Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Heaven and Leaven

I watched a video on YouTube this evening in which a Christian refuted a clearly heretical claim that God the Father and God the (female) Holy Spirit spiritually conceived the child Jesus and implanted Him in the womb of Mary.  This claim was supported by a tendentious and completely unorthodox reading of Luke 1:35, wherein the angel Gabriel says to Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."  The person advancing the unorthodox claim said that this verse speaks of two of the Persons of the Trinity — that "the Holy Spirit" is not "(the power of) the Most High."  Her analysis misses the use of "overshadow", a clear Old Testament reference to the shekinah cloud of glory. (cf. Ex. 40:34ff; Luke 9:34)

However, this Christian apologist, in the beginning of his refutation, quoted Matthew 13:33, the single-verse parable about the Kingdom of Heaven:  "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened."  His matter-of-fact interpretation of this parable is that the three measures of leaven represent corruptions in doctrine, specifically in the Church's governance, her worship, and the Word of God.  Whence does he derive this interpretation?  Most likely the Scofield Commentary:
That interpretation of the parable of the Leaven (Mt 13:33) which makes (with variation as to details) the leaven to be the Gospel, introduced into the world ("three measures of meal") by the church, and working subtly until the world is converted ("till the whole was leavened") is open to fatal objection:
  1. it does violence to the unvarying symbolical meaning of leaven, and especially to the meaning fixed by our Lord Himself. Mt 16:6-12 Mk 8:15 See "Leaven," Gen 19:3. See Scofield Note: "Mt 13:33".
  2. The implication of a converted world in this age ("till the whole was leavened"), is explicitly contradicted by our Lord's interpretation of the parables of the Wheat and Tares, and of the Net. Our Lord presents a picture of a partly converted kingdom in an unconverted world; of good fish and bad in the very kingdom-net itself.
  3. The method of the extension of the kingdom is given in the first parable. It is by sowing seed, not by mingling leaven. The symbols have, in Scripture, a meaning fixed by inspired usage. Leaven is the principle of corruption working subtly; is invariably used in a bad sense (see "Leaven," See Scofield Note: "Gen 19:3"), and is defined by our Lord as evil doctrine. Mt 16:11,12 Mk 8:15. Meal, on the contrary, was used in one of the sweet-savour offerings Lev 2:1-3. and was food for the priests Lev 6:15-17. A woman, in the bad ethical sense, always symbolizes something out of place, religiously, See Scofield Note: "Zech 5:6". In Thyatira it was a woman teaching (cf). Rev 2:20 17:1-6. Interpreting the parable by these familiar symbols, it constitutes a warning that the true doctrine, given for nourishment of the children of the kingdom Mt 4:4 1Tim 4:6 1Pet 2:2 would be mingled with corrupt and corrupting false doctrine, and that officially, by the apostate church itself 1Tim 4:1-3 2Tim 2:17,18 4:3,4 2Pet 2:1-3.
  1. Leaven, as a symbolic or typical substance, is always mentioned in the O.T. in an evil sense Gen 19:3, See Scofield Note: "Gen 19:3".
  2. The use of the word in the N.T. explains its symbolic meaning. It is "malice and wickedness," as contrasted with "sincerity and truth" 1Cor 5:6-8, it is evil doctrine Mt 16:12 in its three-fold form of Pharisasism, Sadduceeism, Herodianism Mt 16:6 Mk 8:15. The leaven of the Pharisees was externalism in religion. Mt 23:14,16,23-28, of the Sadducees, scepticism as to the supernatural and as to the Scriptures Mt 22:23,29, of the Herodians, worldliness--a Herod party amongst the Jews Mt 22:16-21 Mk 3:6.
  3. The use of the word in Mat 13.33 is congruous with its universal meaning.
Compare that with all the other (Protestant) commentaries found at on Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:21.

