Sunday, April 07, 2024

John of Shanghai and San Francisco aka "St. John the Wonderworker" contra the Immaculate Conception

According to an article by Aidan Kimel (available here), John of Shanghai and San Francisco aka Mikhail Borisovich Maximovitch aka St. John the Wonderworker (June 4, 1896, to July 2, 1966), rejected the immaculate conception on the following grounds:

  1. “The teaching of the complete sinlessness of the Mother of God does not correspond to Sacred Scripture, where there is repeatedly mentioned the sinlessness of the One Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ (I Tim. 2:5); and in Him is no sin (John 3:5); Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth (I Peter 2:22); One that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15); Him Who knew no sin, He made to be sin on our behalf (II Cor. 5:21).”
  2. “This teaching contradicts also Sacred Tradition, which is contained in numerous Patristic writings, where there is mentioned the exalted sanctity of the Virgin Mary from Her very birth, as well as Her cleansing by the Spirit at Her conception of Christ, but not at Her own conception by Anna.”
  3. “The teaching that the Mother of God was purified before Her birth, so that from Her might be born the Pure Christ, is meaningless; because if the Pure Christ could be born only if the Virgin might be born pure, it would be necessary that Her parents also should be pure of original sin, and they again would have to be born of purified parents, and going further in this way, one would have to come to the conclusion that Christ could not have become incarnate unless all His ancestors in the flesh, right up to Adam inclusive, had been purified beforehand of original sin. But then there would not have been any need for the very Incarnation of Christ, since Christ came down to earth in order to annihilate sin.”
  4. “The teaching that the Mother of God was preserved from original sin, as likewise the teaching that She was preserved by God’s grace from personal sins, makes God unmerciful and unjust; because if God could preserve Mary from sin and purify Her before Her birth, then why does He not purify other men before their birth, but rather leaves them in sin?”
  5. “This teaching, which seemingly has the aim of exalting the Mother of God, in reality completely denies all Her virtues. After all, if Mary, even in the womb of Her mother, when She could not even desire anything either good or evil, was preserved by God’s grace from every impurity, and then by that grace was preserved from sin even after Her birth, then in what does Her merit consist? If She could have been placed in the state of being unable to sin, and did not sin, then for what did God glorify Her? If She, without any effort, and without having any kind of impulses to sin, remained pure, then why is She crowned more than everyone else. There is no victory without an adversary.”

While I would substantially agree John regarding points 1-3, I tend to disagree with points 4-5.  I don't raise this material to suggest that we should adopt John's view, but rather to emphasize that Russian Orthodoxy (for whom John is a saint) is at least open to a full rejection of the error of the immaculate conception as dogmatized by Rome.

I also wish that what Kimel presents as quotations were provided with a citation.  Since I do not currently have such a citation, I would advise caution.  Another website cited The Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God (link) for substantially the same material.  That booklet may contain the quoted subject matter.

Also, recall that the synodical letter of the Council of Jerusalem of 1672 states:

VI. And the sixth, which includeth all human nature under sin, — not only original sin, as our Church confesseth, but also actual and mortal sin, which floweth out therefrom, and which it calleth the fruits thereof, and doth not exempt from this (mortal sin which procureth for those that commit it condemnation) any; neither him that was greatest among those that have been born of women, nor her that was blessed among women, the blameless and ever-virgin Mary, nor certain Forefathers, Prophets, and Apostles, — is, as being foreign to our faith, condemned. 


Catherine of Siena contra the Immaculate Conception of Mary

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) is one of the few female Doctors of the Church in Roman Catholicism.  Suzanne Noffke, O.P. is the editor of a collection of 26 prayers of Catherine of Siena (published by Paulist Press in 1983).  I refer to the translation she provides:

Prayer 16 (lines 10-28)(p. 141):

We are weak because we have received our parents' weak nature. Now parents cannot give their children other than their own, and that nature is inclined to evil because of the rebelliousness of their weak flesh, which they in turn have received from their parents. So our nature is weak and ready for evil evil because we are all descendants and offspring of our first father, Adam, and we have all come from the same clay. Because Adam broke away from you, eternal Father, supreme strength, he became weak. 

Prayer 23 (lines 60-90)(pp. 202-03) 

The eternal Word is given to us through Mary's hands. From Mary's substance he clothed himself in our nature without the stain of original sin-- for that conception was not a man's doing, but the Holy Spirit's. The same was not true of Mary, because she came forth from Adam's clay by a man's doing, not the Holy Spirit's. And since that whole mass was rotten and corrupt, it was impossible to infuse her soul into any but a corrupt material, nor could she be truly cleansed except by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Now the body cannot receive that grace, but only the rational or intellectual spirit. Thus Mary could not be cleansed of that stain except after he soul had been infused into her body-- and this was done out of reverence for the divine Word who would enter that vessel. So, just as a furnace devours a drop of water in a split second, so the Holy Spirit devoured that stain of original sin, for immediately after her conception Mary was cleansed of that sin and given that grace.

Suzanne Noffke points out that Gigli in his edition omitted this section of prayer 23, and that Marracci alleged that this section of the prayer was an addition.  However, Noffke adds that "Marracci's argument is totally without foundation, for the section in question is represented in the earliest manuscripts, long before the edition of 1496 in which he claims the 'addition' was made."(p. 204) She goes on to cite Cavallini as accepting the authenticity of the passage. (p. 205)

Noffke also translated Catherine of Siena's The Dialogue, which was also published by Paulist Press.

Dialogue 14, p. 51

This is why I gave the Word, my only-begotten Son. The clay of humankind was spoiled by the sin of the first man, Adam, and so all of you, as vessels made from that clay, were spoiled and unfit to hold eternal life. So to undo the corruption and death of humankind and to bring you back to the grace you had lost through sin, I, exaltedness, united myself with the baseness of your humanity. For my divine justice demanded suffering in atonement for sin. But I cannot suffer. And you, being only human, cannot make adequate atonement. 

Dialogue 14, p. 52

I really wanted to restore you, incapable as you were of making atonement for yourself. And because you were so utterly handicapped, I sent the Word, my Son, I clothed him with the same nature as yours-- the spoiled clay of Adam-- so that he could suffer in that same nature which had sinned, and by suffering in his body even to the extent of the shameful death on the cross he would placate my anger.

And so I satisfied both my justice and my divine mercy. For my mercy wanted to atone for your sin and make you fit to receive the good for which I had created you. Humanity, when united with divinity, was able to make atonement for the whole human race--not simply through suffering in its finite nature, that is, in the clay of Adam, but by virtue of the eternal divinity, the infinite divine nature. In the union of those two natures I received and accepted the sacrifice of my only-begotten Son's blood, steeped and kneaded with his divinity into the one bread, which the heat of my divine love held nailed to the cross. Thus, was human nature enabled to atone for its sin only by virtue of the human nature.

Dialogue 14, p. 52

Only the scar remains of that original sin as you contract it from your father and mother when you are conceived by them. And even this scar is lifted from the soul--though not completely--in holy baptism, for baptism has power to communicate life of grace in virtue of this glorious and precious blood. 

Notice that the Dialogue, while less explicit than Prayers 16 and 23, but that it provides the conceptual framework upon which Catherine of Siena, a doctor of the Roman Catholic church, denied the error of the immaculate conception, like so many before her.

I am aware that there are some folks out there claiming that Catherine's views from Dialogue 14 and Prayers 14 and 23 are in some way bolstered or reinforced by a purported Marian apparition.  I am not sure from whence they get any such notion.  

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

The χαριτόω (Charito'o) Argument

A Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, aka BDAG (3rd edition), p. 1081, explains the meaning of χαριτόω thus: 

One of the techniques of those arguing that Mary was immaculately conceived is to load the word, χαριτόω, with special significance.  We will take a broader look at the use of the word before Luke's use (in quoting the angel) and after Luke's use.

  • Sirach 18:15 (Intertestamental Period)
  • Luke 1:28 (Early Apostolic Period)
  • Ephesians 1:3-6 (Middle Apostolic Period)
  • Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (Second Century for their current form?), Joseph's Testament
  • Shepherd of Hermas (Late 1st Century or 2nd Century), Section 101
  • Clement of Alexandria (150-215), Paedagogus (c. 198) 3.11.83, Stromata (c. 198-203) 1.1.14
  • Origen (185 - 253), Fragments on the Gospel of John
  • Letter of Pseudo-Aristeas (2nd century BC) 
  • Posidippus (c. 310-240 BC), Epigrams 
  • Origen (185 - 253), Fragments in Luke (in catenas), Fragments 21a-21d

Sirach 18:15-18 (NETS)

Sirach 18:15 Τέκνον, ἐν ἀγαθοῖς μὴ δῷς μῶμον καὶ ἐν πάσῃ δόσει λύπην λόγων. 16 οὐχὶ καύσωνα ἀναπαύσει δρόσος; οὕτως κρείσσων λόγος ἢ δόσις. 17 οὐκ ἰδοὺ λόγος ὑπὲρ δόμα ἀγαθόν; καὶ ἀμφότερα παρὰ ἀνδρὶ (man) κεχαριτωμένῳ (who has been favored). 18 μωρὸς ἀχαρίστως ὀνειδιεῖ, καὶ δόσις βασκάνου ἐκτήκει ὀφθαλμούς.

Luke's Gospel

Luke 1:28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, [thou that art] highly favoured (κεχαριτωμένη), the Lord [is] with thee: blessed [art] thou among women.

Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians

Ephesians 1:3-6 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly [places] in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted (ἐχαρίτωσεν) in the beloved.

Testament of the 12 Patriarchs


11.1. (1) Ἀντίγραφον διαθήκης Ἰωσήφ. ἐν τῷ μέλλειν αὐτὸν ἀποθνῄσκειν καλέσας τοὺς υἱοὺς αὐτοῦ καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· (2) Τέκνα μου καὶ ἀδελφοί, ἀκούσατε Ἰωσήφ, τοῦ ἠγαπημένου ὑπὸ  Ἰσραήλ· ἐνωτίσασθε, υἱοί, τοῦ πατρὸς ὑμῶν. (3) ἐγὼ εἶδον ἐν τῇ ζωῇ μου τὸν φθόνον καὶ τὸν θάνατον, καὶ οὐκ ἐπλανήθην ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ κυρίου. (4) οἱ ἀδελφοί μου οὗτοι ἐμίσησάν με, καὶ ὁ κύριος ἠγάπησέ με· αὐτοὶ ἤθελόν με ἀνελεῖν, καὶ ὁ θεὸς τῶν πατέρων μου ἐφύλαξέ με· εἰς λάκκον με ἐχάλασαν, καὶ ὁ ὕψιστος ἀνήγαγέ με· (5) ἐπράθην εἰς δοῦλον, καὶ ὁ κύριος ἐλευθέρωσέ με· εἰς αἰχμαλωσίαν ἐλήφθην, καὶ ἡ κραταιὰ αὐτοῦ χεὶρ ἐβοήθησέ μοι· ἐν λιμῷ συνεσχέθην, καὶ αὐτὸς ὁ κύριος διέθρεψέ με· (6) μόνος ἤμην, καὶ ὁ θεὸς παρεκάλεσέ με· ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ ἤμην, καὶ ὁ ὕψιστος ἐπεσκέψατό με· ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην, καὶ ὁ σωτὴρ ἐχαρίτωσέ με· ἐν δεσμοῖς, καὶ ἔλυσέ με· (7) ἐν διαβολαῖς, καὶ συνηγόρησέ μοι· ἐν λόγοις Αἰγυπτίων πικροῖς, καὶ ἐρρύσατό με· ἐν φθόνοις συνδούλων, καὶ ὕψωσέ με.


