“I have a great devotional bible…”

These are words I hear periodically in our parish bookstore (which I manage).  Typically it is in the context of me attempting to sell them an Orthodox Study Bible.  Certainly I have as a goal the desire to sell product as we try to make the bookstore successful, but my primary goal is that the customer get something that will be edifying.  Since there is currently  no Orthodox Study Bible, I know that the devotional will either be Catholic or Protestant, and most likely Protestant (just based on numbers).  In either case, the theology in the devotions will likely then be erroneous at times.  As long as the reader is aware of that it might not be much of a problem, however that is sufficient for me to simply stay away.  Some people have the bible and simply use it as a bible, ignoring, for the most part, the devotions.  This would generally be okay, but if the bible is a Protestant devotional bible, then I know it is very likely one of the most insidious translations out there.  My goal in writing this post is to provide some basic reasons as to why all Christians should avoid the NIV, as well as why they should prefer a Septuagint based translation over any other.

The translators of the NIV are guilty of a certain level of intellectual dishonesty.  It is a common view of Protestantism, held by both Protestants and non-Protestants, that it promotes the idea that all people can read the bible for themselves and reach their own doctrinal conclusions.  To some degree, this is what the reformers and proto-reformers (Wycliffe, etc.) were after, although the classical reformers did understand that the me and my bible attitude of modern evangelicalism would not fly.  The NIV seeks to effectively limit people from truly exploring the scriptures themselves by pursuing a translational approach known as “thought for thought.”  That is, the translators give us, as readers, what they believe the idea was that a particular author was trying to get across.  What this means is that the translators will give us their doctrine disguised as Scripture.

Selective and Misleading Translation

What happens because of this?  The first thing is that the translators will translate identical Greek words quite differently in order to support their doctrinal positions.  The most cited and perhaps egregious example is the handling of the Greek word παραδόσις.  The word means tradition, and appears in the NIV New Testament as tradition whenever tradition is spoken of in a negative light (Matt 15:2, 15:3, 15:6, Mark 7:3, 7:4, 7:5, 7:8, 7:9, 7:13, Gal 1:14, and Col 2:8), and only once when it is spoken of in a positive light (1 Cor 11:2), and this appears to be only in more recent editions, as originally it was translated as teachings in this verse, as it remains translated in 2 Thes 2:15 and 3:6.  In the latest editions, it appears that at least a footnote is used to indicate that the word could be translated as tradition, which is something of an improvement.

Similar things are done with the Greek word σαρξ which literally means flesh.  The translators of the NIV insert their theology by at times changing the translation to sinful nature, which alters the actual meaning.  Also, the word εργον, which means works is only translated as works when it appears in a negative sense, and to something else (things I have done or some such).

Mistranslation seems to infect the entire book, and you can read more about that here.  This is, in my opinion, the number one reason to avoid the NIV.

The Septuagint

Virtually all English translations of the Bible have, as the basis of their translation, the Masoretic text (MT).  The MT was produced beginning in the 7th century but was based largely on a particular text type of the OT that had existed at least as far back as the Qumran community.  It was the case that there were many different variant forms of the Old Testament.  Of those, one was the MT or proto-MT, and another was the septuagint, or LXX.  There were other text traditions as well.  We know from its use by New Testament and from statements by Jewish scholars and historians (most notably Josephus and Philo) that the LXX was widely used throughout the Jewish world up through the beginning of the Christian era.  It began to be jettisoned in favor of the MT text type by Jews as the LXX provided much more scriptural support for the Christian claims about Jesus than the MT.

The LXX itself is a translation, but its roots lie in the second or third century BC.  It then reflects another textual tradition.  The legend is that a group of 70 scholars (hence LXX) was assembled by Ptolemy II to produce a Greek translation of the Torah for use by Jews (in particular in Alexandria) who were no longer fluent in Hebrew, but well understood Koine Greek.  It represents a different text tradition from that behind the Masoretic text.  Not only are there some verse changes, but the canon (or list of books) is more extensive in the Septuagint than in the Masoretic text.

