dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts

Friday 8 January 2021

The Church as Spiritual Israel (1): An Important but Sensitive Claim

In his Dialogue with Trypho (written c. 160 C.E.), the early Christian philosopher and apologist Justin Martyr tells his Jewish interlocutor, Trypho, "For we [Christians] are the true spiritual Israel, and the descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham" (Dial. 11.5).1 This is an audacious claim for an uncircumcised Gentile to make—especially in conversation with a physical descendent of Israel (Jacob) who is a devotee of the Jewish religion. It is also a claim that has had massive implications both for Christian interpretation of the Old Testament and for Christian-Jewish relations.

Spiritual Israel and Old Testament Interpretation

A fundamental premise of the Church Fathers was that Scripture, being inspired by God, carries multiple senses. Origen, the prolific third-century theologian, for instance, declares that Scripture has a threefold sense. Citing Proverbs 22:20-21 LXX as a proof text,2 Origen writes:
One must therefore portray the meaning of the sacred writings in a threefold way upon one's own soul, so that the simple man may be edified by what we may call the flesh of the scripture, this name being given to the obvious interpretation; while the man who has made some progress may be edified by its soul, as it were; and the man who is perfect... may be edified by the spiritual law, which has 'a shadow of good things to come'. For just as man consists of body, soul, and spirit, so in the same way does the scripture, which has been prepared by God to be given for man's salvation. (On First Principles 4.2.4.)3
Origen acknowledges that the literal, fleshly meaning is present and can be helpful, but relegates it to beginner's level exegesis. Of the second, soulish meaning (elsewhere called the moral sense), Origen gives as an example Paul's interpretation of the law about muzzling oxen in Deuteronomy 25:4 (cf. 1 Cor. 9:9-11). Coming to the third, spiritual meaning (elsewhere called the typological sense), Origen elaborates thus:
But it is a spiritual explanation when one is able to show of what kind of 'heavenly things' the Jews 'after the flesh' served a copy and a shadow, and of what 'good things to come' the law has a 'shadow'. (On First Principles 4.2.6)4
Origen goes on to cite Paul's allegorical interpretation of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4 as proof that the scriptures have a spiritual, allegorical sense. But our main point here is that Origen, generally, would read references to Israel in the Old Testament as referring to ethnic Israel only in the literal, fleshly sense, while referring to the Church in the more profound, spiritual sense. Since there are countless references to Israel (and related terms) in the Old Testament, this approach—which rests on the claim, made earlier by Justin, that the Church is "spiritual Israel"—has huge implications for biblical interpretation.

It is important to note that post-biblical Jewish interpretation of the Scriptures, as seen in rabbinic literature, is also highly sophisticated and extracts moral and theological meaning that goes far beyond the literal sense. A key difference, though, is that Christians have traditionally read the Jewish Scriptures Christologically, and thus see typological references to Christ and his Church, while Jewish interpreters have not. This distinction, from a Christian point of view, is articulated by Justin to Trypho thus: "...they are contained in your Scriptures, or rather not yours, but ours. For we believe and obey them, whereas you, though you read them, do not grasp their spirit" (Dial. 29.2).5

Spiritual Israel and Supersessionism

The notion that the Church is "spiritual Israel" while ethnic Jewry is "fleshly Israel" is a central plank of the doctrine of supersessionism, which holds that the Church has superseded or displaced ethnic Israel as the chosen people of God. Soulen describes three types of supersessionism: punitive, economic, and structural (which are not mutually exclusive).6 Punitive supersessionism holds that "God abrogates God's covenant with Israel...on account of Israel's rejection of Christ and the gospel."7 Supersessionism of the economic kind holds that Israel's role was a preparatory and transient one: "the ultimate obsolescence of carnal Israel is an essential feature of God's one overarching economy of redemption for the world."8 Israel's role falls away because this was always God's plan, not because of their disobedience. Economic supersessionism is closely related to the spiritual interpretation of the Old Testament, since it maintains that "Israel corresponds to Christ in a merely prefigurative and carnal way, whereas the church corresponds to Jesus Christ in a definitive and spiritual way."9 

The doctrine of supersessionism has—both theoretically and historically—profound implications for Christian-Jewish relations. Punitive supersessionism easily becomes a pretext for open hostility toward the Jewish people. If "carnal Israel" is viewed as a theological reality that stands cursed for rejecting Christ, every generation of Jews may be regarded as "Christ killers" and treated accordingly. Unfortunately, this narrative has played out many times with horrific consequences, particularly since the fourth century, when Christians first became more numerous and more politically powerful than Jews. Economic supersessionism may not provoke hostility toward the Jewish people, but it can entail a patronising view of post-biblical Jewish religion and culture, as though the Jews have foolishly failed to realise that their time is up.

