many of the scientific facts related to it. Here are some of the church fathers’ views on days being ages: https://ibbarsoum.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/early-church-fathers-on-genesis/ Modern Creationists sometimes dismiss these as non-literal interpretations so I will also quote this:
Over the last four parts of this Today’s New Reasons to Believe series, I have responded to each of Mook’s major arguments.
Part 1. The early church fathers based their understanding of Genesis on Greek and Latin translations, not the original Hebrew.
Part 2. The allegorical interpreters (e. g., Origen and Augustine) did have specific scriptural reasons for rejecting a calendar-day view of Genesis 1. In particular, the creation days could not be solar days if the Sun was not created until the fourth day. Moreover, the seventh creation day is not closed out by the “evening and morning” phrase, so it is considered longer than a 24-hour day.
Part 3. Even the so-called “literalist” fathers often relied on nonliteral modes of interpretation in dealing with the Old Testament, such as typology and numerological association.
Part 4. The cornerstone of Mook’s proof of young-earth creationism in the early church is a widespread belief among the patristics that human history would last exactly 6,000 years. Ironically, this idea was merely a popular human tradition concerned primarily with eschatology—not creation. This model artificially constrained the age of the earth even though the Bible itself does not require it to be so.
There were several early Jewish interpreters that were familiar with Hebrew and agree with me in interpreting Gen 1:2 as the state of the earth at the beginning of God’s creative process. Later on, this confusion with Christians over Genesis continued. Even within a uniform view of Genesis the science among creationists is disputed:
In a presentation at the conference, Wise showed a slide of a fossil sequence that moved from reptile to mammal, with some transitional fossils in between. He veered suddenly from his usual hyperactive mode to contemplative. “It’s a pain in the neck,” he said. “It fits the evolutionary prediction quite well.” Wise and others have come up with various theories explaining how the flood could have produced such perfect order. Wise is refining a theory, for example, that the order reflects how far the animals lived from the shore, so those living farthest from the water show up last in the record. But they haven’t settled on anything yet.
While the young-earth movement is seemingly uncontested in conservative circles, this is a recent phenomenon:
Until well into the twentieth century critics of evolution tended to identify themselves as anti-evolutionists rather than creationists. Three factors help to explain this practice. First, the word already possessed a well-known meaning unrelated to the creation–evolution debate. Since early Christianity theologians had attached ‘creationism’ to the doctrine that God had specially created each human soul – as opposed to the traducianist teaching that God had created only Adam’s soul and that children inherited their souls from their parents. Second, even the most prominent scientific opponents of organic evolution differed widely in their views of origins. Some adopted the biblical view that all organisms had descended from the kinds divinely created in the Garden of Eden and preserved on Noah’s ark. Others, such as the British geologist Charles Lyell (1797–1875), advocated the spontaneous but non-supernatural appearance of species in regional centres or foci of creation. Still others followed the leading American anti-evolutionist, the Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz (1807–73), in arguing for repeated plenary creations, during which ‘species did not originate in single pairs, but were created in large numbers’. Third, even Bible-believing fundamentalists could not agree on the correct interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis. A majority probably adopted the ruin-and restoration view endorsed by the immensely popular Scofield Reference Bible (1909), which identified two creations (the first ‘in the beginning’, the second associated with the Garden of Eden) and slipped the fossil record into the vast gap between the two events. Another popular reading of Genesis 1, advocated by William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), the leading anti-evolutionist of the time, held that the days mentioned in Genesis 1 represented immense ages, each corresponding to a section of the geological column or perhaps to a period in the history of the cosmos. Only a handful of those writing against evolution insisted on what later came to be known as young-earth creationism but was then called flood geology: a recent special creation of all kinds in six twenty-four-hour periods and a geologically significant flood at the time of Noah that buried most of the fossils. . . .
In 1935 Price, Clark, Rimmer and Higley joined with a few others to create ‘a united front against the theory of evolution’. The resulting society, the Religion and Science Association, quickly dissolved, however, when the members fell to squabbling about the age of the earth, with Price and Clark supporting flood geology, Rimmer and Higley pushing for the gap theory, and still others arguing for the day–age interpretation. As one frustrated anti-evolutionist observed in the 1930s, fundamentalists were ‘all mixed up between geological ages, Flood geology and ruin, believing all at once, endorsing all at once’. How, he wondered, could evangelical Christians possibly turn the world against evolution if they themselves could not even agree on the meaning of Genesis 1?
The roots of modern creationism run directly back to George McCready Price (1870–1963), an amateur geologist with no formal training. In a book designed to look like a geology textbook, Price (1923) asserted that there was no order to the fossil record. Rejecting the idea of fossil succession, he argued that the succession of organisms that geologists read in the fossil record was really just a mixed-up sampling of communities that lived in different parts of the antediluvian world. He considered the fossil record too incomplete to confidently reconstruct the past, citing the occasional discovery of animals thought to be extinct and known only from fossils. . .
Despite the efforts of Price and his followers, during the first half of the twentieth century, the majority of Christians—and evangelical fundamentalists—continued to endorse attempts to reconcile geology and Genesis. Even prominent anti-evolution crusader Harry Rimmer (1890–1952) acknowledged that Earth was quite ancient and thought the biblical flood was a local affair rather than a global catastrophe. Twentieth-century fundamentalist circles split into young-Earth creationists, who defended a global flood, and old-Earth creationists, who acknowledged geological evidence that we live on an ancient planet but maintained that God fashioned it for eventual human use.
My interpretation is that the events in Genesis don’t make any sense unless viewed from the perspective of the Earth. Just like the Sun setting in the sky is a description that is accurate from the standpoint of the Earth but not from outside–so the creation story in Genesis doesn’t make sense if you view it from a cosmic perspective.