11.1. (1) A copy of the testament of Joseph. When he was about to die, he called his sons and his brothers and said to them: (2) "My children and brothers, listen to Joseph, beloved by Israel; heed, sons, your father. (3) I have seen in my life envy and death, and I was not led astray from the truth of the Lord. (4) These brothers of mine hated me, and the Lord loved me; they wanted to kill me, and the God of my fathers protected me; they threw me into a pit, and the Most High lifted me out; (5) I was sold into slavery, and the Lord freed me; I was taken into captivity, and His mighty hand helped me; I was bound by famine, and the Lord himself nourished me; (6) I was alone, and God comforted me; I was weak, and the Most High visited me; I was in prison, and the Savior favored (ἐχαρίτωσέ) me; I was in chains, and He freed me; (7) I was slandered, and He defended me; in the bitter words of Egyptians, and He rescued me; in the envy of fellow servants, and He raised me up."

Shepherd of Hermas

101. (1)   Ἐκ δὲ τοῦ ἑβδόμο[υ ὄρους, ἐν ᾧ βοτάναι] χλωραὶ [καὶ] ἱλαραί, καὶ ὅλον τὸ ὄρος εὐθηνοῦν, καὶ πᾶν γένος κτηνῶν καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἐνέμοντο τὰς βοτ[άνας ἐν τούτῳ τῷ] ὄρει, καὶ αἱ βοτάναι, ἃς ἐνέμοντο, μᾶλλον (2) εὐθαλεῖς ἐγίνοντο, οἱ πιστεύσαντες τοιοῦτοί εἰσι· πάντοτε ἁπλοῖ [καὶ ἄ]κακοι [καὶ μακάριοι ἐ]γίνοντο, μηδὲν κατ’ ἀλλήλων ἔχοντες, ἀλλὰ πάντοτε ἀγαλλιώμενοι ἐπὶ τοῖς δούλοις τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἐνδεδυμένοι [τὸ] πνεῦμα [τὸ ἅγιον τούτων τῶν πα]ρθένων καὶ πάντοτε σπλάγχνον ἔχοντες ἐπὶ πάντα ἄνθρωπον, καὶ ἐκ τῶν κόπων αὐτῶν παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐχορήγησαν ἀνονειδίστως καὶ ἀδιστάκτως. [ὁ οὖν] κύριος ἰδὼν τὴν ἁπλότητα αὐτῶν καὶ πᾶσαν νηπιότητα ἐπλήθυνεν αὐτοὺς ἐν τοῖς κόποις τῶν χειρῶν αὐτῶν καὶ (4) ἐχαρίτωσεν αὐτοὺς ἐν πάσῃ πράξει αὐτῶν. λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν τοῖς τοιούτοις οὖσιν ἐγὼ ὁ ἄγγελος τῆς μετανοίας· διαμείνατε τοιοῦτοι, καὶ οὐκ ἐξαλειφθήσεται [τὸ σ]πέρμα ὑμῶν ἕως αἰῶνος· ἐδοκίμασε γὰρ ὑμᾶς ὁ κύριος καὶ ἐνέγραψεν ὑμᾶς εἰς τὸν ἀριθμὸν τὸν ἡμέτερον, καὶ ὅλον τὸ σπέρμα ὑμῶν κατοικήσει μετὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ· ἐκ γὰρ τοῦ πνεύματος αὐτοῦ ἐλάβετε. 

101. (1) From the seventh mountain, on which there are green and cheerful herbs, and the entire mountain is lush, and all kinds of animals and the birds of the sky fed on the herbs on this mountain, and the herbs they fed on (2) became even more luxuriant. Those who believed are such; always simple, innocent, and blessed they became, having nothing against one another, but always rejoicing in the servants of God and clothed in the Holy Spirit of these virgins and always having compassion for every person, and from their labors, they provided for every person without reproach and hesitation. (3) Therefore, the Lord, seeing their simplicity and all their innocence, multiplied them in the labors of their hands (4) and graced them in all their deeds. And I, the angel of repentance, say to you who are such: remain as such, and your seed will not be wiped out forever; for the Lord has tested you and has written you in our number, and your entire seed will dwell with the son of God; for from His spirit you have received.

Clement of Alexandria, Pedagogue (the Tutor)


(1) παιδαγωγούμενον. «Οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ γάρ σου ὀρθὰ βλεπέτωσαν, τὰ δὲ βλέφαρα νευέτω δίκαια·» μὴ γὰρ οὐκ ἐξὸν καὶ ἰδόντα καρτερεῖν; Ἀλλὰ τὸ ἐμπεσεῖν φυλακτέον. Δυνατὸν γὰρ ἰδόντα ὀλισθεῖν, ἀμήχανον δὲ μὴ ἰδόντα (2) ἐπιθυμεῖν. Οὐ γὰρ τὸ καθαρεύειν μόνον ἀπόχρη τοῖς σώφροσιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ ἐκτὸς εἶναι τοῦ ψόγου σπουδαστέον πᾶσαν ἀποκλείσαντας ὑπονοίας αἰτίαν πρὸς συγκεφαλαίωσιν ἁγνείας, ὡς μὴ μόνον εἶναι ἡμᾶς πιστούς, ἀλλὰ καὶ (3) ἀξιοπίστους φανῆναι. Καὶ γὰρ οὖν καὶ τοῦτο παραφυλακτέον, ὥς φησιν ὁ ἀπόστολος, «μή τις ἡμᾶς μωμήσηται· προνοούμενοι γὰρ καλὰ οὐ μόνον ἐνώπιον κυρίου, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐνώπιον ἀνθρώπων.» «Ἀπόστρεψον δὲ τὸν ὀφθαλμὸν ἀπὸ γυναικὸς κεχαριτωμένης, καὶ μὴ καταμάνθανε (4) κάλλος ἀλλότριον», φησὶν ἡ γραφή. Κἂν πύθῃ τὴν αἰτίαν, προσεπεξηγήσεταί σοι· «ἐν γὰρ κάλλει γυναικὸς πολλοὶ ἀπεπλανήθησαν, καὶ ἐκ τούτου φιλία ὡς πῦρ ἀνακαίεται,» εἰς πῦρ ἄγουσα ἀκατάπαυστον διὰ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἡ ἐκ πυρὸς ὁρμωμένη φιλία, ἣν ἔρωτα κεκλήκασιν.

(1) Being guided. "For your eyes should look straight ahead, and your eyelids should direct justly;" is it not possible, even upon seeing, to endure? But it is to avoid falling into it that one must be careful. For, seeing, one might slip, but desiring without seeing is impossible. (2) For it is not only cleanliness that is required of the temperate, but also to be beyond reproach, having excluded every cause for suspicion towards the summing up of purity, so that we may not only be faithful, but also appear trustworthy. And indeed, this too must be guarded against, as the apostle says, "that no one may fault us; providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men." "Turn your eyes away from a graceful woman, and do not seek to know another's beauty," says the scripture. And if you inquire the reason, it will be explained to you: "for by the beauty of a woman many have been led astray, and by this, love burns like fire," leading to an unceasing fire because of sin, this passion ignited by fire, which they have called love.

But, above all, it seems right that we turn away from the sight of women. For it is sin not only to touch, but to look; and he who is rightly trained must especially avoid them. Let your eyes look straight, and your eyelids wink right. Proverbs 4:25 For while it is possible for one who looks to remain steadfast; yet care must be taken against falling. For it is possible for one who looks to slip; but it is impossible for one, who looks not, to lust. For it is not enough for the chaste to be pure; but they must give all diligence, to be beyond the range of censure, shutting out all ground of suspicion, in order to the consummation of chastity; so that we may not only be faithful, but appear worthy of trust. For this is also consequently to be guarded against, as the apostle says, that no man should blame us; providing things honourable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. 2 Corinthians 8:20-21 But turn away your eyes from a graceful woman, and contemplate not another's beauty, says the Scripture. Sirach 9:8 And if you require the reason, it will further tell you, For by the beauty of woman many have gone astray, and at it affection blazes up like fire; Sirach 9:8 the affection which arises from the fire which we call love, leading to the fire which will never cease in consequence of sin.

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata


(1)   Ἡ μὲν οὖν τῶνδέ μοι τῶν ὑπομνημάτων γραφὴ ἀσθενὴς μὲν εὖ οἶδ’ ὅτι παραβαλλομένη πρὸς τὸ πνεῦμα ἐκεῖνο τὸ κεχαριτωμένον, οὗ κατηξιώθημεν ὑπακοῦσαι, εἰκὼν δ’ ἂν εἴη ἀναμιμνῄσκουσα τοῦ ἀρχετύπου τὸν θύρσῳ πεπληγότα· «σοφῷ γάρ», φησί, «λάλει, καὶ (2) σοφώτερος ἔσται,» καὶ «τῷ ἔχοντι δὲ προστεθήσεται». ἐπαγγέλλεται δὲ οὐχ ὥστε ἑρμηνεῦσαι τὰ ἀπόρρητα ἱκανῶς, πολλοῦ γε καὶ δεῖ, μόνον δὲ τὸ ὑπομνῆσαι, εἴτε ὁπότε ἐκλαθοίμεθα εἴτε ὅπως μηδ’ ἐκλανθανώμεθα. πολλὰ δὲ εὖ οἶδα παρερρύηκεν ἡμᾶς χρόνου μήκει ἀγράφως διαπεσόντα. ὅθεν τὸ ἀσθενὲς τῆς μνήμης τῆς ἐμῆς ἐπικουφίζων, κεφαλαίων συστηματικὴν ἔκθεσιν μνήμης ὑπόμνημα σωτήριον πορίζων ἐμαυτῷ, ἀναγκαίως κέχρημαι τῇδε τῇ ὑποτυπώσει. (3) ἔστι μὲν οὖν τινα μηδὲ ἀπομνημονευθέντα ἡμῖν (πολλὴ γὰρ ἡ παρὰ τοῖς μακαρίοις δύναμις ἦν ἀνδράσιν), ἔστιν δὲ καὶ ἃ ἀνυποσημείωτα μεμενηκότα τῷ χρόνῳ [ἃ] νῦν ἀπέδρα, τὰ δὲ ὅσα ἐσβέννυτο ἐν αὐτῇ μαραινόμενα τῇ διανοίᾳ, ἐπεὶ μὴ ῥᾴδιος ἡ τοιάδε διακονία τοῖς μὴ δεδοκιμασμένοις. ταῦτα δὲ ἀναζωπυρῶν ὑπομνήμασι τὰ μὲν ἑκὼν παραπέμπομαι ἐκλέγων ἐπιστημόνως, φοβούμενος γράφειν ἃ καὶ λέγειν ἐφυλαξάμην, οὔ τί που φθονῶν (οὐ γὰρ θέμις), δεδιὼς δὲ ἄρα περὶ τῶν ἐντυγχανόντων, μή πῃ ἑτέρως σφαλεῖεν καὶ παιδὶ μάχαιραν, ᾗ (4) φασιν οἱ παροιμιαζόμενοι, ὀρέγοντες εὑρεθῶμεν. «οὐ γὰρ ἔστι τὰ γραφέντα μὴ <οὐκ> ἐκπεσεῖν» καίτοι ἀνέκδοτα ὑπό γ’ ἐμοῦ μεμενηκότα, κυλιόμενα δὲ ἀεὶ μόνῃ μιᾷ χρώμενα τῇ ἐγγράφῳ φωνῇ πρὸς τὸν ἐπανερόμενον οὐδὲν πλέον παρὰ τὰ γεγραμμένα ἀποκρίνεται δεῖται γὰρ ἐξ ἀνάγκης βοηθοῦ ἤτοι τοῦ συγγραψαμένου ἢ καὶ ἄλλου   

