Contra Sungenis on Elijah and the Conversion of the Jews

Introduction:

 

For years now, Bob Sungenis has made it a major objective to discredit the belief that Elijah the prophet will return again to earth just prior to the Second Coming of Christ.  Why is he so focused on discrediting this belief that is expressed by many Fathers and Doctors of the Church?  Basically, because he thinks it will help him to discredit another belief – one held by even more Fathers and Doctors of the Church – a belief that he dislikes even more:  that there will be a future, special conversion of the Jewish people to Christ. His argument runs that if the Fathers got this detail of Elijah’s return wrong, then their view of a future conversion of the Jews can also be rejected.

 

As with so much of Sungenis’s work involving Jewish issues, one must studiously avoid the temptation to simply accept his confident assertions and characterizations of the evidence.  When one takes the time to examine the actual evidence for oneself, one will find that Bob’s personal prejudice has led him to present something far more akin to propaganda than to honest, reliable research.  So let’s examine his claims and compare them with the facts.

 

He mounts this campaign against the idea of a future return of Elijah on basically four grounds.  First, he tries to connect it to chiliasm or millennialism, the view held by certain early Catholics that there will be a literal thousand year reign of Christ on earth after His Second Coming.  Second, he insists that the belief is founded on “blunders”, “confusion”, and “duplicity” in the way that the Fathers read the Bible.  Third, he seeks to taint the idea of a future return of Elijah by pointing out that this idea was also expressed in various apocryphal works.  And fourth he attributes a number of additional strange ideas specifically to St. Augustine which, if they were true, might cast some doubt on the saint’s views (but which we will soon see are really just figments of Sungenis’s imagination).

 

 

Establishing the Burden of Proof:

 

As always with Sungenis, it’s important to establish at the start who bears the burden of proof.  Bob regularly tries to shift the burden of proof to his opponents.  But we must remember that it is Bob who presents this belief of the Fathers as being based on “obvious blunders” (CASB3, p. 448).  As he argues that they are flat out wrong, that this is an error on their part, then the burden of proof is squarely on him to demonstrate that the Fathers cannot be correct.  All I need to do is demonstrate that this belief  is reasonable, plausible, and supportable.  But I will go beyond that and demonstrate that Bob’s treatment of the Fathers of the Church on this issue has been  disrespectful and impious.

 

Also, Bob argues that the belief in a future conversion of the Jews is dependent upon accepting the belief that Elijah will return to preach to the Jews.  He argues that if the latter is incorrect, the the former must be as well.  But anyone can see that there is no such complete, mutual dependency between these two beliefs.  The Fathers could potentially be wrong on the matter of Elijah’s return and still be right concerning a future conversion of the Jews.  Again, the burden is on Sungenis to demonstrate this necessary, absolute connection and we will see below that he fails to do so.

 

That being said, when I first began to look into this matter, I wasn’t really sure just how strong the evidence was one way or the other and remained open to either possibility.  I was mostly concerned to at least provide a balancing view to Bob’s insistence that the Fathers were blunderers and equivocators.  But as I looked into this in more detail, I found that the support for the view is much stronger than I had imagined.  This renders Sungenis’s presentation of the matter all the more disrespectful and impious.  So let’s look at this issue in more detail to discover why this view of the Fathers regarding the future return of Elijah is perfectly reasonable and plausible.

 

 

Question:            What is the Real Foundation of the Belief in a Future Coming of Elijah?

Answer:            The Sacred Scriptures.

 

The main verse that illuminates this belief, which Bob criticizes, is Mal 4:5-6:

 

Behold, I will send you Elias the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers: lest I come, and strike the earth with anathema.

 

Although it’s clear that these verses have at least a partial fulfillment in the coming of St. John the Baptist (see Matt 11:14), there are several details even in the prediction from Malachi—most notably the mention of “the great and dreadful day of the Lord”—which would suggest that there is another fulfillment in connection with the Second Coming of Christ.

 

This is strengthened by another passage of sacred Scripture—rejected by Protestants, but known by Catholics to be inspired Scripture—namely, Sirach 48:1-10, which reads:

 

And Elias the prophet stood up, as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch.  He brought a famine upon them, and they that provoked him in their envy, were reduced to a small number, for they could not endure the commandments of the Lord.  By the word of the Lord he shut up the heaven, and he brought down fire from heaven thrice.  Thus was Elias magnified in his wondrous works. And who can glory like to thee?  Who raisedst up a dead man from below, from the lot of death, by the word of the Lord God.  Who broughtest down kings to destruction, and brokest easily their power in pieces, and the glorious from their bed.  Who heardest judgment in Sina, and in Horeb the judgments of vengeance.  Who anointedst kings to penance, and madest prophets successors after thee.  Who wast taken up in a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot of fiery horses.  Who art registered in the judgments of times to appease the wrath of the Lord, to reconcile the heart of the father to the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob (my emphasis).

 

This is an important application of the prophecy from the Prophet Malachi, from another passage of sacred Scripture.  Notice that from start to finish it is speaking explicitly of the Old Testament prophet Elijah.  Notice too that the last verse cited, v. 10, is clearly an application of the prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6 to that same Elijah.  The presentation of Elijah’s deeds is chronological and he is said to appease the Lord’s wrath, reconcile father and son, and “restore the tribes of Jacob” after he was “taken up in a whirlwind of fire” into heaven—thus it cannot be part of the prophet Elijah’s first earthly ministry.  And importantly, there is no indication whatsoever that when we come to verse 10 we are suddenly to think, not of the original prophet Elijah, but now exclusively of St. John the Baptist.  There is no hint that there is any change of subject.

