Writing in Sips

This was supposed to be a blog, loosely shaped, around writing. Sadly, it seems I have very few writing thoughts.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except I still love writing. I would have lots of writing thoughts if only I had time to write. I could easily churn out two, at least one, book a year. But, I have no time. These days if I’m not up by 0500, it doesn’t happen.

The things that push writing aside are more important. Real people like my Mrs., children, neighbors, etc., do rate higher than fictional. Yet, with the loss of sleep, I do get some done. Evangeline’s sequel is almost half done.

But, I spend a good deal away from the computer, so I’m trying something borrowed from a particular author, I won’t mention.

I read Stephen King once wrote that a family first writer should read in sips. Ie., no stealing from the family large swaths of time to spend in your own fictional universe.

Yes, that Stephen King wrote that. I wouldn’t recommend most of what he’s written because of content, but what I’ve read changed my writing style for the better.

So, I thought of this other unmentioned author, who wrote a novel on her smart phone. I’m not going to try it with Evangeline’s universe because that requires too much imagination. But I do have another WIP that is more down to Earth.

So, far I’ve found I can punch out a paragraph or two in my short breaks between stops. And it gives me driving time to think about the scene and plot and try out different turns of phrase.

How about any of you? Ever tried writing little sips at a time? Instead of being in a dedicated session?

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The Pearl of Great Price

Of late, I’ve had to ask myself if I’m forgetting Yeshua? Partly because of the rare controversial positions I have taken in some teaching sessions.

Yes, that was a joke.

And if I hadn’t sensed it from those participating in our local midrash (that’s a sermon in the form of an argument =), I’ve had at least one person voice concern that I was walking a dangerous line.

But, they’re not warning me of anything I haven’t already warned myself about. Do I focus too much on Torah? Am I missing Yeshua through the forest of Mitzvot? Am I letting traditional mindset blind me to the simplicity of Yeshua’s personal power?

I worry about it, but I don’t think those are my problems. I comfess that Yeshua is still key to the gospel, and in fact he’s more important and more personal to me than he ever has been.

But, about a year or year and half ago, I began seeing the gospel in a radically different way. I’m working on an expanded work on this subject, but let me illustrate with the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.

1) What do we first learn? Mattityahu 13:45, tells us “the Kingdom” is like unto… Does it say, forgiveness of sins is like…? Or that eternal life is like…? I’m not saying those things aren’t part of it. What good is a kingdom, if it’s king has something against you? What good is a kingdom, if you can’t live there?

But, being about the Kingdom tells you this gospel is not PRIMARILY about you as an individual, getting a perfect ending. It’s about King whose rule is what’s great. The Good News is about a King and His Reign. That is why the beginning of Yeshua’s message on Earth was repent, for the Kingdom is at hand. Get right, the King is coming! Remember the Lord’s prayer? Is the first petition for forgiveness? No, it’s for the Kingdom. Food even comes ahead of forgiveness.

2) The parable goes on about a merchant seeking goodly pearls. There’s two readily apparent ways to look at this. Is the merchant Yeshua? That would make some sense because he gave everything to buy you, if so then YOU are the pearl of Great Price. I’m fine with that, but some will object, since we’re supposed to be wretched. But there’s room for more than one interpretation.

But suppose Yeshua is the merchant and you the pearl, notice the merchant doesn’t seek anything that glitters, but a pearl of Great Price. First it has value. Do unrepentant sinners have value to the Kingdom? You won’t find that in the gospels. And how does a pearl come to have great price? By enduring the affliction. A pearl is made by friction and calcium applied to almost worthless sand. This fits perfectly with the greatest of all parables, that of the Sower. The shower sows to reap a harvest of fruit, not simply to have a plant. In fact, over and over Yeshua tells parables about plants that get cut up, dug up, and burned because they had no fruit.

In the next possible interpretation, Yeshua is the pearl of Great Price. I’m fine with that too. In fact I would put my emphasis on this one more than the first.

If so, then who finds the pearl of Great price? A merchant SEEKING such pearls. Does it fall into the lap of someone sitting on a park bench? No, it is sought.

Does he acquire it by wishing for it? Does he get it by having confidence that it has value? No, he acquires it by selling all that he had. Yeshua was worth everything. He didn’t say some prayer for Yeshua and go on about his day. He gave everything to have it. Hardly cheap grace.

This fits with the most succinct way of Yeshua (way of Salvation?) presented in all four gospels. They don’t all say, “Believe on me, and you’ll be saved.” But what all four do say alike is he that loses his life for Yeshua will gain it.

But are these both too narrow? He does not say, the Son of man is like, nor my disciple is like…, but the Kingdom is like! So isn’t it possible that the Kingdom itself is both the Pearl and the Merchant?

Is it that the Kingdom is seeking those who belong to the Kingdom? And that those of the Kingdom are seeking the Kingdom? And Yeshua is King, so he is ruling that Kingdom so he is both seeking his citizens and His citizens are seeking him! I mean in what good love story are both sides not pursuing each other?

But all these interpretations contain the same pattern: all that is valuable is given to obtain something of more value. The Kingdom is not sought by “believing”, but by doing.

That is why I seem to be fixated on Torah and Mitzvot, because I want to give all for that pearl. And I believe that telling people to just believe is not communicating this gospel. Ask yourself, how many times does Yeshua tell people to just believe, outside of Yochanon (John)?

Outside of Yochanon, Yeshua emphasizes what each of us is doing, not what we are believing.

Do I find fault then with Yochanon? No, but understand Yochanon was written last, some 30 to 60 years after the others, with the others already circulating. It’s logical to assume then that what Yochanon meant by believe was previously communicated in the other gospels. Hence believe must in some way be equivalent to denying oneself, bearing fruit, giving all.

And that is reasonable. How can I say, I believe this man’s words about the need to deny myself in order to obtain an unfathomably complete life and then not do that? As Yeshua said, why do you call me Master and not do what I say?

To believe Him would be to act on everything He says. And he says keep the commandments.

See, part of the radical change in my perspective on the gospel has come through reading Yeshua’s words. Outside of Yochanon, which again must be taken as a special gospel, Yeshua talks very little about himself. The “I AM” statements, for example, didn’t seem essential to the three writers of the synoptics. Their accounting of Yeshua’s teachings were not centered on Yeshua himself, but we’re more often about our response to what we already knew Elohim expected of us.

What is the Sermon on the mount mostly about? Not one of the beatitudes is about who you think Yeshua is. In the Parable of the Sower it’s about what kind of fruit you produce, not what the Sower produced. The ten virgins, it’s about your preparations, not about the Groom’s. The parable of the talents, need I say more? When asked directly, how do I get eternal life, did he say, just Believe? Or did he say keep the commandments?

None of this is to say Yeshua isn’t ultimately, absolutely, the Annointed Son of Elohim, but His words, His teachings, His messages recorded were not mostly about who He was, but His words were planted so that we would bear fruit. The Sower went forth to sow to bring forth plants bearing fruit.

My point is, Yeshua called us to repent. Saying to believe on Yeshua is short hand for that. So if you understand that believing on Him encompasses repentance and laying down your life. Then yes, in that way, it is all about believing on Him and His work.

And to be clear: I’m not criticising people who preach that way, I’m just saying to not give the long hand is a deficiency and I am preaching to that.

But, if that’s THE best way to tell that message (Or the only way), then why do three out of four gospels give the long hand version that appears to be about doing the word and not simply having confidence in the personal identity of Yeshua and His death and resurrection?

Someone asked me, where is the power in all this concern about Torah? They point to the power being in knowing Yeshua and his death and resurrection.

If that is true, in the face value, greekized way that most evangelicals read it, then tell me where is the power in the mainstream evangelical church? Cause that’s what they believe. The church that doesn’t care about Torah or even obedience is dying with each generation, and all they preach is Yeshua and His death and ressurection.

But rather, I say, how can you know Yeshua if you don’t keep his commands? 1 Yochanon 2:3-4 says you can’t. So then it is in the walking out of doing (which is only possibly by faith) that we actually know Yeshua.

