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Showing posts with label rabbinic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rabbinic. Show all posts

Saturday, 22 October 2016

A table of biblical occurrences of qal wachomer

Among the seven middoth (מדות, literally 'measures') or rules for biblical interpretation which rabbinic tradition attributes to Hillel (died c. 10 A.D.), perhaps the best known is the qal wachomer or qal wahomer1 principle (קל וחומר, literally 'light and heavy'). This principle involves either arguing from the lesser to the greater (what logicians would call an argument a minore ad maius) or from the greater to the lesser (a maiore ad minus). If one extends the scope of the qal wachomer beyond biblical interpretation to any logical inference within the biblical text that follows this pattern, it is very common throughout the Bible. I am not aware of any resource that comprehensively tabulates occurrences of qal wachomer arguments within the Bible, so in this article I am offering a step in that direction in the form of a table with 65 biblical texts that certainly or at least plausibly contain a qal wachomer. 

The table is largely my own work, although I did consult this page as a starting point, and was already familiar with a few of the more famous cases either through the academic literature or hearing about them from my theology lecturers. There are a few suggested cases of qal wachomer that I have omitted from the table because I am not convinced they are such.2 I do not claim to have found all biblical instances of qal wachomer, and some of those I have identified may be disputed (especially if the qal wachomer is only implicit or partially stated).

The most common structure for a qal wachomer is, 'If X (a light thing) is true, how much more is Y (a heavy thing) true?' Sometimes the direction is heavy to light, and sometimes the argument is phrased negatively, e.g. '...how much less...?'

A slight majority (39) are from the New Testament. Such reasoning is especially common in the sayings of Jesus in Matthew, Luke and John, in the Pauline Hauptbriefe (undisputed letters) and in Hebrews. Translations are taken from the NASB unless otherwise indicated. The table below can also be downloaded in Excel or PDF format.

