Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Long live reason! Return to the Scriptures, America!

Atheists billboard 

Apparently, the American Atheists have grown tired of being falsely accused of waging a "war on Christmas," and thus have decided to do something to warrant such accusations by launching a direct attack on the holiday, erecting this billboard on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel.  Judging by the billboard, at least, their attack is a bit toothless.  I hope that every Christian will stand together in support of the billboard's claim.  The notion that the Magi visited Christ as an infant in the manger is, of course, a myth.  A reading perfectly compatible with "reason" is found in an ancient source often disregarded by modern-day Christians.  See, e.g., Matthew 2:11 (referring to Magi visiting Mary and "child"), 2:16 ("When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.").  Thank you to the American Atheists for helping bring attention to our nation's woeful level of biblical illiteracy.

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And I even warned them about what happens when you drink the atheist Starbucks coffee.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Nov 29, 2010 12:59:10 PM

Good point. Actually the story of the Magi is so unsurprising that one would think even an atheist could understand it.

One of the greatest centers of learning in ancient times was the university city of Babylon. Ambitious and fortunate young men gathered there from all nations to master the latest in learning and to showcase their formidable talents. It was the University of Chicago, complete with business and other professional schools, of its day.

In a world without private enterprise of any significant scale, the chief outlet for the ambitious was to serve as the advisor to a chieftain or king. The way to catch on in the palace was to start with the young Prince, as his tutor, and graduate with him into the throne room.

When the sign appeared in the heavens, announcing that a new royal prince and heir apparent had been delivered in Israel, a few of the young men, presumably near their graduation, decided to apply for the job of royal tutor. The sign seems to have been Halley's comet appearing in the "House of Israel." The atronomers of the time had divided the sky into "houses," corresponding to the nations of the world. A significant astral event fortold an equally significant Earthly event, and the nation to be so blessed or cursed corresponded to the house where the event was sighted.

So off to fame and fortune in Israel they went. They would have been well aware of the biblical promise of a Messiah, and may have concluded that the birth was that of the promised one. In any case, they logically traveled first to the palace to meet the new prince. It is interesting, and certainly testifies to their perspicacity, that when directed to a humble barn in Bethlehem they went without reported hesitation. They simply took the advice of the angel, whose message signified the overthrow of the Herodian dynasty, and prudently returned home by another route.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbonsj | Nov 29, 2010 1:14:55 PM

"They would have been well aware of the biblical promise of a Messiah, and may have concluded that the birth was that of the promised one."

Joel,

I think you missed the point of Rob Vischer's post. But could you cite the biblical prophecy the Magi would have been aware of?

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 29, 2010 1:37:33 PM

David,

The Book of Isaiah, for starters. Joel

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbonsj | Nov 29, 2010 5:13:13 PM

Joel,

I think you are taking "prophecies" cited in the New Testament (and later) and assuming they had been discovered in Hebrew scripture prior to the birth of Jesus, and people were just waiting around for them to be fulfilled. I am no expert here, but I am confident in saying that before the time of Jesus, Jews would not have cited Isaiah 7:14 and claimed the Messiah would be born of a virgin. The same would be true of many other "prophecies" allegedly fulfilled in the New Testament accounts. And of course it is basically a tenet of Catholicism that the Jews were fundamentally mistaken in their vision of what the Messiah would be like, so how the Magi were expected to have known anything of significance about Jesus is problematic.

You haven't given much to go by here, but I don't believe your views about Jesus as Messiah would be in harmony with contemporary Catholic biblical scholarship -- although of course many Catholics accuse some of the toweringly great Catholic biblical scholars of the last few decades (such as Raymond E. Brown) of being heretics.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 29, 2010 6:14:25 PM

David,

Maybe I don't understand your point, but I find this statement of yours curious: "I am no expert here, but I am confident in saying that before the time of Jesus, Jews would not have cited Isaiah 7:14 and claimed the Messiah would be born of a virgin. The same would be true of many other "prophecies" allegedly fulfilled in the New Testament accounts."