For the Orthodox Christian, it is sufficient to say that the LXX is the Old Testament of the Orthodox Church.  Thus, it is the text that should be first and foremost used by Orthodox believers.  However, it is worthwhile to explore issues related to both the canon and the textual variants.

Textual Variants

The first problem with the Masoretic text is that it was not the text favored by the authors of the New Testament.  Following is a table describing some key instances where a quote in the New Testament, typically regarding a messianic prophecy, comes from the LXX and the parallel MT passage is significantly different.



I wish I could recall the original source for this diagram.  I used to use it when teaching a catechumenate class in the Episcopal Church over a decade ago, but ran across it recently in a blog post from 2012.  It may have come from the Orthodox Study Bible project (lxx.org when that domain still existed).

Recently, I participated in a program where we had the goal of reading the Orthodox Old Testament in 100 days.  It was quite a task, but enormously beneficial.  There were numerous places where I learned something new by virtue of the fact that we were using the LXX.  For instance, when using the LXX we learn that Adam and Abraham were not sleeping when God interacted with them, as Masoretic based texts would have us believe.  Rather, they were in a state of ecstasy – a trance of sorts.  When Jacob wrestles with God in the book of Genesis, the Masoretic text tells us that Jacob named the place Peniel, “…because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”  That is, in spite of the fact that he saw God face to face he managed to live.  The Greek of the LXX varies on two key points.  The first is that the Greek doesn’t support the presence of the word “yet”.  Further, it states that Jacob’s soul was saved.  So instead of being preserved from physical death, we learn that Jacob’s soul is saved with the implication that his soul was saved because he saw God face to face.  The latter is definitely a Christian perspective and the former reflects the Jewish views about God.  There are numerous other examples of this sort of thing throughout the Old Testament.  Particularly fun are the places where the Hebrew word “anointed” appear.  The LXX, of course, would have the Greek word Χριστοσ, so the English is translated straight across as Christ.  Makes certain passages really stand out.

For a more detailed review of Masoretic vs. Septuagint texts, I would recommend starting here.

The Canon

The other issue with variants is the canon itself.  There is so much beauty and depth excluded from the Old Testament by excluding the books now called Apocrypha by most protestants.  In particular the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach).  Of particular note is the impact of excluding the book of Tobit.  The famed questioning of Jesus by the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-32 is not simply referring to a story the Sadducees made up in their cleverness, but, in fact, refers to events in the book of Tobit.  That book is largely a tale of redemption.  In the words of Fr. John Peck, the story is about:

A loving Father, sends his only Son, accompanied by a holy Spirit, to rescue a helpless Bride held captive by an evil spirit who fills her life with hopelessness and death. This Son defeats the evil spirit, saves the Bride, and takes her back to live with Him in the Father’s house.

When Jesus chastises the Sadducees for not knowing Scripture, he is particularly pointing to this story which is a foreshadowing of the incarnation (and note that Christ views Tobit as Scripture).


A large number of Bibles have been published providing devotionals for different groups of people based on varying needs.  Virtually all of these are based on the NIV, which is problematic for anyone wishing to really study the Word of God.  What you are presented with is a text that is both mistranslated to push a specific religious perspective and truncated to limit the reader’s ability to fully appreciate the Old Testament and both its prophecies and how it informed the writing of the New Testament.  This would be problematic for everyone, and then for individuals who are not Evangelical, you have the additional problem that the theology in any such devotions would be specifically Evangelical and thus filled with numerous errors.  For those reasons, my response when met with that phrase is that they should get an Orthodox Bible, prayer book, and maybe the writings of one of the numerous saints of our Church, and go with that.

Response to a Request

On the Facebook page for my parish (which I help manage), we received this recent post:

Please read and answer the verse in the Holy Bible Exodus 23;20-21, John 5;43, Proverbs 30;4 and Micah 6;9, Isaiah 24;15, Malachi 1;11 KJV.

I will admit that I’m not entirely sure what the poster is after, but I will do my best.