(1) The writing of these memoirs of mine is admittedly weak when compared to that graceful spirit which we were deemed worthy to obey, but it might serve as a reminder of the archetype struck by the thyrsus: "For," it says, "speak to the wise, and he will become wiser," and "to him who has, more will be given." It promises not so much to interpret the mysteries adequately—much less is required for that—but merely to remind, whether we might forget or lest we be forgotten. I am well aware that many things have slipped through us, lost to the passage of time unwritten. Hence, to lighten the weakness of my memory, I provide for myself a systematic summary of memory, a salvific memorandum, having necessarily resorted to this depiction.  (3) Indeed, there are things not remembered by us (for great was the power among the blessed men), and there are also things that remained unmarked by time, now vanished, and those that were extinguished within it, fading in the mind, since such service is not easy for the untested. Reviving these memories, I willingly send forth some, choosing them knowledgeably, fearing to write what I have been careful even to speak, not out of envy (for it is not right), but rather fearing about those encountering them, lest somehow they stumble and, as the proverbial saying goes, we find ourselves offering a sword to a child. "For it is not possible that the written words will not fall out," although remaining unpublished by me, always rolling, using only the written voice to the reader, nothing more than what is written is answered—it necessarily requires the help of either the author or another.

Alternative Translation (link)

The writing of these memoranda of mine, I well know, is weak when compared with that spirit, full of grace, which I was privileged to hear. But it will be an image to recall the archetype to him who was struck with the thyrsus. For "speak," it is said, "to a wise man, and he will grow wiser; and to him that hath, and there shall be added to him." And we profess not to explain secret things sufficiently -- far from it -- but only to recall them to memory, whether we have forgot aught, or whether for the purpose of not forgetting. Many things, I well know, have escaped us, through length of time, that have dropped away unwritten. Whence, to aid the weakness of my memory, and provide for myself a salutary help to my recollection in a systematic arrangement of chapters, I necessarily make use of this form. There are then some things of which we have no recollection; for the power that was in the blessed men was great. There are also some things which remained unnoted long, which have now escaped; and others which are effaced, having faded away in the mind itself, since such a task is not easy to those not experienced; these I revive in my commentaries. Some things I purposely omit, in the exercise of a wise selection, afraid to write what I guarded against speaking: not grudging -- for that were wrong -- but fearing for my readers, lest they should stumble by taking them in a wrong sense; and, as the proverb says, we should be found "reaching a sword to a child." For it is impossible that what has been written should not escape, although remaining unpublished by me. But being always revolved, using the one only voice, that of writing, they answer nothing to him that makes inquiries beyond what is written; for they require of necessity the aid of some one, either of him who wrote, or of some one else who has walked in his foots

Origen, Fragments on the Gospel of John

(11)   Τῶν ἀρετῶν τὸ μὲν οἴκοθεν ἔχομεν καὶ παρ’ ἑαυτῶν, ὃ προαιρετικῶς κτώμεθα, τὸ δὲ ἐκ θεοῦ, πιστεύσαντες γοῦν τῷ σωτῆρι καὶ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ ὡς ἐνεδέχετο ἐκ τοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν γενέσθαι. λείπεται ἡμῖν καὶ τὸ ἐκ θεοῦ αἰτεῖν, καθὼς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰησοῦ φασὶν αὐτῷ· «Πρόσθες ἡμῖν πίστιν». ἡ γὰρ λέξις ἡ «Πρόσθες» σημαίνει ἀπαιτεῖν αὐτοὺς θεοδώρητον πίστιν πρὸς ᾗ εἶχον προαιρετικῶς. ἀμέλει καὶ ὁ Παῦλος γράφων φησί· «Κατ’ ἀναλογίαν πί«στεως» τῆς ἐνούσης ἐκ τοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν τὰς δωρεὰς τοῦ πνεύματος δίδοσθαι· «Ἑτέρῳ δίδοται πίστις, φησίν, ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ πνεύματι». εἰ δὲ πίστις δίδοταί τινι κατὰ ἀναλογίαν ἧς ἔχει πίστεως, φανερὸν ὅτι τῇ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν κατορθωθείσῃ ἡ θεόπεμπτος παραγίνεται πίστις. ἅπερ δὲ περὶ πίστεως εἴρηται, λεκτέον καὶ περὶ τῶν λοιπῶν ἀρετῶν. ἐπεὶ οὖν ἡ ἀρετὴ χάρις ἐστὶ κεχαριτωμένον ποιοῦσα τὸν ἔχοντα, ὅταν ἡμῖν προαιρετικῶς κατορθωθῇ αὐτή, τηνικαῦτα τὸ ἐκ θεοῦ παραγίνεται, καὶ τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ δίδοσθαι παρὰ θεοῦ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος.

(11) Of the virtues, we have some from within ourselves and by our own acquisition, which we obtain by choice, and some from God, having believed in the Savior and His Father as it was possible to become through what depends on us. It remains for us also to ask from God, just as the disciples of Jesus say to Him: "Increase our faith." For the phrase "Increase" signifies them demanding a God-given faith in addition to what they had chosen voluntarily. Paul also writes saying: "According to the measure of faith" that is present by what depends on us, the gifts of the Spirit are given: "To another is given faith," he says, "by the same Spirit." If faith is given to someone according to the measure of faith they have, it is evident that the divinely sent faith arrives in addition to the faith that was achieved by our efforts. And what has been said about faith must also be said about the other virtues. Therefore, since virtue is a grace that makes its possessor favored, when it is rightly achieved by us through choice, then the divine aspect arrives, and this is the grace given by God in place of grace.

Letter of Pseudo-Aristeas (2nd century BC) (R.H. Charles, ed.):

224 Pleased with these words, the king asked the next How he could be free from envy? And he after a brief pause replied, 'If you consider first of all that it is God who bestows on all kings glory and great wealth and no one is king by his own power. All men wish to share this glory but cannot, since it is the gift of God.'

225 The king praised the man in a long speech and then asked another How he could despise his enemies? And he replied, 'If you show kindness to all men and win their friendship, you need fear no one. To be popular with all men is the best of good gifts to receive from God.'

226 Having praised this answer the king ordered the next man to reply to the question, How he could maintain his great renown? and he replied that 'If you are generous and large-hearted in bestowing kindness and acts of grace upon others, you will never lose your renown, but if you wish the aforesaid graces to continue yours, you must call upon God continually.'

Original Greek: 

(224) Τοῖς δὲ ῥηθεῖσιν ἀρεσθεὶς πρὸς τὸν ἐχόμενον εἶπε· Πῶς ἂν ἐκτὸς εἴη φθόνου; Διαλιπὼν δὲ ἐκεῖνος ἔφη· Πρῶτον εἰ νοήσαι ὅτι ὁ θεὸς πᾶσι μερίζει δόξαν τε καὶ πλούτου μέγεθος τοῖς βασιλεῦσι, καὶ οὐδεὶς παρ’ ἑαυτοῦ βασιλεύς ἐστι· πάντες γὰρ θέλουσι μετασχεῖν ταύτης τῆς δόξης, ἀλλ’ οὐ δύνανται· θεοῦ γάρ ἐστι δόμα. 

(225) Ἐπαινέσας δὲ τὸν ἄνδρα διὰ πλειόνων ἐπηρώτα τὸν ἕτερον· Πῶς ἂν καταφρονοίη τῶν ἐχθρῶν; Ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· Ἠσκηκὼς πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εὔνοιαν καὶ κατεργασάμενος φιλίας, λόγον οὐθενὸς ἂν ἔχοις· τὸ δὲ κεχαριτῶσθαι πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρώπους καὶ καλὸν δῶρον εἰληφέναι παρὰ θεοῦ τοῦτ’ ἔστι κράτιστον. 

(226) Συναινέσας δὲ τούτοις τὸν ἑξῆς ἐκέλευσεν ἀποκριθῆναι, πρὸς αὐτὸν εἰπών· Πῶς ἂν δοξαζόμενος διαμένοι; Εἶπε δέ· Τῇ προθυμίᾳ καὶ ταῖς χάρισι πρὸς τοὺς ἄλλους μεταδοτικὸς ὢν καὶ μεγαλομερὴς οὐδέποτ’ ἂν ἀπολίποι δόξης· ἵνα δὲ τὰ προειρημένα σοι διαμένῃ, τὸν θεὸν ἐπικαλοῦ διὰ παντός. 

(alternative Greek)

224 Τοῖς δὲ ῥηθεῖσιν ἀρεσθεὶς πρὸς τὸν ἐχόμενον εἶπε Πῶς ἂν ἐκτὸς εἴη φθόνου; διαλιπὼν δὲ ἐκεῖνος ἔφη Πρῶτον εἰ νοήσαι, ὅτι ὁ θεὸς πᾶσι μερίζει δόξαν τε καὶ πλούτου μέγεθος τοῖς βασιλεῦσι, καὶ οὐδεὶς περὶ ἑαυτόν ἐστι βασιλεύς· πάντες γὰρ θέλουσι μετασχεῖν ταύτης τῆς δόξης, ἀλλ᾽ οὐ δύνανται· θεοῦ γάρ ἐστι δόμα. 225 Ἐπαινέσας δὲ τὸν ἄνδρα διὰ πλειόνων ἐπηρώτα τὸν ἕτερον Πῶς ἂν καταφρονοίη τῶν ἐχθρῶν; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν Ἠσκηκὼς πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρώπους εὔνοιαν καὶ κατεργασάμενος φιλίας, λόγον οὐθενὸς ἂν ἔχοις· τὸ δὲ κεχαριτῶσθαι πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρώπους καὶ καλὸν δῶρον εἰληφέναι παρὰ θεοῦ τοῦτ᾽ ἔστι κράτιστον. 226 Συναινέσας δὲ τούτοις τὸν ἑξῆς ἐκέλευσεν ἀποκριθῆναι, πρὸς αὐτὸν εἰπών Πῶς ἂν δοξαζόμενος διαμένοι; εἶπε δὲ Τῇ προθυμίᾳ καὶ ταῖς χάρισι πρὸς τοὺς ἄλλους μεταδοτικὸς ὢν καὶ μεγαλομερὴς οὐδέποτ᾽ ἂν ἀπολίποι δόξης· ἵνα δὲ τὰ προειρημένα σοι διαμένῃ, τὸν θεὸν ἐπικαλοῦ διὰ παντός.