The decades since the Nazi Holocaust have witnessed a sea change in Christian-Jewish relations and in Christian theology pertaining to supersessionism. This is evidenced by, inter alia, official documents from the Roman Catholic Church (see Nostra Aetate from the Second Vatican Council), dialogue between Jewish and Christian leaders, warm collaboration between Jewish and Christian biblical scholars, and the interfaith movement more generally. The establishment of the modern State of Israel has created a new theological question, with "Christian Zionists" for instance regarding this as divinely ordained and a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Christian anti-Semitism has certainly not disappeared but has been beaten back significantly in the churches and the academy. It is probably fair to say that Christian-Jewish relations have never been better than they are now.

Evaluating the Spiritual Israel Claim

Recent improvements in Jewish-Christian relations are good news, but the biblical texts themselves have not changed in the last 75 years.10 While it is good that post-Holocaust biblical scholars and theologians have become more sensitive to the disastrous events that can be enabled by their work, Robinson rightly observes that modern reinterpretation of early Christian texts pertaining to Jews "smacks too much of a sanitizing effort."11 

It would not be methodologically sound to reject or reconfigure Justin Martyr's "spiritual Israel" claim, or any doctrine of supersessionism, simply because such ideas were subsequently used to justify hatred and persecution of Jews. This would be an instance of the fallacy of appeal to consequences. Nor, when examining the relevant New Testament texts, should our interpretation be affected by the current zeitgeist of interfaith friendship and tolerance, good though it is. Rather, the New Testament must be interpreted, and Justin's claim adjudicated, in its ancient historical context. Once we understand what the New Testament witness conveys on the subject, we can reach conclusions about whether it is valid to refer to the Church as "spiritual Israel," and what the consequences are for a doctrine of supersessionism. 

In the articles to follow, we will examine a number of New Testament texts that have often been read as signaling a "spiritual Israel" view of the Church (though the term "spiritual Israel" does not occur in the New Testament). Most of these passages are in the Pauline epistles. They include the allegory of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:21-31, "the Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16, "Israel according to the flesh" in 1 Corinthians 10:18, "We are the circumcision" in Philippians 3:3, the "hidden Jew" in Romans 2:28-29, "not all those of Israel are Israel" in Romans 9:6-8, the interpretation of Hosea in Romans 9:24-26 and 1 Peter 2:10, the olive tree metaphor of Romans 11:16-32, the chosen people in Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 2:9, and the foreigner-to-citizen transformation in Ephesians 2:11-20.

  • 1 Translation from Thomas P. Halton, St. Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, ed. Michael Slusser, trans. Thomas B. Falls (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 20.
  • 2 "Now then, copy them for yourself three times over, for counsel and knowledge on the surface of your heart. Therefore I teach you a true word and good knowledge to heed in order that you may answer words of truth to them who question you" (New English Translation of the Septuagint).
  • 3 Translation from G. W. Butterworth, Origen: On First Principles (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), 275-76.
  • 4 Trans. Butterworth, Origen: On First Principles, 279-80.
  • 5 Trans. Halton, St. Justin Martyr, 44.
  • 6 Structural supersessionism—which for Soulen is the most fundamental kind—"unifies the Christian canon in a manner that renders the Hebrew Scriptures largely indecisive for shaping conclusions about how God's purposes engage creation in universal and enduring ways" (R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996], 31). Soulen notes how the Christian canonical narrative of Creation, Fall and Redemption foregrounds Genesis 1-3 and the New Testament with the result that "The Hebrew Scriptures recede into the background." It is worth noting, however, that for Christian interpreters like Origen, who applied a robust spiritualizing hermeneutic to the Old Testament and found typological references to Christ on almost every page, the Old Testament was not neglected. Structural supersessionism is not dependent specifically on the notion of the Church as spiritual Israel, and thus is less of a concern for the purposes of this article.
  • 7 Soulen, The God of Israel, 30.
  • 8 Soulen, The God of Israel, 30.
  • 9 Soulen, The God of Israel, 29.
  • 10 I suppose one should qualify that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls technically has changed the biblical text by providing scholars with a treasure trove of additional textual and contextual data.
  • 11 Thomas A. Robinson, Ignatius of Antioch and the Parting of the Ways (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2009), 240.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Five things Western Christians can learn from African Christians

This post has been inspired by U.S. Evangelical leader Dr. Michael Brown's article, '4 Things Black Americans Can Teach White Americans About Faith'. I've now spent about half of my adult life living in Africa (seven years). During that time I've married into an African family, been part of a church in which I was the only white person, and am now part of a mixed-race church including people from many African countries. I currently belong to a Bible study group in which I'm one of two white people. Hence, I've been privileged over the past few years to have a window into African culture.