Here is the first passage, from the KJV:

20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.

21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.

Of course, the Orthodox Church doesn’t follow the Masoretic text for the Old Testament, which is the basis of the KJV Old Testament (although the KJV as an overall translation is used).  Instead, we use the Old Testament of the ancient Church, which is based on the Septuagint.  However, for the sake of this first passage, the translation is largely the same, so we can work with it.  The biggest difference is that the word “place” is actually “land” which makes more sense in the context.  The “Angel” from the Greek Αγγελοσ, means messenger, so, of course, this passage refers to Christ, who is the messenger who is to bring us into the land God has prepared, and, at the same time, is able for forgive our transgressions.

The next passage is from the Gospel according to St John,

 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.

This passage is from Christ speaking to the Jews, and essentially chastising them for not receiving the messenger (referred to in the Exodus passage above).  Blessed Theophylact provides us with this:

The Lord continuously exalts the Father, saying that the Father has sent Him, and that He can do nothing without the Father.  He does so to disprove every allegation that He is arrogant.  But another shall come, the Antichrist, who will attempt to show that he alone is God.

Proverbs 30:4, again, is one of the Old Testament prophecies of Christ.  As the OSB notes, this verse asks six questions.  The answer to the first five is Christ, and the answer to the sixth is Christian.  The verse in the LXX is, “Who ascends into heaven and descends?  Who gathers the winds in His bosom?  Who wraps up the water in a garment?  Who rules over all the ends of the earth?  What is His name, and what is the name of His children, that you might acknowledge it?”

The Masoretic text of Micah varies a bit more extensively from the LXX for this verse, with the Masoretes having, “The Lord‘s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.” and the LXX having “The Lord’s voice shall be proclaimed in the city, and He shall save those who fear His name.  “Hear, O tribe, who will put the city in order?””  Regardless of the translation, the answer to the question is, again, Christ.

Isaiah, similarly, diverges a bit from the LXX, with the LXX reading, “Therefore the glory of the Lord will be in the islands of the sea: the name of the Lord, the god of Israel, will be glorious.”  The islands are the churches that will be established in the sea of lost humanity, with the name of the Lord being proclaimed by them.

Finally, we have Malachi, 1:11, “For from the rising of the sun even to its going down, My name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering, for My name shall be great among the Gentiles, ” says the Lord Almighty.”  This, of course, speaks of the time when Christ’s Church will be established, where incense will always be offered (as it continues today in the Orthodox Church).

I suspect that the individual posting the question was after the “name of God”, in the sense of the tetragrammaton of YHWH.  The actual pronunciation of this name, of course, is lost to history, although Greek texts, where the pronunciation was indicated, seem to lean toward Yahweh.  Later, during the development of the Masoretic text, scribes added the vowel points for the “Adonai”, which made the name render more like the Jehovah that the Jehovah’s Witnesses prefer.  Of note is that the translators of the LXX opted, instead of transmitting the tetragrammaton to use the Greek word “Kyrios” or Lord.  Rather than just a title, it became used as the name of God.  The New Testament authors continued to follow this pattern.  Of course, with the incarnation, we have a very specific known name for God, which is Jesus Christ.

Of course, the other aspect of the word “name” is that it implies a personal knowledge of the person because you know their name.  This comports well with the Christian understanding that we are to develop an actual relationship with Christ.  The Orthodox Church continues to hold the name of God in high honor, as well.  Of particular note is that the Church prays without ceasing (per St. Paul’s instructions) by invoking the name of God, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

When Did Orthodox Worship First Begin

I am currently engaged in an “Old Testament Challenge” being led by Fr. John Peck at the Preacher’s Institute.  I often think that the model for the worship of our Church dates back to Exodus and Leviticus, when the priesthood of Aaron was instituted.  Of course, it dates back farther than that.  In fact, we see perhaps the earliest example in Genesis 15:17 when God is making the first covenant with Abram.  After Abram prepared the sacrifices we see a smoking fire pot and torch (Masoretic OT) passing between the sacrifices.  The smoking fire pot would best be rendered in modern parlance as a censer.  As Fr. Peck pointed out on his Facebook page, the LXX text is rather more trinitarian, indicating a flame, a smoking “furnace”, and lamps of fire.  Interesting stuff, and that’s only part way through Genesis!


