Sunday, April 09, 2006

Priests and Levites: Closer to Sola Scriptura or Catholicism? (vs. "CPA"), Part V

By Dave Armstrong (4-9-06)

(Lutheran) "CPA's" words will be in green. Citations from Protestant reference works will be in purple. John Henry Cardinal Newman's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

About Malachi, I should have also put in the context of 3:1-5, where the scrubbing of the Levites is described just after the "messenger who will prepare the way before Me":

"Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts."
I think this is clearly eschatological, and portrays the cleansing of the Levites taking place on a/the day of judgment.

You fail to engage the essential point of my post on my blog which I referred to you, which was that many good, approved prophetic figures (Samuel, Elijah, young Solomon, etc.) did precisely what Hezekiah and Josiah felt commanded by the word of God to reject: i.e. offer sacrifice at a place other than Jerusalem.

It’s true that I did somehow miss that particular detail; thanks for pointing that out.

So what we have here is NOT simply a conflict of the obviously godly finally getting up the gumption to do what they should have done from the beginning (which is doctrinally very interesting, albeit edifying), but a real conflict of the Scripture (=Moses),

Just to point out in passing: Scripture does not = Moses, strictly speaking, because Moses also passed down an authoritative oral tradition, according to mainstream Judaism. Let's not forget that. The larger Mosaic Tradition is written (Torah) + oral tradition. But for our present purposes, we are dealing with Mosaic Law as the standard of "orthodoxy" and orthopraxis.

backed by a righteous king, vs. tradition, backed by much authority,

I.e., vs. corrupt tradition, not tradition per se, since even the Mosaic inheritance included non-written and non-biblical components. You won't highlight this crucial distinction, so I must, knowing how Protestant readers (to differing degrees) habitually demonize the word "tradition" as if it were intrinsically a bad (and "unbiblical") thing, and as if they do not have their own traditions - differently-defined but every bit as real - just as all Christians do, consciously or not.

located, as 2 Kings 23:8-9 make clear, in the Aaronic priesthood, those with the right to eat of the sacrifice in Jerusalem.

A cross-reference is 2 Chron. 34:29-32. I want to now deal at some length with your proposed dilemma: "Samuel, Elijah, young Solomon, etc.) did precisely what Hezekiah and Josiah felt commanded by the word of God to reject." This is a fascinating line of inquiry. Were the righteous prophets Samuel and Elijah actually on the wrong side of the issue and on the side of a corrupt tradition later corrected by good Torah-alone proto-Protestants Josiah and Hezekiah? As we'll see, it's not nearly as simple as might be supposed in reading your casual, quintessentially-Protestant (and Lutheran) pitting of "Bible and tradition" against each other. Adding prophets into the mix (if you are right) will give your argument considerably more force and punch. But does it succeed? Ultimately not . . .

The issue of "high places" is, as I learned today in studying it, not utterly black-and-white, as if they are all evil, period. Granted, most or many apparently were, since they were either idolatrous, sometimes even child-sacrificing, or relatively innocuous but contrary to Mosaic Law. Hence, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE):

[T]he service might be anything from the orderly worship of Jeh under so thoroughly an accredited leader as Samuel (1 Sam. 9:11-24) to the wildest orgiastic rites.

("High Place," Vol. III, 1391)

Does the Bible unilaterally condemn all such worship at high places, including Samuel's? No (quite interestingly to me), according to ISBE:

In 1 Samuel, sacrifice outside of Jerusalem is treated as an entirely normal thing, and Samuel presides in one such case (1 Sam. 9:11-24). In 1 Kings the practice of using high places is treated as legitimate before the construction of the Temple (1 Kings 3:2-4), but after that it is condemned unequivocally . . . the editor of Kings has about the point of view of Dt. 12:8-11, according to which sacrifice was not to be restricted to Jerusalem until the country should be at peace, but afterward, the restriction should be absolute.

