The Fathers and the Return of the Jews
After reading the dialogue John Pacheco and Robert Sungenis were having on the Old Covenant Never Being Revoked, fellow traditionalist Mark Cameron decided to do a little research about what the patristic witness on this issue really is. This is Robert Sungenis’ response.
Mark Cameron: Apparently, you do not find my quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia, Augustine, or Chrysostom to be persuasive, saying “quoting Augustine and Chrysostom as referring to some future conversion of Jews, especially when in other places Augustine says something quite the opposite of what appears to be said above, hardly forms a ‘consensus’ of Patristic witness to support your contention. There were over a hundred fathers worthy of note, and hardly any of them predict a future conversion of the Jews, let alone a massive conversion.”
Actually, the quotes I found were the best I could do in an hour or two of fiddling around on the Internet. But your challenge drove me to do a bit more research in my own books and the local Catholic seminary library. I come away more persuaded than ever that there was a broad Patristic, Medieval, and Counter-Reformation consensus about a final conversion of the Jews.
Let’s start with recent (but orthodox, pre-Vatican II) authorities. You note that the Catholic Encyclopedia article has no authority beyond that of its author. But my point was that he makes this assertion as common knowledge of what the Fathers taught, just as Augustine calls the idea of a final conversion “a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful.”
Other recent authorities have also repeated the same belief as representing a common consensus. Ludwig Ott lists “the conversion of the Jews” as one of the “Signs of the Second Coming” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 1952, p. 486-487), citing Romans 11:25-32 as his authority.
R. Sungenis: Mark, I understand why you might find Ott supporting your view, but let’s read what he says.
On page 486 he writes: “The conversion of the Jews: In Rom. 11:25-32, St. Paul reveals ‘the mystery’ : When the fullness, that is the number ordained by God, of the Gentiles has entered the kingdom of God ‘all Israel’ will be converted and saved. There is question of a morally universal conversion of the Jews.”
First, Ott is saying nothing different than what I have said. If you read my essay carefully, I maintain that “all Israel” will be saved when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.
Second, Ott offers no exegesis of the text, so we don’t know in which direction he is going. As I explained by using the context of Romans 11, God has been saving Jews, and will continue to save Jews, until the end of time. The sum total of all those Jews is “all Israel,” and thus it can be safely said, as God promised to Abraham, that all Israel will be saved, but whether this will be a massive conversion in the future is nowhere taught in Scripture, nor does Ott himself say so.
In fact, Ott says just the opposite. He says, “There is question of a morally universal conversion of the Jews.” In other words, he knows that there are people, such as yourself, who teach there will be a universal conversion, but to Ott that view is at best a “question.”
Third, let’s look at what Ott says about your Elijah theory. He writes:
“The conversion of the Jewish people is frequently brought into a causal connection with the coming-again of Elias, BUT WITHOUT SUFFICIENT FOUNDATION. The Prophet Malachy announces: ‘Behold, I will send you Elias the Prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers: lest I come, and strike the earth with anathema.’ Jewry understood the passage as referring to a physical coming-again of Elias (Ecclus 48:10) but erroneously placed it in the beginning of the Messianic era, and saw in Elias a precursor of the Messiah (John 1:21; Mt 16:14). Jesus confirms the coming of Elias, but refers it to the appearance of John the Baptist; of whom the Angel had foretold that he would go before the Lord, that is, God in the spirit and in the power of Elias (Luke 1:17): ‘He (John) is Elias, who (according to the prophecy of the Prophet) is to come’ (Mt 11:14). ‘But I say to you that Elias is already come: and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they had a mind (Mt 17:12; Mk 9:13). JESUS DOES NOT SPEAK EXPLICITLY OF A FUTURE COMING OF ELIAS BEFORE THE GENERAL JUDGMENT, PROBABLY NOT EVEN IN MT 17:11 (‘Elias indeed shall come and restore all things’), in which the prophecy of Malachias is simply reproduced. JESUS SEE IT ALREADY FULFILLED IN THE APPEARANCE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (Mt. 17:12).”
As you can see, Mark, Ott agrees with my position. Obviously, Ott is aware of the few Fathers that said Elijah would come in the future, but he dismisses them as “without sufficient foundation,” as I do. Ott agrees that Jesus did not teach it either, but insists that Jesus taught that Elijah came figuratively in the person is John the Baptist.
Mark Cameron: The Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Dom Bernard Orchard, 1953, says of Romans 11:25-32: “From the present, (verses) 1-24, St. Paul turns his attention to the future. The time will come when the present problem of Israel’s exclusion from the salvation of the Messias will cease to exist because of her conversion, which will follow the conversion of the Gentiles. The final conversion of Israel could not be known to St. Paul from any natural source…” It then goes on to argue that St. Paul deduces the “final conversion of Israel” from the permanence of God’s promises and prophecies, which promise the eventual salvation of Israel.
