Did God Really Kill Onan for Spilling His Seed or for Something Else?

A reevaluation of Onanism in Genesis 38

Today we examine the sin of Onan and whether God directly killed Onan merely for the sin of contraception or for something more?

Before I begin this article, know from the outset that I uphold the teaching of the Catholic Church with regard to sexual morality and contraception. And while I believe and practice the Catholic teaching, I will suggest that the sin of Onan in Genesis 38:9 is not chiefly about the sin of contraception (by way of coitus interruptus) but rather relates to Messianic sacrilege.

First off, what is Onanism?

Webster’s Dictionary defines Onanism as:

1:masturbation
2:coitus interruptus
3:self-gratification

Onanism in the Context of Levirate Marriage:

Onanism is named after the biblical Onan who in Genesis 33 is told by his father, the Patriarch Judah (father of one of the twelve tribes of Israel), to have sex his dead brother’s widow Tamar so that she is not childless. Having sex with the widow of your brother is called “Levirate marriage.”

It is called “Levirate” marriage because the the Latin word “levir” means “husband’s brother.” Centuries after the time of Judah and Onan, Levirate marriage was mandated by God through Moses in Deuteronomy 25:5-6.

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his brother who is dead, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.

Levirate marriage is interesting because it a biblically sanctioned form of either fornication/adultery. For example, Judah’s son Er dies and leave his wife Tamar a widow. His younger brother Onan is required to have sex with Er’s widow Tamar and give her children. This happens whether Onan is not married (sex with Tamar would normally be fornication) or whether Onan is already married to another woman (sex with Tamar would then normally be adultery). It’s not clear from the text, but if the union of the man and the widow constitutes a real marriage, then he’d have multiple wives (sex with Tamar would require polygamy).

Either way, Onan and Tamar are having sex outside of natural law of marriage between one man and one woman, and the arrangement is sanctioned by God. (It’s a situation requiring a footnote.) Moreover, the child produced by these sexual relations would NOT belong to Onan’s house or lineage, but rather to his dead brother Er as Deuteronomy later makes apparent.

The Death of Onan after “Spilling Seed” in Genesis 38:

Here is the precise situation of Er (the deceased), Tamar (Er’s widow), and Onan (younger surviving brother of Er) in Genesis 38:

Then Judah said to [his son] Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife [Tamar], and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also.

Onan’s sin by spilling his semen on the ground is so great that God immediately kills him. This sin of Onanism is terribly grave.

Catholic Apologists (including myself in two my own books) have pointed to Onanism in Genesis 38 as a prohibition against contraception. And they are right to do so, but God did not kill Onan merely for spilling his semen outside of Tamar. Thousands of men have spilled their seed through masturbation and coitus interruptus before, during, and after this time period, and none of them, as far as we know, received a direct death penalty from the Lord.

Why then did God kill Onan in this special case?

Might I suggest that Onan’s sin was especially grave because he was the eldest surviving son of the patriarch Judah. As such he is designated ancestor for the line of the Messiah of Israel. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lion of Judah and Matthew and Luke’s Gospels show that Christ descends from the genetic tribe of Judah.

The narrative goes on to show that this widow Tamar grows desperate so that she veils herself as a prostitute and hired herself out to Judah who does not know that the prostitute is actually his daughter in law. And from their illicit union springs the Messianic line descending into Jesus Christ Himself. Tamar is one of the few women explictly named in the geneology of Christ in Matthew:

and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. (Gen 1:3)

Jewish Irony of Sexual Rights

From a Jewish point of view, the story is ironic. Onan has the right to have sex with Tamar and he spills his seed and despises his birthright as a Messianic forebear. Judah their father actually pays to have sex with Tamar, and he plants the seed and by doing so skips over his sons. The sons no longer have the privilege of being in the lineage of Jesus Christ. This is why, I believe, Onan is killed directly by God. Onan was not likely the first man to masturbate or practice coitus interruptus (both are sins). His GREATER sin was that he despised the Messianic dynasty of the Christ.

Onan engages in coitus interruptus and the Lord slew him. Judah the father engages in prostitution, adultery, and incest…and he lives. The deciding factor over life and death here is willingness to produce a genetic line in accord with the promises of God.

A Final Thought on Judah as Messianic Forebear:

Genesis repeatedly flips the divine inheritance rights of the first born son. Abraham bears Ishmael first and later Isaac. But Isaac is given the covenantal Messianic birthright. Isaac bears Esau and Jacob. But Jacob the younger wins the covenantal Messianic birthright by way of trickery.