When I first came to Africa in 2007 as a volunteer/missionary, my attitude was that I was coming to 'fix' Africa; that I had a lot to offer to Africa and that Africa had a lot to learn from me. However, for the most part I had it backwards. I've learned a lot more from Africa than Africa has from me. Africa has 'fixed' me a lot more than I've 'fixed' Africa (or, rather, God has used Africa to fix me). Below I want to highlight a few of the things I've learned from the African church. Some of these observations will apply to African culture generally, regardless of religion; but I'm writing in a Christian context.

First, a disclaimer: I'm not claiming that the African church is superior to the Western church, or that African Christians have nothing to learn from Western Christians. Indeed, I think everyone benefits from cross-cultural exchange in the church. However, I think there may be a perception in the West - lingering from the colonial era - that Africa is culturally and anthropologically backward, the church included. When I returned to Canada from my first trip to Africa in 2008, an elderly Christian said to me something along these lines: "So, you've been over working in darkest Africa. But tell me, is it possible to teach them any morals?" While one seldom encounters such overtly discriminatory language with younger generations, I think the assumption that African culture is somehow morally or socially inferior to Western civilization persists in a latent form.

Anyway, on to what I have learned. (Note that I'll be using the term 'Africans' to refer to black people of African descent and 'Westerners' to refer largely to white people of European descent, while allowing for a certain lack of precision in this terminology.)

1. The value of time

The term 'African time' is generally used to refer to the lack of emphasis on punctuality in African culture. Hence, you might receive a wedding invitation where the starting time is specified as 12:00, and then arrive at 12:10, flustered and embarrassed at having arrived late only to find you're the first one to arrive. In an African community church, the Sunday service time is largely dictated by when the congregants arrive, rather than the other way around. This can be frustrating for Westerners who are used to running their lives by the clock. It may appear to us to be disrespectful to God when a service scheduled for 9:00 starts at 9:07.

However, this coin has two sides. When the service starts is one thing, but what about when it ends? Western churches tend to be just as punctual about ending their services on time. A church service will typically run for an hour or an hour and a half, and if it runs long people start shifting in their seats, pointing to their watches, and generally becoming unhappy. After all, they have important things to do: Sunday lunch, grocery shopping, housework, a sporting event to watch, an afternoon nap...

In an African church, however, just as the service starts when it starts, so it ends when it ends - which may be after three hours, or five hours. Instead of trying to squeeze everything into a predetermined interval, the church gives the Spirit freedom to dictate how long the service will last. This gives the impression that, for African Christians, worshiping God is the most important thing on their Sunday to-do list. Everything else can wait. (It's much more in keeping with the Sabbath concept, don't you think?) African Christians don't get tired of singing God's praises and don't get impatient of listening to a minister preach God's Word for an hour or more.

I've experienced Spirit-filled African church services which went on for five hours but which felt like one hour. I think in the West, with our attention spans having been abbreviated by a fast-paced lifestyle and overabundance of visual stimuli, we have a lot to learn from African Christians about the value of time spent with the church in the presence of God.

2. Worship through harmony and dance

Many African people are very gifted when it comes to vocal harmonization, rhythm and dance. Consequently, African worship through music tends to be very expressive and engages the whole being: heart, soul, body and mind. Like many white people, I don't have these gifts and my body generally remains anchored in position even when my emotions and mind are deeply invested in a song.

The fact that African worship music often sounds better, looks better and 'feels' better than Western worship music does not mean it is more pleasing to God or that Western churches should abandon their own beautiful hymns and choruses and try to emulate the African church. That would be a disaster; and what is most important in worship is the sincerity of the worshiper. However, Western Christians can be edified greatly by observing or participating in African worship.

3. Belief in the supernatural

The biblical world is full of supernatural beings and happenings. There are miracles and prophecies. There is angelic visitation and demonic possession. The activity of the Holy Spirit is so central to the life of the New Testament church. Prayer leads directly to divine intervention. However, in the Western church today, with its intellectual sophistication grounded in science and rationalism, these features of the biblical worldview are an embarrassment to many. All too often, when we encounter them in the text, we unconsciously ask, "How do I make this go away?" The question is typically answered by appealing to one of two hermeneutics. The first acknowledges supernatural realities but relegates them exclusively to the distant past, safely out of sight where we don't have to try to square them with our own experience (or lack thereof). The second is more extreme and simply denies objective reality to spirits, miracles, and the rest. Some or all of these features are interpreted metaphorically or existentially. In either case, we tell ourselves that in our daily lives we can completely ignore the supernatural world of the Bible and restrict our attention to the material realm.