Paraphrase of qal wachomer
Ex. 6:12
12 But Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, “Behold, the sons of Israel have not listened to me; how then will Pharaoh listen to me, for I am unskilled in speech?”
If even my own people wouldn't listen to me, how much more will Pharaoh not?
Num. 12:13-14
13 Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “O God, heal her, I pray!” 14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.”
If her father had but spit in her face, she would bear her shame for seven days. How much more then when she has been struck with leprosy?
Deut. 31:27
For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more, then, after my death?
If the Israelites are rebellious while Moses is still around, how much more will they be after he is gone?
1 Sam. 14:29-30
29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See now, how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much more, if only the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”
If I have been cheered by a little honey, how much more would the people have been cheered if they had been allowed to eat freely from the spoil of the Philistines?
1 Sam. 21:4-6
4 The priest answered David and said, “There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.” 5 David answered the priest and said to him, “Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?” 6 So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away.
If women are kept from us on ordinary journeys, how much more on this urgent errand?
1 Sam. 23:3
3 But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the ranks of the Philistines?”
If we are afraid here in our own territory, how much more will we be afraid in enemy territory?
2 Sam. 4:9-12
9 David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, and said to them, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life from all distress, 10 when one told me, saying, ‘Behold, Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him in Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. 11 How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood from your hand anddestroy you from the earth?” 12 Then David commanded the young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hung them up beside the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the grave of Abner in Hebron.
If I had a man executed just for telling me Saul was dead and expecting a reward, how much more will I have you executed for murdering Saul's innocent son inside his own house on his bed?
2 Sam. 16:10-12
 11 Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite? Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him. 12 Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.”
(Heavy to light) If my own son wants me dead, it is no surprise if this man from another tribe does.
2 Sam. 18:11-12
11 Then Joab said to the man who had told him, “Now behold, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? And I would have given you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” 12 The man said to Joab, “Even if I should receive a thousand pieces of silver in my hand, I would not put out my hand against the king’s son; for in our hearing the king charged you and Abishai and Ittai, saying, ‘Protect for me the young man Absalom!’
(Heavy to light; rhetorical rather than argumentative) I would not have murdered Absalom for a thousand pieces of silver, how much less would I do it for ten pieces and a belt?
1 Kings 8:27 (cp. 2 Chr. 6:18)
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!
(Heavy to light) if heaven itself is unfit to contain God, how much less is a man-made building fit to contain God!
1 Kings 13:7-8
7 Then the king said to the man of God, “Come home with me and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.” 8 But the man of God said to the king, “If you were to give me half your house I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place.
(Heavy to light; rhetorical rather than argumentative) I would not go home with you for a reward of half your house; how much less would I do so for some unspecified reward!
2 Kings 5:12
Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
(Heavy to light) Naaman, if Elisha had ordered you do something great to be healed, you would have done it; how much more should you be willing to do the simple, easy task he has given you?
Job 4:17-21
17 ‘Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? 18 ‘He puts no trust even in His servants; And against His angels He charges error. 19 ‘How much more those who dwell in houses of clayWhose foundation is in the dust, Who are crushed before the moth! 20 ‘Between morning and evening they are broken in pieces; Unobserved, they perish forever. 21 ‘Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them? They die, yet without wisdom.’
(Heavy to light) if God even regards his angels as impure, how much more does he regard mere mortals as impure?
Job 15:15-16
15 “Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones, And the heavens are not pure in His sight; 16 How much less one who is detestable and corrupt, Man, who drinks iniquity like water!
(Heavy to light) similar to Job 4:17-21
Job 25:5-6
5 “If even the moon has no brightness And the stars are not pure in His sight, 6 How much less man, that maggot, And the son of man, that worm!”
(Heavy to light) similar to Job 4:17-21
Job 35:13-14
13 “Surely God will not listen to an empty cry, Nor will the Almighty regard it. 14 “How much less when you say you do not behold Him, The case is before Him, and you must wait for Him!
(Heavy to light; Hebrew is difficult and may read differently) if God doesn't answer the cry of the oppressed who don't raise doubts against him, how much less will he answer you, who do?
Prov. 11:31
If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, How much more the wicked and the sinner!
(Logical progression is not obvious - see interpretation of LXX in 1 Pet. 4:18)
Prov. 15:11
Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord, How much more the hearts of men!
(Heavy to light) if even hidden places under the earth are open to God, how much more the hearts of people living on the earth?
Prov. 19:7
All the brothers of a poor man hate him; How much more do his friends abandon him! He pursues them with words, but they are gone.
(Heavy to light) if even the brothers of a poor man hate him, how much more will his friends do so?
Prov. 21:27
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, How much more when he brings it with evil intent!
If the sacrifice of a wicked person is already abominable due to his wickedness, how much more when the sacrifice itself is done in bad faith?
Jer. 12:5
“If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, Then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
(Double qal wachomer) If you can't even keep up with men running, how much more will you not keep up with horses? If you fall down in a peaceful land, how much more in a dangerous land?
Jer. 25:29
For behold, I am beginning to work calamity in this city which is called by My name, and shall you be completely free from punishment? You will not be free from punishment; for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth,” declares the Lord of hosts.’
(Heavy to light) if I am not sparing my own special city Jerusalem from punishment, how much less will I spare the nations?
Ezek. 14:19-21
19 Or if I should send a plague against that country and pour out My wrath in blood on it to cut off man and beast from it, 20 even though Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not deliver either their son or their daughter. They would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.” 21 For thus says the Lord God, “How much more when I send My four severe judgments against Jerusalem: sword, famine, wild beasts and plague to cut off man and beast from it!
If the righteousness of past righteous figures could only spare themselves and not their people in the day of calamity, how much more will the present wicked city of Jerusalem face my judgment?
Ezek. 15:1-5
15 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any wood of a branch which is among the trees of the forest? 3 Can wood be taken from it to make anything, or can men take a peg from it on which to hang any vessel? 4 If it has been put into the fire for fuel, and the fire has consumed both of its ends and its middle part has been charred, is it then useful for anything? 5 Behold, while it is intact, it is not made into anything. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it still be made into anything!
If wood from a vine is useless when it is intact, how much more is it useless when it has been charred by fire?
Jonah 4:10-11
10 Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
If you (a mere mortal) had compassion for a mere plant, how much more should I (the merciful God) have compassion for a huge city?
Sir. 10:31
He who has repute in poverty, how much more also in wealth? And he who is held in disrepute in wealth, how much more also in poverty? (NETS)
(Double qal wachomer) If a person has a good reputation while poor, how much better would his reputation be if he became rich? If a person has a bad reputation while wealthy, how much worse would his reputation be if he lost his wealth?
Matt. 6:26 (cp. Luke 12:24)
26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
If God feeds mere birds, will he not much more feed people?
Matt. 6:30 (cp. Luke 12:28)
30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!
If God clothes mere grass, will he not much more clothe people?
Matt. 10:24-25
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!
(Heavy to light?) If the wicked malign even the master (who is greater), how much more will they malign those who follow him?
Matt. 12:3-6
3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? 5 Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? 6 But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here.
If the letter of the law could be overridden in the presence of the temple, how much more in the presence of the One who is greater than the temple?