R. Sungenis: Again, we have the same problem. Orchard offers no exegesis of the very passage he is citing. He, as other commentators on this passage do without sufficient study, merely proof-text the passage, thinking that a mere citation of it proves their point. As I told John Pacheco, Orchard did not not address the Greek text of Romans 11, and thus he was oblivious to the fact that the passage could be saying the very opposite of what he claims it says. Until you offer a commentary that delves into the exegetical issues regarding Romans 11, then citing them really doesn’t offer any persuasive evidence.
Mark Cameron: Now, granted that the Catholic Encyclopedia, Ott, and Orchard’s Commentary have no magisterial authority, it must be admitted that all of these orthodox, pre-Vatican II standard sources seem to treat the “final conversion of Israel” as a given. Why would this be unless there was a considerable consensus of Fathers and Catholic exegetes behind it?
R. Sungenis: Mark, you’ll find in many of these proof-texting commentaries the author cites very few if any patristic witness to support the contention. In fact, Ott admits to no such consensus, rather, he says that there is a “question” as to whether “all Israel” refers to a universal conversion.
Mark Cameron: The more I search the Fathers, the broader the consensus seems to be. To add to the Augustine and Chrysostom quotes I found earlier, here are a few more:
Pope St. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Iob (Preface, X, 20): “After the loss of Job’s possessions, after all his bereavements, after all the suffering of his wounds, after all his angry debates, it is good that he is consoled by twofold repayment. In just this way does the holy church, while it is still in this world, receive twofold reward for the trials it sustains, when all the gentile nations have been brought into its midst, at the end of time, and the church converts even the hearts of the Jews to its cause. Thus it is written, ‘Until the fulness of nations enters and so all Israel is saved.’”
R. Sungenis: Again, Mark, this is vague at best. First, you’ll notice that Gregory does not cite any earlier patristic witness. In order for a massive conversion of Jews at the end of time to be the abiding view of the Church, there would have had to be an apostolic teaching that such was the case. As it stands, none of the early Fathers speak of such a massive conversion in the distant future, let alone say they received such teaching from the apostles.
Second, Gregory offers no exegesis of the crucial phrases in the Romans 11 text (e.g., “fullness of the Gentiles,” “so all Israel is saved”).
Third, Gregory does not specify a massive conversion of Jews, and thus there is nothing that departs from the stipulation in Romans 11 that a “remnant” of Jews will be saved, either now or in the future.
My contention is that your view actually LIMITS the salvation of the Jews, since your view is so fixated on a mass future conversion that you minimize the salvation of the Jews in the present time and since Pentecost. Your view is that God is not already doing a work among the Jews, but is reserving that for some obscure moment at the end of time. But, as the passages from Luke and other citations show, that is not what the New Testament predicts. All those passages speak of God coming to the Jews at the First Coming of Christ, and that is why 3,000 Jews and Gentiles converted on Pentecost Day, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy that God would send the Redeemer to them from Zion, as I pointed out in Luke 1:68-79. On the other hand, you have no passage, other than your personal interpretation of Romans 11:25-26, to support your claim of a massive conversion in the future, a passage that not even the person you cited (Ott) sees as proof.
Mark Cameron: St. John Damascene, De Fide Orthodoxa (IV, 26, “Concerning the Antichrist”): “First, therefore, it is necessary that the Gospel should be preached among all nations: And then shall that wicked one be revealed, even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, whom the Lord shall consume with the word of His mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming…But Enoch and Elias the Thesbite shall be sent and shall ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ that is, the synagogue to our Lord Jesus Christ and the preaching of the apostles”
R. Sungenis: Again, Mark, there are problems. First, John Damascene is rather late in the patristic record, and thus he offers little evidence of an apostolic precedent for his view. He certainly doesn’t cite any patristic witness to back up his claims. Second, you see that he makes the same mistake that Chrysostom made in depending on the LXX translation of Malachi 4:5, referring to Elijah as the “Thesbite,” the very same critique that Ott offered to you.
Mark Cameron: Now, before going on the Medievals, I have to note that the statements you made regarding the view of the fathers were quite unequivocal. “The consensus among the early Fathers is that there is no divinely mandated future glory for national Israel” I agree that there is no divinely predicted glory for a future state of Israel, but there is assuredly a consensus prediction of the conversion of the Jews. You say, “There are only a few personalities who even address the issue of Israel in the future,” and quote seven, adding “only two Fathers hold out for any future large restoration of faith in Israel.” This suggests that you have searched long and hard to see what the Fathers have had to say about this topic, and found only a few quotes, mostly arguing against a future conversion.
