Sunday, November 30, 2008

Scripture: All our good deeds are NOT like polluted rags

This morning, the first reading from Isaiah included verse 6 from chapter 64 (or verse 5, as the NAB reckons it):
"all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (RSV)
"all our good deeds are like polluted rags" (NAB)
"all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (KJV)
"all our justices as the rag of a menstruous woman" (DR)
Please don't be offended by the Douay-Rheims. It's the most literal translation. The Hebrew word `ed is used here to describe the rag; it literally refers to the blood from a woman's period. From this meaning is derived the sense of "filthy" or "polluted".

Anyway, this verse is often taken out of context by non-Catholic Christians. They use it to show that our "good works" are displeasing to God. But from the context (Isaiah 64 at the very least) you can tell this isn't true. It was true for Israel at the time of this prophecy, but it isn't necessarily true of Christians today.


Gretchen said...

I need to get a DR Bible. Thanks for the comparisons.

Timothy said...

Good point! In particular verse 5 is helpful: "you meet him that joyfully works righteousness."

japhy said...

Thanks for the example, Tim. (It really is right there under your nose!)

I'll try to remember to pray for you and your campus ministry. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Moonshadow said...

At the Princeton Alliance study on Isaiah, a lady last month shared an interpretation of this verse. I blogged my different take on the significance of such imagery which I hope you'll read and comment on.

However I agree with you that non-Catholic Christians press this verse beyond legitimate meaning when they invoke it to deprecate the role of good works in the life of the believer.

Weekend Fisher said...

I think most people have had the experience of finding that their good works were, after all, not as clean as they had thought, but instead were (like the rags) something that defiled.

The one author that I've read that was absolutely most insistent on the perfection of Christian works and the need for perfection in works was John Wesley (needless to say, Protestant). In fact the more I read his works, it looked to me as if his focus on his own works and their goodness was a form of spiritual narcissism. The more righteous someone is, the less they notice it, since their focus is no longer on themselves. The person I've read most recently who put it best was Therese of Lisieux (needless to say, Roman Catholic). She considered herself very imperfect -- and the beauty and spirituality of her writings puts John Wesley to shame.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF