Sunday, April 09, 2006

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

By Dave Armstrong (4-9-06)

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

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Who is the magisterium in the OT? As I said, you've got the priests, the Levites, the kings, the prophets, and so on. So, if the OT had a magisterium, tell me who it is.

In looking for some material on the teaching function of priests, Levites, and prophets in the OT, I found the following:

The Jewish people had opportunity to receive religious education from priests and Levites (Leviticus 10:10-11). The priests and Levites were to be supported by the offerings of the people and were to be the religious teachers of the nation. Apparently the educational function of their work was not well maintained. During the revival under King Jehoshaphat, the teaching function of Priests and Levites was resumed and the people were taught the ordinances of the Law. (2 Chronicles 17:7-9).

The ineffective work of the priests was supplemented by the teaching of the prophets. The first of these prophets, Samuel, attempted to make his reform permanent by instituting a school of the prophets in Ramah (1 Samuel 19:19-20). Later other schools of the prophets were begun at other places. The main study at these centers was the Law and its interpretation. Not all of the students of these schools had predictive gifts nor were all the prophets students in such schools. Amos is a notable example of a prophet who was not educated in one of these schools (Amos 7:14-15).

(Holman Bible Dictionary: "Education in Bible Times")

The educational work which the Levites received for their peculiar duties, no less than their connection, more or less intimate, with the schools of the prophets, would tend to make them the teachers of the others, the transcribers and interpreters of the law, the chroniclers of the times in which they lived. (Thus they became to the Israelites what ministers and teachers are to the people now, and this teaching and training the people in morality and religion was no doubt one of the chief reasons why they were set apart by God from the people, and yet among the people.

(Smith’s Bible Dictionary, "Musical Levites")

See also Ezek 44:23 with regard to the teaching function of Levites.

6. Illumination:

zahar, "to shine":

This verbal root signifies "to shine," and when applied to the intellectual sphere indicates the function of teaching to be one of illumination. Ignorance is darkness, knowledge is light. Moses was to teach the people statutes and laws, or to enlighten them on the principles and precepts of God's revelation (Exodus 18:20). The service rendered by the teachers-priests, Levites and fathers-sent forth by Jehoshaphat, was one of illumination in the twofold sense of instruction and admonition (2 Chronicles 19:8-10).

7. Vision:

ra'-ah, "to see":

The literal meaning of this verb is "to see," and the nominal form is the ancient name for prophet or authoritative teacher who was expected to have a clear vision of spiritual realities, the will of God, the need of man and the way of life (1 Samuel 9:9; 1 Chronicles 9:22; 2 Chronicles 16:7; Isaiah 30:10).

(The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [ISBE]: "Teach; Teacher; Teaching")

2 Chronicles 19:8-11: Moreover in Jerusalem Jehosh'aphat appointed certain Levites and priests and heads of families of Israel, to give judgment for the LORD and to decide disputed cases. They had their seat at Jerusalem. And he charged them: "Thus you shall do in the fear of the LORD, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart: whenever a case comes to you from your brethren who live in their cities, concerning bloodshed, law or commandment, statutes or ordinances, then you shall instruct them, that they may not incur guilt before the LORD and wrath may not come upon you and your brethren. Thus you shall do, and you will not incur guilt. And behold, Amari'ah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the LORD; and Zebadi'ah the son of Ish’mael, the governor of the house of Judah, in all the king’s matters; and the Levites will serve you as officers. Deal courageously, and may the LORD be with the upright!" (cf. Ezra 7:6,10,25-26)
The interpretation of Scripture, usually in the synagogues, is a key feature of the missions of the prophets Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Silas, as well as of Peter and other Christian leaders. (18) This manner of teaching is elaborated in Acts 13:16-41 in the form of a synagogue homily. It may or may not be significant that the "prophets" in question also are "teachers". (The exposition of Scripture is ascribed to Barnabas [Acts 13:5; 14:1] but not to Silas.) Also this activity in Acts is not described as "prophecy" nor limited to "prophets". In what degree then can it be regarded as "prophetic" activity?

The interpretation of Scripture as an activity of a prophet was not unknown in the first century since it was explicitly ascribed to Daniel (9:2, 24). It may be inferred also from other Old Testament texts in which the prophet uses and reapplies older biblical phraseology and ideas. (19) These phenomena support the views of S. Krauss and others who connect the prophets with the origins of the synagogue and regard them as the first to dispense religious teachings in such assemblies. (20) The rabbinic tradition, reflects a similar picture. According to the Targum to judges 5:9, Deborah, under prophetic inspiration, "did not cease to give exposition of the Torah." (21) The rabbis, moreover, regarded themselves, as the teachers of Israel, to be the successors of the prophets: they sat "in Moses’ seat". (22)

With respect to the interpretation of Scripture, then, there was not a sharp division between the prophet and the teacher. This is perhaps to be most clearly observed in the Qumran community’s "teacher" (moreh) and the wider number functioning as "instructors" (maskilim). In a perceptive essay Professor Bruce has compared the wisdom possessed by "Daniel the prophet" (23) and by the "wise" (maskilim) in Daniel 11, 12 with that of the "wise" at Qumran. "The maskil here, as in Daniel, is one who, having received from God understanding in his hidden purpose, is thus in a position to impart that understanding to others". (24) Without identifying themselves as prophets, the teachers at Qumran engage in an interpretation of Scripture that has as its model the activity of Daniel the prophet. This becomes more significant for the present essay when one observes the similarities between the method of biblical interpretation at Qumran and that in Acts 13:16-41. (25) In Acts, however, the interpreter is given the title "prophet" as well as "teacher".