Unitarianism/Modalism and Local Creation
Even the word for “earth” in Hebrew can also be translated as “land” or “ground” so it could be an entirely local creation event as well. Perhaps it’s repairing the garden of Eden, the land of Canaan, or the land around it. The possible idea of a local creation might seem to be ruled out or at least make two creation events necessary from John 1:1-5 and Colossians 1:15-20. However, John 1-3 seems to be talking about the “moral creation” (and was interpreted as such by the Sonicians) https://biblehub.com/commentaries/meyer/john/1.htm
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-3 NRSV)
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 NRSV)
Here’s some more commentary on these verses that I have found interesting:
The renowned Trinitarian scholar, John Lightfoot, writes:
The word logos then, denoting both “reason” and “speech,” was a philosophical term adopted by Alexandrian Judaism before St. Paul wrote, to express the manifestation of the Unseen God in the creation and government of the World. It included all modes by which God makes Himself known to man. As His reason, it denoted His purpose or design; as His speech, it implied His revelation. Christian teachers, when they adopted this term, exalted and fixed its meaning by attaching to it two precise and definite ideas: (1) “The Word is a Divine Person,” (2) “The Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ.” It is obvious that these two propositions must have altered materially the significance of all the subordinate terms connected with the idea of the logos. 
It is important to note that it was “Christian teachers” who attached the idea of a “divine person” to the word logos. It is certainly true that when the word logos came to be understood as being Jesus Christ, the understanding of John 1:1 was altered substantially. Lightfoot correctly understands that the early meaning of logos concerned reason and speech, not “Jesus Christ.” Norton develops the concept of logos as “reason” and writes:
There is no word in English answering to the Greek word logos, as used here [in John 1:1]. It was employed to denote a mode of conception concerning the Deity, familiar at the time when St. John wrote and intimately blended with the philosophy of his age, but long since obsolete, and so foreign from our habits of thinking that it is not easy for us to conform our minds to its apprehension. The Greek word logos, in one of its primary senses, answered nearly to our word Reason. The logos of God was regarded, not in its strictest sense, as merely the Reason of God; but, under certain aspects, as the Wisdom, the Mind, the Intellect of God (p. 307). . . . The logos, that is, the plan, purpose and wisdom of God, “became flesh” (came into concretion or physical existence) in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and His chief emissary, representative and agent. Because Jesus perfectly obeyed the Father, he represents everything that God could communicate about Himself in a human person. As such, Jesus could say, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). The fact that the logos “became” flesh shows that it did not exist that way before. There is no pre-existence for Jesus in this verse other than his figurative “existence” as the plan, purpose or wisdom of God for the salvation of man. The same is true with the “word” in writing. It had no literal pre-existence as a “spirit-book” somewhere in eternity past, but it came into being as God gave the revelation to people and they wrote it down.
Trinitarians use this verse to show that Christ made the world and its contents. However, that is not the case. What we have learned from the study of John 1:1 above will be helpful in properly interpreting this verse. . . .
2. The pronoun in verse 3 can legitimately be translated as “it.” It does not have to be translated as “him,” and it does not have to refer to a “person” in any way. A primary reason why people get the idea that “the Word” is a person is that the pronoun “he” is used with it. The Greek text does, of course, have the masculine pronoun, because like many languages, including Spanish, French, German, Latin, Hebrew, etc., the Greek language assigns a gender to all nouns, and the gender of the pronoun must agree with the gender of the noun. In French, for example, a table is feminine, la table, while a desk is masculine, le bureau, and feminine and masculine pronouns are required to agree with the gender of the noun. In translating from French to English, however, we would never translate “the table, she,” or “the desk, he.” And we would never insist that a table or desk was somehow a person just because it had a masculine or feminine pronoun. We would use the English designation “it” for the table and the desk, in spite of the fact that in the original language the table and desk have a masculine or feminine gender.
God delegated to Christ His authority to create. Ephesians 2:15 refers to Christ creating “one new man” (his Church) out of Jew and Gentile. In pouring out the gift of holy spirit to each believer (Acts 2:33 and 38), the Lord Jesus has created something new in each of them, that is, the “new man,” their new nature (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:24).
The Church of the Body of Christ was a brand new entity, created by Christ out of Jew and Gentile. He had to also create the structure and positions that would allow it to function, both in the spiritual world (positions for the angels that would minister to the Church—see Rev. 1:1, “his angel”) and in the physical world (positions and ministries here on earth—see Rom. 12:4-8; Eph. 4:7-11). The Bible describes these physical and spiritual realities by the phrase, “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (1:16).
In addition, if you find your beliefs challenged or feel offended that is intentional. I started this site to filter out people who would be too easily offended to live in a community of diverse views and attract those that could. I don’t believe that different views about creation should cause divisions (see the “about” section of this site for my views about heresy) You should divide over sufficiently bad behavior, not beliefs. I have a friend who actually believes Noah is an alien and has more conservative beliefs about how to act than most other people I know. However, maybe you disagree with this and I’m just being a jerk and trying to destroy good conservative theology. That’s fine, you don’t have to read any of this.
Short Summary of Genesis 1
Creation starts with a state of volcanic winter (also known as nuclear winter) and God starts recreating/repairing the Earth from there.
A massive volcanic eruption 250,000 years ago shot dust and ash into the atmosphere and probably caused a winter like that expected by many scientists to follow a nuclear war, according to New Zealand geologists.
. . . Dust and ash ejected into the atmosphere reflect shortwave radiation from the sun, reducing the amount reaching the Earth’s surface and lowering temperatures.
Scientists are analyzing ancient ocean-floor samples, seeking conclusive proof linking the New Zealand eruption with the cooling.
“Core samples drilled from the Pacific Ocean bed and dated by oxygen isotopes showed there was a cooling of the Earth’s atmosphere immediately after the eruption,” Carter said. “We don’t have final proof yet, but it seems the two could be linked.”
