Sunday of I Class, Semidouble
The AB bible reading today was from Genesis. The story recounts how Jacob stole the blessing of the first-born son from his brother Esau by deceiving his blind father. Jacob is of course Israel – from come forth the twelve tribes of Israel as the people of God re-constituted in the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Jacob, as we can see, is a figure of Jesus Christ. Yet the story of today portrays Jacob as a deceiver and thief, not quite the kind of thing one would expect from someone who is a figure of Jesus Christ. Yet the stories of Scripture are the place were we can meet God in His word and thus become knowers of God and doers of godly things – the encounter with God in Scripture is transformative:
These Bookes therefore ought to bee much in our hands, in our eyes, in our eares, in our mouthes, but most of all in our hearts. For the Scripture of GOD is the heauenly meat of our soules (Matthew 4.4), the hearing and keeping of it maketh vs blessed (Luke 11.28), sanctifieth vs (John 17.17), and maketh vs holy, it turneth our soules (Psalms 19.7-10), it is a light lanterne to our feet (Psalms 119.105), it is a sure, stedfast, and euerlasting instrument of saluation, it giueth wisedome to the humble and lowly hearts, it comforteth, maketh glad, cheereth, and cherisheth our conscience: it is a more excellent iewell or treasure, then any gold or precious stone, it is more sweet then hony, or hony combe, it is called the best part, which Mary did choose, for it hath in it euerlasting comfort (Luke 10.42). The wordes of holy Scripture be called words of euerlasting life (John 6.68): for they bee GODS instrument, ordayned for the same purpose. They haue power to turne through GODS promise, and they be effectuall through GODS assistance, and (being receiued in a faithfull heart) they haue euer an heauenly spirituall working in them: they are liuely, quicke, and mighty in operation, and sharper then any two edged sword, and entreth thorow, euen vnto the diuiding asunder of the soule and the spirit, of the ioynts and the marrow (Hebrews 4.12). Christ calleth him a wise builder, that buildeth vpon his word, vpon his sure and substantiall foundation (Matthew 7.24). By this word of GOD, wee shall bee iudged: for the word that I speake (sayth Christ) is it, that shall iudge in the last day (John 12.48). Hee that keepeth the word of Christ, is promised the loue and fauour of GOD, and that hee shall bee the dwelling place or temple of the blessed Trinity (John 14.23). This word, whosoeuer is diligent to read, and in his heart to print that he readeth, the great affection to the transitory things of this world, shall be minished in him, and the great desire of heauenly things (that be therein promised of GOD) shall increase in him. And there is nothing that so much strengtheneth our faith and trust in GOD, that so much keepeth vp innocency and purenesse of the heart, and also of outward godly life and conuersation, as continuall reading and recording of GODS word. For that thing, which (by continuall vse of reading of holy Scripture, and diligent searching of the same) is deepely printed and grauen in the heart, at length turneth almost into nature. And moreouer, the effect and vertue of GODS word is, to illuminate the ignorant, and to giue more light vnto them, that faithfully and diligently read it, to comfort their hearts, and to encourage them to performe that, which of GOD is commanded. It teacheth patience in all aduersity, in prosperity, humblenesse: what honour is due vnto GOD, what, mercy and charity to our neighbor. It giueth good counsell in all doubtfull things. It sheweth of whom wee shall looke for ayde and helpe in all perils, and that GOD is the onely giuer of victory, in all battels and temptations of our enemies, bodily and ghostly (1 Sam 14.4-23, 2 Chronicles 20.7, 17, 29, 1 Corinthians 15.57, 1 John 5.4).
I Book of Homilies, A Fruitful exhortation to the reading of Holy Scripture
The Anglican tradition – would that more of us read/use the Books of Homilies – is as adamant about the nature and primacy of Scripture as is the (early) patristic tradition. Scripture is in-formative and formative at the same time as is indicated in no uncertain terms above : “For that thing, which (by continuall vse of reading of holy Scripture, and diligent searching of the same) is deepely printed and grauen in the heart, at length turneth almost into nature.” This very same attitude is evident in Talking Back (Antirrhetikos) by Evagrius Ponticus. So what to do when Scripture presents us a difficulty? For surely presenting a figure of Jesus Christ as a liar and deceiver poses a problem to the Christian reader of Scripture! Can Scripture live up to the high expectations of the Fathers and Anglicanism?
What Jacob did on the advice of his mother, whereby he dissembled with his father, will be seen to be, if we consider it faithfully and diligently, not so much the presentation to us of a lie as of an allegory. For if we denounce this allegory as a lie, then must we also give the lie to all parables and types, which God forbid.