Both terms also are applied to Jesus. It is clear from Luke 7:39 f. that they are not mutually exclusive: the one who is addressed as teacher may also be (the eschatological) prophet.

. . . The foregoing discussion enables us to return to the question raised earlier and to answer it with some measure of confidence. The interpretation of Scripture was indeed regarded, under certain conditions, as prophetic activity. (44) And it is likely that Luke does so regard it, even in such persons as Peter and Stephen . . .

. . . But as the above discussion has shown, there is no clear division in Judaism or the primitive church between the teaching of a prophet and of a teacher. Likewise, the false prophets in the church teach (1 Jn. 2:22, 26 f.; 4:1 ff.), and the false teachers in the church correspond to the false prophets of the Old Covenant (2 Pet. 2:1).

Selective Footnotes:

(18) E.g., Acts 2:14-36; 3:12-26; 4:8-12 (Peter); 6:9-11; 7:2-53 (Stephen); 8:30-35 (Philip); 9:20-22; 13:5, 16-41; 17:2, 10 f., 17 (22-31); 18:4; 19:8; 26:22 f.; 28:23 (Paul); 18:24-28 (Apollos).

(19) For example, cf. Jer. 48:45 with Num. 21:28; 24:17; Jer. 50-51 with Isa. 13-14; Zeph. 2:15 . . . with Isa. 47:8. On Dan. 11:30 as a reinterpretation of Num. 24:24 see F. F. Bruce, "The Book of Daniel and the Qumran Community", . . .

(20) Cf. L. Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vortr├Ąge der Juden (Hildesheim, 1966 [1892]), pp. 37 f.: Already in the Old Testament period older Scriptures were interpreted and in a certain sense changed. Ezra and the Levites appear as interpreters of the laws; the Chronicler makes use of midrash; Daniel is the interpreter of Jeremiah. The schools of the prophets become assemblies of the wise. . . .

(21) SB 4, p. 116. Cf. R. Meyer, TDNT 6 (1959-1969), p. 817: According to the rabbis the prophets are "the oldest expositors of the Law…"

(22) Matt. 23:2; R. Meyer, op. cit., 6, pp. 818 f. "Since the temple was destroyed prophecy has been taken from the prophets and given to the wise" (Baba Bathra 12a). Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were viewed as the first members of the chain of rabbinic tradition (Krauss, op. cit., pp. 47 f.). "Moses received… and delivered to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the men of the great synagogue" (Aboth 1:1). See also J. Jeremias (Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, London, 1969), pp. 233-245.

(23) So identified in 4Qflor 2:3. Cf. Dan. 9:22, 25.

(24) Bruce, "Daniel and Qumran", pp. 228 f. Cf. 1QS 9:17-19: the maskil is to conceal the teaching of the Law from the men of falsehood but to instruct the Community "in the mysteries (razey) of wonder and truth"; 1QH 12:11 f.: "as a maskil have I come to know thee, my God, through the spirit that thou hast given me, and by thy Holy Spirit I have faithfully listened to thy marvellous secret counsel (sodh)." Similarly, of the Teacher of Righteousness, "to whom God made known all the mysteries (razey) of the words of his servants the prophets" (1Qp Hab. 7:4 f.).

(25) Cf. E. E. Ellis, "Midrashic Features in the Speeches of Acts," Hommage au Professeur B. Rigaux (Gembloux, 1970), pp. 306 f.

(E. Earle Ellis, "The Role of the Christian Prophet in Acts," W. Ward Gasque & Ralph P. Martin, eds., Apostolic History and the Gospel. Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce. Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1970. Hbk. ISBN: 085364098X. pp.55-67)

For an interesting article by a rabbi on the Torah and Oral Law (with lots of OT texts), see: "Obedience to the Oral Law is a Commandment," by Rabbi Avraham Feld.

Who is the magisterium in the OT? As I said, you’ve got the priests, the Levites, the kings, the prophets, and so on. So, if the OT had a magisterium, tell me who it is.

Per the above, priests, Levites, and prophets. I have granted that the OT authority was not strictly infallible (that extraordinary gift needed the express guidance and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a way that was not possible till Jesus opened up the way by His redemptive sacrifice on our behalf), but it was quite authoritative in a way that Lutheran church authority (insofar as it exists at all) is not. It conforms to the Catholic model. We can discuss the overall issue or we can get bogged down in one word, infallibility. The choice is yours. You have plenty of biblical material that you need to explain other than the way I have above (and those I cite).

But of course if one has no (biblical, logical) case, it is difficult to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, ain't it?