Matt. 12:10-12
10 And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse Him. 11 And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
If it is legal to rescue a sheep on the Sabbath, how much more is it legal to rescue a man?
Matt. 12:41-42 (cp. Luke 11:31-32)
41 The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
(Implicit) If Gentiles will be judged (and vindicated) in terms of their contact with Jonah and Solomon, how much more will Jews of this generation be judged (and condemned) in terms of their contact with someone much greater?
Luke 11:11-13 (cp. Matt. 7:9-11)
11 Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
If even earthly, mortal fathers respond to their children's requests with good, earthly gifts, how much more will the divine, heavenly Father respond to his children's requests with good, heavenly gifts? (the contrast in the quality of the gifts is not explicit in Matthew)
Luke 12:6-7 (cp. Matt. 10:29-30)
6 Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
If God cares about sparrows, how much more does he care about people?
Luke 13:15-16
15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? 16 And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
If it is legal to work to provide for animals' basic needs on the Sabbath, how much more is it legal to release a daughter of Abraham from bondage to Satan on the Sabbath?
Luke 16:10-12
10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?
qal wachomer principle stated explicitly in v. 10, followed by two applications
Luke 18:6-7
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge said; 7 now, will God not bring about justice for His elect who cry out to Him day and night, and will He delay long for them?
(Implicit) if even an unjust judge can be moved by persistence to bring justice, how much more can God be? (Thanks to Anonymous for pointing out this instance in the comments.)
John 3:12
12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
If you cannot even believe earthly things, how much less will you be able to believe heavenly things?
John 5:46-47
46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
(Implicit) If you cannot even believe the words of Moses who wrote about me, how much less will you be able to believe my own words?
John 6:61-62
61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them,“Does this cause you to stumble? 62 What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?
(Implicit) If you have been offended by the previous saying, how much more will you be offended by this one…
John 7:23
If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?
If it is legal to 'fix' one small part of the body on the Sabbath, how much more is it legal to 'fix' the whole body on the Sabbath?
John 10:34-36
34 Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
If even those to whom the word of God came can be called 'gods', how much more can God's own Son be called 'God'?
John 19:36
36 For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, "Not a bone of Him shall be broken."
(Implicit) As argued by Longenecker,3 this may be a subtle qal wachomer exegetical argument: if Ps. 34:19-20 is true of the generic 'righteous one', how much more is it true of Jesus, the Righteous One par excellence? However, I think the use of Ps. 34:19-20 in John 19:36 is at least partly explicable in terms of pesher (a revelatory 'this-is-that' interpretation of the contemporary fulfillment of Scripture).
Acts 1:16-20
16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. 19 And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead be made desolate, And let no one dwell in it’; and, ‘Let another man take his office.’
(Implicit) Again, Longenecker4 regards this as a subtle qal wachomer exegetical argument: if Ps. 69:25 and Ps. 109:8 are true of the generic evildoer, how much more are they true of Judas, the traitor par excellence? Again, however, I think the use of the psalms here is at least partly explicable in terms of pesher.5 Note the explicit use of 'this-is-that' pesher language in Acts 2:16.
Rom. 2:25-27
25 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?
(Implicit) if Jews who practice the Law - which they explicitly know - can be regarded as 'circumcised', how much more can Gentiles who meet the Law's requirements - which they do not explicitly know - be regarded as 'circumcised'?
Rom. 5:10
10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
If the death of God's Son yielded a good result for God's enemies, how much more will the life of God's Son yield a good result for God's friends?
Rom. 5:15-17
15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
(Double; restated) Given God's righteous and gracious nature, if the transgression of the lesser man (Adam) had consequences for many, how much more did the grace and righteousness of the greater man (Jesus Christ) have consequences for many?
Rom. 8:31-32
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;
(Double; implicit; heavy to light) If even God, the highest judicial authority of all, is not against us but for us, how much less could any other judicial authority be against us? If God was willing to gratuitously deliver over his own Son to give us a hope, how much more will he consummate this hope when that same Son comes again?
Rom. 11:11-12
11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!
If God brought salvation in allowing his people Israel temporarily to fail, how much more will he bring salvation when he intervenes to end this failure?
Rom. 11:24
24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the naturalbranches be grafted into their own olive tree?
(Heavy to light) If it is possible for wild branches to be grafted into a cultivated olive tree (against nature), how much more is it possible for cultivated branches to be grafted in (in accordance with nature)?
1 Cor. 6:2-3
2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?
(Double; heavy to light) If the saints are competent to judge the world, and angels, how much more are they competent to judge temporal matters?
1 Cor. 9:12
11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.
If others (who did not found the Corinthian church) have a right to reap material things from the Corinthian church, how much more does Paul (who did found the Corinthian church) have this right?
1 Cor. 14:6-9
6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? 7 Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will bespeaking into the air.
(Implicit) If even 'lifeless', earthly sounds require clarity to be useful, how much more do life-giving, heavenly sounds require clarity to be useful?
1 Cor. 15:13-146
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
(Implicit) If not even Christ has been raised, how can anyone else hope to be raised?
2 Cor. 3:7-11
7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. 10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
(Triple qal wachomer) if the ministry of death and condemnation, which is fading away, had glory, how much more does the ministry of the Spirit and righteousness, which surpasses it, have glory?
2 Cor. 11:13-15
13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
(Heavy to light; logic is comparable to Matt. 10:25) If even Satan disguises himself (heavy), it is no surprise if his servants disguise themselves (light)
Gal. 1:8-9
 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now,if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
(Heavy to light; implicit) If even Paul himself (who originally brought them the gospel) or a heavenly angel should be accursed for preaching a different gospel, how much more should anyone else be accursed for preaching a different gospel
Gal. 2:14
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
(Implicit) If it was acceptable for Cephas himself-a Jew-to live like a Gentile, how much more is it acceptable for Gentiles to live like Gentiles?
1 Tim. 3:5
(but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)
If a man is incapable of managing his own natural household, how much more is he incapable of managing God's spiritual household?
Heb. 2:2-3a
2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
(Similar to Heb. 10:29-30) If transgressions under the law were punished, how much more will a rejection of the great salvation be punished?
Heb. 6:13-18
13 For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” 15 And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. 16 For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. 17 In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
(Implicit) Guthrie7 sees an implicit qal wachomer argument here: if even men's oaths have force in confirming their word, how much more does God's oath have force in confirming his unbreakable word? Note, however, the comparative 'in the same way' (rather than 'how much more' as used elsewhere in the letter) casts some doubt on whether a light-to-heavy movement is intended; it may only be an analogy.
Heb. 9:13-14
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
If the blood of physically unblemished animals have cultic efficacy, how much more does the blood of the spiritually unblemished Christ?
Heb. 10:28-29
28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
If apostasy against the old covenant earned a punishment of death, how much more severe a punishment will apostasy against the new covenant earn?
Heb. 12:9-10
9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.
If we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us according to their imperfect will, how much more should we respect our heavenly Father who disciplines us according to his perfect will?
Heb. 12:25
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.
If people who failed to heed Moses' earthly warning (Ex. 19:12-13) did not escape punishment, how much less will people who failed to heed God's heavenly warning (Hag. 2:6-7) escape punishment?
1 Pet. 4:17-18
17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?
(Implicit; v. 18 quotes Prov. 11:31 LXX) If the righteous household God will face judgment and scarcely escape, how much more will wicked unbelievers be unable to escape