 

Did St. John the Baptist fulfill the prophecy of Mal 4:5-6?  Of course, he did.  He came, as the angel said to our Lady, “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).  But was that a complete fulfillment of Mal 4:5-6?  Certainly Sirach 48:10 would indicate that it was not.  And now here's what our Lord says about Elijah/John the Baptist:

 

And the disciples asked him, "Then why do the scribes say that first Eli'jah must come?"  He replied, "Eli'jah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Eli'jah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands."  Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist (Matt 17:10-13; my emphasis).

 

That's the Revised Standard Version (RSV) translation.  Here's the Douay-Rheims (DR):

 

And his disciples asked him, saying: Why then do the scribes say that Elias must come first?  But he answering, said to them: Elias indeed shall come, and restore all things.  But I say to you, that Elias is already come, and they knew him not, But have done unto him whatsoever they had a mind. So also the Son of man shall suffer from them.  Then the disciples understood, that he had spoken to them of John the Baptist (my emphasis).


Notice first of all that these words were said after St. John the Baptist had been executed by Herod.  He had already been put to death by Herod.

A couple of other interesting things really stand out in this passage (especially vv. 10-11).  First, it's set up in Greek using a μὲν - δὲ construction, which means "on the one hand .... on the other hand".  This is not brought out very well in the English translations, but it's concrete in Greek.

So on the one hand....μὲν....what?  Our Lord says that "Elijah does come" or (in the DR) "Elijah indeed shall come".  The Greek verb is ἔρχεται which is the present middle/passive indicative of the verb ἔρχomαι which means "to come".  So this is literally translated "he is coming".  Even after St. John the Baptist is dead, our Lord states that "Elijah is coming", something that seems to suggest a future fulfillment.  In addition, in verse 10 our Lord stated, "he [Elijah] will restore all things".  The verb is ἀποκαταστήσει, a straightforward future active indicative.  Again, after St. John the Baptist is dead, our Lord states that Elijah will—in the future—restore all things.  This is clearly not something that St. John did during his lifetime; it is something that belongs yet to the future.

And "on the other hand".....δὲ....what?  In verse 11 the verb is ἦλθεν, the aorist active indicative of the same verb ἔρχomαι, rightly translated as a past tense, "he has come".  This, of course, is looking back to St. John the Baptist.  And "they knew him not" again clearly looking back in the past to St. John.

The Fathers of the Church saw here a both-and rather than an either-or.  There is certainly a fulfillment of Mal 4:5-6 by St. John the Baptist, so that he can indeed be spoken of as "Elijah".  And yet to the Fathers there remained a future, more literal fulfillment of the prophecy by Elijah himself.  Indeed, even
St. John the Baptist, when asked whether he was actually Elijah, said “I am not” (John 1:21).

 

This juxtaposition of the already and the not yet is summarized well by Fr. Leo Haydock:

 

The prophet Elias will come again in person before [our Lord’s] second coming to judgment, and will re-establish all things, by the conversion of the Jews to the Christian faith, according to the common opinion.  But John the Baptist who was Elias in spirit, is already come. . . . The Baptist was the precursor of Christ at his first coming, and was styled by our Lord Elias, because he performed the office of Elias; and he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias. (Luke i. 17.) --- But this prophet in person will be the precursor of the second coming of Christ. . . . Jesus Christ here confirms the literal sense of the prophecy; (Malachias iv. 5,) but in the next verse, he shews a prior, though less perfect accomplishment of the same in the person of John the Baptist, who was raised by God to prepare the ways of the Lord.

 

 

Cf. also Fr. Cornelius de Lapide:

 

Falsely do the Calvinists refer all these things to the first Advent of Christ, and explain both mentions of Elias—viz., in verses 11 and 12—to mean John the Baptist. For they think that Elias, whom Malachi predicted shall come as the precursor of Christ (iv. 5), is John the Baptist, and that there is no other who shall come with Enoch before Christ’s second Advent. (http://www.catholicapologetics.info/scripture/newtestament/17matth.htm)

 

This idea that there are comings of Elijah in conjunction with both the first and second coming of our Lord is laid out by numerous Fathers of the Church.  St. Justin Martyr, writing c. A.D. 160, had this to say:

 

Justin: Does not Scripture, in the book of Zechariah, Malachi 4:5 say that Elijah shall come before the great and terrible day of the Lord?

 

Trypho: Certainly.

 

Justin: If therefore Scripture compels you to admit that two advents of Christ were predicted to take place—one in which He would appear suffering, and dishonoured, and without comeliness; but the other in which He would come glorious and Judge of all, as has been made manifest in many of the fore-cited passages—shall we not suppose that the word of God has proclaimed that Elijah shall be the precursor of the great and terrible day, that is, of His second advent?

 

Trypho: Certainly.

 

Justin: And, accordingly, our Lord in His teaching proclaimed that this very thing would take place, saying that Elijah would also come. And we know that this shall take place when our Lord Jesus Christ shall come in glory from heaven; whose first manifestation the Spirit of God who was in Elijah preceded as herald in [the person of] John, a prophet among your nation; after whom no other prophet appeared among you.

 

Already in the second century the Fathers saw that Scripture supported the idea of an appearance of Elijah to accompany both the first and second comings of Christ.  Another early Father, Tertullian, lays this out even more clearly:

 

But Elias is to come again, not after quitting life (in the way of dying), but after his translation (or removal without dying); not for the purpose of being restored to the body, from which he had not departed, but for the purpose of revisiting the world from which he was translated; not by way of resuming a life which he had laid aside, but of fulfilling prophecy—really and truly the same man, both in respect of his name and designation, as well as of his unchanged humanity. How, therefore could John be Elias? You have your answer in the angel's announcement: "And he shall go before the people," says he, "in the spirit and power of Elias"— not (observe) in his soul and his body.”

 

Even Sungenis has to admit that Tertullian “was one of the more vocal proponents of both Chiliasm and the Enoch/Elijah theory” and “he seems to be reiterating an idea that came prior to him” (CASB3, p. 443). 