Severe volcanic winter is a situation that is cold, dark, and has accumulated snow on the ground caused by ash in the atmosphere blocking sunlight.
Reading Genesis with this idea: The first day (Sunday) God lets the sunshine through the dark clouds enough so that the day-night cycle is apparent. The second day (Monday) God causes the thick fog to clear away between the clouds and the earth but leaves some of the cloud cover. The third day (Tuesday) God causes the snow to melt that has accumulated on the land and it runs into rivers and oceans and God now can cause plants to grow back. The fourth day (Wednesday) the Sun and the Moon are recreated by God in the sky by clearing away the rest of the cloud cover. Just like the “setting” sun appears to “set” from our perspective: God created the light in the sky from Earth’s perspective but not its literal source. The fifth day God recreates the water creatures and birds. The sixth day God recreates land animals and man. In general, God seems to be creating ecosystems from the ground up.
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Gen 1 NRSV)
The standard evangelical Christian view is that God first created the heavens and the earth as a formless void (chaos) and improved upon that. However, you’ll notice that from the NRSV chaos could have been the previous state when God’s creating started. Some have tried allowing a gap between the first two verses. This is known as “the gap theory.” It was a long-held view before the advent of modern geological science and is a convenient way to try and reconcile vast amounts of geological age with the Bible. However, in addition to the NRSV, Young’s Literal Translation reads like so:
1 In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth — 2 the earth hath existed waste and void, and darkness [is] on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God fluttering on the face of the waters, (Gen 1:1-2 YLT)
The NRSV and Young’s are widely considered good translations and here we have the possibility of a time period before the first verse. That is, before God was preparing the heaven and the earth. This makes a bit more sense than the gap theory because you would think even God would want people to notice if he left a 13.772 billion year gap in between two verses. Here, the huge time period is not strangely glossed over but is simply not covered.
Also, the language does fit with a state of catastrophe (although I’m not saying this is implied positively). In the definitions of the words used for “waste and void” Gesenius has “waste” as:
for “void” he has:
Compare the following ways the words are used in Jeremiah and Isaiah:
10 Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; no one shall pass through it forever and ever. 11 But the hawk and the hedgehog shall possess it; the owl and the raven shall live in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion (G8414) over it, and the plummet of chaos (G0922) over its nobles. 12 They shall name it No Kingdom There, and all its princes shall be nothing. (Isaiah 34 NRSV emphasis mine)
20 Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. 21 How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? 22 “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” 23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste (G8414) and void; (G0922) and to the heavens, and they had no light. (Jeremiah 4:20-23 NRSV emphasis mine)
We can see from these contexts that the only time (elsewhere) these Hebrew words are used–they describe destruction and desolation. I infer that there was a similar state at the beginning of Genesis that is being repaired.
I also found something in the Greek of the LXX Genesis account that I want to share. The Apostolic Bible Polyglot translates Gen 1:2 as:
1 In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. 2 But the earth was unseen and unready, and darkness was upon the abyss, and spirit of God bore upon the water. (Gen 1:1-2 ABP emphasis mine)
However, “A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint” states that the “but” should be “and” at the beginning of Genesis 1:2:
δέ+ X 1554-155-259-1620-1298=4887
Gn 1,2; 2,22.214.171.124
connecting part., often it cannot be translated Gn 2,12; and Gn 1,2; but Gn 2,6; rather (after neg.) Wis2,11; introducing an apodosis after hypothetical or temporal protasis 2 Mc 1,34
… μὲν … δὲ … on the one hand … on the other hand … Gn 38,23; δὲ καί but also, but even 2 Mc 12,13;ἔτι δὲ καί and (even) LtJ 40; καὶ … δέ and also, but also Wis 7,3
The word for “was” in “the earth was unseen . . .” in Gen 1:2 is “to be,” or “to exist” and it is in this form:
Tense: Imperfect Voice: Active Mood: Indicative Person: third Number: Singular
εἰμι (εἶναι) + V 1730-1486-1362-1167-1202=6947
to be, to exist Gn 1,7; to be [+pred.] Gn 1,2; to be [+adv.] Jb 9,2; to be occupied with [τινος] 2 Chr 30,17;to have [τινι] Jb 1,12; ἔστι (impers.) it is possible Wis 5,10
Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν I am the one who is, I am the being Ex 3,14; πρὸς ἐμοῦ ἔσται ὁ ἀνήρ μου my husband will be with me or will become attached to me Gn 29,34; ἐσόμεθα τοῦ σῶσαί σε we shall be there to save you2 Sm 10,11; ἐγώ εἰμι see ἐγώ
*Is 4,5 καὶ ἔσται and it shall be-והיה for MT יהוהyhwh, see also Jl 4,11; *Is 16,4 ἔσονται they shall beיהיוfor MT הוי⋄ הוה be
While both the IMPERFECT and AORIST tenses refer to past actions, and so are past tenses, they differ in ASPECT. The AORIST tense always conveys a single, discreet action (i.e. simple aspect). This is the most common tense for referring to action in the past. The IMPERFECT tense always conveys past activity that was more than a single action in some way (i.e. ongoing aspect). Aorist: I walked snapshot of a past action (simple aspect) Imperfect: I was walking/ used to walk video of past action (ongoing aspect) https://ancientgreek.pressbooks.com/chapter/31/
And according to ntgreek.net: http://www.ntgreek.net/lesson21.htm#imperfect with the verb “loosing” in the imperfect it gives the examples of “he, she, it was loosing.” This leads me to believe Genesis 1:2 might be translated more literally: “And the earth was becoming unseen and unready, and darkness was coming upon the abyss, and the spirit of God was bearing upon the water” which would describe the state of the earth when God started his creating. I think the difference implied by the Septuagint is that while God created the heaven and the Earth in a week–the past activity of “waste and void” was a different type of activity not associated with what is being currently described as God’s creation.
