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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Warrior or brawler?

Not getting a lot of feedback on Eusebius historical posts, so figured I should take a week or two off…

I’ve never been known as a pacifist. Besides David and Goliath, I had Guy Williams as Zorro, Condorman, Batman, and the Justice League. Maybe, it wasn’t a surprise that I wanted to be a cop before I was twenty-one. I didn’t make it at twenty-one.Thatt would wait until I was thirty-two, but I carried concealed since then, and at twenty-four, I became a Marine. So, I may look like a fighter.

Those choices were intentional. Two stories have stuck with me. In a high school party, probably fifteen years back, a girl was assaulted while a dozen or more witnesses did nothing. In another case, a woman was attacked within sight of a subway attendant, and all the attendant could think to do was make a phone call.

These two helped to clarify for me, that if there are so many who seem unable or unwilling to protect, to intervene for good, then those who are able have an even greater obligation to do so. So, I have been grateful for my time in the Marines and law enforcement, for giving me opportunities to develop the skills of boldness, initiative, and protective instinct.

This is a mindset and skill set that I desire to pass on to my children, both sons and daughters (though applied differently).

Yet, I’ve begun to notice that this mindset can quickly degrade from that of a noble warrior, into a base brawler. Example: I have learned to walk into a situation and scan for threats. I’ve also learned to walk in and take charge, to not be timid, to project being a hard target (someone not easily attacked). But this doesn’t just apply to violent crime, the same boldness and initiative that won’t tolerate a mugging also won’t take kindly to a pushy salesman or rude customer service.

And there it begins, I start to see everyone as a potential threat and thus, my learned reaction is to neutralize the threat. But… this view inherently must view the other person as an object, an enemy, someone to be overcome. It’s no surprise then that I find myself not being kind myself. In response to a perceived threat, I essentially become a threat myself.

I become grumpy to put it nicely, and if I can look at it from my Master’s perspective…I cease to be a servant. I’m no longer on his work of serving people and have become a tyrant trying to control people.

So, I wrestle when it comes to my children. How do I raise a boy or girl, who is willing to take on a giant or deliver the oppressed, but is also a turner of cheeks? Someone who will drive money changers with a whip for zeal, but not bruise a bent reed?

I don’t know, but it seems Yeshua’s example must be the key. When I think of times I became a tyrant in response to a threat or even preempting a threat, my focus was on protecting me, when Yeshua grabbed a whip and David his sling, it was because of zeal for HaShem.

Really, if all the Torah is love, then when it says not to be idle by the blood of your neighbor or to deliver the woman being assaulted, these must be acts of love. Our boldness must be to save the good, not to destroy the evil.

Somehow, I must train my children, and myself first, to love so much that boldness and protection comes out of selflessness. We must love the good so much that it’s abuse is intolerable. To walk into a situation with boldness to intervene, but not for ourselves, but for our Master.

Or something like that…

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, VI

I will interrupt this series, next week for a break, but for now, we continue our journey through the classic historical text from 324 AD.

More Heresy!

I’m not going to cover every heresy, especially since most of them are fairly obvious. Claims to be another Mashiach… Claims Yeshua did not come in the flesh… Plus a plethora of disputes about the actual nature of Yeshua, whether he was God or man. But I will hit what seems relevant.

About the same time as the Ebionites, arose Cerinthus the ‘heresiarch’ (the arch heretic). Interesting again, that I find myself agreeing with much of the ‘heresy’ and that major Christian teachers also believe it. For example, Cerinthus “…asserting that after the resurrection there would be an earthly kingdom of Christ, and that the flesh, i.e., men, again inhabiting Jerusalem, would be subject to desires and pleasures…

So Mashiach ruling on Earth is a heresy?!?!?! Or is it that humans resurrected into bodies? Or is it that humans in bodies will enjoy things with their bodies? You know like having your own fig tree and vine? Trees of every sort with fruit? Children playing with snakes? Lions and lambs? Taking that literally is heresy?

He does also allege a future kingdom with festivals and sacrifice, but even if one disagrees with a straight reading of Ezekiel and Yeshiyahu (Isaiah) the majority of his doctrines hardly seems heretical.