According to traditional African belief, spirits (both good and evil) play an active role in life. Visions, healers and charismatics have a place in the worldview. Hence, Africans bring a basic credulity to supernatural features in the biblical text and tend to accept them at face value. African hermeneutics see no need to drive a wedge between the biblical world and our own. Africans thus encounter the supernatural aspects of Bible in an authentic way that is arguably much closer than rationalistic, Western hermeneutics to the way the text was read in antiquity.

Of course, African credulity with respect to miracles, prophecies and spirits also comes with dangers - namely, the danger of being duped by false prophets and deceitful, harmful charismatic practices. The same dangers were well known in the early church. Hence there is a balance to be struck between the extremes of naive credulity and cynical skepticism. This is what, in biblical language, would be called 'discernment'. However, African credulity still serves as a corrective to the Western church which has been heavily influenced by rationalistic skepticism and consequent marginalization of supernatural aspects of the Christian worldview.

4. Respect for authority

Within the African church, and African culture in general, one of the most important values is that of respect for authority and, in particular, elders. Children are disciplined and taught to obey parents and authority figures. Younger people address an older man as a father and an older woman as a mother (indeed, they tend to address other young people as such provided they are married). One follows certain protocols in the presence of an elder in order to show deference and respect.

In general, African churches are characterized by this respect for authority (including for spiritual leaders) which translates into order and decency in church life. This contrasts with the anarchy which characterizes some Western churches, in which each congregant thinks he or she knows better than everyone else and certainly better than the leadership.

Of course, once again this virtue has its downside, which is that an environment where respect for authority is paramount experiences great damage when that authority is abused. In the African context this is particularly evident in the political sphere, where citizens show endless patience toward corrupt and repressive regimes. In the African church, too, the flock is prone to being led astray by lupine leadership. In the West, we have long since 'learned' that human leaders cannot be trusted and that all human authority is suspect. However, at least in an ecclesiastical context, the order and harmony that accompanies sound church leadership more than justifies the African model of respecting authority by default unless or until that authority is abused.

5. Familiarity with certain biblical customs

The last area of learning is not a virtue per se, but simply a fact of life. In certain areas, African culture is much closer to biblical culture (i.e. the culture of the ancient Near East and the Hebrews in particular) than Western culture is. Hence, Africans may be able to encounter certain features of the biblical narrative with a deeper understanding than Western readers.

Firstly, the bride-price custom (ilobolo in Zulu), which is practiced in various forms throughout sub-Saharan Africa, is assumed (but never explained) within the Old Testament narrative (cf. Gen. 24:50-54; 29:16-20; 30:20?; 34:12; Ex. 22:16-17; Judg. 14:1-5, 10-13?; 1 Sam. 18:20-27). In this practice, a man must pay a woman's family a negotiated amount (traditionally cattle, but in urban areas today, cash) before he can marry her. This is not a 'dowry'; in fact, the closest analogue in Western culture would probably be the engagement ring (although in this case the gift goes to the woman's family and not the woman herself). In the traditional African mindset it is this payment, rather than a ceremonial exchange of vows or a civil procedure, which solemnizes the marriage! This is no longer the case from a legal standpoint, of course, but if a man refuses to pay, his in-laws may never recognize him as the legitimate husband of their daughter. The rationale behind the bride-price seems to be threefold. (1) It demonstrates to the woman's family that the man has the means to provide for her. (2) It compels the man to value his wife and marriage and not take it lightly. (3) It compensates the woman's family for their expenditure on raising her, an investment from which they will get no further return since her obligation's will now be to her husband and his family. The bride-price should in no way be construed as the man purchasing the woman as though she were chattel (although obviously in times past the woman moved in marriage from her father's to her husband's sphere of authority).

The bride-price custom is something I experienced firsthand. The social utility of this custom is a subject of debate today, including within the church. I won't go into detail on that here, but I certainly disagree with articles like this one which oppose the practice entirely. I think African Christian families ought to continue with this practice, but parents should not be greedy and should avoid demanding an unrealistic amount that will burden the young couple financially or delay the marriage.

Other examples of biblical rituals and customs which are practiced in modern Africa include male circumcision, animal sacrifice, and polygamy. To observe this is not to endorse these practices (some of which raise profound moral and theological challenges). Nor is it to claim that the way they are practiced in modern Africa corresponds exactly to the way they were practiced in Israel or elsewhere in the ancient Near East. One can simply note that in a number of ways, African culture is closer to biblical culture than Western culture is, and so familiarity with these African customs may assist us in understanding the Bible in its sociological and anthropological context.