Which makes sense then of why Yeshua taught so much about how we are to live, because it is in living-doing that we know him, and that is power. And I think, I have Yeshua’s back on this. In the great commission we are not told in Mattityahu to make believers, but to make disciples. A disciple wasn’t someone who knew his master’s bio, but someone who acted like his master and did what his master said. Hence Yeshua went on to say, teach them to observe what he had commanded.

So, I’m not saying you can’t “just look to Yeshua” as the center of your faith, and that will be fine. If that’s how the spirit leads you, I won’t argue.

But, the mission on my heart is in teaching as Yeshua taught. In my personal experience, I’ve seen power only in those who actually are asking what does their King want done. Not in those who only ask, who is the King and how kingly is He?

I hope that answers questions.

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Are You Good Enough?

The more I study Yeshua’s words the more I believe what would appear to be works based salvation is closer to what Yeshua actually taught. Though, as I am prone to say, I don’t mean by that what you would probably think I mean. In a nutshell, what I mean is no one earns their salvation because of their works, but no one is going to get saved without them. And teaching a works-less salvation is really teaching conversion without repentance.

I’m not really here to debate that (though, I am open to that debate). But, as I work out that understanding, it leads to a question my inner Christian doesn’t like. “Doesn’t that mean a person could be saved merely by being good enough? Doing enough good deeds? And not bowing the knee to Yeshua?”

The first response is of course, can the creation truly be good without acknowledging the one who created it? Can someone be good without loving the one who gave them everything good they have ever had? And if that Good One sent you a Rabbi to teach you what is good, could you ignore that Rabbi and still be Good?

But suppose, you could somehow sidestep that. Assume God could accept someone who was “Good enough” while ignoring his roadmap for goodness…

Could someone be good enough? The normal evangelical response would posit that no matter how good you are, a perfectly just God could not overlook your past failures. Even if perfect now, God would have to hold your past against you.

Really? God doesn’t care if you’re perfect now, but would rather punish you for your past? What did Yeshua say? Who did the will of the Father, the son who said no and then repented or the one who said yes and then didn’t? He says it was the penitent. And that lines up with Ezekiel, where God says that if the wicked repented, his sins will no longer be brought up.

God seems much more concerned with your current trajectory than your past.

So could someone be good enough? The answer seems to be yes.

[Insert theological meltdown with sputtered and blurted “Then why the cross?”]

Calmed down? But why then evangelize? Why tell about Yeshua? If someone says, “I think I’m pretty good. I’m no Jeffrey Dalmer.” Do we just shuffle away?

One could start pointing out places where their morality doesn’t line up with Torah. Show them where they fall short. But if God can accept the wicked who turns from their sin, then is the standard sinlessness or penitence, even if imperfect?

Suppose that God will accept “trying” to do good as the standard. Most people, probably would claim to be in that camp. But are they really trying? If I “try” to be on time to work, but don’t set an alarm, stay up too late, and decide Facebook needs my attention before I look at the clock. Did I really try?

Without needing a divine revelation, I think we’d conclude they weren’t trying. How did we reach that conclusion? Because we each know from our own experience, that what we want to achieve we take steps to achieve. If I don’t take any steps to be on time, other than wishful thinking, then it wasn’t trying and it wasn’t important to me.

That’s going to work on time. If you are facing cosmic judgment before a judge who is perfectly just and sees all, are you going to roll out of bed minutes before that appointment? No, you would reasonably be expected to take steps toward making yourself ready. So can the average person say honestly that their highest priority each day is to actually be good?

Or are most people just “trying” to get by while they get the most out of life? Turns out, the trying standard isn’t so great. It’s almost like no matter what standard you use, you’re going to need some help from someone better than you. You’re going to need some mercy.

Still think you can be good enough without that Rabbi? See, rather than saying works are a part of salvation equals earning salvation, the one who truly repent and brings forth fruit worthy of repentance, will have to conclude they are not worthy. They haven’t earned a thing. Rather obedience is about a growing hunger for righteousness…seems like that might be a blessed attitude to be…

What does the cross have to do with this? I believe the answer is somewhat mystical, but reasonable. I think the short answer is not that Mashiach died as a payment for sin (And yet I also think he did), but that he was taking our place in doing righteousness to the final degree: remaining righteous as a man, even when feeling abandoned by God. If man can be truly good, then man must be able to remain righteous when even He abandons him.

Yeshua did, so then when we entwine ourselves with him (becoming “in Mashiach”), we draw from his power. Or perhaps, reproduce his power (before you scream heresy, remember, the sower went forth to sow…why? Not to hide seed in the ground, but to produce fruit which has…? The seed reproduced). I say this is mystical and reasonable, because you can watch Braveheart and the result is that you want to pick a sword and fight for the Scottish against the English. When you identify with a hero, some part of them becomes a part of you (almost like you were drinking their blood…). How much more when the hero is real and better than any hero?

By putting our eyes on Yeshua, because of him being man and fully righteous, we partake of his character and therefore his power. And he was good enough.

So, repenting and thus trying to do works of righteousness, will convince you that you aren’t good enough. That leads you to Yeshua, and from him you get the power to do the righteousness that completes your repentance, which is why Elohim has been lavishing his mercy on you in the first place.

So, if you think that you’re good enough doing it, your own way, then you’re far from good enough.

 

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The Repentance Game

A long time ago in a Bible Study far far away, my youth pastor was always teaching on repentance. We were in the Book of Matthew…interesting that as I’m a little older than he was then and I am now “obsessed” with Matthew.

Anyway, we finally confronted him about his deficiency.  How could every passage in Matthew (and for that matter every passage that we spilled into in relation to our Matthewean studies) be about repentance?

I don’t remember his response. It would probably have been long and winding and seemingly tangential to the subject at hand, but effective as i am hereut here remembering and admiring that time from twenty years later.

I think I finally understand whatever he was trying to say that I don’t remember.

After years of studying Torah and adjusting my understanding of Yeshua to match, I’ve “concluded” (read: a temporary burst of arrogance substantiated by long term memory loss) that the gospel isn’t what is taught in the mainstream. Specifically, it’s not primarily about forgiveness, and more relevantly, the benefits are not based on faith in a tenet.

It is based on grace through faith, but faith that produces no works is no faith at all. So, when I look at statements from Yeshua, I now see with fresh eyes where he says not everyone that calls Lord, Lord, will be saved but he that DOES the will of the father. Who is his brother and sister? Him that DOES THE will of the father. Why do call him Master, and don’t DO what he says?

So, remembering his words I’m studying Torah and finding all these nuances and teachings within seemingly basic commands, and realizing that day by day my life isn’t as it should be. Studying Torah is telling me, I’m not doing the Father’s will.

What should I do?

Probably the first thing Yeshua taught: repent. So I study and find myself continually lacking, so really every passage is about repentance.

But I can see how this can look tiring. I can remember instances, even recent, where it came across my mind: what? Another thing I have to change? Can’t I ever measure up?

The obvious answer is REPENTANCE! But that sounds like throwing a brick to a struggling swimmer. What is repentance?

Some say it’s a change of mind or heart. If that were correct, then you could repent of driving into a wall by turning off a cliff. In the story of the prodigal son, the prodigal does not repent and go into another far off country, and he certainly doesn’t repent “in his heart” and stay where he is. He goes back to the Father’s house.

To study Torah then, always with the will to obey, is about going home to where the Father can love on you, and where you can be honored as a son. Torah is the land marks that help find the path. Finding repentance is a gift.

Thus, haven’t I repented enough is like the son being within sight of the Father and asking aren’t I close enough? The penitent, the one going home, is never satisfied until he is home.

But what do we do when we get that way? When we just can’t stomach another change that makes us look like a weirdo to our Christian friends and makes it seem more difficult to interact with the world?

The same youth pastor also had a saying, “Stop playing the game!” But I’m going to take him out of context and then disagree.

Imagine playing a game. I alternate between imaging Donkey Kong Country, Zelda, and Mario 64 (imagine because of course, I have no time to play). I suppose you could imagine a board game. Just not Monopoly. But every game is filled with weird rules. Why does Mario have to bounce on the head of all his enemies? On top of that, you have side games and other hassles. Why do I have to waste Link’s time fishing, just so I can help that one character I don’t care about, so they can give me one clue that will send me to a far off land so that I can fight the big bad guy so that I can finally go and fight the bigger bladder guy?