Anglican Breviary, From the Book against Lying by St. Augustine the Bishop, Lesson iv, p. C225.
The ‘stumbling block’ ought not to cause us to loose faith in Scripture, but on the contrary ought to inspire us to read faithfully and diligently. For St. Augustine, as for Origen before him, ‘impossibilities’ in Scripture are ‘signs’ they signal that here is something especially important and they point beyond the mere surface of the text. Still on the same wavelength with Origen St. Augustine sees here the providential work of the Holy Spirit in the text of Scripture. The present impossibility should make the reader stand still and stay with the text of Scripture and see the patterns of Scripture as they appear in a Christian reading.
First of all – we are dealing with an allegory here says St. Augustine. This seems to mean for him that the significance of what Scripture here records of Jacob is not historical because lying is a vice incompatible with Christian practice. This may seem arbitrary to us, but for St. Augustine it is a principle of divine providence. And for that matter, the historical critical approach also denies historicity to passages of Scripture and replaces them with its own reconstructions in the same way St. Augustine does. Historical criticism differs from St. Augustine in this; it does not presume divine providence and inspiration to be a criterion for understanding the text whereas St. Augustine does. Understanding the text does not presuppose an imaginary objectivity, it presupposes faithfulness.
In this manner St. Augustine is able to recognize that Jacob becomes other than he is by the putting on of goats skins a patter we can also see in the story of Adam and Eve. The latter also put on animal skins at which point in the story they are no longer what they were before. Before the putting on of skins Adam and Eve were without sin, after the putting on of these skins they are sinners. But there is a difference here: Adam and Eve wore their own sins, signified by the animal skins they now wear rather than the skin in which God originally created them. Jacob too, can be said to wear his own sins in wearing the goatskins, the Lord Jesus Christ did not wear sin that same way, He wore ours instead. So what about Jacob?
For certain, he did conceal himself in the skins of goats. If we consider his object in point of fact, we must consider him a liar. For he did this in that he might be taken for a man that he was not.
AB, Augustine, p. C226.
There is no doubt that what Jacob did was deceptive as far as St. Augustine is concerned. But the reason for including this story in Scripture cannot be the recording of a lie. There must be a reason worthy of God as Origen would say. That reason St. Augustine will unpack as follows:
But if his deed be interpreted according to a signification which it hath come to bear, as a type, we find in the goatskins a symbol of sin, and in him who bare not his own sins, but the sins of others.
AB, Augustine, C226
For St. Augustine Genesis 27 is to be refracted through the stories of Gen. 3 and the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ Passion. The latter in their turn are interpreted in the Epistles of the New Testament which all provide context for refracting Gen. 27. By searching Scripture faithfully as a Christian and diligently by looking for connecting patterns, the story of Jacob is still a figure of Jesus Christ in His Passion for our sake. Jesus comes to bare our sins by putting on our skin (becoming incarnate). He becomes what He was not, for our salvation. Pressing further in Scripture to see these patterns is what these ‘stumbling blocks’ are supposed to inspire us to do.
To us this way of reading may seem fanciful at best. But this is because we have been taught to believe that the historical critical method is scientific and objective and therefore gets to the truth of the matter. Yet as Albert Schweizer pointed out so many years ago, the historical critical researchers writing their Lives of Jesus succeeded in producing historical Jesus’s quite different one from the other but in perfect conformity with the presuppositions with which the particular research had been performed. In other words historical critical research is not objective and does not produce the truth it promised to present. It presents an allegory as much as do the Church Fathers, but an allegory minus belief in providence and inspiration. This is not to deny that historical criticism has value. It most certainly has value in understanding Scripture. It is just not vital to understanding it. Vital to understanding Scripture is to read it faithfully (within the parameters set by faith in Jesus Christ) and to read it diligently not merely superficially, because the latter reads the Bible as the words of man rather than as the words of God.
The AB urges us to read Scripture full of Christian faith and attentive to the patterns of providence in Scripture as a whole. This way we encounter the Word of God in His words, in which He will save and transform us.:
This word, whosoeuer is diligent to read, and in his heart to print that he readeth, the great affection to the transitory things of this world, shall be minished in him, and the great desire of heauenly things (that be therein promised of GOD) shall increase in him. And there is nothing that so much strengtheneth our faith and trust in GOD, that so much keepeth vp innocency and purenesse of the heart, and also of outward godly life and conuersation, as continuall reading and recording of GODS word. For that thing, which (by continuall vse of reading of holy Scripture, and diligent searching of the same) is deepely printed and grauen in the heart, at length turneth almost into nature.
I Book of Homilies, ibid.
Fr. Gregory Wassen +