Category Archives: Eric Wolf

Death: Punishment or Consequence?

Throughout the Bible, God reveals Himself to us because of His desire for a loving relationship with each one of us. Sin is our rejection of this loving relationship that we enjoy with God.

St. Paul states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23) Here we see that death is a result of sin and is the opposite of eternal life in Christ. The connotation of ‘wages’ is that death is something that we earn; it stems from our choice.

Many read parts of the Old Testament and overlook God’s perpetual love; focusing on the repugnant gore and violence, they assign undue weight to the horrible things that happen to people. How could a God who is Love do or allow these horrible things to happen? If God really loves us, the thought goes, would He be so unrelenting and harsh? This theology considers death as a punishment. I suggest instead, and will explain below, that the result of sin (wages earned) is not punishment but rather consequence.

A definition of punishment is “the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense”, while consequence is “a result or effect of an action or condition”. If death is punishment, then it would come from God as a penalty for our misbehavior. As consequence, however, death does not come from God, but rather out of the nature of our not accepting the relationship of love that we enjoy with God. Spiritual death is the absence of a relationship with God- our not even acknowledging His existence. Physical death is a consequence of our existence in this material/physical world that is limited by space and time.

Sin – the rejection of God’s intended relationship of love – enters human reality in Genesis 3 with the depiction of Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit. As portrayed in the Bible – Old Testament and New – God’s reaction to sin is one of protection for the sinner. God’s response in Gen 3:17-19 (and Gen 3:16) is clearly that God, in the aftermath of the sin, prepares humankind for life in this new reality that exists as a result of sin. He is not punishing Adam and Eve, but rather lovingly protecting them. God is forewarning them of the new reality that they have chosen; forewarned is forearmed! This understanding is consistent throughout all facets of the Old Testament including the psalms and narrative and prophecy and wisdom literature; it is also consistent throughout the New Testament.

Indeed the Bible, as an indicator of our relationship with God, is the story of our journey from the Garden of Eden through death/sin to redemption/eternal life in Christ as portrayed in Revelation.

In the Old Testament God is consistently the Good Shepherd tending His flock, perpetually bringing the outliers (sinners) back into the fold, i.e., a loving relationship. All it takes is our sincere repentance, which is a result of our acknowledging our true and happy relationship to God: that He is the Creator and we are the Created.

— Eric Wolf

New Resource – Lectio Publishing

Lectio Publishing logoIn keeping with the aggiornamento spirit of this blog, I’m happy to announce to this blog’s readers that this past year we have started Lectio Publishing a new publishing venture for religious – Catholic – authors and topics.

This month we published a book titled Sacramental Theology – 50 Years After Vatican II, which has been published as both a softcover and eBook. The book honors the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and traces the major issues promulgated at Vatican II as they relate to both the meaning and celebration of the sacraments today.

cvr_st50The author is Franciscan theologian Kenan  B. Osborne, O.F.M., a scholar of international repute and is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the Franciscan School of Theology/Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA where he taught for over 30 years. He is a frequent guest lecturer at numerous colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and the world, mostly recently in China and Korea. He is considered an expert in Christology, the sacraments, the permanent diaconate, post-Vatican II theology, and contemporary and Chinese philosophy.

Information, and a downloadable excerpt, can be accessed on the Lectio Publishing website.

— Linda Wolf

The (Inspired) Word of God

Christians believe that the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is the inspired Word of God. Human authors wrote the various books over a millennium; each however was inspired by God. inspire means both to ‘breathe in’ and to ‘fill one with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially creative’.

God did not dictate to the human authors, as for example Islam claims that God/Allah dictated the Qur’an to Muhammad. Rather we believe that the Holy Spirit infused human authors with the understanding of what God wished to communicate, so that the authors could do this appropriate for human understanding yet without theological error.

Recently a friend shared with me an insightful article written by Jason Carlson and Ron Carlson entitled Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God?. To paraphrase their article into a Catholic context, let’s delve into what the Church understands about the formation of the Bible.

Although our term ‘Bible’ comes from the Greek word (biblion) that means ‘book’, the Bible is not one book but a collection of 73 books.

The 46 books of the OT were composed over a period of 10 centuries leading up to the time of Christ; portions had been taken from written stories from perhaps several centuries earlier. The 27 books of the NT were written over the last half of the first century AD/CE. During this long span of time that the books of the Bible were composed, the culture and society changed dramatically many times.

These 73 books were written by an untold number of authors- several dozen at the least. They were a wide variation of educated and not-so-educated people including priests, prophets, preachers, apostles, kings, courtiers, scribes, fishermen, a physician, and regular people like you and me. There could not have been collaboration between the disparate authors.