  • 1 These transliterations are both widely used, and I am more concerned with ensuring this article receives a decent ranking in Google searches than with meeting transliteration conventions; hence I have not marked up the transliteration.
  • 2 These are Esth. 9:12 (suggested by Wansbrough), 2 Chr. 32:15, Matt. 6:15 (par. Mark 11:26) and 1 Cor. 8:8-10.
  • 3 Longenecker, Richard N. (1999). Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (2nd edn). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 81.
  • 4 Longenecker, op. cit., p. 139.
  • 5 Longenecker writes elsewhere concerning Acts 1:20 that 'While there is here the use of Hillel's first exegetical rule qal wa-ḥomer ("what applies in a less important case will certainly apply in a more important case"), thereby applying what is said in the Psalms about the unrighteous generally to the betrayer of the Messiah specifically, the aspect of fulfilment, as based on typological correspondence in history, gives the treatment a pesher flavor as well'. (Longenecker, Richard N. (2007). Early Church Interpretation. In Stanley E. Porter (Ed.), Dictionary of Biblical Criticism and Interpretation (pp. 78-89). New York: Routledge, p. 80.)
  • 6 Peerbolte thinks the whole argument of 1 Cor. 15:12-20 is a qal wachomer (Peerbolte, Bert Jan Lietaert (2013). How Antichrist defeated Death: The Development of Christian Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Early Church. In Jan Krans, Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte, Peter-Ben Smit & Arie Zwiep (Eds.), Paul, John, and Apocalyptic Eschatology: Studies in Honour of Martinus C. de Boer (pp. 238-255). Leiden: Brill, p. 241.
  • 7 Guthrie, George H. (2007). Hebrews. In G.K. Beale & D.A. Carson (Eds.), Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (pp. 919-996). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 966.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Satan in Rabbinic Literature and the New Testament