(Ibid., 1391)

So we see that in addition to rank idolatry, human sacrifice, or licentious rites, another factor to take into consideration is whether worship of Yahweh at a high place (Samuel) occurred before the building of the Temple. 1 Kings 3:2-4 is fascinating. First in 3:2 it says that "the people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD." This seems neutral on the question (some think it is even apologetic). Yet in v. 3 we are told that "Solomon loved the LORD, waling in the statutes of David his father; only, he sacrificed and burnt incense at the high places." Only is also used in KJV and NRSV, while NIV and NASB have except and NEB has but he too. This is clear disapproval in some sense.

Yet after Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings at Gibeon, God appears to him (with no hint of disapproval) and this is where Solomon is granted his gift of wisdom (1 Kings 3:4-14). 2 Chron. 1:1-13, the parallel passage, adds the important fact that the Tabernacle ("tent of meeting" / "tabernacle of the LORD": 1:3,5) was there, as was the brazen, bronze altar (1:5). Thus it seems to have been a perfectly legitimate, permissible religious rite.

The Eerdmans Bible Commentary for the passage provides yet more food for thought:

[W]e must recognize that the LORD always dealt with His people in the situation in which they were at the time, seeking to lead them onto something better. God was willing to meet the king in the great high place at Gibeon (v. 5), even though in another few generations the high places would become abominable; but then so would the sacrificial acts performed in accordance with the letter of the law of Moses but in violation of its spirit. 4 According to 2 Ch. 1:1-13 the sacrifice at Gibeon was an inaugural religious ceremony in lieu of the coronation (cf. 1 Ki. 1:39; 1 Ch. 29:22). Zadok was apparently priest of Gibeon (1 Ch. 16:39) and there may have been an Aaronite priesthood there from the time of Joshua (Josh. 9). This would explain why the Tabernacle and the brazen altar (2 Ch. 1:3,5) were brought there, probably from Shiloh. Keil [considered one of the greatest OT commentators] says the high places were consecrated to the worship of Yahweh and were essentially different from the high places of the Canaanites, which were consecrated to Baal, but this would be difficult to prove.

(p. 326)

ISBE adds about Gibeon:

. . . the editor of Chronicles . . . explains the sacrifice at Gibeon as justified by the presence of the Tabernacle (1 Ch. 16:39; 21:29; 2 Ch. 1:3,13) . . .

1 Chron. 16:39-40 tells us about Zadok and other priests offering sacrifice at Gibeon in the tabernacle, "according to all that is written in the law of the LORD which he commanded Israel" - with David’s express sanction. Since Tabernacle worship was mobile by nature, then one cannot say it was wrong at Gibeon anymore than they could say it was wrong anywhere in the Sinai desert when Moses was alive.

1 Chron. 21:18-30 provides the account of David being commanded by "the angel of the LORD" (via Gad) to "rear an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite" (21:18-19). This was God commanding (21:19), so it is not even speculative. David then presented burnt offerings and God answered with fire from heaven (21:26). This could hardly be condemned, then, since God approved. And we know that the Tabernacle was, at that same time, at Gibeon (21:29). Non-Tabernacle sacrifice before the Temple is not distinguishable from non-Temple sacrifice after the Temple. But God allowed it, because (I would say) He was greater than the Law (as in some teachings of Jesus, Who said that David once ate the bread that only priests were to eat).

But when Josiah deposed the priests it is specifically noted that they were "idolatrous" (2 Kings 23:5). Josiah dealt with stuff like male prostitution (23:7) and child sacrifice to Molech (23:10). That was both after the Temple was built, and after a considerable period of corruption. To compare, as you did, the worship of Samuel and "young Solomon" to this later rot and corruption is not supported by Scripture itself. You claimed that they "did precisely what Hezekiah and Josiah felt commanded by the word of God to reject." You were wrong, as I have shown; I think compellingly. King David is also included in the same mix. If he was wrong, then so was God, since He both commanded David to do it and sent fire down to consume the sacrifice. Do you wish to argue against God too? :-) It is said that Josiah defiled a high place that the older Solomon had built for Ashtoreth, etc. (23:13), but that is entirely different from the true, legitimate worship of the young Solomon at Gibeon. This was when he later went astray (see 1 Kings 11:4-10,33).