Prophecies are by their very nature possible of multiple interpretations. Sure, there were probably some who didn't think that the virgin birth line of Isaiah applied to the Messiah, or that this line should be interpreted differently. Others probably didn't think the Bethlehem line from Micah applied to the Messiah, or that this line should be interpreted differently. But why do you have the confidence that it would be unconceivable for a Jew before the time of Jesus to think that these should be interpreted as applying to the Messiah? We know that a Jew at the time of Jesus (ie, St. Matthew), certainly thought that these prophecies applied to the Messiah because Matthew explicitly said so in the Gospel.

Posted by: Thales | Nov 30, 2010 10:32:25 AM

Thales,

What I am saying, and I will just put it bluntly, is that there were no Magi, there was no star, and the alleged prophecies from Hebrew Scripture that Jesus "fulfilled" were discovered (invented) after the fact by combing through scripture looking for useful phrases or sentences, or alternatively, material from the scriptures was used in a literary fashion and stories about Jesus were shaped to fit it. This is not a shocking position that would cause modern Catholic biblical scholars to gasp. Here's a passage from The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, which, having been published in 1990, is really not new any more:

**********
The novelty of the Christian revolution is not well perceived in a scheme of interpretation that sees the relationship of OT to NT as prediction and fulfillment. Without denying the unity of history and of themes, we maintain that the concrete historical reality of Jesus Christ is literally predicted nowhere in the OT. Jesus exceeds the limits of the OT knowledge of God, for in his own words, one cannot put new wine into old wineskins. The radical novelty of his person and mission can be seen in the very designation Messiah/Christ. The early Church proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, well aware that no figure like him can be found in the OT. He is the Messiah and is recognize as such not because he can be identified with any particular prediction or with a number of predictions taken together, but because he unifies in his person all the ideas that are called messianic. The unification transforms some of these ideas profoundly.

Similar developments can be pointed out in other key ideas. The idea of fulfillment, often mentioned in the NT, is not of necessity the fulfillment of a prediction. Hope or destiny can be fulfilled; promise can be fulfilled, and promise is a more accurate word to designate the relation of OT to NT . . . .
**********

John P. Meier, in the first volume of A Marginal View, calls the story of the Magi and the flight into (and return from) Egypt "highly questionable." Raymond E. Brown in The Birth of the Messiah says that "those who wish to maintain the historicity of the Matthean magi story are faced with nigh insuperable obstacles."

So I feel I am in excellent company in saying that there never were any Magi, and the conjectures of Joel in his message of Nov 29, 2010 1:14:55 PM are extraordinarily improbable and not in harmony with contemporary Catholic biblical scholarship. Of course, more than a few people think contemporary biblical scholars are heretics, but I am definitely not of that view.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 30, 2010 8:51:28 PM

David,

Heh, you're one of those people. Well, there is good scholarship to the contrary saying that there were Magi and there was a flight into Egypt. I guess we'll just have to let our experts go at it in a cage fight. But seriously, are you also someone who thinks that there wasn't actually a person named Jesus who was born of a virgin in Bethlehem?

As for your passage from the commentary, I don't think it proves what you think it does. Sure, the actual Jesus exceeds the limits of OT knowledge of God - I'm sure the second Person of the Trinity becoming man was inconceivable to all OT readers - but that doesn't mean that the prophecies of the OT didn't apply to Jesus or that a Jew at the time of Jesus couldn't recognize that the OT prophecies fit to Jesus's situation. St. Matthew's Gospel is chock-full of OT references being tied back to Jesus. Now, I'm not sure where you stand on its authorship, but I think most scholars trace its authorship to the Jewish-Christian community of the first century. So there is an example of an almost-contemporary Jew recognizing certain OT prophecies as applying to Jesus.

Are you saying that prophecies weren't fully understood or were misunderstood before they were fulfilled? Well, then I agree with you. Jesus's prophecy "Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in 3 days" wasn't understood by anyone until after the Resurrection. But that doesn't mean there wasn't a prophecy in the first place. Are you saying that the OT prophecies mentioned in Matthew's Gospel were invented? I don't understand what that means - the OT scriptures existed before everything with Jesus happened. Are you saying that the OT passages are not actually prophecies, but are instead passages that get discovered by the Gospel author after Jesus happened, who then sees the passages as being applicable to Jesus? Then I think we simply have a semantic dispute over the term "prophecy."