Alternative Translation:

(224) But being pleased with what was said, he said to the next person: "How could one be outside of envy?" And after pausing, that one said: "First, if you realize that God distributes to all kings both glory and the magnitude of wealth, and no one is a king by himself; for all wish to share in this glory, but they cannot; for it is a gift from God."

(225) And having praised the man for more reasons, he asked another: "How could one despise one's enemies?" And he said: "Having practiced goodwill towards all men and having worked to make friendships, you would have no cause of complaint from anyone; but to have been favored by all men and to have received a beautiful gift from God is the greatest."

(226) And agreeing with these, he ordered the next to reply, saying to him: "How could one remain honored?" He said: "By being eager and generous in sharing your graces with others, and being magnanimous, you would never lose honor; but to ensure that what has been said to you remains, always invoke God."

"Critical" Translation (link):

224 Now the king, pleased with this reply, spoke to the next guest, “How could a man be free from envy?” Now after a pause, he declared, “First of all, by realizing that God assigns both glory and greatness of wealth to the kings, each and every one, and no one is a king by his own power. For all men wish to share this glory, but instead they cannot—for it is a gift of God.”

225 Now the king, after giving a long commendation to this guest, asked another, “How can a man despise his enemies?” Now he spoke, “By practicing goodwill to all humans and by forming friendships, you would owe no obligation to anyone. But to have gratitude with all humans, and to receive a handsome gift from God—this is one of the strongest gifts.”

226 Now the king, after approving these words, directed the next guest to answer, speaking to him, “How can a man maintain the glory he received?” Now he spoke, “If by his earnestness and his favors he showed munificence and great-generosity toward others, he would never lack glory. But if you wish for these previously-mentioned qualities to abide with you, you must call on God continually.”

Thackery's Translation (link

Pleased with his words, the king asked his neighbour how he might be free from envy. And he, after a pause, said, "Chiefly by considering how it is God who apportions to all kings their glory and great wealth, and that no one by his own power [FN1 Text slightly emended.] is king; for all men desire to partake of this glory, but they cannot, since it is a gift of God."

225 He commended the speaker at some length, and asked the next one how he should despise his foes. And he replied, "If thou hast studiously practised goodwill towards all men and formed friendships, thou needest fear no man. But to be in high favour with all men is the very best of good gifts to receive from God." [FN1 Text slightly emended.]

226 He commended his words, and bade the next one reply to the question, how he might retain his renown. And he said, " If with loving kindness and gracious acts thou art liberal and bountiful to others, thou wilt never have lack of renown ; but that the aforesaid graces may continue thine, thou must constEftitly call upon God."


Posidippus (c. 310-240 BC), Epigrams 


Section  48

This is sufficient for the wise Bithynid to lie nearby

to the servant of good masters, O Themis, ruler;

for they did not begrudge freedom, I gladly declare,

who have a stele better than freedom.

Greek (48) 

τοῦθ’ ἱκανὸν συνετῆι Βιθυνίδι τοὐγγύθι κεῖσ[θαι]

  τῆι δούλη[ι χ]ρηστῶν, ὦ Θέμι, δεσποτέων·

[οὐ γὰρ] ἐλευθερίηι προσεμόχθεον, εὖ χαριτοῦμ[αι,]

[   ἥτις ἔ]χ̣ω̣ στήλην κρέσσον’ ἐλευθερίης. 

Alternative Translations (from here)

Translated by M. Lefkowitz, From Diotima: Women & Gender in the Ancient World.

Goddess Themis, this tomb is a sufficient resting-place

    for wise Bithynis,a slave of worthy masters,

for I did not strive for freedom, but I was well rewarded,

    and I have this memorial that is more enduring than liberty.

Translated by E. Kosmetatou

This is sufficient grave for wise Bithynis, a slave,
    O Themis, of good masters.
For I did not struggle for freedom but was well rewarded:
    I have this stele which is far superior to liberty.

Origen, Fragments of his lost Commentary on Luke, Fragments 21a-21d

(21a) Ἐπειδὴ εἶπεν ὁ θεὸς τῇ Εὔᾳ· ‹ἐν λύπαις τέξῃ τέκνα›, διὰ τοῦτο λέγει ὁ ἄγγελος· ‹Χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη›· αὕτη γὰρ ἡ χαρὰ λύει ἐκείνην τὴν λύπην·

(21b) εἰ γὰρ διὰ τὴν τῆς Εὔας κατάραν διέβη ἡ ἀρὰ ἐπὶ πᾶν τὸ τῶν θηλειῶν γένος, οὐκοῦν στοχαστέον, ὅτι διὰ τῆς πρὸς τὴν Μαρίαν εὐλογίας πλατύνεται ἡ χαρὰ ἐπὶ πᾶσαν ψυχὴν παρθένον·

(21c) ‹ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ›· ἦν γὰρ μετ’ αὐτῆς ὁ μικρὸν ὕστερον ἐξ αὐτῆς.

(21d) ‹ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ›· ἰστέον ὅτι ἅμα τῷ εὐαγγελίσασθαι εὐθὺς συνέλαβεν ἡ παρθένος παραδόξως.

(21a) Since God said to Eve, "In pain you shall bear children," for this reason the angel says, "Rejoice, highly favored one"; for this joy dissolves that pain.

(21b) If indeed through the curse of Eve, the curse passed onto all the female gender, it must then be considered that through the blessing towards Mary, joy is expanded upon every virgin soul.

(21c) "The Lord is with you"; for He was with her, who a little later came from her.

(21d) "The Lord is with you"; it must be known that at the moment of being told the good news, the virgin miraculously conceived immediately.

Compare Homily X on Luke by Origen, as translated by Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J. for the Catholic University of America Press series, The Fathers of the Church: a New Translation (vol. 94).

(p. 26)

I mention this because the translator asserted that he failed to translate the early Lucan fragments because the homilies already sufficiently discussed things ("Origen's thought on Luke 1 to 3 is covered well enough in the homilies." p. xxxix), which it seems plain that they did not. As Lienhard notes, the authenticity and accuracy of the fragments cannot be guaranteed unless we some day find the intact commentary.

What can we conclude from the above?  Chiefly, we can conclude that the term is not some special word that means, or implies, that a person is immaculately conceived, or that means or implies that a person has original justice, or the like.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Sword of Pain/Bereavement/Doubt in Mary's Heart?

John of Damascus, An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Chapter 14

But this blessed woman, who was deemed worthy of gifts that are supernatural, suffered those pains, which she escaped at the birth, in the hour of the passion, enduring from motherly sympathy the rending of the bowels, and when she beheld Him, Whom she knew to be God by the manner of His generation, killed as a malefactor, her thoughts pierced her as a sword, and this is the meaning of this verse: Yea, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also Luke 2:35. But the joy of the resurrection transforms the pain, proclaiming Him, Who died in the flesh, to be God.

In this case, notice that John is suggesting that Mary escaped the pains associated with original sin at Jesus' birth, but nevertheless experienced them when he died on the cross.

Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 105 (Masoretic Psalm 104):

12. Next he does relate the story, mentioning what Joseph suffered in his low estate, and how he was raised on high. His feet they hurt in the stocks: the iron entered into his soul, until his word came Psalm 104:18. That Joseph was put in irons, we do not indeed read; but we ought no ways to doubt that it was so. For some things might be passed over in that history, which nevertheless would not escape the Holy Spirit, who speaks in these Psalms. We understand by the iron which entered into his soul, the tribulation of stern necessity; for he did not say body, but soul. There is a somewhat similar expression in the Gospel, where Simeon says unto Mary, A sword shall pierce through your own soul also. Luke 2:35 That is, the Passion of the Lord, which was a fall unto many, and in which the secrets of many hearts were revealed, since their sentiments respecting the Lord were extorted from them, without doubt made His own Mother exceeding sorrowful, heavily struck with human bereavement. 

While Augustine does not explicitly link it to sin and the fall, Augustine asserts that Mary was touched with human bereavement and consequent sorrow.

Basil, Letter 260, to Optimus the bishop, sections 6-9

6. About the words of Simeon to Mary, there is no obscurity or variety of interpretation. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Luke 2:34-35 Here I am astonished that, after passing by the previous words as requiring no explanation, you should enquire about the expression, Yea, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also. To me the question, how the same child can be for the fall and rising again, and what is the sign that shall be spoken against, does not seem less perplexing than the question how a sword shall pierce through Mary's heart.

7. My view is, that the Lord is for falling and rising again, not because some fall and others rise again, but because in us the worst falls and the better is set up. The advent of the Lord is destructive of our bodily affections and it rouses the proper qualities of the soul. As when Paul says, When I am weak, then I am strong, 2 Corinthians 12:10 the same man is weak and is strong, but he is weak in the flesh and strong in the spirit. Thus the Lord does not give to some occasions of falling and to others occasions of rising. Those who fall, fall from the station in which they once were, but it is plain that the faithless man never stands, but is always dragged along the ground with the serpent whom he follows. He has then nowhere to fall from, because he has already been cast down by his unbelief. Wherefore the first boon is, that he who stands in his sin should fall and die, and then should live in righteousness and rise, both of which graces our faith in Christ confers on us. Let the worse fall that the better may have opportunity to rise. If fornication fall not, chastity does not rise. Unless our unreason be crushed our reason will not come to perfection. In this sense he is for the fall and rising again of many.

8. For a sign that shall be spoken against. By a sign, we properly understand in Scripture a cross. Moses, it is said, set the serpent upon a pole. Numbers 21:8 That is upon a cross. Or else a sign is indicative of something strange and obscure seen by the simple but understood by the intelligent. There is no cessation of controversy about the Incarnation of the Lord; some asserting that he assumed a body, and others that his sojourn was bodiless; some that he had a passible body, and others that he fulfilled the bodily œconomy by a kind of appearance. Some say that his body was earthly, some that it was heavenly; some that He pre-existed before the ages; some that He took His beginning from Mary. It is on this account that He is a sign that shall be spoken against.

9. By a sword is meant the word which tries and judges our thoughts, which pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of our thoughts. Now every soul in the hour of the Passion was subjected, as it were, to a kind of searching. According to the word of the Lord it is said, All you shall be offended because of me. Matthew 26:3 Simeon therefore prophesies about Mary herself, that when standing by the cross, and beholding what is being done, and hearing the voices, after the witness of Gabriel, after her secret knowledge of the divine conception, after the great exhibition of miracles, she shall feel about her soul a mighty tempest. The Lord was bound to taste of death for every man — to become a propitiation for the world and to justify all men by His own blood. Even you yourself, who hast been taught from on high the things concerning the Lord, shall be reached by some doubt. This is the sword. That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. He indicates that after the offense at the Cross of Christ a certain swift healing shall come from the Lord to the disciples and to Mary herself, confirming their heart in faith in Him. In the same way we saw Peter, after he had been offended, holding more firmly to his faith in Christ. What was human in him was proved unsound, that the power of the Lord might be shown.

In this passage, Basil does not just assert, but demonstrates that Mary was affected by sinful doubt.

Jesus as the New Eve? Mary as the New Adam?