If you think about it, most games spend most of the time having you learn how the game works, so that you can spend a very little time mastering the game and actually saving the Princess.

But do we see the game as flawed because of these missions and detours? Do we say, “Ugh, why is this world so big and complicated? Can’t the game just reward me for turning it on?”

If we saw life that way. Elohim’s path that way, then one more change isn’t a problem, it’s just part of the game that brings me ever closer to my goal. In fact, it’s not motivated by guilt. When Link goes to save Zelda, it’s not because he us I  danger, but because she’s worth saving…

That’s really telling because the games never let you hang out with the Princess for long. How do you know she’s worth saving? We presume she is, but you don’t really play the game because of how good she is, but for the game itself!

And for reasons we don’t understand our goal has to take us through the mud, and the blood, the briar and the raging volcano with the giant dragon whose head you have to jump on. And if you really stop and think about it, you don’t want it easy!

Even the grace is everything crowd wants to do something. They want to spread the gospel or sing or be really really nice. In all cases everyone seeking the Father chooses to change their life for the more difficult, not the easier.

So, yes, every passage is about repentance. Repentance is a perpetual mission. It’s hard, but so is beating Mega Man 1…and don’t even get me started on Batman from the 80s NES… It being difficult is not a flaw, it’s a perk.  And it’s not coming from a place of guilt, it’s coming out because you were meant to play.

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The War over Star Wars

Number 8 is out and already digital ink is being shed over this new one. I haven’t even seen it, but found myself drawn in on the anti-side defending against the new one’s originality. Which again, I haven’t seen.

Does it seem strange to anyone else that this is such a big deal? Why does one side feel the need to convince the other it’s great? Why is another side offended that it even exists? I mean it’s a movie about people who don’t exist!

Allow me to muse over this. I think it has to do with the creative power God has given us in story telling.

At first, I didn’t think I could speak fairly because I despised episode 7. Hearing others praise it, I began to suspect that I had these feelings merely because it was different. Who was I to say a created story couldn’t be recreated? It’s not my story.

But, if I forget about Jar Jar in episode one and the awkward  acting in the prequels, 1 and 3 weren’t great, but they weren’t abominable. Even 2 had a high point. And I loved Rogue One even though it had no Jedi in it, none of the old characters, nor light saber scene (for all intents and purposes).

So, yes, I can accept change. Why then do I have such an aversion to so many new editions, not just star wars? Indiana 4, anyone?

I think it’s because Star Wars was part of my childhood. Even later, I could watch any of the first three on a semiregular basis and not be bored. To me, perhaps because I’m a writer, and can retain stories very well, stories become very real.

So the problem with some new additions is that they aren’t just new parts of the story, it’s that they’re undoing older parts. Han doesn’t shoot first anymore. The fall of the Empire apparently didn’t happen because it seems even stronger in 7 than in 6. All the heroes end up dying after they’ve done their not. All the hard work undone. It cheapens all the real story from before. In that sense it robs us of our childhood memories.

How do some get away with it? After all, I liked Tim Burton’s Batman, but forgot it when Nolan came along. I propose we look at the new Star Wars as Earth Two Star Wars. In one galaxy far far away was 4, 5, and 6…plus Rogue One, and MAYBE the prequels (but we’ll say they are in Earth 2 or maybe 3 to be safe).

But what’s going on in DisneyGalaxy is an alternate universe. These are new stories. Our Han, Luke, and Leia are enjoying their retirement somewhere else. 7 and 8 are a reboot. They just didn’t have the sensitivity to market it that way.

Don’t you feel better? I know I do.

 

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, XI

Continuing our journey through the classic historical text from 324 AD.

Pantaenus

About 180 AD, a philosopher with Christian affinity—or a Christian with philosophical tendencies—decides to head east to further the gospel. I note that increasingly about this time in our record, philosophers become talked about in glowing terms. Don’t get me wrong, that is not to put down philosophers, but the faith of the Tanahk is based on divine revelation passed on by oral and written tradition from the prophets. Philosophy is generally based on man’s reason to reach spiritual truth; whereas, the idea of prophets is that we can’t reach up, so Elohim reaches down. So when you have all these “Christians” start to speak highly of philosophers as if their learning has made them so great…I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it doesn’t seem to fit with what we see of the godly in scripture.

Pantaenus goes east as far India, where—lo and behold!—“…he there found his own arrival preceded by some who were acquainted with the Gospel of Matthew, to whom Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached and had left them the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, which was also preserved until this time.” Again, the supremacy of Mattityahu. Writers have let us know that Mark, Luke, and John existed in times before this, but which one is always put forward? Mattityahu. Which one appears to be first? Mattityahu? Which one was clearly in Hebrew? Mattityahu.

Which one was lost? Mattityahu in Hebrew.

I also note, if Hebrew or Aramaic was all but lost, outside of Isra’el, why is Bartholomew preaching a book in Hebrew? The conclusion would have to be that his audience understood Hebrew/Aramaic. Were these perhaps, scatted Israeli? Probably, but based on Eusebius’ tendency to illuminate if someone was a ‘hebrew’ or say nothing if they were gentiles, one would think gentiles were in the mix too, so that would mean you had gentiles who were also Hebrew-Aramaic speakers. Is that because, recognizing the God of Israel, and his Mashiach, lead them to closer affinity with Hebrews?

Dillusions Arising

More heretics (this feels like a broken record) arise around Asia and even out of Rome. Some believe that there are two gods, after the manner of Marcion—one of the “old testament” and one of the new. Both arise out of very low opinions of the Torah and prophets.

Others arise via false prophets. A certain Montanus put himself forward as a prophet with two prophetesses by his side. His utterings seem to have been characterized by “a certain kind of frenzy and irregular ecstasy…but of those that happened to be present, and to hear these spurious oracles…These bore in mind the distinction and the warning given by our Lord, when he cautioned them to be vigilantly on their guard against false prophets. Others, as if elated by the holy spirit, and the gift of grace not a little puffed up, and forgetting the distinction made by our Lord…being themselves captivated and seduced by [this spirit]…” Apollinaris goes on to talk about the two prophetesses, describing their likewise ecstatic frenzies. This sounds rather like some spiritual movements in the church today… He notes in the close of his work, the backlash against those who challenged these prophets, but rebukes the followers, not on the basis of doctrine, but works! He points out that none of these great prophets or prophetesses never suffered persecution. He makes the mark of legitimacy, at least in part, that one endures suffering.

Another writer, Miltiades describes this cult, “The false prophet is carried away by a vehement ecstasy, accompanied by want of shame…” He then compares them to the prophetess daughters of Philip who never acted this way.

An interesting note is mentioned that “the apostle shows that the gift of prophecy should be in all the church until the coming of the Lord…” He then infers that every prophet should have a designated successor.

Montanus is rebuked also because he taught the dissolutions of marriage, that his prophetesses left their husbands and taught that Prisca of the Paul’s letters was a virgin. This is interesting to me because the Catholic church presently will give annulments and dispensations to allow a married person to walk away from their marriage obligations to serve the church. More over, you begin again to see this push for virginity being its own end. About this same time, there were other stories of famous virgins like Thecla (Acts of Paul) where the whole story revolves around complications from a woman being unwilling to marry. Some writings even suggested that salvation was put in danger even by married sexual relations.

This might be surprising because many assume pagans considered promiscuity as the norm, it is less well known that virginity was also mystically honored. Just think about the concept of “virgin sacrifice.” Also virgins were often made oracles who maintained their ‘powers’ by abstaining from sex. Virginity was even honored by promiscuity—hang with me, here—the pagan temple prostitutes saw their giving up of their chastity as an offering.

So, the normal relations between one man and one woman are perverted at both ends of the spectrum. Either there is no intimacy as the goal, or no faithfulness. I can’t help noticing the similarity to some church doctrines, nor to the strange emphasis the church has had on “the virgin Mary” especially including her “perpetual virginity.” That’s not just a catholic problem, by the way, many of the original protestant reformers believed mixes of these doctrines.

To be continued…

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, X

Warning: this blog may pose some difficult questions as continue our journey through the classic historical text from 324 AD.