Allegedly, Cerinthus passed this off as doctrine from Yochanon (I have very little problem believing Yochanon actually would have said this). Yet Irenaeus (another early historian quoted by Eusebius) says Yochanon was physically averse to even being in the same building as Cerinthus.

Nicolaus and his heresy! 

Another heresy—I would point out that this sudden wave of heresies comes after the fall of Yerushalayim. Interesting that all these problems of truth arise after the congregation of Ya’akov (which was zealous of the Torah) was scattered…

This heresy has two versions. This is alleged to be the so-called ‘nicolatians’ of Revelation. The first version is espoused by the nicolatians themselves, which claim that Nicolaus (another deacon along with Stephen, who was stoned) taught that Yeshua taught to ‘abuse one’s own flesh’ and that this extended to sharing one’s wife (which he exemplified by bringing his own wife out to be taken by whichever of the apostles wanted her), or divorcing her so someone else could have her—interesting that the catholics believe that you can have a marriage dispensated or annulled for you to go into the priesthood. Sounds kind of similar, no? So this heresy actually lead to literal, physical sin of fornication without shame.

This would obviously be a heresy as it proposes engaging in sin as being okay. However, Eusebius says that the charge was false, and that Nicolaus actually taught by bringing out his wife (which the apostles are allegeded to have been jealous of) was kind of a rebuke to them that everyone ought to never give in to pleasure. Eusebius then holds up as examples that Nicolaus only had one wife, and that his sons and daughters were lifelong virgins.

Now, Eusebius (for reasons that I believe will become obvious overtime) holds up this idea of complete abstinence from pleasure and especially, from marital relations as being a good and worthy thing. So it seems Eusebius is ignorant of what heresy is because it was Elohim who instituted marriage for the purpose that a man should cleave unto his wife and the two should be one, and then commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. The idea that marriage is less noble than lifelong virginity seems closer to what should be called heresy.

Again note this trend away from anything earthly and pleasurable as comes after the fall of Yerushalayim and the massive Torah observant community there. This makes perfect sense because Torah makes regular earthly life into something for holiness. The way you eat and rest and have relations is as much as offering as what the Cohenim do in the Temple. There is not an area of life that is not meant to be sanctified. In contrast, the Greeks believe ideas and mysteries of the mind are the real truth and that the physical is a prison of the soul, naturally then the ‘ordinary’ things of life are just chains and bars. This anti-physicality is contrary to Yeshua, who kept the feasts (which have to do with rejoicing before HaShem with earthly goodness), proclaimed God’s view of the permanence of marriage, and showed how the provision of earthly goods was a sign of God’s goodness, not something to be abstained from. In fact, the much loved Paul tells them that good things are meant to perish with being used, not with being refused (Colossians 2).

The Shellachim who…scandalous!…married!

Immediately follows this discussion of Nicolaus with a teaching from Clement on the value of marriage! Which makes sense for Clement because he believed the first version of Nicolaus (the wife-swapping version). Clement—who in my other readings, I’m finding to be fairly solid—presents a rebuke to those who mandate the setting aside of marriage (ahem, Catholics). Clement then points out that Peter and Philip were married. That Peter actually witnessed the martyrdom of his own wife, hence that even though Kefa/Peter never mentions his wife in his epistles or in the Basar (gospel), she was in fact in his life and also a follower of Yeshua. Eusebius even accounts that their wives were the dearest friends of the Shellachim. This should be enlightening because it shows that even though these women are never mentioned in the scripture, they were certainly supporting their husbands.

Even more amazing, Paul was known to be married! Think about how that changes 1 Corinthians 7:7, “I would that all men were as me…” He starts off the chapter by saying, it’s good not to marry, but that to avoid sin it’s better to marry. Which by analogy could be, “It’s good to fast, but to avoid stealing for hunger, go ahead and eat.” And he’s right, there’s nothing wrong with not marrying if you don’t have the compulsion to marry. But if you happen to be the kind of man who thinks about girls, it’s obviously good to marry because Elohim made it that way! It’s just a matter of practicality, not of holiness.

