Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

The MOST Theological Collection: Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (The Thought of St. Paul)

"Appendix: Sedaqah in Jewish/Christian Tradition"


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A new spirit of ecumenical openness invites us to increase our study of what help can be had from Jewish sources in the study of St. Paul, especially since so often behind the Greek word he uses there lies a Hebrew word. So philological studies are more important than ever. And in addition, they help us avoid an a priori way of working, trying to make things fit preconceived notions.

No one at all would debate the fact that Hebrew sadiq and sedaqah when applied to humans mean originally meant conduct in accord with what is morally right. Yet there is a powerful tendency, often sparked by a priori considerations, to think that these words mean something quite different when applied to God. The picture is complicated since, in general, we know that ancient words often have a broad span of meaning, and in particular with sedaqah, we know that it acquired the meaning of salvific activity on the part of God.

The Greek and Romans gods were considered by most persons in ancient times to be amoral, acting as if there were no morality at all.1 The gods of Mesopotamia were largely the same.2 So when the Hebrew Scriptures said in Psalm 11:7 that Yahweh is morally right [sadiq], and He loves morally right things [sedaqoth], something strikingly new had been introduced. Psalm 33:5 tells us very similarly: "He loves moral rightness and right judgment [sedaqah and mishpat], the earth is full of the Lord's fidelity to His covenant [hesed]." We begin to get a hint of something further from the second half of the parallelism in this line. It says that the earth is full of God's fidelity to His covenant [hesed]. In spite of the popular belief that "The Greeks always have a word for it," this time they did not. That lack resulted in the unfortunate habit of translating hesed as mercy, as the LXX does with its usual eleos, or English loving kindness. Really, hesed means observance of the covenant bond, and says that God observes His part of the covenant relationship. But we will return to that covenant aspect after a bit.

Now we will move back to Genesis 18:19 in which God, confident of Abraham's fidelity says: "I have chosen him to command his children and his house after him, and they will observe the way of the Lord, so as to do moral rightness and right judgment [sedaqah and mishpat] in order that [lemaan] the Lord may bring upon Abraham all that He has spoken about Him." It seems that Abraham's observance is somehow required in order that the Lord may carry out what He has pledged to Abraham, at least, so that Abraham may not deserve to lose the promises.

Deuteronomy 32:4 also shows God's concern for what is right: "For all His ways are right judgment [mishpat], a God of fidelity [emunah] and not iniquity; morally right and upright [sadiq and yashar] is He."

God's Sedaqah in Conferring Benefits

There are many texts that reflect God's doing good as a matter of sedaqah. For example in Judges 5:11, in the Song of Deborah in thanks for the victory, we find: "There they shall recite the righteous acts [sidqoth] of the Lord." Similarly, in Isaiah 61:10: "He has clothed me with the garments of salvation [yesha] and covered me with the robe of righteousness [sedaqah]." Again, in Isaiah 52:1: "Who is this that comes from Edom? . . . It is I, speaking in moral rightness [sedaqah], great to save."

In Psalm 24:5: "He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and what is morally right [sedaqah] from the God of his salvation." We notice an interesting development of sedaqah in this line. We will return to it later.

Similarly, Job (37:23) voiced his confidence that God would do what is right for him: "The Almighty is excellent . . . in right judgment [mishpat], plenteous in moral rightness [sedaqah]. He will not oppress."

God's Sedaqah in Punishing

But very interestingly, we will now discover that the very same words for moral rightness and salvation can be used to refer to unfavorable things.

A most striking idea of this sort meets us if we read Isaiah 59:15b-18 in the original Hebrew: "The Lord saw, and it was evil in His eyes that there was no carrying out of right judgment [mishpat -- by His people]. And He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intervene [on behalf of sedaqah]. So His own arm caused salvation for Him [tosh'a lo] and His moral rightness [sedaqah], it sustained Him. And He put on moral rightness [sedaqah] as a breastplate, and salvation [yeshua] as a helmet on His head. He clothed Himself with garments of executive vindication [naqam]. . . . According to deeds, accordingly He will repay."

This is a remarkable text. It not only uses sedaqah in the sense of God's will to rectify right order for punishment, but it even uses the root to save, ysh to mean to restore sedaqah by punishment.