I'm grateful to God for all of the faithful African believers in Christ whom I've been blessed to know over the past seven or eight years.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Satan the Prosecutor

When we first meet Satan in the Bible, it is as a lawyer. (Insert obligatory lawyer joke.) “The prosecutor” is the translation of הַשָּׂטָן (haśśāṭān) preferred in Job 1-2 by Fokkelman[1] and in Zech. 3:1-2 by Petersen.[2] Fokkelman explains the setting of the prologue of Job:

The author opens the Book of Job in his role as omniscient narrator. That quality enables him to inform us of what goes on in the heavenly council. He lets us listen in while God is talking to an angel on duty, a sort of District Attorney.[3]
Similarly, Zech. 3:1-2 takes place in a “courtroom setting”,[4] a “legal context…in the divine council”[5]:

The scene is set with השׂטן in the role of prosecutor,המלאך  [hammalʾak] as the defense attorney, Yahweh as the judge, and the high priest Joshua as the defendant (3:1).[6]
Stokes states that according to the “present scholarly consensus,” the śāṭān in the Old Testament “serves God as a sort of prosecuting attorney in the heavenly court.”[7]

It is notable that in these two Old Testament passages (and only these two) śāṭān has the definite article: it is not merely a prosecutor, but the prosecutor. Most scholars do not regard śāṭān as a proper name in these passages, since proper names in Hebrew do not normally have the article, though it is possible.[8] Hence śāṭān should probably be translated here and not transliterated. (This is in contrast to the New Testament, where satanas should definitely be transliterated ‘Satan’ since the writers have already transliterated it from Hebrew/Aramaic into Greek).

It is not necessarily the case that haśśāṭān in Job is the same being as haśśāṭān in Zechariah. The word refers to “a certain office in the divine council”[9] and not necessarily a specific person, though it is likely that ancient readers with both books before them would have identified the two. Hence it is not surprising that by the time the New Testament was written, Satan is the designation of a specific being. There is a consensus that śāṭān refers to a heavenly adversary in four OT texts: Numbers 22:22-32, 1 Chronicles 21:1,[10] Job 1-2, and Zechariah 3.[11]

It is as a heavenly prosecutor that Satan features most prominently in rabbinic literature, as well:

The role of accuser is common to all rabbinic sources, while that of seducer is more or less restricted to the Babylonian Talmud and the Tanhuma.[12]
These dual functions of seduction and accusation were not regarded by the Rabbis as contradictory but as complementary. In BBat 16a, a saying attributed to an anonymous Tanna states that Satan

comes down to earth and seduces, then ascends to heaven and awakens wrath; permission is granted to him and he takes away the soul.
Satan is portrayed here as an overzealous prosecutor who engages in what would be called ‘entrapment’ in a modern legal context. He induces people to sin so that he might prosecute them (and, having won his case, he also plays the role of executioner).

In the New Testament, the accusing function of Satan is nearly absent. Instead, Satan is primarily a seducer and an oppressor. Nevertheless, Satan does appear as an accuser or even prosecutor in a few New Testament passages, two of which will be discussed here.

In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus tells Simon Peter that Satan has requested permission to sift ‘you’ (ὑμᾶς, humas, plural pronoun referring to all the disciples) like wheat. Crump states, “The similarity in this with the heavenly court scenes of Job 1:8-12; 2:3-7 has been observed many times.”[13]

The Greek verb used here, ἐξαιτέω (exaiteō), means “to ask for with emphasis and with implication of having a right to do so.”[14] What does ‘sift like wheat’ mean, and from whom did Satan request permission to do this? In the Old Testament, the imagery of harvesting wheat is used repeatedly to describe divine judgment (Ps. 35:5; Jer. 13:24; Amos 9:9; cf. Matt. 3:12). Hence, Satan’s request for permission to sift the disciples like wheat probably means that he has brought charges against them in the hope of awakening God’s wrath so that he can execute judgment. It is the same concept reflected in the Talmud in BBat. 16a. That God is the recipient of his request for permission is confirmed by Jesus’ countermove, which is to make an intercessory prayer for Simon Peter (σοῦ, sou, singular pronoun). As Crump states, “The juxtaposition of ‘Satan has demanded…but I have asked’ (ἐγὼ δὲ ἐδεήθην) indicates that Jesus’ prayer has been specifically aimed at effectively countering Satan’s interest.”[15]

In this text, then, we have Satan functioning as a prosecutor and Jesus as an intercessor.