Yet with just a little bit of searching around, I have found four more quotes you had missed. (Indeed, I found several others, but not as directly pertinent as the ones I have given).
R. Sungenis: Mark, in reality, this is what you have found: (1) two commentators, one of which disagrees with your view of Eljah and reserves a universal conversion of Jews as a “question,” while the other commentator offers no exegesis of Romans 11 to support his conclusion. (2) You offered the view of Chrysostom, which as I said in my last view, bases his conclusion on a uninspired translation of Malachi 4:5, as does John Damascene, and both of which go against Jerome’s translation. (3) You offered Gregory, but as you can see, he does not offer any patristic support or Scriptural exegesis to back up his view. (4) You offered Augustine, but at best Augustine’s view is equivocal, since he says opposite things in different places. Even Augustine does not cite patristic witness to support even his more positive statements, and even his positive statement lends itself to being interpreted in more than one way.
Further, even if I were to accept Augustine, Chrysostom, Gregory and John Damascene as witnesses, this DOES NOT represent a “consensus” of Fathers. A “consensus” of Fathers is the “unanimous consent of the Fathers.” It means that, except for a few detractors, ALL the Fathers took the same view. Pope Leo XIII taught in Providentissimus Deus that, unless the Fathers all took the same view, we were not bound to accept them. For example, most of the Fathers took the view that the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6 were angels who had sex with women. Alexander of Alexandria, Chrysostom and Augustine disagreed, and said that it referred to the godly line of Seth. Although in the minority, the view opting for “godly line of Seth” is the one most accepted by the Church today.
Mark Cameron: Furthermore, in my own research, I realized that six of the seven quotes you adduce and all the citations are from one source: the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture volume on Romans. This hardly justifies your unequivocal statements about what the Fathers thought on this issue.
R. Sungenis: It makes little difference from what contemporary volume that I cite that Fathers. The important matter is that the Fathers are cited. Since, as is evident from the citations, not all the Fathers agreed on this issue, then it is open for discussion, even today. Thus, when I hear of someone making dogmatic statements that there will be a massive conversion of Jews in the future due to the witness of a heaven-sent Elijah, I have every right to show that not only is there little patristic witness for such a view, but those who aspire to it offer virtually no precedent for their view, nor any solid Scriptural exegesis that would support their claims.
Mark Cameron: And even from this one source, you have been selective. You quote Theodoret as saying “all Israel” means “all those who believe,” but another quote from the very same homily, also quoted in the ACCS, says this: “Paul insists that only a part of Israel has been hardened, for many of them believe. He thus encourages them not to despair that others will be saved as well. After the Gentiles accepted the gospel, the Jews would believe, when the great Elijah would come to them and bring them the doctrine of the faith. The Lord himself said as much: ‘Elijah will come and will restore all things.’”
So, even if Theodoret understands “all Israel” as meaning “all the faithful,” he still believes that there will be a future conversion of the Jews to be grafted back into the true spiritual Israel of the Church.
R. Sungenis: Perhaps, but even in that case, Theodoret doesn’t say that the Elijah to come refers to a future coming near the end of time. For all you know, Theodoret may be speaking of the time of Christ when he said that John the Baptist was Elijah. I’m not saying that he is, but only that the information in the quote is not definitive. In any case, I can simply say that Theodoret is working under the same notion of Elijah’s future return that Ott said was a misinterpretation of Scripture.
Mark Cameron: I would suggest that this also applies to Augustine, who may recognize the Church as the true Israel, but also foresees a conversion of the Jews (indeed, the quote I produced from The City of God was a much more important source to future Church teaching than the quote in ACCS from one of Augustine’s many letters.)
I also find that you have shortened the St. John Chrysostom quote in a way that reduces any suggestion of a future conversion (“does not apply it to some distant event in the future”). You quote Chrysostom as saying: “God’s covenant will be fulfilled not when they are circumcised…but when they obtain the forgiveness of sins…it will certainly come to pass.”
But the full quote is this: “God’s covenant will be fulfilled not when they are circumcised, nor when they do other deeds of the law, but when they obtain the forgiveness of sins. If this has been promised but has not yet happened in their case, nor have they enjoyed the forgiveness of sins in baptism, it will certainly come to pass.” This language of fulfillment of the covenant that “has been promised but has not yet happened in their case” (which you omitted) sounds more like “a distant event in the future.”
