Part I: What is The “Big Picture” of Scripture?
If I had to choose a single theological topic, the understanding of which would contribute the most to acquiring the big picture (or the whole story) of the Bible, the topic I would choose would be covenants, both between the Persons of the Trinity and between God and man. So, what do: 1) Lot’s wife (who became a pillar of salt); 2) the Dead Sea; 3) Sodom and Gomorrah, and; 4) Ezekiel’s dream of the rebuilt temple have in common? They all contribute a great deal to a more complete understanding of what a biblical covenant is, and why it is a fundamental and important theological teaching. Through the Science and Theology of Salt in Scripture (STOSS), we are given the opportunity to increase our understanding of Covenant Theology (the big picture). This is Part I of the blog. There will be four more parts, each elaborating on one of the four sub-topics listed above.
Some of the information contained in this blog series will be helpful in answering the question posed in our next blog series. It will tackle the question: who, or what is the Beast described in the Book of Revelations (13:1).
What is a Covenant? Why is it Important?
What is a covenant? In the non-biblical sense, a covenant is a binding agreement, a contract between two or more persons. In the biblical sense, a covenant is much more: it is a solemn oath (sacratemtum in Latin) and a gift of persons. To appreciate the wide gap in the relative gravity of a civil covenant versus a Divine/sacramental covenant, Dr. Scott Hahn tells us that the Trinity is a covenant relationship of three Persons in one God. A covenant is, therefore, a family oath, as can be seen by the very names given to the different Persons of the Trinity, i.e. Father, Son, and Spirit. We are meant to be part of that covenantal relationship. Otherwise, we could not rightly be called sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father (2 Cor. 6:16-18). Hahn tells us that a covenant is designed by God to forge bonds of sacred kinship; to turn people into spouses, sons, daughters, and parents ... both to each other and to Himself.
. Scott Hahn. (2011-07-18). A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture (p. 24). St. Anthony Messenger Press, Servant Books. Kindle Edition
A covenant forms a sacred kinship with God. A type of family covenant is the Sacrament of Matrimony. The institution of sacramental marriage is the most complete image possible of the Holy Trinity existing within creation. A sacramental marriage (as opposed to a civil marriage) is a covenant through which a man and a woman become one-flesh (Mt. 19:5-6, Mk. 10:8). It is a gift between two persons that is both unitive and fruitful. Man is made in the image and likeness of a God consisting of Three Persons in a covenantal relationship. This would mean that, from the very first moment of their creation, Adam and Eve would have been: 1) made, not born; 2) made for each other (made for a covenantal relationship), and; 3) made such that the female was taken from the rib of the male. In a three-part blog, I prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Adam and Eve were made pretty much exactly as Genesis describes it. Part I of that blog can be found here: Mitochondrial Eve: Should Christians be Worried? Links to the other two parts are contained in Part I.
No Covenant & Law – No Redemption
So, why a covenant? Why select a specific group of people to be chosen? Why was circumcision selected by God as the sign of that covenant? Without a covenant, mankind had been, and would continue to be, virtually incapable of resisting Satan’s power. In fact, God told St. Hildegard (a Doctor of the Church) that virtually all of Adam’s seed, up until the time of the first covenants with Abraham and Moses (and the giving of the Law), had been devoured by Satan. Without a covenant, Abraham’s seed could not be preserved from corruption, decay, and death until the fullness of time had been reached, and the Word of God took on human flesh. Why? Here is an abbreviated answer to that question (a more comprehensive answer can be found at: http://www.stossbooks.com/evil-vs-good-god.html): God is an eternal and unceasing expression of what God knows, i.e. Himself ... and He is pure and perfect Goodness. If God could express evil, then He would not be God. All of creation was accomplished through the Word of God. The Word is eternally and unceasingly begotten (generated) by the Father. Creation was meant to be an eternal and unceasing expression of a Trinitarian God who knows himself, Loves what he knows, and is on fire to express what he loves, i.e. Himself. When Adam and Eve sinned, creation was no longer “very good” (Gen. 1:31). This is how creation died (including man) and became subject to decay (Rom. 8:21). As St. Hildegard of Bingen wrote, “Of all the strengths of God's creation, Man's is most profound, made in a wondrous way with great glory from the dust of the earth and so entangled with the strengths of the rest of creation that he can never be separated from them.” “Entangled” with sinful man, creation was no longer continually expressed by God (it would be impossible for Him to do so) because that which had been created as very good, was no longer perfectly good.