As for the difference between “and” and “but” in Gen 1:2–I have trusted the Lexicon rather than the ABP. However, the change to “but” in the ABP may be comparing the creation of God to the original state of the earth. I don’t think it is implying there is a gap of time, just a gap of difference between states.
These ideas would place my way of thinking under interpretation options two or three that Barry L. Bandstra describes here. However, he notes that even with option one where Genesis 1:1 is an independent statement it could be a title or topic statement that would make my interpretation fit with all three possible translations. This fit is: “a feat so impressive I am forced to mention it myself” (as the late great Ricky Jay would have put it)
One of the reasons I am sharing my interpretation is because I find it useful for reconciling geological age with the Bible. However, I also think this interpretation makes much more sense simply given the text. That should become clear to you as we move along.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Gen 1:3-5 NRSV)
To quote myself:
“God said let there be light and there was light” is written as “וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אֹור וַֽיְהִי־אֹֽור” you’ll notice that “and there was light” and “let there be light” are written in the same way ” וַֽיְהִי־אֹֽור” and ” יְהִי אֹור” except for the vav (meaning “and”) and the nikkud (nikkud weren’t added till later). How can this be? Because of the vav conversive which changes the tense of the statement, so they can be written the same way even though the tenses are different. However, the vav does not force this to be the case all the time. Therefore, this may be conveying “it happened exactly as God said it would” through the syntax.
This is the first day and the astute reader will note that the sun is not created till later. Some say that “light” itself did not exist up till this point. There have been many attempts to connect this verse with The Big Bang. This is from a Wall Street Journal article:
“The press has dubbed the Higgs boson the “God particle,” a nickname that makes many physicists cringe. But there is some logic to it. According to the Bible, God set the universe into motion as he proclaimed “Let there be light!” In physics, the universe started off with a cosmic explosion, the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, which sent the stars and galaxies hurtling in all directions.”
However, this does violence to the context. If you read the text you are observing the events in Genesis from the Earth’s perspective rather than from some cosmic perspective: obviously all the light in the universe isn’t separated from all the dark in the universe, neither are day and night cycles established on every planet. It’s just that the day is separated from the night on Earth. This implies that there was a preexisting day-night cycle that had been scrambled and is now set right: “the first day” is described as being the evening and morning that this separation resulted from. The Hebrew word used for “light” here Gesenius says is specifically used for diffuse light as in the daytime and not for light coming from a discrete luminary object. Obviously, daytime diffuse light is from the sun which is a luminary (as Gesenius notes) but there’s a difference between looking at the day and looking directly into the Sun:
6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Gen 1:6-8 NRSV)
Here the NRSV is translating “rakiya” in Hebrew as “dome.” Other translations have “firmament.” If this refers to the whole sky we have a inaccuracy–there isn’t water sitting above the sky. However, did the Hebrews know this? Gesenius says they didn’t and that they believed there was a “heavenly ocean” over the firmament:
I have my doubts that the Bible is expressing this idea of the heavenly ocean. God just calls the firmament “sky” in Gen 1:8. “God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” The word sky certainly has a large range of meanings: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H8064&t=KJV However, what I want to point out is that an Earthly perspective makes more sense here as well. For both the word “dome” or “firmament”
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome H7549 of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, (Gen 1:14)
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome H7549 of the sky.” (Gen 1:20)
and the word “sky” or “heavens:”
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky H8064 to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, (Gen 1:14)
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky. H8064 ” (Gen 1:20)
Thus the heavens H8064 and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. (Gen 2:1)
the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens H8064 were closed, the rain from the heavens H8064 was restrained, (Gen 8:2)
He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven H8064 and earth; (Gen 14:19)
The dome or firmament holds both fowls and stars and is also called by the same Hebrew word as the word for “sky.” While the word for “sky” or “heavens” also has the sun, stars, and birds in them and regular “rain” (which is what that Hebrew word means in Gen 8:2) “Heavens” is also paired with “earth” to just mean “everything.” This only makes sense if you look at “heavens” and “firmament” from an earthly perspective: anything high above you, hence “sky.” Clouds, rain, birds, and stars are all in the nebulous term “sky” and all are above the observer here in Genesis. If that’s not the perspective of the observer nothing makes sense: you have birds flying around the sun and the moon and stars hanging out in the clouds.
We don’t see the same syntax that God uses in Gen 1:3-5 to say that everything happened exactly as God said but this might still be implied with “and it was so.” However, I think not. Clouds don’t follow orders too well, there’s still going to be fog in the future, just not consistently. Notice that on Monday, God calls nothing good (unlike the rest of the days), this is why you never tell someone at work how awesome your day is on Monday–they will hate you. On a more serious note, I think some Rabbis say he doesn’t call it good because he isn’t finished with the clouds yet and this makes sense. Here God is getting rid of or moving a lot of water vapor in between the earth and the clouds. You can find historical similarities to this situation described in the following:
In the summer of A.D. 536, a mysterious cloud appeared over the Mediterranean basin. “The sun gave forth its light without brightness,” wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, “and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.” In the wake of the cloud’s appearance, local climate cooled for more than a decade. Crops failed, and there was widespread famine. From 541 to 542, a pandemic known as the Plague of Justinian swept through the Eastern Roman Empire.
When a volcano erupts, it spews sulfur particles called aerosols into the air, where they can persist for two to three years. These aerosols block out some of the sun’s incoming radiation, causing cooling. How much light gets blocked and how long the effect lasts depends on the location of the volcano and the magnitude of the eruption, as well as other variables in Earth’s natural climate-control system.
. . .
Scientists had long suspected that the cause of all this misery might be a volcanic eruption, probably from Ilopango in El Salvador, which filled Earth’s atmosphere with ash. But now researchers say there were two eruptions—one in 535 or 536 in the northern hemisphere and another in 539 or 540 in the tropics—that kept temperatures in the north cool until 550.