R. Sungenis: But again, Mark, even this quote is not definitive, since Chrysostom says “IF….this has not yet happened in their case.” But the point is that it HAS happened, and continues to happen, as Paul made clear in Romans 11:5, 14, 23, as a remnant of Jews, beginning at Pentecost, were added to the Church, and “some” of the whole nation is saved, and “regrafted” into the olive tree even though the whole nation was cut off.
Mark Cameron: So what do we have? Of the seven you cite, Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret, Augustine, Chrysostom, and Jerome (the last three among the most important of all the Fathers) all believe in a future salvation of the Jews (although some in various places talk of the Church, not the Jews, as the true Israel). Origen is mystified, saying says “only God knows” what “all Israel” and “the fullness of the Gentiles” is supposed to mean. Only the heretical Pelagius overtly denies that the salvation of Israel is an event in the future.
R. Sungenis: There were other Fathers who had heretical ideas, but we don’t reject their other views out of hand (Hippolytus, Theodore, et al).
Mark Cameron: Furthermore, I have found several other Fathers, including St. Gregory the Great and St. John Damascene, who predict a future conversion of the Jews. That makes seven Fathers for a future conversion, Origen neutral, and one heretic against. To me, that sounds like a consensus of the Fathers for a future conversion of the Jews.
R. Sungenis: Again, most of them are equivocal on the issue; they do not cite it as apostolic or early patristic doctrine; they do not exegete the passages in question; they base their interpretation on a faulty translation of Malachi 4:5, and in any case, they do not form a unanimous consent since they are very few in number and vary among themselves. That is why Ott says that such view are in “question,” and that the view of Elijah returning is fallacious.
Mark Cameron: Now, let’s see how this matter was treated by the Medievals.
The Venerable Bede says in his Explanation of the Apocalypse, “it is well believed that the wicked Jews will be deceived as well as deceive, but that others will understand the law spiritually through the instruction of the great prophet Elijah, and will be incorporated among the members of the Church, and bravely overcome the enemy.”
In a letter to his Abbot Eusebius about his Explanatio, Bede also writes:
“He has foretold that the Jews are to be made subject to the Church, and that there is to be a trial of the world at large, and that He Himself will come quickly.”
R. Sungenis: But what happened to Enoch? You quoted John Damascene earlier as saying that both Enoch and Elijah were returning. The coincidence about this is that Venerable Bede and John Damascene lived close to each other, but seem to be confused about who is going to be returning. This again reveals that there was no conclusive patristic support of the view.
Mark Cameron: The 10th century French Abbot Adso wrote a treatise of the Antichrist that became very influential in the Middle Ages. In it he wrote:
“Lest the Antichrist come suddenly and without warning and deceive and destroy the whole human race by his error, before his arrival the two great prophets Enoch and Elijah will be sent into the world. They will defend God’s faithful against the attack of the Antichrist with divine arms and will instruct, comfort, and prepare the elect for battle with three and a half years teaching and preaching. These two very great prophets and teachers will convert the sons of Israel who will live in that time to the faith, and they will make their belief unconquerable among the elect in the face of the affliction of so great a storm. At that time what scripture says will be fulfilled ‘If the number of sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, their remnant will be saved’.”
R. Sungenis: The problem here, Mark, is that the abbot has misread the passage. There are only two passages in Scripture that have these elements, Isaiah 10:22 and Romans 9:27. Isaiah 10:22 reads: O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. Romans 9:27 quotes from Isaiah 10:22. But you’ll notice that neither passage predicts a massive conversion of the Jews, but only what I’ve been saying all along – that only a “remnant” will be saved.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a Commentary on Epistle to the Romans, in which he wrote: “The blindness of the Jews will endure until the fullness of the gentiles have accepted the faith. And this is in accord with what the Apostle says below about the salvation of the Jews, namely, that after the fullness of the nations have entered, ‘all Israel will be saved’, not individually as at present, but universally.” He goes on to make it clear that he is referring here to “the conversion of the Jews at the end of the world.”
R. Sungenis: Thomas has every right to his opinion, just as he did with the Immaculate Conception, but that fact is he offers no exegesis or patristic support for the idea of a “universal” conversion. In fact, he is the first to use the word “universal,” and thus, it is quite unprecedented.
Mark Cameron: Moving on to the Counter Reformation era, the great Jesuit apologist St. Robert Bellarmine writes in De Summo Pontifice (I, 3) about “the coming of Enoch and Elias, who live even now and shall live until they come to oppose Antichrist himself, and to preserve the elect in the faith of Christ, and in the end shall convert the Jews, and it is certain that this is not yet fulfilled.”