Ephrem the Syrian (AD 307-373), Saint Ephrem's Commentary on Tatian's Diatessaron, Carmel McCarthy trans., Chapter II, Sections 2-3 (pp. 60-61)(footnotes omitted, brackets and italics are McCarthy's):

§2. [Mary] gave birth without [the assistance of] a man. Just as in the beginning Eve was born of Adam without intercourse, so too [in the case of] Joseph and Mary, his virgin and spouse. Eve gave birth to the murderer, but Mary gave birth to the Life-Giver. The former gave birth to him who shed the blood of his brother, but the latter to him whose blood was shed by his brothers. The former saw him who was trembling and fleeing because of the curse of the earth, the latter [saw] him who bore the curse and nailed it on his cross. The virgin's conception teaches that he, who begot Adam without intercourse from the virgin earth, also fashioned the Second Adam without intercourse in the virgin's womb. Whereas the First [Adam] returned back into the womb of his mother, [it was] by means of the Second [Adam], who did not return back into the womb of his mother, that the former, who had been buried in the womb of his mother, was brought back [from it]. 

§3. Mary was trying to convince Joseph that her conception was from the Spirit, but he did not accept [it] because it was an unwonted thing. When he saw however that her countenance was serene, although her womb was heavy, he was not willing to put her to shame, being a just man, but neither [was he willing] to receive her as husband, for he thought that she had intercourse with another man. In his uprightness therefore he judged that he should not take her, but also that he should not denounce her. Therefore, the angel appeared to him and said, Joseph, son of David. It was a wonderful thing that [the angel] also called him, Son of David, to remind him of David, the head of his ancestors, to whom God had made a promise that from his descendants according to the flesh he would raise up the Messiah. Do not be afraid to take Mary your spouse, because what is in her is from the Holy Spirit. If you are in doubt as to whether the virgin's conception was without intercourse, listen to Isaiah who said, Behold the virgin will conceive, and to Daniel, A stone was cut off, but not with [human] hands. This not like that [other passage], Look at the mountain and the well; since that [passage implies] a man and woman, whereas here it is [written], Not with [human] hands. Just as Adam fills the role of father and mother for Eve, so too does Mary for our Lord.  

I bring up this odd usage by Ephrem to encourage folks not to get overly excited by patristic-era use of comparisons between the New Testament and the Old.  These are fun comparisons, but they lack Scriptural warrant in terms of being the meaning of Scripture.  

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Description, "Blessed Among Women," in the Angelic Address

Reading through the writing of one of the Latin speaking fathers, I encountered a point that I had not previously considered in terms of the testimony of the Scripture regarding Mary, the mother of my Lord.  If I recall correctly, the author was considering the question of why does Paul say, "made of a woman," rather than "made of a virgin."  I disagreed with the author's answer to the question, but it got me thinking about a similar issue in Luke 1. 

Recall that in Luke 1, after the stage is set (vss. 26-27), the angel initially greets Mary (vs. 28), she was troubled (but apparently only in her mind, not in her words, vs. 29), and then the angel clarifies his statement (vss. 30-33), and Mary politely challenges the statement on the basis of her virginity (vs. 34).  Finally, the angel clarifies and offers a further sign in confirmation (vss. 35-37).  Mary acknowledges her instructions and task and the angel leaves (vs. 38).

Looking at the individual parts:

Luke 1:26-28 - And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin (παρθένον) espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's (παρθένου) name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, [thou that art] highly favoured, the Lord [is] with thee: blessed [art] thou among women (γυναιξίν).

Notice that the angel does not say "blessed art thou among virgins," nor "blessed art thou amongst maidens," but "blessed art thou among women." Notice as well that the angel says "the Lord is with thee" and refers to her as "highly favored" (perfect passive participle).  Finally (yet first), "Hail," is literally "Rejoice" (present active imperative).

Blessed Among Women

What does it mean to be blessed among women?  While other passages may be relevant (such as Genesis 49:25 and Deuteronomy 7:13), the first woman individually referred to as blessed is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite.  

In context, the blessing of Jael stands in opposition to the curse of Meroz:

Judges 5:23-24 Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty. Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.

Nevertheless, the nature of the curse and of the blessing is not spelled out.  Perhaps the only intention is that they will be respectively cursed with infamy and blessed with fame. 

Is it an interesting coincidence that Heber the Kenite lived near Kedesh:

Judges 4:11 - Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.

Moreover, this Kedesh was a city of refuge, and its location was Galilee:

Joshua 20:7 - And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah.

Moreover, note that Mary was at this time in Nazareth, which is also in Galilee.  Perhaps just a coincidence, but an interesting one.

Another woman to be individually blessed is Hannah:

1 Samuel 2:18-21 But Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, The LORD give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the LORD. And they went unto their own home. And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters. And the child Samuel grew before the LORD. And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, The LORD give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the LORD. And they went unto their own home.

In this case, the nature of the blessing is that woman will have babies.  This is consistent with other Old Testament blessing of women.  For example:

Genesis 24:60 - And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.

Genesis 30:13 - And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.

While the text doesn't say "bless," the same concept is used with respect to the Egyptians midwives:

Exodus 1:20-21 - Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.

The exception seems to be David's blessing of Abigail:

1Samuel 25:32-33 And David said to Abigail, Blessed [be] the LORD God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: and blessed [be] thy advice, and blessed [be] thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to [shed] blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand.

Although David went on shortly thereafter to take Abigail (then widow) to be his wife (1 Samuel 25:42) and to bear him a son named Daniel (1 Chronicles 3:1).

Wisdom literature has two references as well that, while they have some connection to fertility could just be more general blessings: 

Proverbs 31:28 - Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

Song of Songs 6:9 - My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.

The Apocrypha are not inspired Scripture.  Nevertheless, I have also considered their usage.  Tobit contains one blessing of a woman, which is in the context of a marriage between Sara and Tobias (Tobit 7:13).  The blessing seems to have (at least implicitly) included a blessing of children (cf. Tobit 9:6 & Tobit 10:12) although it may have been a general blessing as in Tobit 11:1 of Raguel and his wife and in 11:17 of Sara his daughter-in-law once again.

Chapters 13-15 of Judith recount blessings given to Judith:

Judith 13:18-20 Then said Ozias unto her, O daughter, blessed art thou of the most high God above all the women upon the earth; and blessed be the Lord God, which hath created the heavens and the earth, which hath directed thee to the cutting off of the head of the chief of our enemies. For this thy confidence shall not depart from the heart of men, which remember the power of God for ever. And God turn these things to thee for a perpetual praise, to visit thee in good things because thou hast not spared thy life for the affliction of our nation, but hast revenged our ruin, walking a straight way before our God. And all the people said; So be it, so be it.

Judith 14:6-7 Then they called Achior out of the house of Ozias; and when he was come, and saw the head of Holofernes in a man's hand in the assembly of the people, he fell down on his face, and his spirit failed. But when they had recovered him, he fell at Judith's feet, and reverenced her, and said, Blessed art thou in all the tabernacles of Juda, and in all nations, which hearing thy name shall be astonished.

Judith 14:9-13 And when they came unto her, they blessed her with one accord, and said unto her, Thou art the exaltation of Jerusalem, thou art the great glory of Israel, thou art the great rejoicing of our nation: Thou hast done all these things by thine hand: thou hast done much good to Israel, and God is pleased therewith: blessed be thou of the Almighty Lord for evermore. And all the people said, So be it. And the people spoiled the camp the space of thirty days: and they gave unto Judith Holofernes his tent, and all his plate, and beds, and vessels, and all his stuff: and she took it and laid it on her mule; and made ready her carts, and laid them thereon. Then all the women of Israel ran together to see her, and blessed her, and made a dance among them for her: and she took branches in her hand, and gave also to the women that were with her. And they put a garland of olive upon her and her maid that was with her, and she went before all the people in the dance, leading all the women: and all the men of Israel followed in their armour with garlands, and with songs in their mouths.

While some of these are reminiscent of the blessing of Jael, they do not seem to have anything directly to do with fertility.  Indeed, the author of Judith seems to suggest that Judith lived as a chaste (and chased) widow:

Judith 16:22 And many desired her, but none knew her all the days of her life, after that Manasses her husband was dead, and was gathered to his people.

Wisdom of Solomon has some curiously subversive expressions, which seem (in their satire) to point to the usual understanding:

Wisdom 3:10-19 But the ungodly shall be punished according to their own imaginations, which have neglected the righteous, and forsaken the Lord. For whoso despiseth wisdom and nurture, he is miserable, and their hope is vain, their labours unfruitful, and their works unprofitable: Their wives are foolish, and their children wicked: Their offspring is cursed. Wherefore blessed is the barren that is undefiled, which hath not known the sinful bed: she shall have fruit in the visitation of souls. And blessed is the eunuch, which with his hands hath wrought no iniquity, nor imagined wicked things against God: for unto him shall be given the special gift of faith, and an inheritance in the temple of the Lord more acceptable to his mind. For glorious is the fruit of good labours: and the root of wisdom shall never fall away. As for the children of adulterers, they shall not come to their perfection, and the seed of an unrighteous bed shall be rooted out. For though they live long, yet shall they be nothing regarded: and their last age shall be without honour. Or, if they die quickly, they have no hope, neither comfort in the day of trial. For horrible is the end of the unrighteous generation.

This curse on the wicked creates a distortion of the usual.  Usually, children and fertility are blessing, but not for the wicked.

The remainder of the Apocrypha did not seem to have any particularly relevant material.  

What then, is the most natural understanding of "blessed (perfect passive participle) among women"? The most natural understanding is: "Congratulations, you're pregnant!" That is a very odd greeting for Mary, though, considering that she is a virgin.  The difference between a virgin and a woman is usually intercourse, but Mary had not had that yet.  Therefore, the greeting was confusing at best.

In fairness, if it was just "thou art blessed" it might still be confusing, or if Mary thought it should be understood in a Jael-Judith sense of being blessed for some great deed she had done, as she hadn't done anything especially remarkable yet.  It would be confusing for the same reason as the next statement we will consider, "highly favored."

The "Highly favored" (perfect passive participle) is also potentially a confusing statement to Mary.  She was engaged to marry Joseph, a carpenter - of noble lineage, but not particularly wealthy or powerful. Why does the angel consider her to have been highly favored (already in the past, with some continuing effect, just like the "blessed")?

Once again, the only context clue seems to lie either in the "among women" (i.e. pregnancy) or perhaps in another phrase of the address: "Lord [is] with thee."  This phrase could have two senses.  One sense is the more obvious and the other the more prophetic.

The more obvious sense is the sense as used in Genesis 26:28, Judges 6:12 (by an angel), 1 Samuel 17:37, 1 Samuel 20:13, 2 Samuel 7:3, and 1 Chronicles 22:16, where the phrase carries the sense of wishing that God would be or saying that God is on the person's side, as in the familiar English farewell ("goodbye" from God be with you). 

The more prophetic sense seems to be harking back to the prophecy of the Messiah's birth:

Isaiah 7:14 - Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Recall that Immanuel means "God with us."  Indeed, this was later explained to Joseph by an angel in a dream:

Matthew 1:20-23 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

Moreover, pregnancy is frequently described as being "with child" (Genesis 16:11, Genesis 19:36, Genesis 38:25, Exodus 21:22, 1 Samuel 4:19, 2 Samuel 11:5, 2 Kings 8:12, 2 Kings 15:16, Ecclesiastes 11:5, Isaiah 26:17-18, Isaiah 54:1, Jeremiah 30:6, Jeremiah 31:8, Hosea 13:16, and Amos 1:13).

