The Old Testament in the Heart of the Catholic Church
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One way that the Catholic Church reads the Old Testament is as a long, slow story of the people chosen by God, seeing the true nature of sin more plainly.

Here is the nature of sin: Sin is real. It is the rejection of God, holiness himself. Sin is universal. All men are afflicted by sin. Only God, holiness himself, can restore man's lost holiness. Only by invoking God's holy name can man be saved from sin.

Only the Jewish people could discover the reality of sin; for man can not see it clearly on his own. [CCC 387] There is a certain irony in the fact that it is God's revelation of himself to the Jewish people that gradually intensifies their sense of sin. By the overwhelming light of his perfect holiness, they came to see their sin more clearly.

As God came closer and closer to the people of Israel, they saw his holiness. As he revealed his holiness, he also revealed that he wanted them to be holy. Read Leviticus, Lev 19:1-2. And yet, as they increasingly desired to be holy, they began to see the mystery of sin: that man seemingly can not resist rejecting and opposing God in ways both large and small. >>


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Read Ps 51:1-12. The psalmist has learned that sin is always an offense against God: ''against thee, thee only have I sinned.'' Thus only God can forgive sin. Furthermore, only God, holiness himself, can restore holiness in man, holiness that man rejected, refused, and abandoned by sin. Sin kills something in man that man can not bring back to life. Only the Creator God can ''create in me a clean heart'' and ''restore to me the joy of thy salvation.''

In the Catechism the Catholic Church professes that the Law given Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 20-24) is a principal means by which, over the centuries, God gradually makes the people of Israel more aware of his great holiness, and thus, of their sins. The God who alone saved the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt also desires to save them from a far greater evil: their sin. In this way Israel gradually learned to invoke God's name as Redeemer [CCC 431], and began to hope for the Messiah [CCC 708].

For the Catholic Church, here is the surprising and unprecedented fulfillment of these long yearnings: the Messiah is the Redeemer God. The presence of the Redeemer God (''God saves'') among men is also the very person of the Messiah, who perfectly accomplishes the mission for which the Father sends him.

For Catholics, the entire Old Testament can be read as a slow unfolding of man's longing for Jesus, a deepening longing, by means of an ever greater awareness of the horror of sin, for the name of ''God saves'' to become flesh and dwell among us. <<

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There is one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is called ''Father''

a.   by many religions.
b.   only by Christians.
c.   only by Jews.

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Read Deuteronomy, Deut 32:6. The Jewish people call God ''Father'' in part because he is

a.   eternally with his Son, Jesus.
b.   holy above all things.
c.   the Creator of the world.

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Read Ex 4:21-23. By his revelation of himself to Israel in his covenant and his gift of the law, God is called Father by the Jewish people because

a.   by these he makes Israel his first-born son.
b.   he reveals himself even more as the Creator.
c.   in this way Israel trembles before him.

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Read 2 Sam 7:8-15. God is also called the Father of

a.   the king of Israel.
b.   the patriarchs.
c.   the prophets.

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In ancient Jewish society, widows and orphans were impoverished. In general a woman could not work outside the home. Thus, widows had few ways to generate income and were usually entirely dependent on the mercy of others. Therefore, fatherless children might go hungry very frequently. Moreover, unless a widow were able to come under the protection of some relative, she lived with a definite increased risk of physical or sexual harm from evil men. Read Ps 68:1-6. ''Most especially'' [CCC 238] God is called Father by the Jewish people

a.   as the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
b.   because the poor are under his loving protection.
c.   in his support of the house of David.

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The Holy Father and bishops in communion with him teach [CCC 239] that calling God Father in part indicates that God

a.   is a man.
b.   is a woman.
c.   is the Creator.

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The Holy Father and bishops in communion with him teach [CCC 239] that calling God Father in part indicates that God

a.   has spoken through the prophets.
b.   is goodness and loving care for all his children.
c.   will come to judge the living and the dead.

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The Old Testament never uses the word Father to refer to God in his eternal relationship to his only Son, Jesus. This meaning of God's Fatherhood is ''unheard-of'' [CCC 240] in the literal meaning of the books of the Old Testament. This central truth of the Catholic faith is only revealed by Jesus himself, as he calls God his Father and reveals that he is the Son who is in intimate communion with the Father and who alone reveals the Father to men.

Of course, reading the Old Testament as if the sacraments were real and the New Testament were true will reveal additional meaning in the Old Testament, but in its literal sense, the Old Testament does not speak of God as Father of his only-begotten Son. <<

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The Holy Father and the bishops in communion with him profess [CCC 239] that God is

a.   like a mother in his tenderness and intimacy.
b.   Mother in her tenderness and intimacy.
c.   not at all like a mother in any way.