So we see that both words, sedaqah and yeshua are capable of going in two directions: they can, as all admit, mean saving activity, but they can also mean punishing activity. The word naqam in the same passage is similarly capable of going in both directions. Hence R. C. Boling, in Judges in the Anchor Bible comments: "The verb naqam, in the Hebrew Bible, as in the Amarna letters, stands for the Suzerain's exercise of his executive prerogatives in the world -- vindication, not vengeance."3 This is correct, for vengeance wills evil to another so it may be evil to him, really, in hatred. God is not capable of hatred. But He is capable of putting things right, of vindication. In naqam and in yeshua He does put things right -- favor for the good, penalty to establish sedaqah for the wicked. G. Mendenhall in The Tenth Generation writes similarly.4 On the one hand, Mendenhall notes on p.78: "The root NQM signifies the exercise of power by the highest legitimate political authority for protection of his own subjects." On the other hand, on p.85: "Yahweh has done for you vindication from your enemies (Judges 11:36)." So to the enemies, it is punishment, to His loyal people, it is vindication.

We find the same ideas, in similar words, in Isaiah 63:5 where God says: "And I was distressed that there was no one to help and my arm caused salvation for me (tosh'a li)."

Isaiah 10:22 says: "Destruction is decreed, overflowing with moral rightness [sedaqah]."

The thought is similar in Lamentations 1:10: "He the Lord is morally right [sadiq], for I have rebelled against His commandment."

Holiness Calls for Sedaqah

To carry out moral rightness is a thing demanded by God's holiness. Thus in Isaiah 5:15-16: "Man is bowed down, and men are brought low, but the Lord of Hosts will be exalted in right judgment [mishpat], and the God, the Holy One, will show himself holy [niqdesh] by moral rightness [sedaqah]."

The same thought appears again in Ezekiel 28:22: "Thus says the Lord God. Behold, I am against you, O Sidon. I will be glorified in your midst, and they shall know that I am the Lord when I inflict punishments on her, and I shall show myself holy in her [niqdashti]."

Covenant and Sedaqah

How is it possible for these words to be used in such opposite senses? We already noted that Psalm 33:5 in the parallel second half of the verse said that "the earth is full of the covenant fidelity [hesed] of the Lord." Psalm 36:10 speaks similarly to God: "Keep up Your covenant fidelity [hesed] to those who love You, Your moral righteousness [sedaqah] to the upright of heart." We notice here that God's exercise of faithful righteousness is conditioned on love and uprightness of heart in the human beings. Psalm 103:17 speaks in much the same way: "But the covenant fidelity [hesed] of the Lord is from age to age on those who fear Him, and His moral rightness [sedaqah] on children's children."

This picture is quite in line with the solemn admonition given by Moses to the people in Deuteronomy 11:26: "Behold, today I am putting before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God . . . and the curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God." In other words, in the covenant God has said, in effect, that He will respond to them according to their response to Him. Psalm 103:17 puts hesed and sedaqah in parallel. The thought seems to be that for God to do what He has pledged in the covenant -- whether it be blessing or curse -- is a matter of what moral rightness calls for, it is a matter of sedaqah. His holiness calls for this.

The relation of the covenant to punishment appears clearly in Nehemiah 9:31-33: "Now, our God, the God, the great, the mighty One, the feared one, who keeps the covenant and covenant fidelity [hesed], let not all our hardship seem slight before You, which has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, and upon our fathers, and upon all Your people since the days of the kings of Assyria to this day. And now You are morally right [sadiq] in all that has come upon us, for You have done the truth [emeth] and we have done wickedly."

The thought is epitomized in an important saying of Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar, in which he claims to quote Rabbi Meir, a disciple of the great Akiba (Tosefta, Kiddushin 1.14): "He [i.e., anyone] has carried out one commandment. Blessings [on him]. He has tipped the scales to the side of merit for himself and for the world. He has committed a transgression. Woe [to him]. He has tipped the scales to the side of debt for himself and for the world."

Romans 3:4 says: "Let God be true, even though every man be false, as it is written (Psalm 51:6): 'So You may be justified in Your words, and win out when You are judged.'" God is pictured as if called to court, as it were, in a rib, a lawsuit. But He emerges justified. He is morally righteous, and loves what is morally righteous. The imaginary objection Paul raises in the next lines confirms this understanding of verse 6: "But if our wickedness serves to show the moral rightness of God: what shall we say?" The sense is this: our wickedness is the occasion of showing that God is righteous, in that He punishes our wickedness.