Posted by: Thales | Nov 30, 2010 10:44:56 PM

David, and the wonderfully named Thales,

You both should read my former professor John Meier's great books in his Marginal Jew series. They will give a more generous and less culturally insecure background for all these matters.

In addition I'd like to reflect on the underlying issue here. I saw a very strange debate on C-SPAN run by something called the Fixed Point Foundation pitting Christopher Hitchens, giving real evidence of mortality, and a sort of scientific philosopher from the famous or infamous Discovery Institute, depending on your view, What I was struck by was not Hitchens's atheistic assertions for which he is well known, but the blunt way he described the reality of human life. All that separates us from animals he averred, is rationality. Well, my experience in life with other people is that rationality is pretty low on the realistic list of major characteristics that I would attribute to them. To such an extent that I do not think it strictly rational to make the assertion. What is amazing about human beings is our language capacity, emotional bonds, pre-rational cleverness, and, yes, the ability to fuse these somewhat scattered abilities with the rather thins reed of rational thought that we all seem to possess, of course in varying degrees. The question then arises-- what is religion in this mix?? I'd say it is as natural to us as the languages we speak. Some speak it elegantly, some crudely. It can be used for aggressive purposes, or peaceful ones. It transcends individuals, and yet individuals cannot transcend it, for it transcends us. We seem to have the requirement of speaking some language --that is language of religion. We speak them, to a certain extent, even by negating them. This is what I think Mr. Hitchens does not get. Still, I don;t think there is any threat whatsoever in people proposing another language, even a reducing one, as long as it takes it place as just one more. In this sense, getting rid of one of the most touching grammars we have had, the structure of the Christmas story would seem to be a fool's errand.

Posted by: Peter Paul Fuchs | Nov 30, 2010 11:59:38 PM

Thales,

I am saying that the Old Testament "prophecies" cited in the New Testament were not predictions of the future. They were not hints to the Jews about how to recognize Jesus when he came -- hints that the Jews overlooked or misinterpreted and still refuse to acknowledge the meaning of.

I have no doubt that Jesus existed, and I am not discussing here whether or not he knew his own future or made predictions. I am talking only about the Old Testament "prophecies" cited by New Testament authors.

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 1, 2010 7:39:31 AM

Peter,

I am not proposing we get rid of the Christmas story. Actually, there are two Christmas stories, since Matthew and Luke's accounts cannot really be harmonized or blended into one consistent, coherent story. It does not bother me particularly that people actually do accept a mishmash of Matthew and Luke as "the" Christmas story. But if we are to take the attitude that it's such a lovely story we should not look too closely at it, it would be John P. Meier's four volumes (and counting) in the Marginal Jew series that would be a fool's errand. I was quoting the first volume directly when I noted that Meier said the story of the magi was "highly questionable."

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 1, 2010 7:50:18 AM

David,

I'm honestly puzzled. Are we having a semantic dispute about the word "prophecy"? Consider Isaiah 7:14. In it, a man called Isaiah, who calls himself a prophet and who is called by others as a prophet, says "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." The man called Isaiah speaking this clearly intends it to be a prediction about the future. The writer of the Bible book clearly intends to be recording an instance of a prophet making a prediction about the future. Are you saying this isn't this a prophecy? What is it then? And what is your definition of prophecy?

Posted by: Thales | Dec 1, 2010 9:34:06 AM

David,

I think I should quote Homer Simpson, and say "D'OH!". Sorry, wasn't reading very closely.....late a night.

Posted by: Peter Paul Fuchs | Dec 1, 2010 9:50:56 AM

Thales,

Look at Isaiah 7:10-16

10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz:
11 Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!
12 But Ahaz answered, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!"
13 Then he said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God?
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
15 He shall be living on curds and honey by the time he learns to reject the bad and choose the good.
16 For before the child learns to reject the bad and choose the good, the land of those two kings whom you dread shall be deserted.

