Memorial and Remembrance

There is some confusion of meaning between the words memorial and remembrance as they are used in the Old and New Testaments. This confusion is magnified by an inconsistency of translation for the Hebrew words that are used in the Old Testament to convey these two ideas.

Let’s start with an easy example from the New Testament to further illustrate before attempting a deeper study in the Old Testament, while also clearing up some discrepancies in translation. In Acts chapter ten, we read an important event in the life of a gentile and Roman named Cornelius. He received in a vision the message of an angel who informs him that “your prayers and your almsgiving have come up before God for a Memorial.”  Acts 10:4.

In accordance with the angel’s instructions, he calls for Peter to hear his words. Peter has already been informed by the Holy Spirit to respond to his request and go to him. After preaching the message, everyone present at his home receives the Holy Spirit. Cornelius testifies that his prayer was heard and his alms have been “had in remembrance in the sight of God”   Acts 10:31.        

In other words, God has acted on his behalf and his entire household. A Memorial before God has resulted in a Remembrance in His sight.

In Exodus chapter 17, we read of the event where the children of Israel are attacked by a hostile people called the Amalekites. Joshua leads his warriors out to confront them, while Moses intercedes from a mountain overlooking the battle. After Joshua prevails, the Lord commands Moses:

Exodus 17:14. write this for a memorial in a book and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua, for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.                        

We can clearly see that words recorded in a book are kept as a memorial on earth for man. In Acts 10, the memorial was before God in heaven. The perspective is very important for a right understanding.  The use of the word remembrance in the same verse speaks of the long term effect the memory of this event will have on the hearts of the people.

The Hebrew word used in the first instance is zikrown (H2146), derived from the root zakar (H2142) -to remember and is translated in the KJV 17 times as memorial. On six other occasions however, it is translated as remembrance, showing an inconsistency in translation and a source of confusion.

In the second instance of Exodus 17:14, the Hebrew word used is zeker (H2143) and is also derived from the same root word zakar. This word is translated 11 times as remembrance, but on five occasions is translated memorial, showing the same inconsistency and confusion.

Having introduced the Hebrew for memorial and remembrance, we can now look at an instance where this inconsistency of translation distorts the implications of the passage.

In the prophet Malachi we received this word from the Lord:

Malachi 3:16. Then they that feared the Lord spoke often one to another and the Lord hearkened and heard and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon His name.                                                       

In this verse the Hebrew word zikrown is used and should have been translated memorial for consistency. The choice also reflects the idea of words recorded in a book as a memorial, as in Exodus 17:14.

In Acts Ten we read that Cornelius had established a memorial before God for his righteous prayers and alms-giving. We can now add to that the godly conversation of believers to what Jesus referred to as treasure kept in heaven. This is why Christian fellowship is so valuable and righteous conversation stands in clear distinction from common socializing.

Philippians 3:20. For our conversation is in Heaven, from where we also look for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.                                                                                              

1 Peter 1:15 . As He who has called you is holy, so you also be holy in all manner of conversation.                                                                                                                     

Matthew 12:36 & 37. Jesus is much stricter: but I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you shall be justified and by your words you shall be condemned.                      

Jesus also stresses the importance of the books written in Heaven:

Luke 10:20.  notwithstanding this rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice because you names are written in Heaven.                                                

Psalm 50:23.  Whoever offers praise glorifies me, and to whomever orders their conversation aright I will show the salvation of God.                                                          

A Circumcised Heart

The Lord gave Moses and Aaron further instructions in regard to strangers and servants desiring to keep the Passover, that all males must be circumcised. Circumcision was a hot topic in the early church with regard to expectations placed upon Gentile believers.

Exodus 12:48.  And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it.

Paul resolved the issue:    

Romans 2:28 & 29.  For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.     

Note the clear symmetry between the two verses right up to “in the spirit and not in the letter”.  But then Paul adds this final clarification; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

When our heart is circumcised, we can say like Paul: 

Galatians 1:10.  For do I now persuade men or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

 1 Thessalonians 2:4.  But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men but God, which tries our hearts.

Some translations change this to “God, who tries our hearts.” Granted, He certainly does try us, but the point Paul is making is that the test of a circumcised heart is to put ourselves to this question: am I pleasing men or God.  This is the issue which tries our hearts.

Twice Paul makes an interesting statement in 1 Co 1:31 and 2 Co 10:17, “let them that glory, glory in the Lord.”  The statement suggests that he is quoting a verse from the Old Testament. In actuality, he is paraphrasing a passage from the prophet Jeremiah. Paul is attempting to remind them of instructions he gave while he was with them. 

Paul’s stay in Corinth is chronicled in Acts 18.  He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks…then he continued there for 18 months! “teaching the Word of God among them”.   v.11.   

So let’s look at the text from Jeremiah that Paul would have been teaching from to apply this paraphrase he uses “to glory in the Lord.”

Jeremiah 9:23 & 24.  Thus saith the Lord, let not the wise glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty glory in his might, let not the rich glory in his riches: but let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord which exercises loving-kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.                     

Now let’s jump back over to 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 1:26-29.  for you see your calling brethren how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and base things of the world and things which are despised God has chosen, yes and the things which are not to bring to naught things that are; that no flesh shall glory in His presence.

Try to set aside the obvious inference that the church is made up of foolish, weak, base and despised members and hear the echo of Jeremiah 9 in this passage. So what was Paul teaching on by using Jeremiah 9 as his text?   Let’s continue through the final two verses:

Jeremiah 9:25&26.  Behold, the days come says the Lord, that I will punish all of them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised, and all that are in the utmost corners, that dwell in the wilderness: for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.   

In the time of Jeremiah, all the people of Israel had become blind to God’s Word.  Even as Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Corinthians 3:15-17.  For unto this day when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it (the heart) shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.         

The blindness of the uncircumcised heart is a paramount issue. For the Lord has set a day when the veil will be lifted from the hearts of Israel. This is an opportunity to look at the first of the mysteries of God revealed in Christ that Paul speaks of:

1 Corinthians 4:1&2.  Let a man so account of us as ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.

In order to be a faithful steward, a saint must know what these mysteries are of which Paul speaks.

Romans 11:25.  For I would not brethren that you should be ignorant of this mystery, less you should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.   

Compare to this verse, and consider the time: 

Luke 21:24.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.