ISBE opines that "Amos and Hosea . . . have only denunciation for the sacrificial practices of the Northern Kingdom. That, however, these sacrifices were offered in the wrong place is not said" (emphasis in original). And concerning Jeremiah and Ezekiel, "idolatry or abominable practices are in point." Isaiah only makes one brief mention of Hezekiah's reform (36:7). (Ibid., 1391).

The New Bible Dictionary confirms all this, too, in its article "High Place":

With the building of the Temple, the rebellion of Jeroboam, and the increase of idolatry, the word bama [high place] acquires a new and evil meaning . . .

. . . in the record of King Asa, we are told that he did "right in the eyes of the Lord", and his zeal to remove all traces of idolatry is recorded; then come the words "the high places were not removed" (1 Kings 15:11-14); and these are repeated in the case of other good kings, zealous for Yahweh. The tone here is the same as that in 1 Ki. 3:2, and we are led to think of these high places as being like Gibeon, and perhaps like that of Samuel at Ramah. Worship in these and similar places was offered still to Yahweh; it had become irregular now that the Temple had become the true centre.

(pp. 525-26)

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary adds, after referring to Hezekiah and Josiah:

More often, however, references are made to kings who "walked in the way of the Lord" without removing these installations (1 Kgs. 22:43; 2 Kgs. 12:3; 14:4; 15:4,35; 2 Chr. 15:17; 20:33).

("High Place," 487)

As for Samuel, the details of his use of the high place (1 Samuel 9-10) do not support your contention in the least. It is all matter-of-factly presented without any trace of disapproval from God or the writer (1 Sam. 9:12-14). Right after this is an account of God telling Samuel that he is to anoint Saul king of Israel (9:15-17). Wouldn't it be a bit odd if Samuel was committing this terrible sin of sacrificing wrongly, that God would not condemn him while he was telling him about Saul (just as in the case of God giving Solomon wisdom, right at Gibeon when he is sacrificing)? But instead, nothing, because Samuel had done nothing wrong whatsoever.

After Saul was anointed, a band of musical prophets met him, "coming down from the high place" and "prophesying" (10:5,10), at which time "the spirit of God came mightily upon him, and he prophesied among them" (10:10). Then, "when he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place" (10:13). So you have true prophets going to the high place, then the Holy Spirit came upon Samuel and he prophesied (a supernatural gift), and then he goes up there, too, and all this happens without the slightest condemnation noted in the text. This is beyond odd, to almost surreal Bible interpretation, to think otherwise.

But the weirdest form of your argument is your appeal to Elijah as supposedly opposed to Josiah and the Bible (since in your view Josiah is the almost unmatched champion of the latter over against tradition). You seriously wish to argue that Elijah was wrong to sacrifice on Mt. Carmel? That is almost breathtakingly astonishing. ISBE states that "Elijah felt the destruction of the many altars of God as a terrible grief (1 Kings 19:10,14)" (Ibid., 1391). What in the Bible text, pray tell, indicates that he had done any wrong? You wanna be biblical? Okay, provide me some text that proves what you contend: that "Elijah . . . did precisely what Hezekiah and Josiah felt commanded by the word of God to reject: i.e. offer sacrifice at a place other than Jerusalem."

But the Bible tells us that Elijah, following all of God's law (1 Ki. 18:18,36), made an altar on Mt. Carmel (18:30-35) and prayed that God would reveal Himself (18:36-37). God did so by sending fire for the offering on the altar (18:38). So if Elijah was wrong, God was wrong, and would have participated in a worship ritual that you claim is contrary to the word of God and Josiah. Take your pick. But there really is no conflict. Josiah fought against idolaters or worse. Elijah, Samuel and young Solomon were not included in that crowd; sorry. if you deny that, then please refute all of the above and show where I have wrongly reasoned.