The first eruption was not discovered until around 2008 as far as I have searched. The fall of Constantinople was also preceded by a volcanic eruption (Kuwae erupted from 1452–1453), and then a great deal of fog:
On May 22, 1453, the moon, symbol of Constantinople, rose in dark eclipse, fulfilling a prophecy on the city’s demise. Four days later, the whole city was blotted out by a thick fog, a condition unknown in that part of the world in May. When the fog lifted that evening, “flames engulfed the dome of the Hagia Sophia, and lights, too, could be seen from the walls, glimmering in the distant countryside far behind the Turkish camp (to the west),”. This was interpreted by some as the Holy Spirit departing from the Cathedral.
Also, the effects of the eruption of Laki (a volcanic fissure) was recorded by Gilbert White:
The summer of the year 1783 was an amazing and portentous one, and full of horrible phenomena; for besides the alarming meteors and tremendous thunder‐storms that affrighted and distressed the different counties of this kingdom, the peculiar haze, or smokey fog, that prevailed for many weeks in this island, and in every part of Europe, and even beyond its limits, was a most extraordinary appearance, unlike anything known within the memory of man. By my journal I find that I has notice this strange occurrence from June 23 to July 20 inclusive, during which period the wind varied to every quarter without making any alteration in the air.
Volcanoes typically create two types of particles, big primary particles that quickly fall to the troposphere, the lowest portion of Earth’s atmosphere, and smaller secondary particles, mostly composed of sulfuric acid, that react chemically with other molecules in the atmosphere and which are responsible for both local and global precipitation changes.
These secondary particles can in turn both help form and seed clouds, changing precipitation levels over large areas.
The underestimation of the “formation rate of new secondary particles in volcanic plumes by seven to eight orders of magnitude” might lead to an underestimation of the ability of formations to contribute to the creation of low-level clouds, they write in their paper in this week’s edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It is possible that volcanic eruptions and other volcanic activities that release sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere may have a larger effect on climate than previously understood, they write.
The underestimation of the formation rate of new secondary particles in volcanic plumes by seven to eight orders of magnitude when performed from calculations based on this nucleation scheme could lead to an underestimation of the CCN and the subsequent potential formation of low-level clouds. As a consequence, such results may help to revisit nucleation schemes implemented in all past simulations of the impact of volcanic eruptions on climate.
There are similar things that happened much further back. For example, some scientists say that the climate effects of a volcanic eruption reduced the global human population to one group of 10,000 individuals 74,000 years ago. (see Journey of mankind here)
Anyways, we see that events like volcanic eruptions can cause low clouds, fog, and rain, and that their particles can seed clouds (presumably by causing water to form on them). The high cloud cover and low fog is a good match for the scrambled day-night cycle in Gen 1:3-5. Here on Monday he partially fixes that by removing most of the low fog.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Gen 1:9-13)
So far everything has happened exactly as God said or maybe is implied by “and it was so.” Here, we see “and it was so” followed by the description of what happened which is a bit of a break in the pattern so far. Here are the relevant parts where you can see the Hebrew that describes what happened is a bit different than what God commanded:
`Let the earth yield tender grass, herb sowing seed, fruit-tree (whose seed [is] in itself) making fruit after its kind, on the earth:’ ( Gen 1:11 YLT)
So does this imply living things behave randomly in certain ways like clouds? Maybe, possibly adaption is implied. One day is certainly too quick for adaption to happen so this is a bit of reading into things. I’ve even heard this used to argue that evolution is implied in the Bible.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Gen 1:14-19)
We’ve already discussed the issue with the day-night cycle coming before the Sun. Here again, we need to look at this from the perspective of Earth and things start making sense. Obviously, the same part of the sky isn’t used to hold the clouds that is used to hold the Sun and there is no water above the Sun like you might literally read previously: “So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome . . . God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Gen 1:7-8)
For in six days the Lord made H6213 heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. (Ex 20:11)
In the beginning when God created H1254 the heavens and the earth, (Gen 1:1)
However, it possibly is talking about separate aspects of creation that are both present in Genesis 1. That is, God shaped old things to create new things.
20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. (Gen 1:20-23)
Maybe now since there is enough light, algae and plankton can start growing again and the ecosystems in the water can be revived. I’m not a biologist and I don’t know for sure if this works, but the pattern is that God seems to build up things lower down on the food chain first.
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Gen 1:24-31)
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Gen 2:1-3)
And now we have the sabbath established. That’s the end of the first creation story but certainly not the end of the issues here. There’s a lot of other issues with this interpretation from other parts of the Bible and I’ll have to answer those next.
1. From the Beginning of Creation, God Made them Male and Female
Here I’ll respond to some possible issues with this interpretation.
In Mark 10:6 we have the clearest (but not the only) statement showing that Jesus was a young-earth creationist. He states that Adam and Eve were at the beginning of creation, not billions of years after the beginning, as would be the case if the universe was really billions of years old. So, if Jesus was a young-earth creationist, then how can His faithful followers have any other view?
So the trick is to ask the question: the beginning of what? If Genesis is a recreation then he’s referring to Genesis as the beginning of God’s recorded creation but he may have thought there was at least a state of chaos before that if not more.
2. Adam The First Man
Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:45)
So this on the surface doesn’t pose a problem for the theory but it does raise another question: were Adam and Eve the first people? In modern times there is an issue with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founder_effect but did genetics operate the same way at that time? It’s possible it didn’t or that God sustained the population through miraculous means but I have another issue here.