Jacob’s first four sons (in order) are: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. But the first three lose their birthrights:

  • In Genesis 34, the second and third born Simeon and Levi lose their status with their father Jacob for their violence.
  • In Genesis 35, Reuben the first born copulates with his step-mother and loses the rights as first-born of Israel.
  • In Genesis 36, we read of the descendents of Esau – those that did not receive the covenantal birthright.
  • In Genesis 37, Judah intervenes to have Joseph sold as a slave, rather than be killed or left in a waterless pit. This shows Judah as righteous and rightly next in line for the covenantal blessing.
  • In Genesis 38, we have the story of Er, Onan, and Tamar with Judah copulating with his daughter-in-law Tamar.

It’s obvious that the narrative from Gen 34-38 is trying to establish not 1-Reuben, 2-Simeon, or 3-Levi as the rightful heir of Abraham, but the fourth born Judah as the rightful heir. Judah’s sons are so sinful that God arranges (by trickery of Tamar) for Judah to copulate with Tamar and skip over his sons altogether.

Conclusion: Sexual Ethics and the Messiah

It’s stunning for any reader of the Bible to see how casually it mentions prostitution, fornication (eg. Samson), adultery, and polygamy. Abraham even seems willing (twice) to share his beautiful wife sexually with rulers so as not to be killed himself.

It almost seems that God totally tolerates sexual sins among the great male saints of the Old Testament. That is is why it is so surprising when God directly intervenes and kills Onan for his sexual sin. This is why I think we can conclude that the “sin of Onan” was not merely contraception by way of coitus interruptus. Rather, Onan’s sin was he was interfering with the dynasty of the promised “Seed of Adam and Abraham” – Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The theological purpose of the book Genesis is track “the Seed” from Adam > Abraham > Isaac > Jacob > Judah. And it seems that Gen 34-38 is all a transition to highlight Judah. If so, then the sin of Onan is made profoundly grave not because its mere contraception, but that it’s contraceiving the plan of God for Judah’s messianic dynasty leading to “the Promised Seed” of Genesis 3:15, who is the Messiah.

If you’d like to learn more Old Testament history, check out my book on Judaism and Catholicism: The Crucified Rabbi and sign up for online biblical, historical, and theological classes at the New Saint Thomas Institute.

Did Israel’s God have a Wife? “Queen of Heaven” in Jeremiah 7

Why Protestants reject Mary as Queen of Heaven

Most Protestants claim (as well as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) that in the early 300s, the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine co-opted Christianity for political purposes and transformed Rome’s pagan theology, imagery and titles into Christian versions:

  1. pagan Temples became Christian Churches
  2. the title “Queen of Heaven” was transferred from the Roman goddess Magna Dea to Jesus Christ’s mother Mary
  3. Pontifex Maximus was transferred as title for Bishop of Rome
  4. patron deities were modified into patron saints
  5. The first day of the week, dedicated as “Sun-Day” became the day of Christian worship rather than the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday

Other examples could be listed. I’ve argued that Constantine was truly Christian and that paganization did not occur in The Eternal City: Rome and the Origins of Catholic Christianity. Rather, I defend the (Catholic) belief that the Holy Trinity planned from creation to use the Roman Empire as the means of salvation through the Roman crucifixion of the eternal Son of God under Roman domination.

Today we address the title “Queen of Heaven” as applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Protestants adhere to the principle of sola scripture (only scripture). In doing so, they search the pages of Scripture for “Queen of Heaven” and they find it in the Old Testament:

The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. (Jer 7:18)

and again:

But we will do everything that we have vowed, burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out libations to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no evil. (Jer 44:7)

The prophet Jeremiah here condemns how Israelites adopted then pagan practice of offering cakes and drink offerings to “the queen of heaven.” This “queen of heaven” was the goddess Asherah who was universally worshipped in the Middle East as a consort bride to Baal or even Yahweh.

We have, in fact, found an archeological pithos sherd found at Kuntillet Ajrud be with an inscription reading: “Yahweh and his Asherah” as depicted below:

There is biblical and archeological evidence for devotion to God’s wife Asherah. But this devotion was contrary to the monotheism practiced by Abraham, Moses, and David. The Israelite prophets were constantly recalling Israel away from worship of Asherah and back to the monotheistic worship of Yahweh.

It would seem, then, to the Protestant that the Catholic practice of calling Mary “Queen of Heaven” is a return to this banned practice in Jeremiah. Epiphanius of Salamis even writes of an early female Christian heresy around AD 375, whereby women devotees in Arabia would worship Mary and offer bread-rolls (Greek κολλυρις or kollyris) to Mary as if she were a goddess. This seems to be a holdover from worship of Asherah as described by Jeremiah.