In 1 Kings 18:46 we learn that "the hand of the LORD was on Elijah" (while he was sitting on top of Mt. Carmel again (18:42). When he prays to God, mentioning that "the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets" (19:10; repeated in 19:14), God doesn't correct him and say that he was the one who had forsaken the covenant by sacrificing at an idolatrous high place contrary to the Law, or that Israel was right to knock down the altar, and he wrong to build it up, or that he was a false prophet because of those two things. Why not?

So your case here collapses utterly. It is idolatry that is wrong. What you call the "tradition" of prophets and priests that had to be opposed by Josiah with Bible in hand was right and true for the most part; it certainly was in the matter of these three men and the high places prior to the Temple. How do we know that? By the Bible! But your tradition of anti-traditionalism apparently gives you such a bias that you can’t see clear Scripture evidences which run blatantly contrary to your thesis.

Ready to concede yet? :-)

About Malachi, I should have also put in the context of 3:1-5, where the scrubbing of the Levites is described just after the "messenger who will prepare the way before Me": . . . I think this is clearly eschatological, and portrays the cleansing of the Levites taking place on a/the day of judgment.

Nice try, but this is as desperate and illogical as your earlier argument, as I will now show.

First of all, chapters three and four are clearly (at least partially) about the future, as one and two are not, but that has no direct bearing on what came before in the book. The Bible often abruptly changes emphasis or thrust, and can have double application as well. That appears to be the case for some part of this.

Secondly, this future is not, however, entirely eschatological, as you claim. How do we know this? It’s very simple: the New Testament cites parts of this and applies it to John the Baptist (therefore not to the "day of judgment": see Mt 11:7-15; Mk 1:1-4; Lk 7:27).

Thirdly, you neglect to see that the purifying of the Levites is purgatorial, not a condemnation or damnation (which comes in 4:1-3 with no reference to the Levites). God will purify and refine them "till they present right offerings to the LORD." This could refer to a revival and conversion among the Jews or to a fulfillment in the Catholic and Orthodox priesthood, which are the successors of the Levites.

Fourthly, this can’t be "the day of judgment" because offerings will be restored to Judah and Jerusalem (3:4). In heaven after the judgment and end of the age there can be no such (place-related) offerings. Or are you a dispensationalist who believes in a 1000-year millennial kingdom or something (as I used to at one time, years ago)?

Fifth, while the Levites are purged, others are judged and treated far more harshly (sorcerers, adulterers, liars, etc.: 3:5 ff.). The Levites are not treated as nearly as corrupt as others. But this, too, is not at the end of the age because the text then goes on to discuss things in temporal - not eschatological - terms. The Jews are urged to "return to me" (3:7): which would be impossible after the judgment. Robbing God by withdrawing tithes and offerings is condemned (3:8-10). That can't be in heaven, either. Crops are mentioned (3:11). The land will be blessed if they obey (3:12). Thus, this is just like the earlier chapters, where the prophet rebukes present Israel for its sins.

Sixth, even after a passage (by all appearances) about the last judgment (4:1-3), the people are again commanded to remember the Mosaic Law (4:4), which applies to the time before the Last Day. This is followed by a passage about "Elijah" returning "before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes." Once again, then, this proves it is not (except for 4:1-3) the day of judgment in mind, as you claim, but a time before it.

Seventh, we again have NT evidence as to the meaning in mind here, since Jesus calls John the Baptist "Elijah" in the sense of a type (just as Messiah was a type of David; son of David, etc.): Mt. 11:14; 17:10-13. "An angel of the Lord" tells Zechariah that his son John the Baptist will have "the spirit and power of Elijah" (Lk 1:17), and will "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children" (1:17), which is a direct citation of Mal. 5:6, the last verse of the OT: "And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers . . ."

Eighth, this is again seen to be not the day of judgment but the onset of Jesus' first coming, by the fact that John the Baptist is referred to, and because 5:6 ends with the warning, "lest I come and smite the land with a curse." After judgment and the second coming, such talk would be senseless.

. . . "(which is doctrinally very interesting, albeit edifying)" should have been "(which is doctrinally NOT very interesting, albeit edifying)" . No matter.