Irenaeus Comments on Scripture and the clarification of Translation

Again, around 166 AD, Irenaeus tells us Mattityahu (Matthew) was written in Hebrew (or Aramaic, since it was common among the Hebrews). In fact, he says, “Matthew, indeed, produced his gospel…while Peter and Paul proclaimed the gospel and founded the church at Rome.” Now, the Greek Matthew is dated to around 80 AD, but Peter and Paul died in the 50-60s. That would seem to indicate that the Hebrew Matthew was twenty or thirty years before the Greek, in the lifetime of the apostles.

Which reminds of something interesting: Mattityahu is consistently mentioned first among the “gospels”, even though Mark is in modern times alleged to be older. According to Irenaeus, the Hebrew Matthew seems older—explaining, why Mattityahu is always mentioned first in history—but the Hebrew was ‘lost’, so the Greek version then defaults in age to Mark. In fact, Irenaeus goes on to say, after mentioning Mattityahu, that “after the departure of these [Peter and Paul apparently to martyrdom?], Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also transmitted to us in writing what had been preached by Peter…” This could confirm that Mattityahu was before Mark. Which seems suggested by the fact that Mark interpreted for Peter, whereas Mattityahu originally wrote in his own language. The Ebionites also being Hebrews, and quite possibly Ya’akov’s (James) own congregation received a Hebrew version of Mattityahu (whereas today we have only an undisputed Greek version). So which is more plausible:

That a disciple of a disciple (Mark), wrote the first gospel in Greek, even though his source Peter (an uneducated Jew) spoke Hebrew or Aramaic…

and then an actual eye-witness to Yeshua’s ministry (Matthew) translated it back into Hebrew to fill-out his own gospel…

which then was translated again, back into Greek, resulting in identical passages to Mark and Luke?

Or is it more probable, that Mattityahu (an eye-witness) wrote the first gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic, his native tongue, for the people that spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, and that Mark’s Greek was later used to ‘beef up’ or fill in the ‘holes’ in the Hebrew Matthew when it was translated into Greek? Kind of like using frog DNA in Jurassic Park?

Occam’s Razor and Irenaeus seem to put the odds on the latter.

He also goes on to say, “And Luke, the companion of Paul, committed to writing the gospel preached by him, i.e., Paul . . . ” This is interesting because it is said, Paul never met Yeshua while he lived, yet here he is transmitting many things that agree with Mattityahu and Mark. Did Paul get this information by divine revelation, or did Luke have “perfect” understanding of Yeshua’s life and ministry and recorded it, and Paul later endorsed it?

This may seem a confusing and troubling set of questions, but the more I study, the less I see scripture as arriving by fax from Heaven. That’s not to suggest a question of inspiration, but rather that the inspiration came by God’s design and foreknowledge and without regret through human hands. By that I mean, God said some things—knowing the failings of humans—and knew that he could get his message through despite those failings, but that doesn’t necessarily negate that there are human failings and that we might have to account for them. An easy example is the name “James” rendered in pretty much every English bible. The underlying Greek word is everywhere else rendered “Jacob”, just like Isaac’s son. Why Jacob got renamed to James has to be either a mistake or a willing alteration to make the Bible more palatable to Europeans, and frankly it’s hard to argue that’s not anti-semitism. Now did God know that would happen? Sure. Have I, as a 21st century American through diligent seeking been allowed to discover that alteration and gotten closer to the underlying original? Yes.

In short, God through his providence and grace wanted humans to preserve his word (instead of just downloading perfect knowledge via “the Matrix”), but knowing they would make mistakes and through his grace and providence makes it possible for the diligent seeker to be rewarded with better understanding.

This shouldn’t be too troubling a premise. After all, if divine inspiration meant God overrode human tendency to error, resulting in direct transmission, then why did Yeshua have to come to give clarity? Why didn’t it just come perfectly through the prophets? For that matter, after Yeshua came, why would there have to be Shellachim (apostles) and teachers needing to explain? Why didn’t they just go around telling verbatim what Yeshua said? For that matter, if God needed to transmit verbatim, why send anyone at all? Why not just direct transmit it to each human being?

The inescapable answer seems to be that Elohim wants to involve humans in the process (to share the blessing of bringing forth good fruit). Nobody presumes Kefa (Peter) was sinless in his actions, why then must we believe that he was perfect in his writings? And yet, by the Father’s power, through his Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), he is also able to make each of us able to detect and overcome errors.

That’s a difficult train to ride (feel free to correct my reasoning), but to me it seems inescapable that we must both balance the sacredness of scriptural tradition, with the understanding that people make mistakes. I mean, the versions we have do have apparent contradictions. We can and must make interpretive decisions about which account is correct in a plain sense, and which has to be taken in a special way. How else do we explain ‘variant’ texts? How do we know which text is the variant and which is the normal? We can say “Rely on tradition” (which is inevitable), but then which tradition?

In the end, we must balance the values of what is written (scriptural text), with what is tradition (what a group/body/community says is the authoritative text), with what we each interpret individually that makes up the community that makes up the tradition which makes up the scripture.

ARRGH! It’s dizzying. But can we be sober minded and say otherwise? If the early church debated which books belong in the canon, are we heretical to consider the accurate transmission of a single word or phrase? Why were they permitted to question whole books, but we can’t do less? The only alternative is to irrational and blindly take what some group tells us, but even that is impossible, because we must somehow decide which group to blindly follow…

Sigh.

However you balance that, for me it’s not a problem to consider the human mechanics that may have gone into the formation of our modern versions of the scriptures. It does not seem any problem for me, to say Paul didn’t have first hand knowledge of Yeshua’s life, but Luke collected it and Paul approved it, perhaps while adding his own perspective on those events. It doesn’t even seem to be a problem to uphold divine inspiration and say that a book could be written by more than one divinely inspired author. For example, in the Torah—the part of scripture, which I believe is the most authoritative and trustworthy portion of scripture—we have the recording of things that Moshe could not have had. For example, it records events after his death. And describes portions of the land of Isra’el by names that it didn’t have (like a portion called ‘Dan’ before the land had been given to ‘Dan’). Tradition and Bible code students have explained this by saying that the righteous scribe Ezra, ‘updated’ the Torah with explanations that were needful to the people of his time, who had forgotten oral traditions that explained Torah. Ezra essentially just took what many of us do (writing in the margins) and added it into the text itself.

This wasn’t really strange, targumists frequently did embed details they believed were necessary for explaining something to an audience that was unfamiliar. In modern times we have ‘dynamic’ equivalents, such as the NIV. Many a good student of scripture will take issue with the NIV for ‘reinterpreting’ the sacred word, essentially adding man’s thoughts to explain HaShem’s words. This sounds well and good, I’ve made this case myself. I don’t like the idea of running God’s word through my filter. This makes someone want to get more and more pure, seeking a ‘mechanical’ ‘literal’ ‘word-to-word’ translation.

But there’s a problem… Words don’t have mechanical or literal equivalents. It’s a myth! Let’s say, I see something red. Is that the red that you imagine? Maybe I’m looking at a fire engine and say it’s red, but you’re looking at a drop of blood. Your red will be different than my red. So even in the same language, using the same word, the meaning is not equivalent. Consider the word in Hebrew for “east”…well firstly, what does “east” mean? It’s a direction, but how do you as an English speaker know what direction east is–I mean from the word? The word, “east”, actually has to do with ‘rising’. East is the direction of the ‘rising’ sun. Which is why “Easter” doesn’t actually come from “Ishtar” (a similar sounding pagan goddess), but actually from the day of Yeshua’s ‘rising’. So it’s not really pagan to call resurrection day, Easter, it’s just confusing since God already gave it a name “HaBikkurim” first fruits.

I’m losing my train of thought here, oy vey! So if you take the Hebrew word translated east, you find the word kidmah, but Kidmah doesn’t mean “rising”, it means, “front.” The ‘front’ of the world, is the side the sun rises on. So you see, they are related. Interesting, the word ‘oriental’ which we think means ‘asian’ which by that we mean ‘chinese’, comes from the word ‘orient’ as in to “orient towards something.” In other words orient means to face, face what? Where the sun rises. So we see, orient, kidmah, and east all indicate where the sun rises, as the front or kidmah. So they are equivalent, but not mechanically or literally. A literal translation would be, “in the front”, but that would be meaningless without additional contextual information, like the front of what? The earth, and what is the front? Where the sun rises. So you see, you can’t have a meaningful and literal translation. It’s not even possible. You have to add explanation.