R. Sungenis: First, if this concept is being based on Scripture, as most of them do in reference to Romans 11:25-26, then where is the Scripture that says Enoch is going to return to earth to convert the Jews? There is no such passage in Scripture. Enoch is mention only in Hebrews 11:5 and Jude 1:14 (outside of his OT references), but neither of them speak of him returning. Second, Bellarmine cites no Scripture, nor any patristic witness, to back up the claim.
The only place in Scripture that even remotely suggests something along these lines is Apocalypse 11:5-6, which reads: “And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.”
The problem with this, however, is that the passage does not specifically name Enoch or Elijah. Elijah is sometimes associated with the passage only because he once prayed that it would not rain in Israel (James 5:17-18). But Enoch is not even alluded to, since there is no such action he performed during his lifetime. This is why Enoch is sometimes left out of the predictions (as is the case with Venerable Bede). The only other personage that could fill the description is Moses, since Exodus records him as turning water into blood, yet curiously, none of the aforementioned interpreters mention Moses as a possibility, even though he fits the description better than Enoch.
So what you have, Mark, is a confusing assortment of ideas, with little, if any, Scriptural backing, and that from the very people who claim to be getting their ideas from Scripture, not Tradition. In addition, the Apocalypse is a highly symbolic treatise, especially Chapter 11, of which many exegetes have seen as a symbolic representation of the Church preaching the gospel during the New Testament era, signified by the “two-by-two” formula used in the passage (cf., Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1; 2 Cor 13:1; Eph 2:15; 1 Cor 14:29).
Mark Cameron: The great exegete Cornelius a Lapide has a commentary on Romans, but I could only find it in Latin. My Latin is rusty, but he seems to say that “all Israel” can be understood either spiritually as meaning all the elect – whether Jew or gentile – or literally as meaning all the Jews who will be converted at the end of time, quoting various Fathers and Doctors on both sides.
However, in his commentary on Matthew, which I did find in English, he teaches clearly about the conversion of the Jews at the end of time. Writing on Matthew 17:11-12 (“Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.”), Lapide says that Elias will: “Restore all things: that is, convert the Jews to Christ as the Messiah promised to themselves and there forefathers.”
He goes on to say that: “Falsely do the Calvinists refer all these things to the first Advent of Christ, and explain both mentions of Elias – viz., in verses 11 and 12 – to mean John the Baptist. For they think that Elias, whom Malachi predicted shall come as the precursor of Christ (Mal. 4:5), is John the Baptist, and there is no other who shall come with Enoch before Christ’s second Advent…” R. Sungenis: If that is the case, Mark, then why would Ott say that such a view was erroneous?
Mark Cameron: Writing on Matthew 23:37-39 (“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”), Lapide writes:
“It is possible that this passage may be understood of the Jews, who about the end of the world shall be converted to Christ by the preaching of Elias, and who, when He shall presently come to judgment, will acknowledge Him to be the Messiah, the Blessed of the Lord.”
R. Sungenis: Mark, did you catch the words “It is possible” in the first part of his sentence? Obviously, Lapide is not offering this as the definitive interpretation for the Church. He is smart enough to know that all this is quite speculative, since there is very little information to go on. And since he, as you already admitted, equivocates between a literal and spiritual interpretation, he certainly isn’t the definitive witness you are looking for. And again, notice that he leaves out Enoch. I think this lack of conviction is even more significant in the case of Lapide, since of all the medievals, he would be the one person who would know what the patristic and medieval consensus was, since he catalogued most of it.
Mark Cameron: In summary, it looks to me like the vast majority of the Fathers, the Medievals the and Counter-Reformation doctors, and recent pre-Vatican II exegetes are all in agreement about a conversion of the Jews before the end of the world (possibly converted by the preaching of Elijah and Enoch as prophesied in Malachi and Revelations) as a sign of Christ’s coming.
With St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. John Chrysostom, the Venerable Bede, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Cornelius a Lapide on my side of the argument, and having shown that all but one of your quotes are from one modern source that gives only snippets of the Fathers, I think the onus of showing that the Fathers and Doctors did not believe in a future mass conversion of the Jews now falls on you.
My other question is, given the broad consensus I have found in Catholic sources saying that there will be such a future conversion of Jews to the faith, some from sources that you must have seen before in your wide reading, why are you so keen to deny this teaching? I do not claim that belief in the future conversion of the Jews, or a future coming of Elijah before the Second Coming, for that matter, are de fide teaching. But they certainly seem to represent the consensus of two millennia of Catholic exegesis. What is the purpose in trying to deny this?