Orthodox Fundamentalism, A Response

Recently a friend pointed out this article, by a George Demacopoulos, who is a professor of Historical Theology and the Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University.  His position and title are somewhat germane to the following analysis.

When I asked about what I thought regarding the article, I was going to write up a response, then decided not to when I ran across this response posted by Fr. John Whiteford.  My friend has since posed the following response:

I went back and reread Father Whiteford’s response. I didn’t read Democopoulos’ piece as if it were a piece of systematic theology. It was only a couple of pages long, more of an essay or a precis to an essay. I think W. Is taking D. a little too literally. I think D. was trying to relate to the reader some of his reservations with Orthodox fundamentalists (I think you and I probably agree on who he’s talking about without putting too fine a point on it). Speaking as a convert, I agree with D., generally speaking. But if I interpreted D. In W’s terms, I wouldn’t agree.

Perhaps D, could have been a little less polemical with his terms, but don’t you think D. got most of it right?

I’m going to come right out and say that, no, I don’t think he got most of it right.  Before I commence, a few caveats are important.  One is that I lean toward the traditional side in my Orthodoxy.  I have a great number of friends who are likely the targets of Demacopoulos’ piece, and I may be classified in the same group by him.  I suspect I would be.  I’m sure Fr. John would be.  The other is that Fr. John and I are both survivors, not without some injury, of the Episcopal wars that have led to an increasingly irrelevant religious body that stands for nothing except for what is in opposition to the history of the faith.  We see individuals within the Orthodox Church who make statements that are very similar to the sorts of things one would hear out of so-called Episcopal theologians say 20 or 30 years ago.  Thus, we are likely a bit sensitized to such things.  Finally, I will say that I know nothing much about the Volos conference, although I guess I’ll have to look further into it, and perhaps post back more regarding it.  My difficulties with the Demacopoulos piece are with the piece itself.


I will agree that the piece was not meant to be a significant theological treatise.  However, it is much more than an offhand remark made in passing or during some form of interview.  Rather, this was a widely posted essay (and yes, really more the introduction to what could become a much longer piece) meant to effectively belittle the more traditional Orthodox.  If it was merely an introduction, followed by a more detailed essay with citations, I could accept it a bit more, although it is still replete with errors.

I think that people some times have more that should be demanded of them because of the position they hold.  Professional athletes, for instance, are chastised for behaviors that are not entirely uncommon in our society (drug use, dishonesty, etc.), and are in fact, somewhat accepted by many, precisely because of their position as role models for young athletes.  They may not have specifically set out to be a role model, but it is a necessary part of their job.  Professors and other academics have an expectation placed upon them for a certain amount of intellectual rigor.  Straw men, broad generalizations, and blatant untruths are the things of politicians, and we are right to expect better out of those charged with educating our children and our future leaders.

Professor Demacopoulos comes across in this piece as either a standard issue politician or a petulant child who’s favorite toy (in this case a conference his university hosts) has been broken by some neighborhood children.  Frankly I expect better.

The Bogey Man

Demacopoulos starts out aiming his piece at a Orthodox fundamentalist.  While Fr. John is correct in pointing out that the term is technically inaccurate, I think he gets a bit carried away.  We know precisely why Demacopoulos chooses the term.  It is because the best connotation it brings is Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, which are largely held in low view throughout this country, and certainly amongst the intelligensia, while the worst connotation is that of ISIL and their current campaign to send the Middle East, and frankly the rest of the world if they have their way, back to the stone age.  By tarring Orthodox Christians who disagree with Demacopoulos and those of his view as fundamentalists, he is seeking to shut down argument immediately.  It is polemic at its very lowest.