And yet the Catholic Church does NOT give worship (Greek latria) to Mary. She receives the highest form of praise for a created human (Greek hyperdulia), since she is a human and will always remain a human. However, she is the earthly mother of the King of Heaven and Earth. And by that honor, she is Queen of Heaven.

Moreover, Revelation chapter 12 depicts the mother of the Messiah as crowned with 12 stars, clothed with the sun, and standing on the moon. She is no doubt the Queen of Heaven, just as she is also the Queen of the Jews.

And we should remember that pagan kings were also called Messiah, Son of God, King of Kings, King of Heaven, etc. and yet we do not hesitate to grant these titles to our Lord Jesus Christ.

The abuse of a term by pagans (e.g. Son of God, Queen of Heaven, Pontifex Maximus) does not forfeit their proper use by God-fearing Christians in an orthodox sense.

Question: Do you honor the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The Fall of Satan described in Ezekiel 28

I previously explained how Saint Augustine described the Fall of Lucifer and the demons and related it to Genesis Chapter 1. See video below In this article, I’m asking the question: “Is the Fall of Satan described in Ezekiel 28?” Tertullian, Origen, Jerome, and Augustine interpret the passage as allegorically referring to Lucifer.

Below is the original video on the Fall of Lucifer. Scroll below it to learn more about Ezekiel 28.

In Ezekiel 28, the prophet speaks against the King of Tyre, who was a historical person living in hostility to Yahweh and the people of Israel. However, the prophecy becomes quiet metaphysical and describes a personage beyond the historic King of Tyre. Tyre is the northern neighbor of historical Israel, see photo below:

Here’s the entire passage with my commentary in red (I generally use “Lucifer” to describe him as pre-fallen, non-sinful; and “Satan” to refer to him as fallen and sinful).

11 Moreover the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:

“You were the signet of perfection, [Tertullian interprets “signet” or “seal” as meaning that Lucifer was created in the image of God with perfection – he had the highest created intellect and will]
full of wisdom
and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; [This is taking us beyond the historical king and back to the garden of Eden.]
every precious stone was your covering,
carnelian, topaz, and jasper, chrysolite, beryl, and onyx, sapphire, carbuncle, and emerald; and wrought in gold were your settings and your engravings. [The wearing of jewels was an honor of the High Priest of Israel. This language depicts Lucifer as originally a High Priest ministering before the presence of God.]
On the day that you were created they were prepared. [Lucifer was created in time and as good]

14 With an anointed guardian cherub I placed you; [Commentators debate this because the Seraph, not the Cherub, is the highest kind of angel. And yet here Lucifer the highest angel is called a second-tier “cherub.” It may be that angels like, priests “contain” the lower orders within them. For example, every priest is also a deacon and every bishop is also a priest and deacon, etc.]
you were on the holy mountain of God; [This reminds us that Eden is a mountain. It’s a high place like a temple or pyramid.]
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. [Eden or the Holy Moutain is fiery because of the love of God. “Seraph” means “burning one.”.]

15 You were blameless in your ways [This places Lucifer as sinless in the Garden of Eden. This points to Eden being something beyond a historical and geographical place on planet earth.]
from the day you were created, [Lucifer was created in time and as good]
till iniquity was found in you. [Here he falls in the sin of pride. He becomes Satan.]
16 In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, [Satan is profane and cast away from the Mountain that is Eden]
and the guardian cherub drove you out [this may refer to Saint Michael, see video]
from the midst of the stones of fire. [again the holy Eden/Mountain is on fire]
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; [pride was his sin]
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground; [this seems to refer to Satan being cast to planet earth]
I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. [If we are still observing the fall of Satan, then “kings” here refers to the angelic hosts who witness God’s judgment against him.]
18 By the multitude of your iniquities,
in the unrighteousness of your trade
you profaned your sanctuaries; [His “sanctuaries” may refer to angels that were below him and in his charge – the third of angels that fell with him when God “separated the dark from the light”.]
so I brought forth fire from the midst of you;
it consumed you,
and I turned you to ashes upon the earth [Satan is no longer beautiful but scorched and ashen]
in the sight of all who saw you.
19 All who know you among the peoples
are appalled at you;
you have come to a dreadful end
and shall be no more for ever.” [An eternal condemnation for Satan.]

As you move through the passage, it is difficult to see how it might apply to the historical King of Tyre. He did not live in Eden or on a burning Holy Mountain. He was not cast out by God and scorched with fire and made ugly. So how then would it apply to the King of Tyre?

It is likely that the King of Tyre is singled out as being Satan-like because of his historical association with Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. King Hiram of Tyre made an alliance with Solomon (Solomon was a Messianic “Son of David”, which I’ve discussed here and relating it to Saint Joseph). And King Hiram provided architects, worders, cedar, and gold for the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Temple of Solomon was a mock up model of the Garden of Eden (Temple as Garden of Eden explained in my book The Crucified Rabbi) on the Temple Mount (Moriah).