The Problem of Romans 2:6

This analysis gives us a new approach to the much vexed problem of Romans 2:6 where Paul says that God "will repay each one according to his works."5 How can that be, when Paul so vehemently insists that justification is gratuitous, and that we do not earn salvation? If we put that line into its original context of Psalm 62:12, which is so often translated poorly: "You O Lord, have mercy, for You will repay each one according to his works." We must ask: How does mercy relate to repayment for works? However, the word rendered so often by "mercy" really is our familiar hesed.6 So the sense should amount to this: You, O Lord, really observe the covenant, for You will repay each one according to his works: benefits for obedience, punishment for violation. Now if we examine the covenant more closely we will see that there are two answers if we ask: Why does God give us good things? On the most basic level, it is sheer generosity, unmerited, unmeritable. For no creature could by its own power establish a claim on God. But on the secondary level, i.e., given the fact that He has of His own accord entered into a covenant, in which He has said in effect: "If you do this, I will do that," -- then, even though technically He does not and cannot owe anything to any creature, yet He does owe it to Himself to do what He has said. If the creature carries out covenant obedience, God will surely reward him. That reward can be called sedaqah, for it is a matter of sedaqah for God's Holiness to carry out what He has pledged. Not to do it would be to violate sedaqah, which He in His Holiness cannot violate.

The Problem of Romans 1:17

Now if we turn to the much debated lines of Romans 1:17-18, we should be able to see a solution. Too long, as we said at the start, the "righteousness of God" has been interpreted according to preconceived notions. With truly admirable candor both Lutheran and Catholic participants in a lengthy dialogue on justification by faith confessed: "The starting point for Luther was his inability to find peace with God. . . . [he was] terrified in his own conscience. . . ." And again: "In their situation the major function of justification by faith was, rather, to console anxious consciences, terrified by the inability to do enough to earn or merit salvation."7

To satisfy this preoccupation, exegetes have tended to say that verse 17 speaks of God's salvific activity, while verse 18 speaks of His wrath. But then: What should we do with the conjunction gar which joins the verses? For the conjunction "for" does not reverse the direction of the thought -- from saving to anger -- but it continues the thought in the same direction. How is the direction the same? Because both kinds of activities fall under covenant, in which He, God, has set before the people a blessing and a curse. They may make their choice, and He, under the covenant, will follow through. For Him to act either to save them or to punish them -- both are a matter of hesed, a matter of sedaqah, and naqam, and even yeshua. His Holiness calls for both.

This does not mean we are saying the most favored exegesis is entirely wrong. No, we are suggesting it is shallow. It does not recognize the deeper basis of both

salvific and punitive activity: the hesed of the covenant which offers a choice of blessing or curse.

The Sheggagah Theme Shows His Concern for Moral Rightness

This concern of God for what is morally right shows remarkably in chapter 4 of Leviticus, in the prescriptions for what is to be done in case of sheggagah, involuntary violation of what is right. So the wrongdoer must make up for it, usually by a sacrifice. The comment of Roland J. Faley, On Leviticus 4:1-4:15 (New Jerome Biblical Commentary p.64) is quite right: "Sin was a positive violation of the covenant relationship, whether voluntary or involuntary. Israel's responsibilities were clearly enunciated in the law, and any departure therefrom disturbed the right order of things."8

The stress on rectifying the objective order is quite in accord with what we saw beginning with the text from Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar.

Of course, an involuntary sheggagah was not at all on the same level as a sin done be yad ramah, with a high hand, with full deliberativeness. But yet it should not be just merely ignored as if it did not matter at all. We think of numerous passages that bring this out. For example, in Genesis 12:17 Pharaoh has taken over Abram's wife in good faith. But: "The Lord struck Pharaoh and his household with great plagues because of Abram's wife Sarai." There are similar attitudes shown, whether the incidents are doublets or not, in Genesis 20:1-7 and 26:1-11.

In 1 Samuel 14:24 Saul had sworn an oath that his people would fast. His son Jonathan narrowly escaped death for unwitting violation.

Tobit in 2:13 is very unreasonably careful of this sort of violation. His wife had been given a goat along with her pay. He would not believe it and said: "Where did this goat come from? Perhaps it was stolen! Give it back."

Psalm 19:12-13, still in use in the liturgy says: "Though your servant is careful of them, very diligent in keeping them, yet who can detect failings? Cleanse me from my unknown faults."