The only two Persons of the Trinity that are always sent with every expression of the Father, is the Son, in the Holy Spirit – neither of which are evil. Evil is not something, it is the absence of the eternal expression (sending the Word in the Spirit of Goodness), which is creation. Evil is non-being ... non-existence. After the fall, all of creation continued to be held in existence through the power of God, but not as an expression of the Father, which is the sending of the Son in the Spirit. In short, the Father could no longer send the Holy Spirit (Divine Charity) to dwell in the hearts of man because man was no longer a perfect image of God. As Aquinas tells us, without God’s grace, being good is impossible for any person. After the fall of man, the inner heart had to be purified from the outside in, via intrinsic and extrinsic Actual grace (Aquinas uses the word Gratuitous instead of the word, Actual). Ergo, we needed the covenant and the Law if man were to have any hope at all for redemption and salvation.
Good Seed – Good Fruit; Bad Seed – Bad Fruit
The purpose and goal of the covenant with Abraham can be ascertained by examining the very sign that God chose to signify the sacramental initiation of someone into that covenant. It is interesting that immediately upon making a covenant with Abraham, one directly relating to his seed, God establishes as the sign of that covenant the permanent alteration of the very instrument through which his seed is given/gifted. When I was younger, I remember thinking to myself — why circumcision? That is a rather dramatic sign for God to choose. Let’s answer that question.
Instituted at the command of God himself, circumcision possessed a sacramental nature for the Israelite nation. Circumcision was replaced by the New Covenant Sacrament of Baptism. Thus, it follows that circumcision, which was a type of Baptism, was also sacramental in nature. Aquinas tells us that a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward effect. What does the visible and outward sign of circumcision tell us about its inward effect? The inner effects revealed by the use of water in Baptism are: purification and a covenantal mystical one-body union with Jesus. Thus we become a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church — the Bride of Christ. This is what circumcision represents; the salt covenant (more on that when we talk about Lot’s wife) made with Abraham is ordained by God to preserve the body, heart, and seed (all covenants in Scripture are multi-generational and, therefore, fruitful) of man from impurity (cf. Rom. 2:25, 28-29; Col. 2:11). According to Aquinas, there are “three reasons why the organ of generation rather than any other [part of the body] was to be circumcised: 1) Abraham was to be blessed in his seed [SML]; 2) The rite was to take away original sin [ex opere operantis (through faith of the recipient or, in the case of an infant, of the parents)], which comes by generation; and, 3) It was to restrain concupiscence, which is found especially in the generative organs [III, q. 70, a. 3].”
Reiterating what Aquinas wrote, circumcision was performed on the only organ capable of making a fruitful one-flesh union with a spouse possible, which makes its symbolism even clearer. Here is an important fact about scriptural covenants: All unbroken covenants are both unitive and, as a consequence of the former, fruitful. Remember, God is a covenantal relationship of Three Persons who are consubstantial, i.e. one God. The Son is eternally, unceasingly, and fruitfully begotten by the Father. Proceeding from the results of that begetting is the Holy Spirit – Divine Charity. All covenants involve family bonds. The Holy Spirit is the unity, the bond, of the Persons of the Trinity (Eph. 4:3). Since man is created in the image and likeness of a covenantal God, then man is a covenantal being. A being whose family bond must also be fruitful. What is the first positive command that God gave to Adam and Eve? Answer: Be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). A Divine and human example of that is this: “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth [in the Trinity, the Father is the mouth that sends out -- SML]; it shall not return to me empty [i.e. fruitless -- SML], but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11). Scripture is full of passages that describe the dire consequences of deliberate fruitlessness (e.g. Lk. 19:2-23, 13:6-9; Jer. 48:10, Mt. 21:41-43, 3:10).
So why was circumcision necessary as a sign of the covenant with Abraham? St. Paul writes, “Real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal” (Rom. 2:29). Real circumcision is purity of heart. It is extremely significant for God to choose an outward sign that physically alters and affects the male sex organ. After all, it is through said organ that man’s seed is given to the woman. Recall that the covenant with Abraham only involved the seed, not the egg. Women do not carry seeds within them, so God did not deem it necessary for them to receive the sign of the covenant, i.e. circumcision. So what does all of this mean? Jesus likened sin to a physical sickness that requires the attention of a physician (Lk. 5:30-32). By choosing circumcision as the outward sign of the covenant, God is telling the Israelites, when they are sick (with sin), their seed is also sick. Thus the child conceived will inherit that “sickness”. Luke warns us about this when he writes, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit” (Lk. 6:43). What does that mean? In the book Scivias by St. Hildegard, God analogizes the sap of a tree with the man’s seed (semen). From the seed comes the quality of the fruit. Through the covenant and the Law, God preserved His people — as long as they obeyed His commandments and Laws — from contracting deadly spiritual and physical sickness ... a sickness which would have spread to succeeding generations of Abraham’s seed, and, ultimately, to the parents of the intended mother of our Redeemer, Jesus. Remember, without grace, Mary’s parents could not have been righteous.