King Solomon is a Christ-like figure and perhaps King Hiram is like a “high angel” figure. Hence, the King of Tyre’s dynasty turning against God is like Lucifer turning against God and His Messiah.

Regardless, the Ezekiel 28 is the locus classicus on the fall of Lucifer.

Applications for Christians Today:

  • Pride is the sin of Satan and the highest sin (v. 17). Let us pray for humility and meditate on the humility of Jesus Christ.
  • Satan’s fall is liturgical. It refers to priestly structures and sacred places. We cannot bend, break, or corrupt the liturgy of God because the liturgy presents God’s hierarchy and holiness for his creation.
  • It was Saint Michael (a much lower angel) that resisted Satan for the honor of God and His Logos. Let us have devotion and recourse to Saint Michael as a guardian given to us by Christ. It also signifies that personal agents in the lower orders of creation (lower laity or lower clergy) can and do have a place in God’s economy.
  • Christ and His Church have given us tools and defenses to protect us from Satan and his demons. these include:
    • 7 Sacraments
    • Holy water (uniting us to Christ as a sign of baptism)
    • Sacramentals (scapulars, St Benedict medals, blessed salt)
    • Devotion to Our Lady – Mary has replaced Satan as the highest creature in Heaven. Satan, we are told by exorcists, is especially ashamed of being c0-defeated and replaced by a “mere” human woman.
  • The best thing we can do is avoid sin through the grace of Jesus Christ. Every time we sin, even venially, we allow Satan to have a greater influence over our lives and our world.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us,

Dr Taylor Marshall

Catholic Audio: Your Guardian Angel is Not a Pet (Replay Link)

Your Guardian Angel has been with you since you were conceived in your mother’s womb. We should always revere these angelic beings and even ask their prayers. Today we discuss everything you need to know about your Guardian Angel and whether you’re allowed to name your Guardian angel. They are not our pets, they are our leaders. Click below to learn more about our spiritual status with these unseen guardians:

Click to Listen: “Should You Name Your Guardian Angel?”

If audio player does not show up in your email or browser, click here to listen.

Guardian Angels, pray for us,

Dr Taylor Marshall

Liturgy does NOT mean Work of the People (Against Liturgical Pelagianism)

Examples of λειτουργία from the New Testament

It became quite stylish in the liturgical reforms of the 1960s and 1970s to teach that the Greek word for liturgy is λειτουργία (leitourgia) and that this word means “work of the people.” This led to the new idea that λειτουργία or “liturgy” is something that lay people should be leading and even performing within the context of worship.

Does λειτουργία mean “work of the people”? No.

Photo: Pope John XXIII Celebrating the Eastern Divine Liturgy

Liturgy certainly does not mean “work of the people,” and I’ll show you why from examples in Sacred Scripture. But before looking at Scripture, let’s look at the actual Greek word:

The Word “Liturgy” in Greek

λειτουργία, like so many words in Greek, is a composite. The first word half of the word derives form the Greek word “laos” meaning “people.” (There is also the variation of “leos” which is the Attic Greek version of the same word for “people.”) This word “laos” (or “leos” in Attic) is where we get laity and laypeople. It’s a generic word for a collection of people. The Greek name Menelaos means “withstanding the people” and the Greek name Nikolaos means “conquering the people.”

The second part of the word derives from the Greek word “ergon” meaning “work,” as in ergonomic, energy, and synergy.

When you smash the two Greek words together to describe something you get: leitourgia or λειτουργία.

Does λειτουργία mean “work of the people” or “work for the people”?

So the term contains the two Greek words for “people” and “work,” but how do we arrange it for its meaning? On one hand, it could be “work of the people,” meaning something the people work out together. On the other hand, it could be “work for the people,” meaning something done for the benefit of the people.

Option 1: Liturgy as “Work of the People”

The kumbaya (Elvis liturgy) crowd of the 1960s and 1970s insisted that it was former – something people work out when they come together. This led to the idea that lay people should lead prayers, read the lessons, prepare the altar, handle chalices, handle the Eucharist, distribute the Eucharist, bless people in the Communion line, and cleanse the vessels. After all, if liturgy means “work of the people,” then the people ought to be up there doing active work.