 

The list of Fathers I found who very matter-of-factly supported the view that Elijah would return again just prior to the Second Coming of Christ is impressive (and there may be more whom I did not find): St. Justin Martyr[i], Tertullian[ii], Lactantius[iii], St. Hippolytus[iv], St. Clement of Alexandria[v], St. Victorinus[vi], St. Ambrose[vii], St. Jerome[viii], St. John Chrysostom[ix], St. Ephraim the Syrian[x], St. Hilary[xi], St. Gregory of Nyssa[xii], St. Augustine[xiii], St. Prosper of Aquitaine (???), Theodoret[xiv], St. Gregory the Great[xv], St. John Damascene[xvi], St. Bede[xvii].  The view is also held by such Doctors of the Church as St. Thomas and St. Bellarmine.  With a pedigree like that, it would require quite a bit of proof to demonstrate that they were not only wrong, but guilty of serious “blunders”, as Sungenis holds.  So let’s examine his evidence.

 

 

Now To Bob’s Claims:

 

Here’s a summary of his views from his CASB3 commentary on Romans:

 

It is quite evident that the tradition espousing the return of Enoch and Elijah to fulfill the imagery of Apocalypse 11:5-8 originated among: (1) the Fathers who held the Chiliastic view of eschatology, and (2) about a half-dozen apocryphal or pseudepigraphal books that often contained exaggerated and fanciful accounts of biblical figures. In short, the idea that Enoch and Elijah would return in the future to preach the gospel to the last generation of Jews has a dubious, and very possibly, a fallacious pedigree.  (CASB3, p. 452)

 

Let’s dispatch these assertions one at a time.  Sungenis makes the same charge against the idea of a future return of Elijah that he does against belief in a future conversion of the Jews, namely, that it had its origin in early chiliastic or millennial views.  Sungenis insists elsewhere that, “the idea that Rm 11:25-27 is teaching a future conversion of the Jews had its origin in the Chiliasm of the early Fathers” (CASB3, p. 448).  A bold assertion indeed, since he uses this idea as a main platform on which to deny the common Catholic Tradition—held by dozens of Fathers, Doctors, Popes and recently taught by the Magisterium in the Catechism of the Catholic Church—that after the fullness of the Gentiles, there will be a special conversion of the Jewish people.  For a claim so bold we would naturally want to see significant evidence.  Instead, we find this is just another of Bob’s mere, unsupported assertions.

 

I’d like to highlight one often-overlooked point before I proceed.  Although it’s true that there were a number of the early Fathers who held to chiliasm/millennialism, it seems clear they understood that Catholics could and did freely disagree.  In fact, St. Justin Martyr comes right out and says as much.  His statement in support of millennialism is widely cited.  Not so widely cited is his very matter-of-fact statement that, “on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise (Dialogue with Trypho 80; my emphasis).  So I object to the characterization that the early Church was dominated by chiliasts.  At least according to one of our important witnesses, some were, some were not.  It does not appear to have been a matter of inordinate concern either way and eventually chiliasm faded away as more consistent eschatological views won out.  I would also point out that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church exhibited no such doubt in regard to their belief in a special, future “conversion of the Jews.”  They treated this belief as a well-known and accepted fact. As such, it’s not logical to suggest that their belief and teaching on the latter was predicated on the former.  These sainted scholars knew full well that a conclusion can’t be more certain than the suppositions underlying that conclusion.

 

Now, the only witness that Sungenis brings forward to try and demonstrate the alleged intrinsic connection between chiliasm and a future conversion of the Jews is Tertullian.  Sungenis cites a text from Book 5, Chapter 9 of Adversus Marcionem in which Tertullian speaks of the belief in a future, special conversion of the Jews.  Then he notes that Tertullian was writing in and around the same time as other Fathers who held to millennial views and he gives a few quotes to illustrate the millennial views of those Fathers.  Apparently we're supposed to find this significant and convincing, but he makes no connection to the future conversion of the Jews. So the careful reader is left wondering what, exactly, this is supposed to prove.

 

Sungenis then cites another passage to try and link the conversion of the Jews with Tertullian’s view on the millennium:

 

In the very book from which Tertullian says at the Second Coming he expects Christ “will favor with his acceptance and blessing the circumcision,” he writes of his belief in a future kingdom on earth (CASB3, p. 445).

 

And he summarizes,

 

Combining Tertullian’s two above quotes, we can see that he envisioned a future 1000-year kingdom that would house the Jews who had been converted to Christianity” (CASB3, p. 446).

 

“Combining [the] two above quotes” might be fine if there is some reason to believe that they are related in some way.  But are they?  The problem for Sungenis is that those two quotations from Tertullian, which he so blithely combines as if there is some obvious logical connection between them, are separated literally by over 70,000 words!  They are in completely different parts of the larger work.  As such, any intrinsic linkage between these two ideas exists more in Sungenis’s mind than Tertullian’s.  In fact, I would turn this right back on Sungenis.  Far from there being any intrinsic connection between these two ideas, the very fact that they occur in totally different sections of Tertullian’s work, separated by tens of thousands of words is a good indication that there is no such connection.  (The same is true of St. Justin Martyr’s work, where the discussion of a future return of Elijah is discussed in a completely different context from the discussion on a future millennial kingdom.)  Bob provides no evidence at all from Tertullian’s or St. Justin Martyr’s own statements that they based their belief and teaching about the conversion of the Jews on chiliasm at all.  He merely assumes it.

 

Bob then insists that “Tertullian was not the first to espouse this unique viewpoint” and we naturally expect him to try and show more connections between chiliasm and the future conversion of the Jews.  But, while Bob cites a few more early Fathers who held to millennial ideas, he never gives any proof establishing any linkage at all to a future Jewish conversion.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop him from asserting that he has actually demonstrated something:

 

we can see rather easily where the combined prospects for a future millennial kingdom and an en masse conversion of the Jews to inhabit that kingdom originated. It did not originate with a thorough and detailed exegesis of Rm 11:25-27 or any other passage of Scripture, but with an idiosyncratic tradition passed down by Papias to [sic] which other Fathers of his era adopted (CASB3, 447).