Paul then eventually says, “I wish everyone was like me,” well, if Paul is married then he’s not saying, “I wish everyone could be single for life!” He’s saying, he wishes you could both be affectionately married (because he just said to render benevolence one to another), and also serve God. He’s really saying, “I wish you could be like me and both be happily married and serve God.”

Which is really a profound balance. On the one hand you have the hedonists who pursue only pleasure, like a person who’s married and just wants to have a happy marriage as their highest goal in life. On the other, you have those who try to convince you to deny all earthly goodness that HaShem has given you as a gift. Paul rejects both, in favor of a holistic life. Why does he say then to the widows that he wishes they would abide as him?

Clement says that Paul did not take his wife with him on his journeys, because of the needs of the ministry. So even though he’s faithfully married, he is denying himself the value of her (at this time and season) for the work of the Master. So you could say that he’s simply saying, be married or be single, but serve the Master. But he’s not saying the state of singleness is superior, only that serving is superior.

To be continued…

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, V

Warning: today’s portion will get a bit dicey, hard questions about orthodoxy, the Canon and salvation as we continue our through the classic historical text from 324 AD.

Menander

Still in Book 3 of 10, about 117 AD. Along comes a miracle worked named Menander, apparently the successor to Simon Magnus (I believe he states somewhere, that this is the Simon of Acts 8). So he’s a sorcerer. I mention this because Simon and Menander are both rejected, even though they do miracles. The way many see it, the Jews should have accepted Yeshua on the basis of his miracles. As if the only claim to being Mashiach was whether one worked miracles. But we see from Eusebius, that miracles were never any good unless they lined up with good doctrine. Thus, the rejection of Yeshua is not because many Jews were not able to acknowledge his miracles, but the truth of his doctrine.

The ‘heresy’ of the Ebionites

It’s important to remember that Eusebius will later praise Constantine as ‘pious’ even though Constantine threatens to kill any bishop who disagrees with the Nicean council, and Constantine is actively anti-Semitic, and no one in the church is recorded as having any problem with the anti-Semitism. So when Eusebius looks back to around 117 AD, a time before he was alive, and calls someone a heretic, you need to consider who Eusebius is. He seems to be faithful in the recounting of events but his interpretation of those events is less reliable.

Or, I may just not like what he has to say because it appears to condemn my own beliefs. Discern for yourself.

So enter the ‘heretic’ Ebionites. These believed that keeping Torah was necessary, possibly for salvation. I say possibly, because he says, “With them the observance of the law was altogether necessary, as if they could not be saved only by faith in Christ and a corresponding life.” My own belief that Torah is still to be kept means salvation by works of the law, even though I deny that keeping Torah earns salvation. So I can easily see how the Ebionites might simply have been misrepresented to or by Eusebius in this same way.

Notice that this is long after the destruction of Yerushalayim, where there had been a huge congregation under the apostle Ya’akov that was zealous of Torah and yet, no one accused them of this. In fact, some sources that I have not fully vetted, but appears to include Epiphanius (403 AD) and the Dead Sea Scrolls Essene community may indicate that Ebionite actually was the ‘general’ name for what became Christianity and that the head of the Ebionites was none other than Ya’akov the Tzadik (James the Just). So there is a possibility, that I’m still investigating, that the Ebionites were the descendants of Ya’akov’s congregation. So far, the evidence is quite compelling. If so, then Eusebius is actually calling those taught by Ya’akov, the congregational elders that Paul submitted too, as heretics.

Also of interesting note, Eusebius will tell us that the first fifteen bishops of Yerushalayim were Hebrews, and that the line of succession appears to have been broken around 100 AD. Hence the Ebionite (a Hebrew title) ‘heresy’ arises only after the destruction of Yerushalayim with the Temple, the scattering of much of the congregation of Ya’akov, and the beginning of gentile leadership. Coincidence that what Ya’akov taught as an elder to Paul becomes a heresy later?

Now in fairness, the Ebionites also held other beliefs (again according to Eusebius’ sources)—like Yeshua was simply a very virtuous man, not born of a virgin, not preexisting. Those beliefs, if they were in fact true, I would agree are hard to swallow as orthodox. I, however, admit suspicion that there is nuance Eusebius is unaware of or knowingly concealing. For instance, Eusebius admits to conflating different groups, “Others, however, besides these, but of the same name avoided the absurdity …not denying that the Lord was born of the Virgin by the Holy Ghost…” He goes on to allege that the others did deny his preexistence.