Orthodoxy does change over time, but quite slowly.  New hymns are introduced, but slowly.  Vestments have morphed, the structure of the service has both contracted in some places and expanded in others.  All of this, however is done very slowly as we are necessarily cautious.  The controversies that led to the early church councils are the reason.  We know that something new needs to be evaluated to ensure that it is in keeping with the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”  We’ll come back to this specific point later, but it is important to note that within Orthodoxy there are those who are very hesitant to accept things that appear to be new, and in particular that appear to contradict the faith.  At times, this can take the form of unnecessary polemic, and there are certainly those who are too ready to trot out the term heretic and apply to thus and such a person.  I think that labeling a person as a heretic is best left to Ecumenical Councils, but I think it is appropriate to use the term heresy or heretical teaching.  That being said, those of us who are traditional should show more than a bit of restraint and analyze new teachings with a spirit of charity before assigning labels.

Demacopoulos attributes several statements to this fundamentalist bogey man in his piece.  However, since we have no references, citations, links, etc. to anyone or any organization actually making these statements, we are left to take him at his word (for instance, when he says “radical opportunists in the Church of Greece accused it and its bishop of heresy”, it would be nice, given the tone, for him to provide some backup).  Given some issues he has with accuracy elsewhere in his piece, I’m not entirely sure why anyone would take him at his word.

The Bogey Man made of Straw


The bogey man is claimed to hold four specific positions.  The first, and apparently the key error, is that he believes that “the Church Fathers agreed on all theological and ethical matters”, and that Orthodoxy has never changed.

The second is that the monastic community has always been the guardian of Orthodox teaching.

The third is that the Church Fathers were anti-intellectual.

The fourth is that adhering to the teaching of the Fathers requires resisting all things Western.

Again, we have no actual examples of anyone holding these views.  I will say that I know of no one who actually holds even one of these views.  The great modern teachers that those of us of a more traditional approach like to read, such as Fr. Romanides, or Metropolitan Hierotheos, never make such claims.  I’d have to go back and look, but if ever these topics arose, I’m sure they would argue against them.  Amongst the rank and file  traditional Orthodox, I similarly have never heard such statements.

As my friend points out, we know to whom Demacopoulos is referring.  People who criticize a priest because of the lack of a beard, or who doesn’t push adherence to the fasts, or who tends to cut services short at times.  At times the priest can be accused of heresy (and similarly bishops) for these sorts of “infractions”.  Some of these represent reasonable criticisms, although there is often examples of a judgmentalism that is, itself, not Orthodox, and we all must remember to tend to our own failings first.  However, Demacopoulos, by constructing this straw man and knocking it down, seeks to dismiss traditional Orthodox out of hand.

Errors and Weak Foundations

Demacopoulos uses his straw man as the basis for arguing for the truth of the matter.  However, he is guilty of some rather significant errors, some of which Fr. John highlights.  In other cases, he is not so much in error, but there is left an ambiguity which can then become the foundation for error, as the foundation itself is in error.

The first error is the assertion that Sts. Peter and Paul disagreed over circumcision.  Orthodox and Catholics are often accused by protestants of not reading the Bible, and I fear that Professor Demacopoulos comes across in that statement as someone who has not read the Bible, and is, instead relying on someone else’s interpretation.  Acts 15 records the very first Church Council.  As we are told, St. Paul and St. Silas go to Jerusalem to address adherence to the Old Covenant practices with regard to Christians.  St. Paul clearly is of the opinion that the faith that was revealed to him by Christ after his conversion experience does not require adherence to the Jewish practices.  St. Peter arises, during the council, and makes a brief, but eloquent speech, in which he agrees with St. Paul.  The Apostles and Elders determine, based on the revelation that had been given them, that circumcision was not to be required.

Subsequent to this event, St. Paul describes an event in Galatians 2, where, unfortunately, St. Peter appears to be playing the part of the hypocrite.  It is not that he believes differently about circumcision, witnessed by the fact that he will eat with the Gentiles, but that instead of standing up to the Judaizers, he acquiesces when they are around and withdraws from the Gentiles.