 

And that’s it.  That’s the sum total of the “evidence” Sungenis advances to try and establish this alleged essential connection between chiliasm and belief in a future conversion of the Jews.  Most careful readers are going to be left scratching their heads.  But in Bob's mind it’s now so firmly established that for the rest of his excursus he simply assumes and asserts it: “As noted above, the idea that Rm 11:25-27 is teaching a future conversion of the Jews had its origin in the Chiliasm of the early Fathers” (CASB3, 448).

 

Things don’t get any better when we examine his attempt to connect the future return of Elijah with the conversion of the Jews.  He simply forges right on to assert—again, without any significant substantiation—that the view of a future return of Elijah (and Enoch) also has an essential connection with millennial views: ““Where did the ‘Enoch/Elijah’ interpretation originate? Obviously with the same early Fathers who believed in Chiliasm” (CASB3, p. 450).  “Obviously”?   Hardly.  The connection is only “obvious” to Bob. To “establish” this connection he offers two citations, one from Lactantius—from a different work than that in which that Father spoke of the millennium—and one from Tertullian—again, from a completely different work than that in which he spoke of the millennium and the conversion of the Jews.

 

The fact is, there is no necessary connection between either the conversion of the Jews and millennial views or the return of Elijah/Enoch and millennial views.  That is precisely why the Fathers and Doctors of the Church would continue to believe in both the conversion of the Jews and the return of Elijah in the Last Days, long after they had abandoned belief in a literal millennial kingdom.  Bob accuses them of blundering or even engaging in “duplicity”.  But the fact is that these connections exist fundamentally in Bob’s fertile imagination.  Once we set aside Bob’s unsubstantiated views, the Fathers and Doctors are seen to be perfectly consistent.

 

 

The Misleading Septuagint?

 

Bob repeatedly insists that the Fathers were misled by the particular translation of Malachi 4:5-6 in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, which speaks specifically of Elijah “the Tishbite” rather than more generically Elijah “the prophet” as the original Hebrew reads.  Sungenis speaks of the “blunder” of St. Augustine:

 

Of the dozen or so Fathers that speak about a future conversion of the Jews, only superficial and question-begging assertions are made of Rm 11:25-27, and often with some obvious blunders. For example, beginning with Augustine, there persists a strain of thought that Elijah will be transported from heaven to earth in order to preach to the last generation of Jews for their conversion. Augustine attempts to support this view by a tenuous interpretation of Malachi 4:5, which speaks of  “Elijah” returning before the “Day of the Lord” in order to turn the hearts of fathers and sons toward each other.688 As opposed to his penchant to interpret [sic] almost [sic] all other prophetic passages symbolically, Augustine insisted on interpreting Ml 4:5 literally. By his own admission, he did so because he was influenced by the translation of the Greek Septuagint that specified a return of “Elijah the Tishbite.”  Augustine said that the appearance of “Tishbite” led him to believe that the real Elijah would have to return from heaven in the distant future since only one person could satisfy being originally from Tishbi. Not being privy to the Hebrew text (which was the only divinely inspired version of Malachi), Augustine was not aware that Ml 4:5 merely said “Elijah the prophet.”

 

And then he insists that:

 

his error was carried over to a few other Fathers and medievals who, like Augustine, didn’t bother to exegete the passages in question but merely accepted what Augustine had left them.

 

This assertion of error on the part of St. Augustine may be answered in several ways.  First, it is simply false that St. Augustine stated that “he was influenced by the translation of the Greek Septuagint” to speak specifically of Elijah the Tishbite.  Bob is putting words in St. Augustine’s mouth.  Here’s the entire text to which Sungenis refers:

 

After admonishing them to give heed to the law of Moses, as he foresaw that for a long time to come they would not understand it spiritually and rightly, he went on to say, "And, behold, I will send to you Elias the Tishbite before the great and signal day of the Lord come: and he shall turn the heart of the father to the son, and the heart of a man to his next of kin, lest I come and utterly smite the earth." It is a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful, that in the last days before the judgment the Jews shall believe in the true Christ, that is, our Christ, by means of this great and admirable prophet Elias who shall expound the law to them. For not without reason do we hope that before the coming of our Judge and Saviour Elias shall come, because we have good reason to believe that he is now alive; for, as Scripture most distinctly informs us,he was taken up from this life in a chariot of fire. When, therefore, he is come, he shall give a spiritual explanation of the law which the Jews at present understand carnally, and shall thus "turn the heart of the father to the son," that is, the heart of fathers to their children; for the Septuagint translators have frequently put the singular for the plural number. And the meaning is, that the sons, that is, the Jews, shall understand the law as the fathers, that is, the prophets, and among them Moses himself, understood it. (St. Augustine, City of God XX.29)

 

Notice that St. Augustine speaks of the Septuagint’s putting “the singular for the plural” in the phrase “turn the heart of the father to the son”.  But where is the evidence for Sungenis’s insistence that St. Augustine explicitly appeals to the Septuagint in order to identify Elijah as “the Tishbite”?  It doesn’t exist.  So in accusing St. Augustine of blundering, Bob himself blunders.

 

I readily concede that the original reading in the Hebrew text is “the prophet” rather than “the Tishbite”.  And there is no doubt too that Malachi 4:5-6 has St. John the Baptist as one of its primary fulfillments.  But the question remains whether the fulfillment of that prophecy is exhausted in St. John the Baptist or if there is a further, more literal fulfillment of it left for the future.  The latter position was taken by many of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.  Again, it is Bob’s burden of proof to show that such a future, literal fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy is impossible.  Otherwise he is merely being disrespectful and impious by speaking so blithely of “blunders” and “duplicity” on the part of great saints like St. Augustine.  But we’ve already seen that, far from being impossible, their view was perfectly plausible, being well grounded in Mal 4:5-6, Sir 48:1-10, and Matt 17:10ff..