The Body Has Its Own Software
Science, through a vast number of studies into the field of epigenetic plasticity, has shown that Scripture passages informing us the sins of the father can be passed on to the third and fourth generation  (Ex 20:5, 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9) are helping to prove the Bible to be scientifically accurate. You may be asking, what the heck is epigenetics? Literally translated, the word means “above the genome.” To help visualize the role of the epigenome, think in terms of our DNA as being a computer. Our DNA, and the genes within it, are the hardware of the computer; the epigenome is the software that tells the hardware what to do. Without the software, the hardware can’t do anything. It’s the epigenome that tells the cells to divide and to what types of cells they are to become (e.g. heart cells, muscle cells, etc.). It’s the epigenome that flips the switch that turns on the genes needed for a heart cell, for example, to function as a heart cell should. Conversely, it silences the genes (tells them to stop making proteins) that aren’t necessary to a properly functioning heart cell.
This epigenetic software is responsible for altering the function of our hardware (our genes) through what is known as epigenetic methylation. However, according to Dr. Carlo Ventura, epigenetic methylation, which involves organic chemistry, is not the only catalyst for epigenetic change. Research is now leading to the understanding that physical energy, e.g. electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and sound vibrations (for example, the sound of a beating heart) can lead to this plasticity. This process is controlled by a complex interaction between cell signaling, environment, and a non-stop remodeling of (what used to be thought of as junk) DNA into a seemingly endless array of loops and domains.
Scripture references to clay are analogous (intentionally, I believe) to this biological phenomenon that produces the malleability of our genetic function (e.g. Job 33:6, Sir. 33:13, Jer. 18:16, Is. 45:9, and many others). Epigenetic change can be initiated by both environment (including parental nurturing) and/or our own personal behavior. A very good scriptural example (also intentionally given by God, I believe) of this biological phenomenon is the story of Jacob’s colored rods (Gen. 30:37-42).
This is why God was so intolerant (some might say, harsh) of sin on the part of those incorporated into the Old Testament Covenants. The consequences of sin were dire; not just from a personal standpoint, but from the standpoint of the entire plan of salvation. Without the Covenant and the Law, sin, according to St. Hildegard and Aquinas, could not be defeated. As such, the seed of Abraham would have become irreversibly corrupted. For it is only through the final and everlasting New Covenant, the one that would be established by Jesus Christ himself through his Bride, the Church (his Mystical Body), that the defeat of sin could be accomplished.
. Scott Hahn. (2011-07-18). A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture (p. 24). St. Anthony Messenger Press, Servant Books. Kindle Edition
. Ibid., 29
. Ibid., 27
. Pastoral letter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/love-and-life/upload/pastoral-letter-marriage-love-and-life-in-the-divine-plan.pdf, November 17, 2009
. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), n. 2361
. St. Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist”Press, 1990), 332
. CCC, n. 291
. CCC, n. 2606
. cf., Hahn, Scott. A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in Scripture (p. 18). St. Anthony Messenger Press, Servant Books. Kindle Edition.
. Hildegard, Scivias, 98
. St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke, O.P (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980), 56, 73, 76, 142
. J. Tierney, “Circumcision,” The Catholic Encyclopedia (Third Millennium Media L.L.C., The Faith Database L.L.C., 2008)
. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 66, a. 1.
.Tierney, John. "Circumcision." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908). July 13, 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03777a.htm>
. cf. Francois-Xavier Durrwell, Holy Spirit of God (original English translation published by Geoffrey Chapman, a division of Cassell, Ltd., 1986; reprint published by Servant Books, Cinncinati, OH, 2006), 22, 199
. Hahn, A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in Scripture, p. 184
. cf. Hildegard, Scivias, 79
.Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, trans. Columba Hart and Jane Bishop (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), 253, http://www.questia.com/read/101095377/scivias.
. cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 70, a. 3
. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Epigenetic changes often don’t last, probably have limited effects on long-term evolution, research finds." ScienceDaily, 20 Sep. 2011. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110920132628.htm
. Coghlan, Andy. "Unzipped chromosomes pass on parental stress." New Scientist. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20616-unzipped-chromosomes-pass-on-parental-stress.html: Reed Business Information Ltd., June 27, 2011 (accessed June 27, 2011).
. Leininger, Stephen Michael. The Science & Theology of Salt* in Scripture, Vol. I: *Light, Water, Dust, and Stone too. STOSS Books. Kindle Edition. Locations 857-863
. Dr. Ventura’s findings were published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal (FASEB) in 2004 and 2005. Ventura, “DNA and Cell Reprogramming Via Epigenetic Information Delivered By Magnetic Fields, Sound Vibration and Coherent Water,” Webinar transcript
. Leininger, The Science & Theology of Salt* in Scripture, Vol. I: *Light, Water, Dust, and Stone too. Kindle Locations 855-857
. cf. Msgr. Charles Pope, Rediscovering the “Plot” of Sacred Scripture Is Essential to Evangelization, http://blog.adw.org/2019/07/rediscovering-plot-sacred-scripture-essential-evangelization/, July 9, 2019 (accessed 7/12/2019)