The Testament of Levi in 3:5 says: "In the heaven next to it are the archangels, who minister and make propitiation to the Lord for all the sins of ignorance of the righteous."

The theme appears again in the Psalms of Solomon 3:8-9: "The righteous man continually searches his house to remove utterly [all] iniquity [done] by him in error. He makes atonement for [sins of] ignorance by fasting and afflicting his soul."

In the Gospel of Luke, 12:47-48 we find the same attitude: "The slave who knew his master's wishes but did not prepare to fulfill them will get a severe beating, but the one who did not know them, but did things deserving blows [objectively] will get off with fewer stripes."

In the image of the last judgment in Matthew 24:44, those on the left plead ignorance: "Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or away from home or naked or ill or in prison and not attend to You in Your needs." But the judge rejects the plea.

St. Paul had persecuted Christianity out of zeal for what he thought was right. But he still wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:9: "I am the least of the Apostles; in fact, because I persecuted the church of God, I do not even deserve the name." The attitude of 1 Timothy 1:15 is equally Pauline: "I myself am the worst" of sinners.

Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 4:4 have been often misunderstood, by those who did not know the sheggagah theme: "I have nothing on my conscience. But that does not mean that I am justified." A. Büchler explains: "The ancient pious men brought every day a doubtful guilt-offering, to clear themselves from any error of a grave religious nature possibly committed on the previous day."9 This of course is doing even more than Leviticus 4 required, which called for atonement only when the guilty one came to know he had done an unlawful thing.

The First Epistle of Clement (2.3) tells the Corinthians: "You stretched out your hands to the almighty God, beseeching him to be propitious, if you had sinned at all unwillingly [akontes]."

In the Shepherd of Hermas, (Mandate 9.7) we find the angel telling Hermas: "For absolutely, on account of some temptation or transgression of which you are ignorant, you receive what you ask for so slowly." And in Parables 5.7.3: "Only God has the power to give healing for your former ignorances."

Tertullian (Apologeticum 18.2-3) says that God "sent . . . men . . . to proclaim what sanctions he had decreed for not knowing." And in his De idololatria 15.7-8: "I know a brother who was severely chastised in a vision the same night because his slaves, after a sudden announcement . . . had crowned his door. And yet, he himself had not crowned it, nor commanded it . . . and when he came back, had rebuked it."

Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 6.6) wrote: "Whatever any one of you has done out of ignorance, not clearly knowing God, if he repents when he does learn, all his sins will be forgiven him."

John Chrysostom (On Priesthood 4.2) says that some who are electors of priests and bishops are careless, but, "If the elector is guilty of none of these things, but says he was deceived by the opinion of the many, he will not be free of punishment, though he will pay a penalty somewhat less than the one who is ordained."

In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, still in frequent use today, before the Epistle there is a prayer: "Forgive us every offense, both voluntary and involuntary."

The Concept of Sin as Debt

We saw from Simeon ben Eleazar that sin is a debt. That word reflects again God's concern for what is morally right.

In the Old Testament

This notion appears often in the Old Testament, in the sheggagah theme, as we have seen, and also in many other passages.

Hosea 7:1: "When I would [wanted to] heal Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was laid bare." It seems that God wanted to heal them, but the iniquity was a debt to be paid -- within covenant. So He could not, within covenant, heal them. His Holiness called for this attitude.

Jeremiah 11:5: God calls for obedience, "In order that (lemaan) I may carry out the oath that I swore to your fathers." John Bright renders well thus: "this will allow me to carry out the oath that I swore to your fathers."10

Jeremiah 36:3: Asks them to turn from their evil way "and I will forgive their iniquity and their sin [wesalachti]." Bright renders: "and then I can forgive."11 Cf. Jeremiah 11:5 above.

Ezechiel 5:13: God had said in verse 6 that Jerusalem had sinned worse than the nations. Therefore He would punish them and then in v.13: "And my anger shall be fulfilled." Surely does not mean not vengeance (willing evil to another so it may be evil to him) -- which is not in God -- but that the objective order will be rebalanced.

The Septuagint: The verb aphienai is often used to mean forgive. Its connotation is to remit a debt, for example, Genesis 50:17; Exodus 32:32.