So that’s all a meandering, and disorienting (orienting away from the front…sorry, I couldn’t resist), way to say dynamic equivalent is the only kind of translation there is. There is only a question whether you have a good translator or a bad one. Whether they are being faithful to what they believe the original author is saying, or whether they are injecting their own agenda.

More Trouble Thanks to Irenaeus

 Irenaeus goes on to deftly handle the problem of the “666” of the beast in Revelation (which he accepted, though earlier historians noted it as disputed) by saying, if Yochanon had known that we needed to know who that person was in the present, he would have said so. In his context, he was saying the anti-mashiach had not appeared even to Irenaeus’ own age, in other words he was not a pretorist.

He also endorsed some of the earlier “disputed” works, namely, Pastor, and the apocryphal book Wisdom of Solomon.

***Difficult topic*** He does also endorse a Septuagint rendering of Yeshiyahu, where it says “the virgin shall conceive” rather than the Masoretic’s “haAlmah” which may be rendered young woman. It is interesting that he notes that even before his time, there was this question of whether young woman or virgin was correct in the Septuagint. The contention that virgin is incorrect is not a product of modern skepticism. Some are under the impression that the Septuagint had become the only scripture, and that even the Masoretic came from the Septuagint translated back into Hebrew, in which case there should have been no issue. However, this note appears to confirm the manuscripts that would become the Masoretic, were alive in parallel, and the Hebrew and the Greek disagreed.

It’s hard to discuss this, without a little Septuagint understanding. According to legend, the Septuagint, got its name from “The Seventy” who translated it, at the commission of a king and each individually, miraculously, came up with an identical work. Some dispute this legend, but supposing it’s true, what is not well understood—among laymen at least—is that only the Torah is included in this miracle. The same seventy—if seventy, at all—did not translate the entire Tanahk. It was translated by others, with varying skill and style, and over the process of time, not concluding until about the start of the “Christian Era”. That’s all fine, but understand “The” Septguagint is not a single work of a single team of scholars. It is many independent works, that actually has several important versions, including by Aquila of Pontus and Theodotian of Ephesus (both of whom Irenaeus mentions in his rebuttal), also Origen (who lived and worked contemporaneous to Irenaeus, compiled his own translation alongside five others in a single work called Hexapla.

Without making this blog longer, a little research indicates that scholars have reason to believe that “the” Septuagint came from different manuscripts than the Masoretic texts. So it’s not that one is probably an errant copy of the other: the Septuagint didn’t come from the Masoretic with mistakes, nor vice-a-versa. But each originated with different texts, with different strengths and weaknesses.

So Irenaeus says that Ebionites held with the Hebrew haAlmah, which agreed with the Septaugint copies by Aquila and Theodotian, one of whom was a convert from Christianity. So what we see is that not only was there a dispute among the septuagint(s), with some siding with the Masoretic text [the Dead Sea Scrolls also agrees with the Masoretic], but there was a Hebrew Matthew that agreed with this reading because it did not have the virgin conception narrative. [This also agrees with the Syriac Sinaticus, an Aramaic Gospel of Matthew from about 340 AD].

If it sounds like I may be questioning the virgin conception, I confess that I think there is good reason to do so (from a disciple of Yeshua’s perspective). After looking at it more and more, i find the strongest evidence for ita validity is a handful of verses in the non-original, Greek, Mattityahu, and a handful of verses in Luke. You could also add in two or three, possible hints (that could be explained other ways). Against that, you have two other gospels that have no mention of the virgin conception, plus the entirety of the rest of the Brit Chadashah that never mentions the virgin conception, plus that fact that no one even in Mattityahu or Luke ever mentions the conception afterwards. Yeshua never says, “Why are you doubting me? I was born of a virgin!”

If the virgin story was in fact original, then it would seem you win every argument simply by establishing that Miryam was in fact a virgin (and if you’re catholic establishing that she remained a virgin). This would have been a really good place to have an official Cohen (priest) notarize that this was the case. In fact, the lack of Cohen confirmation is incredible. What kind of a sign is a virgin conception? You’d have to have visible knowledge that Miryam was in fact a virgin while pregnant, yet there is no witness attested to in the gospels themselves that anyone verified her virginity. If they had, then how would anyone have argued doctrine with the guy who was divinely conceived? It would be the most powerful weapon (more powerful even than the resurrection since only the Sadducees had a problem with that), and yet it is never used as a weapon. Why?

Well, if it was added in by someone else, filling in contextual details as they had received from their tradition…as targumists were known to do…then it all makes sense…

Forgive me for voicing my actual thoughts. The alternative view of the Ebionites that Yeshua was in fact the actual son of Yosef, seems more reliable. Against those few prophetic “hints”, you have many many prophecies that say he’ll be a son of David and Ya’akov and Avraham. A virgin conception throws that concept into question. How is he David’s son, if he’s not actually born from David? What, none of the scribes questioned his davidic lineage?

Could adoption, solve the dilemma? You could, but why would Elohim set up and protect a physical lineage, and then kind of “cheat”? Why say, “Here’s the criteria!” and then send someone who “kind of” counts? You could say through Miryam who may have been physical seed (but you have to figure out how the Levites Zacharias and Elizabeth are then cousins) Yeshua is also the physical seed, and that’s a possibility. But is it a better explanation that someone mis-transmitted a copy of Matthew and Luke, and the Ebionites had the original?

I debated whether to mention this–took me weeks. But let me give a couple of mitigating factors as to why it might be worth the discussion:

  1. Yeshua never based any doctrine on his ‘virgin’ birth, so it obviously wasn’t critical to his nomination to Mashiach.
  2. Neither do any of his apostles, or anyone else in the Brit Chadashah.
  3. The virgin conception story is a stumbling block to Jews and students of scripture who recognize the meager evidence for it, plus a strong resemblance to many pagan religious narratives, plus it could weaken the claim to Davidic descent, which is way more crucial to being Mashiach than virgin conception.
  4. There will be a trend in obsession with virginity as we move through this history, and that seems related to this insistance on Miryam’s virginity and even perpetual virginity.

All of those make me think, that it was worth discussing.

To be continued . . .

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, IX

Continuing our journey through the classic historical text from 324 AD.

Hegesippus

We are still between 117 and 166 AD, when we come to the close of the above author’s tour of duty. I would like to see this man’s writings in more detail, and will have to search for them. Again, he seems much closer to the original faith than Eusebius. He remarks in one of his five books that all the bishops of his time (closer to 117) taught the prevailing doctrine that agreed not with the apostolic epistles, but “the law and the prophets and the Lord.” He goes on to say the beginning of heresies came after Ya’akov the just (Yeshua’s brother and leader of the congregation of Yerushalayim/Jerusalem) was martyred.

Hegesippus goes on to mention seven heritical sects that followed Ya’akov’s death—the Ebionites are not one of them. Interesting, no? Considering the Ebionites claimed Ya’akov as their leader in their writings. Eusebius makes no mention of this…again, coincidence?

Also, Hegesippus used the Gospel of the Hebrews from the Syriac (Aramaic) “particularly from the Hebrew language…”, implying perhaps a Hebrew dialect of the Aramaic or perhaps that the Aramaic came from actual Hebrew? Showing that Hegesippus was himself a Hebrew “convert”. He also thought it useful to record some of the unwritten traditions of the Jews (ie, what would become the Mishnah). So when a thus Hebraic minded person, who studies from a Gospel that was lost to neglect or persecution says that the bishops’ doctrine was right, it seems possible that his version of right may not have been Eusebius’.

It’s important when we read this history, I think, when we read “Christian” or any related word, not to misinterpret that as being an encapsulation of what we modernly think of as Christian. As yet, in the first 166 years, there has been no mention of many of the ‘mainstays’ of modern Christian thought; salvation being sol fide, the Trinity, the perpetual virginity of Miryam (Mary), or even a clear denunciation of Torah as being applicable, except perhaps by Eusebius himself opining on things that happened a hundred years before his time.