R. Sungenis: You don’t have a “broad consensus,” you have merely a half dozen or so citations, many of which are equivocal, all of which offer no exegesis, little of which cite early patristic support for their view, some of which can be taken in a spiritual as well as literal sense, many of which leave out crucial details (e.g., Enoch), all of which have only the obscure passage of Romans 11:25-26 as their Scriptural base; all of which base their view on the highly symbolic passage in Apocalypse 11:5-6; many of which ignore those against their view; and all who are summed up by one of our greatest theologian/historians as holding a “questionable” view of universal conversion of Jews, and an erroneous view of Elijah, namely, Ludwig Ott.
Mark Cameron: I can understand the desire to refute Protestant fundamentalist “dispensationalist” theology, or Catholic modernists like Cardinal Kasper who suggest that the Jewish covenant remains salvific. But these teachings, while they certainly try to use Romans 9-11 to establish their erroneous theology, go far beyond the standard, orthodox Catholic teaching of an eventual conversion of the Jews in the last times. This does not imply a millennial Jewish kingdom or the ongoing salvific validity of the Old Covenant – simply that the Jewish people who were pruned off of the olive tree due to their infidelity at the time of Christ will at the last, in God’s mercy, be engrafted back on. I fear that in your desire to refute certain wrong elements of modern theology you are running the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
R. Sungenis: I understand why you think so, Mark, but with the above reasons I gave you, I hope you can better see why I take the position. Of course, I have been known to be wrong at times, and I am open to being disproven on anything I say. But considering the less than definitive evidence you’ve brought forth, I don’t feel persuaded to change my view. At best it is an open question. Also, the fact that you didn’t interact with any of the exegesis I brought forth in my last post, but relied solely on somewhat equivocal and unclear references from various Fathers and Medievals, there is little I find compelling.
There is something interesting you need to know about Chrysostom’s interpretation of Malachi 4:5. He makes a blatant error in basing his conclusion of the supposition that it reads “Elijah the Tishbite.” This is not correct.
Not knowing Hebrew, Chrysostom and Augustine often end up in unsupported exegesis by relying only on the LXX. Jerome, who knew Hebrew, did not translate Malachi 4:5 as “the Tishbite.”
Neither the original Hebrew, nor the Latin Vulgate, had “the Tishbite” added to Elijah. The Hebrew reads ELIYAH HANABIYA (that is, “Elijah the prophet”). The Latin Vulgate reads “Heliam prophetam,” while the Douay-Rheims reads “Elias the prophet.” There are no Hebrew textual variants with any other reading. Chrysostom is getting his reading from the LXX which has “Elion ton Thesbiten,” but this is obviously a mere Jewish interpretation of the passage, not the inspired text. In fact, this may have been the reason the Jews were confused regarding the real nature of Elijah’s appearance, and missed his identity being fulfilled in John the Baptist (cf., Matt 16:14; 17:10). Obviously, if they were looking for the “Tishbite” instead of John the Baptist, they would have been mislead by their own translation of the Hebrew text, and apparently so was Chrysostom. If he can make such an error with the text, then we certainly can’t put much stock in is conclusions about anything else regarding Elijah’s appearance.
Mark Cameron: Just as a P.S. to my previous reply, I want to address this specific issue. Chrysostom and Augsutine were not “confused” about the return of Elijah because of their reliance on the LXX. They looked for a return of Elijah in the flesh because Jewish tradition had long predicted it.
R. Sungenis: How does “Jewish tradition” establish Catholic belief? The “Jewish tradition” also believed that the Messiah would not come as a suffering servant but as a conquering king. Are you saying that we should have paid attention to that “tradition” and perhaps denied that the babe in Bethlehem actually was the Messiah? I don’t think so. Moreover, Ott already told you that the idea of Elijah coming-again was from “Jewry,” yet he put no stock in that interpretation.
Mark Cameron: Elijah (and Enoch) never physically died, but were assumed into heaven bodily. Thus, many predicted their return.
R. Sungenis: The problem here, Mark, is that you are trying to make their translation into heaven to be a cause and effect matter for their return to earth, but that is at best unprovable.
Mark Cameron: The “two witnesses” of Revelations 11 have traditionally been understood to be Enoch and Elijah.
R. Sungenis: Only by a relatively few. Moreover, many of them leave out Enoch, as I have noted above.
Mark Cameron: Our Lord implies in Matthew 17:11-12 that there will be two comings of Elijah – a coming of the actual at the end of time to “restore all things”, but a figurative coming of Elijah in spirit in the form of John the Baptist. Cornelius a Lapide calls it a “Calvinist error” to believe that verses 11 and 12 both refer to John the Baptist.
