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Some Exegesis on the “Innovation” In 1 Samuel 15


In my post earlier today, I quoted Pope Francis on the topic of what Saul did in the Old Testament. This was the basis for his comments about Christians with “closed hearts,” the “sin of divination” when adhering to tradition, and the sin of “idolatry” when Christians are “obstinate.” The papal statement in question:

“In the first reading, Saul was rejected by God as King of Israel because he disobeyed, preferring to listen to the people rather than the will of God. The people, after a victory in battle, wanted to offer a sacrifice of the best animals to God, because, he said, “It’s always been done that way.” But God, this time, did not want that. The prophet Samuel rebuked Saul: “Does the Lord so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the Lord?”

“[This is] the sin of so many Christians who cling to what has always been done and do not allow others to change. And they end up with half a life, [a life that is] patched, mended, meaningless.” The sin, he said, is a “closed heart”, that “does not hear the voice of the Lord, that is not open to the newness of the Lord, to the Spirit that always surprises us.” This rebellion, says Samuel, is “the sin of divination,” and obstinacy is the sin of idolatry.

Over at the fine blog, Unam Sanctam, there is a brief exegesis on this passage which shows that things are not as the Holy Father presented them:

Note the way Francis interprets this passage. Saul has disobeyed God and lost the kingship. What was his disobedience? According to Francis, it was that Saul refuses to obey God by appealing to tradition. “It’s always been done that way”, is how the pope paraphrases Saul. “But God, this time, did not want that.” Saul is portrayed as obstinately clinging to a tradition that is now contrary to the will of God. God is attempting to innovate with a new command. Saul is not open to the “newness of the Lord.” He has closed himself off to the “surprises” of God and taken refuge behind the “meaningless” veil of custom.

So according to Francis’ exegesis, God is the innovator and Saul is the one stubbornly resisting change.

The problem is, the Scriptures suggest the exact opposite is true. If we read 1 Samuel 15, we see that Saul never once appeals to some custom of tradition to justify his disobedience. He simply makes up excuses. He says, “The people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed” (1 Sam. 15:15); a little later on he repeats his excuse: “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission which the Lord has sent me, I have brought Agag, king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” (1 Sam. 15:20-21).

These are the only two justifications Saul offers for his behavior. He does not appeal to tradition, custom, or that “it’s always been done that way.” Thus, the dichotomy the pope attempts to create between Saul the traditionalist and God the innovator is not supported by the text.


Far from being a “surprise”, the command to eradicate the Amalekites was established many decades centuries beforehand.

The implication of this is that Saul’s sin is not an obstinate clinging to tradition, but rather an innovation! God had traditionally demanded the destruction of devoted cattle; He did so again in 1 Samuel 15:2-3. Saul was not the traditionalist but the innovator. He disobeyed the tradition of herem warfare by sparing those cattle committed to destruction. Samuel and God rebuke Saul not for stubbornly maintaining a tradition, but for deviating from it.

There’s a good bit more, and taking the time to go through it to arrive at an authentic understanding of this scriptural example is very helpful, especially if you’re not well-versed in the Old Testament.

Why are you still here? Go read it.

18 thoughts on “Some Exegesis on the “Innovation” In 1 Samuel 15”

  1. The Pope’s exegetical powers are close to nil – he constantly distorts and forces the Word of God to turn it into some shabby proof-text for his deviant faith.

    One of the worst examples was his equating those who opposed divorce and remarriage with the Pharisees. Basic Catechism lessons would have told him that the Pharisees supported divorce and remarriage in opposition to Our Lord.

  2. It seems the only tool in the Pope’s toolbox is the Holy Hammer of Surprises, rendering in his eyes all Scripture and Tradition as nothing but Nails of Neo-Pelagian Rigidity.

  3. If we are honest the only theologically coherent interpretation of 1 Sam. 15:20-21 is for the Faithful to avoid personalized liturgical innovation based on our desires or feelings beyond what Christ taught and the Apostles transmitted to the church.

    Pope Francis frequently engages in polemic invective without supporting doctrine or scriptural basis.

  4. Excellent Steve. Our dear Pope is at it again with another thinly veiled attack on orthodox Catholics. Shameful behavior, of course. He is under the influence of the evil one because he does not speak the truth. Let us pray for Pope Francis every day.

  5. I am finding many, many people, Catholics and non Catholics, who keep saying how wonderful this Pope is. They love his reinterpretation and “renewal” of the Church.
    In other words – he now lets people do whatever they feel like doing.
    He is the Pope for this age. He is the Pope for the modern man (oops, person).

    My wife has a relative, a totally trendy new age “Catholic” who told us recently in a letter how wonderful the new Pope is.

    He is giving the mob what they want and they love it.

  6. Most Catholics have not been well- catechised and I don’t think too many of us are asking the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read and listen to the Word, thereby leaving ourselves open to being easily misled, even by a Pope. Those of us who can pray – which is all of us- and have access to the Bible and Catechism, are following the commandments and receiving the sacraments, through the grace of God, will know the Truth. If we are not doing these things with love and humility, and trusting in Jesus, we will not. Thank you for exegesis, Steve.

  7. At Mass, we are only fed what is considered to be the key, essential elements of Scripture, but if we do not go back to our Bibles and read the rest of the story (makes me think of Paul Harvey’s radio vignettes), we miss out on the fullness of the Truth and will be easily misled.

  8. Yet more proof that “Sola Scriptura” is just another name for “Solus ego erroris”. Without tradition to keep you on track, it’s possible to honestly read into scripture whatever your want to read into them.

    It’s no surprise there are over 30000 protestant denominations, and it’s no surprise that the Pope can read anti-Traditionalism in even strongly Tradition supporting passages of scripture.


    (tune, “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City,” with apologies to
    Rodgers & Hammerstein)

    I went to Casa Marta on a Sunday
    By Mass next day I’d learned a thing or two
    But up till then I didn’t have an idee
    Of what the mod’rn Church was comin’ to.
    I counted 20 Christians cling to what they’ve always done,
    But Francis called it sin–a closed-off heart.
    One must be open to the Spirit always surprising us,
    Or in idolatry you’ve taken part.
    What next! What next?

    Everything’s up to date in Vatican City;
    They’ve gone about as fer as they can go.
    They projected nature photos upon St. Peter’s walls
    As high as propaganda orta grow.
    Everything’s like a dream in Vatican City
    It’s better than a magic lantern show.
    You can have Communion any time without a true belief.
    It’s no more penance needed when from sin you want relief.
    You can have your marriage stamped “annulled” and never
    file a brief.
    They’ve gone about as fer as they can go.
    They’ve gone about as fer as they can go!

    Jim Cole


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