Finally, note that the address starts with "Rejoice!" This imperative verb in this conjugation is always translated as "Hail" in the KJV, namely in the phrases "Hail, master ..." or "Hail, King of the Jews."  It certainly can serve this purpose.  We don't use "Cheers" in precisely the same way, but most English speakers will recognize that "Cheers!" has a specific rhetorical meaning, that is not necessarily about cheerfulness.

While there is good reason to translate it in this way from the fact that it is part of a salutation, the literal meaning of "rejoice" is also pertinent.  In the immediately preceding angelic message (to Zacharias about John the Baptist), this same verb had been used to describe the joy at the birth of John:

Luke 1:14 - And thou shalt have joy (χαρά) and gladness; and many shall rejoice (χαρήσονται) at his birth.

 So, when we read the angelic greeting:

Luke 1:28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, [thou that art] highly favoured, the Lord [is] with thee: blessed art thou among women.

We can understand why Mary's initial response was this:

Luke 1:29 - And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

We then see the angelic interpretation of the angel's own words:

Luke 1:30-33 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

This may be easier to visualize as a chart:

Original Statement (v. 28) Clarification (vss. 30-33) Commentary
Hail/RejoiceFear not, Mary As in Luke 2:10 "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy (χαρὰν), which shall be to all people."
Highly Favored (κεχαριτωμένη)thou hast found favor (χάριν) with God.As in Acts 7:46 - Who found favour (χάριν) before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
the Lord [is] with theeHe shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.As in Matthew 1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
blessed [art] thou among women. (εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν)behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.As in Luke 1:42 blessed [art] thou among women (εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν), and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Likewise, Luke 2:21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 

Moreover, we are not left with this clarification, because Mary responded by asking how this will happen, as she hasn't had intercourse ("How shall this be, seeing I know not a man").

The angel clarified:

Luke 1:35 ... The Holy Ghost shall come (ἐπελεύσεται) upon thee, and the power (δύναμις) of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing (ἅγιον) which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

The first phrases remind us of Jesus' words in Acts:

Act 1:8 - But ye shall receive power (δύναμιν), after that the Holy Ghost is come (ἐπελθόντος) upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

The point is that the birth is special miracle of God, like the so-called charismatic gifts.

Moreover, the angel confirms his word by pointing to a lesser but related miracle that has happened to Elisabeth:

Luke 1:36-37 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also (καὶ) conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

I pause to note the copulative kai translated as "also" here.  In what way is Elisabeth "also"? In that she has conceived a son.  This seems to imply that Mary has also begun to conceive.  

For the ancients, conception was not necessarily a point act but the process of formation or what we today would refer to as the early stages of gestation (i.e. the germinal and embryonic stages before the fetal stage or even any time before quickening).  

For example, in Genesis 30:38-41 Jacob manipulates (or at least attempts to manipulate) the fetal development of the sheep by placing patterned wood in front of the eyes of the sheep. 

As another example, in 2 Samuel 11:5 Bathsheba is described as conceiving after she returned to her house.

In Job, conceive is used essentially as a synonym with gestate:

Job 3:3 - Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.

Job 15:35 - They conceive mischief, and bring forth vanity, and their belly prepareth deceit.

Similarly, David uses the phrase as synonymous with gestation:

Psalm 51:5 - Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

The English term is also used of the formation of ideas, as in KJV Acts:

Acts 5:4 - Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.

It should be noted that, of course, the Greek word in Acts 5:4 is a conjugation of τίθημι not the noun κοίτην as in Romans 9:10 nor a conjugation of the verb συλλαμβάνω used in Luke 1:24, 31, and 36.

However, James uses that same verb:

James 1:15 - Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

In that context, as in some of the others, it seems to refer to the overall process of gestation.

The idea that Mary has only begun to conceive, but has not fully conceived is further supported by Luke 2:

Luke 2:21 - And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

We should also consider Elisabeth's and Mary's explanations respectively provided to us at Luke 1:42-45 and Luke 1:46-55.

Luke 1:42-45 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed [art] thou among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of thy womb. And whence [is] this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy (ἀγαλλιάσει). And blessed [is] she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

Notice the reiteration of the same themes.  The babe is said to have leaped in Elisabeth's womb for joy, using an even more intense word for joy than earlier: the same word used as a synonym in Luke 1:14 regarding John's birth:

Luke 1:14 - And thou shalt have joy (χαρά) and gladness (ἀγαλλίασις); and many shall rejoice at his birth.

Moreover, the "fruit of the womb" is a Hebraism to refer to children, describing fertility in terms of forming children in the womb analogous to the way plants produce fruits/grains (Genesis 30:2; Deuteronomy 7:13; Psalm 127:3; Isaiah 13:18; and Hosea 9:16). 

Likewise being "blessed ... among women" is reiterated in identical words to the angel.  Elisabeth immediately explains this blessing in terms of Mary's pregnancy and not just any pregnancy but having the Lord within her.  Moreover, it is interesting to note the Elisabeth does not connect any of this to Mary's works or intrinsic holiness, but only refers to Mary as having believed.  This explains Mary's words: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word," (Luke 1:38) as indicating Mary's faith.

Mary's own explanation then follows:

Luke 1:46-55 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify (Μεγαλύνει) the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced (ἠγαλλίασεν) in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy (ἅγιον) [is] his name. And his mercy [is] on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from [their] seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of [his] mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Mary expresses her joy and refers to God as her Savior (which is the meaning of the name JESUS).  Moreover, she reiterates her low estate as a handmaid (literally the female form of servant or slave).  Nevertheless, she echoes the words of Leah:

Genesis 30:12-13 And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a second son. And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher.

Notice that she not only refers to Jesus as Savior, but also as "Holy," tracking the description provided by the angel. Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, Mary is rejoicing not only about her pregnancy in general, but also about the aid being given to the people of Israel by God through Jesus.

I would conclude by pointing out that this close association between blessing of women and pregnancy is further illustrated by a pair of verses in Luke:

Luke 11:27 And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.

Luke 23:29 For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.

The second verse overturns the usual expectation.  The former seems to have been a stylized way of praising a person by praising their mother.  In the former case, however, recall that Jesus disparaged a focus on genetic connection and instead prioritized a union by faith.

Some people will say that Mary cannot have been pregnant already when the angel arrived, because the conception is expressed in the future ("thou shalt conceive" Luke 1:31) and because the angel is said to have named Jesus before he was conceived (Luke 2::21).  This tension is resolved when we consider that conception is not a point event for the ancients, but rather a taking hold of seed in the fertile soil of the womb of the mother, eventually bringing forth as fruit, a child.  We tend to think of conception in terms of fertilization, but naturally the precise mechanisms at the cellular level were unknown at the time (Ecclesiastes 11:5 - As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.)

Nevertheless, even if we were to impose a modern "point of fertilization in a fallopian tube" or similarly the moment a dioplid zygote is formed, we should still understand "blessed ... among women" as referring to Mary's forthcoming pregnancy.  Granted that "blessed" and "favored" are perfect participles, but as Elisabeth declared (Luke 1:45): "there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord."  Thus, it is not unusual to refer to future events as though they were past when they are being guaranteed by God.  

Furthermore, even setting aside a prophetic past usage, the angel's announcement is provided as a fait accompli to Mary.  Like Zacharias earlier in the same chapter, and like Joseph in Matthew 1, Mary is not offered options except (at least implicitly) the option to believe or not.  We can understand from Elisabeth's commendation that Mary did believe, like her husband Joseph, and unlike Zacharias her cousin's husband.

In short, "blessed ... among women," "the Lord is with thee," and "highly favored" are all about Mary's pregnancy with the Son of God.  They are not about some previous actions to or on Mary, and any such suggestion (as sometimes offered by proponents of the immaculate conception) is foreign to the text.

While we can and should reject the interpretation of the immaculists, the understanding that the angel was saying, (paraphrase), "Congratulations, God has blessed you with a pregnancy!" most easily explains Mary's initial confusion as well as her comment about still being a virgin (especially as understood as being distinct from a woman).  

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Jerome on Galatians 4:4-5

St. Jerome, Commentary on Galatians, Fathers of the Church Series, transl. Andrew Cain, (pp. 156-157), at Galatians 4:4-5

4-4-5. But when the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, made of a woman and put under the Law to redeem those under the Law, so that we might receive the full rights of [adopted] sons.

Take note that he did not say “made through a woman”— phrasing opted for by Marcion and other heresies which pretend that the flesh of Christ was imaginary—but “made of a woman,” in order to support the belief that Christ was born of a woman and not through her. As for his calling the holy and blessed mother of the Lord a woman instead of a virgin, this same thing is written both in the Gospel according to Matthew, where she is referred to as the wife of Joseph, and [in the Gospel according to John, where] the Lord himself scolds her as a woman. It was not necessary always to use the term “virgin,” as if being circumspect and cautious, for the word “woman” denotes gender more than it does union with a man, and the Greek γυνή can be translated as either “wife” or “woman.”

Latin from Migne, Patrologia Latinae, Tomus XXVI (of Jerome, vol. 7), col. 572 A-B: 

(Vers. 4) At ubi venit plenitudo temporis, misit Deus Filium suum factum ex muliere, factum sub Lege: ut eos qui sub Lege erant, redimeret, ut adoptionem filiorum reciperemus. 

Diligenter attendite quod non dixerit, factum per mulierem, quod Marcion et cæteræ hæreses volunt, quæ putativam Christi carnem simulant: sed ex muliere, ut non per illam, sed ex illa natus esse credatur. Quod autem sanctam et beatam Matrem Domini, mulierem, non Virginem nominavit, hoc idem et in Evangelio κατά Ματθαίον scriptum est: quando uxor appellatur Joseph (Luc. II), et ab ipso Domino quasi mulier increpatur (Joan. II). Non enim necesse erat semper quasi caute et timide Virginem dicere, cum mulier sexum magis significet quam copulam viri: et secundum intelligentiam Græcitatis, γυνή tam uxor, quam mulier valeat interpretari.

Alternative translation:

Diligently pay attention to the fact that he did not say, 'made through a woman,' as Marcion and the other heresies want, which feign the assumed flesh of Christ: but 'from a woman,' so that it is believed not through her, but from her he was born. That he called the holy and blessed Mother of the Lord, a woman, not a Virgin, the same is also written in the Gospel according to Matthew: when she is called the wife of Joseph, and by the Lord himself is almost reproached as a woman. For it was not necessary always to say Virgin as if cautiously and timidly, since woman more signifies sex than the union with a man: and according to the understanding of Greek, γυνή can be interpreted both as wife and as woman.

I've highlighted the place where Jerome acknowledges that Jesus use of woman in John 2 was, to put it gently, not positive. Jerome's focus in his response was not to suggest that "woman" here points to Mary as some new Eve, but rather to focus on the true humanity of Christ and to reject a flawed argument against Mary's virginity on the ground that she is called here, "woman," which presumably was used by the Latins to refer to a female who was married (or at least had engaged in copulation).