I would point out that Yeshua never made his pre-existence a lynchpin of his doctrine, nor his virgin birth, nor a dozen other doctrines that the church has since added as necessary. That’s not to say they aren’t true or aren’t important, but Yeshua seemed more concerned with how you lived than precise doctrinal positions. Did Yeshua have a big problem with the religious elite because they didn’t believe in his virgin birth? Or was it because they were unmerciful? Was his preexistence a topic of constant argument, or was it that they thought their traditions were more important than relieving the afflicted?

This is all to say, the Ebionites may not have been correct on everything, and yet hardly qualified as heretics. It seems more akin to Baptists calling Presbyterians heretics. Or the Ebionites may have in fact been orthodox and Eusebius has been misinformed about them. Or it’s even possible, that Eusebius’ doctrine is so far removed that he and the ‘consensus’ is no longer able to correctly interpret the Ebionite positions. Recall that Yeshua did foretell in Matt 24:5, 24, and others that false teachers and false Messiahs would arise. Paul frequently talks about a falling away, a departure from the faith, and inability to hear sound doctrine that would come before the end. So the question is, did the Ebionites (possibly an early universal term for Messianic/Christian) fall away, or did the ‘catholic’ church of Eusebius’ day?

He goes on to say that these others (who didn’t deny the virgin birth, but perhaps the preexistence) had a great zeal for Torah, the gospel of the Hebrews, observed the Shabbat, yet they also celebrated the commemoration of Yeshua’s resurrection. So with the exception of the denial of the preexistence, I would get along fine with the ‘others’ called Ebionites (a little less likely with the ‘hardcore’ Ebionites).

Interestingly, both of these groups also rejected Paul as an apostate to the Torah. Now, I don’t reject Paul outright, but I can see how someone could easily get to that conclusion, and certainly see that he is not meant to be the foundation of understanding. I personally hold that with careful study, Paul has many useful things to say. However, it does make a disturbing pattern that Paul’s letters are full-throatedly approved by the pro-Constantine, anti-semitic (or at least, anti-semitic tolerating), ‘consensus’ of Eusebius’ day. Meanwhile, the books that are considered spurious or neglected until they disappear are those markedly pro-Hebrew: the gospel of the Hebrews, possibly the book of Hebrews, the original Hebrew-Aramaic gospel of Matthew, or those that seem to be in conflict with Pauline doctrine (2 Peter, James, Jude). And one of the first heretical groups is one who reject Paul for apparent apostasy—a charge that is all the more interesting, since it is the charge of Paul being apostate that was in question in Acts 21:21 “…that thou teachest . . . to apostasia from Moshe…”

One other note, that I didn’t want to rush by. Notice that Eusebius said, “as if they could not be saved only by faith in Christ and a corresponding life.” So even as he denounces the necessity of Torah for salvation, he sets up that there is a necessity of lifestyle that matches faith. Again we see that at least by Eusebius’ time, salvation was not considered to be dependent on only mental assent and was something that could be lost.

Many will take offense at the idea that one can lose their salvation/that it is conditioned on more than a belief without action. I use to be of that opinion myself, but I eventually had to ask what does the scripture actually say? For myself I’ve come to accept: salvation is by grace. Grace is kindness that makes space for repentance. Faith is not a mental opinion, it is a conviction that inevitably leads to action. Thus, the person who is being saved has the power and the motivation to be increasingly righteous in deed, not only ‘legally.’ Now, can someone lose their salvation by doing despite to the spirit of grace? Taking that space to repent and sitting on their butt? Confessing with their mouth, but not working out their salvation with trembling and godly fear?

Looking at scripture, I have a difficult time saying that salvation isn’t able to be forfeited by willful disregard of obedient life. But if you disagree, that doesn’t bother me. After all, unless you are willfully disregarding the call to obedience, what are we arguing about? Just understand that actionless belief + a prayer = salvation is not the historic perspective, and if you even look at modern times it is not the majority of believers worldwide.

To be continued…

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