The New Testament was written almost entirely by Jews. Jesus is a Jew. Therefore, it goes without saying that first century Jewish religion and culture is very useful background for interpreting the New Testament. In order to better understand this background, scholars have sometimes turned to the literature of rabbinic Judaism, such as the Mishnah and the Talmud. Can rabbinic literature shed any light on our path as we seek to interpret the figure of Satan (the devil) in the New Testament?

I believe it can. However, before investigating this a caveat is needed. The relevance of rabbinic literature for New Testament exegesis is disputed by scholars:
Can the rabbinic writings, and especially the Mishnah, be used legitimately as a historical resource in New Testament interpretation? New Testament scholars have argued about these questions for centuries. Many have routinely quoted or cited rabbinic texts, while others have objected that this material is too late – something like reading Shakespeare through Dickens.1
For example, the Jerusalem Talmud was redacted around 400 A.D., while the Babylonian Talmud was redacted around 500 A.D.2 but remained a work in progress until the seventh century.3

The eminent rabbinic scholar Jacob Neusner is one of those who urges caution:
overall I do not see how the rabbinic literature, which reached closure for its first document two hundred years after the beginning of Christianity, can serve in the way people seem to want to use it, that is, as a handbook of New Testament exegesis.4
He warns against the excesses of scholars such as Billerbeck and, more recently, Lachs, who 'slavishly' appealed to rabbinic parallels at every turn to illuminate what Jesus really meant. He explains that in the composition of rabbinic literature, "Sayings and stories were made up and attributed to prior times or authorities"5, and that it is therefore necessary to read the text critically. We "cannot take at face value attribution of a saying to a first-century authority as reason to assign that saying to that time"6.  

Neusner's succinct answer to the question, "What do I have to know about rabbinic literature to study the New Testament?" is, "Not a whole lot."7

Other scholars are more optimistic. Fernandez, for instance, opines that "Rabbinic texts often provide the best context in which to understand the problematical issues and religious vision underlying the text of the New Testament." 8 He explains,
All Rabbinic texts are subsequent to the New Testament. However, they may be used whenever it may be verified that they represent the crystallization of an oral tradition that dates back to the period of the New Testament, or whenever they present the unfolding of a topic from that period.9
Instone-Brewer has proposed critical methods for determining dates of rabbinic traditions.10 Unfortunately, I'm not qualified to apply such methods. We will proceed to examine the rabbis' understanding of Satan, in the hope that it might throw some light upon the New Testament, but will be cautious about the inferences we draw from any apparent parallels.

For our treatment of Satan in rabbinic literature we will depend heavily on the work of Reeg, who has recently published an essay on this very subject. Reeg describes the rabbinic Satan as a "only a marginal figure" who is seldom mentioned.11

Reeg draws attention to the famous text b. B. Bat. 16a, in which the following statement is attributed to Resh Laqish: "Satan, the evil prompter, and the Angel of Death are all one." This is indeed an important text, and a frequently misunderstood one. Whatever the original context of Resh Laqish's saying (if indeed it is authentic), in its Talmudic literary context it is clear that Satan is to be understood as a personal being. This statement occurs in a passage about Job, where Satan is clearly a personal being. Laqish's statement is best understood as highlighting Satan's different functions: that of accusation (the sense of the word 'satan' itself), that of seduction (hence the identification with the yetzer hara, the evil prompter), and that of destruction (hence the identification with the Angel of Death). In other words, the Accuser, the yetzer hara and the Angel of Death are not three independent sources of evil and calamity but three functions for which a single being is responsible. In support of the claim that Satan and the evil prompter are one, this Talmudic text quotes Genesis 6:5 (a key text for the yetzer hara concept) together with the words, "Only upon himself put not forth thine hand" (Job 1:12). The rabbis have understood this latter clause to mean that Satan was forbidden to tempt Job using the evil prompter, as he otherwise might have done. They regard the internal yetzer hara as susceptible to external influence by Satan.