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Will Kinney's Space Argument

Will Kinney sometimes argues that one of the signs that the King James is the perfect word is that a portion of it was read in space by the Apollo 8 astronauts.  In a recent debate he stated:

"... reasons why the King James Bible is God's inerrant book and there are many reasons not just Blind Faith but there are a lot of reasons historical things that God has done with it in history it's the only Bible read from from outer space that'll never happen again they'll go up and read out of the Bible not going to happen not in today's society" 


I'm sure Will means well, but may be unaware of the fact that during the Apollo 11 mission, the Vatican had the following placed on the Moon:

 And at the same time, Israel had the following placed on the Moon:

(source of the above clips)

In 1996, the Torah was read in Hebrew in Space (link to source with photo).  Likewise, in 2003, Ilan Ramon brought a miniatured version of scriptures with him to space (link to source) during the final mission of the Columbia

It's a terrible, terrible argument that Will offers.  Love the brother, but avoid the argument.

Friday, March 08, 2024

Synagogue as the Model of the Apostolic Church

Synagogue Rule in First Century Palestine

The Greek word, συναγωγή (sunagogi aka synagogue), comes from the idea of gathering.  Although the King James translators aimed to avoid using the cognate word for Christian assemblies, the Greek word is used of Christian assemblies in James 2:2 (For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;).

Furthermore, we see that the early Christians continued to meet in synagogues during the time of the Sauline persecution:

Acts 22:19 And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee:

Acts 26:11 And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.


The documentation on synagogue leadership during second temple Judaism is more limited than one might like.  There is, however, one role that stands out among others, the ἀρχισυνάγωγος (archisunagogos), usually translated in the KJV as "ruler of the synagogue."  The translation is defensible from the evident etymology from ἄρχων ("archon" or a similar word denoting source or primacy) and συναγωγή (sunagogi aka synagogue).

This "ruler of the synagogue" role is described using the term archisunagogos in five passages (two of which are synoptic):

Mark 5:21-23&35-39 

21 And when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side, much people gathered unto him: and he was nigh unto the sea. 22 And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue (ἀρχισυναγώγων), Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet, 23 And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: [I pray thee], come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live. [24-34 Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood] 35 While he yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue's (ἀρχισυναγώγου) [house certain] which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further? 36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue (ἀρχισυναγώγῳ), Be not afraid, only believe. 37 And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James. 38 And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue (ἀρχισυναγώγου), and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly. 39 And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.

A small but important point is this: the phrase in English is a bit ambiguous as it seems to imply that "the synagogue" (singular) has "rulers" (plural).  Even if that's true, the Greek doesn't imply it.  The Greek is just saying that one of the archisunagogos came to Jesus.  Perhaps a more clear wording would be "one of the synagogue rulers cometh ..." or the like.  

There is no similar issue in the synoptic account in Luke:

Luke 8:40-50 

40 And it came to pass, that, when Jesus was returned, the people [gladly] received him: for they were all waiting for him. 41 And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue (ἄρχων τῆς συναγωγῆς): and he fell down at Jesus' feet, and besought him that he would come into his house: 42 For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. But as he went the people thronged him. [43-48 Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood] 49 While he yet spake, there cometh one from the ruler of the synagogue's (ἀρχισυναγώγου) [house], saying to him, Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master. 50 But when Jesus heard [it], he answered him, saying, Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.

Luke also contains another reference, in a very different context, to this synagogue ruler position:

Luke 13:10-17 

10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up [herself]. 12 And when Jesus saw her, he called [her to him], and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. 13 And he laid [his] hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. 14 And the ruler of the synagogue (ἀρχισυνάγωγος) answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. 15 The Lord then answered him, and said, [Thou] hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or [his] ass from the stall, and lead [him] away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? 17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.

Notice carefully that this synagogue rulership role was consistent with Jesus teaching there, although this leader seems to have considered it appropriate to correct Jesus' work as a healer.

Acts 13:13-15 

13 Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. 14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue (συναγωγὴν) on the sabbath day, and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue (ἀρχισυνάγωγοι) sent unto them, saying, [Ye] men [and] brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.

Notice that in this case there are multiple synagogue-rulers of one synagogue.  The next passage in Acts suggests the same kind of arrangement in another city:

Acts 18:7-17 

7 And he departed thence, and entered into a certain [man's] house, named Justus, [one] that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue (συναγωγῇ). 8 And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue (ἀρχισυνάγωγος), believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized. 9 Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: 10 For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. 11 And he continued [there] a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. 12 And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat, 13 Saying, This [fellow] persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law. 14 And when Paul was now about to open [his] mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O [ye] Jews, reason would that I should bear with you: 15 But if it be a question of words and names, and [of] your law, look ye [to it]; for I will be no judge of such [matters]. 16 And he drave them from the judgment seat. 17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue (ἀρχισυνάγωγον), and beat [him] before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.

Notice that both Crispus and Sosthenes have the same title, presumably in the same Corinthians synagogue.  This, admittedly, is less clear than Acts 13, but seems to suggest the same arrangement, particularly when read after Acts 13.


Returning to the account of Jairus, recorded in Mark 5 and Luke 8, Matthew also has an account. In Matthew, however, Jairus is just referred to as a "ruler" (ἄρχων) without the "synagogue" qualification:

Matthew 9:18-24 

18 While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler (ἄρχων), and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. 19 And Jesus arose, and followed him, and [so did] his disciples. [20-22 Jesus heals the woman with the issue of blood] 23 And when Jesus came into the ruler's (ἄρχοντος) house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise, 24 He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn.

Of course, not all New Testament uses of ἄρχων (archon) are necessarily shorthand for one of the ἀρχισυνάγωγοι (archisunagogoi).  For example, Βεελζεβοὺλ (Beelzeboul aka Beelzebub) is described as being the ἄρχων (archon) of the demons (Matthew 12:24 & Luke 11:15, cf. Matthew 9:34 & Mark 3:22 where he is referenced but not named).  Presumably this is the same ἄρχων (archon) of the world mentioned in John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11. Likewise, this may be the same ἄρχοντα τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ ἀέρος (prince of the power of the air) that is mentioned in Ephesians 2:2. There is also reference to the leaders of the heathen, which I discuss below.

Focusing on the references within the Jewish word, there is reference to an ἄρχων (archon) as a judicial figure (Luke 12:58), where it seems to be a synonym for κριτής (kritis meaning judge).  

There are also several other uses of individual Israelites referred to as an ἄρχων (archon): 

Luke 14:1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief (ἀρχόντων) Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him.

Luke 18:18 And a certain ruler (ἄρχων) asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler (ἄρχων) of the Jews:

Acts 7:27 But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler (ἄρχοντα) and a judge (δικαστὴν) over us?

Acts 7:35 This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler (ἄρχοντα) and a judge (δικαστὴν)? the same did God send to be a ruler (ἄρχοντα) and a deliverer (λυτρωτὴν) by the hand of the angel which appeared to him in the bush.

Acts 23:1-5 

1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council (συνεδρίῳ), said, Men [and] brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. 2 And the high priest (ἀρχιερεὺς) Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. 3 Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, [thou] whited wall: for sittest thou (κάθῃ) to judge (κρίνων) me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? 4 And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest (ἀρχιερέα)? 5 Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest (ἀρχιερεύς): for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler (Ἄρχοντα) of thy people.

The main takeaway from this study is that "ruler" itself was not necessarily a synonym for the ruler of the synagogue, but could broadly encompass any kind of authority figure.  It is interesting that Paul seems to recognize that Ananias is part of the Sanhedrin but did not consider him a "ruler" until he was informed that he was an arch-priest. 

The plural references are likewise somewhat inconsistent:

Luke 23:13 And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests (ἀρχιερεῖς) and the rulers (ἄρχοντας) and the people (λαὸν),

Luke 23:35 And the people stood beholding. And the rulers (ἄρχοντες) also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.

Luke 24:20 And how the chief priests (ἀρχιερεῖς) and our rulers (ἄρχοντες) delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him.

John 7:26 But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Do the rulers (ἄρχοντες) know indeed that this is the very Christ?

John 7:48 Have any of the rulers (ἀρχόντων) or of the Pharisees believed on him?

John 12:42 Nevertheless among the chief rulers (ἀρχόντων) also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue (ἀποσυνάγωγοι):

Acts 3:17 And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers (ἄρχοντες). 

Acts 4:1-8 

1 And as they spake unto the people (λαὸν), the priests (ἱερεῖς), and the captain of the temple (στρατηγὸς τοῦ ἱεροῦ), and the Sadducees, came upon them, 2 Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put [them] in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide. 4 Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand. 5 And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers (ἄρχοντας), and elders (πρεσβυτέρους), and scribes (γραμματεῖς), 6 And Annas the high priest (ἀρχιερεὺς), and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest (ἀρχιερατικοῦ), were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers (Ἄρχοντες) of the people (λαοῦ), and elders (πρεσβύτεροι) of Israel,

Acts 4:26 The kings (βασιλεῖς) of the earth stood up, and the rulers (ἄρχοντες) were gathered together against the Lord (Κυρίου), and against his Christ (Χριστοῦ).

Acts 13:27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers (ἄρχοντες), because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

One observation comes from John 12:42, where people are identified as rulers but nevertheless are worried about being de-synagogued, a concept discussed further below. This implies that the leadership they exercised was not monarchical but either democratic (through consent of the people) or more likely synodal/presbyterian (as Jesus was popular among the people, but less so among the elite).

Another observation is that in some places there seems to be a line drawn between the archpriests and rulers and a second line between those two groups and the people.  

A further observation is the fact that Peter seems to use "rulers of the people" and "elders" in parallel.  It's hard to be dogmatic about whether he's using them distinctively or a rhetorical piling on.

As promised above, there are some references that are not necessarily to Israelites.  For example, there is a reference to rulers in Acts 14:5, which seems to be contextually ambiguous as to whether it means the specifically Jewish rulers or the rulers of Iconium.  There are some further references to the heathen rulers with the same word (with some additional discussion in the comparison to Christianity section farther below): 

Acts 16:19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers (ἄρχοντας), 

Romans 13:3 For rulers (ἄρχοντες) are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

There is also a case where presumably both Heathen and Israelites were intended:

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 

6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes (ἀρχόντων) of this world (αἰῶνος), that come to nought: 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, [even] the hidden [wisdom], which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 Which none of the princes (ἀρχόντων) of this world (αἰῶνος) knew: for had they known [it], they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

I interpret this as saying that the wisdom of God was hidden from the Great Sanhedrin as well as Herod and Pontius Pilate, perhaps also intending to include Beelzebub among their number.


The term, ἀποσυνάγωγος (aposunagogos), which means to be expelled from the synagogue, is used thrice in John:

John 9:22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed (συνετέθειντο) already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue (ἀποσυνάγωγος). 

John 12:42 Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue (ἀποσυνάγωγοι): 

John 16:2 They shall put you out of the synagogues (ἀποσυναγώγους): yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.

This expulsion from the synagogue was a negative consequence that even ordinary people like the blind man's parents (in John 9:22) were worried about.  It was something that the rulers themselves feared (John 12:42).  It was serious to the point that it was mentioned in the same breath with martyrdom (John 16:2).  To the focus of this study, though, what is notable is that it seems to have been an exercise of authority by agreement, not monarchy.

