Reapplied Prophecy, Marcion on Matthew 5:17, Atoning Marriage

1. Emanuel Tov, “The Septuagint,” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 162.

“Additionally, Isaiah contains allusions to historical occurrences which indicates that it was translated [into Greek] in the middle of the second century B.C.E.”

I’m not sure what to say about this, but it interests me because it shows how many interpreters try to see ancient prophecy in light of their own time. My Armstrongite tradition viewed Assyria as a united Germany, and Israel as the United States (in part at least). Joe Good, a Messianic Jew, sees Assyria as Russia, and he makes other connections between ancient and modern nations. Many biblical scholars assert that Isaiah’s prophecies were for his own day, meaning that (for the prophet) Assyria meant Assyria, and Israel meant Israel. According to this reasoning, Isaiah expected the paradisaical Kingdom of God to come in his own day. Maybe, but we see in the Bible the reapplication of prophecies to new situations.

When did the LXX of Isaiah respect the historical context of Isaiah? And when does it read prophecies in light of its (the LXX’s) own time? This would be an interesting question to pursue.

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 485.

Marcion [in the second century C.E.] rejected all the books of the Old Testament, and wrested Christ’s word in Matt. 5:17 into the very opposite declaration: ‘I am come not to fulfill the law and the prophets, but to destroy them.'”

That’s kind of a stretch, isn’t it? It reminds me of the time I read a Church of Christ Questions and Answers book, and the author was asked what Matthew 5:17 meant. He offered some spin on why it doesn’t mean we have to keep the law. When I told one of my relatives about this, he mimicked the author: “Actually, it means that Jesus did destroy the law…”

Christians who don’t believe we have to observe the law literally claim that Jesus fulfilled it, so that’s why we don’t have to follow its literal details. For example, the Sabbath pointed to Christ, so we don’t have to rest every seventh day. Nowadays, in their minds, we keep the Sabbath when we rest in Christ.

But Marcion didn’t even believe that. For him, God had nothing to do with the Old Testament, but the New Testament was God’s actual revelation. Consequently, he didn’t think that the Old Testament pointed to Christ. The church fathers, by contrast, did believe in the revelation of the Old Testament, even though they didn’t literally observe Old Testament rituals.

3. Jacob Neusner, Judaism’s Story of Creation: Scripture, Halakhah, Aggadah (Boston: Brill, 2000) 241.

“It has been taught on Tannaitic authority: Whoever has no wife lives…without atonement…Without atonement: ‘And he shall make atonement for himself and for his house’ [meaning his wife, so if he cannot atonement for his wife, he cannot make atonement for himself] (Lev. 16:11).”

Neusner is quoting Genesis Rabbah. I’m not sure what this passage means. Suppose a Jew observes the Day of Atonement and repents, but (for whatever reason) he can’t find a wife. Must he continually walk around with the guilt of sin?

Maybe a lot of marriages were arranged in those days. But the dating game also existed, in some way, shape, and form. At Jewish Theological Seminary, I attended a lecture on a Talmudic passage about how women could attract a man: they lifted up their glass to indicate their availability. I remember this because the presentation had good visual aids.

Jews treat God’s command for man to “be fruitful and multiply” in Genesis 1 as an actual command, not a suggestion. Christianity, however, is different. Of course, Jesus didn’t marry an actual human being, but he married the church (Ephesians 5:23). But Jesus mentioned eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:12). Paul presents singleness as a legitimate option for Christians (I Corinthians 7). This may have set the stage for the Christian view that the clergy should be celibate.

But Jesus was not the first to see being a eunuch as an option. Isaiah 56:4 says eunuchs can serve God. Wisdom of Solomon 3 says godly eunuchs are better than people who bear bad kids. This openness to being a eunuch may have arisen from necessity. Regarding Isaiah 56, that passage may address eunuchs who returned from exile. In Babylon or Persia, they were made into eunuchs, possibly against their will. In the time of Isaiah 56, they have returned to the holy land, and they wonder if they can worship God in their state.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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