First of all, this is addressed to Ahaz. Isaiah is trying to convince Ahaz that he should put his faith in God regarding the matter of wars and alliances currently taking place. He tells Ahaz to ask for any sign he wants to convince him to have faith. Ahaz refuses, so Isaiah offers a sign from God anyway.

Now, the translation I copied above is from the New American Bible, and it uses the word "virgin" in verse 14, but in Hebrew, the word simply means "young woman." (Of course, a young woman *can* be a virgin, but the Hebrew does not imply that "virgin" is meant.) It was translated into Greek in the Septuagint as "virgin." So it is not a prediction, in Hebrew, of a virgin birth. Matthew relies on the Septuagint, so he says "virgin."

Was Jesus ever called Immanuel? And what does verse 15 mean? It is translated in so many different ways, it is clear nobody is quite sure. But what has it got to do with Jesus? Is there anything in the New Testament about Jesus eating curds and honey? What's more important, how does the phrase "by the time he learns to reject the bad and choose the good" apply to God incarnate? Did Jesus (God) learn to reject the bad and choose the good?

And what about verse 16? A time is predicted during the life of the child when the "land of those two kings whom you dread shall be deserted" -- the two lands being Syria and Israel. What has this got to do with Jesus?

What is being predicted is the birth of a boy child, probably Ahaz's son, in the immediate future. Why would Ahaz, King of Judah, worrying about Syria and Israel, be offered a sign that was not to happen until centuries in the future?

Isaiah was talking to Ahaz about events taking place at the time, and in the near future. Under the circumstances, the prediction of the birth of Jesus would have made absolutely no sense to Ahaz. To turn this one sentence into a prophecy about Jesus is to take it utterly out of context even of the Greek mistranslation that Matthew quotes. In context there is no hint of a prediction to come true in 700 years, and even if there was a hint, it is not a prediction of a Messiah.

I think it is very unfortunate that the NAB chose to go with "virgin" in verse 14, since that is reading back into the Old Testament a Christian interpretation that has no basis in the original Hebrew text.

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 1, 2010 1:57:18 PM

David,

Wait, I thought your position was that Isaiah 7:14 was not a prophecy. Now it seems that in your last comment, you grant that Isaiah 7:14 was a prophecy - but you just disagree with Matthew's Gospel about whether the prophecy applies to Jesus or not. That's a fine position for you to take, but that's not your original position.

It's pretty clear that the OT books contain prophets who make prophecies about future events. And I think it's pretty clear that readers of the OT both before Jesus's time and after Jesus's time had all kinds of theories about what fulfilled these prophecies - some thought they referred to Jesus, some thought they referred to a Messiah but not Jesus, and some people thought they referred to something else. If you don't think Isaiah 7:14 or Micah 5:2 is a prophecy that refers to Jesus, that's your opinion. And your opinion differs from that of a Jewish author from the time of Jesus who thought that these prophecies applied to Jesus. But it was nonsensical for you to claim that the OT prophecies cited in the NT weren't actually prophecies.

Posted by: Thales | Dec 1, 2010 2:50:57 PM

Just as an aside: there is another dimension to this discussion of the OT being a prophecy of the NT. Mainstream Catholic biblical scholarship, both contemporary and pre-contemporary, recognizes the OT as divinely inspired and that the NT is a fulfillment of the OT. That means that even events described by an OT author that aren't explicitly spoken or written prophecies made by an OT prophet can be prefigurements or prophecies of Jesus - in other words, what was being described by the OT author was a prophecy that the OT author was completely oblivious to. (Whether the events actually happened or are simply apocryphal is irrelevant. The Jonah and the whale story is a good example of a "prophecy" of Jesus.) This is a fundamental canon of biblical interpretation going back to Augustine's Interpretation of Scripture.

Posted by: Thales | Dec 1, 2010 3:03:38 PM

Thales,

You say: " . . . what was being described by the OT author was a prophecy that the OT author was completely oblivious to."