"Captain of the Temple" 

Luke (in Luke and Acts) uses the term στρατηγός (strategos), which is a technical term for general or governor.   For example, without "of the temple," the term is used for the colonial leaders of Philippi:

Act 16:19-40 

19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew [them] into the marketplace unto the rulers (ἄρχοντας), 20 And brought them to the magistrates (στρατηγοῖς), saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, 21 And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. 22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates (στρατηγοὶ) rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat [them]. 23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast [them] into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: 24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. [25-34 Philippian jailor conversion] 35 And when it was day, the magistrates (στρατηγοὶ) sent the serjeants (ῥαβδούχους), saying, Let those men go. 36 And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates (στρατηγοὶ) have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace. 37 But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast [us] into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. 38 And the serjeants (ῥαβδοῦχοι) told these words unto the magistrates (στρατηγοῖς): and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans. 39 And they came and besought them, and brought [them] out, and desired [them] to depart out of the city. 40 And they went out of the prison, and entered into [the house of] Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

In this context, the strategois (governors/magistrates) seem to be a more specific designation for the archontas (rulers).

In the other three passages, the references are to the captain(s) of the temple:

Luke 22:4&52 And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests (ἀρχιερεῦσιν) and captains (στρατηγοῖς), how he might betray him unto them. ... Then Jesus said unto the chief priests (ἀρχιερεῖς), and captains of the temple (στρατηγοὺς τοῦ ἱεροῦ), and the elders (πρεσβυτέρους), which were come to him, Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves?

Acts 4:1 And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple (στρατηγὸς τοῦ ἱεροῦ), and the Sadducees, came upon them,

[Act 5:24-26 KJV] 24 Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple (στρατηγὸς τοῦ ἱεροῦ) and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow. 25 Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. 26 Then went the captain (στρατηγὸς) with the officers (ὑπηρέταις), and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.

From the context, it seems that the "captain of the temple" is essentially a leader of physical security for the temple.  The "officers" seem to represent a subordinate role.    


The word ὑπηρέτης (huperetes), often translated as "officer," is portrayed as being a subordinate official in a variety of passages.  This makes sense from the etymology of "under" and "to row."  

In the majority of the passages, it refers to a subordinate military-type person (the terms "thugs," "henchmen," or "goons" would be too pejorative, while "police officer" would be too formal and limited):

Matthew 5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, (ὑπηρέτῃ) and thou be cast into prison.

Matthew 26:58 But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest's palace, and went in, and sat with the servants (ὑπηρετῶν), to see the end.

Mark 14:54&65 And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants (ὑπηρετῶν ), and warmed himself at the fire. ... And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants (ὑπηρέται) did strike him with the palms of their hands.

John 7:32&45-46 The Pharisees heard that the people murmured such things concerning him; and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers (ὑπηρέτας ) to take him. ... 45 Then came the officers (ὑπηρέται) to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him? 46 The officers (ὑπηρέται) answered, Never man spake like this man.

John 18:3, 12, 18, 22, and 36 

3 Judas then, having received a band [of men] and officers (ὑπηρέτας) from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. ... 12 Then the band and the captain and officers (ὑπηρέται) of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, ... 18 And the servants (δοῦλοι) and officers (ὑπηρέται) stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself. ... 22 And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers (ὑπηρετῶν) which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? ... 36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants (ὑπηρέται) fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

John 19:6 When the chief priests therefore and officers (ὑπηρέται) saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify [him], crucify [him]. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify [him]: for I find no fault in him.

Act 5:22&26 But when the officers (ὑπηρέται) came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told, ... Then went the captain with the officers (ὑπηρέταις), and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.

As you can see from this summary, the "officers" were the one who, when push came to shove, were expected to do the pushing and shoving.  They were of a sufficiently low social class to be associating with the slaves in John 18:18.  Moreover, they were the ones entrusted with moving convicts from the judge to the jail, presumably at the judge's order.

Within the context of the synagogue, however, there was a different connotation or use of the word.  This sense is translated by the KJV translators as "minister," though presumably something like "assistant" might capture the sense well.  This use (unlike the preceding ones) seems to have spilled across into Christianity.

We can see this in five passages, one of which is from the Jewish synagogue:

Luke 1:2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers (ὑπηρέται) of the word;

Luke 4:20 And he closed the book, and he gave [it] again to the minister (ὑπηρέτῃ), and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.

Acts 13:5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to [their] minister (ὑπηρέτην).

Acts 26:16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister (ὑπηρέτην) and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;

1 Corinthians 4:1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers (ὑπηρέτας) of Christ, and stewards (οἰκονόμους) of the mysteries of God.

Like the role of deacon (servant), the role of "minister" is akin to that of a steward.  It's not a position of absolutely no authority or importance, in fact in the case of the minister in Luke 4:20, he seems to have been entrusted with the physical care of the Isaiah scroll.


There are so many references to one or more scribe (γραμματεύς grammateus) in the New Testament, that it would be hard to discuss them all in detail.  The role was one associated with wisdom, erudition, and study.  For example, Paul says:

1 Corinthians 1:20 Where is the wise (σοφός)? where is the scribe (γραμματεύς)? where is the disputer (συζητητὴς) of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

That, however, is the lone use of the word after Acts 23.  


The role of elder (πρεσβύτερος presbuteros) is referenced numerous times with reference to the Jewish order.  The "tradition of the elders" (Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:3&5) and "For by it the elders obtained a good report" (Hebrews 11:2) seem to be exceptional uses of meaning something like "men of old times."  Likewise, "elder son" in Luke 15:25 just means older son and "old men" in Acts 2:17 is just to distinguish from young men (probably the same is intended by Peter at 1 Peter 5:5 and 1 Timothy 5:1-2).  (I omit the otherwise exceptional usage at John 8:9 as not original.)  

In the Jewish system, the elders are consistently mentioned alongside the archpriests and/or scribes (Matthew 16:21, 21:23, 26:3,47,57,59, 27:1,3,12,&20, 28:11-12, Mark 8:31, 11:27, 14:43&53, 15:1, Luke 9:22, 20:1, 22:52, Acts 4:5,8&23, 6:12, Acts 23:14, 24:1, 25:15). Perhaps the lone exception to this principle is Luke 7:3, where a centurion sends to the "elders of the Jews" a request to heal his dying servant. The elders then asked Jesus to fulfil this request because the centurion loved Israel and had built a synagogue for them. 

In Acts, we see a transition to references to Christian elders, now usually alongside Apostles and always in the plural:

Acts 11:30 Which also they did, and sent it to the elders (πρεσβυτέρους) by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

Acts 14:23 And when they had ordained them elders (πρεσβυτέρους) in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23 

2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders (πρεσβυτέρους) about this question. ... 4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and [of] the apostles and elders,(πρεσβυτέρων) and they declared all things that God had done with them. ... 6 And the apostles and elders (πρεσβύτεροι) came together for to consider of this matter. ... 22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders (πρεσβυτέροις), with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; [namely], Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23 And they wrote [letters] by them after this manner; The apostles and elders (πρεσβύτεροι) and brethren [send] greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

Acts 16:4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders (πρεσβυτέρων) which were at Jerusalem.

Acts 20:17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders (πρεσβυτέρους) of the church.

Acts 21:18 And the [day] following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders (πρεσβύτεροι) were present.

This pattern is consistent with Paul's James' and Peter's epistles:

1 Timothy 5:17, 19 Let the elders (πρεσβύτεροι) that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. ... Against an elder (πρεσβυτέρου) receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

Titus 1:5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders (πρεσβυτέρους) in every city, as I had appointed thee:

James 5:14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders (πρεσβυτέρους) of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

1 Peter 5:1 The elders (Πρεσβυτέρους) which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder (συμπρεσβύτερος), and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:

Notice that the one time Paul refers to an elder in the singular it is in the context of charging him.  Likewise, Peter refers to himself as a co-elder.  John likewise appears to refer to himself either as an elder:

2 John 1:1 The elder (ΠΡΕΣΒΥΤΕΡΟΣ) unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth;

3 John 1:1 The elder (ΠΡΕΣΒΥΤΕΡΟΣ) unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.

Finally, there are the twenty-four elders referred to (usually collectively) at Revelation 4:4,10, 5:5,6,8,11&14, 7:11,13&16, 14:3, and 19:4.


The New Testament also references the concept of a "chief seat" (πρωτοκαθεδρία) four times (three are synoptic parallel accounts).  All four references are to chief-seats (plural).  All four references are negative.

Matthew 23:1-12 

1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' (Μωϋσέως) seat (καθέδρας): 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay [them] on men's shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats (πρωτοκαθεδρίας) in the synagogues (συναγωγαῖς), 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, [even] Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no [man] your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, [even] Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

The other synoptic accounts are terser:

Mark 12:38-40 

38 And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and [love] salutations in the marketplaces, 39 And the chief seats (πρωτοκαθεδρίας) in the synagogues (συναγωγαῖς), and the uppermost rooms at feasts: 40 Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.

Luke is quite similar:

Luke 20:45-47 

45 Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples, 46 Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats (πρωτοκαθεδρίας) in the synagogues (συναγωγαῖς), and the chief rooms at feasts; 47 Which devour widows' houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.

Luke has one further mention of the chief-seats:

Luke 11:42-44 

42 But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 43 Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats (πρωτοκαθεδρίαν) in the synagogues (συναγωγαῖς), and greetings in the markets. 44 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over [them] are not aware [of them].

By Contrast, First Century Christianity

Within the Christian community, ἄρχων (archon) is used only of Christ:

Revelation 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, [who is] the faithful witness, [and] the first begotten of the dead, and the prince (ἄρχων) of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

Jesus disparaged Christian leadership from being archon-ic with comments like those found in Matthew 20:24-28.

Matthew 20:24-28

24 And when the ten heard [it], they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. 25 But Jesus called them [unto him], and said, Ye know that the princes (ἄρχοντες) of the Gentiles exercise dominion over (κατακυριεύουσιν) them, and they that are great exercise authority upon (κατεξουσιάζουσιν) them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great (μέγας) among you, let him be your minister (διάκονος); 27 And whosoever will be chief (πρῶτος) among you, let him be your servant (δοῦλος): 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

There is a slightly different wording, with the same general sense, in Mark:

Mark 10:41-45 

41 And when the ten heard [it], they began to be much displeased with James and John. 42 But Jesus called them [to him], and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted (δοκοῦντες) to rule over (ἄρχειν) the Gentiles exercise lordship over (κατακυριεύουσιν) them; and their great ones (μεγάλοι) exercise authority upon (κατεξουσιάζουσιν) them. 43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great (μέγας) among you, shall be your minister (διάκονος): 44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest (πρῶτος), shall be servant (δοῦλος) of all. 45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Peter himself reiterates the Lord's point in describing the presbyters who "bishop" the flock of God:

1 Peter 5:1-4 

1 The elders (Πρεσβυτέρους) which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder (συμπρεσβύτερος), and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight [thereof] (ἐπισκοποῦντες), not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over (κατακυριεύοντες) [God's] heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Likewise, Paul only uses ἄρχω (archo) to refer to Christ's rule:

Romans 15:12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over (ἄρχειν)  the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.

Instead, Peter and Paul use terms like "minister" (see above) and "steward" (οἰκονόμος oikonomos).  The primary authoritative title after Apostle in the New Testament is "elder," which is used interchangeably with bishop (see my previous post).