 

In short, Bob has tried to hang a large part of his case on the peg of the Septuagint’s use of the phrase “the Tishbite” in Mal 4:5-6, but the peg just won’t hold up his case.

 

 

The Apocrypha:

 

But undaunted, Bob presses on, trying also to establish some connection between the belief in a future return of Elijah and various apocryphal/pseudegraphical works.  I cited him above claiming that, “the tradition espousing the return of Enoch and Elijah to fulfill the imagery of Apocalypse 11:5-8 originated among: (1) the Fathers who held the Chiliastic view of eschatology, and (2) about a half-dozen apocryphal or pseudepigraphal books that often contained exaggerated and fanciful accounts of biblical figures.  Elsewhere he claims:

 

Such caution is especially needed in light of the fact that the source for the Enoch/Elijah prediction originates from the Chiliasts among the early Fathers, and was later popularized in an assortment of apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works circulating in the first centuries of the Church (CASB3, 442).

 

And,

 

Even more intriguing is that the supposed return of Enoch and Elijah was also a fixture in the apocryphal apocalypse literature of that Day (CASB3, p. 451).

 

Here, he adopts a common Protestant argument when seeking to discredit some distinctively Catholic belief.  Find a parallel for a given belief—say the Assumption of Mary or Mary as a perpetual virgin—in the apocryphal works and then insinuate that the belief held by Catholics actually came from those doctrinally tainted sources.  The problem is at least two-fold.  First, his argument is anachronistic.  The apocryphal works he cites date much later than the earliest Fathers who witness to this belief, such as St. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Clement of Alexandria.  Therefore it’s far more likely, from chronology alone, that the apocryphal writers got this notion from orthodox sources rather than the other way around.

 

And how plausible is it really that the Fathers picked up an alien doctrine from apocryphal works and unthinkingly passed it on as Catholic tradition?  Notice also the open disdain with which St. Augustine held “The Revelation of Paul”, which was the very first example Bob cites to try to connect the Enoch/Elijah theme to apocryphal literature:

"The Revelation of Paul was known to S. Augustine, who thus refers to it in his Tractate 98 on the Gospel of John, §8: ". . . There have been some vain individuals, who, with a presumption that betrays the grossest folly, have forged a Revelation of Paul, crammed with all manner of fables, which has been rejected by the Orthodox Church" (ANF X, p. 150.)

 

Is it really credible that St. Augustine, so openly disdainful of these apocryphal works, was also so gullible that he unthinkingly absorbed the notion of a future return of Elijah from these same works?

 

 

St. Augustine, Blunderer Extraordinaire?

 

Bob spends a particular amount of time criticizing St. Augustine with regard to belief in a future return of Elijah.  He speaks of the Doctor’s “idiosyncratic view of Ml 4:5”, claiming that “It would not be the first time in Augustine’s career where his peculiar interpretation of one verse of Scripture would put the breaks [sic] on alternate interpretations” (CASB3, p. 453).  But we have seen above that this view was hardly idiosyncratic, having been held by numerous Fathers of the Church both before and contemporaneously with St. Augustine.  It did not originate with him, nor is there any evidence that his own view exerted any peculiar or undue influence.  Here is the pertinent passage again, in its entirety:

 

After admonishing them to give heed to the law of Moses, as he foresaw that for a long time to come they would not understand it spiritually and rightly, he went on to say, "And, behold, I will send to you Elias the Tishbite before the great and signal day of the Lord come: and he shall turn the heart of the father to the son, and the heart of a man to his next of kin, lest I come and utterly smite the earth." It is a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful, that in the last days before the judgment the Jews shall believe in the true Christ, that is, our Christ, by means of this great and admirable prophet Elias who shall expound the law to them. For not without reason do we hope that before the coming of our Judge and Saviour Elias shall come, because we have good reason to believe that he is now alive; for, as Scripture most distinctly informs us,he was taken up from this life in a chariot of fire. When, therefore, he is come, he shall give a spiritual explanation of the law which the Jews at present understand carnally, and shall thus "turn the heart of the father to the son," that is, the heart of fathers to their children; for the Septuagint translators have frequently put the singular for the plural number. And the meaning is, that the sons, that is, the Jews, shall understand the law as the fathers, that is, the prophets, and among them Moses himself, understood it. (City of God XX.29)

 

Notice that St. Augustine states that this was a common view, held in common by the faithful (again, in contrast to St. Justin Martyr’s admission that “many” in his day did not agree with chiliasm/millennialism).  Nor does he raise any caution about the view—on the contrary, he wholeheartedly supports it himself.

 

But Bob accuses the saint of “blunders”, of “equivocation”, and incredibly of “exegetical duplicity” which led him to “[produce] many forced interpretations of Ap 11:5-8 and Rm 11:25-26 to make room for both a Jewish conversion and a Jewish evangelism to the Gentiles” (CASB3, p. 454).  Indeed, so great is his irritation that Bob accuses the Doctor of additional errors.  He insists that St. Augustine’s view that there will be a future conversion of the Jews to Christ makes “little sense” and “seems to be somewhat frivolous by divine standards”, because a large-scale conversion of the Jews is delayed until the end times.  Incredibly, Bob conveniently ignores the fact that according to his own theological views, the Jewish people will remain irrevocably hardened and estranged from God to the bitter end!   Are we to believe that Bob just somehow forgot writing these tender passages about the Jews and his version of “divine mercy”?:

 

“the hardening is never lifted. It is permanent because it serves as a final divine judgment upon the stubbornly unrepentant” (CASB 3, p. 112)

“The unbelief of the Jews, by God's design, will continue right up until the end, and only a remnant out of Jewry will be saved” (Conversion of the Jews not Necessary:  The Apocalyptic Ramifications of a Novel Teaching).