I have no time at the moment, but I do not believe you are expressing a view here consistent with contemporary biblical scholarship -- not Catholic biblical scholarship, at least. Also, although the prophets occasionally foretold things, Old Testament prophecy really isn't about predicting the future. That is, if someone asked what was the function of Old Testament prophets, and you answered, "The foretold the future," you would be giving a very poor answer to the question.

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 1, 2010 8:25:55 PM

"The Jonah and the whale story is a good example of a 'prophecy' of Jesus."

No it isn't. :-)

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 1, 2010 8:26:55 PM

David,

That the events, people, and prophecies of the OT foreshadow or prefigure those of the NT, whether the OT author intended this or not? I'm 100% confident that this is entirely consistent with Catholic biblical scholarship.

Also, we weren't discussing the function of the OT prophets. Obviously, they've got a greater role than just foretelling the future. But if someone asked if OT prophets foretold the future, and you answered "no", you would be giving a very incorrect answer to the question.

You said: ""The Jonah and the whale story is a good example of a 'prophecy' of Jesus." No it isn't. :-)"

Well, David, your beef is with Jesus Himself! :-) He's the one that first brought up the example, not me. (See Matt 12:40)

Posted by: Thales | Dec 1, 2010 9:11:13 PM

Thales,

The Gospel of Matthew was written by "Matthew," not by Jesus. See this note in the New American Bible to Matthew 12:40:

*****
See Jonah 2:1. While in Q the sign was simply Jonah's preaching to the Ninevites (Luke 11:30, 32), Matthew here adds Jonah's sojourn in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, a prefigurement of Jesus' sojourn in the abode of the dead and, implicitly, of his resurrection.
*****

So even the NAB, which I consider conservative on matters like this, strongly implies (if not says outright) that Matthew added the idea of "the sign of Jonah." It was not something Jesus said. It is a very apt literary allusion, but there is no reason to claim that the story of Jonah appears in the Old Testament to foreshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 2, 2010 7:29:00 AM

David,

First, I believe that when the NAB editors say "Matthew here adds Jonah's sojourn", they don't mean "Jesus didn't actually talk about Jonah's sojourn, but it was invented out of thin air later by Matthew". Instead they mean: "Jesus talked about Jonah. Luke records this event and Matthew records this event. Matthew, for some reason, included the fact that Jesus talked about Jonah's sojourn. Luke, for some reason, doesn't include the fact that Jesus talked about the sojourn."

Second, assuming that the NAB editors really mean "Jesus didn't actually talk about Jonah's sojourn, but it was invented out of thin air later by Matthew", let me share with you Rule #956 of Catholic Biblical Scholarship: the NAB editors are not the best authority on what Jesus actually said and actually did. When faced with the question "Did Jesus actually mention Jonah's sojourn?" I think the author of Matthew (a Jew writing shortly after the time of Jesus, who is in part trying to give an accurate account of what Jesus actually said and did, and who is working from first-hand or second-hand reports of the actual events) is a better authority on this question than the NAB editors.

Third, if you're going to discount the Gospel's accounts of Jesus making references to the OT, where do you stop? What about when Jesus says that just as Moses lifted up the snake on the cross to save his people, so the Son of Man must be lifted up? (John 3:14) Or when Jesus says to the Pharisees "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites"? (Mark 7:6) Or when Jesus reads the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue and then tells everyone "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."? (Luke 4:21) Are these instances of the Gospel authors inventing OT references that Jesus didn't actually say? For that matter, why even give credence to the Gospel writers when they tell us that Jesus did miracle x, or said "This is my body", or even rose from the dead?

Fourth, the fact that people's actions and words in the OT foreshadow or prefigure those of the NT and are not mere coincidences, because the Scriptures are divinely inspired and so might have meanings beyond those intended by the authors themselves, is such a fundamental rule of Catholic Biblical Scholarship it might even be Rule #1. To learn more about these fundamental rules of Catholic interpretation of the Bible, I refer you to Augustine's book "On Christian Doctrine."