A similar error, as Fr. John points out, exists in the description of what St. John of Damascus did with the hymnography.  For the Orthodox, the hymnography is one of the safeguards of theology, so messing with it would be significant, and abandoning it would be unthinkable.  What St. John did was to add some hymns into the mix.  Over time, the Biblical odes fell into disuse in most churches, and only those additional hymns remain.  I suspect this was acceptable because the hymns provided a summary teaching of the odes that preceded them.  The assumption is likely that people are familiar with the odes and their contents, and so the summary teaching, the interpretation, is more critical.

None of this is to argue that the Fathers were in complete agreement on all things.  However, what tends to happen is that people like Demacopoulos take the idea that there are disagreements in the Fathers at times, and thus all things are open to revision.  Now, this is decidedly my assertion about where he is heading, and so is necessarily unfair as he has said nothing directly like this in this article or elsewhere.  He may not even believe it, but there are those who will take what he says as the foundation for such a teaching.  This is where my history in the Episcopal Church comes into play.  I’ve seen this very thing argued.

Demacopoulos further supports my assertion when he says “The significance of the Fathers lies in their earnest and soul-wrenching quest to seek God and to share Him with the world”.  Really?  I would challenge Demacopoulos to support that assertion.  I’m a chanter (or at least I try to be), so I can say that over the 8 years or so that I’ve been involved in that ministry I have chanted a great number of hymns about various Fathers of the Church.  For many/most bishops among the saints, the hymns read similar to this one for St. Athanasius:

You were Orthodoxy’s steadfast pillar, holding up the Church with godly dogmas, O great Hierarch, for you did preach unto all that God the Son is one essence in very truth with God the Father; thus you did shame Arius.  Righteous Father Athanasius, do you entreat Christ God that His great mercy may be granted unto us.

Or, this one, for St. Basil

Your sound has gone forth into all the earth, which has received your word.  Thereby you have divinely taught the Faith; you have made manifest the nature of all things that be; you have adorned the ways of man.  O namesake of the royal priesthood, our righteous Father Basil, intercede with Christ God that our sould be saved.

For others that were either monastics of great piety or martyrs (that is, we know of them primarily from their martyrdom), the hymns have a different flavor, although typically it is that they were deep in piety and adherence to Orthodoxy, such as St. Pelagia.  The “soul-wrenching quest to seek God” isn’t a process for these saints of starting from something new, or attempting to create something new, but rather is a process of deep adherence to Orthodoxy and its ascetical disciplines.  While their quest is a great example, and is significant, it is not “the signficance,” or the hymnography for those concerned with dogma would be quite different.  Demacopoulos reveals a bit about himself on this point that underscores the opposition he has received.

His final major error, I would argue, is his views of Ecumenical Councils.  He asserts that Orthodox Theology has changed “or else there would have been no need for the Fathers to build consensus at successive Ecumenical Councils.”  I look to a distinction that Metropolitan Hierotheos uses in his book on the Person in Orthodox Theology.  There is an experiential theology, which is the actual theology of the Church.  It is the experience of God that the saints of the Church have had.  It is this that comprises the Faith once delivered.  Over the centuries, when you read the stories of the great ascetics, you find remarkable unity, from the earliest desert Fathers up to St. Seraphim of Sarov.  Then there is dogmatic theology.  As Met. Hierotheos states, this is necessarily more polemical.  It’s purpose is to express the experiential theology in dogmatic fashion.  It is where the Fathers have had to adopt various philosophical terms and at time get quite technical.  This is what was happening at the councils.  It was not a consensus building exercise in order to develop new teaching – or worse yet, revise teaching.  It is commonly taught among certain Orthodox (and it is positively dogmatic in the Episcopal church at this point), that since the councils were constructing new teachings, we can construct new teachings now, which might necessarily mean we strike down old teachings.  Finally, it is hard to describe the entire process as one of consensus.  Certainly the dating of Pascha was essentially consensus building and harmonization.  Likely the punishments for those involved in the Arian heresy was probably consensus as the subject is quite pastoral in nature.  However, with regard to the main issue, that of the teaching of Arius, it is hard to describe the process as consensus building when the following is stated in a letter to the Church in Egypt from the council:

The holy Council has anathematized all these ideas, barely able to endure it as we listened to such impious opinions (or rather madnesses) and such blasphemous words.