“Old Testament”

Sometime, not long before 166, a writer named Melito appears to be the first person in Eusebius’ work that refers to the Hebrew scriptures as “old testament”. Melito was the bishop of Sardis. Sardis, I might point out was not a stellar church in the book of Revelation.

Heresy of Tatianus

Sounds like Godzilla villain. “Look out, it’s Tatianus!” But he was apparently terrifying, being a successor to Saturninus and Marcion, he followed a group called the Encratites, and taught abstinence from marriage and meat! And also it seemed important for them to deny Adam and Eve salvation…

Weird that abstinence from marriage was heresy, since later it will be praised to the point of almost being mandated by the Nicean council, at least for ‘clergy’. That’s right, you’re life of ministry isn’t hard enough, now you have to fly solo! And without meat! But just as weird is this fixation on Adam and Eve, and the fact that they are an issue to Melito and others. I’m really just curious: how does an opinion about the salvation of the first two humans rise to the level of heresy?

Book 5

This book begins to the west, toward the Gauls, where persecution was taking place, around 177 AD. Much of this book and later are dedicated to the persecutions and martyrs. A few to mark include Vettius Epagathus who is marked as like the Cohen Zacharias (father of Yochanon the Immerser/John the Baptist) as one that was blameless in the Torah. Why make this comparison, if the man did not keep Torah like the ancient Cohen?

Also, a woman martyr, Biblias, who under torture renounced the faith, however, while the torture continued repented and professed again her faith. In this particular case, her tormentors were trying to get her to admit that ‘Christians’ drank the blood of children (interesting, isn’t it that I believe this is a slander made against the Jews from time to time). In her denial, she asks how could believers eat child blood, when even tasting animal blood was unlawful? Now, some will point out that this is a commandment given by the council of Yerushalayim under Ya’akov and Kefa, however even then it’s heritage is in Torah. So some command regarding ceremony and diet has survived as applicable.

Intercession

In addition Biblias, others renounced under torture, but some repented after the fact. And while some in the church did not accept them, others did. That would be a difficult situation for sure, apostasy certainly should be treated very seriously. However, those that did receive them again did so with much intercession for their souls.

This sounds very catholic to me, but if you read carefully you’ll find cases where Avraham and Iyov interceded to have sins forgiven. I think those of a protestant background have incorrectly inherited the belief that we cannot pray directly for the forgiveness of a person. Yeshua is known to have forgiven sins and specifically did miracles to demonstrate that such power was “given to men”, not to Him alone. Thus, I think it’s reasonable to believe that God’s people can ‘forgive sin.’

The way that works though, depends on your understanding of prayer. If prayer is asking Elohim for things and him granting it like a genie, then one would think Elohim’s people could simply ask for chronic forgiveness on all people and solve the world’s sin problem. On the other hand, if all forgiveness requires repentance, then a prayer for forgiveness is really a prayer for repentance. How then can someone say that someone’s sins are in fact forgiven, as Yeshua and many prophets did? Well, if praying is really a conversation where we get our minds attuned to Elohim’s then in the context of such communion, a person could ‘pray’ (get in step with Elohim) and know through the spirit that such a prayer had in fact been effectual, and that the sin had been forgiven. The error is in thinking that in merely voicing words that the deed is done; true prayer requires us to get in line with the Father, thus our expression of forgiveness would be the Father’s through us.

Marcus Aurelius Needs Rain

Another Gladiator tie-in. Marcus Aurelius was fighting against the Germans and Sarmatians, and his army ran out of water, so the fulminea (thundering legion) a Christian legion prayed for rain, and it rained, and not only that but lightning drove the enemy back. This is legend of course, but that’s what is reported.

An interesting aside is that they note the legion prayed “bending their knees upon the earth while drawn up in battle array against the enemy, according to our peculiar custom of praying.” Not too long ago, it was pointed out to me that Yeshua said, “When you pray standing . . . ” This was pointed to as referring to the Amidah (standing prayer) / Shmoneh Esrei (the 18 benedictions). That was interesting to me because I wondered how we got from normally praying standing to kneeling or sitting as is often done in churches today?

While I don’t believe Yeshua’s words prohibit different postures—he was known to use others, Mark 14:35. It does seem that was a moment of greater desperation. Admittedly, so was the legion’s occasion. However, Eusebius seems to indicate this was the new normal.

As an aside, praying while sitting isn’t mentioned anywhere. Of course, you can pray that way (I do), but the reason Jews pray standing (as a norm) is because a servant stands in the presence of his master. The more I’ve thought about that, the more unnatural it has seemed to me, to pray or worship sitting on my butt. Of course, taken to the extreme, shouldn’t we always be standing? A servant doesn’t sleep in front of his master, so should we never sleep? He is our Father, not just the Master . . .

The Fading of Miracles

I hope to write a blog soon about the idea of healing on demand, the teaching that any believer at any time can speak healing and expect that it will happen “on demand”. But I note that Irenaeus (around 170), who is said to have been a “hearer” of Polycarp (who was said to be a disciple of Yochanon), says as if its common knowledge that miracles of healing had disappeared (in large part), as well as gifts of tongues. They remained in “some churches” and with those who were worthy “until” times earlier in Irenaeus’ life. In other words, by in large part miracles had faded from the church as a whole well before Irenaeus wrote it in the mid-second century.

I’ll say more in a blog, but I don’t think miracles are ‘on demand’, but I do believe they remain always possible. But anyway you look at it, you have to ask why miracles were common at one point and uncommon at another.

When I was young, I was told it essentially stopped with the Apostles, along with tongues and prophecy.

I’ve since doubted that, but I have made some biblical observations. The first is: how many miracles can you recall were conducted by someone not keeping Torah? You might count some ‘lying signs’ that occur, but they are usually not helpful. Though the anti-christ’s head wound might be an example. Balaam could be a prophetic example. Yet, the regular conductors of miracles are the righteous, who keep Torah. As the church divested itself of Torah, it makes perfect sense that miracles would vanish. The fact that the Shellachim were Torah observant only bolsters this case. After all, the prayer of a righteous person is effective, not a lawless person.

I’ve also wondered if it has something to do with God’s special blessing on the sons of Ya’akov. How many great miracles were worked by gentiles? Of course, that’s a bit unfair as the Bible generally covers only the lives of Elohim’s people, but if miracles were common everywhere and with every people, then why were people so amazed at the ones that came out of Israel? The Syrian commander didn’t go to anywhere but a Hebrew prophet and bathe in a Israeli stream to be cleansed of leprosy. Just something to think about.

In either case, as the church moved away from Yerushalayim (geographically and theologically), we see heresies pop up, the Kingdom focus on Israel neglected, and miracles vanish…coincidence?

To be continued . . .

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, VIII

Continuing our journey through the classic historical text from 324 AD.

Book IV

About 129 AD, we find that the bishops of Jerusalem have all been Jews until recently. Eusebius almost remarks in passing that he hasn’t bothered to cover the bishops of Jerusalem until now, and then just rattles off their names with little detail. That’s right, the city of the great king—as Yeshua put it—gets little mention, but Antioch, Rome, those places are important. Especially interesting because he says that succession from Ya’akov (James) on, received the word “pure and unadulterated”, which means that Ya’akov’s flock of thousands zealous of the Torah was a reflection of pure and unadulterated. Further, he mentions not just that the first fifteen were Jews but that they were “all of the circumcision”. One might say that circumcision is a euphemism for Jews, but why use it if they had in fact, discontinued circumcision?

I can’t help concluding that Eusebius has turned a blind eye to Jerusalem, overlooking the renegade Jewishness and Torah observance, passing over it with barely four paragraphs. In fact, he says “we have not ascertained in any way the times of the bishops in Jerusalem have been regularly recorded…” interesting that what should have been an important place considering the council that happened there and that Paul deferred to there to certify his doctrine, but no one bothered to keep records of what was going on there? Call me skeptical. . .

Heresies continue!