 

“the ‘hardening’ God has cast upon the Jews at large for their general unbelief will remain until the end of time…” (CASB 2, p. 139)

"The whole tenor of the New Testament is that God is finally rejecting the Jews (except for a remnant)...God is giving up on the Jews. In the language of John 6:44, God is no longer going to draw them to Jesus.
 In fact, God will become active in keeping them in unbelief by blinding 
them to the truth (Romans 11:8). That is the kind of God we have; a 
very dynamic God...and the Jews will die in their unbelief." (Second Rebuttal to Dr. James White on Predestination)

 

Bob himself blunders yet again when he asserts, “For example, beginning with Augustine, there persists a strain of thought that Elijah will be transported from heaven to earth in order to preach to the last generation of Jews for their conversion” (CASB3, p. 442).  This idea did not begin with St. Augustine.  Rather, it was rather obviously expressed in the idea, voiced in Sir 48:10, that Elijah would just prior to the End “restore the tribes of Jacob”.  And various Fathers expressed exactly this before St. Augustine did.  For example St. Victorinus, writing about a hundred years before St. Augustine, says:

He speaks of Elias the prophet, who is the precursor of the times of Antichrist, for the restoration and establishment of the churches from the great and intolerable persecution. We read that these things are predicted in the opening of the Old and New Testament; for He says by Malachi: “Lo, I will send to you Elias the Tishbite, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, according to the time of calling, to recall the Jews to the faith of the people that succeed them (ANF 7, p. 413; my emphasis).

 

And St. John Chrysostom, writing totally independently of, and probably before, St. Augustine, said:

 

To show therefore that the Tishbite comes before that other advent, which has the judgment, He said this. And the reason too of his coming He teaches withal. And what is this reason? That when He has come, he may persuade the Jews to believe in Christ, and that they may not all utterly perish at His coming. Wherefore He too, guiding them on to that remembrance, says, And he shall restore all things; that is, shall correct the unbelief of the Jews that are then in being (Homily 57; NPNF1, vol. 10, p. 357).

 

And Bob makes the additional claim that “Augustine then sought to identify the “Deliverer” of Rm 11:26 with Elijah” (CASB3, 449).  This particular charge is remarkable, considering that in the passage under consideration St. Augustine does no such thing.  Read St. Augustine’s words above again.  He doesn’t even use the word “Deliverer” at all, let alone does he identify the “Deliverer” with Elijah rather than Jesus Christ.  I have no idea where Sungenis came up with this.

 

So while accusing St. Augustine of blundering, Sungenis himself commits multiple blunders.  Again, I find this approach to the Fathers of our faith to be disrespectful at best and downright impious at worst.

 

 

What is Behind it All?

 

Many years ago Mark Cameron asked a very pertinent question:

 

My other question is, given the broad consensus I have found in Catholic sources saying that there will be such a future conversion of Jews to the faith, some from sources that you must have seen before in your wide reading, why are you so keen to deny this teaching?

 

Why does Bob work so hard to discredit a future, special conversion of the Jews, even if it means pitting himself against an impressive array of Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and the Magisterium itself?

 

Why does he insist that the great consensus of the Fathers on the conversion of the Jews is certainly wrong, but is quick to highlight the testimony of exactly two Fathers who suggest that the Antichrist might be a Jew?

 

Why is he willing to crop out sections of patristic quotes that indicate that the Fathers believed in this future conversion?

 

Why is he willing to torture the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s English phrase “in the wake of” and studiously ignore the Latin which unambiguously teaches that all Israel will recognize Jesus Christ after (post) the “‘full inclusion’ of the Gentiles” in order to avoid an obvious magisterial affirmation of the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors concerning a future conversion of the Jews? 

 

Why does he accuse venerable Fathers of “blunders”, “equivocation”, and even “exegetical duplicity” in believing in a future return of Elijah the prophet, when anyone can see that their views were perfectly reasonable and in harmony with sacred Scripture?

 

Why indeed?  Is this all a product of calm and deliberate scholarship? Does this support Bob’s assertion that he’s just “in it for the truth”?  Hardly. We’ve suggested that the only reasonable answer to Cameron’s question is that Bob Sungenis harbors an animus and a prejudice against the Jewish people that clouds his reason and taints his work.  While Sungenis is capable of doing responsible work in other areas, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that when the topic turns to Jews or anything Jewish, Bob’s work degenerates into rank propaganda.

 

The belief of numerous Fathers and Doctors of the Church in a future return of Elijah the prophet is well established in sacred Scripture.  It is certainly a belief in itself worthy of any Catholic and it is disrespectful and impious for Sungenis to accuse the Fathers, as he does, of blundering and duplicity.  The belief in a special conversion of the Jews—which is itself supported by even more Fathers and Doctors of the Church (not to mention four Popes and the Catechism of the Catholic Church) is not dependendent upon acceptance of the belief that Elijah will return.  But certainly the two views are complementary.   In the end we find yet again that Bob exhibits a marked theology of prejudice, blatant exegetical bias, and disrespect for his Fathers in the faith in his “study” of Jewish issues.

 

 

For further reading, see:

 

The Theology of Predjudice

 

Sungenis on Romans 11: Theological Bias in Biblical Exegesis

 

 

  



[i] “Justin: Does not Scripture, in the book of Zechariah, Malachi 4:5 say that Elijah shall come before the great and terrible day of the Lord?

 

Trypho: Certainly.

 

Justin: If therefore Scripture compels you to admit that two advents of Christ were predicted to take place—one in which He would appear suffering, and dishonoured, and without comeliness; but the other in which He would come glorious and Judge of all, as has been made manifest in many of the fore-cited passages—shall we not suppose that the word of God has proclaimed that Elijah shall be the precursor of the great and terrible day, that is, of His second advent?