Option 2: Liturgy as “Work Done for the People”:

The historical, traditional, and received definition of liturgy or λειτουργία is that it is something done by one for the sake of the people. This may come as a crushing blow to the legions of Christians who were taught that liturgy was the “work of the people,” but it’s the plain truth. In Plato and other Greek authors, λειτουργία is something done by one for the sake of the people. Consequently, the Greek term is usually a priestly or political term depending on the context. And in the Bible, it is usually a priestly term, but we will examine one passage in Romans that is expressly political:

Let’s look at Sacred Scripture to settle the debate:

In the account of the birth of John the Baptist, we discover that his father Zacharias is an Aaronic priest of the tribe of Levi. As such, he serves in the Temple as a priest when it is the time of his allotment. [I explain elsewhere how this detail leads us to know that Christ as born in late December.] The passage explains that St Zacharias goes to the Temple to minister and the original Greek word is that he goes there to do liturgy:

And when his time of service (λειτουργίας) was ended, he went to his home. (Luke 1:23)

Did Zacharias gather a bunch of people to worship the Lord? No, the passage explains that his duty was to go into the Temple and offer incense to Yahweh. He did this to ceremoniously present the prayers of the people to God. It becomes obvious that his “liturgy” was something he did as a priest for the benefit of the people, not something he did as a priest with other people present.

Let’s look at another example from Hebrews:

And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship (λειτουργίας). (Heb 9:22)

This is a description of how Moses consecrated the tabernacle and vessels for divine worship in the Old Testament. The tent/tabernacle and the vessels could only be handled and used by the Levites, as they administered them for the benefit of Israel. Once again we see that λειτουργία refers to what is done by a priestly class on behalf of the laity.

The Liturgy of Christ as for the people:

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry (λειτουργίας) which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Heb 8:6)

The author describes Christ as a High Priest who now administers a better New Covenant through a better λειτουργία or Liturgy. Once again, this λειτουργία is something Christ is administering on our behalf for our salvation. Notably it is His presentation of His Body and Blood to the Father for our redemption – something that is presented in every Liturgy of the Mass.

Roman Emperor as Liturgizer:

And let’s not forget that Saint Paul calls the evil Emperor Nero a “liturgizer.” In Romans 13, Saint Paul explains how the Roman Emperor (at that time Nero) and all political rulers are “liturgizers””

3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant (διάκονός or diakonos) of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers (λειτουργοὶ or leitourgoi) of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Saint Paul identifies the Emperor as διάκονός or deacon and as all rulers as λειτουργοὶ or liturgizers. Be mindful that this Emperor was Nero, and yet he receives sacerdotal titles from Paul.

In fact, the dalmatic (which is worn by deacons) is an imperial garment traditionally reserved for the Byzantine court. I cannot find the source at the moment, but I recall reading once that Constantine was allowed to read Scripture in liturgy while still unbaptized because he was considered to be a quasi-deacon by virtue of his status as Emperor. And the Emperor in Constantinople processed with the Patriarch and the clergy, often in a dalmatic.

Back to “liturgy” in Romans 13. It’s manifest that the Roman Emperor and other Roman rulers are accorded the title of λειτουργοὶ. They are not liturgists designing services. Nero isn’t leading the people in “Gather us in, the rich and the haughty.” Rather these Roman rulers are, according to Paul, appointed by God to administer justice for the people. 

Liturgy as Something Done for People

Liturgy, at least in the Old and New Testament is something priestly or political that is done for the sake of the people. It is communal only in that it is done for others.

A priest saying the Mass alone in a Russian hotel room is doing “work for the people” without anyone else gathered together with him.

Likewise, the Pope gathered at a Mass of 10,000 people is doing “work for the people,” but the people being present doesn’t make it “liturgy.” The liturgy is accomplished in persona Christi for the people. Just as Zacharias was able to do “liturgy” all alone with his thurible in the Temple.

When Christ died on the cross, He administered a new λειτουργία for the people of the world. It was a liturgical act in which nobody participated by dancing, performing, reading from a book, or carrying a vessel. The truly “active participation” was accomplished by the Mother of God, Saint Mary Magdalene, the other women, and by the Apostle John when they lifted up their hearts to the divine Crucified Rabbi on the cross. They painfully and silently received the bloody λειτουργία of Christ on their behalf.

The time has come for us to understand liturgy as sacerdotal and as something done by Christ for His people. Cardinal Sarah summed this up recently with these words:

Liturgy is about God and His work for His people. Whoever tells us that we must celebrate ourselves in the liturgy is undermining biblical liturgy. Liturgy as “work of the people” is liturgical Pelagianism – the heresy that says that man can naturally work for his salvation.

If you’d like to learn about Sacramental Theology and earn your Certificate in Catholic Theology along the way, please join us at the New Saint Thomas Institute. We have a 2 part video on the “Mystical Meanings of the Mass according to Thomas Aquinas” waiting for you:

Learn more about our online theology courses and earn up to 6 Certificates in Philosophy, Theology, and Church History at newsaintthomas.com, the largest global online Institute for theological studies.