R. Sungenis: Then I suppose Lapide would accuse Ludwig Ott of holding to a “Calvinist error.”
Mark Cameron: Furthermore, awareness of the Hebrew text is no proof of accuracy. The LXX has an older textual tradition than the Masoretic text and many of the earlier Hebrew texts. The Church has always recognized the value of the Septuagint. It remains the official Old Testament text of the Greek Church, and the oldest Latin text, the vetus Itala, was a direct translation of the Septuagint. Jerome’s Vulgate borrowed from Hebrew texts to correct some errors in the Vetus Itala, but in other cases it was the Hebrew texts that were in error.
R. Sungenis: I’m afraid you have it exactly backwards, Mark. The Hebrew was the originally inspired text, meticulously copied by the Jews in Palestine, and that’s the reason we have a Masoretic text that is as good as it is. I suggest you read Ernst Wurthwein’s book “The Text of the Old Testament.” Here’s one section of his chapter on the comparison of the Septuagint to the Masoretic Text: “…today we recognize that the LXX neither was nor was intended to be a precise scholarly translation. Many other factors and interests played a part in its formation. An uncritical use of it which ignores these factors can only lead to false conclusions. In the following paragraphs a few basic considerations are noted, with the reminder that the LXX differs so greatly from book to book that no generalizations can be made with reservations. (a) If we are tempted to prefer the LXX to the Masoretic text as an older witness to the text, we should recall the unevenness of its own textual tradition. Whereas the consonantal text of the Masoretic Text has remained remarkably constant since the second century, the Septuagint manuscripts even centuries later have widely divergent texts…” (pp. 63-64).
The rest of the chapter adds much more information than I can put here.
In any case, the official translation of the Catholic Church, which resides only in the Latin Vulgate, does not have “Thesbite,” rather, it has “prophet,” just as the Hebrew text does, so whatever your opinion about the LXX, it has been trumped by the Church’s official translation, and that is what I will go by.
Mark Cameron: A most important example is the LXX use of “parthenos” (virgin) in Isaiah 7:14 where the hebrew texts have “almah” (young woman). Was St. Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrong when he quoted the “inaccurate” Septuagint rather than the “accurate” Hebrew in applying this prophecy to the virgin birth of Our Lord?
R. Sungenis: This is quite an elementary mistake, Mark. The word almah appears seven times in the Hebrew Old Testament (cf., Gn 24:43; Ex 2:8; Ps 68:25; Pr 30:19; Sg 1:3; 6:8; Is 7:14). None of the passages suggest that almah refers to a woman who is married or has had sexual relations. Conversely, there are explicit indications that almah refers to an unmarried woman who has had no sexual relations. First, in Gn 24:43, almah is used to refer to Rebecca before she is married to Isaac. Yet in the same context (Gn 24:16), Rebecca is referred to as bethulah (“An exceeding beautiful maid, a virgin, and not known to man…”). This interchange of terms means that almah could be interchanged with bethulah, and was thus understood to designate a virgin. In addition, Rebecca is called a “maid” in the same passage (Gn 24:16), from the Hebrew word naarah which, similar to almah, refers in Hebrew to a young woman, but also a virgin (see the use of naarah in Dt 22:15-29 in which the husband suspects his wife was not a virgin when they married). Identical to the interchange of almah and bethulah evident in Gn 24:16, 43, in Dt 22:23, 28; Jg 21:12; 1Kg 1:2; Es 2:3 naarah and bethulah are interchanged. Added to these is the use of bethulah in Ex 22:16, which, in a similar context to that of Dt 22, also refers to virginity before marriage.
The usage of almah in Pr 30:19 also refers to a virgin. In this passage, “the way of a man with a maid (almah),” who is assumed to be a virgin since she is unmarried, is contrasted in the next verse, Pr 30:20, with an “adulterous woman (isha)” who is understood as married but having sexual relations with other men. The usage of almah in Sg 1:3 leads to the same conclusion, since in the context the maidens are attracted to the loving man of Solomon’s Song, implying they are refraining from sexual relations with him so that the loving man can be intimate with his one and only lover. The above passages also show that almah refers to more than identifying a girl or young woman. Almah has procreative overtones, referring in the main to a young woman who has the potential of engaging in sexual relations but who has refrained for one reason or another. This connotation, of course, would also fit the Blessed Virgin Mary who, tradition holds, took a vow of celibacy. The above analysis is confirmed by the fact that the LXX translates the Hebrew almah with the Greek parthenos (“virgin”) in both Gn 24:43 and Is 7:14, showing that the Alexandrian Jews understood the latter term to be identical with the former. Moreover, the LXX rendering includes the Greek article hee in the phrase hee parthenos) as does Matthew, following the article cha in the Hebrew of Is 7:14 cha-almah. Hence, the “sign” is not merely “a virgin,” that is, she is not any young woman who shall conceive by normal means, but “the virgin.” The stature engendered by the article coincides with the testimony of the greatness of her offspring (cf., Mc 5:3; Is 8:8; 9:5-6; 11:1-10).