 

Trypho: Certainly.

 

Justin: And, accordingly, our Lord in His teaching proclaimed that this very thing would take place, saying that Elijah would also come. And we know that this shall take place when our Lord Jesus Christ shall come in glory from heaven; whose first manifestation the Spirit of God who was in Elijah preceded as herald in [the person of] John, a prophet among your nation; after whom no other prophet appeared among you.”

 

[ii]I apprehend that heretics of this school seize with special avidity the example of Elias, whom they assume to have been so reproduced in John (the Baptist) as to make our Lord's statement sponsor for their theory of transmigration, when He said, "Elias has come already, and they knew him not;" [Matthew 17:12] and again, in another passage, "And if you will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come." [Matthew 11:14] Well, then, was it really in a Pythagorean sense that the Jews approached John with the inquiry, "Are you Elias?" [John 1:21] and not rather in the sense of the divine prediction, "Behold, I will send you Elijah" the Tisbite? [Malachi 4:5] The fact, however, is, that their metempsychosis, or transmigration theory, signifies the recall of the soul which had died long before, and its return to some other body. But Elias is to come again, not after quitting life (in the way of dying), but after his translation (or removal without dying); not for the purpose of being restored to the body, from which he had not departed, but for the purpose of revisiting the world from which he was translated; not by way of resuming a life which he had laid aside, but of fulfilling prophecy—really and truly the same man, both in respect of his name and designation, as well as of his unchanged humanity. How, therefore could John be Elias? You have your answer in the angel's announcement: "And he shall go before the people," says he, "in the spirit and power of Elias"— not (observe) in his soul and his body.”

 

[iii] “…affirming that the two prophets Enoch and Elias have been translated into some remote place that they might attend our Lord when He shall come to judgment” (The Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Chapter 2, ANF).

 

[iv] “But since the Saviour was the beginning of the resurrection of all men, it was meet that the Lord alone should rise from the dead, by whom too the judgment is to enter for the whole world, that they who have wrestled worthily may be also crowned worthily by Him, by the illustrious Arbiter, to wit, who Himself first accomplished the course, and was received into the heavens, and was set down on the right hand of God the Father, and is to be manifested again at the end of the world as Judge. It is a matter of course that His forerunners must appear first, as He says by Malachi and the angel, "I will send to you Elias the Tishbite before the day of the Lord, the great and notable day, comes; and he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, lest I come and smite the earth utterly." These, then, shall come and proclaim the manifestation of Christ that is to be from heaven; and they shall also perform signs and wonders, in order that men may be put to shame and turned to repentance for their surpassing wickedness and impiety.”

[v] 21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? and he saith, I am not. Art thou that Prophet? And he answered, No.

Having said by way of explanation, he confessed, I am not the Christ; he tries to shew how or in what manner the confession was made; and he appears to me to wish thereby to lay bare the ill-instructedness of the Jews. For professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and puffed up at their knowledge of the Law, and ever putting forward the commandments of Moses and asserting that they were perfectly instructed in the words of the holy Prophets, by their foolish questions they are convicted of being wholly uninstructed. For the hierophant Moses saying that the Lord should be revealed as a Prophet foretold to the children of Israel, The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me, unto Him shall ye hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy God in Horeb. The blessed Isaiah, introducing to us the forerunner and fore-messenger, says, The voice of one crying in the wilderness Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight: and in addition to these the Prophet Joel 13 says of |127 the Tishbite (he was Elias) Behold, I send you Elijah the Tishbite 14 who shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

There being then three, who were promised should come, Christ and John and Elias, the Jews expect that more will come, that they may rightly hear, Ye do err not knowing the Scriptures. For when they enquired of the blessed Baptist and learned that he was not the Christ, they answer, What then? art thou Elias? and on his saying I am not, when they ought to have asked respecting the fore-runner (for he it was that remained) they ignorantly return to Christ Himself, Who was revealed through the Law as a Prophet. For see what they say, not knowing what was told them through Moses, Art thou the Prophet? and he answered, No. For he was not the Christ, as he had already before declared.

 

[vi] “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God.”] He speaks of Elias the prophet, who is the precursor of the times of Antichrist, for the restoration and establishment of the churches from the great and intolerable persecution. We read that these things are predicted in the opening of the Old and New Testament; for He says by Malachi: “Lo, I will send to you Elias the Tishbite, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, according to the time of calling, to recall the Jews to the faith of the people that succeed them. (ANF 7, ).

 

[vii] "Because the Lord was to come down from heaven, and to ascend to heaven, He raised Elias to heaven, to bring him back to the earth at the time He should please." "The beast, Antichrist, ascends from the abyss to fight against Elias and Enoch and John, who are restored to the earth for the testimony to the Lord Jesus, as we read in the Apocalypse of John."

 

[viii] "God will send, in Elias (which is interpreted 'My God' and wire is of the town Thisbe, which signifies 'conversion' or 'penitence') the whole choir of the prophets, "to convert the heart of the fathers to the sons," namely, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the patriarchs, that their posterity may believe in the Lord the Saviour, in whom themselves believed: 'for Abraham saw the day of the Lord and was glad.'" Here, he speaks of the "coming of Elias before their anointed," as a supposition of Jews and Judaizing heretics. But in commenting on our Lord's words in Matthew, he adheres twice to the literal meaning. On Matthew 11:14-15, "Some think that John is therefore called Elias, because, as, according to Malachi, at the second coming of the Saviour. On Matthew 17:11-12, Elias will precede and announce the Judge to come, so did John at His first coming, and each is a messenger, of the first or second coming of the Lord:" and again concisely, On Matthew 17:11-12, "He who is to come in the second Coining of the Saviour in the actual body, now comes through John in spirit and power;" and he speaks of Enoch and Elias as "the two witnesses in the Revelation, since, according to the Apocalypse of John, Enoch and Elias are spoken of, as having to die."