Satan’s accusing function is again apparent in Rev. 12:10-11. John sees a vision of war in heaven between Michael and the dragon and their respective angels (the dragon being identified as Satan), and the dragon and his angels lose their place in heaven and are thrown down to earth. A proclamation then comes from heaven:

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser ( κατήγωρ, ho katēgōr)[16] of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. (Rev. 12:10-11 NRSV)
Crump states concerning this passage, “The OT background is that of ‘Prosecutor’ in the heavenly court.”[17] As in the Talmud, the picture here is of an overzealous prosecutor: he brings charges day and night. The Greek word translated ‘accuser’ is katēgōr,[18] a diminutive form of katēgoros, a legal technical term for a prosecutor:

Katēgoros (κατήγορος) refers to the prosecutor in the Athenian court and continued to be used in the Greek East. Katēgoros is also used in the sense of a prosecutor in Josephus (Antiquities, 7.6) and in an inscription from Laconia dated to 42 CE.[19]
The procedure of criminal trials in ancient Israel is described as follows:

Both civil and criminal actions were tried at the gate, and, undoubtedly, the selection of this place for trial was made to allow the maximum number of people to witness the proceedings. In a criminal case, the accusing party stood to the right of the accused[20] and, in the presence of the elders (who were seated), presented his or her complaint. Although this accusation was usually given orally, it might be written. The accused person might be assisted in his or her defense by a defender, who was in fact a witness for the defense. Each of the elders sitting as a judge acted as an arbitrator in the case and might himself give evidence pertinent to the matter being tried. The accusing witness bore special responsibility for prosecuting the case, and his role was emphasized by the rule that, if the death penalty were imposed, it was he who was responsible for throwing the first stone in execution of the judgment.[21]
It seems that in ancient Israel, the role of accuser was not generally conducted by a state-appointed professional as today.[22] Nevertheless, whether by divine appointment or self-appointment, Satan came to be viewed as one fulfilling this function in the heavenly court on an ongoing basis.

So much for the accuser; what about the defence? Once again, in ancient Israel there were not generally professional defence attorneys available to the public. So too, “In ancient Rome, lawyers…generally did not represent private parties before the various courts.”[23] Nevertheless, in Roman criminal procedure, the accused, “if he so desired, could choose a representative to defend him (‘patronus,’ ‘advocatus’).”[24] The nearest equivalent of advocatus in Greek was παράκλητος (paraklētos). It has long been debated whether paraklētos is “a legal word sometimes used more generally or a word of more general meaning sometimes applied in legal proceedings”.[25] A number of scholars and lexical authorities have argued that paraklētos is a technical term meaning something like “defence attorney”. Following Grayston’s careful study of occurrences of this rare word in ancient Greek, many scholars have accepted his conclusion that paraklētos “was a word of general meaning which could appear in legal contexts, and when it did the paraklētos was a supporter or sponsor.”[26] However, Shelfer has more recently argued that paraklētos is a "precise calque for the Latin legal term advocatus". He holds that this meaning applies in all five occurrences in the Johannine writings.[27]

Harvey takes a balanced view of the matter:

When (according to the traditional picture) one came before the judgment seat of God, one would find oneself facing formidable charges. Sins which one had forgotten would be brought against one; and the devil (the ‘accuser’) would be there, seeking to make one appear in the worst possible light. But there would be certain things on the other side. Good deeds might speak in one’s favour and outweigh the contrary evidence. To borrow a term from Jewish legal procedure, one would find that one had a paraclete, an ‘advocate’ (the original word paraklētos was Greek, but had been taken over into the language in the form peraqlit). In a Jewish court a plaintiff or defendant was entitled to enlist the help, not only of a witness to the facts, but of a person of high standing who might give personal support and advise the judges to believe what they were being told. This was not ‘advocacy’ in the western, professional sense: the paraclete influenced the judges’ decision, not by expertise in the law (this was the judges’ business), but by the fact of being a person enjoying the esteem and trust of society. Nevertheless the nearest word in English is probably ‘advocate’, so long as this is understood in a non-professional sense.[28]
The word paraklētos is used several times in the Gospel of John where it refers to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7), and once in 1 John where it refers to Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1). Even in the Gospel, Jesus’ promise to send “another paraklētos” implies that he too is a paraklētos, and the fact that he sends that paraklētos subordinates the Holy Spirit’s role to his own.