Posted by: Thales | Dec 2, 2010 9:38:18 AM

David,

I missed the easiest rebuttal to your point that "It was not something Jesus said. It is a very apt literary allusion, but there is no reason to claim that the story of Jonah appears in the Old Testament to foreshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus."

Whether Jesus actually said it or not is irrelevant to the argument about whether Jonah is a foreshadowing of Jesus. The Gospel author certainly thinks it's a foreshadowing. And the NAB editors think so too ("a prefigurement") in the very passage you cite!

Posted by: Thales | Dec 2, 2010 12:54:26 PM

Thales,

One of the things biblical scholars do is try to identify the ipsissima verba Jesu (the very words of Jesus). No contemporary Catholic biblical scholar believes Jesus said everything attributed to him in the Gospels. That doesn't mean he didn't say *any* of the things attributed to him.

You are correct, though, that it is irrelevant whether Jesus alluded to Jonah or whether Matthew added his own interpretation. I still maintain, however, that the story of Jonah wasn't a "prediction" of the death and resurrection of Jesus and wasn't a part of Hebrew scripture so that Jesus or Matthew could make a remark about it. I have a good quote on this subject, but it is too long to type tonight.

Watch this space!

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 2, 2010 11:41:23 PM

Thales,

You say: "What about when Jesus says that just as Moses lifted up the snake on the cross to save his people, so the Son of Man must be lifted up? (John 3:14)"

You have supplied the word "cross" here. It is not in John or Numbers.

John 3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

Numbers 21:9 Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered.

There is absolutely no prophecy/prediction at all implied by the description in Numbers of what Moses did. John 3:14 is purely a literary allusion on the part of Jesus (or John). Are you really claiming that Moses put a serpent on a pole so that Jesus could make a reference to it that would be recorded in the Gospel of John? Or that someone reading Numbers before the coming of Jesus would have seen a prophecy -- a prediction of the future -- in 21:9?

If I said, "Just as Moses led his people to freedom, so did Martin Luther King," would you claim that the story of Moses was a prophecy, prediction, or foreshadowing of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement?

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 3, 2010 7:36:44 AM

David,

1. "One of the things biblical scholars do is try to identify the ipsissima verba Jesu (the very words of Jesus). No contemporary Catholic biblical scholar believes Jesus said everything attributed to him in the Gospels. That doesn't mean he didn't say *any* of the things attributed to him."

Well, the onus is on you to show that Matthew's author is incorrectly recording what Jesus said.

2. "I still maintain, however, that the story of Jonah wasn't a "prediction" of the death and resurrection of Jesus and wasn't a part of Hebrew scripture so that Jesus or Matthew could make a remark about it."

You do realize that your argument is not with only me, but with the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew's Gospel, right?

3.Re:cross and Moses's serpent.

So scratch the word "cross" from my description of what Moses did. That's irrelevant to the point I was making.

4. "Or that someone reading Numbers before the coming of Jesus would have seen a prophecy?"

No, I'm not claiming that. You're mixing up topics. We first started discussing the phenomenon of actual prophets making actual prophecies about the future. That was the first topic. I say that there were actual prophets who made actual prophecies about the future, and that pre-Jesus Jews recognized them as such. Then, as an aside, I said that because the Bible is divinely inspired, people and events that happen in the OT foreshadow those of the NT. That is a second topic. I realize that someone before Jesus would not think that the bronze serpent was a prediction of Jesus. However, someone after Jesus could recognize that the bronze serpent was a foreshadowing of Jesus.

4. "Are you really claiming that Moses put a serpent on a pole so that Jesus could make a reference to it that would be recorded in the Gospel of John?"

In a way, yes. Obviously, the reason Moses put a serpent on a pole was to save his people. (This is the literal sense. See Catechism, 116) But in the "spiritual sense" (Catechism, 117), the serpent is a sign of what Jesus was going to do.

5. "If I said, "Just as Moses led his people to freedom, so did Martin Luther King," would you claim that the story of Moses was a prophecy, prediction, or foreshadowing of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement?"