* * *

Orthopraxy is absolutely central in both ancient and current-day Judaism , but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that doctrine was nonexistent. The Law certainly contains doctrines. In any event, teachers were still needed to authoritatively interpret the Law, so the analogy is to Catholicism, not Lutheranism.

Luther's view on this matter of biblical interpretation is diametrically opposed to the OT, NT, and Catholicism. Hence he wrote in his own favorite book, The Bondage of the Will:

[T]he contents of Scripture are as clear as can be . . . If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another . . . To many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due, not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness.

("Review of Erasmus' Preface"; ii: "Of the perspicuity of Scripture"; from Packer, J.I. and O.R. Johnston, translators, The Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther {1525}, Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1957; reprinted in 1995, pp. 71-72)

For Luther, it is simple: if someone doesn't understand the Scriptures (i.e., of course, as interpreted de facto infallibly by he himself) then it is because of sin and stupidity. So when Erasmus, Zwingli, the saramentarians, and Anabaptists alike disagreed with him, they were all damned. Hence we see that the false premise (perspicuity) leads to the false conclusion (virtually all who pointedly disagree with Herr Luther are (literally) damned idiots.

Lutheran professor Paul L. Maier shows how radically different is the Lutheran understanding:

The Office of the Ministry and the Authority of the Pastor: Five Dangers

Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions have provided a clear doctrine of the public ministry which has avoided the extremes of a "low-church" devaluation of the ministry or a "high-church" exaltation of the same. Unfortunately, some in the LCMS [Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod] have preferred to flirt with the extremes - especially at the "high" end - and a long-awaited document from the Commission of Theology and Church Relations may address itself to such problems. In this limited space, however, several acute dangers that have recently surfaced in our Synod must be identified.

1) A few of our brothers seem to have forgotten that, according to Scripture and the Confessions, final authority in ministry is mediated from God through the congregation to the pastor. It is distressing to note that some pastors have tried to reverse this order of authority by attempting to rule over their parishioners. This becomes especially improper in the case of some new, unseasoned seminary graduates who arrive at their charges with a self-imposed mandate to change everything from local worship forms to woman suffrage. Such should have I Peter 5:3 worked into a neon sign over their desks: "Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock." The Call gives the pastor the privilege to proclaim, to shepherd, to serve, and to love - but not to rule, engage in duels with members on adiaphora (things neither commanded nor forbidden), or use the Call as a screen behind which to hide a shoddy pastoral practice.

2) In terms of authority, some have confused the messenger with the message, or, even worse, with the Sender of the message. God and His message have the divine authority, the messenger has only the personal authority delegated to him by the congregation. Accordingly, one shivers to hear such occasional claims as, "When the pastor gives the wafer in the Eucharist, that is the hand of God." If this were to be understood literally, it would be flat-out blasphemy, as would another recent slogan: "The pastor is Christ to his people."

3) Such an overblown view of the ministerial Amt (office, responsibility) has also led to recent claims that ordination is a sacrament, and that "only an ordained pastor can communicate the Gospel as a means of grace." If Martin Luther had heard such a statement from anyone claiming to be a Lutheran, one can only imagine the colorful theological invective that would have erupted from his lips! Such diminishing of the laity, reduction of the priesthood of all believers, and rejection of the Great Commission is a direct violation of both Scripture and the Confessions. If, as is incredibly argued, Matthew 28 applied only to the apostles (hence clergy), then the same would have to be said of the Lord's supper, which is manifest nonsense.

4) Similarly, at one of our seminaries, some are questioning the Reformation principle of the perspicuity of Scripture, that is, its clarity for the reader. They claim that, along with Scripture, a lay person should have a qualified interpreter to understand it properly; that it is best to read Scripture not privately, but within the context of the church where proper interpreters are available. Again, Luther would object in stentorian tones to this further diminishing of the laity.

5) Just as indefensible is the novel insistence by several clergy of mandatory private confession. While private confession is always a free option for any sinner - particularly in the case of deeply-burdened consciences - for any pastor to insist that the common confession at the start of our worship is inadequate for the general needs of his members is obvious error. The minister of a large congregation would, in fact, find mandatory private confession impossible.

What has happened, clearly, is this: several faculty members at our seminaries have ventured such strange opinions as the above in their classes - perhaps only on a theoretical basis (to be charitable). A few of their students, however, with the enthusiastic extremism of neophytes, are trying to put such theories into practice. The result is gratuitous discord and even schism in the congregations to which they have been called as their loyal Lutheran parishioners respond in astonishment and then pain to such misuse of the office of the ministry. Circuits become polarized and district presidents besieged.

It is high time that the seminaries admit their share of responsibility for the misguided extremism of some of their student graduates. The seminaries should at least provide a corrective program in pastoral theology and practice for such offenders. A return to servanthood as the overriding theme for pastoral ministry would best emulate the greatest Pastor of all in this year marking the 2000th anniversary of his birth.

Paul L. Maier, Ph.D., Litt.D.
Campus Pastor and Professor
Western Michigan University

(An Evangelical Lutheran Newsletter)

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