Godspeed,
Dr. Taylor Marshall

Christology in the Book of Revelation (and in Saint Irenaeus)

Father Al Kimel has a post up on the Christology of Saint Irenaeus. Irenaeus, he notes, does not see God the Son as something needed to “protect” the transcendence of God from creation. That is, Christ is not a demiurge insulating God from the muddiness of creation.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are co-eternal.

So where is Irenaeus getting his Christology?

Irenaeus heard the teaching of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna. Perhaps Irenaeus was originally from Smyrna. Regardless, it’s universally agreed that Irenaeus was from Asia Minor.

The Christology of Smyrna (and Asia Minor) is that the canonical Apocalypse which repeatedly depicts Jesus Christ as “Yahweh” who repeats the words and actions of “Yahweh” from the books of Daniel and Ezekiel. This is why there is no subordinationism of the Son below the Father and the Spirit below the Son in Irenaeus.

The historical Jesus is Yahweh for the seven churches and seven angels/bishops of the Apocalypse.

If you’d like to learn more about the Christology of the Book of Revelation, check out my free audio commentary on the Book of Revelation: Catholic Perspective on the Book of Revelation Podcast. which begins with the “fiery apparition of Christ in chapter 1.

Will you know everything in Heaven? Thomas Aquinas answers

Will you know everything in Heaven? This question is best answered by exploring the spiritual gift of “counsel.”

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is “counsel.”

What is counsel? Thomas Aquinas defines counsel in this way:

Again, it is proper to the rational creature to be moved through the research of reason to perform any particular action, and this research is called counsel. (STh II-II, q. 52, a. 1).

So counsel is research led by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Thomas also explains how it relates to the virtue of prudence – making right decisions.

It might be asked whether this gift of counsel remains in Heaven. Do the saints in Heaven need counsel? Do the angels need counsel?

Thomas says that counsel remains in the blessed and in the angels. Why?

Because the human saints and the angels in Heaven do not know everything. Contrary to what you may have learned in Sunday school, God doesn’t reveal everything to us in Heaven. There will remain mysteries.

The Blessed Virgin Mary knows more than the angels and saints, but she is still limited in our celestial knowledge. Only the Persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) know all things. Only the three person of the Holy Trinity are omniscient.

Because humans and angels in Heaven are not omniscient, we will continue to seek spiritual counsel. Angels are guided into helping those on earth. Even humans are guided by counsel from the Holy Spirit in aiding those on earth. Yes, Holy Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Peter, Saint Therese of Lisieux, and your guardian angel continue to exercise that spiritual gift of “counsel.”

And we on earth especially need spiritual counsel. How do we gain it:

  1. by not clouding our minds with venial or mortal sin.
  2. by checking in with the Holy Spirit frequently throughout the day “Am I living your will for my life?”
  3. by reading the documents written by the Holy Spirit – Sacred Scripture. Here we find explicit teaching and advice for our lives.
  4. by explicitly asking the Holy Spirit to give us counsel on difficult problems in our lives.

Godspeed,
Dr Taylor Marshall

PS: You might also enjoy my Podcast: Did the Holy Spirit really appear as a Real Dove?

Ascension of Christ as Davidic Cloud Monarch

Son of Man with the Clouds of Heaven

Many of us begin with an incorrect (even heretical) understanding of the Ascension of Christ. I’ve heard it said that Christ eventually “gave up” the use His body, as if he parked it in a garage with the idea of perhaps using His body again at the end of time to judge the living and dead.

Today we will discover the importance in Catholic orthodoxy of the presence of “the cloud” at the Ascension of Christ:

The ascension of Christ is described in Luke’s Gospel and referred to frequently in John. Christ gathers the 11 Apostles at the Mount of Olives where He commands them to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit:

And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

We receive more details in Luke’s Acts 1:8-11:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Perhaps the most important detail here is the description of a “cloud” taking Him out of sight.

Christ did not float up into the sky like a balloon let loose by a child until it disappeared as a dot in the sky too far way to see. Rather, the Body of Christ was taken by a cloud.

Saint Peter perceives the Davidic importance of this event in Acts 2:32-36 when he cites the royal Davidic “Lord said to my Lord” Psalm 110:

The Lord says to my lord:
Sit at my right hand,
till I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your foes!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day you lead your host
upon the holy mountains.
From the womb of the morning
like dew your youth will come to you.
4 The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest for ever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

This is a Psalm declaring that David will “ascend” to his God-appointed throne at God’s right hand and begin to rule. We find that the Davidic king is at least quasi-divine. He is:

  • “my Lord”
  • “priest”
  • “for ever”
  • “will scatter kings…corpses…over the wide earth”

This is a cosmic king. A divine Messiah. Something David could never be and this is why Christ asks how David could ever say: “The Lord says to my Lord.”