No, MLK is a literary allusion. That is different from what I'm talking about. Why? Because the Bible is divinely inspired. God is the one author. That means the Bible is an entire whole, and one part of the Bible might foreshadow another part.

It seems that you're not familiar with Rule #1 of Catholic Biblical Scholarship. For a quick review, consider the Catechism 101-141.

Some excerpts:
"Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs." (117)

"The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked. Indeed, 'the economy of the Old Testament was deliberately so oriented that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of all men.' (121-122)

"The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son." (128)

Posted by: Thales | Dec 3, 2010 9:50:14 AM

Thales,

Setting aside the argument for just a moment, are you aware that a very important document on the Bible has just been released by the Vatican? The condom statement got so much attention, that the publication was easy to overlook. It is available here:
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20100930_verbum-domini_en.pdf

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 3, 2010 2:23:44 PM

Thales,

We've actually got at least seven topics going here: prophecy in the Old Testament, "fulfillment" of Old Testament prophecies in the New Testament, foreshadowing of New Testament occurrences in the Old Testament, official Church documents on Biblical scholarship (which aren't particularly consistent), work of current Catholic New Testament scholars (which is does not necessarily try to conform to official statements from the Vatican about Biblical scholarship), and what it means for the Bible to be "inspired."

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 3, 2010 2:33:28 PM

Thales,

You say: "No, MLK is a literary allusion. That is different from what I'm talking about. Why? Because the Bible is divinely inspired. God is the one author. That means the Bible is an entire whole, and one part of the Bible might foreshadow another part."

Just a quick question that occurs to me: Are you saying that there can be no foreshadowing in the Old Testament of events that occurred (or will occur) after New Testament times? Are you saying it is *impossible* for Martin Luther King's actions to have been foreshadowed in the Old Testament? Have all the prophecies in the Old Testament come true?

Posted by: David Nickol | Dec 3, 2010 2:37:35 PM

David,

"We've actually got at least seven topics going here...."

Well, I'm keeping them straight. Are you?

You are asking tough questions with no easy yes-or-no answer, and I'm no scholar, but I'll tell you my tentative answers. Also, my answers are going to be based on premises that I don't think you hold, so please understand what my premises are. If you take issue with my answers, I suspect that it's because you disagree with the premises, so we'll have to talk about them.

"Just a quick question that occurs to me: Are you saying that there can be no foreshadowing in the Old Testament of events that occurred (or will occur) after New Testament times?"

Yes, I think. Realize that when I say "foreshadow", that means that God intends it to be a sign which points to the Incarnation and the New Covenant. Since the Incarnation and the establishment of the New Covenant is over (in a sense - though in a sense, the New Covenant won't be complete until the Second Coming and the Final Judgment), then it doesn't really make sense to say that OT foreshadows events that occurred after the establishment of the New Covenant.

"Are you saying it is *impossible* for Martin Luther King's actions to have been foreshadowed in the Old Testament?"

Yes. Again, foreshadowing means that God intends it to be a sign which points to the Incarnation and the establishment of the New Covenant. I'm confident that events in the OT don't point to MLK because MLK is not the culmination of God's plan with His people. If I said MLK led his people to freedom like Moses did, that would be a literary allusion. But God intended the books of the OT and even the events of the OT to point to Jesus, to be a prefigurement of Jesus. That is why I can say "Moses foreshadowed Jesus," but not "Moses foreshadowed MLK". In other words, God intended the events with Moses to be a sign of what was to come with Jesus; He didn't intend the events with Moses to be a sign of what was to come with MLK.

"Have all the prophecies in the Old Testament come true?"

Don't know. No one knows. Only God knows full meaning of God's words as spoken through the prophets.

(Another aside: In a sense, the New Covenant is over: Jesus was born, died, and rose from the dead. That's why I think the OT foreshadowing is "over" because it was all pointing that that singular event of Christ's birth, death, and resurrection. But in another sense, there are still things unfulfilled. So I can think of at lease one prophecy that has not yet been fulfilled - though it comes from the NT: Christ's promise that He would come back to earth a second time.)

Posted by: Thales | Dec 3, 2010 3:45:18 PM