Monday, September 12, 2011

"We Have Apostolic Tradition"- The Unofficial Catholic Apologist Commentary #2

Originally appeared on the aomin blog, 01/28/2009

Catholic apologists often let us know how crucial it is to have an infallible magisterium and church Tradition in order to interpret the Bible correctly. With so many Catholic apologists now commenting on sacred scripture, I thought it would be interesting to provide their commentary on the Bible. Let's see how they've been able to rightly divide the word of truth. I'll post their interpretations as I come across them.

In this MP3 clip, Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin was asked if the offering of Issac by Abraham in Genesis 22 was in accord with "reason":

Jimmy Akin Interprets Genesis 22

Instead of consulting "Tradition," Akin first consults the philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard (so much for consulting the Church Fathers). Ironically, Kierkegaard wasn't a Roman Catholic, but was raised a Lutheran. Akin explains Kierkegaard's interpretation of the offering of Isaac as "If God says Abraham should offer Isaac on the alter, then it's morally legitimate for Abraham to do that." In case this interpretation isn't satisfactory, Akin provides another: "He [God] is also showing Abraham and his descendants that you shouldn't commit child sacrifice because God stops him [Abraham] from actually slaying his son.... There could be an object lesson here that child sacrifice is ultimately not what God wants."

The most interesting aspect of Akin's answer on this passage is his lack of mentioning Christ, as well as the ram caught in the thicket. Rather than locating my old copy of Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, notice how others in church history like Augustine have interpreted the passage:

"And on this account Isaac also himself carried to the place of sacrifice the wood on which he was to be offered up, just as the Lord Himself carried His own cross. Finally, since Isaac was not to be slain, after his father was forbidden to smite him, who was that ram by the offering of which that sacrifice was completed with typical blood? For when Abraham saw him, he was caught by the horns in a thicket. What, then, did he represent but Jesus, who, before He was offered up, was crowned with thorns by the Jews?" [source]

"But let us rather hear the divine words spoken through the angel. For the Scripture says, "And Abraham stretched forth his hand to take the knife, that he might slay his son. And the Angel of the Lord called unto him from heaven, and said, Abraham. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy beloved son for my sake." It is said, "Now I know," that is, Now I have made to be known; for God was not previously ignorant of this. Then, having offered up that ram instead of Isaac his son, "Abraham," as we read, "called the name of that place The Lord seeth: as they say this day, In the mount the Lord hath appeared." As it is said, "Now I know," for Now I have made to be known, so here, "The Lord sees," for The Lord hath appeared, that is, made Himself to be seen. "And the Angel of the Lord called unto Abraham from heaven the second time, saying, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy beloved son for my sake; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess by inheritance the cities of the adversaries: and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." In this manner is that promise concerning the calling of the nations in the seed of Abraham confirmed even by the oath of God, after that burnt-offering which typified Christ. For He had often promised, but never sworn. And what is the oath of God, the true and faithful, but a confirmation of the promise, and a certain reproof to the unbelieving?"[source]

Was the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham in accord with "reason"? Akin is right, there is an object lesson here. If one keeps in mind the entire Bible has Christ as it's central focus, one has found the "reason" for Genesis 22.


Pete said...

I think Akin’s answer is good. Although he goes to Kierkegaard instead of to Augustine, it may just be that he had been recently reading Kierkegaard, and so his mind more readily recalled what he had said on this subject. But Augustine gives just about the same answer:

“[T]here are some exceptions made by the divine authority to its own law, that men may not be put to death. These exceptions are of two kinds, being justified either by a general law, or by a special commission granted for a time to some individual. And in this latter case, he to whom authority is delegated, and who is but the sword in the hand of him who uses it, is not himself responsible for the death he deals. And, accordingly, they who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, ‘You shall not kill.’ Abraham indeed was not merely deemed guiltless of cruelty, but was even applauded for his piety, because he was ready to slay his son in obedience to God, not to his own passion. And it is reasonably enough made a question, whether we are to esteem it to have been in compliance with a command of God that Jephthah killed his daughter, because she met him when he had vowed that he would sacrifice to God whatever first met him as he returned victorious from battle. Samson, too, who drew down the house on himself and his foes together, is justified only on this ground, that the Spirit who wrought wonders by him had given him secret instructions to do this. With the exception, then, of these two classes of cases, which are justified either by a just law that applies generally, or by a special intimation from God Himself, the fountain of all justice, whoever kills a man, either himself or another, is implicated in the guilt of murder” (The City of God, Bk. 1, Ch. 21).

Augustine has similar thoughts to what you had cited from him in Book 16 of The City of God, here:

“Who in Isaac carried the wood for His own sacrifice, but He who carried His own cross? Who is the ram for sacrifice, caught by the horns in a bush, but He who was fastened to the cross as an offering for us? […] Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his son: we may allow that this proof of his obedience was required in order to make it conspicuous in all ages; we may allow, too, that it was a proper thing for the son to carry the wood instead of the aged father, and that in the end the fatal stroke was forbidden, lest the father should be left childless. But what had the shedding of the ram's blood to do with Abraham's trial? Or if it was necessary to complete the sacrifice, was the ram any the better of being caught by the horns in a bush? The human mind, that is to say, a rational mind, is led by the consideration of the way in which these apparently superfluous things are blended with what is necessary, first to acknowledge their significance, and then to try to discover it” (Against Faustus, Bk. 12, Chs. 25, 38:

I’m sure Akin would be happy to share this meaning of the text with others. He may not have gone to this interpretation first because he was trying to come at the text from what he thought was the angle of his caller. Perhaps we could also fault Akin for not saying everything about a given topic whenever he said anything about it. But Augustine says we shouldn’t expect this from people. :) And neither did Augustine say about Abraham in Book 1 of CoG what he said about him in Book 16.

I hope your house is feeling better!

In Christ,
Pete Holter

James Swan said...

Thanks for the Augustine quotes.

In my opinion, Akin's unforgivable blunder is that he left Christ out of his answer.

It's a Reformed thing.

Pete said...

In the midst of the millions of pages of the most secret papal archives, I was able to find a single obscure quote that might warm you to us a little: “All sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, ‘because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ’ ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 134:

Or we can just call Jimmy up and let him know that he has been struck by the swoooooooooooord of anathema!!!


In Christ,