In Intertestamental Literature

Hebrew hobah and Aramaic hobah, which directly mean debt, are often used to mean sin. Cf. S. Lyonnet -- L.Sabourin, Sin, Redemption and Sacrifice (Rome, Biblical Institute, 1970, pp.25-26,32.); George F. Moore, Judaism (Harvard U. Press, Cambridge, 1927, II, p.95); M. Jastrow A Dictionary of the Targumim (Pardes, N.Y., 1950, I, pp.428-29); Jacob Levy, Chaldaisches Wörterbuch über die Targumim (Joseph Melzer Verlag, Köln, 1959, p.241); and Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic (Bar Ilan University Press, Ramat-Gan, Israel, 1990, p.189).

Testament of Abraham: E. P. Sanders dates it 1st-2nd century A.D. Recension A:12.l8: "And when he opened the book he found its [those of a soul at judgment] sins and righteous deeds to be equally balanced, and he neither turned it over to the torturers, nor (placed it among) those who were being saved, but he set it in the middle."12

In Chapter 14, Abraham and the Commander in Chief Michael offer a prayer for that soul, which corrects the balance, and it is saved. Eerdmans Bible Dictionary says most scholars think, aside from some Christian interpolations, the Testaments are by a single Jewish author of the 2nd half of the 2nd century B.C.13

In the New Testament

The concept of sin as debt is very clear here. Especially important is the Our Father itself (Matthew 6:12), where we ask to have our debts (= sins) forgiven (opheilemata), as we forgive our debtors = those who have sinned against us. This of course is the same usage of aphienai that is found in the LXX.

The same usage is found in the parable of the talents in Matthew 18:24: "There was brought to him one who owed ten thousand talents." Then in verse 27, "He forgave the debt to him": daneion apheken.

There is also an implication of forgiving a debt in many uses of charizomai:

Luke 7:42: "And since they did not have the means to pay, he forgave each one." (They had owed debts:opheilo).

2 Corinthians 2:7: "So that on the contrary you should forgive and comfort him." 2:10: "To whom you have forgiven anything, so do I."

Colossians 2:13: "Forgiving us all our transgressions."

Colossians 3:13:"Forgiving each other as God has forgiven you." The verb is echarisato -- make a present of the debt.

Ephesians 4:32:"Be kindly, merciful to one another, forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven you."

There is the same implication of debt in the texts of Paul about Christ buying us back, buying at a price:

exagorazo: Galatians 3:13: "Christ has bought us back from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." Galatians 4:5: "That He might buy back those under the law."

agorazo: 1 Corinthians 6:20: "You were bought at a price." 1 Corinthians 7:23:"You were bought at a price."

lytron: Matthew 20:28: "The Son of Man came to give His life as a ransom for the many." Mark 10:45 has the same.

antilytron: 1 Timothy 2:6: "He gave Himself as a ransom for all."

In Rabbinic Literature

The concept that sin is a debt is abundant in Rabbinic literature.

Aboth 4.13: "Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob said: He who does one commandment gains for himself one advocate [prqlyt]; and he who commits one transgression gains for himself one accuser." Cf. also Aboth 3.20, an elaborate metaphor of a shopman who gives credit, but the collectors daily make the rounds to call for payment. Sin is viewed as a debt.

Pirque R. Eliezer 4.11a: "He that does one precept gains for himself one advocate [prqlyt], but he that commits one transgression gets for himself one accuser. Repentance and good works are as a shield against retribution."

Tosefta, Kiddushin 1.14: [Simeon ben Eleazar in name of R. Meir]: "He has carried out one commandment. His blessings! He has tipped the scale to the side of merit [zchth] for himself and for the world; he has committed one transgression. Woe to him. He has tipped the scale to the side of debt [hobah] for himself and for the world." Verbatim adding kol in Kiddushin 1.10:40a, below.

B. Kiddushin 1.10.40a-b: "Our Rabbis taught: A man should always [40b] regard himself as though he were half guilty and half meritorious: if he performs one precept, happy is he for weighting himself down in the scale of merit; if he commits one transgression, woe to him for weighting himself down in the scale of guilt [hobah]. . . . R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon said: Because the world is judged by its majority, and an individual [too] is judged by his majority of deeds, good or bad, if he performs one good deed, happy is he for turning the scale both for himself and for the whole world on the side of merit [zchth]; if he commits one transgression, woe to him for weighting himself and the whole world in the scale of guilt, [hobah] for it is said, 'but one sinner, etc.' -- on account of the single sin which this man commits he and the whole world lose much good. R. Simeon b. Yohai said: Even if he is perfectly righteous all his life but rebels at the end he destroys his former [good deeds], . . . And even if one is completely wicked all his life but repents at the end, he is not reproached with his wickedness. . . ."14 COMMENT: We note the internal quotes from Tosefta, Kiddushin 1.14, cited above. But Simeon b. Yokai rejects the idea given at the start and says: "Even if he is perfectly righteous all his life but rebels at the end, he destroys his former [good deeds]." He goes on to cite Ezekiel 33:12.