The Bible, and indeed a sizable number of the books, are not of a single literary genre. Throughout the books in each testament we find story, poetry, prayer, prophecy (speaking on behalf of God), wisdom, novellas, letters, and history. Yet each holds true to the central message of God’s creation and plan for our salvation.

The books were originally composed in at least 3 different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. This would seem to lead to confusion and dissonance, yet the opposite is true- the books agree on their message of God’s love and care for His human creation.

The various authors composed the books on 3 separate continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe, from Jerusalem (Israel) to Rome (Italy) to Babylon (Iraq) to Alexandria (Egypt). Again this cultural variation would seem to lead to less cohesion, yet the opposite is true: the Bible is consistent in its message of who God is and what our relationship is with Him.

The consistent message throughout the span of the Bible points us to the One author- the Bible is the Inspired Word of God.

— Eric Wolf

Reading the Gospels

We are a highly literate society; we often read almost constantly throughout most days. Like any frequently practiced activity, we have developed habitual ways of reading. Now that we read Scripture, we do so using these same thought patterns (reading habits) that we utilize in our everyday reading such as newspapers, road signs, recipes, novels, textbooks, corporate memos, television news alerts, or Internet blogs!

Yet in reading Gospels (indeed any Biblical narrative) some of these habits are detrimental to a well-formed understanding of scriptural intent. For instance, the gospels were written neither as history nor as biography (nor as any of the above-mentioned reading), rather as theology.

What are gospels?

Gospels are a means of transmitting the apostolic teaching of Jesus’ mission. The evangelist Mark is seen as inventing the gospel form of literature. We believe that the Gospels (as all the Bible) were written by human authors under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

St. Augustine characterizes a gospel as a passion narrative with an extended introduction. We know that Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection has been seen from the earliest days of Christianity as God’s saving action through his only Son.

The gospels teach us about who Jesus is, and what our relationship with God is and most specifically concerning the second person of the Trinity.

Best Practices – and pitfalls!

When reading gospels, keep in mind the human author’s audience and situation- these are the keys to understanding his message. The term ‘gospel’ is a translation of the Greek word meaning ‘good news’. Always look for how a gospel passage points to the ‘good news’ of salvation.

It is fruitful to compare parallel passages in the various gospels only to better understand this author’s message and/or purpose. How the author modifies a passage points to his overall message/purpose.

Because the authors wrote to different audiences in different situations, it is a pitfall (it is illogical and detrimental to understanding) to ‘mix-and-match’ between Gospels.

If perceiving an apparent ‘inconsistency’ between different Gospels, consider whether the inconsistency is of theological importance or whether it merely stems from a different emphasis that is based on the situational message that the human author intended.

A verse does not stand on its own but is relative to its entire story. What is its meaning in relation to the individual story and to this author’s purpose? 
It is a pitfall to take an individual verse and generalize it into a larger context.

Lastly, remember that we have four Gospels- no one is more definitive than any of the others. While we may have our favorite gospel- one that tugs more at our heart- it is a pitfall to think that it is more true or most appropriate for everyone than is any of the other canonical gospels. All are the Word of God; all are meant to advance our faith. Praise God!

— Eric Wolf

The King With No Parents

Melchizedek enters the Biblical stage in Genesis 14:18. Abram has just saved his nephew Lot from peril and captivity. In Genesis 14:18-20a we read:

“Melchizedek king of Salem brought bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High.
He pronounced this blessing: Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High for putting your enemies into your clutches.”

His succinct introduction tells us a few things about Melchizedek:

  • His name means righteous king (melchi-tzedek).
  • He is the king of Salem (Shalem in Hebrew; remember that Shalom means peace).
  • He is a priest of God Most High.
  • He blesses Abram yet he also places the correct emphasis on God.

In the New Testament Melchizedek is referred to in Hebrews, which is the letter that asserts Jesus Christ to be the eschatological high priest. Hebrews 5 quotes Psalm 110 that refers to the Lord: “you are a priest forever of the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 7:3 says of Melchizedek “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.”

Unlike Abraham or Jesus, we don’t know where Melchizedek came from- we don’t know who his parents are, let alone his genealogy. Therefore as a priest of God Most High he resembles a Son of God- eternal, divine. Translations use the word ‘like’ or ‘resemble’; they never claim that Melchizedek actually is divine.

Jesus as high priest is the Son of God, yet he also has a genealogy- we know that He is human. Jesus is both human and the divine Son of God.

— Eric Wolf