I won’t over detail these, except for highlights. Two heretics are especially noted, Saturninus and Basilides. I note firstly that these heresies began outside Jerusalem, in gentile cities. That is not to smear gentiles or gentile leadership, but I do think it’s more than coincidence that heresies spring up away from the bedrock of Torah instruction and, yes, Jewish grounded understanding.

These heresies aren’t well described (Eusebius rarely describes heresy in detail), but they appear to include made up prophets (who were detected as such) and to consider eating of things offered to idols as unimportant. This eating part is interesting, since some consider Paul to be only a step away from indifferent, saying that except if someone sees you, it’s not a big deal. I’m not saying Paul said that, but some believe that interpretation and yet the early Christian tradition was that it did matter. And that is a very Torah centered objection, because if ceremonial law and ritual is annulled, why should it matter if you ate, so long as you simply make some profession of faith against it? Why should meat be treated as tainted?

The Converting Power of Affliction Endured

An account is made by Hegesippus about a man named Justin who loved platonic philosophy, and had heard many bad things about Christians as being lovers of pleasures and inordinate affections, but found himself moved against these slanders by the way  Christians were cheerful at martyrdom. He reasoned, how could it be that those who are spoken of as pursuing pleasure sure give up that love of pleasure to face their own gruesome deaths?

That strikes me as very interesting. It almost seems that by being a time and place where believers are not noticeably persecuted, that we are deprived of the true power of a witness under affliction? We should for ourselves therefore, almost seek affliction so that we can show the power of God in overcoming it.

Heresiarchs (Arch Heretics)

Here we go again! Eusebius via Irenaeus, tells of Valentine, Cerdon, Marcion, Marcus, and others who flourished in Rome (again, not Jerusalem) and came up with all sorts of mysteries (that have strange resemblance to occult practices and fertility rites), pagan practices that were anti-Torah, which the heretics attempted to merge with the faith.

Interesting that some of those of the Valentineian heresy practiced fertility rites, and then much later Saint Valentine has a day named after him, the timing of which is possibly related to (or so I’ve read elsewhere) Roman practices around fornication and subsequent herbal abortions. The strange way that pagan practices creep into the ‘catholic church’ over time, should not be surprising when the ‘leaders’ at other times adopted idol statutes for greek goddesses and renamed them as Mary. Or that pagan temples could be retrofitted to be churches. I mention this not to be bashing anyone, but reading the history you find that as Torah and Hebraic thought is removed from ‘the faith’ it leaves a vacuum, and even though obviously pagan practices are rejected in the early centuries, later they seem to be accepted.

Also interesting that one of the most famous heretics, Marcion, augmented the heretical school of Cerdon that taught the Father was not the God of the Law and Prophets. That essentially, that the God of Israel was a unknown God of justice, but the Father of Yeshua was revealed (presumably by the person of Yeshua) and was good (rather than just). Sound much like that “God in the old testament was about law, but after Jesus, came the age of grace”. Sound similar?

The All-Wise Marcus Aurelius

For fans of the movie, Gladiator, there’s a ‘fun’ tie-in. According to Irenaeus, Justin (a Christian philosopher of Irenaeus’ time), wrote a defense against the heretics to Marcus Aurelius (the good emperor in Gladiator slain by his son Comedus). Apparently, Aurelius was actually a good emperor or tried to be. He issued orders that Christians should not be prosecuted for the crime of merely being Christian.

Also of note, the emperors had many titles. In fact, the further down the line of succession, the more titles the emperors seem to accrue. Apparently, they had actual meanings, for example “Augustus” was a title bestowed by the armies, showing their reverence for an emperor. Some emperors were actually denied the title of Augustus by the armies. Anyway, one of the titles of Aurelius was pontifex maximus. Which in my limited latin understanding means “great father”, this is also the title now employed by the Pope (Pope means father by the way).

I’m not of the opinion that when Yeshua said not to call a man father, that he meant that as a blanket statement. After all, how can you “honor mother and father”, if you refuse to even call the man father? However, I do find it interesting that the head bishop of the ‘catholic’ church calls himself by the same title that a pagan emperor did, in seeming contradiction to what Yeshua himself said.

Polycarp

Polycarp is one of the few of the ancient followers that I have known about for sometime, by being referenced in other works. My understanding was that he was a Torah keeping believer and that it got him into hot water with the “church.” But how does Eusebius tell us of him, since Eusebius seems to be not a Torah-inclined believer?

Firstly, Eusebius speaks of Polycarp via Irenaeus, again. Remember that Irenaeus is highly esteemed, even though he was involved in the ‘heresy’ of believing that Mashiach would have an earthly kingdom. Irenaeus in a book on ‘heresies’ sets out a long passage extolling Polycarp as being very credible and very near the apostles, and only taught what he’d learned from the apostles, sound tradition and true doctrine.

However, the context into Polycarp’s entrance into the history is that he arrived at Rome because of a question respecting the “day of the Passover.” Now, in my other readings, the question of Passover’s timing/keeping was the issue that got Polycarp in hot water. Having finished Eusebius’ work, it seems it was Polycrate not Polycarp who got in the most trouble, but Polycarp was Polycrate’s mentor. So it seems more than coincidence that a man would be execommunicated (Polycrate) for his stance on an issue regarding Passover (kept according to the Jewish timing), when his mentor (Polycarp) had a ‘conference’ over a similar or even the same issue.

What I’m trying to say—call me conspiratorial—is that it sounds an awful lot like Polycarp kept Pesach like the Jews did and that was an issue with the Roman church (Rome vs. Jerusalem). But Polycarp was so well known as being solid that nothing could be done against him: I mean, this guy learned from the Shellach Yochanon (Apostle John), how is some guy in Rome going to argue with him about the historical tradition? Polycrates inherits this same stance, and ends up going back for the next round against a new ‘pope’. We’ll cover this later, but working backwards in the present text it suggests to me that Eusebius via Irenaeus is kind of giving props, like he did with Irenaeus, himself. “Irenaeus knew his stuff…he just had this one little stumbling at a heresy about an earthly kingdom.”

Polycarp is later martyred. Not over this issue, but it gets rather expansive coverage, and shows a man who is wholly devoted. It’s quite appealing really, in showing the profound affect he had at being wise and kind, facing death with self-control and even cheerfulness, like an Olympian running the last lap. I would note that he makes some attempt to avoid being martyred. I mark this distinction because Yeshua at one point said that when persecuted to flee to another city, but we’ll eventually see “Christians” rushing to die when they could easily have fled somewhere else. Rushing, eager to die rather than resigning that there was no better course. Polycarp does move out of the worst, only to be overtaken later—and considering he’s 120, he decides he’s run long enough.

Human Sacrifice

I note again that the writer of the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom (a Marcion, but it seems unthinkable that it was the heretic Marcion: why would his stuff be exhibited?), relates of surrounding thoughts that someone might ‘surrender’ their salvation in the time of trial. The idea being that salvation is not absolutely secure is taken as the ‘normal’ view. When it comes Polycarp’s turn to die (having apparently survived the beasts that were sent into the arena with him—at 120), he is depicted with the words “acceptable sacrifice… ‘May I be received in [God’s] sight…as a rich and acceptable sacrifice.”

When I read that, the first time, it clicked with a train of thought that I’ve been studying. It is often put to me that I don’t really believe in Mashiach because I believe obedience is required, that I don’t believe in Yeshua’s “work alone.” And I’ve objected against that in the past, now I simply think the question is incorrect. Does the person who believes in Yeshua’s “work alone”, believe that someone can spit in God’s face and demand salvation on Yeshua’s work alone? Can he say, I believe, so God is contractually obligated to save him? I’ve never met anyone who said that was possible. Behind their doctrine is the assumption that either because you choose or because God forces you, works of righteousness will follow true belief. I can live with that, but it obviously means that Yeshua’s “work alone” cannot stay “alone.” Salvation may not depend on your work, but it certainly won’t happen without it.

So addressing this thought, when I read this account, I suddenly thought of Paul talking about becoming an acceptable sacrifice. Or in Hebrews 13:15, where it talks about sacrifices of praise—and I thought, if ‘nothing can be added’ to the work of Yeshua—then why would it be ‘acceptable’ to sacrifice anything? If Yeshua’s work is so infinitely great, that any other work on our part is somehow detracting form his work, then why would we sacrifice anything? Praise, money, our lives? Wouldn’t it be antithetical to even do anything for God?