7 He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. 8 He is mindful of his covenant forever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, 9 the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, 10 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, 11 saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.” (Psalm 105:7-11)
God seems to say that the rules in his covenant are forever and we see a lot of evidence that the laws of the Torah were indeed observed before Sinai. Indeed the promises given to Abraham are really the continuation of messianic promises given to Eve and passed down through Noah. Hence, the laws against incest may apply:
Leviticus 18:6–11 and Leviticus 20:11–21, Deuteronomy 27:20–23, Deuteronomy 22:30
I’m not saying they were always obeyed, I just don’t think God would have put mankind in a position where they would have no choice but to break his rules. Especially with the strong language Leviticus uses it is hard for me to believe that incest would have been ok at a different time if indeed God does not change:
26 But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you 27 (for the inhabitants of the land, who were before you, committed all of these abominations, and the land became defiled); 28 otherwise the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. 29 For whoever commits any of these abominations shall be cut off from their people. 30 So keep my charge not to commit any of these abominations that were done before you, and not to defile yourselves by them: I am the Lord your God. (Lev 18:26-30)
As we will see, after Adam’s failure to fulfill God’s mandate, God raises up other Adam-like figures to whom his commission is passed on. We will find that some changes in the commission occur as a result of sin entering into the world. Adam’s descendants, like him, however, will fail. Failure will continue until there arises a “Last Adam” who will finally fulfill the commission on behalf of humanity.
So 1 Corinthians 15:45 isn’t saying Adam was the first man the same way Jesus wasn’t the last man (Adam just means “man” in Hebrew) to live on earth in a literal sense but Adam was the first man in the context of the priesthood of man. The fact that Adam is being used as a representative or priest for mankind is more evident when you look at the context:
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:42-52)
It is contrasting the physical with the spiritual and compares the “first man” (those who are physical and don’t walk in Christ) to the “second man” (those that aren’t just physical and do). “First” here is being used as the first “type of man” not the first man to physically exist just as Jesus was not the second or last man to physically exist. Indeed the quote “The first man Adam became a living being” is not to be found exactly in Genesis 2:7 because Paul has added “first” and “man.” His meaning is rather “the physical man Adam became a living being” which then he uses in contrast with the Christ who makes us the spiritual man. Adam was not the first person due to the incompatibility incest has with God’s laws. Indeed something may be posed to fill in these cryptic passages:
3. Cain The Marked Wanderer
10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. (Gen 4:10-17)
Cain is said to become a wanderer and fugitive but he settles down and founds a city? Who’s his wife? One of the sisters of the brother he just murdered? It seems strange that if he married his sister there is no explanation of how he accomplished this given the strain this would put on the family. Cain says “I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me” he doesn’t say his family may kill him. If indeed only his family is on the earth then why couldn’t God just tell them or even Adam (who he has talked to before) not to kill Cain?
Cain assumes he will be wandering but if only his small family is on the earth then why can’t he just get away from them? From this (and God not telling off Cain’s family), I say that the reason Cain would be killed by anyone is that he has alienated himself from his family protection and that the tribal groups of that time were violent towards outsiders. However, who were these other people? God marks Cain and this assumes there are a whole bunch of people already who don’t know who Cain is or that Cain will be avenged.
No one knows what the mark of Cain is or why he was a wanderer that built cities. So I guess I’ll throw in my opinion and quote Josephus: it’s the mark of the state and the wandering is Cain’s constant need to exploit new people with violence (imperialism) since he can no longer provide for himself through farming and does not want to be a nomad. Josephus seems to hint at something like this:
AND WHEN Cain had travelled over many countries, he, with his wife, built a city named Nod, which is a place so called, and there he settled his abode; where also he had children. However, he did not accept of his punishment in order to amendment, but to increase his wickedness; for he only aimed to procure everything that was for his own bodily pleasure, though it obliged him to be injurious to his neighbours. He augmented his household substance with much wealth by rapine and violence; he excited his acquaintance to procure pleasures and spoils of robbery, and became a great leader of men into wicked courses. He also introduced a change in that way of simplicity wherein men lived before, and was the author of measures and weights. And whereas they lived innocently and generously while they knew nothing of such arts, he changed the world into cunning craftiness. He first of all set boundaries about lands; he built a city, and fortified it with walls, and he compelled his family to come together to it; and called that city Enoch, after the name of his eldest son Enoch (CHAPTER II. Book 1)
From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, (Acts 17:26)
“ancestor” is literally “blood”
He made also of one blood every nation of men, to dwell upon all the face of the earth — having ordained times before appointed, and the bounds of their dwellings — (Acts 17:26 YLT)
So if my theory is that there were other people does this disprove it? Actually, this verse–read literally–doesn’t contradict the fact of a common ancestor for all humans which is theorized also by science. However, if this is true you can’t just keep pushing back the incest problem forever. God has to create a population of people before (or soon after) the catastrophe in Gen 1 or mankind would have to not be mankind at some point in the past (which is what modern evolutionary theory says). However, what if it is referring to Adamic ancestry of all nations? That would put a dent in the idea that there were other people around at the time although not necessarily disprove it (since there could still be one common ancestor before that) Interestingly enough since God created two separate people: Adam and Eve, they wouldn’t have literally had “one blood” which is why I think it is interesting that “blood” is never used elsewhere in the ABP as a mark of ancestry. “A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint” does mention Numbers 35:11:
αἷμα,-ατος+ N3N 156-69-91-36-49=401 Gn 4,10.11; 9,4.5.6(bis) blood Ex 12,7; anything like blood, wine Gn 49,11; blood relationship, kin Nm 35,11; blood, life Ez 16,36; αἵματα bloodshed, murder 1 Sm 25,33 κρίνω αὐτὸν θανάτῳ και αἵματι I punish him with death and bloodshed Ez 38,22; ἀνὴρ αἱμάτων cruel man 2 Sm 16,7; τὸ αἷμά σου ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλήν σου you are guilty for the death of sb 2 Sm 1,16; αἷμα ἀναίτιον innocent blood Sus 62; ὁ ἐκχέων αἷμα ἀνθρώπου ἀντὶ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτοῦ ἐκχυθήσεται he that sheds human blood, instead of that blood shall his own be shed Gn 9,6; πηγὴ αἵματος fountain of blood, menstrual flow Lv 12,7; ῥύσις αἵματος menstrual flow Lv 15,25 *Ez 24,17 αἵματος blood?-דם for MT דם◊ דמם silence?; *Ez 32,5 ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματός σου with your bloodדמך/מ for MT רמותיך) with) your rubble? Cf. ENGEL 1985, 131; HARL 1986a, 61; HARLÉ 1988, 34; LE BOULLUEC 1989, 45; →NIDNTT; TWNT
A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint
However, if you go and look at the verse Num 35:12 (which is the verse they mean in the standard numbering) you’ll see no hint of this idea in the ABP: https://studybible.info/interlinear/Numbers%2035:12 “A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint” seems to get this from an older version of the Septuagint like this one here: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/04-num-nets.pdf which reads:
And the cities shall be for you places of refuge from one doing the relative’s blood duty, and the one that commits murder will not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment (Num 35:11)
This is used in a totally different context (I would read “blood” as “revenge” here not as “family”) and seems to be a variant or translation issue which leaves some uncertainty. Neither is “blood” used in the new testament as a mark of ancestry. It is only used in the classics and in Acts 17:26 according to Thayer’s (John 1:13 uses it as a mark of human rather than divine origin “flesh and blood”)
c. Since the first germs of animal life are thought to be in the blood (Wis. 7:2; Eustathius ad Iliad 6, 211 (ii. 104, 2) τὸ δὲ αἵματος ἀντὶ τοῦ σπέρματός φασιν οἱ σοφοὶ, ὡς τοῦ σπέρματος ὕλην τὸ αἷμα ἔχοντος), the word serves to denote generation and origin (in the classics also): John 1:13 (on the plural cf. Winer’s Grammar, 177 (166)); Acts 17:26 [R G].
Blood is symbolic of life, so maybe it is saying we all have the same kind of life from God, maybe even it is talking about the blood of God’s life-giving covenant which is open to all nations:
1. b. As it was anciently believed that the blood is the seat of the life (Leviticus 17:11; [cf. Delitzsch, Biblical Psychol. pp. 238-247 (English translation, p. 281ff)]), the phrase σὰρξ κ. αἷμα (וְדָם בָּשָׂר, a common phrase in rabbinical writers), or in inverse order αἷμα κ. σάρξ, denotes man’s living body compounded of flesh and blood, 1 Corinthians 15:50; Hebrews 2:14, and so hints at the contrast between man and God (or even the more exalted creatures, Ephesians 6:12) as to suggest his feebleness, Ephesians 6:12 (Sir. 14:18), which is conspicuous as respects the knowledge of divine things, Galatians 1:16; Matthew 16:17.
b. It is used specially of the blood of sacrificial victims having a purifying or expiating power (Leviticus 17:11): Hebrews 9:7, 12f, 18-22, 25; Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 11:28; Hebrews 13:11.
c. Frequent mention is made in the N. T. of the blood of Christ (αἷμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ, 1 Corinthians 10:16; τοῦ κυρίου, 1 Corinthians 11:27; τοῦ ἀρνίου, Revelation 7:14; Revelation 12:11, cf. Revelation 19:13) shed on the cross (αἷ. τοῦ σταυροῦ, Colossians 1:20) for the salvation of many, Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24, cf. Luke 22:20; the pledge of redemption, Ephesians 1:7 (ἀπολύτρωσις διὰ τοῦ αἵ. αὐτοῦ; so too in Colossians 1:14 Rec.); 1 Peter 1:19 (see ἀγοράζω, 2 b.); having expiatory efficacy, Romans 3:25; Hebrews 9:12; by which believers are purified and are cleansed from the guilt of sin, Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 12:24; [Hebrews 13:12]; 1 John 1:7 (cf. 1 John 5:6, 8); Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14; 1 Peter 1:2; are rendered acceptable to God, Romans 5:9, and find access into the heavenly sanctuary, Hebrews 10:19; by which the Gentiles are brought to God and the blessings of his kingdom, Ephesians 2:13, and in general all rational beings on earth and in heaven are reconciled to God, Colossians 1:20; with which Christ purchased for himself the church, Acts 20:28, and gathered it for God, Revelation 5:9. Moreover, since Christ’s dying blood served to establish new religious institutions and a new relationship between men and God, it is likened also to a federative or covenant sacrifice: τό αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης, the blood by the shedding of which the covenant should be ratified, Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24, or has been ratified, Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 13:20 (cf. Hebrews 9:20); add, 1 Corinthians 11:25; Luke 22:20 [WH reject this passage] (in both which the meaning is, ‘this cup containing wine, an emblem of blood, is rendered by the shedding of my blood an emblem of the new covenant’), 1 Corinthians 11:27; (cf. Cicero, pro Sestio 10, 24 foedus sanguine meo ictum sanciri, Livy 23, 8 sanguine Hannibalis sanciam Romanum foedus). πίνειν τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ (i. e. of Christ), to appropriate the saving results of Christ’s death, John 6:53f, 56. [Westcott, Epistles of John, p. 34f.]
Indeed the next verse speaks of God being near to all nations. It then speaks of God being the source of life:
26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.
28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. (Acts 17:26-27)
The Bible verse that Paul might allude to is actually talking about Israel not all of mankind which seems to imply a chosen relationship but not a literal birthing:
Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. (Isaiah 1:2)
Paul’s quotation of Greek literature is probably from here which seems to imply not a literal son-ship but a dependency or a close relationship. (I’ve never heard of Zeus birthing all mortals, only of his occasional flings with them)
(1)“From Zeus begin; never let us leave His name unloved. With Him, with Zeus, are filled All paths we tread, and all the marts of men; Filled, too, the sea, and every creek and bay; And all in all things need we help of Zeus, For we too are his offspring.” —Aratus, Phænom. 1–5.