Gemara on Kiddushin, as above: "R. Eleazar son of R. Zadok said: . . . the Holy One, blessed be He, brings suffering upon the righteous in this world, in order that they may inherit the future world. . . . the Holy One, blessed be He, makes them [the wicked] prosper in this world, in order to destroy them and consign them to the nethermost rung. . . ."

Baraitha, Kid. 40b: "Rabbi Eleazar ben R. Sadok, of the lst century in Jerusalem, said: 'God brings chastisements upon the righteous men in this world, in order that they may inherit the world-to-come.'"15

Baraitha in Kiddushin 40b: "R. Eleazar b. R. Sadok says: God bestows prosperity in fullness upon the sinners in this world, in order to drive them (from the world-to-come) and give them as their portion the lowest step (of Gehinnom)." The same idea, in almost the same words is in:

Pesikta 73a R. Akiba: "God bestows prosperity and well-being in fullness in this world and pays the sinners for the few good deeds done by them in this world, in order to punish them in the world-to-come."16

Sifre on Deuteronomy, Piska 32: "Furthermore, a man should rejoice more in chastisement than in times of prosperity. For if a man is prosperous all his life, no sin of his can be forgiven." What brings forgiveness of sin? Suffering. . . . R. Meir says, "Scripture says 'Know in your heart that the Lord your God chastises you just as a man chastises his son' (Deut 8:5). You and your heart know the deeds that you have done and you know that whatever sufferings I have brought upon you do not outweigh all your deeds." R. Yose ben R. Judah says, "Precious are chastisements, for the name of the Omnipresent One rests upon one who suffers them. . . ." R. Nehemiah says, "Precious are chastisements, for just as sacrifices bring appeasement, so do chastisements bring appeasement. . . . Indeed, suffering appeases even more than sacrifices, for sacrifices involve wealth, but suffering involve's one's body. . . ."17

B. Sabb 2.6.fol.32a: "If one is led to the place of judgment to be judged, he can be saved if he has great advocates [prqlitin], but if he does not . . . he will not be saved; and these are the advocates [prqlitin] of a man: conversion and good works."

B. Baba Bathra 1.5.fol.10a: "All the moral rightness [sedaqah] and covenant fidelity [hesed] that Israel does in the world are great well-being [shalom] and are great advocates [prqlitin] between Israel and their Father in heaven." COMMENT: We note that it is within the covenant framework -- hesed -- and justice -- sedaqah. The advocates (we note the Greek loan word) are the reasons to balance the objective order favorably.18 At times paraclete seems to mean a weight in the scales, as in the above. At other times it seems to mean a person who pleads for another. Thus in Shemoth Rabbah 32 we read that for keeping one precept God gives one angel, for two, two angels, for many, half of his host. And in Exodus Rabbah 18.3 (on 12.29) Moses is called a good paraclete. The Targum on Job 33:23 says that if a man has merit, an angel intervenes as an advocate among one thousand accusers.

Semahoth III.11. R.Yehudah ben Ilai asserts that the ancient pious men "used to be afflicted with intestinal illness for about ten to twenty days before their death, so they might . . . arrive pure in the hereafter."19

In Patristic Literature

Leo the Great, Epistle 28, To Flavian: "To pay the debt of our condition, inviolable nature was joined to passible nature."20

Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Divine Word 9: "For the Word, knowing that only by dying was it possible for the corruption of men to be removed, since the Word, being immortal, could not die . . . took to Himself a body that could die. . . . The Word of God . . . paid the debt in death."

Origen, On Matthew 20:28: "Now to whom did He give His life as a price of redemption for the many? For it was not to God. Was it then to the Evil One? For he had us in his power, until the life of Jesus was given to him as a ransom for us -- to him who was deceived, as though he could hold that life."

Ambrose, Epistle 72: "Without doubt he [Satan] demanded a price to set free from slavery those whom he held bound. Now the price of our liberty was the blood of Jesus, which necessarily had to be paid to him to whom we had been sold by our sins."