This is even more apparent from another saying in the immediate context attributed to a Tanna: "[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." Here, the three functions of seduction, accusation and destruction are clearly spelled out, and attributed to a personal being. 

Reeg comments that this Talmudic text's equation of Satan with the accuser, the evil inclination and the Angel of Death is unique and not representative of rabbinic literature in general:
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. Finally, the role of Satan as 'Angel of Death' does not recur in other texts.12
Hence, it is Satan's role as accuser of humans before God - a heavenly prosecutor - that features most prominently in rabbinic sources (which is unsurprising, given that this is the satan's role in Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3).

Reeg notes that the description of Satan as a tempter or seducer is very common in the Babylonian Talmud and the Tanhuma, a function "known from the Bible" (1 Chronicles 21:1).13 He notes that stories about Satan in these rabbinic texts often depict Satan masquerading (e.g. as an old man, a beggar, a seductive woman, a snake, or even a river). Commenting on a story in which Satan disguises himself as a woman, Reeg makes an important observation:
He visualizes carnal desire and can therefore be equated with the evil inclination. One difference, however, cannot be ignored: Satan is an independent figure, while the evil inclination is part of a human being.14
Thus, while Satan in the rabbinic literature can represent or embody various attributes, such as sexual desire or divine justice, he is nonetheless viewed as an external, personal being and not reduced to a mere figure of speech.

On the connection between Satan and Sama'el, Reeg notes the tendency of scholars to identify Satan with another figure, Sama'el (who is a fallen angel, evicted from heaven and sometimes identified with the Angel of Death). However, Reeg himself argues that "Sama'el and Satan are two different figures"15, whose names seem only to be interchangeable in the late midrash Exodus Rabbah and in medieval literature. (Nevertheless, Encyclopedia Judaica states that from the Amoraic period (c. 200-500 A.D.) onward, Sama'el was "the major name of Satan in Judaism.")16. He notes that Sama'el can be addressed as 'wicked' and the name implies he is an angel, whereas Satan is never denoted as wicked and "We cannot be sure about the status of Satan as an angel."17 Satan "is a celestial being that can also appear on earth" and "When masquerading he resembles a demon." Nevertheless, "The sages did not speculate on the origin or the nature of Satan at length."

Finally, "The figure of Satan in rabbinic literature is not connected to, or integrated into, an apocalyptic concept like Belial in the Qumran texts or Satan in the Apocalypse of John in the New Testament."18

Based on Reeg's analysis, what comparison can we make between Satan in rabbinic literature and Satan in the New Testament? First, we can draw attention to the differences. As just noted, Satan in the New Testament is very much an apocalyptic figure and features prominently in eschatological contexts (e.g. Matthew 13:38-43; 25:41; Luke 11:17-22; John 12:31; Acts 26:18; Romans 16:20; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 12:7-10; 20:2). Furthermore, Satan is much more prominent in the New Testament than in rabbinic literature. He is still only part of the supporting cast in the drama of salvation history, but he can be contrasted with God or Christ in a kind of cosmic dualism (John 8:41-44; Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 6:15; James 4:7; 1 John 3:10; 2 Corinthians 6:15). The relative prominence of Satan in New Testament theology can probably be attributed to the historical Jesus himself, to whom are ascribed 17 distinct sayings about Satan or the devil in the Gospels. To these we can add the wilderness temptation narrative (which must derive from an oral account given by Jesus), and the references to Satan and the devil in the letters of Jesus to the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2-3).

Furthermore, unlike rabbinic literature, Satan in the New Testament is unmistakably wicked. This is clear enough from the epithet ho poneros (the evil one), as well as the prophecies of his impending doom (Matthew 25:41; Romans 16:20; Revelation 20:10).