(2)“Most glorious of immortals, many-named, Almighty and for ever, thee, O Zeus, Sovran o’er Nature, guiding with thy hand All things that are, we greet with praises. Thee ’Tis meet that mortals call with one accord, For we thine offspring are, and we alone Of all that live and move upon this earth, Receive the gift of imitative speech.” —Cleanthes, Hymn to Zeus.
Nevertheless, even if we look at Luke 3:38 which says in the genealogy “son of Adam, son of God” we must remember that God did not literally give birth to Adam but formed him out of the dust. An apt way of translating “son” would be “came from” or “image of.”
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; (Colossians 1:15 NRSV)
All this is to say even if “blood” does mean “ancestor” and the implied ancestry is God through Adam, there are several other ways this can be taken besides a literal descendancy from Adam by all mankind.
5. The Flood
If there’s a problem with incest before the flood then what about after the flood? I won’t go into detail why the flood was local I will instead refer you to this: https://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/localflood.html
Josephus says that some people survived the flood:
Now all the writers of Barbarian Histories make mention of this flood, and of this Ark: among whom is Berosus the Chaldean. For when he is describing the circumstances of the flood, he goes on thus: “It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyæans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen: which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets, for the averting of mischiefs.” Hieronymus the Egyptian also, who wrote the Phenician Antiquities; and Mnaseas, and a great many more make mention of the same. Nay Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety sixth Book, hath a particular relation about them: where he speaks thus: “There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris: upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the deluge were saved: and that one who was carried in an Ark, came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved: this might be the man about whom Moses, the Legislator of the Jews, wrote.”
κόσμος,-ου+ N2M 5-2-17-5-43=72 Gn 2,1; Ex 33,5.6; Dt 4,19; 17,3 world, universe Prv 17,6a; world, earth 2 Mc 3,12; world, mankind Wis 2,24; ornament, decoration Ex 33,5; honour, delight Prv 28,17a *Gn 2,1 ὁ κόσμος ornamentation-◊צבה or-צבי for MT ◊צבא host, army, see also Dt 4,19, 17,3, Is 24,21, 40,26, Sir 50,19; *2 Sm 1,24 μετὰ κόσμου ὑμῶν with your ornaments-עם־עדיכן for MT עם־עדנים with luxury, with ornaments Cf. DOGNIEZ 1992, 138; HARL 1986a, 98; SCHMITT 1974, 152; →MM; NIDNTT; TWNT
6. The World From Water
4 For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:4-5)
3 First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” 5 They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, 6 through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless. (2 Peter 3:3-7 NRSV)
We have already talked about “kosmos” which the word for “world” in 2 Peter 2: 5. In verse 2 Peter 3:5 “out of water” is not difficult to interpret. Dry land indeed emerged from “out of” water in Genesis 1 because the water ran off the land. However, what does “by means of water” mean? Was the Earth literally made of water? In the very next verse “through” is the same word and it precedes a genitive just as the one in verse 6. In addition 1 Peter 4:11 uses the same word preceding a genitive “through Jesus Christ”
Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)
In 2 Peter 2:6 “through” is not talking about making something out of something but it is “through” in the sense of “through this process” and in 1 Peter 4:11 the things being glorified in God are not created out of Jesus Christ, but it is “by means of” Jesus Christ. So in this sense the world was created with the use of water but it probably wasn’t literally created from water. In addition, Dodson has this for the Genetive:
διά through, on account of (a) gen: through, throughout, by the instrumentality of, (b) acc: through, on account of, by reason of, for the sake of, because of.
Some people may object to these theories from the idea that physical death could not have come before the fall. However, there is a serious problem in Genesis with taking Adam’s sin as resulting in physical death:
but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Gen 2:17)
However, they were separated from the tree of life and from God walking in the garden. So could this be talking about spiritual death? (separation from God) The fact that they had the tree of life in the garden in the first place implies that they could have died if they did not continue to eat from the tree of life. This means they were created mortal and hence there was at least a potential for death before the fall.
In addition, Genesis 2:9 implies they were supposed to subdue the animals which at least fits with violence before the fall–enough violence would seem to necessarily lead to death:
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
This fits with the idea of a garden in the ancient near east:
. . . Genesis 2 places Adam and Eve in a garden; in the ancient near east, this was a walled enclosure, protecting the inhabitants from the wilderness and dangerous animals beyond.
In addition, the flaming sword and the angels are only placed on the east of the garden–maybe only at once place–the gate or entrance:
He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)
Implied is that the garden was enclosed–as customary in the ancient near east. This enclosure was present from the beginning implying a need to protect Adam and Eve from some of the animals.
One place that is argued to mean that death didn’t happen before the fall is Romans 5:12. However, Romans 5:12 seems to refer to humans in context and the word “kosmos” in Greek can indeed refer to a “host” rather than the earth itself. https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G2889 In addition in Romans 5:21 it contrasts this “death” with “eternal life” not the absence of death entirely–hence death here is spiritualized:
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. . . 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21)
I have presented a theory which attempts to reconcile the Bible with modern science on the question of creation and the flood. All the main arguments I have made here have been from scripture or related context such as Josephus. I’ve presented a theory of Genesis that explains the awkward timeline of the sun being “created” after the day-night cycle starts in terms of an earthly viewpoint combined with a volcanic winter. I’ve also dealt with major challenges to the Bible from genetics but argued for them totally based on the laws against incest. I have also argued for physical death before the fall based on the text of Genesis. The thing left to explore in this reconciliation is whether the Bible can be reconciled with science based on the timeline presented. There are some challenges already from Egyptian chronology but I am curious if this chronology is revised would we still see issues with the timeline in Genesis compared to other records?