Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Father William Most Collection

Christian Science in Isaiah?

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

In Isaiah 53 we find, in the Ignatius RSV: "by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous."

There are two problems here. It makes Isaiah sound like a Christian Scientist, and also like a Lutheran.

First, there is a problem with the word knowledge. It makes Isaiah sound like a Christian scientist. Every version I have seen does use the word knowledge. What can we do with it? The Hebrew is be da'etho. Unfortunately the standard lexicons for that noun do not help here. But if we notice that the noun dath is the same root as the verb yada we can get an answer. That verb has a broad meaning, it is not narrow like English know Rather, Zorell, Lexicon Hebraicum et Aramaicum Veteris Testamenti lists among the meanings: colit, amat. He gives examples: Jer 31.34: "Know the Lord"; Hos 8,2:"Israel shall cry to me: My God, we know you"; Ps 36.11: "continue your love to those who know you." 87.4: "I will remember Rahab and Babylon among those acknowledging me."; Pr 3.6: "In all your ways acknowledge him"; Job 24.1: "Why are not times set by the Almighty and why do not those who know Him see His days?"; Dn 11.32: "But a people who knows Him will be strong."

It is evident that in all of these we could use the translation love or obey. This is especially suggested in the lines from Ps 36.11 and 87.4 as well as in Pr 3.6, Job 24.l and Dn 11.32.

Now although there is a technical difference between love and obeying God, in practice it all the same. In loving anyone else we will good to the other for the other's sake. Of course we cannot do that for God. So we turn to the analogical sense, partly different but adjusted. Scripture pictures Him as pleased when we obey, displeased when we do not. It is not that He gains anything by our obedience - He cannot gain at all. But still He wants it for two reasons: 1) He loves all that is good: but objective goodness says creatures must obey their Creator, children their Father; 2) He wants intensely to give us good: but that is vain if we are not open to receive. His commandments tell us how to be open, and at the same time, steer us away from the evil that lurk in the very nature of things, e.g., a hangover after a drunk, or a high danger of a loveless marriage after a lot of premarital sex. Hence when we love God it really means we obey Him. Incidentally, the Hittite vassal treaties commonly required that the subject king "love" the great king. They meant obey.

Still more helpful is Hosea 6:6, so often mistranslated. It should be: "For hesed is my pleasure and not sacrifice; and knowledge [or love or obedience to] of God rather than burnt offerings." The Hebrew parallelism is useful here as so often. The first half says that God takes pleasure rather in observance of the covenant, obedience, than in external offerings; the second half says the same, so it must mean that to know or love or obey God is more than burnt offerings. The thought is the same as in Isaiah 23:19: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." That is, He does not desire the externals of sacrifice, but the interior disposition, which is obedience to Him.

There is a similar situation about the relation of meaning of noun and verb in Latin, where we have a verb scire, with related noun scientia. The same root meaning is present in both. But in Hebrew the noun and verb of the same root we are considering have a broader meaning, as we have seen.

So, we can now see the solution to the Christian Science in Isaiah. It is not there. It really means: My servant will make many just by his obedience (or love) of me.

Of course, in passing, the many here is Hebrew rabbim standing for the all who are many. We know it means all since it refers to the same persons as kulanu in verse 6. So this is not just a Protestant trick, as some well-meaning but not well-informed Catholics are saying. Rabbim does mean, the all who are many, and so is more suitable in the Mass than the old Latin pro multis.

So we conclude: Isaiah was not a Christian Scientist. But was he Lutheran? The problem comes from the words, "make many to be accounted righteous." In Lutheran theology justification does not stop us from being corrupt, it leaves us that way. Justification then is merely extrinsic: God acts as though we were just, even though we are not really just. Now the RSV version here does imply Lutheran theology. We are glad that the NRSV corrects that. And if we use the Eerdmans, New Analytic Concordance to the RSV and look under the word "account" we find no entry at all for Isaiah 53:11. Quite right, for the notion of "account as righteous" is not in the Hebrew. Some zealous Protestant merely inserted it. Similarly in Gal 2:15, where we read in the body of the text, "a man is not justified by works of the law," although that translation is correct, there is a note at the bottom saying: "Or reckoned righteous." That is the same old Lutheran idea (the NRSV has the same here). The argument is that the Greek verb dikaioo, even though the family of verbs ending in oo does mean to make someone or something to be in the state indicated by the root of the verb, yet it is argued that no one can make one just: he can only declare him just. The trouble is that Luther did not know the meaning of the word justification -- just as he did not know the meaning of faith in St. Paul. He thought it purely extrinsic, as we said above. But that is not the Scriptural understanding. In 2 Peter 1:4 we read that we are made sharers in the divine nature. In 1 Cor 13:12 we learn that in the next life we will see God, "face to face". Now of course God has no face, and the soul has no eyes. But it means we will see Him directly, as directly as I might look at another person in front of me. Now I do not take the other into my mind, I take in only an image of him. That works well with anyone except God. An image, though finite, can let me know what the other person is like. But no image could tell me what God is like. So there must be no image in the process (cf. DS 1000).

Therefore the only possible thing is this: God directly joins Himself to the created mind or soul, and by that means it knows Him. That is really justification, not just an extrinsic make-believe. We add that in it, as we see in 1 Cor 3.:16 and 6:19, we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Of course He would not dwell in total corruption. Nor would God join Himself to total corruption. We think of Malachi 3:2: "He is like a refiner's fire: who can stand when He appears?" So if a corrupt soul tried to join itself to God, He would either burn the corruption out of it (purgatory - if it is repairable) or burn it into hell.

Therefore again, if we correct the translation, Isaiah is not Lutheran. And we saw also that he not a Christian Scientist either. We are happy for Isaiah!



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