Saturday, August 24, 2019

The "Jewish roots" of the Mass

I'm going to comment on this presentation by Brant Pitre:

It was worse than I expected, and my expectations were low going in–given other presentations of his. Part of the problem is that to a great extent he seems to inhabit a Catholic bubble. He's a cradle Catholic. Apparently, he was raised in a traditionally Catholic state (Louisiana). He got a doctorate from Notre Dame. He's taught at a number of Catholic institutions.  And he's a popular speaker at Catholic powwows. 

One of the dangers is that when you spend so much time around like-minded people, when you constantly speak to sympathetic audiences, it's easy to become slipshod. What if he spoke at a Southern Baptist seminary? Likewise, suppose he ran his arguments by a group of Orthodox rabbis. I imagine the reaction would be quite different than when he's addressing lay Catholics. For that matter, how many Catholic Bible scholars like John Meier, John J. Collins, Luke Timothy Johnson, the late Joseph Fitzmyer or Raymond Brown would take his typology seriously?  

1. He often brags about how Catholic sanctuaries reflect features of the OT tabernacle–as if that's a good thing. But that's retrograde. Turning one's back on the sunrise of the new covenant to return to the shadows of a defunct covenant. 

2. On the one hand he discusses the Passover background for Last Supper. That's hardly a revelation. Protestants recognize the antecedents. 

3. On the other hand, in reference to the Last Supper/Passover lamb, he says only a validly ordained priest can pour out blood (Lev  4:7)

i) But how does that jive with the Passover background? That was a domestic ritual performed by the paterfamilias, not a priest.

ii) Did a Levitical priest have to be "validly ordained"? Wasn't that hereditary?

iii) Protestants don't deny that Jesus has a priestly role. 

iv) That said, it's not as if God Incarnate is obliged to follow the rules set down in Leviticus. That's not even the moral law. It's just a divine convention, which God can suspend at his discretion. 

v) Moreover, Jesus is terminating the Mosaic cultus. Different rules take effect. 

3. He says the Passover and the Eucharist both make the past present again. But that's equivocal. It's a dramatic reenactment of a past event. It doesn't mean the communicant is literally at the Last Supper. And it doesn't mean Jesus is literally present in the Lord's Supper. 

4. He emphasizes unleavened bread, but if transubstantiation is true, what difference does it make whether the bread is leavened or unleavened? What difference does it make what the communion elements are, since there's no relation between substance and accidents, given transubstantiation.  

5. He says Jews had to eat the lamb. They can't just eat a symbol of lamb, tey can't just remember the lamb. He then quotes 1 Cor 5:7-8 about Christ our pascal lamb. But that's a hopeless jumble:

i) Yes, Jews celebrating Passover had to consume the lamb. But the eucharist isn't a replica of the Passover. There are differences as well as similarities.

ii) We do eat and drink at the Eucharist. That's true even on a Zwinglian interpretation. 

iii) 1 Cor 5:7-8 is a metaphor. Does he think Jesus is a four-footed ruminant? Does he think Jesus is a furry ungulate?  

6. He quotes the apocryphal 2 Baruch about the new manna, then says that "prophecy" is fulfilled in the Mass. What is he even talking about? Does he think 2 Baruch is genuine prophecy?

7. He says the Greek word epiousios in the Lord's prayer means "supernatural bread". It alludes to transubstantiation. But his argument is highly dubious:

i) The prefix/preposition (epi) has more than one meaning:

(gen.) on, over, when; (dat.) on, at, in, while; (acc.) across, over, on, to, for, while

But he arbitrarily picks "over, above". 

ii) Likewise, the noun (ousia) has more than one meaning:

substance, property, goods, fortune

iii) Furthermore, in Greek, prepositional prefixes can intensify the meaning of the root word, transform the meaning of the root word, or prefix and root word may both retain their separate senses. Cf. S. Porter, J. Reed, & M. O'Donnell, Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (Eerdmans 2010), 132-33.

So the compound might mean something akin to "supernatural bread" (although that's loaded), or the prefix may intensify the root word, or the meaning may be idiomatic. Since we don't know what the word actually means, we should follow the principle that the least meaning is the best meaning. 