In the Gospel of John it is not obvious that the word is used in a legal setting; it is sometimes translated ‘Advocate’ (NIV; NET; NLT; NRSV) but also as ‘Helper’ (NASB; NKJV; ESV; ISV) or some synonym. The functions of the paraklētos in John 14-16 include: (1) dwelling within the community, he gives access to the Father; (2) teaching all things necessary for an approach to the Father; (3) mediating in relation to the community and the world; (4) proceeding against the world on behalf of the community.[29]

However, in John 16:6-11 it is significant that the paraklētos is mentioned in connection with forensic language (sin, righteousness and judgment). It is even more significant that the explanation of how he will “prove the world wrong about judgment” is, “because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” The ruler of this world is recognized by most scholars as a designation for Satan (cf. 1 John 5:19).[30] In John 12:31 he is said to be “cast out” in connection with Jesus’ death. This closely parallels the idea of Rev. 12:7-11, and suggests that Jesus’ death has resulted in the judgment and casting out of the katēgōr, which paves the way for the paraklētos. (Satan remains active, as detailed in Rev. 12:12-18, but now has no access to the heavenly court.)

In 1 John 2:1 the paraklētos is Jesus, and here the forensic connotation of the term is unmistakable: “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”. The key difference between the Holy Spirit as paraklētos and Jesus as paraklētos is that the Holy Spirit is with us whereas Jesus is with the Father. The Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus to assist believers in their earthly situation while Jesus himself intercedes for us in the heavenly court – the exact opposite of Satan’s function.

What is interesting about the words katēgōr and paraklētos is that both were borrowed into Hebrew as loanwords (קַטֵיגוֹר, qaṭēḡôr and פְּרַקְלִיט, peraqlît) and appear frequently in rabbinic literature in legal contexts referring to a prosecutor and advocate respectively, including in the context of the heavenly court.[31] Consider the following examples:

“One single angel is an advocate (peraqlît) out of one thousand accusers (qaṭēḡôr)” (Targum Job 33:23)[32]
“R. Eliezer ben Yaakov says, ‘One who performs one commandment acquires for himself one advocate (peraqlît) but one who transgresses one transgression acquires for himself one prosecutor (qaṭēḡôr).’” (M. Avot. 4:11)[33]
“Michael and Sama’el are like an attorney for the defence (סַנֵּיגוֹר, saneḡôr)[34] and a prosecutor (qaṭēḡôr) [that] stand in court. The one speaks and the other speaks. The one concludes his case and the other one likewise. [Then] the defence attorney knew he had won, and began praising the judge so that he should give the verdict. The prosecutor wished to add a point. Said the defence attorney to him: Be silent, and let us listen to the judge.” (Ex. Rabbah 18.5)[35]
“For on all the days of the year, Satan is able to draw up an indictment[36], but on the Day of Atonement, Satan is not able to draw up an indictment.” (Lev. Rabbah 21.4.H)[37]
It is probable that this Jewish notion of Michael and Satan (or Sama’el) as opposing attorneys stands in the background of the conflict described in Rev. 12:7-9 (cf. also Jude 9), which explains the use of qaṭēḡôr in 12:10. In the New Testament, Michael’s advocacy function is vestigial, having been superseded by that of the exalted Christ.

The Leviticus Rabbah text is significant because it shows that in Jewish thought, atonement was seen as a restraint on Satan’s ability to prosecute. The same idea is taken further in Rev. 12:10-11. Jesus’ atoning work was so efficacious that the Prosecutor did not merely get a day off; he was disbarred!

A last comment concerns the relationship between Jesus’ role as paraklētos and his role as eschatological judge. To our modern minds this appears to be a conflict of interest: how can a judge also serve as intercessor for a defendant? However, in ancient Israel the lines between these various juridical roles were not as clearly demarcated as they are today:

The judge… sometimes personally fulfils the task of prosecuting (like a modern police magistrate) and at other times the judge appears as counsel for the accused.[38]
Reading through the account of the final judgment in Matt. 25:31-46, it appears that Jesus fulfils all of these functions. Or put differently, there is no need for any function besides judge because Jesus fulfils it perfectly. In the meantime, Jesus is available as paraklētos to those who seek Him by faith, while the prosecutor’s office is vacant:

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. (Romans 8:33-34 NASB)

