Who Is With Us?

I was never happier to have learned grammar. It was last summer, on the New York City subway, when a very inquisitive and engaged former Protestant caught sight of my clerical collar and resolved to bounce a few things off me. He worked with his hands for a living, but also tried to read up as best he could on various other things, especially when it concerned the Scriptures.

Little did I know—for the first, and so far only time in my life—that my rudimentary Hebrew training was going to prove essential for the matter at hand.

After exchanging pleasantries, the man pointed out that the Hebrew word for “God,” Elohim, is (in Hebrew) in the plural form. Based on this, he claimed that the Bible is fundamentally mistranslated: mentions of God should really be read to refer to “the gods.” Content with this argument, he rested his case.

He started well off enough. The word Elohim is grammatically in the plural (as are cherubim, seraphim, sukkoth, and sabaoth). But, interestingly, when referring to the God of Israel, the Hebrew text always uses a singular verb. God is One, as the Shema teaches. This was enough for my interlocutor, and he asked deeper questions about the Bible without advancing such sweeping claims.

Today, the O Antiphon at Vespers asks Emmanuel to come and save us. “Emmanuel” is a name that fittingly describes He who is God (el) with us (emmanu). Herein, we see that every word must be carefully selected to make sure we are being true to the mystery He comes to reveal to us—that mystery which is the inner life of the Word made flesh. We are not simply relating to a God utterly removed from us, content to observe us from afar.

But how does the Child in the manger convey His identity to us? By reading the Law and prophets that prepared the Jewish people for His coming, we can get a sense of the “grammar” of the Incarnation. The words describing and praising the birth of Our Lord don’t attain their full resonance until we understand that this very Child would later teach “I and the Father are one.”

Image: City Hall Subway Station, New York

You May Also Enjoy:

Let It Linger Perhaps it’s due to the oft-decried commercialization of Christmas, but it’s awful easy to just drift toward the big day itself, pushed and pulled by the currents of consumer culture until we wash up on the shore of December 26th, and haul down our trees and lights and head out to return that hideous orange sweater from Aunt Bertha. Perhaps a lame Advent makes for a flat Christmas. For Christians, Advent is a time of waiting. For four(ish) wee...
O Sapientia There seem to be a few different groups of test takers. Some start studying too late, fretfully scouring over their notes right up until the exam gets passed out. There are also those who have the material down, but hate the day or two before, restlessly awaiting the exam just to get it over with. The smallest group of students consists of those undaunted by the whole process. Having studied all along, they waltz into the room and emit rays of...
Maudlin Preaching Should joy characterize our Christian lives and evangelical efforts? The knee-jerk swiftness with which we all reply to this soft-headed question shows that we’ve come to accept the crucial importance of a happy, joyful witness to Jesus Christ. We’ve learned the evangelical power of a smile, of laughter, which can dispel the (strangely resilient) notion that to be Christian is to be a sourpuss moralist, with stuffy pieties and an anti-human purit...
Christmas Shopping What hath Christ to do with Versace? I remember a Christmas morning interview with Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, on The Today Show. Asked how he felt living on 5th Avenue, in the heart of a world-renowned shopping district, the superficial of the superficial, the glamorous of the glam, the belly of the beast (some might contend), he replied with characteristic cheer: “I always think, at least most of them are all shopping for som...
Br. Leo Camurati, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Leo Camurati entered the Order of Preachers in 2011. He is a graduate of Cooper Union in New York, where he studied Mechanical Engineering. Prior to entering the Order, he worked to administer an Engineering Standards Committee. On DominicanFriars.org