This is Trinitarian theology. We find one Divine Person (Lord) speaking to another Divine Person (Lord). For an interesting study of two distinct “Lords” in Hebrew Scripture, I highly recommend The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God by Margaret Barker.

We see the conversation between the “two Lords” in Daniel 7 with the “Ancient of Days” (first Lord) interacting with the Son of Man (second Lord). In Daniel 7:13, the Son of Man comes up to the Father. I’m not making this up or grasping at straws. Christ Himself quotes these passages as references to Himself in the future at Matthew 24:30; 26:64 and Mark 13:26; 14:62 and Luke 21:27:

13 I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a Son of Man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

It’s obvious how this passage in Daniel 7 echoes Psalm 110 with a divine-like King gaining universal dominion over all kings and kingdoms. But notice the “clouds.”

See this post for more: The Davidic Identity of Daniel

Christ purposefully includes “the clouds” in His own citation of this passage during His trial. Ultimately, it’s Christ’s quotation of this passage and “the clouds” that offends the High Priest leads Him to be “convicted” and crucified.

The cloud theme continues in Revelation as I detail in this free Catholic podcast on the Book of Revelation Chapter 14. Jesus Christ rides in “on a cloud” holding a sickle and ready to slay his enemies as described in Ps 110 and Dan 7.

Then I looked, and lo, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.

The Ascension of Christ with the cloud is important and it shows that He is still operating through His assumed human nature. This is good news for Catholics. If Christ has “parked His body” as if to be finished with it, then we would not have the perennial presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in our churches.

Happy Ascension,
Dr. Taylor Marshall

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PS: King David was Eucharistic. 2 Sam 6:17-19 records that when King David ascended as king in Jerusalem, he gave every Israelite a wheat cake, wine, and a cake of grapes. A type of the wheat and grapes of the Eucharist of the Davidic Messiah.

PPS: Here’s a line by line Catholic commentary on the Book of Revelation.

If you’d like to study with me orthodox Christology (study of Christ) and Mariology (study of Mary) study of Mary, please join the New Saint Thomas Institute.

Is Our Salvation Based on the Concepts of Debt and Law?

I just happened upon your blog so I admit that I have not read your books or very much of your blog. However, it concerned me that in this article, you suggest that our salvation was accomplished by payment of a debt.

I am a Catholic and that is not what I believe. The concept of “debt” implies that sin is a sort of legal problem rather than an ontological one. However, I will hold off (for now!) on sharing any further thoughts because quite possibly I have misunderstood you.

Thank you Mary. I love how you hold off on judgment and ask for clarity. So often in the Catholic theological community, people start casting stones. I appreciate your moderation, prudence, and charity. Let’s look more deeply on this topic of debt and law.

“Ontological” = referring to being:

For new readers, by “ontological,” Mary means “having to do with our being or nature” (from Greek ὄν (gen. ὄντος) meaning being. Ontology is the study of being.

If you’d like to get a dictionary or lexicon of all these philosophical words used in Catholic theology, please download my book (for free), Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages (top right corner of taylormarshall.com).

Ontological or Debt/Law?

Salvation is ontological (the elevation of our human nature) and entails Christ transforming us “in Him” into “new creations.” We partake of the divine nature of Christ through His humanity. The hypostatic union becomes the bridge by which we partake of the divine nature. We are deified and in the Beatific Vision, Thomas Aquinas teaches that we will become “deiform” while remaining human and creatures.

So yes, ontological all the way. Catholics (like the Eastern Orthodox) teach that salvation is chiefly a transformation and elevation of human nature.

However, Scripture is replete of examples also discussing salvation in terms of both law and debt/remission.

It’s true Protestants focus almost solely on legal/forensic categories and hence Catholics tend to move away from them. This is a mistake on the Catholic’s part.

We are “freed from the law”. We are “justified” (legal term). Our debts are paid. The jubilee remission of debts is inaugurated by Christ.

Our terms “remission” and “redemption” (to buy back) are financial terms.

The Greek word for “redemption” is strongly legal and financial: ἀπολύτρωσις. It literally means “buying back from, re-purchasing, winning back what was previously forfeited.”

Saint Paul repeatedly refers to how the baptized have been “purchased” by the blood of Christ: “you were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20).

Christ Himself uses money examples as an analogy of sin remission: “And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). “So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’” (Luke 16:5). “And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

It’s not either ontological or legal/debt. It’s all. It’s both/and.