What I claim about Elijah and company is exactly what is in the citation from the Eerdman's Bible Dictionary you provided:

[W]e must recognize that the LORD always dealt with His people in the situation in which they were at the time, seeking to lead them onto something better. God was willing to meet the king in the great high place at Gibeon (v. 5), even though in another few generations the high places would become abominable
Not much in the sacrificial system was inherently right or wrong, the morals of it was to do as God commanded, in the spirit He wished. Obviously through much of Israelite history from Judges to Hezekiah, God had in effect agreed to "wink" at this law about high places among those who truly sought His will (Samuel, Elijah, etc.), but for whom apparently the social background, tradition, call it what you will, was too strong to lead them to reject it themselves. So I am not saying Elijah's sacrifice itself was viewed by God as a sin, of course not. But I am saying that that fact underlines the radicalness of what Hezekiah and Josiah were doing, and the degree to which it would cause significant controversy in Israel. This is, if not progressive revelation, then progressive internalization by the Israelites of the revelation given at Sinai. So no, it was not wrong of Elijah to sacrifice at the high places, just as it was not heretical of Clement of Alexandria or Irenaeus to have an understanding of the Trinity and incarnation that would not really hold up to examination in the light of Nicaean and Chalcedonian standards. In that sense, we can see in Israel something like "development of doctrine" in the Newman sense, in which practices that were not recognized as being contrary to the deposit of faith before, come to be recognized as such later. And if we have development of doctrine, as I said, Newman says we need a single authority to make sure it goes right. And we don't: in the "emergencies," as you say, much of the crucial work of this development got done.

About Malachi, I used "end times" in the deliberately ambiguous sense that includes all the time from Jesus to the Last Day. The point I was making was:

1) You are right that God expected the Levites (I guess including the Aaronic priesthood) to teach true doctrine, and made a covenant with them on that basis. You are right about that.

2) But the whole point of the passage is, the Levites never will do it. They never will actually teach rightly. So God will purge them (whether that is the New Covenant or eschatological is not relevant, although I see your argument that it is new covenant) in a way, that in fact means the physical, earthly Levites will be replaced by something new. Isn't that the case?

If you do get some extra time, I'd be interested in how you interact with all my material. Otherwise, this is pretty much exhausted.

Just one thing that is in my mind at the moment: before you wrote:

many good, approved prophetic figures (Samuel, Elijah, young Solomon, etc.) did precisely what Hezekiah and Josiah felt commanded by the word of God to reject: i.e. offer sacrifice at a place other than Jerusalem.

If you didn't intend to say that they were wrong in doing so, this is quite the strange way of expressing your opinion - esp. given the precise word "precisely" and also the fact that you highlighted "young" Solomon rather than the old man, where everybody agrees he went wildly astray. And if they weren't essentially wrong at all, then your larger argument with Josiah supposedly opposing some established, "respectable" position in ancient Israel loses virtually all of its intended dramatic effect and force. All he was doing was opposing idolatry and other obvious sins, such as child sacrifice and so forth. This raises no conundrum for Catholics whatsoever and is truly ho-hum in "precisely" the sense that I have argued all along: he was simply doing what a good, reforming king or prophet or priest (who isn’t a wimp) should do, not creating some huge necessary confrontation with the big bad boogeyman "tradition" in a way that you would love to think somehow reflects the "Reformation."

I could see one obvious parallel, though: Josiah smashed all the high places, while many of your Protestant brethren, including the Calvinists (not Lutherans; don’t bother pointing this out), were going around smashing stained glass windows, church organs, and statues of Jesus, Mary, and St. Bernard (along with stealing property and forbidding the Mass).

In any event, I say your original argument has been gutted, however you wish to spin it at this point. :-) It was far too ambitious and overly-confident (triumphalistic?), so you left yourself open for a big fall now that all its main points have been contested with heavily factual counter-reply. But it was a very interesting and somewhat challenging thesis; I’ll grant you that. It was fun to dismantle and I immensely enjoyed learning this information about the high places that I never knew before. I absolutely love doing comparative exegesis. You can count on me to do that anytime. So few Protestants are willing to do such a discussion with a Catholic in the first place . . .


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