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God is Father. He is LIKE a mother in his tenderness and intimacy, but he is Father. However, though he is Father, ''He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.'' [CCC 239]

Many academics and theorists have recently been contending that God should be called ''Mother'' or ''Father-Mother,'' or at least, ''God,'' and not ''Father.'' Others have pointed out a tiny problem with this argument: Jesus addresses God as ''Father'' exclusively. For Jews, ''Father'' is one title for the LORD. For Catholics, Father is a CRUCIAL name: God is eternally Father in relation to his only Son. [CCC 239]

Other scholars have contended that while Jesus used ''Father'' exclusively to address God, the Jewish people sometimes called God Mother. This too is not true. There are times when the Old Testament says God is like a mother, but that is all.

The scholarly evidence from people's names is definitive. Children in the ancient societies around Israel were often given a name referring to a god: ''My father is [the god] Samas'' is one real name that was used; ''My mother is Samas'' is another. People in the societies around Israel were perfectly capable of attributing motherhood/sisterhood, etc., or masculine equivalents, to a god, even to the same god, in the names that people gave their children; it was not a strange concept at all.

Yet this is NEVER done in the normative religious culture of Israel. Never is a feminine name associated with God. Even the GIRL'S names say (for example), ''My father/brother/king is the LORD.'' This is true throughout the entire Old Testament. >>

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The pious people of Israel were absolutely clear that the LORD was Father, not mother. It was not as if they didn't realize that a god might be called ''mother'' or some other feminine name. They weren't ''oppressed'' by their culture into thinking that a god had to have a masculine name. Everybody knew that a god might have a feminine name. But the LORD did not have a feminine name; this was clear to them.

The false gods frequently had sex - with each other, with cattle, etc. The Old Testament ridicules this. In the Old Testament, even before Jesus reveals him fully, God is Father in a way that is completely beyond sex - but he is Father nevertheless.

Please don't be like Marcion. Don't decide who God ''really'' is and then get mad when the Pope and bishops in communion with him don't see it your way. Many important people are now saying that calling God Father is ''oppressive'' and ''sexist.'' They are moving farther from Christ. You can trust not only our Lord, who himself teaches you to say, ''Our Father,'' but also the uncounted generations of the faithful people of Israel who bestowed names on their children associating them with the LORD as Father, and never mother. God is mysteriously, but really, Father. <<

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In the Old Testament, wealth and power were usually seen as

a.   a terrible curse.
b.   morally wrong.
c.   signs of God's favor.

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Read Proverbs, Prov 15:33. ''Humility goes before honor'' is an idea that was

a.   not at all immediately obvious to the Jewish people.
b.   obvious to the Jewish people from the time of Abraham.
c.   partially obvious to the Jewish people from the time of Abraham.

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In the ancient Near East, when a city or a nation was conquered, the invaders usually executed the wealthy and the powerful. When Babylon conquered Israel, the wealthy and powerful were either executed on the spot, or brought back to Babylon as slaves. The only Israelites who escaped were those too poor to bother about. Read Zephaniah, Zeph 2:3. Scholars see Zeph 2:3 as the beginning of a new turn in Israel's reflections about what God was calling them toward. What is this new idea?

a.   the humbled, the poor, and the lowly are the ones who will be saved.
b.   the Messiah will come to save the people of Israel from their slavery.
c.   there is only one God, the LORD, who created the heavens and the earth.

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The ''remnant of Israel'' is a powerful image of those Jews who stay true to God, or return to him, after a disaster. Read Is 10:20-21. Scholars say that Isaiah 41:14-17 was written at a different historical period than Is 10, and addresses as the ''remnant of Israel'' those who will return from the Exile in Babylon. Read Is 41:14-17 now. How is the remnant of Israel referred to there? As:

a.   the clever and learned.
b.   the poor and needy.
c.   the rich and powerful.

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In CCC 710, the Holy Father and bishops in union with him teach the following:

''In God's plan, the Exile already stands in the shadow of the Cross, and the Remnant of the poor that returns from Exile is one of the most transparent prefigurations of the Church.''

The Catholic Church, rich in her Lord's sacramental presence, still journeys in poverty in this fallen world, and awaits her Lord's second coming on the Last Day, when the world will at last be completely whole again, fully able to manifest and join with the holiness of God. Then at last, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, the poverty of this world will be ended. <<

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The exile in Babylon eventually ended. Scholars believe that the book of the prophet Zechariah was written after the exile ended. Yet the promised savior has not yet come, even after the exile has ended, because Zech 9:9 (read it now) foretells his coming and states that he will belong to

a.   the clever, the learned.
b.   the humble, the meek.
c.   the wealthy, the powerful.

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'anawim is the Hebrew word for the humble, poor, lowly, afflicted, meek of Israel. In the Old Testament there is a long, gradual development of the salvific meaning of the 'anawim. The Catholic Church sees many passages in Isaiah as showing clearly that the Messiah himself, while remaining the anointed one of God, priest, prophet, and king, will indeed belong to the poor. Read Is 61:1-2. Yet the Messiah will not only bring the poor ''good tidings.'' Read Is 53:1-3. The Messiah will himself be afflicted. The kingship of Jesus comes about through the Cross.

In her Magnificat, her great hymn of praise, Mary also shows that she too belongs to the poor.

Now read Luke 1:46-55. <<

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copyright (c) 2001 John Kelleher. All rights reserved.