Mark Cameron: The point I am trying to make is that, regardless of whether Malachi originally wrote “Elijah the Tishbite” or “Elijah the prophet”, the Holy Spirit has often used the LX translations and the interpretive traditions of the Church to draw deeper meaning out of the passages than a clinical, literal analysis of the texts would suggest. If we are to really understand what this passage, or any other passage of Scripture, means in a prophetic sense, we have to go beyond parsing the Greek and Hebrew and study how the text has been received and understood in the tradition of the Church.
R. Sungenis: The Holy Spirit didn’t inspire the LXX, Mark, and neither did He inspire the Jewish interpretation of the passage. As for the “tradition of the Church,” the fact remains that Chrysostom did not know Hebrew, and therefore couldn’t even know what the original said. Jerome, which is the one key person representing our “tradition” in regards to judgments about the Hebrew and Greek texts, chose the word “prophet” and rejected the word “Thesbite.” THAT is our tradition, Mark, since every other person who followed in Church history used the Vulgate and read “Heliam prophetam” not “Elion ton Thesbiten.”
Mark Cameron: This is a general difficulty I have with your exegesis of Romans 11:25-27: you are very keen to show that the grammatical structure of the passage could support your interpretation of the text as denying that it refers to future end times events. But the question is not simply what the grammatical structure of the Greek suggests, but how the text is understood according to the analogia fidei.
R. Sungenis: As I explained quite thoroughly above in the analysis of all the “analogy of faith” your brought forward, it is a best equivocal.
Mark Cameron: When read in the context of passages like Matthew 17:11 (the future coming of Elijah), Matthew 23:39 (future recognition of the crucified Christ by the Jews), Revelations 11 (the two witnesses, hinting at Elijah and Enoch), and in the context of the Church’s understanding of the passage, it has clearly been understood prophetically to refer to a future conversion of the Jews.
R. Sungenis: Matthew 17:11 is not to be interpreted as you assert according to Ott, the very witness you brought forward for your own view. As for Mt 23:39, Lapide merely said it was “possible” to refer to the Jews in the future, not definite. As for Apocalypse 11, the half dozen citations to which you appealed were equivocal as to whether Enoch was represented. On top of all that, not one of the witnesses ever provide exegesis of the passages, nor cited early patristic support for their interpretation, nor showed that the apostolic tradition demanded their interpretation. If these are the only passages of Scripture you have, the result is you have a weak case at best, since there is no Scripture that makes an explicit and undeniable claim that there will be a mass conversion of Jews at the end of time. As I said in my last post, Apoc 1:7 shows the Jews “wailing” at Christ’s return, not being joyful.
Mark Cameron: That is why I put more “stock” in St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom’s exegesis according to the Church’s traditional understanding than I do in your exegesis based on strict attention to the Greek text.
R. Sungenis: Neither Augustine nor Chrysostom “exegeted” Romans 11:25-26. They simply referred to the text. Even at that, Augustine’s view is equivocal. As for my “exegesis based on strict attention to the Greek text,” you can dismiss it if you wish, Mark, but the Greek text is the inspired and inerrant word of God. Unless you can show a viable and provable alternative to the Greek text, then I’m afraid you don’t have much of a case.
One final note, Mark, is that when it comes to prophecy, there really is no one view espoused by the Church. That is precisely why you see such a divergence of opinion and equivocation among even the witnesses you bring forward.
Nevertheless, a universal conversion would simply be totally adverse to everything God has ever done with regard to Jews and Gentiles. Ever since the beginning of time, there have only been a percentage of the world’s people who have sought and remained with the Lord. From Abel and Noah, to the time Israel entered Canaan when only two of the original group that left Egypt remained faithful, to the time of David, there was only a remnant of Jews who believed, even in their glory years. God simply does not do “universal” conversions. He does not coerce people to believe in Him on massive scales or somehow bend the wills of all a particular people in spite of their obstinance. That has never been His way. The constant theme in Scripture is that only a remnant of people will turn to Him out of the free will God gave them.
St. Paul says the same of the Jews in Romans 11:23. He says: “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.”
Notice that their conversion is based on “IF they do not continue in their unbelief” God will graft them in. It is not that God somehow sprinkles some pixie dust on them so that all their wills are irresistibly drawn to God at some future time. Rather, the constant message of Scripture is that God is saving Jews who bend the knee to Him now, and has always been doing so, according to His promise to Abraham, and the sum total of all those will be the “all Israel” who is saved.
Robert Sungenis Catholic Apologetics Intl. 4-07-03