Augustine, Sermon 329: "For on the cross He carried out a great exchange. There the sack of our price was paid, when his side was opened by the lance of the one who struck it, from there flowed out the price for the whole world."21

Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 45, on Easter 22 : "Now if the ransom goes to none other than the captor: I ask, to whom was it brought and why? If to the Evil One -- what a mockery! If that robber receives not just something from God, but God Himself. . . . But if it was paid to the Father -- first of all, how? For we were not held captive by Him. Secondly, why would the blood of His only begotten please the Father. . . . Or is it not clear instead that the Father did receive the offering, even though He did not ask for it or need it, but He received it as a result of His divine plan and because it was right that humanity should be sanctified by the humanity of God."22

Solving the Problem of the Price of Redemption

The texts about buying, especially those in 1 Corinthians, have caused much discussion. The imagery is this: the human race was in the captivity of Satan. Christ paid the price for release. But the notion that His blood would be paid to Satan was abhorrent to most thinkers -- although Ambrose was willing to accept it.23

But now, thanks to our studies, and to the further Rabbinic texts and with the help of the imagery found in Simeon ben Eleazar in Tosefta, Kiddushin 1.14, we can solve the problem. It is true, we should not press the metaphor of price so far as to suppose a price paid to Satan. And of course it was not paid to the Father, Who was not the captor. But the Holiness of God, as we have seen, was concerned about everything that is right, and since the scales of the objective order were infinitely out of balance, He willed to have an infinite rebalance, through the death of Christ, through the ransom or price He paid.


We have surveyed the usages of sedaqah as reflected in the Old Testament, in Intertestamental Literature, in the New Testament, in the Rabbis, and in the Fathers of the Church. We have found that one of the most dominant concepts underlying many things is the idea that God's Holiness is concerned with the moral order, with what is morally right. This appears in His conferring benefits. It appears also in His punishing. His Holiness wills that the moral order be righted if it is violated: for sin is viewed widely as a debt. The covenants helped us to see how two very different meanings of sedaqah, for reward and for punishment, have a common root. There is a parallel in the usages of yeshua and naqam.

These findings shed new light on some much vexed problems, chiefly those of Romans 2:6, Romans 1:17, and the notion of redemption.


1 Most Greeks held this view that the Gods were amoral, as we see from the many legends of the sexual escapades of Zeus. However a few, such as Socrates, would consider Zeus as the guardian of moral rightness (dikaiosyne like Hebrew sedaqah at times).
2 Cf. Thorkild Jacobsen, "Mesopotamia, VII, The Good Life" pp.202-19 in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, eds. H. & H. A. Frankfort et al, University of Chicago Press, 1948.
3 R. C. Boling, Judges, Anchor Bible, Doubleday, NY, 1975, p.25.
4 G. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973, pp.69-104.
5 Cf. Joseph A. Burgess, "Rewards, but in a Very Different Sense" in Justification by Faith. Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII, eds. H. George Anderson, T. Austin Murphy, Joseph A. Burgess, Augusburg, Minneapolis, 1985, pp.94-110.
6 Cf. Wm. Most, "A Biblical Theology of Redemption in a Covenant Framework" in CBQ 29 (1967) pp.1-19.
7 Justification by Faith, Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII,## 24 & 29.
8 Roland J. Faley, "Leviticus" in New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1990, p.64.
9 A. Büchler, Studies in Sin and Atonement in the Rabbinic Literature of the First Century, KTAV, N.Y., 1967, p.425.
10 John Bright, Jeremiah, Anchor Bible, Doubleday, N.Y., 1965, p.81.
11 Ibid. p.176.
12 E. P. Sanders, "Testament of Abraham" in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth, Doubleday, N.Y., 1983, I, p.875. The text is on p.889.
13 Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, 1987, p.994.
14 Kiddushin, tr. Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman, Soncino, London, 1977.
15 Büchler, op.cit., pp.318-19.
16 Ibid., p.173, n.3.
17 Translated by Robert Hammer, previously unpublished, cited by Jacob Neusner, Midrash in Context, Fortress, Phila., 1983, pp.150-51.
18 Cf. Kittel, s.v. parakletos.
19 The Tractate Mourning, tr. Dov Zlotnik, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1966, p.39.
20 DS 293.
21 PL 38.1455.
22 PG 36.653.2.
23 Ambrose, Epistle 72. Origen, On Matthew 20:28 says too it was paid to Satan, but in deception: Satan could not keep it!

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