Yes, as I indicated before, I am reading into some of this essay, and so perhaps I’m being unnecessarily critical.  But I hear the not so faint echoes of the sorts of things that were being taught by leaders in the Episcopal Church not so long ago.  If I imply that the Fathers are only significant as pious examples, I exclude them as sources of dogmatic teaching.  If I imply that the councils were developing new theology through a process of consensus building, I open the door to simply creating new theology now.

So, to reiterate, I find that Democopoulos got his letter mostly wrong, not mostly right.




The Blind Man

In the Orthodox Church, the sixth Sunday of Pascha is the Sunday of the Blind Man from the Gospel according to St. John.  This year was a bit different, as the sixth Sunday landed on May 25th, which is also the celebration of the third finding of the head of John the Baptist, but we still sing and read the hymns of the man born blind.

The story is, on a factual basis, about the healing of a man born blind, the nature of sin, and the ability of Christ, as the Son of God, to forgive sins.  Although one could argue that this has impact on our lives, after all, the ability of Christ to forgive our sins is significant, there doesn’t seem to be much application of this story to our lives.  However, the hymnography of the Church once again provides us with the deeper meaning of this story, and its impact on our lives.  The kontakion for the day goes as follows:

In the eyes of soul have I become unseeing.  Unto You I come, O Christ, as did of old the man born blind, and in repentance I cry to You.  For those in darkness You are the most resplendent light.

The key to this passage is not that Christ is able to heal us physically (which he is), nor that he can forgive our sins (which he can and does), but rather that he can provide us with the ability to clearly see with the eyes of our soul.  The eye of our soul is known as the nous, and is that aspect of humanity that permits us to attain knowledge of God.  While the nous is blind, we can see either not at all or, at best, as St. Paul puts it, dimly.  However, as our nous becomes healed by our relationship with Christ, our ability to perceive God, and enter into communion with Him, grows.  That is the goal of the Christian life, to become deified via communion with God.

And that is the point of that particular Gospel story.

Reading the Old Testament

One of great things about becoming part of the Orthodox Church has been learning how the early Church read the Old Testament. During my time in Protestant Bible Studies, there were typically two approaches used to read the Old Testament. One either read the Old Testament by itself, to see what things you could learn from it, or one read it to gain insights into the New Testament. Typically, both were used, and they seem reasonable.

Interestingly, though, the Church never approached the Old Testament in that manner. The Old Testament, instead, is filled with “types” pointing to Christ and our ultimate salvation. This was brought to mind yesterday when flipping the channel and I ran across Joyce Meyer. Now, I realize that she is not well received among all Protestants, and she has more serious issues in her preaching than this one -but I think her prosperity gospel approach to things may be fed, to some extent, by her lack of understanding about how to read the Old Testament.

In the course of her talk, she referred to Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. She stated (I’m paraphrasing a bit here) that she didn’t know why God asked Moses to stretch his arms out over the Red Sea to help part it. She stated that it was an act of faith on Moses’ part, but that there was no purpose other than that.

Unfortunately, she is unfamiliar with the way the Church read the Old Testament. God did not ask Moses to do it as an act of faith, but rather that we might see the saving power of the cross. We know this from the first Katavasia of the Holy Cross:

Inscribing the invincible weapon of the Cross upon the waters,

Moses marked a straight line before him with his staff and divided the Red Sea,

opening a path for Israel who went over dry-shod.

Then he marked a second line across the waters and united them in one,

overwhelming the chariots of Pharaoh.

Therefore let us sing to Christ our God,

for He hath been glorified.

If she read the rest of the Old Testament in light of the New, as the Church does, I think she would have a different theology than what she has developed.