 

[ix]For in the first [advent] He came not to smite the earth. For, "I came not," saith He, "to judge the world, but to save the world." To show therefore that [Elijah] the Tishbite comes before that [second] advent ... He said this. ... And what is this reason? That when He is come, He may persuade the Jews to believe in Christ ... Wherefore He too, guiding them on to that remembrance, saith, "And he shall restore all things;" that is, shall correct the unbelief of the Jews that are then in being.  Hence the extreme accuracy of his expression; in that He said not, "He will restore the heart of the son to the father," but "of the father to the son." For the Jews being fathers of the apostles, his meaning is, that he will restore to the doctrines of their sons, that is, of the apostles, the hearts of the fathers, that is, the Jewish people's mind.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, Homily LVII, 1; P. Schaff (ed.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series I (hereafter, NPNF1), Vol. X [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1956], p. 352, emphasis added)

 

[x]Before all this occurs, the Lord in His mercy will send Elijah and Enoch, that they might preach true piety to mankind and boldly preach the knowledge of good to all, teaching them not to believe in the tormentor out of fear. They will call out and say: ‘O people, this is flattery! Let no one believe it and obey the antagonist of God; let none of you be brought to fright, for he will soon be brought to naught. Soon, the Holy Lord will come from heaven to judge all who have believed his signs.’ Few will desire to hear and believe this admonition of the prophets. (The Word of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian on the Coming of Antichrist).

 

[xi] "The Apostles inquire in anxiety about the times of Elias. To whom He answereth, that "Elias will come and restore all things," that is, will recall to the knowledge of God, what he shall find of Israel; but he signifies that John came "in the spirit and power of Elias," to whom they had shown all severe and harsh dealings, that, foreannouncing the Coming of the Lord, he might be a forerunner of the Passion also by an example of wrong and harass." "We understand that those same prophets (Moses and Elias) will come before His Coming, who, the Apocalypse of John says, will be slain by Antichrist, although there are various opinions of very many, as to Enoch or Jeremiah, that one of them is to die, as Elias."

 

Hilary the Deacon, 355 a.d., has on the words, "I suppose God hath set forth us the Apostles last;" "He therefore applies these to his own person, because he was always in distress, suffering, beyond the rest, persecutions and distresses, as Enoch and Elias will suffer, who will be Apostles at the last time. For they have to be sent before Christ, to make ready the people of God, and fortify all the Churches to resist Antichrist, of whom the Apocalypse attests, that they will suffer persecutions and be slain." "When the faithless shall be secure of the kingdom of the devil, the saints, i. e., Enoch and Elias being slain, rejoicing in the victory, and 'sending gifts, one to another' as the Apocalypse says Revelation 11:10 sudden destruction shall come upon them. For Christ at His Coming, shall destroy them all."

 

[xii] Gregory of Nyssa quotes the prophecy under the heading, that "before the second Coming of our Lord, Elias should come."

 

[xiii] “After admonishing them to give heed to the law of Moses, as he foresaw that for a long time to come they would not understand it spiritually and rightly, he went on to say, "And, behold, I will send to you Elias the Tishbite before the great and signal day of the Lord come: and he shall turn the heart of the father to the son, and the heart of a man to his next of kin, lest I come and utterly smite the earth." It is a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful, that in the last days before the judgment the Jews shall believe in the true Christ, that is, our Christ, by means of this great and admirable prophet Elias who shall expound the law to them. For not without reason do we hope that before the coming of our Judge and Saviour Elias shall come, because we have good reason to believe that he is now alive; for, as Scripture most distinctly informs us,he was taken up from this life in a chariot of fire. When, therefore, he is come, he shall give a spiritual explanation of the law which the Jews at present understand carnally, and shall thus "turn the heart of the father to the son," that is, the heart of fathers to their children; for the Septuagint translators have frequently put the singular for the plural number. And the meaning is, that the sons, that is, the Jews, shall understand the law as the fathers, that is, the prophets, and among them Moses himself, understood it” (St. Augustine, City of God XX.29).

 

[xiv] "Malachi teaches us how, when Antichrist shall presume on these things, the great Elias shall appear, preaching to the Jews the coming of Christ: and he shall convert many, for this is the meaning of, "he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children," i. e., the Jews (for these he calls fathers, as being older in knowledge) to those who believed from the Gentiles. They who shall believe through the preaching of the great Elias, and shall join themselves to the Gentiles who seized the salvation sent to them, shall become one church.”

 

[xv] “Which, clearly, is said, not because the Elect shall fall, but because they shall tremble with terrible alarms.  Now at that time both the latest Elect and the first Elect are described as maintaining the conflict for righteousness against him, in that both they that shall be found among the Elect at the end of the world, are destined to be laid low in the death of the flesh, and they too who proceeded from the former divisions of the world, i.e. Enoch and Elijah, shall be brought back amongst men, and shall be exposed to the savageness of his cruelty still in their mortal flesh” (Moralia XIV.27).

 

[xvi] “But Enoch and Elias the Thesbite shall be sent and shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, that is, the synagogue to our Lord Jesus Christ and the preaching of the apostles: and they will be destroyed by him. And the Lord shall come out of heaven, just as the holy apostles beheld Him going into heaven perfect God and perfect man, with glory and power, and will destroy the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, with the breath of His mouth. Let no one, therefore, look for the Lord to come from earth, but out of Heaven, as He himself has made sure” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Chapter 26).

 

[xvii]He will restore all things, that is to say, those things which Malachi points out, saying, Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to be children, and the heart of the children to their fathers....." Jesus makes it clear that Elijah is to come, and He made it clear that he has come in a figurative way, much like the antichrist has come, is here, and will continue to come until the Antichrist comes at the end of time. 1 Jn 2:18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”

 

Comments