What about the similarities? In the first place, the three main functions attributed to Satan in rabbinic literature (accusation, seduction and destruction) are likewise attributed to Satan in the New Testament. He accuses (Luke 22:31; Revelation 12:10), seduces (Matthew 4:1-11; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Timothy 2:26), oppresses and destroys (Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38; Hebrews 2:14; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 2:10). Moreover, like in rabbinic literature he masquerades (2 Corinthians 11:14), and in some instances resembles a demon (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). 

As in rabbinic literature, the New Testament writers show little interest in Satan's origin or precise nature, but clearly presuppose that he is a celestial being linked closely with angels (Matthew 25:41; 2 Corinthians 11:14; 2 Corinthians 12:7; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7-9). In the association with angels, as well as his eviction from heaven (Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:7-10), the New Testament Satan more closely resembles the rabbinic Sama'el than the rabbinic Satan (assuming Reeg is correct to challenge the previous consensus that these Sama'el and Satan are two names for the same being in rabbinic Judaism).

Particularly noteworthy is the way in which the rabbis correlated Satan with the evil inclination (yetzer hara) without confounding the two. This is helpful in interpreting New Testament texts which associate Satan with the heart or evil desires (Mark 4:15; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Corinthians 7:5). It shows that such associations in no way imply that Satan does not exist as an external figure. As Dahms comments, two rabbinic texts (b. Sanh. 107a and Ex. R. xix.2) seem to imply "that temptation is by the permission of God, that the evil yetzer is its internal possibility and that Satan is the external power responsible for its onset."19 Similarly, Wilson describes the logic of James 1:14-15 and 4:5-7 thus:
the internal conflict with desire can be seen to correlate with an external conflict against the devil and his 'evils.' Failure to resist the internal, desiring impulse leaves one vulnerable to the temptations to sin that supernatural evil contrives.20
In summary, in spite of some obvious differences, broadly speaking there is much common ground between the picture of Satan that emerges from rabbinic literature and that which emerges from the New Testament. To what extent rabbinic literature can be said to form part of the background to the New Testament picture of Satan, I would not want to speculate. However, it appears that rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity followed similar trajectories in their views of Satan based on their shared background in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism. Importantly, both bodies of writings reflect a belief that Satan is a real personal being and not merely an abstraction. In neither case is the interpreter justified in taking the correlation between Satan and the yetzer hara to mean that Satan has no independent existence.

1 Harrington, D.J. (2005). Review Article: Can New Testament Interpreters use Rabbinic Literature? Sewanee Theological Review, 48(3), 335-340. p. 336.
2 Unterman, A. (2010). Historical Dictionary of the Jews. Scarecrow Press, p. 168.
3 Baskin, J.R. (Ed.) (2011). The Cambridge Dictionary of Judaism and Jewish Culture. Cambridge University Press, p. 582.
4 Neusner, J. (1994). Rabbinic Literature and the New Testament: What We Cannot Show, We Do Not Know. Wipf and Stock Publishers, p. 2.
5 Neusner, op. cit., p. 13.
6 Neusner, op. cit., p. 15.
7 Neusner, op. cit., p. 2.
8 Fernández, M.P. (2004). Rabbinic texts in the exegesis of the New Testament. Review of Rabbinic Judaism, 7(1), 95-120. p. 118.
9 Fernández, op. cit., p. 118.
10 Instone-Brewer, D. (2004). Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament: Prayer and agriculture, Vol. 1. Eerdmans, p. 28f.
11 Reeg, G. (2013). The devil in rabbinic literature. In I. Fröhlich & E. Koskenniemi (Eds.), Evil and the Devil (pp. 71-83). Bloomsbury T&T Clark, p. 82.
12 Reeg, op. cit., p. 73.
13 Reeg, op. cit., p. 78.
14 Reeg, op. cit., p. 79.
15 Reeg, op. cit., p. 72.
16 Scholem, G. (2008). Samael. In Encyclopedia Judaica. Accessed at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0017_0_17378.html. Keter Publishing House.
17 Reeg, op. cit., p. 82.
18 Reeg, op. cit., p. 83.
19 Dahms, J.V. (1974). Lead us not into temptation. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 17(4), 223-230. p. 228.
20 Wilson, W.T. (2002). Sin as sex and sex with sin: the anthropology of James 1:12-15. The Harvard Theological Review, 95(2), 147-168. p. 163.