I would point out, first, that leaven is not excluded universally from sacrifices in the Old Testament, as the apologist would have you believe:
  • With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with cakes of leavened bread. (Lev. 7:13)
  • You shall bring from your dwellings two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah; they shall be of fine flour, they shall be baked with leaven, as first fruits to the LORD. (Lev. 23:17)
  • "Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel!" says the Lord GOD. (Amos 4:5)
In the New Testament, leaven is used almost exclusively in a negative sense, except for Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:21.  At least, that's why I'm intent on showing by means of Church Father commentaries.  I should begin by quoting the modern Catechism, paragraph 2660:
Prayer in the events of each day and each moment is one of the secrets of the kingdom revealed to "little children," to the servants of Christ, to the poor of the Beatitudes. It is right and good to pray so that the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace may influence the march of history, but it is just as important to bring the help of prayer into humble, everyday situations; all forms of prayer can be the leaven to which the Lord compares the kingdom. (cf. Lk. 13:20-21)
And now for the Church Fathers (and their contemporaries):
  • When in other things examples or illustrations are used, the resemblance cannot hold in every particular, but only in some one point for which the illustration is employed. For instance, When it is said in the Gospel, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman hid in three measures of meal,” are we to imagine that the kingdom of heaven is in all respects like leaven, so that like leaven it is palpable and perishable so as to become sour and unfit for use? Obviously the illustration was employed simply for this object—to shew how, through the preaching of God’s word which seems so small a thing, men’s minds could be imbued with the leaven of faith. (Rufinus)
  • And again the Gospel says that the Saviour spake to the apostles the word in a mystery. For prophecy says of Him: “He will open His mouth in parables, and will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”  And now, by the parable of the leaven, the Lord shows concealment; for He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”  For the tripartite soul [thus the "three measures"] is saved by obedience, through the spiritual power hidden in it by faith... (Clement of Alexandria)
  • This, says he, is the kingdom of heaven that reposes within us as a treasure, as leaven hid in the three measures of meal. (Hippolytus)
  • Therefore He brought forward the similitude of this herb, which has a very strong resemblance to the subject in hand; “Which indeed is the least,” He saith, “of all seeds, but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”  Thus He meant to set forth the most decisive sign of its greatness. “Even so then shall it be with respect to the gospel too,” saith He. Yea, for His disciples were weakest of all, and least of all; but nevertheless, because of the great power that was in them, It hath been unfolded in every part of the world.  After this He adds the leaven to this similitude, saying,“The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened.”  For as this converts the large quantity of meal into its own quality, even so shall ye convert the whole world. (Chrysostom)
  • The conditions of the nascent church required this to be so that the grain of mustard seed might grow up little by little into a tree, and that the leaven of the gospel might gradually raise more and more the whole lump of the church. (Jerome)
  • For on this account, as I have before said, God has suffered men to be with one another, and especially the wicked with the good, in order that they may bring them over to their own virtue. Hear at least what Christ saith to his disciples, “The Kingdom of heaven is like unto a woman who took leaven and hid it in three measures of meal.”  So that the righteous have the power of leaven, in order that they may transfer the wicked to their own manner of conduct. But the righteous are few, for the leaven is small. But the smallness in no way injures the lump, but that little quantity converts the whole of the meal to itself by means of the power inherent in it. (Chrysostom)
  • For that one ought not to be useful to himself alone, but also to many others, Christ declared plainly, when He called us salt, and leaven, and light:  for these things are useful and profitable to others. ... And this is the reason why He called you leaven: for leaven also does not leaven itself, but, little though it is, it affects the whole lump however big it may be. So also do ye: although ye are few in number, yet be ye many and powerful in faith, and in zeal towards God. As then the leaven is not weak on account of its littleness, but prevails owing to its inherent heat, and the force of its natural quality, so ye also will be able to bring back a far larger number than yourselves, if you will, to the same degree of zeal as your own. (Chrysostom)
  • But as there are many ways in which things show a likeness to each other, we are not to suppose there is any rule that what a thing signifies by similitude in one place it is to be taken to signify in all other places.  For our Lord used leaven both in a bad sense, as when He said, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” and in a good sense, as when He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” (Augustine)
  • “The three measures of meal” of which the Lord spake, is the human race. Recollect the deluge; three only remained, from whom the rest were to be re-peopled. Noe had three sons, by them was repaired the human race. That holy “woman who hid the leaven,” is Wisdom. Lo, the whole world crieth out in the Church of God, “I know that the Lord is great.” (Augustine)
  • Hence the Lord says, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”  What is this woman, but the flesh of the Lord? What is the leaven, but the gospel? (Augustine)
Finally, let me appeal to the words of our Savior Himself:  "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven..." (Matt. 13:33)  "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?  It is like leaven..." (Luke 13:21)  Jesus did not say that the Kingdom of God is like bread in which leaven has been hid, but like leaven which is hidden in bread.

P.S. The apologist makes use of the "law of first mention" in assigning a negative (even evil) value to leaven.  The first use of the word "leaven(ed)" (as opposed to "unleaven(ed)") is Exodus 12:15, which states:  "Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses, for if any one eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel."

Now, it certainly is negative that one who eats leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread will be cut off from Israel, but let us consider the reason for this prohibition.  This is the feast of the Passover, when they are to flee Israel in haste:  "In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste." (Ex. 12:11)  The Israelites would not have the time to wait for the leaven to work in the dough!  Outside of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it is permissible (and even normal) to eat leavened bread.  One might even go so far as to say that, since leavened bread may not be eaten "from the first day until the seventh day," it is on the eighth day that leavened bread may be eaten, and the eighth day has creation-centric and Christ-centric overtones to it.

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