Of course, I don’t believe that. I believe that obedience in every form is simply bringing in the fruit of the seed that he sowed. Our obedience, our sacrifice, honors and glorifies his sacrifice. I’d even say, our sacrifice becomes part of his sacrifice.

To be continued . . .

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, VII

Resuming our journey through the classic historical text from 324 AD.

The ‘death’ of Yochanon

Yes, I know that Yeshua did not promise Yochanon would not die (as some reported), but it’s kind of a strange thing to say, “If I have him tarry till I come…” As a writer, I live in hope . . .  But anyway, the historical view seems to be that he died about 99 AD and was buried at Ephesus. Again, I note that the Shellachim have all died before the ‘heresy’ of the Ebionites appeared. In fact, Hegesippus specifically states that heresy came forth in abundance after the death of the Shellachim and their generation. And again remember that Eusebius via Philo acknowledged that the Shellachim were Hebrews who practiced Hebrew customs. So heresy abounded after the extinction of those who kept Torah and practiced Hebraic customs. Coincidence?

Philip was also reported to be buried at Hierapolis.

Another note on the language of Polycrates (a disciple or contemporary of the bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, who was the disciple of Yochanon). He refers to Yochanon as “a priest that bore the sacrerdotal plate…” This is somewhat Catholic vocabulary coming from someone who would later be excommunicated (for a time) and yet walked fairly close to Yochanon, himself. So one might need to entertain some catholic thoughts on that one. There does seem to be a clear distinction made between the ‘laity’ and the clergy. We don’t really see it in scripture, but we are told that Yeshua is our Cohen HaGadol (high priest) after the order of Melchitzedec, and that we were meant to be a kingdom of priests.

Some have taken this out of balance and started dressing like replacements for the Levites, but you will not find even in Hebrews that this Melchitzedecian order replaces the Levites. In fact, it specifically tells you that our order is a heavenly one, which explains why there is no set order on earth for this priesthood. The Levites had specific, delineated order to follow, we do not. So whatever kind of Cohenim we are, it is not one marked by garb.

However, Israel is also called a kingdom of Cohenim even though only the Levites stood in the apparent office of the priesthood. From this we can see there is a distinction between priests in the temple and ‘everyday’ priests. Our everyday life is our ritual, in accordance with Torah. Likewise then, our heavenly service may be in an official manner in some ways (like those who actually minister for worship), and the ‘laity’ who offer prayers and their ‘ordinary’ way of life.

So calling Yochanon a priest would not necessarily make him what we would imagine in the Catholic sense. Another thing to note is that the english word priest is a contraction of ‘presbyter’, which does appear in the Brit Chadasha as in 1 Timothy 4:14. However, Strong’s translates this not as ‘priest’ as we think of it today, but as elder or San Hedronist. Interestingly, the root word presbeterios occurs 67 times in the BC and is always translated elder in the KJV, and prebeterion (plural) is always, except for once elders. Weird, huh. Meanwhile, the BC does have a word for what we think of as priest. It is hieros, and appears every time the scriptures speak of the levitical priest, the high priest, Yeshua as high priest, and the ‘royal priesthood.’ Hieros, not Presbeterios. So it is entirely possible (speaking as someone who has not read Polycrates in the original), that the underlying translation means San Hedronist, or judge, rather than priest.

Continuing, there is no mention of special robes or even buildings at first (though later, as Christianity becomes accepted in Roman society, there will be). So what is the sacerdotal plate? Two things come to mind—speculation on my part—Yochanon has at times acted as a Cohen in the instances such as Pesach (Passover) where he literally bore the bread/administered the ceremonies of Pesach. In other words, simply facilitating the keeping of a feast makes one like a Cohen.

Or it maybe, that as a Shellach, Yochanon was set apart to spread the Basar, rather than ‘wait tables’ as they say in Acts, and that in that sense they were set apart and were like Cohen. Not that they were treated as altogether alien—no marriage, no property, strange garb—but that they were simply devoted to a specific order of ministry.

So Cohen in a sense, but do we ever see any of the Shellachim just walk into the physical, earthly, Holy of Holies? No. They never presumed that their priesthood replaced or annulled the authority of the Levitical priests. They were (and are) a different kind of priest. But those who are devoted to serve are recognized as different than just the ‘ordinary’ of God’s people. Not better or worse, but distinct. Anyone can be a priest, everyone is a priest, but there is still a difference between someone who is ‘full-time.’ And this makes sense. Shouldn’t we treat those who are more invested in the word and prayer as if they are actually closer to God? What wise young person does not trust that an elder actually knows God a little better than they do?

At this point, Eusebius mentioned Clement and Ignatius. I won’t spend much ink here because I will be covering both a little more in a separate series on early Christian writers (or perhaps a single blog because so far there isn’t too much to say that I haven’t been saying here). Clement was the bishop of Rome, seems fairly solid from his writings. Clement died and was succeeded by Eurastasus. Ignatius is bishop of Antioch (a little before Polycarp, it seems). He is called like a successor of Peter, but having read some of his letters, I don’t see much of Peter in him. A bad version of Paul perhaps. Not really impressed with Ignatius, but he’s in the history as being probably worth knowing of.

It is by way of Clement that Eusebius tells us that Hebrews was written by Paul but that it was originally in Hebrew (or Aramaic) and possibly translated by Luke, or even Clement himself. So again, we have an earlier book in the language of those who had the advantage of keeping the Oracles of God (Romans 3:2), that has been ‘lost’.

Papias

A very interesting character appears—at least to me—that I shall have to see if I can find his writings. Papias is a writer (no title) who studied Yochanon the Shellach (Apostle John), and was an associate of Polycarp (who studied under Yochanon), and Papias is mentioned well by Polycarp and Irenaeus (another whose writings I look for). Though not an eyewitness of the Shellachim themselves, he apparently interviewed everyone he could find who did know them.

Papias interests me because he has a very Hebraic flavor. For example, he refers to the ‘elders’, which is a small thing but it is a title common in the scriptures, but sticks out in Eusebius’ work as uncommon.

Through Papias we learn that there is another Yochanon buried at Ephesus besides the Shellach, ‘Yochanon the Elder or Sanhedrenist’ (John the Presbyter). We’ll talk about it later, but there is some possibility that Revelation of Yochanon was not written by the Shellach, but by this Elder.

Eusebius speaks highly of Papias as studying all these ‘intimates’ of the Shellachim, and providing other useful traditions from those sources, such as that one of Philip’s daughters was raised from the dead. And how Justus (of the book of Acts, the other nominee to fill Judas’ place) drank poison and was unharmed.

Yet, despite the praise, Eusebius points out that Papias believed and transmitted that Yeshua would have an earthly physical reign after the resurrection. Hmm, so what was called heresy by Eusebius was in fact passed on by someone who was generally seen as a purveyor of good tradition and closer to the Shellachim. Eusebius does not call him a heretic, but he just didn’t get it. The idea that there would be a physical reign is a very Hebraic idea, so naturally, I tend to think Eusebius has it wrong and am thus interested in the other things Eusebius dismisses out of hand. And lest we think I am being overly biased, Irenaeus agreed with Papias, another associate of Polycarp’s who is generally highly regarded by Eusebius.

Papias’ closes out the record of Eusebius’ book III (Yay! We’re done!), by telling us an interesting tradition about Mark. The Gospel of Mark was written by Mark who was the translator for Peter, hence it’s from Peter but not in the language that Peter spoke it. And Mark assembled the gospel as it was taught, as needful by Peter. So Peter didn’t set out to tell it all in order, but rather told the account as it came to mind and was relevant to their life in fellowship. This seems important because some criticize the order of the gospel accounts saying they don’t match up, that events in one take place in a different order in another. However, the traditions tell us that at least Mark did not set out with the exact chronology being important. What happened was more important than the order in which it happened. Certainly, if it tells us something explicitly happened before another event, that’s one thing, but otherwise the chronology wasn’t written to be exact, thus it is no contradiction if it happens out of order.

To be continued …

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