8. He says the eucharist can't be a symbol because it can't be any less than the manna, which was "supernatural bread from heaven". 

i) To say the manna was from "heaven" is equivocal. That could mean God gave it or it could mean it fell from the sky. 

ii) In addition, he commits a level-confusion. The OT sign (manna) doesn't prefigure the NT sign (communion). Rather, the OT sign prefigures the atonement of Christ. There's an indirect parallel between the two signs because they both signify the atonement of Christ. But he's confounding the sign (manna, eucharist) with the significate (atonement of Christ). 

9. He says Jesus can be present whenever or wherever Mass is celebrated because his risen and glorified body isn't bound by space and time. He tries to prooftext that from the Emmaus account (Lk 24), where Jesus can appear, disappear, or hide. However:

i) Since Jesus could perform nature miracles even before he was raised from the dead, why think he lacked the power to appear, disappear, or hide from view even before his death and Resurrection? For instance, he could prevent observers from perceiving him, the way God/Elisha prevented the Syrian army from perceiving its surroundings (2 Kgs 6:18-20). 

ii) To claim the glorified body of Christ isn't bound by time and space generates antinomies. If that's the case, then the Risen Christ could travel back in time to before he was conceived. His body could go back to a time before he had a body! But the NT doesn't attribute such counterintuitive abilities to his body. 

10. He gets so carried away that he thinks the statement that the manna tasted like "wafers" foreshadows the Host. But that's a grossly anachronistic interpretation. Reading the connotations of a communion wafer back into the 2nd millennium BC text. 

He's so naive and starstruck by Catholicism that it blinds him to the fallacy of self-fulfilling prophecy. Catholicism is retroactively foreshadowed in the OT by imitating the OT! 

11. He says the Trinity is prefigured by furniture in the tabernacle:

• The Father = ark of the covenant

• The Son = table of shewbread

• Spirit = Menorah

But there are some basic problems with that identification:

i) Elsewhere he assures us that the ark of the covenant prefigures Mary. 

ii) What about other pieces of furniture in the tabernacle: the basin, altar of incense, altar of burnt offering, and mercy seat? Why do three pieces of furniture correspond to the Trinity, but not the other four?

iii) Although fire is, indeed, an emblem of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said that he's the light of the world. So the metaphor is polyvalent. Also, what about the pillar of fire? Which person of the Trinity does that match?

12. He says that when the disciples pluck grain (Mt 12:1-8), that demonstrates that they were priests, since shewbread is made from wheat. He's so carried away by his infatuation with Catholicism that he smothers the context. They weren't plucking grain to make shewbread–or any kind of bread. They were gleaning the fields. They were consuming the unprocessed grain to assuage their hunger. 

13. He quotes Jn 2 about how something greater than the temple is here. And since, he says, the temple was God's dwelling place on earth, the only thing greater would be the Incarnation. He then segues from that to the eucharist as "God with us". It's so confused:

i) Yes, God Incarnate is greater than the Temple. 

ii) That said, did 1C Jews think God dwelt in the Second Temple? In Ezekiel, the Shekinah abandoned Solomon's temple. Did the Shekinah later descend on the Second Temple when that was dedicated? Could worshipers see the inner sanctum glow at night from the radiance of the Shekinah? 

iii) What's greater than the Second Temple isn't the eucharist but Jesus! 


  1. > He's so naive and starstruck by Catholicism that it blinds him to the fallacy of self-fulfilling prophecy. Catholicism is retroactively foreshadowed in the OT by imitating the OT!

    This is surely the key point. Like many people, it was studying Hebrews that helped me to most clearly understand what was wrong with Roman Catholicism. All those things that have been fulfilled / become obsolete are being imitated. To make that error into a positive argument for Rome is so biblically illiterate.

  2. --One of the dangers is that when you spend so much time around like-minded people, when you constantly speak to sympathetic audiences, it's easy to become slipshod.--

    Hey, if the 99-1 rule (as coined by David Wood) works for guys like Zakir Naik and Yusuf Estes, why not for other apologists?

    --He emphasizes unleavened bread, but if transubstantiation is true, what difference does it make whether the bread is leavened or unleavened?--

    A case for leavened bread at the Last Supper is that Luke 22:1 mentions The Feast of Unleavened Bread (azymon), but then uses artos for the bread that Jesus breaks in Luke 22:19.