Thomism on Nature and Law

As a Thomist, I would go on to say that all true law (lex) must necessarily based on being (esse). In fact, if a law does not conform to being (natural law), according to Thomas it is not a law at all.

This is why Thomas divides history and covenants into three epochs: Natural Law (Adam to Moses), Old Law (Moses to Christ), and New Law (Christ till Parousia).

For him “New Law” is just another way of saying “New Creation.” Law and ontology are parallel.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Godspeed,
Dr Taylor Marshall

St Joseph as Hidden Tekton King: Exploring the Davidic Identity of Joseph

Saint Joseph as Aragorn from Lord of the Rings

In a previous post, we discussed how Saint Joseph is described in the original Greek New Testament as a τέκτων or “tekton,” which is usually translated as “carpenter,” but it is better translated as “artisan.” A tekton is anyone involved in physical construction and repair. Joseph may have worked with stone, wood, metal, cement, clay, and other substances. The words “technology” and “architecture” are related to the Indo-European root for tekton.

I’m going to argue that “tekton” means more than carpenter, and that it signifies Saint Joseph as a “Master Builder” like his forefathers King David and King Solomon. So let’s go…

We often forget that Saint Joseph is a hidden king. In JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is the rightful hidden king who does not rule but patiently waits in hiding for the proper fullness of days during which he will inaugurate his reign. We see this come to fulfillment in the aptly named third volume Return of the King.

Saint Matthew tells us that Saint Joseph is the heir of King David. I won’t post the entire. genealogy, but you can read it at Matthew 1:1-17:

Here is the abbreviated version:

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of….Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

Saint Joseph is the same kind of king of Aragorn. He is the true genetic heir of David. However, there has been a tragic political shift, and the descendent of David no longer rules from the Palace of David. Instead, Jerusalem is occupied by the imposter King Herod and by uncircumcised idol-worshipping Romans. Like Aragorn, Joseph lives in exile. Joseph lives in Nazareth.

So Joseph is a tekton. A craftsman or artison. This should lead our well-read biblical minds back to the stories of King David and King Solomon:

  • David built Jerusalem.
  • David built a royal palace.
  • David received the divine blueprints to build the Temple of God.

The Davidic Covenant works like this:

“God will be a house (genetic family line of kings) for David and David will build a house for God (physical Temple).”

[To learn more about the 7 Covenants and how that map on to Thomas Aquinas plan of 3 Epochs, please explore the New Saint Thomas Institute’s module lesson on Covenant Theology in “Redmptive History.”]

In royal terms, a house is a legal genetic line. For example, the “House of Windsor.” This is the divinely establish “House of David.” God promises David, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). But the Davidic covenant also has a “house of God” built in Jerusalem in which God shall dwell to establish and regulate David’s kingdom until the advent of the appointed David Messiah.

King David was told by God that he had too much blood on his hands to build the Temple. Instead, David’s son Solomon would build the house/temple. Solomon the son of David becomes the tekton of God’s kingdom. He builds the house of God. He has the ark of the covenant placed in the Holy of Holies. He makes it beautiful and by his prayers, the Divine Glory fills the Temple.

Think now to Joseph. He is a royal king. He builds a house for Mary (Ark of the Covenant) where she is protected and guarded. The Divine Presence (Word made Flesh) comes to inhabit the house that he built. Joseph is the Davidic King. He humbly rules and reigns over Mary and Jesus (even though they are both superior to Joseph).

The irony is that at the actual birth of Christ, Joseph and Mary are literally without a physical house. Tradition places them in a cave stable. We come to learn from Christ that the true Temple is Christ Jesus. Christ says, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it in three days,” referencing the Temple of his Body.

David is a tekton and he is building a house. But the house he is building is the body of the Christ Child. The food and the nurture comes from David. Consequently, David is a tekton of Christ’s body. We are fed on the Eucharist. But Saint Joseph provided food to the Jesus who is the Eucharist. 

Joseph is the Bread-Winner for the Bread of Life.

The climax of the Davidic Covenant finds the king-tekton in exile building a secret Temple of the Holy Spirit – the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate in human flesh. As with King David, David do not conceive the design for the Temple in Jerusalem. They came from Heaven.

Likewise, Joseph did not conceive the New Temple of New Covenant. He does not conceive Jesus. The Logos came from Heaven. Joseph received (David) the plan, and then he oversaw (Solomon) the growth and establishment of that Temple. This is why when Christ reaches maturity (age 30) Joseph is already gone. He perfectly executed his divine vocation as guardian of the hypostatic union.

Happy Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker,

Dr. Taylor Marshall

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please visit the New Saint Thomas Institute (available in 47 nations).