[1] Fokkelman, J.P. (2012). The Book of Job in Form: A Literary Translation with Commentary. Leiden: Brill, p. 37.
[2] Petersen, D.L. (1984). Haggai and Zechariah 1-8: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 186.
[3] Fokkelman, op. cit., p. 15.
[4] White, E. (2014). Yahweh's Council: Its Structure and Membership. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 54. cf. cf. Bovati, P. (1997). Re-establishing Justice: Legal Terms, Concepts and Procedures in the Hebrew Bible. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 236-238.
[5] Petersen, op. cit., p. 190.
[6] White, op. cit., p. 54.
[7] Stokes, R.E. (2014). Satan, Yhwh’s Executioner. Journal of Biblical Literature, 133(2), 251-270. See pp. 251-252. Stokes himself disagrees with the consensus. He thinks the śāṭān’s function is that of executioner, not prosecutor.
[8] See discussion in Laato, A. (2013). The Devil in the Old Testament. In I. Fröhlich & E. Koskenniemi (Eds.), Evil and the Devil (pp. 1-22). London: T&T Clark, pp. 3-5.
[9] Laato, op. cit., p. 4.
[10] The consensus is less dominant concerning 1 Chr. 21:1, which lacks the article and is seen by some as referring to an anonymous human adversary; so Japhet, S. (1993). I & II Chronicles: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, pp. 373-375. Note however that Japhet acknowledges that in Zech. 3:1ff and Job 1-2 Satan is “a member of the divine entourage”, in the former case “the supernatural accuser in the divine court.”
[11] That this point is uncontroversial can be seen in Stokes, R.E. (2009). The Devil Made David Do It… or ‘Did’ He? The Nature, Identity, and Literary Origins of the ‘Satan’ in 1 Chronicles 21:1. Journal of Biblical Literature, 128(1), pp. 91-106. See p. 94; Brown, D.R. (2011). The Devil in the Details: A Survey of Research on Satan in Biblical Studies. Currents in Biblical Research, 9(2), 200-227. See p. 203.
[12] Reeg, G. (2013). The devil in rabbinic literature. In I. Fröhlich & E. Koskenniemi (Eds.), Evil and the Devil (pp. 71-83). London: T&T Clark, p. 73. For a more detailed discussion of Satan in rabbinic literature, see here.
[13] Crump, D.M. (1992). Jesus the Intercessor: Prayer and Christology in Luke-Acts. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 154.
[14] Bauer, W., Danker, F.W., Arndt, W.F. & Gingrich, F.W. (2000). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 344.
[15] Crump, op. cit., p. 155.
[16] Most manuscripts have κατήγορος. See Metzger : 673 for discussion on why the majority of the committee regarded κατήγωρ (found only in Codex Alexandrinus) as original. The words have the same meaning, so this text-critical issue has no effect on our study.
[17] Crump, op. cit., p. 155 n. 3.
[18] Following critical texts; some manuscripts have kategoros
[19] Hidary, R. (2012). Why are there lawyers in heaven? Rabbinic Court Procedure in Halakha and Aggada. Association for Jewish Studies Conference, p. 1.
[20] See Ps. 109:6; Zech. 3:1-2.
[21] Jones, M. & Johnstone, P. (2011). History of Criminal Justice. London: Routledge, p. 24.
[22] So Bovati, op. cit., p. 236.
[23] Andrus, R.B. (2009). Lawyer: A Brief 5000-year History. Chicago: American Bar Association, p. 139.
[24] Eismen, A. (1913). A History of Continental Criminal Procedure. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, p. 23.
[25] Grayston, K. (1981). The Meaning of Parakletos. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 13, 67-82. p. 70.
[26] Grayston 1981: 75.
[27] Shelfer, L. (2009). The Legal Precision of the Term 'παράκλητος'. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 32(2), 131-150.
[28] Harvey, A.E. (2004). A Companion to the New Testament. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 357.
[29] Grayston 1981: 80.
[30] See my paper on the devil in 1 John for further analysis: Farrar, T.J. (2014). The Devil in the General Epistles, Part 3: 1 John. Accessed at http://www.dianoigo.com/publications/The_Devil_in_the_General_Epistles_Part_3_1John.pdf, pp. 3-5.
[31] Sperber, D. (1984). A Dictionary of Greek and Latin Legal Terms in Rabbinic Literature. Ramat-Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, pp. 178-179.
[32] trans. Sperber, op. cit., p. 180. The words here are the Aramaic equivalents of the Hebrew words, and qaṭēḡôr is of course plural.
[33] Hidary, op. cit., p. 1.
[34] This is another term for advocate, similar to peraqlît but more technical: “attorney for the defence.” It is also borrowed from Greek (συνήγωρ). See Sperber, op. cit., p. 126.
[35] trans. Sperber, op. cit., p. 179.
[36] The Hebrew word for ‘indictment’ is from the same root as qaṭēḡôr.
[37] Neusner, J. (2001). A Theological Commentary to the Midrash (Vol. 4). Lanham: University Press of America, p. 88.
[38] Bovati, op. cit., p. 236.